Three Keys Remain: Analysis of Kingsmourne, the Chains of Domination Shadowlands Cinematic
24/02/2021 à 03:35
World of Warcraft fans have been spoiled rotten by the sheer quality of the cinematic work that the Story and Franchise Development Department has been producing. Each piece seems to manage to somehow be better than the last. The introductory cinematic for Shadowlands Patch 9.1 is no exception.
Shadowlands: Chains of Domination - Kingsmourne
once again showcases the brilliance of the writing and filmmaking that this team has achieved. It hits every note, including a twist that has left fans stunned and amazed.
The cinematics for World of Warcraft have evolved in much the way the game itself has. As Steve Danuser explained in an
interview with Lore Watch
, the stories for earlier expansions of World of Warcraft were self-contained, while the more recent ones have built on each other and have a continuing storyline. Most of the cinematics that we have enjoyed previously have been similarly self-contained, albeit within the greater storyline. In Shadowlands, the cinematics have built on one another, building and expanding the story as as they unfold. This expansion, more than any before it, has one voice telling the story, keeping it continuous, weaving a single thread through the game, hitting and building on every story beat. It almost feels like they could stitch all of the cutscenes together with the out of game cinematics and make one long delicious movie. This, above all else, keeps the expansion feeling cohesive and directed.
Sylvanas' Choice - watch this for the full story behind the introduction
reinforces this idea right out of the gate, with a masterfully edited summary of the previous cinematic,
, before launching into its own part of the story. There is so much to unpack in this less than 4 minute piece, so lets get to it.
Previously on Shadowlands...
We open to Anduin in his jail and Sylvanas visiting him. We have seen all of this before, but the specific cuts chosen to prime what follows are not random. They are carefully selected to highlight the takeaways:
Anduin is alone. He is small and helpless, chained up in a rune circle.
Sylvanas is his captor, full of swagger.
The Jailer oversees the forging of his new mourneblade.
Sylvanas is rattled and gives Anduin an ultimatum.
The new mourneblade is revealed to be Anduin's sword, Shalamayne.
Anduin is open and shows no fear. He takes control of the power in the room.
Sylvanas looks sad, uncertain, no swagger left.
These cuts are accompanied by the sound of the smith's hammer, forging a weapon. Anduin says, "What makes you believe you are not just a weapon...?" A weapon is being forged. Is it Shalamourne - or Kingsmourne as they have named it? Is it Sylvanas? Is it something else? Sylvanas offers Anduin a choice - or does she? Join or be made to join seems to pretty much have the same outcome. But Anduin turns the tables and offers her a choice back, make him join, or don't. There is so much power in this, he turns the tables on her. Sylvanas has been looking a bit uncertain for a while now. She councils patience when The Jailer wants to apply force. She hesitates. Anduin sees his opening and he dives right in, playing on her fears. He isn't the tool, she is. He isn't the weapon, she is. He is certain, in the right, confident. She is beginning to think she may not quite be on the path she thinks she's on. He leaves the ball firmly in her court; what will she choose?
Let's go back to that sound again, the hammering. Metal on metal. The beats match Sylvanas' stride as she walks in. We've seen that before. A long time ago, in the
Warcraft III Reign of Chaos Cinematic: Arthas' Betrayal
, Arthas walks into the throne room at Lorderon, metal boots on marble. That same sound. That same stride. This tells us to look back at another person who we are pretty sure will show up in Shadowlands sooner or later, Arthas.
And that sets up our story.
All of these Shadowlands cinematics are a collaboration between writer, Christie Golden, and filmmaker, Terran Gregory, along with narrative designer, Steve Danuser. They are so invested in this story, in this world, that their passion and dedication can't help but shine through. They are the voice that is guiding this expansion and every choice they make is careful and deliberate. Yes, I know that there is a whole wonderful team that works on these, but these three are driving the bus.
Our story starts in Bastion, at Elysian Hold. The camera moves in from outside to set the scene, to the heart of the hold. The Archon's most trusted are meeting with her in the safe bastion that is their home. The scene is typically Kyrian bare, but close and intimate. There are two things that are big takeaways here:
Thenios is updating the Archon about the Maw and he states, "Bastion cannot save the Shadowlands alone." After all this time, and even with the defense of the Shadowlands not being their purview, they are only just coming to the notion that maybe they aren't the only defense that the Shadowlands has. The only other intact Eternal One is the Winter Queen, at least they recognize this.
The Archon looks sad and maybe a little confused. "None of this should have happened," she says. She is so entrenched in complacency that even with the Shadowlands falling around her she has relied on the way things should have been. The Arbiter has fallen, the Primus has fallen, The Sire has fallen, The Jailer was banished. Once there were six, only two remain, yet still she is more hung up on the "infallibility" of The Path.
