Note that this article contains spoilers for Shadowlands.
Primus’ Voice Files
The Primus’ absence has thrown the ruling houses of Maldraxxus into chaos, as they sabotage each other to claim the Seat of the Primus. He’s left riddles and prophecies for one who can help save the realm, in the case of his defeat.
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.
Pantheon of Death
We learn that the Jailer is considered a brother by the other leaders of Shadowlands, reinforcing the Pantheon of Death metaphor referenced by several developers in past interviews. The Jailer committed a betrayal against the other rulers, for which he was condemned to the Maw by the Eternal Ones.
The Arbiter in this dialogue is set up as the opposing force to the Jailer–the final line of defense separating the Jailer from victory. These two characters have deliberately-contrasting models, with the Aribter in flowing white and a glowing anima chest category, contrasted with the Jailer in dark chains and a hollow chest. We also have a subtle reference on the loading screen that the Primus is no more. He is the only zone leader not present on the screen, with Maldraxxus represented by Margrave Krexus instead.
Either way, in the Maw he went and we know from the Winter Queen that they’ve been using anima to keep the Jailer locked up, a resource generated by the souls journeying to the Shadowlands. I wonder if that’s the whole reason why they shaped the Shadowlands in the first place. Imagine Zovaal, this super powerful being betraying them and now they need to figure out a way to contain him…did they perhaps take up the charge to make this happen by guiding the souls in a specific way? By setting up a system that sorts you like a sorting hat, aimed at stripping as much anima as possible from you, just so that Zovaal stays locked up in there? A machine of death if you will…
We don’t know what moment in time caused the machine of death to break, but in the Afterlives: Ardenweald short, we see it’s already broken by the time Ursoc arrives after the Emerald Nightmare raid and we’ve previously learned that Ysera was one of the last souls sent to the Shadowlands.
We also get a few more clues as to Zovaal’s plans: “Do not let Zovaal reach the sepulcher.” likely refers to the Sepulcher of Knowledge within Maldraxxus, a spot where they keep knowledge of war and machines of destruction. Maldraxxus is meant to protect Shadowlands, so if Zovaal uses these weapons to destroy, it would further weaken the Shadowlands. We also learn that the Arbiter is very important, but no further details. However, much has been made of the Arbiter holding an anima-style sphere in her chest cavity, while the Jailer’s chest is empty. Perhaps that is key to his imprisonment?
If we look at the Spires of Ascension dungeon, we learn that Devos had a little chat with the Jailer and decided to stand at his side. Devos is the one from the Afterlives: Bastion shrt, the one that helped him throw Arthas into the Maw and realize their path is flawed. That they serve a lie.
And so, I listened to the Jailer’s word and I learned of the great injustice you and the other thrust upon him…and upon us all. He seeks to free us from the prison we have built for ourselves. And for that, he has earned my loyalty.
There’s more to the motivation and story than given at first glance. Now I’m not saying that the Jailer will ultimately be the good guy, I’m just hoping that there’s more nuance to the story besides “this prime evil that wants to consume the universe is trying to break free from its prison and we have to stop it” because that’s very similar to what we just dealt with.
Domination Gear – Zovaal’s Chains as a Weapon
While we don’t know what the “treachery with ancient allies” precisely refers to, we do know that Zovaal has made some friends like Sire Denathrius, who is responsible for the anima drought in the Shadowlands. Last week’s article dove into speculation that Denathrius was a Nathrezim, whose brethren ingested fel to become Dreadlords, working as unseen guests to extend Death’s power through the Burning Legion. Now it seems plausible that the Dreadlords took the Domination armor from the Shadowlands to the Burning Legion, extending the reach of the Jailer’s power and explaining the phrase “forged his chains into a weapon.”
The similarities between the Jailer’s design, Frostmourne runes, and the Helm of Domination can easily be seen:
The Dreadlords then bound his disembodied spirit to a specially-crafted set of armor and a mighty runeblade called Frostmourne. These items were locked in a diamond-hard block of ice to imprison Ner’zhul and the story of the Lich King played out. But Ner’zhul didn’t want to serve the Legion, and so uder the eyes of the dreadlords he schemed against them, leading to the Legion’s defeat on Azeroth. Later, Arthas merged with him and the Wrath of the Lich King story played out until his defeat.
So how come the Jailer and the armor are so connected when it was the dreadlords that used it for Kil’jaeden to craft a new weapon for the legion? Well, if these dreadlords are truly part of this massive overarching scheme connected to Denathrius and Denathrius is working for the jailer, the potential exists that all this was calculated.
We also have curious dialogue from Bolvar Fordragon, recently serving as the Lich King until Sylvanas shattered the helm. In the introductory expansion quest Through the Shattered Sky, Bolvar reveals he felt a dark presence while wearing the helm, and he fears traveling into the Maw and losing control–which sound like the Jailer at work.
Bolvar Fordragon: During my vigil upon the Frozen Throne, I caught fleeting glimpses into the realms of Death. Among them, I saw a place of inescapable darkness.
