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Afterlives: Revendreth - Anima, Corruption, and the Good People of Revendreth
20/09/2020 à 03:08
, the fourth and final installment in the Afterlives series of shorts introducing players to the Covenants of
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
is finally available for our viewing pleasure. Directed by Marc Messenger and written by Andrew Robinson, Afterlives: Revendreth is an absolutely masterful piece that demonstrates one of the foundations of film making: sound + picture = 100%. When talking about this piece, there is no way to properly discuss any of the visuals without taking into account the accompanying voice over. While the previous installments of Afterlives have masterfully supplemented their tale with stunning use of color and contrast, the contrast in Revendreth, although color is still explicitly important, is about the utterly stark difference between what you are seeing and what you are hearing. While we could get the idea of the tales told by Bastion, Maldraxxas, and Ardenweald reasonably accurately without sound, in Revendreth we cannot separate the sound and the picture.
Please be aware that this article is an analysis of
and absolutely contains
. If you have not yet watched the short, and don't want to be influenced or spoiled before doing so, please watch it before reading on.
Revendreth is home to the Venthyr, led by Sire Denathrius. Here we are introduced to Sire Denathrius as he addresses his people. He assures them that despite the anima drought, all is well. That although the flow of souls that seek redemption has ceased, Revendreth will be just fine (everything's fine...) due to a few irredeemable souls who have not (and perhaps will not) been sent to the Maw. And also because of his policy of rationing and personal sacrifice. He promises to distribute Anima to those who need it most, while assuring his people that any who break his decree will be dealt with fairly and kindly. As long as they "remain devout and resolute," he promises, he guarantees a "brighter future" for all.
What we see is a broken people, being taxed beyond their ability to survive. We see Anima being collected from souls who may or may not deserve to be drained. We see the workhorse, none other than Garrosh Hellscream himself, screaming in agony as anima is forcibly extracted from his very being. We see nobles filling their cups from the Anima collector and drinking their fill. We see a poor peon, trying to get anima to a desperate group of those in need, but being thwarted by a guard. We see his "kind and just" punishment as he is exposed to the light.
There are some obvious real life takeaways here: don't believe everything that you are told, evaluate the evidence, and just because a person in power speaks sweetly, it doesn't mean they have your best interests at heart.
Setting the Scene
As the film opens, we are let into darkness through an unseen door on creaking hinges. The darkness is punctuated with dripping water, clinking chains, and flashing red screams behind imagery that evokes cold stone walls, dungeons, spikes, bars, the depths (of despair?). These "flashing red screams" perfectly demonstrate the power of sound + picture. These screams are red. Red has represented anger in the previous pieces, but this red is cold, these screams hold no hope, no emotion. Note that the second scream, the one that really brings home that the sound of the screams is in sync with the red visuals, is given a doorway with bars and a torch. The stone doorway, before it is lit by the scream, is green. Green is the complementary color to red, leading to the highest contrast, leading to the most intense visual depiction of a scream. Even without sound, this image still screams. But also, green has previously been used very precisely. This is not Fel green, but nevertheless, green is the color of the Legion, who I have speculated may be the bad threatening the Shadowlands. Green is a warning. The torch is warm and yellow. We are, at this point in the series, educated that warm yellows and oranges speak to the future, to danger. This piece starts out showing us that warm yellow lives here before we have seen a single character, or even know where we are. Where the other shorts spoke of danger arriving, this one tells us that it is already here.
When we reach the bottom, we see a hulking form in front of bars, silhouetted against a dim cool blue/green light. The silhouette against that dim cool blue/green light is relief in contrast to the ripping red of the screams. As the form screams, we see that two Venthyr standing over the chained form are collecting Anima from the prisoner. Every scream is blood red Anima ripped from his very being. And in 22 seconds, we have been shown the very heart of the Venthyr, that deep below in the dungeons of Revendreth, Anima is being extracted from prisoners, that this is an uncomfortable, dangerous place, and that what is going on is so in contrast with the other zones, even at their worst, that it cannot be right.
