World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has given players the unique opportunity to once again bid characters from past expansions farewell; this includes saying goodbye to the infamous Arthas Menethil, also known as The Lich King.
Credits: Blizzard Entertainment
How does one say goodbye to a friend? Or a lover? Is it easier to lose a student? What about an enemy, or someone worse than even that? With Arthas Menethil, the famed Lich King, players are saying farewell to someone that was all of those things. When this prince was born, Azeroth trembled beneath the promise of his future. Or the threat of it, rather. All that knew Arthas loved him, but this love soured when he turned from the Light that blessed him. He held the very world in his hand, and chose to crush what he had promised to nurture. His final farewell is bittersweet, leaving memories of love and loss, of power and devastation, in his wake.
This story began four years before the First War, among the forests of Lordaeron as they whispered the name Arthas. The prince was a happy child; his parents King Terenas II and Queen Lianne Menethil, his elder sister Calia Menethil, and his people loved him dearly. Even at a young age, his effect on Azeroth was widespread. Prince Varian Wrynn, a refugee in Lordaeron after Stormwind’s sacking, became one of the future Lich King’s first true friends. During this time, Arthas also met and fell for Jaina Proudmoore in the midst of her journey to Dalaran. The mighty dwarf Muradin Bronzebeard himself chose to tutor Arthas in the ways of the warrior. Even the great paladin Uther the Lightbringer guided the prince in his studies of the Light.
Arthas was only nineteen years old when it came time for his induction into the Knights of the Silver Hand; his audience was a great reflection of how loved the prince had become. The ceremony was led by Archbishop Alonsus Faol within the marvelous Cathedral of the Light in the heart of Stormwind. Four of the five original paladins that founded the Knights of the Silver Hand -Saidan Dathrohan, Tirion Fordring, Gavinrad the Dire, and Uther the Lightbringer- stood present to induct the prince. As Gavinrad presented the holy warhammer Light’s Vengeance to Arthas, Uther placed the order’s silver pauldrons upon the prince’s shoulders.
King Genn Greymane, King Thoras Trollbane, and Lord Admiral Daelin Proudmoore were a few of the many notable onlookers. Jaina Proudmoore, who had not seen Arthas since their early days of youth, also witnessed this wonderful moment for Arthas. Stormwind’s new king, Varian Wrynn, not only agreed to host his friend’s ceremony, but to attend it as well. Arthas and Varian sparred after the ceremony, Varian introduced his childhood friend to his newborn son; the babe held the future Lich King’s hands close to his heart.
A Weapon of Righteousness
While Arthas was brave and steadfast, he was also arrogant and far too aware of his royal position. He was just as much a paladin as he was a prince, and his mentality reflected this well. He was just as devoted to the Light as he was to Lordaeron and her people. When orcs began to escape internment camps in western Lordaeron, King Terenas ordered Arthas and Uther to defend nearby villages. While Arthas wanted to protect his people, he was almost jovial at the prospect of a battle. Arthas could behave rashly in the worst of times, so Uther dismissed this excitement as that of a new soldier’s eagerness. The orcish raids would prove to be the least of Lordaeron’s worries as Arthas would soon discover.
Jaina Proudmoore, now an accomplished mage of the Kirin Tor, came across Arthas on her way to investigate a plague. This was the couple’s first encounter since Arthas chose to end their relationship four years prior. Even though feelings lingered in both of their hearts, Arthas chose to join Jaina’s investigation for his people’s sake. Their search took them to a village by the name of Brill with an infected granary in the town’s limits. It was here the pair first met the vile necromancer Kel’Thuzad, who they would later chase to Andorhal.
Lordaeron was a massive territory, and Andorhal was one of the area’s most significant agricultural hubs. Upon their arrival, Arthas and Jaina discovered that plagued grain had already shipped to villages nearby. They used this opportunity to confront Kel’Thuzad in hopes that his defeat would halt the spread of the plague. Instead the necromancer revealed that he was not the mastermind behind the rising disaster, but only a mere servant. A dreadlord by the name of Mal’Ganis had been orchestrating these events.
Exercising Your Great Power
Arthas’s next destination was the city of Stratholme, where Kel’Thuzad had claimed that Mal’Ganis would be. The night Arthas and Jaina paused in a town called Hearthglen, Arthas received word of an approaching undead army. He sent Jaina to fetch Uther while he and his men stayed to defend Hearthglen’s people. Just before the battle, to Arthas’s shock and dismay, the very townsfolk he was protecting attacked him. Simple farmers and cobblers, their wives and children, were becoming undead before his very eyes.
He realized then what the purpose of Kel’Thuzad’s plague was -to turn Arthas’s people into soldiers of the Scourge. The paladin’s forces fought well into the night, with Uther’s timely arrival as their saving grace.
