World of Warcraft

The Lich King’s Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in Storytelling

wow7 - The Lich King's Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in Storytelling
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TL;DR: TL;DR is the title.


Links will be to tvtropes.org, Imgur, or YouTube. If it's tvtropes.org, it will be an article on, what do you expect? Tv Tropes. If it's to Imgur, it will be an image. This is a post made for discussion and, most of all, fun.

t = tvtropes link. i = Imgur link. y = YouTube link. Have fun!

A common conception that seems to be held, at least to some degree, is that tropes are bad. Or at the very least rather, specific tropes are bad.

I would like to suggest that
TropesAreTools - The Lich King's Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in Storytellingthis is not true.t I think the overwhelming majority of tropes are not inherently bad, nor are they inherently good. What often matters most is how they are executed.

When talking about for instance the Battle of Lordaeron people will often refer to the "Deus Ex"ingt


y and how it seems to cheapen the story. I'm not going to contest this point of view, I'm just using it as an example to show how "Deus Ex" as a trope is used to automatically denote something negative.

However, the Deus Ex of Tirion's miracle that saw him freed from his icy prison to shatter Frostmourne with the Ashbringer is one of the best Deus Exes in all of storytelling. Why?


The Lich King was a Genius

Ner'zhul's Lich King,i especially, was capable of playing the kingdom of Lordaeroni and its beloved virtuous Prince,iand the demonic Burning Legioni at the same time. He was so devious that he was manipulating the nathrezim;i dreadlords known for their cunning and trickery, the same agents of the Burning Legion tasked with being the Lich King's jailors.

When Ner'zhul and Arthas amalgamated into a single entity,i most of you probably know that there was an internal war between the twoi of them.i The Wrath of the Lich King took years to happen (WoW being 4 years after the Third War and The Burning Crusade adding ~another year) because of this psychological war. Arthas was taking control of the vastly powerful entity entirely. By the time he was done with Ner'zhul, he was a tormented being with utterly shattered sanity, and a voice no stronger than a whisper that Arthas easily ignored.

What was Arthas' plan?

The protection of Azeroth. In his own perverse way.

People will not like this retcon, but like the Deus Ex trope, I do not think retconning is inherently bad. And personally, I think this retcon is similarly an excellent one. In World of Warcraft Chronicles: Volume III, it is explained that Arthas' mentality as the Lich King still yearned for justice and the protection of the world, especially against that of the Legion and the Void. But this viewpoint was exceptionally twisted, and this is why the Lich King is the extremely evil being we know him as.

But why is this retcon good? Because it gives us a clear justification for why the Lich King, as intelligent as he was, would put so much effort into prepping up the Champions of Azerothi and getting them delivered right to his doorstep, just so he could raise them as some of his most powerful agents of the Scourge.

He could have wanted it "just because he's evil and wants everything dead" anyway. The Lich King has always been a great complete monster.t But this adds depth to his planning. His plan is not just to see the world dead, it was to see the world unified in undeath and under his iron will. So that when a threat came, the world would be stood together against it. And taking the Champions of Azeroth and making them his own was not just to garner power for the sake of power, it was power for the sake of (what he thought was) protecting Azeroth.

Understandably you might look at that line of reasoning, scoff, and say, "Oh great, they're ruining another character by trying to make them a 'good guy all along'." Or maybe just a (severely) misguided bad guy.

But don't scoff! The representation of the Lich King as of


y has not changed. We are never shown his rationale, and even if we were… we always knew he's messed up. Insane in the membrane. Look at the guidance lines for that Complete Monster trope:
  1. The character is truly heinous by the standards of the story, which makes no attempt to present the character in any positive way.

  2. The character's terribleness is played seriously at all times, evoking fear, revulsion and hatred from the other characters in the story.

  3. They are completely devoid of altruistic qualities. They show no regret for their crimes.

Check, check, and… yes, check.

Arthas still succeeds in being a complete monster.i His Lich King is still devoid of altruistic qualities. He still had no regret, not an iota of sorrowi for his past deeds.i Certainly not like he once did.i

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Not only is Arthas completely lacking in regret, but the very explanation for his rationale and "protecting Azeroth" was immediately stated to be as twisted as ever before. There is no altruistic quality, only an embodiment of death and cruelty that has forgotten any mortal concept of justice.