While the colors of the previous pieces were blues and greens, the color of Revendreth is red. Red is a very warm color, so unlike in the previous pieces, it has to be handled a bit carefully to keep the messages consistant. The team working on this piece proves that they are super aware of this, and our theme of soft, cooler, darker colors signifying the present and hard, warmer, lighter colors pointing to a tumultuous future remains. Unlike the other zones, the bleakness is already here in Revendreth, a Gothic structure against a warm orange sky, and the red of Anima, which in Ardenweald was blue life, here is death. Again, the warmth is already here, it is settled, it is in place. Revendreth is already fallen and we are starting in what was the future for every other zone.
And Sire Denathrius begins his address:
To the Good people of Revendreth, It is with optimism that I address you today...
We see him above us on a balcony, his expression kindly and benevolent. He is dressed in warm orange/brown. His fingernails are the same color. This person is neither kindly nor benevolent. A warm, orange glow comes from beneath, but behind him are cool grays. This indicates that he feels himself above the danger, he has embraced it, it permeates his realm, but he believes that it will not taint him. The angle of this shot is marked: he is tilted. This speaks to instability, and again, to a world akilter. There is absolutely zero optimism in this shot.
The room on whose balcony Sire Denathrius stands is lit with warm candle flames, again the insidious future, already present. A scribe takes dictation and we now realize that despite the balcony, this is not a live address. So what is he looking down upon as he composes? The scribe is pallid, his parchment is pallid, but his pen is warm and dangerous. What he is writing is not Good, will not be benevolent.
The next few shots put all into perspective. Sire Denathrius is looking down on what he describes as an effective ritual based on keen but fair judgement, and a holy mission. It more resembles a public execution.
Gargoyle guards watch as Venthyr stand ready, hands glowing red, around white souls seated before a stone column. He said "holy." Could they be in prayer? And again, the orange sky looms over the cool colors of the stone. As we move in, the stone column begins to rise and we see that it is a silo, so full of Anima that we can see it glowing red between the bricks. The spirit is center, cool and blue white. It almost looks like it is meditating. It is peaceful, out of place in this milieu. Blue and white are the colors of Bastion, which of all of the zones, seems to evoke holiness. Certainly Revendreth does not. And, as if in answer to this thought, our view changes, and we see the spirit from the front, chained and in pain as the Venthyr (with glowy orange danger eyes) gleefully begin to extract the soul's Anima. This soul is a troll. He represents
, the mortal races. He is not one of the alien beings of the Shadowlands, he is one of Bwonsamdi's own. The leering Venthyr are doing this to
. The gleeful, cruel delight in which they lean into their task belies every word Sire Denathrius utters. Orange and yellow and warm light reflect off their faces. The Anima in their hands is warmest warm. They are violent and wicked, and they are coming for
. And we scream.
The Purpose of Revendreth
Purpose is a theme that binds Afterlives together. Each Covenant has a Purpose, and those that reside within them are also given Purpose. Draka’s purpose is “to protect what matters most,” Uther is informed that, as a Aspirant, he now has a new purpose and that he has to accept that. In this scene, Sire Denathrius tells us the Purpose of Revendreth even as he reminds his people of it.
...our most holy mission to help the most violent and wicked souls atone for their sins is, and always will be, our utmost priority. We Venthyr remain committed to bringing eventual redemption to all who desire it. It is through your faithful work that even the most evil and prideful beings may ultimately be spared an eternity in the Maw.