Hearthglen would prove to be a turning point for the great Arthas Menethil. The harrowing night left him feeling frustrated, as though his enemies were always three steps ahead. On the road to Stratholme, Arthas and Jaina came across the Guardian Medivh. Medivh urged the heroes to cut their losses, and flee to Kalimdor with the souls they could still save. Arthas refused, believing that the loss of Lordaeron was not an option. Had Arthas chosen to heed the Guardian’s advice, Azeroth may have seen a very different story play out.
With Wisdom & Strength
In many ways, Stratholme was Arthas’s most defining moment. Almost as soon as he set foot in Stratholme, he realized the city had received plagued grain from Andorhal. Though the citizens had yet to succumb, it was only a matter of time until the Scourge claimed the city. Arthas decided to purge Stratholme before its people fell to the undead plague. Uther found the thought appalling, and he made it clear this was an order he would not follow. Arthas deemed his mentor a traitor, and declared the Knights of the Silver Hand disbanded. Uther, with Jaina in tow, turned away from the falling prince. He was left to see this purge through alone, with only a handful of men to follow him into battle.
In the midst of Arthas’s purge, the townsfolk began to turn -just as they did in Hearthglen before.
Arthas lost Uther’s and Jaina’s trust, and then he lost his connection to the Light as well. In many ways, he had lost each of his most significant allies. Mal’Ganis, who chose to make his appearance then, found this amusing. The dreadlord teased Lordaeron’s fallen prince, and urged Arthas to find him in Northrend. Arthas, feeling hollow and desolate, declared that he would hunt Mal’Ganis to the end of the earth.
Northrend was the beginning of a darker chapter in Arthas’s life; no one could have predicted how far the golden son of Lordaeron would fall. Muradin Bronzebeard, another mentor from Arthas’s early years of training, was one of the first to witness this tragic descent. Muradin was already in Northrend with the Explorer’s Expedition searching for Frostmourne, a runeblade said to have unimaginable power.
The dwarf had sent for a rescue force to help with the Scourge. At first this was why he believed Arthas had come North. Though their meeting was mere coincidence, Arthas proved interested in the sword his mentor searched for. They decided to travel together, finding their end goals similar; this took them to an encampment of undead that they quickly cleared out. The encounter left Arthas disappointed when he realized Mal’Ganis was still alive.
Stirring the Hearts of Your People
Following this exchange, the prince of Lordaeron received an emissary with orders from King Terenas and Uther the Lightbringer; they demanded Arthas see sense, and bring his men home. While Arthas’s soldiers were eager to see home again, he refused to do so without having ended Mal’Ganis. He decided to hire a band of mercenaries to burn the ships in the harbor, leaving his troops stranded. The soldiers were horrified to find only ashes where their ships had been, but Arthas offered them retribution; the prince betrayed the very mercenaries he had hired, and -along with his soldiers- slaughtered them all. Muradin Bronzebeard found himself disgusted by his former pupil. Arthas told his men their only route now was through victory.
Arthas left most of his soldiers to defend the camp while he and Muradin pressed onward to find Frostmourne. When they found the sword, Muradin was terrified to discover that the blade was cursed. He tried to warn Arthas, to urge the prince away from vengeance, but his cries fell on deaf ears. To Arthas, no price was too steep to pay for the sake of his people. Frostmourne lashed out when it was released, the icy power striking Muradin unconscious. Though Arthas was tempted to aid the dwarf, Frostmourne bid the prince to forget his old mentor. Arthas dropped Light’s Vengeance, the warhammer he received during his induction ceremony, and claimed the runeblade as his own.
Once Frostmourne was well and truly his, Arthas carried the blade into a battle against Mal’Ganis’s army. The dreadlord’s forces were defeated; before Mal’Ganis died, he told Arthas the voice he was hearing belonged to an entity called the Lich King. With Mal’Ganis and his forces defeated, Arthas fled into the depths of Northrend. He left his troops and the remnants of his sanity behind.
Succeeding You, Father
The great paladin Azeroth knew as Arthas was gone, and in his place was the Lich King’s first Death Knight. The fallen prince returned to Lordaeron with his troops, now also servants of the Lich King, at his master’s behest. The people of Lordaeron celebrated their prince’s return, but those celebrations did not last long. The fallen prince’s first act was to kill his own father, stabbing Terenas through the heart. Following this, Arthas would unleash the undead Scourge upon Capital City, rendering his once great nation to dust.
Though Arthas was but a shell of himself, he still raised Invincible, his beloved childhood horse, from the dead.
The horse had died some years earlier when he sustained an injury during an intense ride from Durnholde Keep. Arthas chose to kill his beloved steed, rather than watch him suffer. Now Arthas, with Invincible as his trusted mount once again, set off for Andorhal to recover the remains of Kel’Thuzad. Here he faced Gavinrad the Dire while on a mission to locate the dreadlord’s remnants. Like many others before him, Gavinrad lost his life to Frostmourne as well.
