Analysis of of the Sylvanas Cinematic - Sanctum of Domination Raid Finale (Spoilers)
This post is an analysis of the
Sanctum of Domination Raid Finale Cinematic
, including speculation about the fates of Sylvanas and Anduin as well as thoughts about the imagery and implications in this cinematic.
**There are story spoilers in the cinematic below as well as in in the analysis.**
For an overview of the cinematic, check out our overview news piece:
Sylvanas' Fate Cinematic - Sanctum of Domination Raid Finale (Spoilers)
It is important to note that this is the Sanctum of Domination finale, not the expansion finale. There is still lots of story to go; this is not where we end up, this is just the point that we have reached so far.
The narrative design team has produced a thought provoking installment in the continuing story. This cinematic, however, lacks the "punch" of some of the previous pieces. It is single-toned, telling the Sylvanas story in her expression, a voyeur's view rather than the storytelling style that we have been spoiled with in the past. Sylvanas' part in the story and her future are hot button topics for some, so the decision to make this cinematic more matter of fact and less stirring could be justifiable. Unfortunately this choice to switch to a blander style with music purely a background element, and emotion confined entirely to one person's face, has led to monotonous pacing that gets us where we need to go, but little more. The result is that many are even more frustrated with the storyline which is unfortunate. Hitting the right beats, the appropriate peaks and valleys, supported by a complementary score, as has been the style in the recent past could have guided people in a more sophisticated manner, explaining through the storytelling that this is a good story, this is worth following, maybe you love Sylvanas, maybe you hate her, but we are not done yet. Nevertheless, what transpires is fascinating and moves us into the next phase of the story of Shadowlands.
So lets look at this cinematic beat by beat. The cinematic opens with the Sigil, or key depending on which side you are on, of the Arbiter transferring from her to the Jailer. Thrall, Bolvar, and Jaina are in chains. Anduin stands before them, clearly still in the thrall of the Jailer. We have lost. But this cinematic isn't about us. The triumphant star of the show makes her dramatic entrance sliding in on a trail of black smoke.
Sylvanas is rightly triumphant, she has succeeded, they have won. All of the keys are theirs and the creation of a world based on freedom for all can finally become a reality. She looks on proudly as the final key is claimed by the Jailer. The key sockets into the Jailers chest hole and there is a flash of bright light. As her vision clears, Sylvanas' face falls, her rare pride - almost joy - replaced by suspicion. She has seen something like this before... The jailer is now clad in very Lich King-like armor, blue eyes glowing. Right here is the uh-oh moment. Right here her vision clears both literally and figuratively.
The Jailer forces Thrall, Jaina, and Bolvar, still chained, to kneel before him and they do like puppets they currently are, their eyes blue with his influence. Sylvanas can't believe what is happening. She bids the Jailer wait, the way is open, they have what they want, now everyone should be free. She is almost pleading, we have what we need.
. Right? Wrong. Confirming her fears and her worst nightmare, the Jailer acknowledges that he is not after what she is, that their goals were never aligned. Not freedom, service. She has been used.
We are reminded of something both we and she have heard before, "All will serve in death," the Lich King said. The Jailer continues, "too long I endured the makers' flawed design. I will forge a new reality, where all shall serve..." Arthas knew what was up. Sylvanas looks to Anduin, realizing that he was right. She has been let down again. Her life is just repeating itself. To punctuate the point she hears the Lich King's voice in her head, "serve," and Arthas' voice, "serve..." and the Jailer, ..."Me..."
And Sylvanas, being Sylvanas, she shoots the Jailer. Her puny shadow magic is, however, no match for the Jailer's death magic reflexes and he catches the arrow - and we know she's the fastest shot in the west, so wow! He was likely expecting it. The Jailer turns to her, he is intimidating, dominant, but Sylvanas isn't cowed by anyone and she repeats what we now know is her driving philosophy, "I will never serve." This is the most dramatic and important line in the whole piece. This is everything that she has been about.
The Jailer accepts her resignation from the bad guy's side saying that she is still chained by mortality. Anduin knew that, he saw it back in the Sylvanas' Choice cinematic, "...as if the Banshee Queen hasn't entirely eclipsed the Ranger General." The Jailer allows that she did help restore something that had been stolen from him, and that he will repay her in kind. He reaches into a small portal and pulls out a crystal. Breaking it, he throws soul energy at her and she stumbles. Her corporeal and incorporeal selves merge together. He has given her the piece of her soul that was taken when Arthas killed and raised her, the part that allows the Ranger General equal access to who she is. As we watch this, the shot where her selves merge is almost just her and Anduin, might we think he is next in line? In the background, out of focus, we do see Thrall, the character who was so controlled that his name is Thrall. Thrall broke free of his enslavement but yet he must serve the Horde, and yet he kneels. Can they all break free? Will it even matter?