But what are we seeing? All of the souls are having their Anima drained into the silo, their "lifeblood" is being extracted, just like the prisoner in the dungeon. We knew that felt so wrong, but here Sire Denathrius tells us it is so right, that these souls did not desire redemption, or did not desire it enough. And the thought occurs that, despite his words, maybe these poor souls did desire redemption, but they are getting drained anyway. And we wonder if Sire Denathrius truly is doing as he says and fulfilling the Purpose of Revendreth. "The flow of such hubris ridden souls has virtually ceased," he confirms. "Hubris ridden," he says, mockingly, as if the desire for redemption is something to be looked down upon. Of course he is looking down on everything, looking down on this execution as he chooses his words. But again, he confirms this view as he talks about "our old reliables, our workhorses," and the clink of chains returns us to the dungeon where the prisoner is continuing to be "milked" ... and we finally see who it is: Garrosh Hellscream. Here again, the suggestion that desiring redemption is lesser than being defiant. Good old Garrosh, coming through for Revendreth.
The Good People of Revendreth
Shots of the people of Revendreth speak to the truth. We see a long queue of miserable looking Venthyr, Anima containers chained to their waists, waiting their turn to deposit their contributions into a receptacle as a bored-looking official and a hulking guard look on. Sire Denathrius speaks of "this mysterious drought" of Anima, and we see that his people are being "taxed" similarly to the souls on the gallows/silo. As he says "mysterious," one can almost imagine air-quotes. Perhaps it is not so mysterious to him. He sounds so apologetic as he prepares the ground to demand more of his people. And even this is disingenuous: he is dictating, his people will read his decree and never hear his tone.
Another shot brings us back to the miserable queue, the official looking every bit the iconic tax collector. This time though, we are in the queue. Doing our part as our "caring" leader does everything in his power to do the same. We are the Good people. We are making sacrifices. And he is telling us how Right that is, for "rich and poor alike", to "make sacrifices, for the greater good." Now this is a concept that we have heard before. In Ardenweald, Ara'lon is asked, "Will you sacrifice one soul for the forest entire?" The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Ara'lon is given a choice, and seeing the greater good, makes the sacrifice. The good people of Revendreth have no choice. Further, they are told, not shown, the greater good. We, however, are shown Sire Denathrius' "greater good," those "most in need," and it is the elite of Venthyr society. Hardly the downtrodden. They raise their receptacles in a gleeful toast.
The Not Good People of Revendreth
Again, in stark contrast to the partying imbibers, we see the miserable, clutching their offerings, heads bent in oppression. But this time one little fellow, his eyes darting, leaves the queue and, obviously fearful of being followed, makes his way to where three Venthyr are huddled around what could be a fire, if a fire was there. The warm orange glow suggests comfort and warmth, but they look cold. The poor of Revendreth have to look to the warm orange badness for comfort and sustenance. It is all they have. In unconscious irony, Sire Denathrius intones, "in this manner, we will keep our people strong and our land healthy..." The people are anything but strong, the land is anything but healthy. "...despite the efforts of those who would use this crisis to further their own ends and rebel against the rightful structures of our society." Our little fellow, dressed in orange brown to seem like one of the "good" people, halts before reaching his objective. The gargoyle guard is on to him, and he gives up so as not to betray those he was hoping to help. What are these "own ends" our fellow is trying to further? Do we assume his intentions are honorable? Perhaps they are, if only because they oppose those of Sire Denathrius.
A wipe of the gargoyle's wings changes the scene back to Sire Denathrius, looking down on the prisoner sprawled in front of him. Warm golden danger light glows over one of his shoulders, as we look over the other. The perspective changes, and we see his face looking down on us, on the prisoner, on the real good people of Revendreth, his expression cruel.
"Rest assured, we shall bring these miscreants to justice."
The little fellow is taken out into the cold, white light of day...
Almost as an afterthought, "and with fairness and mercy, of course. I am, after all, nothing if not compassionate."
The little fellow kneels in a beam of light, his pain and terror plain upon his face. He begins to lose substance in black tendrils which in a shot that we can't help but parallel to the troll screaming as his Anima is extracted. If Sire Denathrius is nothing if not compassionate, then he is indeed nothing, for he is certainly not compassionate.
The scene switches back to the scribe, diligently penning the address. In the foreground, an Anima receptacle that resembles a wine goblet is filled. The scribe glances up from his page and scowls. He understands the dichotomy here, the lies.