A quest line in Wrath of the Lich King consolidates this with no ambiguity: Tirion Fordring destroys the darkened heart of Arthas himself, after having peered into it and seeing nothing redeemable. Indeed, one can construe Arthas' everlasting loyalty to Invincible as far more altruistic than his recently-learned rationale.


Legacy of a Story

So when the Lich King succeeds in not only gathering the most powerful elite fighting force the world has ever seen to his doorstep, but killing them outright, the narrative succeeds in maintaining both
the Lich King's extreme power.i By providing a justification for his actions, it serves to preserve the image of remarkable intelligence that Ner'zhul's Lich King evoked so many years before, instead of attributing it instead to arrogance as our 20/20 hindsight might have us believe. And here I refer directly to
LogicalFallacies?from=Main - The Lich King's Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in Storytellingthe Historian's Fallacy.
t (Use CTRL+F to find it)

The Lich King failed, as we know. He failed by the Deus Ex of
the Holy Light providing a miracle.i It enabled the raising of the champions back into life, the destruction of Frostmourne and the freedom of the countless souls within. And it is easy to look back and believe that this was simply arrogance.
KickTheDog - The Lich King's Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in Storytelling
Cruel,t absolutely, to subdue Tirion in a block of ice for the sole purpose of having him watch as his champions were slain and raised under his mighty will. But he had won. Until a Deus Ex Machina, of course.

Heading into the raid, what was the narrative explanation you were expecting? What is the narrative you do expect in most raids, or even future raids?

ThePowerOfFriendship - The Lich King's Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in Storytelling
Through the power of friendship, anything is possible!t

After all, why wouldn't you? The champions of Azeroth have proven themselves unstoppable banded together. They have outright defeated
GZ3RMvL - The Lich King's Fall is one of the Best Examples of a Deus Ex Machina Trope in StorytellingC'Thuni and Yogg-Saron,i and unlike other epic battles like against
Illidan,i
Deathwing,i or Kil'jaeden,i they didn't need help. Against Old Gods!

So, when Maiev Shadowsongi was enough to turn the tides in the battle against Illidan, surely the battle against the Lich King after all the champions' preparation and vetting by the legendary Tirion Fordring would pay off?

Wrong.

Blizzard established the awesome power of the Lich King by having him outright kill them all, despite their most valiant efforts.

It was only through Tirion's Holy Light and the power of a freed King Terenas Menethil IIi that they were able to be revived and the Lich King defeated. An actual miracle.

Blizzard was able to preserve the raw fear and weight of the Lich King's name by having him be one of the few bosses who kills you. It would be some time for that to happen again.i (Unless I'm mistaken and somewhere else in the story you get legitimately killed by a raid boss)

Blizzard was able to preserve the intelligence of the Lich King, by having him win out at the end in accordance to his plan, and for his plan to have so nearly come to full fruition. And more, by having his plan to have a good reason behind it.


Arthas, Ner'zhul, and the Lich King altogether continue to be one of the very best complex character arcs in not just video game history, but storytelling history. And I think it is an extremely wonderful example of how a Deus Ex Machina can be used to not just highlight the exceptional faith and willpower that our Paladin of the Silver Handi has, but just what it took to overcome such a foe. A miracle.

So… that's that, really. I think the Deus Ex Machina is a card you cannot play many times at all before it gets boring or very quickly perceived as "cheap." But I'll be damned if the way they executed it in Wrath of the Lich King isn't amazing. And the retcon that provides an explanation for the Lich King's behaviour in World of Warcraft: Chronicles (Vol. III) is similarly extremely well done, because it aligns the Lich King's character with extraordinary brilliance rather than absurd egotism.


Thanks for reading. Uh, if you read that wall of text. And of course, feel free to disagree. Whether or not you think it's a Deus Ex Machina trope, whether or not you think the Lich King is so well written, or whether or not you think I've spent far too much time discussing this, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.

Have a good one!

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