I say we start with the easy part – the Jailer and his plans.
It is barely news that he’s on his quest of rebuilding the world order. He’s seeking to turn the plan of how afterlife works, designed by the First Ones, upside down. He seeks domination, making the world(s) his puppets and him the master of the universe – and not just serve his role as one of many, presiding over a part of the Death realm that houses the irredeemable souls.
How would he do it? Apparently he restored his powers, stripped from him by the Eternal Ones as he went rogue, and now he has the means and the power to travel elsewhere and try to subdue the Seat of the First Ones, or Temple of the First Ones, or whatever ethereal place where we will chase, quest and end him in 9.2. Sylvanas, Primus, Covenant leaders or whoever was in contact with him will tell us how to follow and help us find the means to crush his effort.
The most interesting thing about Zovaal is character development – or rather, further unveiling of how the things used to be. We knew that he tried to steal the Covenant sigils, but we did not know that Arbiter’s sigil was actually Zovaal’s! He claims that it was his – and gaining an armor and inner fire looks like restoring to his old self, not a level up. Was he actually the leader of Shadowlands, judging souls, before he broke?
Then, I think we will see the role he played during Warcraft 3 events, and we’ll hear more about Arthas / Legion / Nathrezim / Lich King. Was he in his full power back then? Was it exactly the events on Azeroth he tried to influence that have drawn the line, and Covenants said, ‘oh fuck you, you can’t mess up with mortals and their mortal world, so let’s strip you from your authority’?
Finally, the character. He’s a perfect villain so far. We’ve never seen a villain that cold and pragmatic in the whole WoW history. He’s not cackling, he’s not moved by feelings of rage or vengeance, and what’s most surprising, he ignores the unnecessary violence. Could he finish or subdue the whole lot – Sylvanas, heroes, Thrall, Jaina, Bolvar? In a fingersnap. Did he? Meh. This bunch of mortals is irrelevant to his plans.
Blizzard is pulling Marvel’s Thanos card to an extent, and it works well. Once Thanos’ plan worked, he just sat in peace and never bothered to fight off the Avengers or even fight for his life when they came to execute him, being as serene as possible. Jailer, in a similar manner, does not feel hate or anger to Sylvanas or anyone in front of him. His only two human moves were: a) returning Sylvanas a piece of her soul – that was a sort of empathy, as she served him well, and he was stripped of a part of his essence in a similar manner, so he just returned the favor. No anger about “betrayal”, mind you! He just shrugs and leaves her behind. He’s above the petty feelings.
b) Nodding Anduin to follow him into the portal as he seeks… audience. Anduin has played his role, and he’s not required for anything that comes next as far as we know. Jailer does not need help or lieutenants for his plan, so it’s just what it says on the tin. Zovaal needs literally anyone to watch him do the final trick and share his success. Even a shade of a person, a puppet.
This is an interesting turn of events, but nowhere unexpected. She did not betray the Jailer! It’s the realization.
She was in with the Jailer because of freedom she was denied since Arthas killed and split her soul and made her serve. She hoped to find and fix that freedom she lost for everyone. Her idea was to rebuild the world order so that no one would be bound to “prison”, aka the pre-defined order in life and afterlife. Now that Jailer declares he’s seeking only domination, making everyone his mindless puppets – exactly what she’s fighting against, she’s triggered by her experience with Arthas which Anduin reminds her vividly, and she’s off the ship.
Imagine that people of a country all think that their government and the regime in whole is unfair and corrupted. So all people plan and do a revolution, working in unison. But after the revolution it becomes clear that part of the people planned to build a republic, and part of the people – a fascist dictatorship. Likewise, Sylvanas and Jailer both planned to break the :unfair: cycle of life and death, and worked in unison. But as the victory, the revolution came to fruition, Sylvanas realized that she sought freedom, and the Jailer planned to make the worlds his puppet.
Mind you, it doesn’t happen like Deus Ex. She’s not basking in pity and empathy for Anduin, but she’s been in confusion throughout the expansion. That’s exactly what Anduin and she talked before if you paid attention. She hit the bottom so many times, she :worked: so hard all these years for the cause, and it’s very hard for her to dismiss all her efforts in realization that Zovaal pursued an opposing goal all this time.
It’s not the pity she feels towards Anduin, Jaina, Thrall, or Bolvar. It’s the iconic case of PTSD, as she sees them turned into mindless puppets, and realizes it’s the plan and modus operandi of Zovaal for everyone and everything. Not just the valuable, but stubborn tool as Anduin, but the whole universe that might be in Jailer’s reach.
Finally, why her PTSD is so important. A villain can come at great lengths in cruelty, but if he/she has a childhood or a war trauma, he may by adamant about the certain method that is out of question and out of bounds. For example, if he nearly burned alive at some point, he could be ok with any type of torture towards his enemies, but he would never use or even let anyone around him use fire to torture or kill a prisoner. Yes, up to the point that if he sees his henchmen or comrades approach a prisoner with as much as a lighter, he’d shoot them in the head.
For Sylvanas, her PTSD is not even the loss of Quel’Thalas, or her failure to defend her country and her people. Her true PTSD is the loss of her will, the thing that she was made to serve her killer. That her fate is chosen for her. And it’s not the fate of Thrall, Bolvar, Anduin, Jaina that bothers her. It’s the domination-lit eyes, the very idea of mindless puppets bound to serve against their will. That’s what disturbed her most and made her question the Jailer’s methods during Anduin’s imprisonment, but… she walked so far for this, and Anduin’s but one tool… Yet she did not feel comfortable, and was not happy about the method throughout 9.0. cinematics, talking to Anduin until the end, stalling his turn, even if Jailer hurried her. Anduin resembling Arthas so much in his current state does not help at all, reminding her of her own experience under Arthas’ command.
If we understand that it’s not a case of good/bad dilemma, but a story and a theme of free will, everything clicks very well so far.
My opinion on whether Blizzard did well with Sylvanas arc would depend on her final fate. I’m all against redemption of any sort, that’s 100%. A good piece of soul stripped and returned or not, would she help to ruin the Jailer or not – genocide is genocide, and it cannot be redeemed.
Again… we’ll have to wait and see? :)