!Patch 7.3 Spoilers Ahead!
Illidan “The Betrayer” Stormrage. Imprisoned for 10,000 years for creating a second Well of Eternity at Mount Hyjal in an attempt to preserve the Night Elves’ magic and immortality after the War of the Ancients. Consumed the Skull of Gul’dan to empower himself into a half demon monstrosity so he would have the strength to take on the Burning Legion’s second invasion. Forged an army of Demon Hunters and enslaved Demons to prepare for a third conflict with the Legion. Used the Sargerite Keystone to open a gateway between Azeroth and Argus to force the champions of the world to deal with the demon threat once and for all.
Illidan is a character for whom the ends have always justified the means. Even his own life has been regarded as but a tool to achieve his ultimate goal of eradicating the Burning Legion. For some, this can be a noble endeavor that one should risk it all to stop a unending evil in the universe. However, this same traits can be that of a monster that destroys everything in his path to achieve that end. It’s probably one of the best recipes possible for a divisive character that people will either love or hate.
Which brings us to the latest World of Warcraft patch, in which Xe’ra – the Naaru we have been working with through our Order Halls and has been showing us the past events of Illidan’s life to show us how The Betrayer was truly meant to be the Chosen One to end the age of demons – is destroyed in a confrontation with Illidan who has no desire to be bound to a greater power once again or playing the part of a chosen one. The action shadows the conversation Illidan has earlier with the Prophet Velen where Illidan says that the Draenei have been using their faith in the Light to justify doing nothing in the face of the horrors that befell their people:
Not stopping the Eredar from dealing with Sargeras? Gotta trust in that Light.
Lead the Burning Legion in a chase across the Great Dark causing the eradication of world after world? Gotta trust that Light.
That’s the thing about Illidan that makes him such a complex character. Not that his motivations or personality are very diverse or even terribly interesting but that despite the horrible methodology that harms countless numbers of people for the greater good – he’s usually right. Without Mount Hyjal, Elven society would have likely fell apart. The Legion would continue to come to Azeroth until its world-soul was dead or corrupted. The Naaru are not the benevolent creatures people treat them as.
Some people have noted that there’s a quick mention that Xe’ra sealed Alleria Windrunner in a void pit for 60 some odd years for disobeying her. Which is weird considering how kindly and nice the Naaru are, right? Except we’ve known the Naaru weren’t to be trusted since the Burning Crusade. Kirrik the Awakened, an Arrakoa who converted to Light worship under the Naaru A’dal from traditional Terokk/Shadow worship, says: “Those who have not given themselves over to the Light are mere servants of evil. They must be destroyed.” These are the teachings of the Naaru. Join us or die.
So was Illidan right to destroy Xe’ra? There’s definitely a worthwhile debate to be had there. Was Xe’ra wrong to try and perform a forced purification on Illidan? Oh yea. Of course, that would have been where the Naaru would draw the line as well I expect. Based on what Kirrik the Awakened says, and the fact that he tasks you with such things as destroying Arrakoa eggs so they would not be born of Terokk instead of the Light, I would say that if Illidan resisted that Xe’ra would have simply destroyed him.
Stuff like this is why I never could get on board with the I-Hate-Illidan train or the Notice-Me-Illibeans-Senpai bandwagon. He’s in neither camp. Heck, I’d struggle to call him a Hero or even an Anti-Hero. He acts more like a force of nature than anything. He just acts in a purely utilitarian manner without worry about the consequences because the potential good outweighs any cost. It’s like saying Voting is a hero or an anti-hero. No, it’s just a thing we do as a society to improve things and it’s not perfect but damn it’s better than being gnawed on by a literal infinite number of demons. I may have mixed up a few wires in that last sentence.
In another side note, the thought occurs to me that I have no idea why the Naaru are against the Legion. The cosmology that Blizzard has set forth thus far is that the opposing element to Fel is actually Arcane, with them representing the spheres of Chaos and Order respectively. The Naaru are born from the Light whose opposite is the Void with the Void Lords and Old Gods being the opposite of the Naaru. But the Burning Legion – in its original incarnation – was started because Sargeras decided it was a safer bet to destroy worlds infested with the Void than chance them infecting a world-soul and creating a Void Titan.
So if the Burning Legion hates the Void, and the Naaru hate the Void… Why do the Naaru hate the Burning Legion? Other than apparently the Light is the natural enemy of all ‘negative’ elements since it also apparently can one-shot creatures of the Death domain when its opposite is Life (overseen by the Wild Gods like the Ancients or Loa.) The Light is overpowered. No wonder they nerfed paladins to the ground, baby.
A final note on Illidan that I stumbled upon while researching some of this but couldn’t work it in anywhere else. Apparently, during the Illidan novel, the events of Legion are foreshadowed when an elder naaru visits Illidan while he controls the Black Temple in Outland and shows him a vision of one possible future where Illidan leads the Army of Light against the Legion. Illidan views his image as being cool, level headed and hopeful – and at that moment, because the vision showed him happy-ish, Illidan decided that he could not trust the Naaru. And I think that’s hilarious. Illidan is probably the most self-aware character in the game right now. “In the future I’m happy? I’m NEVER happy! You and your kind are liars!” “Chosen One? Are you kidding me? Have you seen my approach to problem solving?”
So what do you all think about Illidan’s recent developments? Good? Bad? ‘I Hate Blizzard and Deliberately Seek Out Posts About Them on the Interweb to Voice My Displeasure’?
(P.S. Kudos to the animation team at Blizzard. From the blood on Illidan’s arm to the facial change when Xe’ra mentions how “Little” he got for his sacrifice – great subtle touches that sold that scene that for me)