World of WarCraft lore discussion has been set aflame (see what I did there?) over the past few days, following Eurogamer’s interview with Alex Afrasiabi. The interview itself is about the divide of opinions on Sylvanas and her future in Battle for Azeroth. What’s caused the frenzy of confusion and speculation is this one line from Alex:

“I’ve heard these discussions on the internet about ‘she’s going off the rails’, but is she? I’ve been writing Sylvanas personally since 2006, and this is pretty much – the Wrathgate and the Blight and the Forsaken – in character. Those were all under Sylvanas’ orders. What we’re seeing now is an escalation of the plans Sylvanas has, clearly, and we’re in the middle of that.”

The Wrathgate being under Sylvanas’ orders, rather than part of Burning Legion aligned coup that followed, hugely changes one of the most beloved moments in WoW’s history. Is this a misunderstanding? It wouldn’t be the first time Alex Afrasiabi misspoke during an interview. Or was he correct? It’s not the first time Blizzard’s suggested Sylvanas had more to do with the Wrathgate than she let on. I’ll be looking into the implications behind this and various theories below.

Sylvanas being more involved with Wrathgate incident than what she claimed in Wrath of the Lich King is nothing new. The strongest piece of evidence is the oft cited passage from World of WarCraft: Chronicle Vol. 3, appropriately called “Sylvanas’s Role at the Wrathgate.”

“Like most good lies, Sylvanas Windrunner’s account of the rebellion in the Undercity contained some truth. Grand Apothecary Putress truly had attempted to overthrow her, and Varimathras truly was trying to claim the Forsaken in the name of the Burning Legion.

But the plague had been created at her direction. Sylvanas was willing to take vengeance against the Lich King at almost any cost, even by making a weapon as deadly as the plague. Whether she was aware that Putress and Varimathras were planning to use the concoction remained a mystery. Rumors persisted that she knew about the attack at the Wrathgate beforehand, and her denials did not assuage the doubts of her detractors.”

While damning, it’s not the same as outright saying Sylvanas actually ordered the attack on the Wrathgate. Then again, its also vague enough that it being under Sylvanas’ orders is a potential conclusion to draw. I have two theories for this, a simple one and complex one. There’s also an additional super out there theory I’ll save for last.

My simple theory is that Alex Afrasiabi’s quote was just a reference to this passage and an attempt at brevity or just poor word choice made it sound like something more. Or, given Afrasiabi has been “personally writing” Sylvanas all this time, maybe that’s what players were supposed to have already figured out from the passage and Afrasiabi just assumed that we knew since its what he intended (if this is case, obviously we had not). I don’t think it was a deliberate reveal, it seems odd to announce a huge plot point offhandedly in an interview most of the player base will never know exists. Either he misspoke and got things mixed up, or was under the impression this was already common knowledge.

This being a confused reference to the Chronicle passage is the simplest answer, and the simplest answer is usually the correct one. But that passage does indicate there’s much more to the story, and none of it in Sylvanas’ favor. So its still possible Alex Afrasiabi meant exactly what he said. This is my more complex theory: if Wrathgate really is what Blizzard intends to do, this is the best idea I’ve had on how that would work.

Sylvanas ordered the attack under the reasoning that the blight wiping out the Horde and Alliance armies was acceptable collateral damage for a chance to kill the Lich King. If it worked, she could just argue “so what, the Lich King is dead!” It didn’t work, but she had the perfect plausible deniability in the coup. Either she knew of the coup beforehand and let it happen for that purpose, or it happened by coincidence and she took advantage of the situation. Speaking of the coup, We don’t really know anything about Putress or why he sided with the Legion. He seemed to be a full believer in the Forsaken’s cause. Maybe Sylvanas planned to use him as a scapegoat and he found out?

That’s not all though. We’re going really into the deep end of wild speculation for this next part. While reading the discussions about this on MMO Champion and the Story Forums, another passage from Chronicle Vol. 3 came up.

“From a rise overlooking the Wrathgate, a barrage of plague canisters rained down on all armies and stopped the fighting dead in its tracks. A lethal green fog, capable of killing the living and the undead alike, enveloped the battlefield. The Lich King instantly understood what was happening, and he retreated without hesitation. Everyone left on the battlefield was killed: Bolvar Fordragon and almost five thousand Alliance soldiers, and Dranosh Saurfang and over four thousand loyal Horde followers.”

When the book came out, I thought it was just an attempt to summarize the aftermath of the Wrathgate which ended up unintentionally implying Dranosh died to the blight instead of the the Lich King. But with the Wrathgate business, the question was raised on what if Dranosh Saurfang dying to the blight was an actual retcon. I’m not a fan of doing that. Even if the change was just that Dranosh survived the blow from Arthas and the blight finished him, that wouldn’t work because we see Frostmourne stealing Dranosh’s soul prior to that. But it would allow for there to be a “shocking reveal” that Sylvanas was technically the one who killed Saurfang’s son. And that… that sounds so much like something Blizzard would do (the ‘character discovers antagonistic character was also responsible for their son’s previous death,’ not the massive retcon) I can’t entirely dismiss it.

So in conclusion, I’m not sure what to make of all this. It just being a slip up or attempt to reference the Chronicle passage seems most likely to me, but that passage also is implicit enough that the idea we were supposed to assume from it that Sylvanas ordered the Wrathgate and Afrasiabi thought we all did is possible to me too. The Saurfang stuff is really out there and would require a massive retcon, but its still fun to speculate about. I doubt we’ll have a real answer unless a clarification is offered, like the time they corrected an E3 interview where a developer accidentally said blood trolls were an upcoming allied race when it turned out they meant Zandalari trolls. Until then, and probably even after, Sylvanas and her actions will remain the most decisive part of current WoW story discussion.

Ian Bates

World of Warcraft Writer and columnist for Blizzplanet. I am also known as The Red Shirt Guy (BlizzCon).