Looking more Lich King-like than ever, "I leave you to their mercy" the Jailer continues, meaning Thrall, Jaina, and Bolvar; the Horde, the Alliance, and the guy who works with both; us. He assumes that we will punish her and that that will be just retribution. He breaks Thrall, Jaina, and Bolvar's chains, they will rip her to shred's, right? He thinks he is throwing her to the lions. But is he? He's leaving her at the mercy of hope and life and compassion. And then he turns and, taking Anduin with him, enters the portal. And is gone.
But! But as Anduin turns and follows the Jailer, Varian's compass with the portrait of Anduin as a small boy falls to the ground. The exact shot where it drops goes by too fast to see, but freeze framing reveals that the compass drops straight down with Anduin's heel still in the frame. This suggests that it was deliberate. Anduin dropped the compass for a reason. More on that in a minute. The case is decorated with an Alliance lion - the lion in the den? - but flips open as it lands revealing the picture of innocence, kindness - no lions in this den. "Be the first to witness reality's end," says the Jailer as we look at Anduin's sweet, innocent portrait.
Sylvanas is left on her knees, alone in front of the empty portal base, abandoned, in a position that the Jailer thinks will lead to her punishment. We see her framed by Bolvar and Thrall's legs as they move towards her. The compass lies open, right behind her. Effectively what we are seeing is what is left of Sylvanas, and of Anduin. And we aren't quite sure what either of them is just yet. As we move towards her, Sylvanas looks up and we see that her eyes have turned blue. Analysis of
has suggested that cool colors, blue, signify us, and warm colors, red, signify the Jailer. Sylvanas' eyes switching from red to blue suggest that not only is she whole, she is also on our side now. "Cannot let him reach the..." she croaks, and passes out. As she falls, the camera spins with her, so that although she is lying unconscious, we see her upright. Sylvanas may be down, but figuratively she's up, she's back.
Sylvanas and Sylvanas
One cannot really talk about Sylvanas without looking at
. Through Arthas, the Jailer took away part of Sylvanas' soul way back when the Scourge invaded what we now call the Ghostlands. Like Uther in
, she is split, the Banshee Queen/Dark Lady and the Ranger General. We see this in Warbringers: Sylvanas. For a second they are one, then she submits to rage and despair and her eyes turn red. At that point we have little indication that she is split, but that is now very apparent. Might we assume that every major execution that Arthas performed may have had a soul tax. In Uther's case, his prayer may have diverted the split piece to Bastion, rather than to the Maw, but Sylvanas was not so lucky.
Before and after? or Two parts of a whole?
The recently released book of short stories,
World of Warcraft: Folk & Fairy Tales of Azeroth
, tells a story about Sylvanas' soul that is startlingly reminiscent of the tale of
Orpheus and Eurydice
. If one can put stock in a fable or fairy tale, stories that tend to be allegory and cautionary tales, Vereesa Windrunner went looking for Sylvanas after her death. She looked in Ardenweald where she expected to find Sylvanas, but finally found Sylvanas' soul in the Maw. When she catches it she realizes that the soul in the Maw is just a splinter. Her quest did, however, bring the Jailer's attention to this piece of a soul. Might the Jailer have snatched up Sylvanas' missing piece here? In the story, Vereesa is referred to as Sorrow and Sylvanas as Courage, a reference perhaps to how they lived and how they died, or will die. Sylvanas did, after all, die facing down the Lich King, and Vereesa has experienced a great deal of loss, not just of Sylvanas. But this is not Vereesa's story. All that said, this does support that Sylvanas was split when she died, and if one were to interpret that the sliver of soul that made it to the Maw was in fact the embodiment of Sylvanas' courage, and that is what was returned to her, then that will certainly inform the path that Sylvanas takes going forward.
Courage - Sylvanas faces down the Lich King himself
Also in Warbringers: Sylvanas, Delaryn Summermoon, the night elf unfortunate enough to encounter Sylvanas, is clad in green and gold, with a hood that looks, not exactly, but an awful lot like the Ranger General's outfit. A case could be made that in some way Sylvanas is actually talking to herself here. She declares her war on life and hope to herself, with her other self despairing, the tear stains on her victim's face mirroring the the tears burned into hers. This was a turning point - she tried to abandon the Ranger General. We know that she was not completely successful in this effort. As mentioned, Anduin sees that, as does Tyrande when she taunts Sylvanas about Nathanos during their fight in Ardenweald. These were all indications there there was hope for her yet.
