All dogs go to heaven, but what about horses? World of Warcraft: Shadowlands inspires complicated spiritual questions like this one because of its setting, which is the place all souls go after they die. Here, not only are all of Warcraft’s myths and religions true, fans will also get to meet old characters — like Arthas, the Lich King.
Based on existing lore, we know that the Lich King resides in a specific Shadowland that players will be visiting during the expansion. Arthas did not become evil by his lonesome; he had a helpful steed by his side while he was alive. But what happens to that same horse when the Lich King is banished to hell?
From the horse’s mouth
In order to determine the answer to this question, we must first understand all of the data available. Arthas was a Disney-style prince of the kingdom of Lordaeron. When the kingdom was attacked by waves of undead zombies, Arthas decided he would do anything to save his people. Ironically, that devotion led him to taking up the cursed blade Frostmourne, which devoured his soul. He then became the evil Lich King and led the armies of undead in an attempt to conquer the world.
Just because Arthas had become a soulless monster didn’t mean he was completely heartless. One of his first acts after becoming the Lich King was to go find his childhood horse, Invincible, who had died in a riding accident. The Lich King then turned Invincible into a zombie horse.
The book Arthas: Rise of the Lich King shows Invincible recognizing his master and showing immense love and loyalty towards him. That’s not a high level of sentience, but it’s there. In addition, we know that mortal creatures like deer and bears go to the Shadowlands; they have souls that are turned into anima and processed through the realm of the Night Fae. If a bear or deer has a soul, a horse should have a soul as well. That seems to be a test of basic sentience and theory of mind that Invincible would surely pass, even in his reanimated zombie form.
Players can obtain Invincible as a mount from the Arthas fight in Icecrown Citadel, which suggests that the horse remains alive. But how could thousands of players be riding the same horse? That must be a non-canon result. Given that, we should assume that the real Invincible perished along with his master.
So, did that horse’s soul go to hell along with the Lich King?
A trial for the evil horse
There appear to be two methods by which a soul can go to The Maw in World of Warcraft, which is essentially the worst possible hell. We know that Arthas Menethil, the Lich King, is currently in the Maw — and we also know that the Maw will be an end-game zone in Shadowlands. You get sent to the Maw via two ways:
- You do really bad things — be the absolute worst of the worst, the Mussolini of Azeroth
- There’s an alternative route that seems to be unlocked by being raised by Frostmourne
In the short story Edge of Night, we see the Maw from the perspective of Sylvanas Windrunner, the elven general who was killed and turned into a banshee by Arthas. At the end of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, she considers her mission of revenge done: she killed Arthas. Having completed said mission, she commits suicide, confident that she’ll get her good afterlife. Instead, she briefly goes to mega hell before getting saved and brought back to life.
In the Maw, she finds Arthas Menethil, who is in the Maw because he did a whole lot of objectively bad things. But here’s the thing: when Arthas was still in the land of the living, Invincible was also there, doing all of that bad stuff right alongside Arthas.
Consider some things that Arthas did with the implicit aid of Invincible.
- Killed the remaining paladins of the Silver Hand to steal the ashes of a dead king
- Stormed the kingdom of Quel’Thalas to commit a whole genocide so Arthas could use their magic juice pool to ressurect a necromancer
- Like, 50 other war crimes on the journey down to Lordaeron and then up to Northrend over the course of Warcraft 3
Invincible comes up continually throughout the course of Rise of the Lich King. His bond with Arthas remains very close, and it’s clear that he’s more than just a vehicle. He pushes onwards through rivers, chases down elves, and tramples survivors under his hooves.
If Arthas is in Hell due to his actions, would Invincible not follow the same rules? Or does the horse need actual agency in these acts to be implicated? If Invincible had any idea of what he was doing, he would surely go straight to hell.
It can be argued that Invincible does these acts purely out of love for Arthas; at one point, he takes a mortal blow for his rider, and later on, he gleefully prances around Arthas next to piles of corpses. But does Invincible understand what he has wrought? How is morality weighed for a horse? Surely bears don’t go to hell for eating deer, but what about a horse who just helped kill, like, fifty thousand people? It’s also unclear whether Invincible could have earned his spot in a kind of horse valhalla for very good boys based off of his limited agency and intelligence, or if there’s a third option, like a Horse Limbo.
Another wrinkle: What if we assume that Arthas is an unreliable narrator? Golden writes Arthas as often feeling guilty and angry about his actions, even as he commits them. In his early life, he accidentally killed Invincible and also broke the heart of his pretty ex-girlfriend. Then after turning evil, he stabbed his dad and did a whole lot of war crimes. The narration consistently has Arthas brooding on these things, describing his suffocating feelings of guilt, fear, and anger. The only thing that is consistently written as a bright spot in his life is Invincible.
What if Arthas is projecting all of Invincible’s loving, humanizing qualities onto the horse? What if Invincible truly is just a shambling vehicle of bone and magic, and Arthas is just reading way too much into those jerky movements? I myself have been capable of such illogical folly; I’ve looked at my fat cat Bongo and surmised that he is feeling complex human emotions like “jealousy” after he destroyed a novelty bobblehead I enjoyed keeping on my desk.
What if Arthas is doing the same? What if Invincible is a magic illusion trapped in a horse, forced to do terrible things, with no ability to grasp their terribleness?
Invincible might just be in hell regardless. Recall that Sylvanas was in the Maw. When Arthas first killed her, she felt like she had a ticket to elf heaven. When she died a second time, she went straight to hell … even though she had never done anything that would justify going to the Maw. Even if you assume she orchestrated the Wrathgate during Wrath of the Lich King — which is possible, according to Blizzard — she’s still too heroic for mega hell. I mean, Kael’thas got to go to one of the better vampire-themed hells, the one where you get tortured until you earn redemption. In terms of total villainy, Kael’thas was probably leagues ahead of Sylvanas in terms of body count and betrayal.
So, that leaves us with one possibility, and it’s one that Sylvanas suspects but hasn’t confirmed. You go to the Maw if you were raised into undeath by Frostmourne, regardless of your prior life. That includes Invincible.
This raises even more questions, and I hope the Shadowlands expansion answers them. Is there a specific hell for horses, or do they go to the same hell as everyone else? Will we see other famous horses who have passed away in World of Warcraft, like Ol’ Blanchy? Is Invincible aware of the full weight of his horrific actions? And does he regret them? I eagerly await the inevitable answers to these pressing questions.
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