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Analysis of the Afterlives: Bastion Shadowlands Animated Short - Justice or Vengeance?
28.08.2020 um 00:00
animated short premiered earlier today at Gamescom, and now that we've had time to rewatch the cinematic a few times and ponder it, we wanted to highlight some notable moments. Were Uther's actions driven by justice or vengeance? Did Devos do the right thing in helping Uther? Would Arthas' path of destruction have been avoided if the Kyrian had listened to Devos? And will we see Arthas return in a future patch?
Spoiler warning: this article discusses some Shadowlands Bastion and Kyrian Campaign quests that take place after the cinematic.
Return of Arthas in Shadowlands?
development, players have eagerly speculated if Arthas would make a reappearance in the expansion. While Blizzard did not explicitly confirm or deny Arthas' presence, their statements strongly hinted Arthas would return.
One interview in particular
said it was "very likely" Arthas would be sent to the Maw, and now we know beyond a shadow of a doubt he is there.
also features a number of characters with strong ties to Arthas, including but not limited to:
. The return of so many characters haunted by Arthas' past sets up a perfect narrative opening for Arthas to return later in the expansion.
Blizzard stated in an interview that they didn't want to have a cheap Arthas cameo; if the character returned, it needed to be treated with the proper weight. This animated short provides the perfect build-up to reintroduce Arthas in a nuanced way for a later patch.
As a neat side-note surrounding his death, Arthas' final line of "I see...only darkness..." was generally interpreted to refer to a bleak afterlife symbolizing his horrible deeds, but after seeing the cinematic, it could literally refer to Devos clouding his vision with her dark wings and hands.
Breaking the Cycle - Did Devos Do The Right Thing?
While questing in Shadowlands, Devos reveals that peering into Uther's past life and memories is what led her to no longer believe in the Kyrian path and start the entire Forsworn campaign against the Archon.
dramatizes this moment and it's a pretty convincing argument as to why Devos broke the rules to do what she did. Throughout the animated short, we also see this tension between blind obedience and questioning reflected in the color scheme of Bastion - while Devos has angelic white wings, as her doubt grows, her wings take on deeper shades, foreshadowing the creation of the Forsworn.
At the start of the cinematic, Devos tries to convince Uther that his work is done, he should shed his mortal burdens, put vengeance aside, and serve the Shadowlands as a Kyrian ferrying the souls of the dead. But Uther cannot rest, he desires justice against Arthas, and so Devos watches over him even though it is beneath her station as a Paragon. As the cinematic progresses, we see how doubt changes Devos' mind, starting from an idle thought that Uther was placed in Bastion by mistake, for which she is scolded by another Kyrian.
Devos' turning point comes when Uther shows the wound left by Frostmourne, lamenting that Arthas was his student (a neat parallel to Uther now serving as Devos' student in a way). Horrified after experiencing Uther's memory, she goes to the Archon to warn them of the danger of Arthas, a mortal wielding the magic of the Maw in Frostmourne. However, Devos is Ignored by all the other Kyrian and told not to question the order of things by the Archon.
This dark agent runs free on a mortal world with the power of the Maw itself in hand!
The presence of the Maw leaking into other realms demonstrates Maw is not as self-contained as Devos thought, implying the presence of evil across Shadowlands. The spread of the Maw means the Path isn't perfect, which leads her to forge her own path and disobey her duties. Rebelling against the Path, Devos subverts the usual order in the Shadowlands, taking Uther to Arthas' body as soon as he lies defeated in Icecrown Citadel. While Uther is initially hesitant to condemn Arthas, Devos urges him to remember the pain he caused.
Uther's ascension is then tied to Arthas' fall and part of an even larger transgression in the eyes of the Shadowlands - breaking the cycle of death to condemn Arthas to the Maw, instead of ferrying his spirit to be judged by the Arbiter.
In retrospect, Devos' misgivings about Arthas were accurate. If the Kyrian had put a stop to him on his path to the Lich King, so much suffering would have been avoided. Could this be why Sylvanas, the Jailer, and others feel like the cycle of death is broken, if it indirectly enabled Arthas to succeed?
Devos is later painted as a villain, the leader of the Forsworn, a boss in the Spires of Ascension dungeon, and an ally of Helya. After her defeat, the new Forsworn leader Lysonia shows
how sinister the Forsworn can be
, launching a brutal attack on Bastion and the Kyrian. But the world of Bastion, in which memories of the past are erased before characters can ascend, does sound like a cruel cult as well. Blindly following the Archon without asking questions or admitting fault has its own set of problems, especially as we now know they were dismissive of halting Arthas' destruction.
Uther's Soul and Parallels to Sylvanas' Death
We've now seen Arthas kill characters in two pre-expansion animated shorts,
. The deaths of Sylvanas and Uther share visual similarities, notably the warm yellow hues of Azeroth giving way to the blue of Arthas, and Frostmourne claiming their souls through ethereal smoke pouring from their eyes.
One important difference between the deaths of Sylvanas and Uther is seeing Uther's spirit split in two - one part appears to be trapped in Frostmourne while the other goes into Shadowlands. The lore surrounding this mechanic is a bit fuzzy as Uther's soul in Icecrown Citadel did not reference being split in two, but perhaps we'll learn more specifics in-game, as we're encountering the Runecarver in Shadowlands, the master crafter behind the Helm of Domination. Did Arthas' "humanity" let part of Uther's soul leave? In the ICC quest
Die Erlösung des Lichtbringers
, we see Uther's soul view Arthas with kindness, so it is difficult to reconcile this with the actions of Uther in
: Alas, hero of Azeroth, you give me a greater gift than you know.