Sylvanas and Delaryn or Sylvanas and Sylvanas?
Back to the Battle of Ardenweald, when Sylvanas and Tyrande fought, Tyrande had her dead to rights but at that very moment the Night Warrior's power faded and Sylvanas slips away. Perhaps even Elune knew that there was hope left both for and in Sylvanas, and could not let Tyrande kill her. Going back to the Folk and Fairy Tales story, the first place that Vereesa looks for Sylvanas seems to be Ardenweald. Might this be where she was sent to look because Ardenweald is where Sylvanas was supposed to go? Or is that where she started because Ardenweald is a forest and Vereesa is at home in the forest and thus assumes that's where to start? If one assumes the former, the implications for the events in the Battle of Ardenweald become much more interesting as regards her fate.
Sylvanas inexplicably getting away from Tyrande - she looks like she knows something Tyrande doesn't...
The Battle of Ardenweald
Sylvanas declared war on life and hope, and tried to quench hope at Teldrassil. She failed there, but she thinks she's mastered it. Anduin sees sees otherwise in the
cinematic, "if you get me to let go of hope, you finally can too." "Don't!" she warns and he finally breaks through her facade. Even talking about hope angers her. But she can't give up hope, and he won't. Even as the Jailer is betraying her, she has hope that she has misunderstood, that he isn't saying what she thinks he's saying. Her decision to fight, to shoot the Jailer, is also born of hope; would she have tried to kill him if she had no hope? That hope is what turns the Jailer against her, and puts her firmly back on the side of the living, the imperfect, and the hopeful aka. us. Hope is her weakness. In the end, even she couldn't kill hope.
Pleading with the Jailer, hope incarnate
Who is Sylvanas?
When the Jailer gives back her other half, and she likely immediately feels all of what she has done, the turning point is going the other way - and even further. The Jailer has given us back Sylvanas the Dark Lady and Sylvanas the Ranger General. And this will be significant going forward. So who is the Sylvanas who we are left with? Is she still the Dark Lady? Is she going to be the Ranger General? Will she be a meld of both?
As we see her lift her head, there's a chance she has actually become overwhelmed with her past self. When she says, "he must not get..." she could mean Arthas must be stopped before reaching the Sunwell, or she could mean the Jailer must not get to the Sepulcher of the First Ones. Either way, history repeats. When she wakes up will she even remember what has happened all these years since her split? It is going to be very interesting getting to know the new Sylvanas, whoever she is.
What Sylvanas Wants
Sylvanas was enslaved by the Lich King and forced to do his bidding. This scarred her. Her love for her people and her land was so great that she faced the Lich King without backup. Imagine being forced to wage war against all that you love and being completely helpless to do anything about it. She freed herself eventually, and went on to champion a new people, the Forsaken. But she was scarred, both physically - her tears, and her undeadness - and mentally - how can she possibly not have PTSD after that? Being forced to serve is, to her, the ultimate nightmare. Even when a new undead is raised, they are given the choice of what to do with their unlife. This is very deliberately shown in the Forsaken starting area and personified by Lillian Voss. Sylvanas is very big on choice, her ideal world is a place where everyone gets to choose. This is what she wants more than anything. This is what the Jailer offered her. Anduin figures this out in the Sylvanas' Choice cinematic, along with the irony that being forced to choose to serve or be forced to serve is no choice at all. Sylvanas may have lost the forest for the trees, but when the Jailer reveals his plan for all to serve him, her choice is clear, she will have none of it.
The Significance of Soul Crystals
So the jailer pops Sylvanas' soul crystal out of his dimension of holding. The last time we saw him do that was when he forged the mourneblade, Kingsmourne. So we are led to wonder, exactly who was the soul that got forged into Kingsmourne? Does the Jailer have the hubris for it to be Varian? Or even Arthas? And will that come into play with Anduin?
Remember how Frostmourne called to Arthas
- what is Kingsmourne saying to Anduin?
On the topic of the Soul Crystal though, the Jailer specifically said that he was repaying her "in kind," like for like, for something she had returned to him. What exactly did he mean? We had just fought Sylvanas and the result was that we lost and the Jailer gets the Arbiter's key. As the Arbiter's key floats out of the Arbiter's chest hole and towards the Jailer, it goes from being a smooth orb to being a patterned orb, perhaps recognizing where it is supposed to be, and finally displaying an infinity symbol as it settles in place. Infinite power? When it enters the Jailer he is changed, he gets armor, he becomes more Lich King-like. One might interpret that as him becoming whole, so returning Sylvanas' lost self is indeed a like to like transaction. This lends support to the theory that the Arbiter is not really one of the Eternal Ones, but a stand in who took over the Jailer's function when he was banished to the Maw. Lending more credence to this theory, as this happens, the Jailer says, "At long last, the final key is once again mine." Interestingly, if this does indeed make the Jailer whole, perhaps that is what needs to happen for us to defeat him, all of him.
