Let's talk about Tyrande, the Nightborne, the Passage of Time and the Realist Worldview in World of Warcraft (Very Long and spoilery)

With the new cutscenes being datamined, many people are probably going to end up listening to the dialogue again, and this conversation will start over but without much nuance. I wanted to jump on this line of thought when the lines were first datamined, but here we are. Let's address a few things that comes up every time this topic is discussed at great length, if you want the meat of the conversation, skip the ones not bolded, as I won't really be mentioning them as their own point on their own. TL;DR at the very bottom.

  • 1.) Tyrande and her distrust of the Nightborne

I understand this is a large sore spot for quite a large number of people, but this isn't really a contentious point. If any member of the Alliance of Lordaeron during the Third War held animosity towards Gilneas, we wouldn't really discount their feelings. I understand that the situation is a bit different, given Genn's direct involvement and that Tyrande didn't know Elisande personally, but the idea remains reasonable. Tyrande's distrust of the Nightborne shouldn't result in them being barred from the Alliance under normal circumstances, however, so I imagine Blizzard really has to play up how incensed Tyrande was over seeing her city again not helping in the fight against the Legion.

  • 2.) Thalyssra makes the decision to join the Horde just based on criticism, i.e., "mean words."

This is another point of contention, that I will go into in great depth later on. For now, the most important piece of information is that we are in a bit of narrative flux given that a large number of details are likely not going to be covered in-game. I can imagine that Thalyssra will be utilized in the coming novel "Before the Storm" as a character growth moment for Sylvanas, but that notwithstanding, we'll pull directly from the datamined cutscenes and dialogue.

  • 3.) The Nightborne "betrayed" the Alliance

This is simply a no from me. As far as anyone was concerned, once the Insurrection was over and new independence for the Nightborne was claimed, that particular dimension of foreign relations was over. The military aid that was offered from the Horde and Alliance were to the Nightborne rebellion. Now that the Rebellion has reformed into the government, that agreement no longer stands, and a new one needs to be made. If a foreign government aids another country's revolution (a la France in the War for Independence in American history) there aren't necessarily strings attached unless those rebels promise that upon taking power, certain things will be done or the foreign government tries to strong-arm the newer government during its infancy. If interests didn't align again, no one would blame to governments for butting heads, even if the time they worked together was relatively soon before that (US-USSR relations post WW2 comes to mind). T'he only promise that Tyrande made to Thalyssra was "We'll see how things turn out," which evidently amounted to nothing.

  • 4.) The Nightborne should've been neutral.

In truth, this is largely a pragmatic argument, as I've found most people who argue this wanted Nightborne to be playable on both sides. Nevermind that the narrative threads have been there in tone and in deed since 7.1 at the very earliest. No one makes this argument for Highmountain Tauren, or Lightforged for good reason, and that's something I want to address in further detail.

  • 5.) The Nightborne should feel indebted to Alliance player characters.

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but we went to Suramar acting on behalf of Khadgar and the Order Halls, not on behalf of Sylvanas or Anduin. It isn't even clear if Liadrin/Rommath and Tyrande/Vereesa were there on behalf of their faction leaders. Moreover, Alliance players that go back to Suramar in 7.3.5 are not attacked on sight or asked to leave. Your dedication to the cause is clearly remembered, it just isn't reciprocated by a military alliance that you might've wanted.

  • 6.) Thalyssra wants to practice her skills in Ashenvale against the Night Elves

I'm gonna stop you right there and tell you that it isn't a line of her dialogue. It was never a line of her dialogue. It was incorrectly attributed to her. Put your pitchforks down, this isn't character assassination, it's just datamining not being perfect reflections of the narrative.

  • Now that the same old conversation topics are out of the way (at least in the general sense), let's talk in greater detail about points 2 and 4.

Re; Point 2, I'll reference myself in reply I made earlier today

...the single most important line of dialogue is likely the "We shall see where Elune's wisdom guides us." Over the intervening months, well after the insurrection campaign and now post-Legion, we can assume that Tyrande essentially ghosted the Nightborne due to her response to this conversation (which happens before the Nighthold raid and likely during the thick of or just before the insurrection). Her choice of words is essentially a potential employer saying "We'll get back to you" as a temp asks for full employment after the holiday season, which never happens and the temp's job (or in this case, "alliance in the conflict") is terminated once the need ends. Thalyssra waiting for the Alliance to court them is the most likely situation, while we can see the Horde is still in Suramar helping them clean their city. When no word came from the Alliance, as in Tyrande deciding against presenting them as potential members of the Alliance to Anduin offscreen (which is her right to do, if misguided) and the invitation comes through from the Blood Elves specifically, who have this shared history almost down to a tee with the Nightborne, it's no surprise that in a realist worldview Thalyssra would jump on the chance to join a much larger organization than their own.