: Long have I struggled to forgive the prince for his terrible transgressions.
: My soul has been wracked with unbearable anxiety, dark thoughts... distancing me from the Light.
: I recall clearly the gleam of pride in his eye as he stood before me, eager to defeat the enemies of the Light...
: Eager to defend his people, no matter the cost.
: It is this memory of Arthas that I choose to keep in my heart.
One potential theory is that Uther's soul remained split in two, with the Light version ascending to the Shadowlands and hungering for vengeance, as the darker version remained trapped in Frostmourne and spoke with players during the Icecrown Citadel patch. These two halves could have fused back together upon Arthas' death, explaining Uther's hesitation to strike down Arthas after years of waiting for revenge. There are still some details which don't add up, like Uther speaking favorably of Arthas after his death, so hopefully the expansion will fill in the missing blanks.
Another neat parallel between both cinematics is seeing the characters wronged by Arthas emulate his actions, for better or worse. In
, we see Arthas lay waste to Silvermoon and then Sylvanas later torches Teldrassil. In
, we start off with Arthas, possessed by vengeance, going down the path of the Lich King. Vengeance masked as Justice drove Arthas to find Frostmourne on his expedition to Northrend. Now we end
with Uther throwing Arthas into the Maw, his actions masking vengeance as justice too.
The dramatic impact of Sylvanas and Uther's actions is furthered echoed in the visual similarities between Sylvanas condemning Teldrassil to burn and Uther sentencing Arthas to the Maw.
Was Arthas' Fate Justice or Vengeance?
Right before Arthas kills Uther in
, they exchange final words:
Uther: I dearly hope that there's a special place in hell waiting for you, Arthas.
Arthas: We may never know, Uther. I intend to live forever.
In the animated short, these words come back to haunt Arthas as Uther literally throws Arthas into hell. As Arthas is thrown down, we see the blues of the atmosphere transform into a fiery red, signifying his pain. For players that have been following along since the early days of Warcraft, it's a satisfying moment similar to Illidan crushing Gul'dan at the end of the Nighthold raid.
However, as we later learn in the World Quest,
throwing Arthas into the Maw did not bring satisfaction to Uther. At the time we wrote about the quest, we assumed that Uther was referring to Arthas' defeat in Icecrown Citadel, but after watching the cinematic, there's an aded layer of poignancy knowing that Uther still feels unrest after throwing Arthas into the Maw:
: I have tried to forget. I have tried to forgive. Yet... He lingers in every waking thought. Down every path.
: This anger is foreign to me. Unrecognizable. I must cleanse it. That is my path. My Paragon said it should be so, and it WILL be so.
: The Light has damned your soul, Arthas. May it rot in the Maw!
: Will his fate ever bring me peace? Will I ever be free of him? Perhaps... in time. Perhaps.
This unrest is not explicitly detailed in the animated short, but the black smoke creeping in the final shot of
foreshadows the transformation of Uther in the Forsworn, a darkened Kyrian. While
depicts Devos and Uther in hues of white and gold, when we first encounter Uther in
, he's a Forsworn with dark wings.
Throughout the animated short, Devos and Uther clash about justice and vengeance. First Devos criticizes Uther for wanting vengeance, and he corrects her that he wants justice. Then, years later, at the moment of Arthas' death, Devos urges Uther to take his vengeance and throw Arthas into the Maw, but he corrects her and says it is justice. But later on in a Bastion World Quest, Uther has a change of heart and now believes his actions to be guided by vengeance, not justice:
: Every time I close my eyes, I see my death. I see... him... standing before me, that cursed blade in hand...
: Devos convinced me that my death was wrong. She promised me justice.
: What we did to him was not justice. It was vengeance.
: Lysonia was no different. I did not know that they wielded the same darkness...
Do you think Uther did the right thing throwing Arthas into the Maw? Or did this go against his actions as a follower of the Light and Justice in life? Would Arthas have ended up in Revendreth to repent as a mortal, without Uther's interference?
Does Sylvanas Know About Uther's Actions?
We've played through both the Bastion leveling experience as well as the
Kyrian Covenant questline
, interacting with Uther frequently while questing. While we've experienced major reveals such as Helya creating the Forsworn, as well as Uther marked as an ascended Kyrian before his time, Uther did not explicitly tell any characters that he threw Arthas into the Maw. We do have a few hints here and there like "What we did to him was not justice. It was vengeance." but no clear moment of confession. It's possible that Arthas being sent to the Maw without being judged by the Arbiter is a secret.
However, perhaps Sylvanas knows about Uther's actions via the Jailer. As Uther threw Arthas into the Maw immediately after the events of Icecrown Citadel and before the short story "Edge of Night," Sylvanas could have learned of Arthas' fate when she made her pact with the Jailer. If Sylvanas realized that the Archon chose to let Arthas continue down a path of destruction, wielding the dangerous magic of Frostmourne, she could be furious that their inaction led to her death and transformation. Why should the Kyrian decide to let Arthas live and damn many souls to Undeath and purgatory? Why should the cycle of death be protected if it leads to such tragedy?
We hope you enjoyed our analysis of the
animated short! Did any other details stand out to you? Let us know in the comments.
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