The End of Factions? Analysis of the Crossroads Cinematic
27.06.2019 um 06:13
Following the launch of Patch 8.2, we were gifted not one but two cinematics. Yesterday we wrote about
Azshara's warm welcome in Nazjatar
, and today we're looking at the
cinematic, one with a very different tone promoting a message of hope and unity... but can that really be possible with all the turmoil throughout
Battle for Azeroth
The Friendship and Failures of Jaina and Thrall
depicts the reunion of two old friends - Lady Jaina Proudmoore and Thrall, former Warchief of the Horde. While both were largely absent from the game during the events of
, Jaina returned to the forefront in order to lead the Alliance expedition to her homeland in
Battle for Azeroth
, confronting her past and estranged family before redeeming herself in the eyes of her former people, transitioning from traitor and condemned exile to Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras. Her story was told through quiet beats and introspective cinematics, showcasing her inner turmoil and the doubt surrounding her; we witness that trauma and grief first hand in the Realm of Torment, as Jaina is consumed by guilt over the destructive events of her past - from Arthas' culling of Stratholme, her part in the death of her father, the loss of Theramore have all weighed heavily on her fractured psyche. The extent of her torment grows over the course of the cinematic, with the ghosts of Rhonin, Kinndy, Varian, and Uther coming back to haunt her. Jaina prided herself as a peacekeeper and talented mage, yet all her power couldn't fix every problem or save every life; her battles carried great personal cost, and the archmage is plagued to continually relive the wrongs she could not right.
This cinematic was important to Jaina's character development because it showed the horrific situations she lived through, much of which took place off-screen or before
World of Warcraft
, such as the death of her father and transformation of Arthas into the Lich King. Even the destruction of Theramore, an in-game event from
Mists of Pandaria
, was more detailed in the book
Tides of War
and the gritty denouement of the expansion dramatized in the novel
Players who didn't read the books would have missed Jaina's testimony at Garrosh's trial, reliving the last moments of Theramore, as well as her near assassination by Garrosh's agents during his subsequent escape. In game, Jaina appeared to transition from a relatively peaceful and diplomatic advisor to Varian in
Wrath of the Lich King
to warmongering in
Mists of Pandaria
without any real explanation, before vanishing without a trace during the events of
Warlords of Draenor
. Thanks to the story pieces and lovingly-rendered cinematics in
Battle for Azeroth
, Jaina has become much more multifaceted character, with her story continuing beyond the initial arc of redemption in 8.0 to including her own raid encounter and bittersweet reunion with her brother in 8.1.5.
Thrall's character arc has followed a similar trajectory - one of the iconic characters
and the Warchief of the Horde through
, who underwent a series of traumatic experiences which caused him to lose his faith, abandon Doomhammer, and his Horde.
I refuse to fail him like I failed his father. I wish I could change it all. Cairne, Garrosh, Theramore. Sometimes it feels like I did everything wrong.
In the buildup to
, Thrall contributed to the unrest between the Alliance and Horde by refusing to apologize for a brutal Horde attack on the Sentinels, concerned about the impact it would have on Orc morale. With the elements in unrest due to the impending calamity, Thrall devotes himself to the puruit of shamanism, appointing Garrosh as acting Warchief in spite of misgivings from Cairne and Vol'jin, and is in Nagrand when the fateful Mak'gora (duel) between Garrosh and Cairne Bloodhoof ended in the latter's death, securing Garrosh's position as Warchief.
Vol'jin: I must beg ya council my friend. I can't be standin' by Garrosh while he be turnin' our people against each other for the sake of war. My respect for ya does not extend to dis new Horde... I am tinkin' of leadin' my people away.
Vision of Thrall: I did not make this decision lightly. Vol'jin. I know our alliances will suffer for it. I know the Horde will be irreversibly changed. But I made this choice with confidence that Garrosh is exactly what the Horde needs.
The Horde then follows a bloody path throughout
Mists of Pandaria
, with Garrosh pushing an agenda of aggressive expansion and war, beginning with the destruction of Theramore and concluding with the Vale of Eternal Blossom ruined by the Heart of Y'shaarj. Although a friend to the former Warchief, Jaina's relationship with Thrall is strained by his intervention in Jaina's plan to decimate Orgrimmar with a massive tsunami in retaliation to the loss of her city. Although Thrall pleads with Jaina to halt her attacks, the apoplectic mage reminds him that
appointed Garrosh as Warchief and ignored her advice to reign him in, only relenting once Kalecgos puts things in perspective - comparing the attack on Orgrimmar to Arthas' culling of Stratholme, asking if she wanted to be remembered as such. Placated for the time being, Jaina's view of the Horde has been irrevocably changed, seeing them as sworn enemies and her friendship with Thrall greatly strained.
