The Missing Story of Archbishop Benedictus
There are few character storylines in Cataclysm that fascinated me more than that of Archbishop Benedictus – spiritual leader of Stormwind turned Twilight Prophet. Unfortunately, the bulk of Benedictus’ story never makes it into any form of in-game narrative, and players who are interested in finding out just how this paragon on the Light chose to align himself with the Old Gods are left guessing.
But what if things had been just a little different? What if, instead of being the final boss in one of the Hour of Twilight heroics, Benedictus had been a raid boss in Dragon Soul? How might we have seen more of his story this way, and why might he have been a much better choice than some of Deathwing’s other cronies we face at Wyrmrest Temple?
The Man Behind the Mitre
Benedictus’ given name was Jarl, and he grew up in Lordaeron poised to become a merchant like his father. Jarl discovered his faith in the Light when he was brutally attacked by a group of mercenaries and joined the Church of the Light shortly thereafter. He studied under Alonsus Faol, who led the Clerics of Northshire and eventually founded the Knights of the Silver Hand with another of his students, Uther Lightbringer. Basically, Jarl had the best possible teaching in the Light a young priest could hope for.
Jarl was a gifted priest and eventually was put in charge of the spiritual leadership of a large town in Lordaeron – which was beset by the Scourge not long after his appointment. Working tirelessly, Jarl helped to evacuate his townspeople and was rewarded for his dedication with a promotion to Stormwind. He helped the Stormwind bishops as they constructed the mighty Cathedral of Light and was on the fast track to become a bishop himself. Upon Alonsus Foal’s death, the council of bishops made a somewhat surprise decision to elevate Jarl – who took the name Benedictus – to the position of Archbishop.
Since his promotion, Benedictus has overseen the spiritual life of the people of Stormwind and all of the Alliance’s faithful. He provided instruction to initiate priests, counseled the Alliance’s forces during the encounters with the Scourge in Northrend, and fought back the invasion as hordes of elementals ransacked Stormwind shortly before Deathwing’s rise.
And that, if you’ve read nothing other than in-game lore about Benedictus, is absolutely all you would know about the Archbishop. The day before Patch 4.3 he was still in the Cathedral of Light, and the day after he was the final boss of a 5 man dungeon.
A little more attention to Benedictus’ story might have gone a long way toward appeasing the Alliance players who complained that the entire Cataclysm expansion was too Horde-centric. It is well known at this point that a full reveal of the Archbishop’s betrayal was intended to be a part of the quest line in Stormwind that eventually sends Alliance players off to the Twilight Highlands. This quest was scrapped during the Cataclysm beta and Benedictus was replaced with Major Samuelson, who is revealed to be a servant of the Old Gods at the end of the quest line.
On one hand, I’m actually glad that Benedictus wasn’t revealed so early in the expansion. The original quest had Varian expose the Archbishop’s betrayal and engage him in battle alongside players, eventually driving him out of Stormwind. From a story standpoint, I like the idea that this guy has been living comfortably in our city, giving memorial services for our soldiers who are dying at the hands of his minions. It’s completely terrible – and makes him an even more compelling villain.
Benedictus is the symbol of the Light for the human race, second perhaps only to Tirion Fordring. He may, in fact, be even more of a recognizable figurehead for human civilians who live in Stormwind and didn’t have the opportunity to fight alongside Tirion in Northrend. This is the man who helped to build their cathedral, and who they see on a daily basis as they pray, celebrate, or mourn. Benedictus may very well be synonymous with the Light for Stormwind’s residents, and I think it’s nearly impossible to overstate just how much of a betrayal his turn to the Twilight Hammer truly is.
After his death in Wyrmrest Temple, players can talk to Bishop Farthing and try to tell him the truth about the Twilight Prophet. Farthing is unable to believe you; he laughs in your face. The clergy and people of Stormwind have so much faith in the goodness of their Archbishop that they cannot even fathom the possibility that he might have turned against them. It remains to be seen whether official lore will allow the general population to eventually know what came of Benedictus. Perhaps, as with Bolvar, it will be implied that only a very elite few know the real truth and the rest of the Alliance must remain in the dark for their own good. One can imagine the despair that would wash over Stormwind if they knew that the stalwart Benedictus had abandoned his faith to serve Deathwing.
