Well, that sure was a conclusion!
We’ve been waiting for a while to see how the entire Shadowlands story would wrap up, and now with the epilogue we have our answer. And what an answer it is, a well-written conclusion that ties in with the book very elegantly and definitely in no way leaves glaring plot threads that World of Warcraft has failed to address! It’s so good that I want to spend an entire column talking about how it absolutely works as a conclusion, even reaching back to the final moments of the Jailer and how elegantly that story was wrapped up.
As you all remember, the Jailer’s ultimate ending was revealed as apparently trying to unite the afterlife against an unrevealed greater threat. This, of course, tracked perfectly with his motives, which were clearly explained and laid out ahead of time so this conclusion felt entirely natural. It was a clear end point to all of his manipulations and not a tacked-on resolution that simply recycled the motivations of other villains.
Furthermore, it definitely made sense that he was manipulating everyone to be unified under his power, rather than being the source of division in the afterlife and elsewhere that we found out he was railing against. So right away, our central villain who definitely made sense as such was given a suitable send-off that felt like an appropriate conclusion to his arc.
But of course, the main event was going to be what happened to Sylvanas, a character who has been consistently handled and well-developed throughout the expansion. So it makes perfect sense that her ultimate fate would wait until the epilogue, coinciding with the release of a book about her that in no way tries to hastily retrofit contradictory character elements to create the illusion of consistency or a coherent overall plan.
Now, I haven’t yet read the novel, but all reports about it seem to indicate that it treats the lore with respect and care, providing a compelling portrait of a woman with multiple goals and desires that are not hastily retrofitted to justify nonsensical turns of the narrative in ways that fail to fulfill even basic character beats. Indeed, it’s clear that far from being a patch job on an underserved narrative, this successfully weaves together a story told by an unreliable narrator who completely avoids using “unreliable narrator” as a cheap excuse to shove multiple conflicting readings into the same shape.
It also appears to be written with a deft hand toward making sure that story beats line up with other novels and with regards to the consistency of the world and setting. The attention and detail paid to even such minutiae as travel time make the book doubtlessly a delight to read to anyone with an interest in WoW‘s rich history that has received such careful stewardship over the years.
But the cinematics and conclusion themselves are well-realized. First and foremost, it makes absolute sense that Sylvanas would be tried by the Arbiter of the Shadowlands themselves, rather than by the numerous assembled mortal leaders who she had personally wronged in the mortal world. Indeed, this is obviously the higher authority that everyone would logically submit to, just as it makes sense that Sylvanas would ultimately have her fate handed to Tyrande.
Of course, Tyrande and Sylvanas have had a long history of interactions since they were both introduced in Warcraft III, which (it’s important to remember) is the starting point of the story being wrapped up in these plots. Just think about all of the important and poignant scenes that have occurred between these two characters prior to Battle for Azeroth! This underscores the appropriateness of this woman being the final arbiter of Sylvanas, rather than just being one of numerous people who she has wronged.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that Tyrande’s desire for vengeance is well-established and well-handled in a way that avoided making the entire Night Warrior plotline a limp and unnecessary deviation that ultimately went nowhere. Just like it goes without saying that Sylvanas having a newfound appreciation for her own culpability now that her soul is rejoined is decidedly something that was established long beforehand as how Frostmourne worked even back in Warcraft III, not a plot point that was hastily established after the fact in this expansion.
So to have Tyrande ultimately decide that Sylvanas is going to have to work in the Maw to find all of the souls left there is entirely appropriate and in no way rings like taking the character temporarily off of the board while leaving her alive in case Blizzard wants to use her again. Her last words feel poignant and appropriate, not a quick toss-off to attempt to let people continue being sympathetic toward her after she became a war criminal for literally no reason. And sending her own owl companion to keep watch over Sylvanas the whole time? That’s just inspired and doesn’t seem like Tyrande sending a pet to endless torment for her hastily conceived punishment.
The word that keeps echoing in my mind through all of this is respect. This is clearly a storyline that respects the intelligence of its audience, rather than hastily smashing bits and pieces that feel dramatic in isolation into the same melange so that it can pretend to have been building toward something. When you look back at this character’s arc from Warcraft III to the present, her ultimate fate makes perfect sense; there were no other routes that she could take, and this is a logical extension of how she’s always acted.
More to the point, this definitely avoided any sort of redemption arc. There is nothing implying that Sylvanas can redeem herself, and certainly the characters don’t talk like the long act of freeing souls in the Maw is in and of itself a redemptive act or mention that this is how she can redeem herself for the horrible things she’s done. At the end of this, Sylvanas does not get to do a cool swan dive into a long task of redemption by any means. She definitely isn’t still alive and capable of later showing up as a penitent hero.
So that was the end of Shadowlands, and there’s absolutely no need to think about this any further or worry about any narrative loose ends that the expansion didn’t bother to address in any fashion. We don’t need to ask about things like what the Jailer said to Sylvanas to convince her to help him or anything like that. The point is that it’s a very satisfying conclusion that absolutely shows the height that Blizzard’s storytelling team can reach.
Now, who’s excited for 10.0’s story?
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