League of Legends

A lengthy breakdown and defense of Kayle and Morgana’s new characterizations and their tragic and messed-up relationship

LeagueofLegends10 - A lengthy breakdown and defense of Kayle and Morgana's new characterizations and their tragic and messed-up relationship
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Intro:

So there's been a bit of debate around here about Kayle and Morg's new lore, and basically the general understanding going around now is that "Morg is a good person now, she's not evil and we all like her now, but Kayle's now a mean knight templar; a bad guy who only looks like a good person and that's stuff", the latter of which has branched out in a bunch of further varying reactions ranging from "eh, it's alright" to "this Kayle sucks now" to more "rito pls, fire your writing department" because it's such a sharp departure from her original and complex "an eye for an eye" angel lady justice person.

Because the lore hasn't been out for more than a week and not everybody has properly experienced the entire character package (biography, in-game dialogue, supplementary color stories that aren't out yet at time of this writing), I'm willing to overlook this and assume that a lot of the more antagonistic reactions comes from a knee-jerk reaction of people not having the time to properly absorb and digest we have now and what they imply yet, and that in time, people will start to better "get" it and stop talking about it (except for the people who don't and vocalize their animosity, because internet).

However, if I can just entertain these reactions for a post, I do wanna talk about my findings through their biographies and in-game dialogue so far, and in turn why I personally think Kayle and Morgana's current characterizations are actually really compelling and great, and especially a lot more nuanced than most people are giving them credit for (so nuanced that it requires A LOT of context and discussion to make comprehensible). I might sound pretentious when I think that many people don't quite "get" it , but this is just my analysis and I hope that from the perspective of someone who likes it and finds it complex, you MIGHT change your mind. And if it doesn't, hopefully time will do it for you, but here it goes:



Getting Straight What Actually Happens

Before I break down the subtext, let's actually agree on what their lore actually is and get the record straight of what's happening, because a lot of problems many people seem to be having come from misunderstandings of the actual canon, not helped by how both sides of this story are split in two bios. Sources to follow along with: Morgana's biography, Kayle's biography. (no tl;drs, because that misses the point of having this summary)

Once upon a time during the Rune Wars, a couple, Mihira and Kilam, headed to scale Mount Targon for divine power to protect their tribe, and Mihira (who was already pregnant) became one with the powerful Aspect of Justice. After this, Morgana and Kayle were born and Mihira became a force to be reckoned with, but became so increasingly warlike and fearsome that dad (Kilam) fled from her with their two children, ending up at an anti-magic refugee settlement which was the birthplace of Demacia, which wouldn't become the military kingdom we know it as currently until much later.

Kayle and Morg grew up with different worldviews: Kayle venerated her mom as the Aspect of Justice, and came to associate the law with general goodness and safety, and took it very seriously within the settlement even at a young age. Conversely, Morgana came to hate their Aspect mom for causing dad enough grief to force them all to leave, and developed a much more personable, empathetic attitude, including with those outcasted by the settlement (remember: Demacia's origins were based in refuge from magic, and its anti-magic attitudes have been around since day one).

At some point, their mom's sword of shadow and starfire fell from the sky and split in two in front of them, and the two became blessed with her power (what exactly happened to mom isn't clear). Kayle jumped at the call to be like mom, to become Demacia's protector and upholder of its values of justice, but Morgana resented these powers… until she came to realize "Wait, this means I can keep dad safe," so the two started fighting together to keep Demacia safe. For a time, at least.

Now here's a moment I think many people don't fully get: Kayle's ongoing desire to be the legacy to the Aspect of Justice led her more to develop a judge-jury-executioner attitude; she formed a judicator order because she wanted to most objectively uphold what she considered justice and those who were proven guilty would be rightly punished.

(I think it's important to point out that there's some ambiguity of whether the "justice" she's upholding is based on some kind of universal, objective truth, or simply the law of Demacia. Kayle thinks modern Demacians "have lost their way," make of that what you will. Also, note how I nor the biographies state that Kayle or Morg themselves are actually the Aspect of Justice themselves; they have its power, but the wording implies that they aren't truly one with the Aspect like their mom.)

In the meantime, Morgana's empathetic outlook led her to recognizing the capacity for atonement and redemption; she began pleading with Kayle and her order "Hey, maybe we should give these guys a second chance. If they admit their guilt and want to redeem themselves of their crimes, we should let them, and I'll help" Kayle actually was willing to fork the rules a bit to allow her sister to do this (THIS MOMENT IS ALSO VERY IMPORTANT, put a pin in this), but the mortal council was not amused.

