Note: this was originally published in my Multiply account’s blog, dated 1 Sept. 2009
I was thinking about Arthas. Why did he, a Prince of the Realm, a Paladin born and bred, protege of Uther the Lightbringer, the greatest Paladin of the age, and the heroic Muradin Bronzebeard (who is, astonishingly, a level 80 Elite), cave in so easily?
Horus, is easily explained away by the deus ex machina of the Warhammer 40k Universe when they need someone to “go bad”: He was corrupted by Chaos. All that shit about a galactic-level “mission creep” – where some Legions were “sidelined”, or the Great Crusade getting overlong without the end in sight, the Emperor “hiding” in Terra – is all just retcon.
Melkor was corrupted by his ambition and greed, the classics, into Morgoth Bauglir. Sargeras’ fate was something straight out of Warhammer 40k. The “Lucasing” of Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the Dark Side became so… banal you’d have wished his gay mentor Obi Wan had stabbed him in the head with both lightsabers rather than scream, “I loved you!”
Reading that entry in wow.com about Maiev Shadowsong made me think hard again about Arthas. It was easy to judge Maiev, especially if you were a “goody two-shoes” and followed either (or both of) Malfurion and Tyrande unquestioningly. When you think about it, Tyrande did do wrong, and when Malfurion came into the picture he either thought with his dick (he’d probably counter that it was his heart) or didn’t think at all.
I remember my Paladin seeing Maiev in that special prison in Outland. All I could think of was, “you know… there’s a quest here to free you. I know there is. And when I find it, I’ll see you out of there.” And, indeed, there IS a quest, which supposedly ends in Illidan’s death. Where that elf-demon hybrid says, “what is the hunter without its prey?”
So what defines you? What are those things that, if they receive even the slightest prodding and poking from the world, disturbs your Being to the core? That when they are removed, it would have been better if the world removed you along with them?
I remember starting in WoW’s Anetheron Server, contrary to every fantasy RPG or MMORPG game I played, as a Hunter. Yes, I started as a Hunter. I started as a Mage in RO-Ph because I don’t recall there ever being a Paladin back when the only server was Chaos. I also started as a Mage in RFO-Ph because there, too, was no Paladin there, at least among the Bellato. But this is WoW, the closest out there to “AD&D Online.” There’s a Paladin class, and even a Race (the Draenei) that works well with that class. Yet I started as a Hunter.
But after reaching a decent level with my Hunter, I went back to my Paladin. And kept playing it until, today, its 2 levels short of the current maximum of 80. I remember playing my Paladin to utter enjoyment hour after hour. In the Plaguelands, there was even a feeling of roleplay, as I fought the “evil” of the Scourge, righted wrongs, and sought recognition from the Argent Dawn. I did all my Paladin Quests solo, and consider it my greatest achievement to have beaten Baron Rivendare in his fortress in Stratholme while the bastard was still green to me. I even went Aldor because, hey… I’m a Pally. The Aldor serve the Naaru, who seem to be physical embodiments of the Holy Light. Why shouldn’t I be Aldor, despite the fact that the bloody stuff you need to advance with them Rep-wise drop atrociously and they make you do the most insane of quests with little support?
Hell, I charge into a battle line GLADLY, grabbing aggro, if my friends get mobbed. Yes, yes, this is also standard fare for members of ECO, but… Hey, I did it with my little Rogue when Ria got mobbed (not that it would have mattered: Ria is already quite the mob killer, and she’s only a mid-20s Priest, untwinked, as I write this).
When I do character design either for games, stories or my own worlds, especially when I have to “start from the middle”, or the current subject’s state, I try to delve into the things that define that character. You’re here, fine: so what led you here? What went on before that you are where you are, who you are, today? And why, based on this timeline and plot, you have to be there?
Why are you here?
What happens when we take away what defines you?
Some of you would say, “then find something new to define you.”
You lose your favorite shirt, you buy a new one. That mug your best friend gave you for your milestone birthday gets broken, you’ll probably get a new one (or the bff gets you a new one) after a time of moping. Your deskie or lappie fritzes, you design a new one.