Kel’Thuzad’s corpse was too decomposed for easy transportation, so the dreadlord Tichdonrius set Arthas to collect a special urn; the urn, which contained King Terenas’s remains, was guarded by Arthas’s former mentor, Uther. When Uther refused to hand over the urn, he lost his life to the student he shared everything with. King Terenas’s remains were disposed of for the sake of Kel’Thuzad’s, and then Arthas set off for Quel’Thalas.
This Kingdom Shall Fall
Lordaeron was only the first stronghold to fall to the mercy of Arthas. His next victims would be the high elves of Quel’Thalas, though the citizens were not his goal. The death knight was after the heart of their power -the Sunwell. His intent was to restore Kel’Thuzad in the powerful font’s waters. Yet before he reached the well, Arthas was intercepted by the Ranger General Sylvanas Windrunner and her forces; for her insolence towards Arthas, the high elf was turned into an undead banshee. Her penance was to cut down the very people she had lost her life protecting.
After the destruction of Silvermoon, Arthas proceeded to the Isle of Quel’Danas. The High King Anasterian Sunstrider was waiting for Arthas on the island shores, where the two fought a ferocious duel. The aged elven king could not withstand the Death Knight’s onslaught, so he too fell to Frostmourne. With the high elf population nearly extinct, Arthas finally achieved his goal. The necromancer Kel’Thuzad was restored as an undead lich by the power of the Sunwell.
Kel’Thuzad lead Arthas on a long journey; together, they enacted the Burning Legion’s plans while they also followed the Lich King’s secret agenda. They successfully assaulted the mage city of Dalaran, with Arthas personally killing Archamage Antonidas. Using the Book of Medivh, the demon lord Archimonde would be summoned into Azeroth, to enact the “second invasion”. Archimonde would proclaim the usefulness of the Lich King over, and passed control of the Scourge into Tichondrius’s hands. Kel’Thuzad told Arthas that all was going well; soon they would depart for Kalimdor to sow disruption within the Legion’s ranks. Using the Skull of Gul’dan, the necromancer and death knight manipulated Illidan Stormrage into killing Tichondrius. While in Kalimdor, Arthas also witnessed the death of Archimonde at the Battle of Mount Hyjal. He then fled back to Lordaeron, intent on reclaiming his throne.
From the Ashes Shall Arise a New Order
Three dreadlords had been left in control of the fallen kingdom, but they fled when threatened by the prince. Following this, Arthas summoned Kel’Thuzad and Sylvanas to his side; together, they proceeded to destroy the remaining human forces in the region. Arthas suffered a seizure during the battle, feeling his powers diminish greatly. His control over the undead slipped, and Sylvanas used this opportunity to plot against him. The banshee met in secret with the three dreadlords Arthas had threatened. They came up with a plan to ambush and deliver an unsuspecting Arthas into her hands. The plan nearly worked; Sylvanas used a paralyzing arrow to inflict unto Arthas the same torture she had suffered at his mercy. Only the swift intervention of Kel’Thuzad saved Arthas from this fate. The Lich King commanded Arthas to return to Northrend, for the Frozen Throne was endangered by demonic forces.
Arthas’s return would not go smoothly, for even his landing was fraught with perils. Prince Kael’thas Sunstrider, with a force of the newly named blood elves behind him, met Arthas on the frozen shores. Anub’arak, one of the Lich King’s undead puppets, intervened just in time to save the weakened death knight. Arthas followed the massive crypt lord through the shattered remnants of the kingdom of Azjol-Nerub; their intent was to beat the demonic forces to the Frozen Throne. Throughout this perilous journey, Arthas defeated the last of Muradin’s dwarven expedition, raised the blue dragon Sapphiron into undeath, and defeated powerful enemies from deep within the land itself.
For the final battle against Illidan Stormrage, the demon’s leader, the Lich King gave Arthas what little power he could. The fight was short and decisive; Arthas sliced open the arrogant demon hunter’s chest, and left him for dead in the snow. Arthas then ascended the final steps to his ultimate fate. He shattered the ice encasing the Lich King’s helm and armor, and placed the helm upon his head. Arthas Menethil was no more, for there stood only the Lich King.
Now… We Are One
The Lich King’s physical form went into a dreamlike hibernation, encased in ice upon the Frozen Throne. His mind, however, was still very much active. Ner’zhul, the Lich King’s original subconscious, hoped to fuse with Arthas Menethil and the last of his humanity during this time. The last of Arthas’s humanity appeared to them as a child by the name of Matthias Lehner. After years of an internal struggle, Arthas Menethil would subdue and supplant his counterparts until he reigned dominant. When the Lich King woke again, he unleashed his wrath upon the world.