Warlords of Draenor
, Thrall challenges Garrosh to Mak'gora, but Thrall taints the tradition by using the elements to kill Garrosh, dishonoring them and himself, a prelude to the early events of
in which Thrall has abandoned Doomhammer and disappeared - much like Jaina. The former Warchief isn't seen again until Saurfang meets him in the cinematic
; with Thrall living the simple life of a farmer on Nagrand, feeling pressured that if he returned to the Horde, people would expect him to rule and denouncing himself as nobody’s savior, though Saurfang is quick to claim that he just wants Thrall’s help. Similar to Jaina in
Realm of Torment
, Thrall has been worn down by the pressure to fix everything, at times holding the Horde together with his bare hands, often resulting in disaster despite his great efforts. Music plays a key role in the cinematic, shifting from a soft, mournful tone as Thrall expresses regret over his actions, to a heroic melody previously heard in
Call to Arms
after he finds his resolve and joins Saurfang's quest.
Callbacks to WoW's Past
While the Nazjatar cinematic introduces us to new characters and places, the
cinematic deliberately hearkens back to events of WoW's past:
First, Thrall alludes to the Burning of Teldrassil - an event that took place nearly a year ago in-game:
And now Sylvanas will come, Thunder Bluff will burn.. just like Teldrassil.
Thrall is worried that Sylvanas will turn her destruction on Horde cities next, and while Sylvanas may be playing a far darker game involving mastering Death and bending the will of Old Gods, it's still a fair concern. His worry echoes Jaina's in the novel
Tides of War
, where she assumed the opposition would do the worst and one day burn down Teldrassil:
What will it take for you to realize that the Horde will eventually turn on you? They do not understand ‘neutral,’ just as they do not understand ‘diplomacy’ or ‘decency.’ They will flow over Kalimdor, then turn on the Eastern Kingdoms, then come here. Your refusal to stop them will mean that one day soon, Horde will be swarming over Dalaran itself! Please, strike while we still can! We have uprooted the city once—let us do so now. Take it to Orgrimmar. Attack from above while they lie in a drunken stupor, dreaming of conquest! You’ve lost Rhonin and an entire city. Will you act when Teldrassil falls? When they are burning a World Tree?
It's a testament to Jaina's character growth that now
is the one to convince Thrall that another World Tree will not burn, and she reminds Thrall of their time working together in Warcraft III:
Once before you and I stood side by side on the slopes of Mount Hyjal, that World Tree did not fall. Because the Horde and the Alliance worked together.
Here, Thrall and Jaina were greeted by a vision of a Prophet, the Guardian Medivh in disguise, urging the Orcs and Humans to bad together to save Azeroth rather than fall divided. Although initially failing, both factions eventually make their way to Mount Hyjal, where despite resistance from Night Elves resentful over the encroachment on their homelands and the death of the Demi-god Cenarius, the three groups put aside their difference in order to protect the World Tree and defeat Archimonde. Their victory came with great personal loss to the Night Elves, who lost both their first world tree Nordrassil and their immortality in the battle. Despite a message of factionless unity in the
cinematic, it's unclear if the Night Elves would even consider any sort of peace with the Horde after again losing their home due to the burning of Teldrassil in the opening stages of
Battle for Azeroth
At the very end of
, Saurfang, silent until this point, has a simple message for Jaina:
Tell your king he's not alone.
This is a throwback to the
cinematic, released at BlizzCon 2018: Saurfang tells Anduin that his life was spared so he could eventually take down Sylvanas, to which Anduin responds that that he can't - not alone. The cinematic ends with Anduin leaving the cell door open, an invitation for Saurfang to escape, and in
we see that Saurfang has found Thrall in Nagrand, so now everything has come full circle - Saurfang, Thrall, and Jaina together, with Saurfang supporting Anduin's cause.
The End of Factions
Jaina and Thrall, older, wiser, and wearier of war, pledge to work together to save the world. This has led to massive speculation that the factions could be dissolved, a topic floated among the playerbase for years due to fatigue from a relentless back and forth between faction war and banding together to defeat a greater threat:
Jaina: Because the Horde and the Alliance worked together.
Thrall: Horde..Aliance..we've come to this crossroad again and again Jaina. It always falls apart.
Thrall: What's different this time?
Jaina: We are.
The cinematic ends with Jaina saying things will be different this time because things have changed - they are more mature, aware of their limitations, and trying to make things right in an imperfect world instead of trying to be a savior. Jaina and Thrall appear to have learned from their mistakes, thinking of strategic long-term plans instead of following gut intuition, and in putting their personal complexes aside, they can take a more practical approach to their coalition moving forward, but there are variables they aren't accounting for since their
days: Sylvanas and Tyrande.
Tyrande was hesitant of working with Thrall and Jaina in
, and now has even more reason to be distrustful, having lost nearly everything to the Horde war machine. She clashed with Anduin at the start of
Tides of Vengeance
, disagreed with his choice to focus on the Battle of Dazar'alor, and vowed to take the Battle for Darkshore into her own hands, leading to her Night Warrior ritual.