The harshness of Tyrande was not uncalled for, and I can imagine that it wasn't unexpected given the history between her and the city-dwelling populace. All that considered, we can look at her dialogue choice and the fact that Thalyssra expected good things to come of their reunion as an indication that she was completely open to Tyrande, even in spite of how badly the Nightborne were treated. That their common heritage would be enough of a bridge to get to a reasonable, tenable alliance of more than just convenience. When nothing came of those hopes, the Horde steps in (as we know the invitation to Silvermoon doesn't happen until the embassies are established sometime after Legion ends, well after the insurrection campaign) and offers a place to a group of people eager to join a larger faction. So to reiterate, it is clear that the Thalyssra and Tyrande conversation happens either during the start of the Insurrection campaign or just before it is launched, meaning that it's about the first 4 months of the expansion's timeline in-game. Let's say Elisande falls at the end of the 3rd month of the conflict, being the most charitable we physically can be for the Alliance. If 7.3.5 happens towards the end of the expansion, let's say the 9th month at the very earliest, that's 6 months of noting, not even an offer of a meeting with Anduin. These numbers get worse depending on the actual order of events, but considering the timeline of an expansion is a single year drawn out to two in realtime (our time) and Elisande actually falling in January (the end of the 3rd month of Legion) it was probably more than that. At that point, can you blame Thalyssra for jumping at the chance of having the Blood Elves, who as early as the pre-Argus campaign are seen together (Liadrin and Silgryn on the ship that sails to the Exodar) and have a lot in common, bankroll them into the Horde? This is the problem with WoW, the sense of time is something you have to practically make up to contextualize any events. I've seen a great deal of comments offhandedly mention that Thalyssra never gave the Alliance a fair shot because it appears that lore events all happen in a row. This is forgivable, but ultimately incorrect. I do think that we'll end up getting more concrete numbers (hopefully) in whatever fluff they decide to give us in Before the Storm regarding the various characters of interest.

The justifications that Thalyssra establishes, her criticism of the Alliance feels more like someone bashing a person for not returning their calls. It isn't completely wrong, given the uniformity of culture within the space, but it isn't exactly objective either given her clear emotional involvement with rejoining the world and the idea of a reunification with a like culture. The Alliance is very uniform and as many have argued over the last few days, it is where individuality in a faction goes to die a very slow, protracted death. This is not a problem with the Horde, which is typically run counter to the current warchief (Garrosh against Thrall, Vol'jin against Garrosh, Reddit against Sylvanas, etc). Where unity in intent and in deed is a strong point and shared bond for the Alliance, self-interest is very important to every member nation of the Horde, and is often the main motivator for even collective action. I would argue that this is definitely in-line with the new lease on life the Nightborne have. Their desire to rejoin the world with a like culture can also be construed as to why the Blood Elves offer to essentially sponsor the Nightborne's admittance into the Horde is so appealing. Whereas the Blood Elves were strong-armed by Sylvanas to join the Horde for their own good (and hers) this can be see as a full-throated alignment of goals, principles, and military support and an overall big win for the Horde. It was a perfect storm of aligning goals and culture that ultimately superseded the baseline push for unity among like races. I've seen some posit that they should've been neutral like the Kirin'tor or should've joined Dalaran, but ultimately they just fought for their right to self-determine and we can assume that Thalyssra didn't make the decision on her own. She is the unchallenged ruler of her people, to be sure, but she doesn't go by Grand Magistrix (interestingly enough there are parallels to Anasterian being the last Sun King as proclaimed by Kael'thas but I digress) and in that I assume she isn't totally dictatorial in her control of the city. The noble families that survived are likely still under her thumb via Ly'leth and the military under Silgryn + magisters under Valtrois and Oculeth but I can imagine that any resistance to this move would be apparent. I wouldn't be shocked if entering into the Horde had popular support, given the amount of involvement Liadrin had in the campaign and how much sentiment went into her efforts.

  • The theme of the denial of a wayward family member is critical, I think, in the context of BfA and the Elven races and characters.