One of the judicators and Kayle's protege, Ronas, saw Morgana's actions as dangerous and criminal based on Kayle's rhetoric, and so without informing Kayle or asking for her permission, he went to arrest Morgana with the intent of imprisoning her, but Morg ended up killing him in self-defense, which caused an uproar in the settlement.

Because Kayle wasn't aware of Ronas' plan or context, it just looked like Morgana spontaneously killed him, and the objective-(ish) judge-jury-executioner she was, Kayle, "consumed by rage" was about to smite the city to hell in the resulting riots (the wording is important, again, pin it), but was confronted by Morgana, and by then, Kayle decided that if she was "to purge the darkness she saw in mortal hearts, she would have to start with her own sister."

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They fight, but in the ensuing chaos, their dad gets killed from collateral damage. Morgana gets furious and is like "What the fuck, Kayle!? Were you planning on smiting dad to death too? What was his crime? Stealing us away from mom?"

Kayle doesn't give an answer, because she doesn't have one, in turn because she realized "Holy crap, I really screwed up." Essentially, in spite of her proposed stoic mightiness and trying to be the legacy her Aspect mom deserved, she let her emotions get the best of her and it resulted in a senseless disaster. She simply took off into the sky and vowed to not let mortal emotions sway her any more, and so she started heading back to Mount Targon, "where she would seek perfect, celestial clarity. There she would stand at her mother’s side, and fulfill her legacy to the Aspect of Justice." She hasn't been seen for centuries since, though she may be returning soon.

Morgana, meanwhile, never even wanting her powers anyway, chose to bind herself to mortality. She couldn't cut off her wings, so she simply bound them in chains, and is now walking the earth. Despite all of this, she still wants to help those she deems worthy of help, and "she bides her time in the kingdom’s shadows," which I take to mean she's either an incognito wandering good samaritan, or in hiding but quietly helping people with her magic (might be detailed in a color story later). She knows Kayle will return someday, and "as magic begins to rise again," figures it'll be soon.



Breaking Down Kayle and Morgana Characterizations and Morality

tbh I'm gonna mostly talk about Kayle in this section, because people seem to be generally on board with and understand Morgana, but I'm gonna go over her too for a bit.

So what I find neat about Kayle and Morgana's motive dynamic isn't that it's solely driven on "should we be lawful or should we be compassionate?", but it's also more intertwining a related but still significantly different age-old "stoicism vs. emotions" conflict.

As established, Morg is a very sympathetic and emotion-driven person, and that's what drives her to be more "human" and less of a demigod templar like Kayle or their mom, who are driven by the desire for justice and rules over empathy. I'd think just the fact she's explicitly more emotional inherently makes her more relatable, which is why people are gravitating to her more to the stoic and rule-driven Kayle. And it's kinda interesting and neat how she has this personality despite still looking like a Sailor Moon villain with evil-looking powers (though remember, her "dark fires" was one of her mothers' stated celestial powers along with starfire that went to Kayle).

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Kayle, meanwhile, aspires to be a stoic who deliberately wants to eschew human emotions. She sees mortal emotions and vices as not just the driving factor for injustice and disorder in the world, but also what stands in the way of being the Aspect of Justice's true legacy, as in her eyes, pure "justice" is represented by carrying out an objective, black-and-white, "you're either guilty and to be punished or you're not" worldview, summed up as "There is right, and there is wrong. All else is rationalization." Guilty according to what is unclear (again, is she upholding a divinely-defined, legitimately universal truth, or just what she thinks is the truth? Personally, I think this is intentionally supposed to be uncertain, as I'll get to in a bit), but either way, she condemns emotion, both in humanity, and more significantly, in herself.

If we can specifically discuss how she acts in the gameplay for a bit, Kayle SEEMS to have reached that point. Her biography page is introduced with “No human is perfect. But I am not human.” Her champion select pick quote is "They shall tremble at my perfection!" A LOT of her voiceover (apologies for not being able to find a list, the League wiki still hasn't updated yet haha) has her claim stuff along the lines of "Only the divine may judge," "Mortals are blinded by their own misery," "The law does not tolerate imperfection. I am no exception," etc.

The general takeaway is that she's and heightening her own divine status as this "true" judicator of objective justice, and downplaying her own faults as things she moved passed, like "I was once marred by human vices and emotions because I know they're terrible things for my supernatural duty, but it's in the past, and now I'm ready to take it on for real."

Here's the thing, though: She isn't.

Her flaws aren't in the past. Whatever she is now — an actual Aspect or just a winged lady with half of her mom's powers and her sword, while she may no longer literally qualify, as a person, Kayle IS still human. She has flaws. She has moments of emotional vulnerability where they betray her. She isn't discarding her vices and weaknesses, she's simply ignoring them.

