Hello and welcome to yet another Flavor Text and Lore article. Stay a while… And read about the story and lore behind some of Hearthstone’s most notable Legendary cards.
Today’s subject is none other than the Banshee Queen herself, sylvanas-windrunner.
Known to her allies as the Dark Lady of the Forsaken, and as “The Banshee Queen” to her enemies, sylvanas-windrunner is the middle Windrunner sister, the others being the eldest, Alleria Windrunner, the alternate Hunter Hero, and the youngest, rhonin’s wife Vereesa Windrunner.
As a Hearthstone card, Sylvanas is beloved by many, often placed by experienced deck builders into the six mana slot “because it’s one of my favorite cards”. While possessing a solid body, it’s her deathrattle ability that makes her shine, making her almost always a two-for-one trade and having a high potential for stressing your opponent with mind games.
The Third War: Death and Rebirth
The elven homeland of Quel’thalas, despite having borne witness to a few skirmishes during the Second War, had never been threatened in a serious manner by the orcish Horde – in some ways thanks to Sylvanas’ sister Alleria taking the initiative and joining the human war effort, but also due to the source of the invasion, the Dark Portal, as well as most of the main orc strongholds, being located in the southern half of the Eastern Kingdoms, while Quel’thalas was located on the very northernmost edge.
This was not the case in the Third War, though. The Lich King’s undead plague started flourishing in the lands belonging to neighbouring human kingdom of Lordaeron, and once the kingdom’s Prince, the paladin Arthas Menethil, took possession of the cursed blade Frostmourne and became a Death Knight, killing his own father and causing the fall of his own kingdom to the undead Scourge, he turned his conquering gaze to the elven kingdom.
At that time, Sylvanas held the position of Ranger General of Silvermoon, the Quel’thalan capital, and as such was the leader of the elven armed forces.
As the scourge poured through the lands, the Ranger General and her army harassed Arthas’ forces at every step of the way, but was constantly forced into retreat by the superior numbers and relentless advance of the Scourge army.
Despite her best efforts, Arthas soon breached the walls of Silvermoon and slaughtered every single one of Sylvanas’ people in the march for her people’s most holy site, the Sunwell, the magical pool from where he wished to draw the power required to summon the Lich King’s Burning Legion masters into Azeroth.
To this day, despite the reconstruction of Silvermoon City, a scar of death and ruin still crosses the elven lands, a monument to Arthas’ unholy march.
As Arthas cemented his ultimate victory over the elven nation, he dealt the finishing blow to Sylvanas. But, both recognizing her power and desiring revenge for her harassment of his march, he did not allow her a clean death. Instead, in an unholy ritual, he ripped the very soul from the elven ranger, making her bound to serve him for eternity as a banshee.
Rise of the Forsaken
The defeat of the Burning Legion during their march to Mount Hyjal (as told in the Druid Flavor Text and Lore article) created a power vacuum in the leadership of the remaining undead Scourge.
Arthas and kelthuzad, having been dismissed by Archimonde after his successful summoning, seized control of the Scourge from his dreadlords after his defeat, following orders from the Lich King, who, cut from his former masters, wished to further his own ambitions and spread his domain over the Eastern Kingdoms.
But what they did not know was that with the Burning Legion’s defeat, the Lich King’s power was also waning, and his dominion over some undead started to fade. Notably, and without neither Arthas or kelthuzad suspecting, Sylvanas was recovering her mind and free will.
Realizing this, the demonic dreadlords ( malganis’s brothers ), in a bid to retake the Scourge armies for the Burning Legion, approached her and devised a plan for her to get her revenge on the Death Knight and the lich, removing them from the dreadlords’ path.
With their help, the banshee repossessed her dead body, becoming a Dark Ranger, and prepared an ambush for her former master. Luck was on her side, as Arthas was preoccupied with illidan-stormrage’s hunt for the Lich King, and did not see through her deception.
Sylvanas was not able to finish off the Death Knight, though. As she was preparing to make him suffer for her fate, kelthuzad arrived on the scene to rescue his ally. Sylvanas was driven back, and Arthas, still charged with sailing to Northrend to defend his Lich King master from illidan-stormrage’s advance, left kelthuzad in charge of defeating the rebels.
But the lich was in no position to mount a counterattack, and for a while Sylvanas was left to her own devices. The dreadlords tried to assert their dominion over what was left of the Scourge, but she fought them back, defeating and enslaving the first among them, Varimathras, and destroying the remaining two.