Unfortunately, we got no hints in-game of Benedictus’ identity as the Twilight Prophet, which meant that a lot of players who weren’t keeping up on the novels were caught very off-guard when we suddenly had to kill him at the end of the Hour of Twilight dungeon. For Horde players, Benedictus might simply be yet another wayward human – someone who they’d eventually need to kill whether he’d sided with the Twilight’s Hammer or not. But for the Alliance, and particularly for members of the Alliance who are devoted to the Light, finding their Archbishop so suddenly and then being ordered by the Horde’s ex-Warchief to kill him would absolutely give them pause.
While this makes for a very shocking reveal, it doesn’t give us any chance at all to find out how we got to this point. For that information, we have to turn outside of in-game lore once again.
From Holy Father to Twilight Father
This is when things start to get … weird (in typical Warcraft novel fashion).
The figure of the Twilight Father (sometimes called the Twilight Prophet) emerges during the Twilight of the Aspects novel. After we disposed of Cho’gall, the Twilight Father rose to become the next leader of the Twilight Hammer cult. This new leader hatches a pretty crazy plan to abduct a blue dragon, Kirygosa, the pregnant mate of another blue dragon who was a likely candidate to become the new Aspect of Magic. What follows is something of a comedy of errors with the Twilight Father failing again and again at the tasks Deathwing sets before him.
Benedictus’ primary success as the Twilight Father is that he manages to secure the center of Dragonblight for the Twilight Hammer’s forces, taking over Wyrmrest Temple in the process. After this, things start to go wrong. Kirygosa’s mate sacrifices himself to save a large number of unhatched dragon eggs that the Twilight Father had planned to twist into chromatic dragons. Though he does eventually succeed in awakening a giant chromatic dragon who he intends to “mate” with Kirygosa, she escapes before he can go through with this plan. In his final failure, the Twilight Father fails to prevent a ritual performed by Thrall and the dragon aspects that grants them substantial new powers (perhaps the powers they end up using to defeat Deathwing in the Dragon Soul raid).
All along, Deathwing is furious with the Twilight Father for his constant shortcomings, though he continues to give Benedictus additional chances to prove himself. Finally, after the disaster with Thrall, Deathwing basically tells Benedictus that he needs to “lie low” in Stormwind for a while until the time is right for them to strike again. Most importantly, though, this direct communication between Benedictus and Deathwing finally establishes some idea of the chain of command from the Aspect of Death to the Twilight’s Hammer cult. I’ve mentioned before that this, to me, is one of the most confusing elements of Cataclysm’s story – how exactly are the cultists, Deathwing, and the Old Gods related? We knew that the cult worshipped the Old Gods and that Deathwing was influenced by them, but seeing that Deathwing is giving orders directly to the Twilight Father – the head of the cult – at last gives us an explicit sense that the cult is not randomly spreading chaos across Azeroth, but is a part of the greater plan. Unfortunately, none of this is revealed in-game.
Upon Benedictus’ return to Stormwind he returns to his duties as Archbishop, including overseeing the Remembrance Day ceremonies. One of our first (and only) hints that something has changed for Benedictus after the Cataclysm comes from the short story Blood of Our Fathers, which follows Varian during Remembrance Day. The story demonstrates over and over just how skilled of a double agent Benedictus must be. The Archbishop is extremely convincing as a true believer in the Light and a faithful advisor to Varian.
Throughout the story, Benedictus counsels Varian on the king’s strained relationship with his son. He encourages the king to see that Anduin’s strength in the Light gives him just as much potential to be a gifted and skilled leader as the other Wyrnn kings. As a gift for Remembrance Day, the Archbishop asks the father and son to join him at Tiffin’s memorial in the Stormwind cemetery, where he presents them with the key to the Queen’s locket. Benedictus leaves Varian and Anduin to their reconciliation, but shortly after they are ambushed by a group of Twilight’s Hammer assassins. Obviously, this assassination attempt fails – just like the Twilight Father’s other assignments – and only manages to bring Varian and Anduin closer than they have ever been before.
Benedictus’ turn to the service of the Old Gods comes across as extremely sudden, and we’re left with only a few pieces of dialogue that give us any indication as to what happens to make him lose his faith. What could make such a devoted believer in the Light fall? How could he simply wake up one day and turn away from everything he had worked for his entire life and turn to the very forces he had always opposed? And when did Benedictus make up his mind to serve Deathwing? How long had he been waiting in Stormwind for the opportune moment to rise as the Twilight Prophet? This, to me, is the most interesting part of Benedictus’ story.