And do you wanna know why? It's because one of them is Morgana. Her sister.



The Torrid Tragedy of Two Sisters

More than just "justice and law vs. compassion and moral obligation" deal, Kayle and Morg conflict in my eyes is about one sister dedicating her life to a supernatural role that destroys her humanity, while another sister who was unfairly roped into everything with no way out herself wants it all to end and for them to be normal again, both of which are equally unmoving.

There's an interaction for when Kayle and Morgana are on the same team, and it honestly kinda destroyed me once I realized what it meant:

Kayle: Today, it looks like we must put our animosity aside.

Morgana: We've never been enemies, sister.

Kayle: How beautiful your mind must be, to think such things.

Morgana: How tragic yours, to believe them.

Going back to the whole "stoicism vs. emotions" angle again, Morgana is almost aggressively idealistic in that she forgives wrongdoers and believes in their capacity for redemption, and surprise surprise: even though she's rightfully pissed off that a calamity (which admittedly, wasn't directly Kayle's fault; at worst, she was complicit for motivating Ronas' scheme) that killed their father (the last of their only other existing family members), it seems Morg is willing to apply some degree of that same forgiveness with her sister.

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In return, the thing is that as much as she doesn't seem to want to admit it, while Kayle does view her sister with antagonism, she lets her off the hook far more often than the supposed duty she's assigned herself will actually allow, and is completely dishonest with herself as to what she's actually doing. Kayle fudges the rules she created an entire judicator order to be based around just because Morgana asked. When Morgana stops their fight to cradle their dead father in her arms, Kayle doesn't finish the job of killing her (reminder: "Consumed by rage". "If Kayle was to purge the darkness she saw in mortal hearts, she would have to start with her own sister." The whole thing about almost burning the entire city to ashes. She was in full inarguable kill mode at that moment), she can only stay silent and leave. She also doesn't bother pursuing Morgana for centuries. What she spent all that time doing is unclear for the time being, but it sure didn't have to do with Morg or her equally-mysterious hidden shenanigans.

But at the same time, Kayle has a duty to fulfill. Not just because she feels a personal obligation to do right, but WORSHIPS her Aspect of Justice mother despite not having met her, and had built up her entire mortal life trying desperately to be worthy of her example. She believes that with the power she has, she must serve Runeterra, and considers it a gross disservice to relinquish it, as she believes is the case with Morg.

…so Kayle deadlocks herself and Morgana into a potentially unwinnable scenario. Both are blessed with their mother's power, but Kayle self-professes discarding all of her humanity just to fulfill a self-imposed, yet divine and in-her-eyes truly righteous obligation, but because she seems to still love her sister despite it all, she's opted not to end her, but to simply ignore her. She doesn't want to actually fix the flaws or emotional attachments that hinder her, she just simply wants nothing to do with them.

But the same cannot be said for Morgana. She's super not happy with the path Kayle's taken, but regardless, she just wants her sister back and to stop all the insanity that she never even asked to be part of. Which like… yeah, changing Kayle's mind is gonna be just as difficult as changing Morgana's.

Unless some extreme miraculous breakthrough happens, it seems the two are essentially doomed to be enemies forever, not just because both of them are so stubborn in their beliefs and self-imposed obligations, neither of which are de facto WRONG, or the fact they’re basically ancient part-to-full celestial demigods with eternal life and incredible powers, both from the same mother… but most of all because it’s pretty clear that as sisters, neither one wants to pull the trigger, and neither wants to see the other gone forever.



Conclusion

So yeah, Kayle and Morgana's situation is really screwed up, and frankly, it's so juicy in its screwed-up-ness that I adore it. I hope I've articulated myself well enough for this chaos to be comprehensible, because it's just not as simple as a "good guy is objectively really bad and bad guy is objectively really good" scenario like their original pre-relaunch lore suggested. Here I think it's far more personal and based on a more nuanced take of humanity, especially human flaws. We all make really bad mistakes, guys. Even the lady with goddess starfire powers and wings from her mom.

I can't imagine how colossal an undertaking it must've been for the narrative team convey this really gargantuan and epic dynamic based on divine obligations and contradictory emotions between these two, but I'm very satisfied with them, and super-excited to see where things go.

This is mostly conjecture, but it's been hinted at for a while that Demacia's "heading for a major shake-up", and my personal theory is that Sylas' mostly lukewarm release is merely kickstarting it, and when Kayle/Morg are officially released, the conflict's gonna go on full blast, pretty much guaranteeing Kayle will return to Demacia and Morg will be there for another clashing. I can't wait to see what happens next.

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