Sylvanas then occupied the underground of the ruins of the once-prosperous human capital of Lordaeron, claiming the throne as the Dark Lady of the Forsaken, and the surrounding lands for her people, the free-willed undead that broke away from the Scourge and the Lich King’s mental domination.
The Betrayal at the Wrathgate
Things were relatively peaceful for the first years of the Banshee Queen’s reign. Despite some skirmishes with the Scarlet Crusade to the north and the Lich King’s minions to the east, the Forsaken faced no major threats.
When her former people resurfaced as the Blood Elves and started rebuilding Quel’thalas, Sylvanas provided them with supplies and aided them in becoming part of the Horde. And in turn, the Blood Elves further secured the northern regions for Sylvanas and her allies.
But alliances with demons can only get you so far. After many years in the Banshee Queen’s service, Varimathras choose the time when the Horde was marching en force to face the Lich King in the northern continent of Northrend as the perfect opportunity to put his plans in motion.
His attack was two-fold: in Northrend, his allies struck with a plague bombardment against both the Lich King and the combined forces of the Alliance and the Horde, at the battle of the Wrathgate.
The Lich King, focal point of the Forsaken’s thirst for revenge, was forced into retreat, but the Alliance commander bolvar-fordragon, as well as his Horde counterpart, perished in the toxic bombardment, and the danger of the plague to any living entity was such that alexstrasza and her Red Dragonflight were forced to torch the whole area with dragonfire to avoid its spread.
At the same time, the dreadlord and his demonic brethren took control of the Undercity from within, nearly killing Sylvanas and forcing her to retreat and seek the Shaman Hero Thrall’s help at Orgrimmar.
Thrall, still the Horde’s Warchief at the time, helped Sylvanas mount an immediate counterattack, both champions backed by voljin and the World of Warcraft players. She struck down Varimathras, giving him no mercy this time – and then immediately faced an enraged varian-wrynn who had also gathered his forces and assaulted the Undercity, wanting to claim it back for the Alliance as revenge for his friend, Bolvar’s, death.
In the end, it was the Mage Hero Jaina Proudmoore that prevented hostilities from further escalating, freezing the combatants and teleporting the Alliance forces away from the Forsaken capital.
But the Wrathgate incident remained forever a stain on the Forsaken, for it had been Sylvanas that had permitted the new, toxic undead plague to be produced and deployed to Northrend, even if she didn’t approve of the careless way that it had been used.
And so, the Forsaken and their Queen started being eyed suspiciously by their Horde comrades.
The War With Gilneas
The lack of trust in the Forsaken on the Horde’s part just deepened when Thrall left and Garrosh was made Warchief, and as a show of allegiance, the Warrior Hero pushed Sylvanas into a war with her neighbours from the south, the humans and worgen of Gilneas.
In the meantime, Garrosh made no secret of his disgust for his undead subjects and their leader, and forbade Sylvanas to create more Forsaken, something she had been able to do since the defeat of the Lich King, by securing the allegiance of his former Val’kyr, spirits able to rise the dead as free-willed undead.
While respecting her Warchief’s wishes and driving out the Gilneans from their homeland, eventually forcing them to flee completely and join the Alliance, the Banshee Queen refused to stop her experiments with the plague, and kept the services of the Val’kyr, believing them to represent the future of the Forsaken.
When she finally managed to quell the remainders of resistance from Gilneas, the allies that she had raised from within the rebel Gilnean group double-crossed her and struck her dead. For moments, it felt like it had been the end for Sylvanas Windrunner. But three of her favored Val’kyr sacrificed themselves so that the Dark Lady might live again.
Ever since then, it has been increasingly apparent that the Dark Lady has become ever more ruthless in her pursuit for a future for her people, at a point even considering killing her own sister, Vereesa, so that she might rise again as her second-in-command – oblivious to how close that would be to the fate Arthas once forced upon her.
No-one knows what future awaits the Dark Lady of the Forsaken. As the Burning Legion prepares to invade Azeroth once more, she will find herself forced to fight side-by-side with the Gilneans whole families she killed and whose land she took.
She remains as one of the most beloved World of Warcraft characters, her tragic history and ruthless methods making her a more complex character than most.
Whatever happens, it’s almost certain that she will continue to haunt many Hearthstone players’ turn six and beyond!
Now that the lore pieces for all the main Hero characters are complete, the Flavor Text and Lore series will be taking on individual characters, events, and locations. Now I need YOUR feedback to know what are the subjects YOU most want to read about. Let me know in the comments!