Theory of the Undead

June 7, 2011

So about the release of the new race/class combos to kick off Cata, I started a baby undead hunter because Nathanos Marris was one of the few undead I really liked. I played through their starter areas and off through Silverpine, eventually stalling in Hillsbrad (which probably had a lot to do with those Nightmare Fodder bears. *shudder*)

Now, one of the things that is really big in the lore here, without getting too much in detail for those that haven’t tried it yet, is that Sylvanas is getting to be less and less trusted by… well… everyone. She is especially having her freedom constricted by Garrosh, and there are hints that she is becoming a Really Bad Person. In fact, the evidence for her becoming a Really Bad Person is apparently so compelling that the commentors on this thread from WoW Insider are convinced she’ll soon be a raid boss.

I would like to pause for a few sentences here though and mention that it would be terrible for Sylvanas to become a raid boss. To take Sylvanas’ conflicted character, who has just the right amount of championship balanced against expediency to make her a real member of the Horde, and turn her into a one-dimensional raid boss parroting, “I R EVIL, U DIE” would be a travesty. Now, I’m not saying that everything Sylvanas has done lately is on the up and up, but I definitely think a lot of what she’s been up to is due to the pressure she’s under.

Just because a dog bit your face doesn’t mean it’s a bad animal if you’d backed it into a corner first.

That said, I’d like to continue on with my pet theory for the way undead work and why Sylvanas is actually really cool:

Imagine being undead. I mean it’s kinda hard to really know what it feels to have your ribcage exposed to the open air or to be missing your lower jaw, but try to imagine how hard it would be to continue simple existence. Every physical fiber of your make-up knows that it ought to be inanimate. In the vast majority of cases, your very soul knows that continued existence is unnatural. You generally can’t control the power that keeps your body animated, because it is the cause of your undeath, so you’re stuck walking around without a lot of control over how it’s done.

Also consider how the Lich King keeps (kept) the Scourge under his willpower. How is it that those who fall to the Plague wake up under the thrall of the Lich King? How does his voice stay with them? What is to stop more of them from simply claiming their freedom and walking off if they’re not in his physical grasp? Why does Bolvar need to wear the pointy hat?

My theory is that certain extremely powerful undead have the power to shelter lesser undead with the greater power of their will.

Lesser elementals cannot exist in our plane without their binding bracers, or something similar, to tie them here, but greater elementals can exist independently and summon lessers into existence with them because of their greater power and will. So too can certain undead hold the link to control for other undead.

I submit that once a poor soul is pushed back into existence from death, they must maintain their hold over their actions through power and grim determination or turn into ravening beasts who run in flocks but are otherwise unable to do much more than scrabble forward and moan about braaaaainssss… Not many run-of-the-mill souls are able to do this, however, and so they thrash about in an attempt to control themselves and manage to brush up against great power; enough power to return them to sentience. In most cases pre-ICC this power would be the limitless reach of the Lich King.

The Lich King’s raw power and demented will acts like a breakwater, creating a sheltered spot where the undead does not need to constantly maintain his own will to stay under control of his own wishes. Once there, the Lich King grants some limited liberties back to his new minion and gives it jobs to do, just like a queen bee. In the event that the undead had a slightly more powerful soul, the threat of having the breakwater revoked is enough to keep them under obedience for the sake of continued sentience. The Lich King offers control, at the price of freedom.

What makes Sylvanas neat is that since regaining her own will and fleeing the grasp of the Lich King, she then grew in power until she could make her own breakwater. As her power increased, so did her ability to hold more of the new undead who called themselves Forsaken. They wanted an out from the Lich King’s grasp and she granted it to them. Even better, Sylvanas doesn’t force her will upon those undead behind her breakwater. She gives them control over themselves, as much of their mental faculties as can be recovered, and doesn’t generally do much to limit them. Sylvanas offers control and freedom, at the price of loyalty.

I think she was truly astounded by the actions of Putress not necessarily because what he did was wrong, but because she’d honestly forgotten that undead could exist independently of her or Arthas if they had the grit.

Because of this inherent lack of control and the sheltering effect of greater undead, Bolvar is necessary; he doesn’t offer control, but demands it as a set of chains. The undead that are left in the world and not under Bolvar’s control are weak sparks. Most of them are ravening beasts with no sentient thought, and a few have developed enough control to be personalities and hold a few of their fellows, but that’s about it.

This also explains the Forsakens’ fierce loyalty to Sylvanas, as she is taking on the burden of their collective existence and asking for beans in return.


There is nothing to back up my theory in game or in print. I know this, and this is why it’s my personal theory and not something I’m trying to pass off as Lore. I’ll also freely admit that I started wondering if this is the way the undead work after reading Mercy Thompson books really late at night (Specifically the relationships between Alphas and their wolves). In any case, I hope I’ve at least given you something to think about!

Two final things:

  1. I don’t actually like undead that much; they’re just not really my kind of race. However, I’d rather have Sylvanas as Warchief before Garrosh because I hate me some Garrosh. Like, seriously.
  2. Mercy Thompason books are pretty good. Werewolves, Vampires, and things that go bump… but they’re not written for preteen girls. The main character is 30-something and badass. As the series goes on things start to get more unbelievable, but that’s the nature of a fantasy series. Good books, fast reads, no hidden messages.
Okay, rant over!

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