Sylvanas, alienating both Alliance and Horde, appears to be following a similar trajectory to Garrosh. However, Blizzard has hinted that her path will be very different, noting she'd view Garrosh as an amateur and would never end up imprisoned or on trial. We've also seen her act far more cunning and charismatic that Garrosh; in Patch 8.2, she already knows about Azshara's trap in Nazjatar, cleverly luring both Alliance and potentially disloyal Horde leaders to a massive shipwreck... then orchestrates Baine's escape, faking a confrontation and tricking her enemies into thinking they outmaneuvered her. Garrosh, on the other hand, quickly alienated everyone except for his most stalwart Kor'kron and fanatical followers, a large part of what ultimately led to his fall.
With these wildcards, a merging of the factions could lead to the development of new and unexpected collations:
The Alliance and Horde could set their differences aside, including the Night Elves, and band together against Sylvanas, setting up an expansion of the living against the undead. While relations are currently strained between the Night Elves and the rest of the Alliance, perhaps Greymane could reason with Tyrande to put differences aside and fight Sylvanas, as he too has suffered great personal losses at her hands, yet realized in
Before the Storm
his issues were with her, not the entire faction.
There's a strong case to be made that a new type of undead could fit into the roster of playable races, represented by Derek Proudmoore and Calia Menethil, which would set up a nice parallel between Sylvanas' ability to raise the dead as Forsaken while her rival faction leader Anduin assists in bringing undead back to the Light. We've also seen the Light depicted in a sinister way through the Mag'har Orc allied race scenario, adding shades of grey to both sides as each uses powerful, yet destructive forces, to fight against each other and/or the Black Empire. Then, we also have
Alleria's dormant story
of her newfound path of Void, developed in Patch 7.3 but moved to the background in Battle for Azeroth. The story "A Thousand Years of War," plus later whispers, imply she may die in the future and lose control over the Void over the heavily-foreshadowed death of her son Arator.
On the other hand, as the Horde leadership is divided further, we could also see a breakdown of the current factions, with fringe groups of Undead and Night Elves rejecting the Jaina-Thrall Alliance. Should Patch 8.3 center on Sylvanas, the question of how to handle her controversial leadership would rise to the forefront. Perhaps we may even start to see similar dissent between Alliance leadership, hinted as a future plot point in the Polygon interview.
Alliance don’t have that same division in their ranks just yet, and there isn’t that same natural point of choice.
Patch 8.1, which focused on Jaina, saw the Horde leadership grow divided; should a Sylvanas-centric patch mirror Jaina's patch, the Alliance would then start to see a similar internal conflict. We've previously seen a minor divide in the Battle for Darkshore - Anduin focusing his resources on the campaign against Dazar'alor, while Tyrande fights in Darkshore. Should Anduin continue to neglect his Night Elven allies in the pursuit of peace with the Horde, the faction could splinter further, potentially also putting Night Elves and Worgen on opposing sides from the rest of the Alliance. Losing Greymane's confidence would hit Anduin particularly hard, and with the Gnomes also lacking a leader, the formerly ironclad balance of power within the Alliance could be closer to the brink of disaster than many realize. (However, this may be a stretch for now--as the bonds between Genn and Anduin have strengthened in Battle for Azeroth, with Genn reaching the realization that he's against Sylvanas, not all of the Horde.)
Should Sylvanas' story take us back to the Lich King, Taelia Fordragon may play a large role in the story as well in learning the fate of her father, Bolvar, who ascended the throne after Arthas. The Il'gynoth whisper "The boy-king serves at the master's table. Three lies will he offer you," implies Anduin will unwittingly play into the Old Gods' plan, and as we've seen so far in Battle for Azeroth, he is an inexperienced leader whose naivete about the Battle of Lordaeron nearly got all the Alliance leaders killed.
Either way, a breakdown of the two factions would also help the game for practical reasons--removing the constant issues of Alliance vs Horde balance in competitive WoW. For example, when
Crucible Cutting Edge for Horde
hit 100 guilds, only 12 Alliance guilds had defeated Mythic Uu'nat. This type of extreme faction imbalance would be solved should the faction divide change.
Unlike the Nazjatar cinematic,
ends on a note of unity and understanding, bringing the
alliance between Jaina and Thrall full circle. Taken on its own, this cinematic leads towards a world where the Alliance and Horde can peacefully coexist, but it comes on the heels of our journey into Nazjatar, a trap set by Azshara with Sylvanas' tacit approval as she wages a shadow campaign against both the Alliance and members of the Horde, while months of political turmoil eat away at the foundation of the Alliance. While prominent leaders may desire peace and unity, the foundations of their respective factions threaten to crumble beneath them; rather than no factions, it's very possible we could find ourselves with several, as each subdivision pushes it's own agenda. Meanwhile, Sylvanas continues to plot, pulling the strings of everyone involved.
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