Bolvar Fordragon: When the helm rested upon my head, it took all my will to keep its insidious power in check. Many times, I nearly faltered.
Bolvar Fordragon: I could sense a dark presence at the edge of my consciousness. Not Arthas… not Ner’zhul. Something… else.
Bolvar Fordragon: It is that very presence I sense lurking beyond the shattered sky above.
Bolvar Fordragon: I dare not travel with you. Even free of the helm, I fear I would become bound to the will of its true master.
Bolvar Fordragon: But this threat cannot be left unchecked. Therefore, you must venture where I cannot.
We’re going to find out more about Domination gear as we craft legendaries with the Runecarver, a being imprisoned in the Tower of Torghast who has lost all his memories. The possibilities for speculation are ripe–is the Runecarver the missing Primus? If the Domination gear was intended to contain the powers of the Jailer, what does it mean if the Dreadlords removed his armor to present it to Kil’jaeden for the Lich King? The story of the Lich King would then be seen in a different light if the Jailer was behind actions like Sylvanas returnng as a banshee and Uther’s soul being scarred.
Mueh’zala – Another Ally of the Jailer
Besides Denathrius, several others have also decided to join the Jailer Covenant, amongst them Kel’thuzad, Sylvanas, Devos, Helya and Mueh’zala, Loa of Death. He doesn’t play a large role in past Warcraft expansions, but he has a prominent part in the Traveler book series, which foreshadows Old God whispers from Patch 8.3.
We recently covered how Mueh’zala directly meddled with Vol’jin, telling him to appoint Sylvanas Warchief and attempting (and failing) to send his soul to the Maw. But through datamining, we’ve also learned that Mueh’zala recruited Helya to the Jailer’s side by making a deal for Odyn’s eye:
Odyn wanted to mess with the machine of death in the Shadowlands, taking souls to transform them into his Valarjar for the Halls of Valor. To do that, he needed to peer into the world beyond, so he sacrificed one of his eyes to a great spirit. While initially this story sounded like a tall tale, we now have to wonder if the spirit was Mueh’zala, and if so, did Vol’jin indirectly allow the Jailer to see into the realm of the living?
Odyn then forced Helya to ferry the souls to the Halls of Valor, forcing the job on Helya who eventually broke free from his control and created her domain of Hellheim. You might recall in Legion that Sylvanas and Helya briefly met in A Desperate Bargain, but it was unclear what the nature of their pact was.
Now with Mueh’zala’s quote, we learn that he was the one to recruit Helya to his mission of disrupting the cycle of death, meaning he indirectly set up the meeting between her and Sylvanas.
And if you want to learn more about Odyn’s lost eye, check out the excerpt from The Legend of Odyn in the Halls of Valor. While the narrator is unreliable and clearly favors Odyn, it shows the power of this relic and why Helya would want it for herself. Perhaps the eye is responsible for Helya’s strong powers in Legion, as she was able to retrieve Illidan’s soul from the Twisting Nether in Trial of Valor: The Once and Future Lord of Shadows. At the time, characters speculated this was due to a secret deal with Gul’dan, but perhaps it was due to her bargain with Mueh’zala instead.
The Halls of Valor stood glorious above the world, and great Odyn saw they were empty. “These halls shall be the final resting place of my finest warriors,” he said. “I must see the world of death, for only then can I raise the spirits of the fiercest, bravest vrykul to their proper place in the heavens. They shall be called Valarjar, and they shall honor these halls for eons to come.”
Helya the sorceress was doubtful of the keeper’s plan. “Beings of death are ancient and powerful, great Odyn,” she said. “To meddle in their realm is dangerous, even for one such as you.” But Odyn would not be swayed, and so they began a ritual to see into the Shadowlands.
Deep within the Halls of Valor, Helya traced a magic circle around Odyn with the arcane threads of the universe. From the world’s energies she pulled strands of light of the purest green, and strands of darkness deeper than the purest shadow. And the sorceress wove them together around Odyn until the veil over the Shadowlands began to lift.
A great spirit appeared to Odyn from this circle, billowing up from ethereal mists, shapeless, to surround the keeper in shadow. “What will you give,” the spirit asked, “to peer beyond the veil of this world?”
Wise Odyn considered the wraith’s question. “I have two eyes,” he replied. “One to see in this world of mortals, and one to see into the realm of spirits.” And with that, Odyn plucked his own eye from his head and presented it to the spirit. The spirit clasped his eye and swallowed it whole, and great Odyn saw.
Seeing through this given eye, great Odyn saw the Shadowlands. He saw life, saw it even in the land of death, and he was satisfied that his Valarjar would live beyond the mortal realm.
And yet still he saw death. He saw souls in torment, and souls in anguish, and the husks of the dead lay all around him. He saw ghostly wraiths with no face, and others with no form, and all were made of death itself. And as he saw, even the great Odyn, master of the Halls of Valor, chosen of Aman’Thul, was afraid.
Odyn looked back into his world with his other eye.