Why Does a Good Man Go Bad?
When Benedictus dies at the end of the Hour of Twilight dungeon, his final words are:
“I looked into the eyes of The Dragon, and despaired …”
This (aside from being an homage to the movie Excalibur) gives us perhaps our only direct insight into Benedictus’ fall. Presumably, the Archbishop might have literally looked into Deathwing’s eyes when the dragon attacked Stormwind during the Cataclysm. If this is the moment that causes Benedictus’ fall, it gives us some insight into just how powerful Deathwing really is. This man had already experienced more than one terrible disaster in his life – the assault he faced at the hands of the mercenaries as a young man, his firsthand experience with the savagery of the Scourge in Lordaeron, and the atrocities his people faced at the hands of Arthas in Northrend. Even after Deathwing’s attack, we hear Benedictus council Varian, “Let not your heart be troubled. The Light has a way of shining through even the darkest night.” This guy knows hardship and pain, and through it all he has always maintained his faith in the Light to see him through. Until now.
With so little to go on, and such limited knowledge of the Archbishop’s personality and private life before or after his conversion to Twilight Prophet, it’s impossible to understand whether Benedictus was a power-hungry man who finally saw his opportunity to rise higher, or if he was a devout follower of the Light who was corrupted by his encounter with the insane Deathwing. Either way, he’s a character I would have liked to learn more about.
If Benedictus had been positioned as a raid boss in Dragon Soul (I imagine him as somewhere around Hagara or Ultraxion in the progression of the raid’s narrative), we might have gotten some additional information about the choices he’s made and to what extent he still believes himself to be acting for the good of his people. I find the Archbishop’s turn especially confusing, because so much of what he says – and these are things he says even after he’s exposed himself as the Twilight Father – are completely contradictory. Take, for example, a few of his lines of dialogue from the Hour of Twilight.
In his best Emperor Palpatine impersonation, the Twilight Father taunts us as we first engage him:
“There is no good. No evil. No Light. There is only POWER!
We serve this world’s TRUE masters! When their rule begins, we will share in their glory!”
Not much question there – this sounds like someone who has lost his faith in the Light. Except that, should any players die during your encounter with Benedictus, he then says:
“Light be with you.
May your faith guide you.”
That … doesn’t seem quite right. So he’s renounced the Light but also still believes enough that he thinks it’s important to properly bless those heroes who fall under him? I can understand all of Benedictus’ talk of the Light during the Varian short story since he’s supposed to still be undercover in Stormwind at that point and he needs to keep up appearances as a devout member of the clergy. But why, as he’s trying to kill us and Thrall, would Benedictus return to words of the Light?
Had Benedictus been a raid boss, maybe some of these lingering questions would have been answered for us. Perhaps we would have discovered how deep his loyalties to the Twilight’s Hammer really were. Is it possible that for all the horrible deeds the Twilight Father committed in the name of Deathwing and the Old Gods, his faith in the Light remained strong? Could he have been working against the Twilight’s Hammer as much as he was working for them, sabotaging – consciously or subconsciously – the important plots they put in his care?
Alternatively, if Benedictus’ betrayal was in no way his own choice but instead completely due to the corruption that comes from looking into Deathwing’s eyes, then perhaps it is more accurate to say that he is under a spell or mind-controlled than it is to call him a traitor. Benedictus may have moments of total clarity, during which he is able to act like his old, faithful self – but then, when the Old Gods need his service, the Twilight Father emerges to be sure that “Azeroth is … cleansed by divine fire, and we will long remember these days of trial as the crucible from which a new age was born!“
Or maybe the Archbishop is just that good at being bad. It’s just as possible that his dedication to the Old Gods is real and all his talk of the Light is just a fantastic cover. A double agent has to be ruthless, and must fully dedicate himself to maintaining his old persona. It’s certainly possible that Benedictus completely threw himself into the role of devout priest to keep his new identity secret.
Now, we’ll never know.
What do you think?
Is Benedictus a faithful follower of the Light who has become an unwilling pawn of Deathwing? Is he a dedicated member of the Twilight’s Hammer who has worked tirelessly to bring the end of Azeroth and the ascension of the Old Gods? Would he have been better suited as a raid boss than a dungeon boss? What else did you want to know about his story – or, what other characters in Cataclysm would you have liked to learn more about?