A flap of wings signals the arrival of Kleia (or someone who looks just like her). The camera turns to watch her enter, and we are positioned next to the Archon, in a position of power. Kleia announces that a living soul seeks and audience. "A mortal?" asks the Archon, "a King," responds Kleia in awe. Once more we are outside and as Kleia lists off the attributes that make this petitioner eligible for an audience, we watch Anduin walking in. What choice did Sylvanas make? Did she set Anduin free?
On the left, Arthas walks into Lorderon. On the right, Anduin walks into Elysian Hold. Intended? You bet!
As Anduin walks in, Uther is being led out. This is possibly the most fantastic sequence in the whole piece.
One who has spent his life striving for Justice
One who would give anything to serve his people
One whose heart is true
These three measures apply to both men. Uther, though he may have confused Justice and Revenge, still strove for it. Uther did die in service to his king and by extension, his people. Once Uther's heart was true, but now it has been corrupted. These measures sent Uther to Bastion when he was judged by the Arbiter, and they are what gets Anduin through the door now, to an audience with The Archon.
Again, Arthas vs Anduin. No wonder Uther does a double take.
As Anduin passes Uther, his gaze locked forward, Uther sees Anduin and reacts. I don't believe that Uther and Anduin ever met, although Uther certainly knew Varian. Uther would likely not recognize Anduin for who he was, but he recognized a few things. He sees a young, blonde king, determined and regal, just like Arthas. He seems reminded of the boy Arthas once was, before he fell. He seems to be about to say something, to call out, his hand rises to his heart where we still see the corruption caused by Arthas, but the guard shoves him and he moves on. His hand moving to his heart is significant for two reasons. Arthas broke Uther's heart, figuratively and literally, and here he sees a king who reminds him of this, as well as the love he had for Arthas. On another level, the corruption in Uther's heart was caused by a mourneblade, Frostmourne. Might this be foreshadowing? Did like recognize like? Might he have been about to call out a warning? Had he acted, could he have prevented what followed?
Until the Archon asks why Anduin has come to Bastion, we have not seen his face. We have seen his profile, and we have looked at him from a distance, as if we didn't actually know him. When the Archon asks her question, we see his face for the first time. His brow is furrowed, his eyes are wide, manic. He is not the defiant king we saw in that cell. The Archon starts out with pleasantries, she has heard of the King held captive in the Maw. "That prison could not hold me forever," says Anduin. She asks why he has come to Bastion, he tells her that she has a key that he needs. His face becomes ominous, and the Archon recognizes who he is. "You," she spits, and her lip curls with hatred and derision. She demands that The Jailer, for it is he, using Anduin's body like a puppet, release Anduin. "No," he says, "he is bound to me just as you once sought to bind your own brother." There's a little bit of resentment there. The Jailer is childish enough to pull the guilt trip card, even though it is pointless. Now we realise that there was a double meaning to "that prison could not hold me forever," it couldn't hold Anduin, it couldn't hold the Jailer. What choice did Sylvanas make? Did she not set Anduin free?
The Primus' Warning
I am the Primus. Your presence within my sanctum means a darkness has fallen upon Maldraxxus... and all the realms of Death.
Ages ago, the Eternal Ones punished our brother Zovaal for his treachery. He was bound within the inescapable Maw, to be forevermore its Jailer.
Now I fear that Zovaal did not act alone. I suspect he had ancient allies... and will seek to win others to his cause.
That you are hearing this message means my suspicions proved true. Zovaal has forged his chains into a weapon... and brought about my defeat.
There is but one hope to save the Shadowlands. The Eternal Ones must stand together once more, before the Jailer escapes the Maw.
Bring my warning to the Archon, the Winter Queen, and the Sire. They must see to our defenses. Do not let Zovaal reach the sepulcher.
The Arbiter is the final key. Protect her, or all is lost.Using Kingsmourne, Jailer Anduin stabs the Archon, just like Arthas stabbed Uther, releasing black Maw matter and binds all of the Kyrians present so none can intercede. The statue behind the Archon crumbles. It's all very dramatic. One thing that we have already learned is that the Jailer is a master of chains. He has broken the chains that bound him and turned them to his will. The chains of binding have become weapons. Anduin leaps from the cloud of Maw matter, and as he does his hair turns white, his eyes glow with a cold blue light, and his armor is revealed, the gold turning to silver, the lion heads turning to skulls. Anduin is a Death Knight. If Uther could see him now, he would be able to draw even more parallels between Arthas and Anduin.