To elaborate on that thought and point 4 directly, the Lightforged, Highmountain Tauren, Dark Iron Dwarves, and Zandalari have or will align with their respective races (unless they throw a curveball with the Zandalari and make Talanji/Rastakhan a die-hard Sylvanas supporter) for the sake of unity/solidarity or some kind of reunification or kinship. With the elvish races, it's the opposite, ending with Void Elves being exiled from their "family" and the Nightborne not being re-accepted by their own. In my opinion, there is certainly more merit to the Void Elves being kicked out for being an existential threat to the Sunwell than Tyrande's skepticism re; the Nightborne, but I digress. I've been thinking for a long time since the cinematic about Sylvanas' words in how she suggests "We have forgotten what makes us strong." The sentimental softie in me wants to say that, in line with her character changing to appear more horde-centric and because Blizzard writes in a lot of cliches, it isn't untenable that a large component and theme of the expansion could very well be a sort of "What makes a family" kind of thing. It can't be overstated how positively the Highmountain and Nightborne respond to their invitations and how jarring it is comparing that to the Lightforged and Void Elves. The two horde races are full of optimism that isn't really a hallmark of the faction, vs the more cynical Void Elves and battle-hardened Lightforged. This could also be an attempt to ground the factions or pull them away from the same themes we've been following for the past 10+ years of "cohesive" Blizzard storytelling. Given the referenced Windrunnerbowl and the assumption that it will not go well, the clear signs that Mayla x Baine would be the best ship to ever sail, Turalyon and Alleria's relationship still being alive, and a whole host of other character relationships ranging from friend, mentor, loved one, and actual family being probable, it wouldn't shock me at all if this expansion was focused on family.

  • Now let's discuss realism and it's effect on the setting of World of Warcraft as a subset of International Relations theory.

Realism in IR theory is very simple (that said, this is a very high level description so as to not get bogged down by minutiae); your borders are real, and if you control a country as its sovereign, you determine the laws of the land unilaterally with no outside implication unless bidden. Alliances are formed to increase the strength of nations and to prevent other nations from attacking (due to the threat of the alliance snapping into formation), which then breeds more alliances. That is about as close to the intended purposes of the Horde and Alliance as you can describe before you start to get into in-universe lore descriptions.

With that in mind, and for those who question why Thalyssra would throw in with any faction, ask yourself this; if you just gained control of a country with no strong diplomatic ties, no guarantee of trade, and a huge amount of resources to spend, what would you do? I can almost guarantee that allying with a major world power would not be very far down the list in terms of your options. For those suggesting that already neutral factions should stay out, perhaps citing Dalaran as the example of neutrality, I'd have to argue against it. In an all out arms race, which we've every reason to believe BfA is, it wouldn't take a lot for either faction to walk it down the Nighthold again, given how weakened the city has become as compared to before the barrier fell. Dalaran, on the other hand, can fly. I doubt anyone would want to breach Dalaran's neutrality to the point of engaging in open conflict with them to begin with, but in order to do so, you'd have to have an armada of flying machines and that's not going to happen. The same requirements do not exist for a new assault on Suramar. Knowing and admitting this puts Thalyssra in a bind, she needs to make a decision and her surest way for security and the continued existence of her race (both in the meta sense and in game lore) lies in joining either the Horde or Alliance. It just so happens that she can do so with a clear conscience given her relationship with the Blood Elves. Against either faction (let alone both) and standing alone, there's no way the Nightborne can defend their own borders. They need the security that comes from being a part of a military alliance or else they'd be picked apart and savaged for the same reason as any other medieval society that had no allies but was rich was besides maybe the Vatican.

If they didn't join either faction, there's not a doubt in my mind that Suramar would've turned into another proxy battleground (not an instanced one, necessarily) pitting brother against sister and ultimately tearing the nation apart until it was picked clean. You don't need to look far to see that the Horde and Alliance already run propaganda campaigns in that zone (if anyone can give the world quest's name I'd be grateful) during the insurrection. Rather than go through yet another civil war, Thalyssra seemingly takes her time and waits for as long as is necessary. Good fortune, better diplomacy, and decent timing nets her a solid relationship with the Blood Elves and good ground within the Horde. You can't argue with that outcome. Her people are safe, her borders are secured, her position as leader of her people assured, and backed by the strength of the Horde's military (whose presence on the isles gets even stronger when you take into account the Highmountain Tauren being recruited within the same timeframe) chances are not good for an Alliance attack even occurring. Add to that a collection of people who can at least respect the Nightborne for turning on Elisande if not identify with them and you have everything you need to cement a solid military alliance and more.

