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Afterlives: Ardenweald Cinematic Analysis - Serving the Wilds, Sacrifice, and Growth
10.09.2020 um 20:27
Following the premiere of
, we're analyzing the finer points of the cinematic. This one is full of lore beats, starting with Ursoc's sacrifice paralleling Ysera's story, serving as a backdrop for the greater issues plaguing the Shadowlands as the anima drought has crippled Ardenweald. Told largely from the viewpoint of Ara'lon, Ardenweald is dying, to the point that its protectors are forced to choose between sacrificing the souls they were charged to protect in order to save the rest of their realm.
Note: this post contains spoilers for later events in Ardenweald.
Ardenweald Quests Night Fae Covenant Ursoc Artifact Tints Val'sharah Quests
Who is Ursoc?
Ursoc is a character of myth and legend, a Wild God who protected the forests of Azeroth alongside his twin brother Ursol. While Ursoc first perished in the War of the Ancients, he was brought back to live by the Grizzlemaw furbolgs, but the magics of Vordrassil used to resurrect him were corrupt, leading to Ursoc's defeat once more.
Following his death in
Wrath of the Lich King
, his spirit resided in the Emerald Dream for several expansions, but as Guardian Druid learn upon retrieving the Claws of Ursoc, his lair has been overrun by the Emerald Nightmare, a trap planted by the Satyr Xavius to capture the bear god. After being taken to the Emerald Nightmare, players are forced to fight him as a raid boss.
cinematic opens with the final phase of the fight, as Ursoc yells " THE WILDS TREMBLE BEFORE MY FURY!" in battle and "The Nightmare's veil is lifted... I return at last... to the long slumber." in defeat, both lines taken from the in-game encounter. The cinematic then shows what happens after that defeat - Ursoc's spirit journeys to Ardenweald, the place of his long slumber, his corrupted appearance shed to become a tranquil bear once more. Ursoc appears at peace with his death, satisfied that Ardenweald lies beyond.
It's tragic to think that Ursoc was expecting a return to familiar lands, only to be extinguished. But what if Ursoc, on some level, sensed strife within Ardenweald due to the attacks on the Emerald Dream? Ursoc has returned to Azeroth twice now and experienced corruption both times - which might make someone hesitant to welcome the afterlife, knowing they could be turned into a weapon against what they protect... Yet Ursoc looks forward to serving the forest, perhaps welcoming the chance to protect the forces of Life and Nature from within the Shadowlands.
We're also reminded of Xal'atath's whisper once Ursoc is defeated, implying she knows about the turmoil in the afterlife:
Another defender of the titans brought low. Every death makes it easier. Perhaps now his misery will end... though I doubt it.
Xal'atath is a character with unclear allegiances, and it's possible that with the knowledge gleaned from
Feindliche Infiltration - Vorwort
of enemy infiltrators, she could have been spying on the Old Gods and imprisoned in the dagger due to her untrustworthiness. If she was privy to the Nathrezim's plans in
Feindliche Infiltration - Vorwort
, her whisper could allude to the destruction that awaits Ardenweald.
Every time Ursoc has died in Warcraft, he has been brought back as a corrupted shadow of himself. At least with this final death, he dies uncorrupted without any chance he'll be brought back to fight for the enemy. His spirit lives on in Ardenweald's legacy, safe from future manipulaton. His sacrifice may have even ensured Ysera's survival, whose wildseed was one of the last to travel to Ardenweald before the cycle of death was broken.
After her wildseed has been saved from Drust attacks, the Winter Queen tells Ysera that she is "bound to this realm and will share its fate," which in a way applies to Ursoc as well: the bear god's sacrifice will be remembered as long as Ardenweald survives.
There remains one point of contention surrounding Ursoc after his defeat in the raid--his spirit shows up in the cleansed Emerald Dream, visible upon Xavius' defeat. However, this cinematic shows that Ursoc's spirit journeyed to Ardenweald instead. Could Ursoc's spirit have been split upon death, similar to Uther's soul going to Frostmourne and Bastion?
What is the Emerald Nightmare?
The Emerald Dream and Ardenweald are intrinsically linked, so the destruction caused by the Emerald Nightmare will have repercussions for Ardenweald as well.
The Emerald Nightmare is a part of the Emerald Dream corrupted by the Old Gods. The Nightmare sprang from the Rift of Aln, which may bleed into both the Twisting Nether and Great Dark Beyond. While Malfurion and Tyrande were able to cleanse other parts of the Emerald Nightmare in "Stormrage," they were never able to cleanse the rift, and so they sealed Xavius away in it. At the end of the Emerald Nightmare raid in
, we see the Remnant of the Void flower remains within the the Rift of Aln, growing throughout
Battle for Azeroth
to remind us that the threat of its presence remains despite Xavius' defeat.
4,500 years before the First War, Archdruid Fandral Staghelm would take branches from the World Tree Nordrassil and plant them over deposits of Saronite that began appearing throughout the world. The largest tree grew over a massive deposit in Grizzly Hills, and was named Andrassi - "Crown of the Snow" in Darnassian. Over time, bloody battles erupted in Northrend between the Taunka and the Forest Nymphs, two races not normally known for being bloodthirsty; the brutality of the battles between the two races led the druids of the Cenarion Circle to investigate.