So the Jailer needed Anduin to get to the Archon. He needed a vessel that would tick off all of the conditions for entry so that he could get close to her and take her key. Having felled the Archon, that is just what he does. Kingsmourne, buried deep in the chest of the Archon, draws out a sigil, the symbol of Bastion, the Key, just the way Arthas drew Uther's spirit into Frostmourne. And just like in
, when the Archon is stabbed, the screen goes dark. There is no sound here, the music fades, but as we connect the two, we can almost hear Uther's prayer, "Light, save my soul..." There is irony in the parallels here. Davos tried to warn the Archon after learning Uther's story. Now that very thing has happened to the Archon.
The Jailer is so intent, be it due to effort, or due to satisfaction, on withdrawing the key that for a moment Anduin comes to himself. He is horrified at what he sees. The Jailer senses his control slipping and tightens his grip, once again pushing Anduin aside. So we know Anduin is still in there, that he has not died, has not turned, and is not in control at all. There is hope for him. The Jailer, once more in control, withdraws the sword. The Archon's hand lifts, she yet lives. In a few seconds we are given hope twice: Anduin is still in his head somewhere, and the Archon has survived this assault.
Releasing the power of a mourneblade
Death Knights - That's Afterlives: Bastion on the left
Back in Torghast the Jailer is pleased with Anduin. "The vessel played its part flawlessly," he crows. Anduin, blank eyed and stiff, like an automaton, offeres up the mourneblade to the Jailer while Sylvanas looks on. The Jailer draws out the key. "Three keys remain," he says. and we see that he has chained a new landmass to Torghast. Looking up at the landmass, we can see that it has two chains anchoring it. There are three blue rift-like spots on it, presumably for the three remaining keys.
So what is he doing, and who has the remaining keys? The Maldraxxas storyline tells us that the Jailor wants a secret hidden by the First Ones. His warning tells us exactly what needs to be done. The Archon, the Winter Queen, and the Sire need to stand together, a notion that Thenios was about to suggest when Jailer Anduin arrived in Bastion. The Sire is down, but accessible, the Archon is down, but not out, only the Winter Queen remains whole. "The Arbiter is the final key," the Primus warns. The Arbiter is already out of commission, but has she relinquished her key? Or is she physically the key? Which keys does the Jailer already have? That he has the Sire's in addition to the Archon's seems likely. That leaves the Winter Queen's and the Primus'. Or does he have the Primus', in which case he may not have had time to get The Sire's before we defeated him. One of the Primus' cautions is, "Do not let Zovaal reach the sepulcher." Could this new landmass hold the sepulcher? Wherever is is, and whoever remains, we have our directive, and now a better idea of what it means.
Sylvanas. When considering Sylvanas, we cannot look at this cinematic alone. Her growth, her realizations, and her unease have been developing for a while. Is she the ultimate undercover agent? Is she having a change of heart? Was she sold a bill of goods? Whatever the truth, she has worked her way up to being the right hand of the Jailer and there is a great deal going on with her beneath the surface. Did she betray Anduin? Did they cook up a plan together? Did the vessel really play its part flawlessly? We know it didn't, that there was a flaw, a moment when Anduin peeked through. So who is playing whom? What choice did Sylvanas go with?
Perhaps we are left with more questions than answers, but this cinematic delivers. The score, by Neal Acree, punctuates the action perfectly. The rising notes of the very same theme as Death Knight Anduin unknowingly repeats his fathers' heroic leap to destroy the Fel Reaver after he thought himself betrayed by Sylvanas give us an audial and well as visual parallel. Varian's scene being triumphant, the music building as the Alliance escapes, in contrast to the slow, almost dirge-like rendition, cut short as the Archon falls. But Varian was not betrayed. Does this tell us that Anduin has not been betrayed as well?
Like father, like son - the uncorrupted blade, and the mourneblade - note the difference in grip
And what about Arthas? Arthas and Anduin are very different people, but all of these parallels are not for nothing. Anduin is being puppeteered. Does this mean Arthas was as well? If so, was it gradual rather than immediate like with Anduin? Is that why Anduin was able to break through? When did the Jailer take over Arthas fully (assuming it was him)? Has he puppeteered all Lich Kings? What about Sylvanas? For that matter, what about Bolvar? Presumably the Helm of Domination was the key to control, but Bolvar no longer wears it - so what does that imply? Anduin isn't wearing a helm - so now the Jailer has switched to Chains of Domination? How deep does this go? Could the Jailer be responsible for everything all the way back to Draenor, the Burning Legion, and the Dark Portal?
I guess we'll just have to tune in for the next episode of
Chains of Domination
: If you enjoyed this, check out the Bellular interview; some of the questions and speculation posited here are answered by Steve Danuser in that interview.
Bellular talks to Morgan Day and Steve Danuser
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