Shadowlands lore – Debunking Arbiter theories

Warning: major World of Warcraft: Shadowlands spoilers ahead. If you want to avoid lore spoilers then you should not read any further.

So Shadowlands has finally arrived, after delays and its fair share of controversies, release day went… fairly smoothly compared to certain 2014 expansions. Certainly I had no issues logging in, although there were reports that some servers didn’t fair nearly as well.

If you did manage to get in however, you would have made your way to Icecrown, spoke to Bolvar who for some reason couldn’t go to the Shadowlands (but then suddenly turns up a few hours later, because reasons) and fought your way through the Maw to save Jaina, Thrall, Anduin and Baine. Except then you escape the Maw alone, ultimately not saving anyone, losing countless Ebon Blade warriors and, seemingly, Tyrande to the Jailor. Good job us.

Having made it to Oribos, the eternal city, we’re greeted by some semi-friendly chaps called the attendants. One of them, Tal-Inara, takes us to see the almighty Arbiter. She who decides where souls will spend the rest of eternity. Well, sadly she’s fallen asleep, although that’s hardly surprising, I bet she hasn’t had a day off in aeons. Except, she hasn’t just fallen asleep, she was attacked by a red ball of something-or-other. If you haven’t played the game and have no idea what on Azeroth I’m talking about, you can watch the video below.

Now, this little scene has gotten lore nuts and casual players alike going crazy with speculation. But, just how realistic are some of these theories. Well, not very. So without further ado I am going to attempt to explain why some of the more popular theories behind the attack on the Arbiter can’t possibly be right and offer one that might be. Maybe. Who knows.

The red ball is the soul of Argus

OK, when I first read this one I thought, oh, that’s a cool theory. Then I thought about it for approximately 12 seconds and realised that it can’t possibly be correct. Why? Well, because of the timeline of when the machine of death seemed to have broken. First, John Hight, Executive Producer and Vice President on World of Warcraft told Warcraft Radio way back at Blizzcon 2019 (remember when we could still have conventions!?), that souls started skipping the Arbiter and going straight to the maw “back in Legion time”. Well, ok, technically Argus did die as basically the very last act of Legion, being the final boss of the Antorus, the Burning Throne raid in 7.3. However, in the quest Finding the Special Wildseed the Dreamweaver notes that “This spirit was within the last group to arrive before the drought began.” referring to Ysera. Now, this means that those who died in patch 7.0.1 were among the last group to be judged. Therefore, I think it is entirely fair to say that the attack on the Arbiter happened while Argus will still alive.

If that wasn’t enough for you, Wowpedia  also note that the Pantheon brought Argus’ soul to their seat and used the last of his power to imprison Sargeras. So, yeah. I’d say this theory, while interesting, is unlikely.

The attack has something to do with Sargeras’ sword

This won’t take very long. So, at the end of 7.3, during the final cinematic, Sargeras decides to stab Azeroth right in the Silithus (see below). Now, we still don’t really have any closure on what long lasting impacts this has had, some people are speculating that it is related to the red ball attack on the Arbiter. Which is wrong.
While I liked the last idea about Argus, this one just doesn’t make much sense. There was no stabby stabby action when the Arbiter takes her nap for one, and secondly, just read everything I posted above. The timeline simply doesn’t work. This theory is so reaching that I won’t actually spend long debunking it other than to say it can’t be right for the same reasons as the Argus theory can’t be.

 

Older theory – The Arbiter hurt itself in confusion

Prominent lore YouTuber Pyromancer released a video back in June, basically arguing that the Arbiter received a soul that ties the line between two of the realms of the Shadowlands so closely, that she doubted her ability to judge and basically shut herself down to re-evaluate. Now, I have to be perfectly fair to Pyromancer, this video (below) was released a good five months before the expansion released and he makes some fairly compelling arguments. But, we have now seen that the Arbiter seems to have been attacked. You could argue that the red ball was a soul to be judged, but that doesn’t really explain why she is then seen writhing in pain before shutting down.
Another issue here is that, if the Arbiter simply shut down, why are the souls defaulting to the maw? Why are they not just floating around Oribos in some sort of purgatory?
Pyromancer has an answer for this; he mentions that maybe the maw has been starved of anima before and that it becoming such a dangerous place is a by-product of the Arbiter’s decision making. He adds that the jailor “getting the souls” is “maybe that’s how it was always supposed to be”. Well, sure, maybe. While he does offer more theories about the history of the Shadowlands the issue is that this can neither be proven, nor disproven at this point.
So, unlike the two theories above, we can’t fully debunk this one. It is possible that Pyromancer is right, but I would argue that it’s unlikely. Why? Well, because there seems to be a more likely theory with a bit more evidence, so let’s look at that one.

 

It was an attack by Sire Denathrius

So this theory argues that Sire Denathrius, in league with the jailor, shot an anima ball at the Arbiter. OK, let’s unpack this a little and explain why I think this is the most reasonable theory given what we know right now.

Revendreth anima is red

Fairly self-explanatory, the anima that the Venthyr extract is red, the ball of whatever that hit the Arbiter is red. This was first made clear in the Afterlives: Revendreth mini. On its own, certainly not enough evidence, but it’s not presented alone. Moving on!

Revendreth was collecting anima for the maw

OK, again, this is something all of the covenants are doing, because, well there’s a draught. But, what if the Revendreth reserves, which are again expertly shown in the Afterlives short, were being weaponized. We know that some/most of it is being funnelled into the Maw for the Jailor, but what if that anima was also used to attack the Arbiter?  In fact, we see with some of the constructs in Bastion that anima can be fired as a weapon.

Enemy Infiltration – Preface

As for the book “Enemy Infiltration” I do not have the time to fully explain this in as much detail as it deserves. Explaining only this would double the size of the article. Thankfully BellularGaming made an excellent video going over what the book says and what it means, check it out below. A short TL;DR is that the Dreadlords (Nathrazim) work for Sire Denathrius and are working to sow dissent all across the universe. Yeah, it’s a big lore dump and I really do highly recommend you watch the video. The Dreadlords are spying and working behind the scenes, creating chaos indirectly rather than directly and that might just be what happened here too. As mentioned above Denathrius has been funnelling anima into the maw. It may be that he himself never weaponized it, but rather he was supplying the ammunition for the Jailor to fire.

The first raid

Castle Nathria is the first raid of the Shadowlands and, as of the time of writing, is due to come out in around two weeks. We know the final boss is Sire Denathrius and we know he is in league with the Jailor. I think it is entirely possible that in two weeks time we may actually know what happened to the Arbiter, as it may well be revealed after the raid that Denathrius had a hand in it, either directly or by supplying the anima.

All in all this theory sounds like the most logical to me, but it is still just a theory. Only time will tell if I’ve been totally off base. Besides, this entire article relies on Blizzard staying true to their word regarding timelines and lore, and they have been known to, well, lie. Yes, I’m still salty about the canon in Azshara.

What do you think about the theories regarding the Arbiter in Shadowlands? Let us know your thoughts and look out for more Shadowlands content as we journey through the expansion together!

For more news, reviews and features, check out Ready Player Gone.

Ryan Archer
Ryan Archer
Interviews lead at Ready Player Gone.

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