What was discovered shocked the Cenarion Circle to its core. Andrassil's roots had reached deep into the soil, so deep in fact that they reached the ancient prison of the Old God Yogg-Saron, who managed to corrupt Andrassil with its foul magics, driving all creatures nearby to go mad. The World Tree did not have the blessing of the Dragon Aspects, so it was known to be susceptible to corruption. This led the Cenarion Circle to the hard decision of destroying the tree, renaming its fallen stump Vordrassil, or Broken Crown in Darnassian.
Although Andrassil had to be destroyed, it had enough force to stop the growth of Saronite. However, Yogg-Saron's corruption did not stop there, as he used Andrassil's roots to create a doorway into the Emerald Dream, which could be used by the other Old Gods to enter into the Dream. This enabled the other Old Gods, including N'Zoth, to plant seeds that would eventually grow and begin what is called the Emerald Nightmare.
Xavius, the Nightmare Lord, started off as the High Councillor to Azshara who welcomed the Burning Legion to Azeroth. Defeated soundly by Malfurion during the War of the Ancients, Xavius was punished by Sargeras and transformed into a satyr. Once again soundly defeated by Malfurion, Xavius was entombed in a tree and thrown into the sea. However, Xavius survived and began corrupting the Emerald Dream, instigated by the Old God N'Zoth. While the Burning Legion used the Emerald Nightmare to their benefit in the Legion expansion, Xavius is believed to ultimately serve the Old Gods.
Thus, the Emerald Nightmare is a realm of death and decay, able to corrupt any resident of Azeroth - even Ysera. We can see the destruction first-hand in the Val'sharah and Emerald Nightmare zones, as well as in Thros, the Blighted Lands, an offshoot of the Nightmare encountered in BFA.
The corruption of the Emerald Nightmare is so dangerous because there's no cure for it--only death. And with the cycle of death broken in Shadowlands, death may not be the release and rebirth nature hopes for. The growth of the Emerald Nightmare consumes souls, which then leads to more death and more souls sent to Shadowlands. With the cycle of death broken, souls intended for Ardenweald (eventually returning to the Dream) are trapped in the Maw, thinning the ranks of the Emerald Dream. And those regenerating in Ardenweald are starved for anima and may not survive, as we saw in the cinematic.
Anima Drought Represented by Cinematic Colors
Ardenweald has been hit the hardest by the anima drought and the use of color transitions shows the severity of the problem.
Before the cycle of death is totally broken, the scene starts with a vibrant blue setting, directly opposing the red tinted corruption of the Emerald Nightmare.
The red tones return when Ara'lon is faced with the destruction of his grove, representing his own nightmare.
As anima within Ardenweald wanes, the palette shifts to beige, with only hints of blue remaining.
It becomes even bleaker in the Winter Queen's vision of Ardenweald falling:
After Ursoc's final sacrifice, the blue palette has not returned to the grove, but it's has progressed to a neutral white rather than brown. Ardenweald is still in trouble, but Ursoc's anima has helped stabilize the realm, meaning his loss was not in vain.
Ardenweald is the zone hit hardest by the anima drought, but as horrifying as that may look, there's a deeper problem with breaking the cycle of death: the scarcity of Anima means that some wild seeds must die. In the Shadowlands, death appears to be final. There's been speculation that breaking the Cycle of Death could avenge some past grievances on Sylvanas' ends, but we shouldn't forget that this war has created many tragedies for Ardenweald - Ursoc, Ysera, Teldrassil.
Attack on Life - Most Insidious of Opponents
The defeat of Ursoc, coupled with the Winter Queen's vision of Ardenweald's destruction, reminds us of the attacks planned for millennia on the cosmic force of Life. The book
Feindliche Infiltration - Vorwort
shows that an unknown force, possibly the Nathrezim, have been plotting to wipe out all other cosmic forces in service of Death:
The adherents to Life are the most insidious of opponents, perhaps because their nature is so antithetical to our own.
Still, we learned much from observing the link between their plane and Ardenweald, and we have high confidence that a vulnerability has been identified.
Our operative has already gained the trust of her target.
While the mysterious operative isn't identified, the "vulnerability" could refer to the Rift of Aln which spreads the Emerald Nightmare, corrupting both Ursoc and Ysera in early Legion. Ysera's story takes place soon after Ursoc's corruption in Legion, as she is corrupted by Xavius wielding the Tears of Elune, and is only cleansed by Elune upon her death. In this story, Tyrande must make tough sacrifices for the greater good, paralleling the Winter Queen's decisions in the cinematic. Tyrande chooses to protect the Temple of Elune and kill Ysera, to save her people, instead of trying to rescue her love Malfurion. Parallels continue with similar imagery and colors used to depict the uncorrupted spirits of Ysera and Ursoc leaving Azeroth.