“What did you see, great Odyn?” Helya asked.
“I saw the answer,” wise Odyn said. “For in life, there exists death, and in death, there can be life. But there are only beings of life and beings of death. My messengers must span both realms.”
And so great Odyn conceived the Val’kyr, beings between life and death who would ferry the vrykul to the Halls of Valor. “They will be formed from the vrykul,” Odyn proclaimed, “and their bravery shall preserve their brethren as Valarjar for all time. Like life, they shall be powerful. Like death, they shall be eternal.”
-Recorded by Rysa Hjafmir
Uther and Sylvanas
Nobbel closes the video with a discussion about the Afterlives: Bastion short and the overarching story with Sylvanas.
Now with the Uther short we know that Arthas’ was never judged. The Arbiter did not gaze upon his soul. Uther flung him directly into the Maw. That opens up the idea of souls first being offered a chance at redemption in Revendreth. Paying for their sins if they can and if they ultimately do refuse, then they get kicked into the Maw.
So what of Sylvanas? There was no mention of spending time in Revendreth at all. She too ended up directly in this realm of torment, but why? It could simply be that the val’kyr manipulated her and did to her what Uther did to Arthas. Or maybe Uther’s actions allowed the Jailer to get his hands on Sylvanas. Perhaps this hell, the whole reason why she kept on pushing ever since the Cataclysm expansion was never meant to be a thing. It’s not impossible to imagine that Zovaal’s choice between eternal torment or ripping the Shadowlands apart is what pushed her into this path. That doesn’t make what she did right of course, but it adds depth to what’s been going on.
Wowhead side note: With the recent knowledge that Mueh’zala and Bwonsamdi formed a terrible bargain plus Bwonsamdi’s panic upon losing Vol’jin’s spirit (“Da boss ain’t gonna like dis. Ol’ Bwonsamdi not been losin’ a spirit in… oh, dis be bad”), we have to wonder if bringing Sylvanas to the Jailer was part of their deal. Bwonsamdi refuses to tell us what the deal entailed, just that the destruction of Ardenweald is going too far.
I should have known it would be da boss behind dis! Mueh’zala was da loa of death long time ago. He be givin’ me dis power in exchange for… well, we ain’t gonna go into dat. Let’s just say we had an “arrangement”… But dis business in Ardenweald not be part of da deal!
Outside of the Mueh’zala speculation, we have a few more lore articles discussing the Uther short and Sylvanas in the “Edge of Night” short story if you’re interested:
Afterlives: Bastion Analysis – Justice or Vengeance? Sylvanas in “Edge of Night” Speculation
The Overarching Plot
To sum it up, Zovaal, described on the official Warcraft website, is an ancient evil that can’t be allowed to break free or all reality will be consumed. He’s been placed there by the Eternal Ones and desperately wants to break free, recruiting some allies to his side that we encounter in early Shadowlands. His story has far-reaching implications for iconic parts of Azeroth’s history, such as:
- Story of the Lich King – Armor and weapons linked to the Jailer made their way to Azeroth.
- Story of Uther – Uther’s soul got scarred by Frostmourne, a pain that made its way into Bastion. This led to Devos believing the Kyrian path was flawed, urging Uther to throw Arthas directly into the Maw.
- Story of Kel’thuzad – He was turned into a Lich with the use of the Sunwell, now he is an ally of the Jailer trying to figure out how to get him out of the Maw.
- Story of Kael’thas – The loss of the Sunwell placed Kael’thas on a destructive path, first playing into the hands of Kil’jaeden and the Legion, then used by Denathrius.
- Story of Sylvanas – Sylvanas tried to save her home from the Scourge and paid the ultimate price, brought back as a banshee. Following the death of Arthas, she struck a deal with the Jailer, sending more and more souls to the Maw until ultimately she was able to shatter the Helm of Domination and open up the sky.
While we don’t know what’s next for Sylvanas, we’ve covered the other storylines during the beta, either through questing or an Afterlives analysis:
- The Afterlives: Maldraxxus analysis speculates that the Burning Legion had activity in the Shadowlands to forge the weapons, which is confirmed in the Enemy Infiltration book. Here, we learn the Dreadlords were secretly working for the Jailer with their own motives of Death.
- Uther’s backstory is told in Afterlives: Bastion which puts the Kyrian Campaign in a new light. Looks like many characters do not know Uther sent Arthas to the Maw!
- One of the most iconic villains in the Warcraft universe and known for his machinations, Kel’thuzad could be set up as one of the villains of Shadowlands alongside the Jailer. We document his importance in many Shadowlands quests, implying he could be a mid-point expansion boss.
- Kael’thas in Shadowlands is first captured by Denathrius and turned into a mana battery, whom we rescue in the Castle Nathria raid. We them try to help him find redemption, which takes us back to the threats of Kel’thuzad.
We end this article with one final question: where is Ner’zhul? Is he dead or still inside the helmet? Is he even in Shadowlands? Let us know what you think in the comments!