  • Finally, on the passage of time in WoW, even though I already referenced it earlier in this post;

It can't really be done well. As a result, Blizzard likely needs to release more outside material to justify some of their lore decisions to the greater masses that play the game. I can imagine most people wouldn't like that as opposed to making the content in-game but I don't think there's much to that conversation anymore. Books should probably be mostly supplemental, but when it comes to really nailing lore scenes, recent memory really suggests that there would be a great deal more of memorable moments if they were properly contextualized in time and space. As it stands now, we're seeing that issue here with the Allied Races and the epilogue. We all understand that these events are nearing the end of the expansions, and that the end of an expansion typically means the end of the "1 year of lore" that an expansion encapsulates, but there's such a disconnect between the passage of time in the game and the lore moving forward that it feels connected in ways that it probably shouldn't. This results in the sort of "waiting for more events to be shown, but they actually pick up minutes after the last major lore event," type of feeling that leaves people with a much more hastened sense of storytelling. Using the cutscene as an example, we see the vision of Tyrande and Thalyssra talking, however the timing is left as a mystery, or needs to have blanks filled in by supposition. Moreover, there is still time for escalation of tensions, so Thalyssra is not "jumping straight into war against another faction" at the time of her joining the Horde as I've seen so many suggest. The immediate effect of her joining is not necessarily the war that we know is coming, is all I mean. This is not the greatest storytelling strategy as those less apt to grant charity (and anyone who played through WoD would most certainly be less apt) will likely take the events at their face value, call it awful, and be done with it. Blizzard could do a lot more in terms of their ability to convey a sense of time in the game to mitigate this, but it's closing on 8am and that's a subject for a very different post.

As always with my replies or my posts, I'm totally down for conversation on any and all of these topics. It should be stated once that my intention behind writing this behemoth was to skip over all the boring, uninteresting talking points that people have seemed to adopt and go straight for the more subtle elements of the story that could be interesting routes for Blizzard to travel. I think the amount of subtlety that Blizzard has expressed up to, through, and past Blizzcon is near uncharacteristic, and am quite excited to see where the story goes. More to the point, I'm excited to debate topics like these as the plot is revealed through BfA. And if you made it through the entire post, well, I'm sure your patience eclipses mine.

TL;DR, Tyrande is justified in distrusting Nightborne, but it doesn't make sense for her to let them go without oversight. She likely didn't advise Anduin to consider them to join, and for that reason Thalyssra seeks to join the Horde (as her initial intent was to join a faction). This is not out of character for anyone who lives with a realist worldview as most denizens of Azeroth do. The passage of time is handled poorly by Blizzard as it pretains to the narrative they try to stitch together from expansion to expansion (and even during the expansion at times like Legion and WoD). Certain themes, namely family ties not necessarily being hard and fast by blood (Void Elves/Nightborne) may be what Sylvanas speaks about during the cinematic's opening ("We have forgotten what makes us strong"), especially given all the various kinds of relationships that this conflict is apparently bringing into the spotlight (Sylvanas + Nathanos, Alleria + Turaylon, Malya x Baine, a boy and his dog, a boy and his dragon ((maybe), the Blood Elves and Nightborne, Highmountain Tauren and the general population of Tauren, and with a faction based storyline a very decent shot at being a sort of continuation of MoP's themes but instead of "What is worth fighting for," more of a "Who is worth fighting with," kind of approach). This leads me to suspect that the largest underlying theme (aside from sleeping gods of destruction and that) will be family, but hey who knows.

Edit: minor formatting stuff

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Just found out Rhonin is no more...

Let's talk about Tyrande, the Nightborne, the Passage of Time and the Realist Worldview in World of Warcraft (Very Long and spoilery)Quit after my guild fell apart raiding ICC (damn near took that bitch down until pretty much the entire guild just ragequit) didnt pick up the game until WoD came out, and played a really solid chunk of that. quit for a year and just picked Legion up. so im running around new Dal and was thinking to myself. "Man, where is rhonin I LOVED that guy in all the WoW books I read. quick alt tab and google search...wow that sucks. Im a little disappointed, but hey. legion is pretty badass so far. I just picked it up and am only Lvl 101, but im having a blasty blast again. anybody read the books and love this guy? he was seriously one of my favorite characters next to Korialstrasz. submit...