The first to feel the full weight of the Lich King’s wrath was the last of the Scarlet Crusade. The Lich King used Acherus the Ebon Hold, a floating necropolis, to send his death knights out. Their assignment was to destroy the remnants of this estranged group of paladins. Afterwards, the death knights were sent to assault Light’s Hope Chapel even though the Lich King knew their failure was likely. His intention was to sacrifice his subordinates’ lives to draw out the paladin Tirion Fordring.
Darion Mograine, leader of the death knights, turned against the Lich King for his betrayal. Tirion also purified the Corrupted Ashbringer so that it would strike back at Arthas. This would become the Lich King’s gravest mistake, for he created two of his greatest enemies that day. The Argent Crusade, led by Highlord Tirion Fordring, and the Knights of the Ebon Blade led by Highlord Darion Mograine.
Let Them Come
In what seemed another mistake, the Lich King also drew the ire of both the Horde and Alliance. His undead forces assaulted major cities, and he placed infected grain in villages as a mockery of Lordaeron’s fate. This led to both factions launching an invasion of Northrend, intent upon putting the Lich King down once and for all.
This would prove to all be part of the Lich King’s design however. He intended to draw the greatest champions of Azeroth to him so that he could test their might. His forces suffered defeat after defeat across the continent until the factions’ united forces stood outside of Icecrown Citadel. The Horde and Alliance led an assault on Angrathar the Wrathgate, and the Lich King was at his wit’s end; he felt they needed to suffer a defeat of their own.
The Lich King emerged from his fortress and killed the Horde’s commander in a single blow. Before he could deal a similar blow to the Alliance, a betrayal halted all forces present on the field. Grand Apothecary Putress launched New Plague canisters onto the battlefield, killing Scourge, Horde, and Alliance alike. The canisters also greatly injured the Lich King. He withdrew, proclaiming the conflict was far from over, and that the fighting would continue across multiple fronts.
No King Rules Forever
Before Arthas could truly recover, Tirion Fordring dealt him another serious blow; he destroyed the Lich King’s heart before anyone could stop him. In addition to this, a brief confrontation at the Argent Tournament resulted in one the vile king’s final lieutenants dying; with these setbacks, the shell of Arthas faced the final assault on his citadel. Somehow his plans still came to fruition, and his final victory was imminent. Atop Icecrown, Arthas faced not only champions of both the Horde and Alliance, but Tirion Fordring as well. The fate of Azeroth rested on this final, climactic battle. The Lich King struck down the champions, froze Tirion in solid ice, and proclaimed his true intentions. He would raise the heroes to serve him as powerful death knights; at his command, they would conquer the whole of Azeroth with their undead might.
It was not to be, for this battle would see Arthas face his last defeat. Tirion called for the Light, begging for one last miracle. The ice that held him shattered, and he was able to swing his weapon at the Lich King. Ashbringer met Frostmourne, shattering the dark runeblade; the souls of Frostmourne’s many victims finally freed. King Terenas Menethil, perhaps Arthas’s greatest betrayal, raised the fallen heroes around him. The other numerous souls swarmed the vulnerable Lich King, ruthlessly attacking him as he had done to them before. Arthas felt the dominating presence of the Lich King fall away as he faced his last moments; the broken son asked his father’s spirit if it was finally over. Only darkness lay before Arthas as his reign, in all its brutality, came to a blessed end.
The darkness Arthas saw would signal an especially horrid fate for his own soul. His former mentor, Uther, carried the prince’s soul to the Maw, a place meant for eternal torment and suffering. This condemned Arthas without a fair trial, and deprived him of the Arbiter’s judgment. Within the Maw, the Jailer saw fit to use Arthas’s soul in death as he had in life. The Jailer’s forge consumed the former Lich King’s energy, then used it to corrupt King Anduin Wrynn and his sword Shalamayne. By the time Anduin was freed, nothing but a wisp of Arthas remained. Arthas had no crown, no throne, no soul for judgment. His whisper faded into nothingness, finally bringing his tragic life to a close.
Father… Is it Over?
Arthas lived a great and terrible life. Players and characters alike are saying their final farewells to the fallen prince after years of love and heartache. Azeroth has seen her fair share of tragedy, but none so great as that of Arthas Menethil. Or, as history will know him, the Lich King. He was, at a point in his life, the pinnacle of hope for the force that would become the Alliance. To know him was to love him, and to love him was to know heartache. His parting is a bittersweet end to a long, riveting story that players of both factions have adored for years. While Arthas’s legacy will carry on, players will do well to remember that there must always be a Lich King.
I’m a Wonder Woman fanatic, married to my Superman, with a mild addiction to tea and World of Warcraft. One day I hope to write a book that history recognizes as a classic; it will most likely involve dragons.