You lose your definitions, can you so casually say, “well, that’s that. Let’s go find new stuff then.”
If you say yes, then maybe you haven’t had your Being shattered before and managed to walk away from it. You never woke for several mornings wondering why you still manage to wake and why you should wake at all.
So what destroyed your definitions, Arthas?
I played Warcraft III, saw his progression from hero to Warcraft’s greatest villain. Sarah Kerrigan doesn’t even come close, partly because she was as much victim as anything. Arthas had choices. At least up until Stratholme and its Culling.
But see, that’s where it gets confusing. Its a sudden jump. Yes, he nearly got wiped by the angry legions of Undead, and that could be unsettling, unmanning and very, very frustrating. Its like using Imperial Guard in DoW for a Skirmish and the AI rolls Necrons.
But Uther arrived, with Jaina, and a big detachment of Knights of the Silver Hand. The only better thing I could think of was his dad, Terenas Menethil, arriving at the front of the whole army of Lordaeron. And when you think about it, Uther had a point when he refused to cull Stratholme: he was, after all, First of the Paladins. He could decide no less. Surely, Arthas, you wouldn’t have expected Uther, of all people, to do something so vile. Better to have cordoned-off Stratholme with the Knights of the Silver Hand and the Mages of the Kirin Tor, both organizations doing what they can to find a cure. Its what we did to Chicago in Shadowrun, after all.
Yet, you were angry somehow beyond reason, Arthas. Was it the experience of almost dying shattering your belief in your supposed destiny as unstoppable, IMBA, Paladin-King of Lordaeron? Was it the frustration of Mal’ganis and the tainted grain being one step ahead of you from Andorhal and then to Stratholme? You weren’t thinking straight, Arthas, weren’t you?
And, yet, I remember that scene so clearly now: Uther, and Jaina – especially Jaina – walking away.
Two people who supposedly knew him well. And rather than calm him, reason further with him, or knock the hell out of him until he calms down if he remains recalcitrant – surely, Terenas would have understood Uther and/or Jaina restraining the Prince of Lordaeron because he wasn’t thinking straight? – they… walk away.
His Mentor, and his Beloved. They walked away from him.
Muradin, up until that moment Arthas takes Frostmourne, still regarded him, at least, by the boy he also tutored in Lordaeron. Shocked at the changes, he still believed in the Arthas he knew, not knowing that that person was gone, dead even before he took that unholy weapon.
How was Muradin to know that the Arthas Menethil he knew had already been rendered… undefined when the two people who reinforced that definition, rather than help Arthas find his way back, walked away. Just so we can have this plot of the “Fallen Angel”, a powerful warrior of the Light becoming the Lord of Darkness.
What if Jaina had stayed and tried, at least, to find that Arthas she knew and loved in Dalaran amidst the anger and hate of this Arthas that wanted to kill his own people to save them?
What if Uther had appealed to that brilliant mind of his top student by pointing out better options other than culling Stratholme’s citizens like some cruel parody of the Turkey Achievement in WoW?
What if the people who knew him best, tried to reinforce Arthas’ belief in the things that define him, rather than abandon him to his anger, his hate?
Maybe then we’d get Garrosh Hellscream as the Lich King. Hah. More gore, less drama. And maybe even Tirion Fordring would agree with Darion Mograine, that, yes, if Hellscream was the Lich King maybe its much better to nuke Icecrown than take it by storm, honorably.
We’d probably also be several Expansions early in a new war between the Horde and Alliance because Lordaeron wouldn’t have fallen, Arthas would be King, Uther would still be commanding a powerful Order of the Silver Hand and we’d all be going to Menethil Harbor to storm a Horde-occupied Kalimdor and save the bloody Night Elves. The Drae would be Horde, and the BElfs would be HElfs and more prissy with their hair (because they wouldn’t look so gaunt with magic deprivation) and they’d be Alliance.
And I’d still be a Paladin, going up against the Scourge as well as the Horde. All along wondering how that thing called a Death Knight could so abandon everything that ever defined him or her.
And whether I, too, would suffer the same fate