Now that the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands storyline has concluded, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Tyrande was ultimately chosen to mete out Sylvanas's judgement, and the fact that she's been sent to the Maw to retrieve souls is the best possible outcome I could've hoped for. So the ending wasn't big or flashy, but it was full of emotion, from the jeering crowds to the Banshee Queen's reunion with her sisters before her final judgement.
And it could've been so much worse.
I vividly remember the first time I met Sylvanas Windrunner—she was the first WoW character to really make an impression on me. And perhaps, more importantly, she was the first NPC that took the time to tell me her story, as we rode side by side along the road in Silverpine Forest. And because of that she was the first character I cared about, which prompted me to delve more into the lore of Warcraft.
But Shadowlands hasn't been a good expansion for Sylvanas fans. The banshee queen's latest story arc, which really kicked off back in Battle for Azeroth with the burning of Teldrassil, has been troubling, to say the least. Not content with killing countless night elves, she turned her back on the Horde, killed Saurfang, and has apparently been in contact with the Jailer for years—as far back as her "death" at Icecrown Citadel at the end of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.
If she'd acted in a completely cold and uncaring way the entire time, it might've been easier to accept. But we've seen snippets of her humanity throughout the expansions: The decision she made to pull out of the battle at the Broken Shore was clearly difficult for her, and that thoughtful pause when Vol'jin names her as the next Warchief at the beginning of Legion is another. Most recently, we see her try to persuade Anduin to serve the Jailer willingly, when it shouldn't matter to her how he eventually serves.
So yes, it's a hard pill to swallow when your favourite character seemingly turns evil and I'm not sure I would've ever felt quite the same about WoW if they'd killed her off, no matter how much justification was there.
That was the biggest fear—an ignominious Garrosh-style ending seemed on the cards, especially when it became clear she would be a raid boss in Sanctum of Domination. Even after everything Sylvanas had done, I absolutely didn't want to fight her. But once I realised we wouldn't actually "kill her" during her encounter in the raid, the relief was replaced by the fear that she would somehow end up sacrificing herself to save us all from the Jailer later on.
As it stands, the fact that Sylvanas has been sent to the Maw to repent for her numerous crimes is kind of ironic (as I'm not sure any WoW player enjoys spending time there). But more importantly, it leaves open the possibility of her returning in a later expansion.
You cannot kill hope
As Sylvanas remains a part of Azeroth's future—for now at least—it's got me wondering if Anduin may play some role in her ultimate return to the story. After all we learn, through in-game dialogue, that Anduin's staying behind in the Shadowlands while he comes to terms with and recovers from the effects of the Jailer's domination over him. And surely, out of anyone, Anduin would have a newfound sympathy for Sylvanas?
Anduin is obviously deeply troubled by his time with the Jailer and perhaps can now understand how Sylvanas must've felt hopeless and desperate, even after she was freed from Arthas's control. And while I don't think blind forgiveness is on the cards, Anduin may see the Banshee Queen with new eyes after his own ordeal. And it might be a minor detail to him at this moment in time, but Sylvanas tried to persuade Anduin to go over to the Jailer willingly specifically to spare him the trauma she knows comes with domination magic.
Still regardless of how (and if) Sylvanas returns to the bigger story of Warcraft in the future, the fact that she now can gives me hope.