Cut to Denathrius, goblet in hand, breathing in the bouquet of his libation. "Remain devout and resolute..." he orders his people.
Cut to our little fellow dying in the light, "...and know that I will lead us all into a brighter future."
And finally, a truth. What we have learned from the previous pieces, is that the future is bright, the future is warmer, lighter shades. But what we have also learned is that this is not a good thing, this is disaster. On another level, for the people of Revendreth, the light is not such a good thing. The Venthyr are vampires. Being exposed to the light is a punishment, a true death. This light is cold and hard and deadly. This address is a warning and a threat, as much as anything else: comply or face the "compassionate, fair, and merciful" justice of the Lord of Revendreth.
The Good Lord of Revendreth
What is the takeaway from this piece? Sire Denathrius is mismanaging Revendreth and its Purpose for his own ends. It's a tale as old as time, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. But there is an unseen, unmentioned power that Sire Denathrius has aligned himself with. We do not know who it is, but we have our suspicions. Between the Jailer, the Legion, and maybe even Sylvanas, there are several good candidates. Sire Denathrius feels himself above that power though. Perhaps he is taking a bit of a risk skimming off so much Anima for the elite. This may yet come back and bite him, but there are things closer to home also waiting to bite him. Sire Denathrius is flagrantly arrogant and takes no care about his behavior. The scribe and his reactions suggest that if there isn't already, there will be an opposing underground faction, and probably an uprising. Likely, this is a part we may play, now that we have seen the truths of Revendreth. We may even meet this very scribe.
Sire Denathrius himself is rather interesting. This gentleman looks nothing like his subjects. He has horns for a start, and that right there evokes the Legion. He uses a few choice words to describe souls that are sent to Revendreth to atone: violent and wicked, evil and prideful. Perhaps Sire Denathrius himself would be a candidate worthy of such atonement. Compare these two shots. We read from left to right. The warm, yellow light on Draka's right cheek is coming from the direction that she is going. This danger is in her future. A similar warm, yellow light is on Sire Denathrius' left cheek, the direction he is coming from. His future holds only darkness and his sword. Like Garrosh, one day he will be a raid boss we kill.
And What of Garrosh Hellscream?
Garrosh Hellscream is a disgraced Warchief of the Horde, and someone you would, in fact, expect to find in Revendreth. But it seems that Garrosh is not earning redemption and also not being cast into the Maw. Sire Denathrius is denying him his rightful fate the same way that Uther denies Arthas his in Bastion, and in a way, Ursoc is also denied his in Ardenweald. But in this case Garrosh is being kept away from the Maw and the Jailer. Garrosh is Sire Denathrius' old reliable workhorse - well one of them, at least. He refuses to give up, to give in. Of all people, Garrosh is perfect for Sire Denathrius' needs. Not only is he an orc to whom the concept of surrender is not an option, but also Garrosh doesn't feel that he did anything wrong. And with no remorse, there is no redemption.
For more information about Garrosh and his role in Afterlives: Revendreth, check out Perculia's very excellent write-up: Afterlives: Revendreth - Fate of Garrosh Hellscream in Shadowlands
Once again, Blizzard has proved that they can make a compelling short without using well known and well loved characters in primary roles. As in Afterlives: Ardenweald there is one character we know well, but he remains unnamed. Visually, at the beginning of Ardenweald, we are told, "remember Ursoc, he was that raid boss," and here, a similar shot reminds us that Garrosh is that other raid boss. But if you don't know them, or don't catch on, nothing is taken away from the story. Arthas, that other, other raid boss is not named either, and again, if you don't know who he is you lose nothing. It seems that Shadowlands is that place where old raid bosses go to die.
Despite the cameos, Revendreth, like Ardenweald, tells a compelling tale, introduces us to the Purpose, the leader, and the status of the zone, and frankly, leaves us wanting more. All without our old reliable workhorse lore figures. Onward to Shadowlands.
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