Another parallel between
and past events is the prominence of the tree: the burning of Teldrassil, the threats faced by other World Trees, and the destruction of Ardenweald's iconic tree. The Emerald Nightmare's raid entrance is located at the base of Shaladrassil, a world tree corrupted by the Nightmare during the Burning Legion's recent invasion. The main tree in Ardenweald could possibly be the equivalent of a World Tree on Azeroth.
The attack on Ursoc, Ysera, Teldrassil, Emerald Dream, and Ardenweald in recent years add up to demonstrate a serious attack on the forces of Life, building upon the constant efforts of he Emerald Nightmare to destabilize it. The book
Feindliche Infiltration - Vorwort
outlines complicated plans for defeating the cosmos, profiting off of battling forces, and we see that very much in play with that story, which how the Burning Legion, Old Gods, Emerald Nightmare, and Anima drought have all contributed to the Jailer's plans.
Ara'lon's Arc - Cinematics Can Succeed with Unknown Characters
grapples with the fate of Ursoc, one of the legendary figures in WoW's lore. But it also does a masterful job at making us care about Ara'lon and the Winter Queen, two brand-new characters in Shadowlands. Introducing new characters proves a challenge, especially when compared to cineamtics featuring heavyweights like Arthas and Uther, but
succeeds at forging an emotional connection.
Ara'lon is a simple faun, whose entire world is his tranquil wildseed grove. He sits in silence, tending to his seeds, until one day, the other fauns come to attack. As the screen turns red, he lashes out and even fears betrayal from his queen. When he realizes the queen, aided by the Wild Hunt, is destroying groves to ensure Ardenweald's continued survival, Ara'lon must then forge a new purpose. Will he follow his old oath and loyalty? Or will he sacrifice a soul, going against his purpose, for the greater good?
Ara'lon chooses to turn his back on years of tradition, extinguishing the wild seed and his old purpose in Ardenweald. When he releases Ursoc, he says "One last time you serve the wilds," letting Ursoc's legacy live on in a new way. His life is bigger than just tending a grove now, as he joins the Winter Queen to ascend to the highest peak and gaze out over Ardenweald.
Ara'lon doesn't have much dialogue in the cinematic, but his character elicits emotion due to the poignancy of his arc. The cinematic is just a few minutes long, but we see his way of life uprooted and his horizons expand. Likewise, the Winter Queen has even less screen time than Ara'lon, and she's also a brand-new character, but the visuals are so evocative that we understand the nature of her verdant realm and how painful it would be to see it turn to dust without the need for lengthy exposition.
premiere, the community wondered if Mograine or Vashj would have been a better choice than Draka due to their rich backstory.
proves that it's possible to make a gripping cinematic with unknown characters if there's the proper build-up and dynamic plot arc.
is two minutes longer than
, which makes all the difference with character growth and story buildup.
Ara'lon in Ardenweald Quests - The Wild Hunt
Ara'lon stands with the Winter Queen at the end of the cinematic, vowing to protect the souls that could yet be saved. Through Ardenweald questing, we learn he has joined the Wild Hunt in a poignant manner, as we search for his team in
Die vermissten Jäger
but find no other survivors. Ara'lon then continues to provide assistance as we quest through Ardenweald, even returning to his old grove Tirna Noch without hesitation to procure more anima to save Ysera's wildseed.
Ara'lon's origin story is touched upon in
Reise zum Winterschlafbecken
Niya: Thank you for escorting us, Ara'lon. It puts me at ease to know we are protected by a fierce huntsman.
Ara'lon: I was not always so. I joined the Wild Hunt only recently... after my grove had to be sacrificed to save the others.
Niya: My grove was lost as well... but not to the drought. We were overrun by masked fae. My friends...
Ara'lon: I am sorry, Niya. If only the Wild Hunt could have been there... but our numbers are stretched perilously thin.
Ara'lon then returns to his fallen grove in
Echos von Tirna Noch
, where the
cinematic will likely play. While he has regrets, he focuses on the important task ahead, demonstrating how he's grown from the solitary caretaker at the start of the cinematic.
It is clear that we need more anima than this grove can provide. I may know of a way we can acquire some. Many of the masked fae have been collecting anima for some unknown purpose. I propose we take it back from them. The Wild Hunt has tracked them to Tirna Noch... my former grove. Long has it been since I walked beneath its boughs. Not since it was left to wither so that other groves might survive. I remember it well...
I never thought I would return to the grove. The place of so many regrets. The source of so many memories...
But now is not the time for sentimentality. Now is the time for action.
Once we explore the grove, we discover the Drust are behind the anima drought, hoarding it in
Herz von Tirna Noch
. We escape from their attacks and return with the anima to infuse into Ysera's wildseed. Tirna Noch, even in ruins, has helped Ardenweald save Ysera, which is Ursoc's final legacy.
That's about it for our cinematic analysis, let us know in the comments what you think and if you found anything else that you want to discuss! Make sure to check our past cinematic recaps too:
Analysis of the Afterlives: Bastion Cinematic - Justice or Vengeance Analysis of the Afterlives: Maldraxxus Cinematic - Harbingers: Illidan Reference
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