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Classic WoW: The Lore Of The Lich King: 7 Historic Events That Led Arthas To Northrend

title split image Arthas Historic Events Northrend Cult of The Damned Lordaeron throne room Icecrown Citadel Naxxramus interior skulls

The history of Azeroth goes back a long time, before the MMORPG even existed, to a time when Warcraft III was a standalone and making games for phones was unthinkable. The Classic side of World of Warcraft is taking players back to that earlier time when the lore of the old 1990s games evolved into the backstory for the modern multiplayer universe.

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With the Wrath of the Lich King slated for a late September release, there’s renewed interest in this part of history. This timeline involves the fall of the Kingdom of Lordaeron and the path of Arthas Menethil from his ancestral family home to the wastelands of Northrend.

To put the timeline in perspective, most of the following events take place during the era of Warcraft III, and many are playable campaigns within the old game and locations that players can see in the new one. The World of Warcraft started about three years after Arthas donned the Helm of Domination and ascended to the Frozen Throne.


7 Ner’zhul, The First Lich King

Ner’zhul held an honored place as Chieftain and Elder of the Shadowmoon Clan, compassion for the wandering Gul’dan that was his undoing. The orc Gul’dan was an agent of Kil’jadeen, and the demon used his disciple to twist the Shadowmoon Clan and their leader to evil purposes. He appears as one of the main antagonists in the Warcraft II expansion, Beyond the Dark Portal and re-emerges as part of the malevolent forces in the next game.

Ner’zhul was instrumental to the forces of the Legion in the Second War and opened several portals to other worlds before his mortal form was destroyed and turned into the first Lich King. Later, during the Third War, he would compel Arthas to travel north to become his right hand and eventually take his place.

6 Kel’Thuzad And The Scourge

It was not just Arthas Menethil that was drawn to Icecrown Citadel by a faint but compelling voice. A wandering mage of the Kirin Tor, exiled to the frozen wastes because of his interest in Necromancy, Kel’Thuzad also answered the call of the Lich King.

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He was there years before Arthas and helped pave his way north through the Kingdom of Lordaeron before becoming a close ally. His achievements included founding the Cult of the Damned and keeping the forces of the Argent Dawn and Scarlet Crusade in check. After Arthas became the Lich King, Kel’Thuzad was left in the tattered remains of the Kingdom of Lordaeron in the Eastern and Western Plaguelands, to rule as the final boss in the floating ziggurat Naxxramus.

5 The Cult Of The Damned

Arthas thought he spent most of his time fighting the Cult of the Damned, and it took at least one campaign playthrough to find out that there were much darker and more powerful forces at work. These weren’t just a random group of scattered fanatics but an organized group working for the Lich King, and the tasks they carried out were the beginning of the Prince’s military campaigns.

Their most successful project was the distribution of infected grain throughout the kingdom, and even though this was mostly halted after the Culling of Stratholme, the price was worth it from their viewpoint. Prince Arthas had given his soul to evil, and his path would continue into cruelty and madness.

4 The Culling Of Stratholme

Players and loremasters alike mark this event as the beginning of the end for Arthas. It was a desperate and ultimately successful act to end the undead plague that had been started by infected grain, spread and shipped by the Cult of the Damned, but it signified the ruthless nature of the prince and his potential for evil.

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This was one of the events that started the Third War and set the heir of the Menethil family on a path alone. The leaders of the other factions, including those of Jaina Proudmoore, refused to support this venture or anything else he did after this.

3 The King Of Lordaeron

The vast courtyards of Lordaeron are quiet now, and not even the present denizens of Undercity deep below dare to disturb the voices that still whisper here. For those that want to hear them, go into the Sound settings and turn the ambient sound all the way up and the music all the way down, and stand in the throne room.​​​​​​​

The voices you hear are those of Arthas and his father at this crucial moment, still echoing with the horror of the old king’s betrayal at the hands of his son. Arthas did rule as king of Lordaeron for a brief time, but only as a puppet of the Scourge and the Legion, allowing them to take over the kingdom.

2 Called To Northrend

Arthas had already visited Northrend and taken up Frostmourne when he returned to Lordaeron to take his place as King. By the time he was called back, this time never to return, most of the survivors of both the kingdom and the city of Lordaeron had fled as refugees to Stormwind, Alterac, Kalimdor, or various outposts of the Argent Dawn or Scarlet Crusade.

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In Arthas’ absence, Sylvanas Windrunner took the city in the name of the Forsaken, and his path home was closed permanently. He had been called to defend the Lich King from attacks by Illidan Stormrage and his naga minions, and it was only because of Ner’zhul’s help that he was able to defeat Sylvanus and escape to Northrend.

1 The Defeat Of Illidan

Also known as the Betrayer, Illidan Stormrage has a habit of “pretending” to be a bad guy only to claim he was just faking it the whole time. In this instance, he only agreed to destroy the Lich King for Kil’jaeden to get on the demon lord’s good side and learn the deepest secrets of the Burning Legion.

The fight was one of the closest in Azerothian history, between two of its most infamous NPCs, and ended with Arthas victorious. It was after this fight that he ascended the highest tower of Ice Crown Citadel and donned the Helm of Domination, joining with the spirit of Ner’Zhul and becoming the Lich King.

World of Warcraft is currently available on PC.

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