The final key taking on its final form - to infinity and beyond
One of the most loaded symbols in this cinematic is the compass. There are several possible readings - it could be Anduin shedding his humanity, or mortality, it could be him leaving his humanity for us to take care of until he too can be rejoined, and it could be a message. Actually, it could be all three. In the portrait, Anduin is a child. It is a statement that Anduin is no longer that little boy, that he is leaving childhood behind, that maybe he can take care of himself. Where the jailer is going, humanity cannot tread, so Anduin has to leave his humanity in the care of others. The last time we saw the compass in a cinematic, it was foreshadowing King Varian's death, what he was leaving behind, and the balance he found between his path and his kinder, gentler son's path. This could easily symbolize the same for Anduin. Above all though, he left us his
, a device intended to help you find your way, and it seems likely that we will use it to find him and help him find his way back.
The first time we saw the compass, Varian is writing a letter for Anduin in case he dies on the Broken Shore
(spoiler, he does)
Arthas, Anduin, and the Jailer
Pains have been taken to make sure that there are visual clues throughout this cinematic comparing and relating Arthas, Anduin, and the Jailer. This is accomplished extremely well with angle and pose. These visuals are not lost on Sylvanas as she finally sees just what she's got herself into. Check out these obvious visual parallels.
Anduin in Lich King pose and the Jailer towering as the Lich King does
What the Jailer Wants
The Jailer mentions the "flawed" design of the makers. He is trying to make a perfect world, a perfect world for him. Again, we have seen this before. Algalon the Observer was sent to Azeroth to examine what was going on, and if necessary, send a message to the Titans to re-originate the planet - just what the Jailer wants to do to reality. A persistent theme in World of Warcraft is that imperfection is just fine, even desirable. And we all relate to that, don't we?
So why exactly does the Jailer give Sylvanas back her missing piece? To punish her? To reward her? To demonstrate that he always was more powerful than she was, even though she thought they were equals. Well she
they were equals. She spoke to him as an equal, and he responded in kind, but he was the one with the plan, the one giving the orders. When she reports to him about the fate of Sire Denathrius, again in the Sylvanas' Choice cinematic, she gets a taste of what happens to those the Jailer no longer has a use for. Again, she must hope that she is held in higher regard than the Sire. So what is she thinking? She knows that the Jailer is a being of immense power, what hubris is this that leads her to believe that he will see her as an equal? Pride cometh before a fall, and now we have seen the fall.
Color and the Jailer
Color analysis is subtle. One must look for composition and change, for unusual elements, for new elements, for shades and tones. That the Jailers eyes smolder blue does not invalidate the cool/warm theory, it merely ties him to the Lich King, reminding us that this is a figure to be feared, reminding Sylvanas of her worst enemy, and allowing Sylvanas to realize that she is on the wrong side of history here. Time to jump ship. Where the Jailer is concerned, blue means control. This is why Thrall, Jaina, and Bolvar's eyes are blue until he releases them, this is why Anduin's eyes are blue, this is why the gem on the Helm of Domination is blue.
Reminder, it's all about control
This leads to two thoughts:
Might there be a dual meaning in Sylvanas' blue eyes? Is she now in control of her whole self, finally? One might think for a second, that maybe we have it all wrong and the Jailer has left her in his thrall, but that is very unlikely to be the case. The shade of blue is just off. Sylvanas' blue is not the Jailer's blue.
Totally different blues
What of the blue gem on the Jailers helm? Is he just keeping with the style, or is he, in turn, being controlled...?
Are these the same?
Whatever the case, one thing is for sure, Sylvanas is about to swap Covenants. Any bets as to where she ends up?
This analysis was written in collaboration with our lore guide writer, DiscordianKitty. For more information about the lore related to this cinematic, check out these guides:
The Story of Chains of Domination No More Lies and a Choice What is the Sepulcher of the First Ones? Sylvanas and the Jailer
We've referenced the following cinematics frequently in our analysis, you can watch them below if you need a refresher or want to check out the scene in question:
Sylvanas' Choice, Warbringers: Sylvanas, The Battle of Ardenweald, Legion Trailer, Wrath of the Lich King Trailer
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