There are few video game characters from my formative years that I regard as highly as Kerrigan. She was complex and unforgettable, the sort of villain who makes you forget that you’re supposed to root for the good guys. To this day, I can’t help but feel awe when remembering the emergence of the Queen of Blades.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, on the other hand, left me unimpressed. Naturally, the Zerg were going to get stomped, but to see that brilliant character stripped of her power, both literally and figuratively, then carried off into the sunset by her former boyfriend — come on. Kerrigan deserves better than that. The trailers for SCII’s upcoming expansion, Heart of the Swarm, seem to agree, pointing toward a vengeful reclamation of the leaderless broods. While the expansion’s release is still a few weeks out, tie-in novel StarCraft II: Flashpoint, written by Christie Golden, raises some interesting questions about how Kerrigan’s next chapter will unfold (minor spoilers ahead).
The book picks up where Wings of Liberty left off, with Jim Raynor carrying his naked damsel to safety under the cover of his good ol’ boys. I was brought right back to how face-palmingly indignant I was at that point, and had to take a moment to remind myself that this was, indeed, how the game ended, and that I’d just have to wait for Kerrigan to get back on her feet. So I waited. Plots were hatched, backs were stabbed, ships exploded, and all the while, Kerrigan sat in a hospital bed. Political intrigue and space battles are all well and good, but halfway through the book, I was crawling up the wall, thinking, “Seriously, Kerrigan, you are smarter than all of these jokers. Lay waste already.”
And with that, the lightbulb went up. Perhaps, I thought, that was exactly the point I was meant to reach. After all, the reader will presumably be playing Heart of the Swarm, which casts Kerrigan as protagonist. I was all the more eager to help her regain power after realizing that every prominent character in the book wants her for their own purposes. Valerian Mengsk, now in Raynor’s corner, wants her as the key to the Protoss prophecy. The Emperor wants her dead, because revenge or something. Shady scientist Emil Narud wants a lab rat. Raynor wants the woman he loves to come back. But nobody asks Kerrigan what she wants. Not even Raynor — who, to his credit, does love her — pauses to ask himself if what he wants for her is actually in her best interests. He expects her to react like the old Sarah would, and there’s a dissonance between what memories he thinks will help (their first date) and what she’s actually got on her mind (the deaths of billions). Even though he’s no longer facing her on the battlefield, he’s still underestimating her. He tries repeatedly to convince her that she’s not responsible for her prior actions, but she’s not so sure. She knows deep down that the Queen of Blades was born, in part, from something she always carried with her.
That bit is encouraging. One of the strengths of the original StarCraft was that all the races fell into moral gray areas, and even the Zerg could be sympathized with. That feeling was lost in the Terran-focused Wings of Liberty, but I could see it coming back in Flashpoint. Kerrigan’s horrified at what she’s done (and what was done to her), but she also associates the Swarm with a sense of love and unity that was previously unknowable. When she feels a Zerg presence nearby, her immediate reaction is a protective one. What Raynor and the others failed to consider was that bringing Kerrigan back meant that she’d be losing something, too. The Zerg didn’t give her a choice in joining them, but the Terrans didn’t give her a choice about leaving. Kerrigan doesn’t know who she is anymore, but no one gives her the space to let her decide.
That’s where this book gets tricky to analyze without knowing where Heart of the Swarm will take us. I can describe this best through a scene that happens late in the book, which threw me for such a loop that I had to read it twice. After a particularly bloody battle, Valerian and two other characters have a frank discussion with Raynor about the threat that Kerrigan poses, and what should be done in response. None of it is particularly remarkable, except for the fact that not once do any of them talk to Kerrigan about it, even though she is right behind Raynor through the entire scene. To be fair, she hasn’t made much effort to speak to anyone other than Raynor, but he doesn’t seem bothered by them talking about her as if she’s not there. There’s no “Why don’t you ask her yourself?” or “Sarah, I’m sorry you had to listen to all that.” Everybody knows what’s best for Kerrigan, except Kerrigan herself.
Now, if Heart of the Swarm goes the way I hope it does, stuff like that could be the sort of impetus she needs to evolve into a new and fascinating incarnation. Having her driven solely by a hatred of Emperor Mengsk would be pretty flat, but if she’s mad at everything — at Raynor for not understanding her, at the doctors who want to cut her up, at the Zerg for robbing her of her humanity, at the Terrans for giving it back — that’s a complicated bunch of motivations, and I’d love to see that in action. An unshackled Sarah Kerrigan, still every bit as calculating as the Queen of Blades, seizing power through her own free will? That would be amazing.
But the way the board is set, I can also see a reckless, damaged Kerrigan who goes off the rails and loses control of herself. That’s a Blizzard-esque trope I would not be surprised to see. And if that’s the case, then the message in scenes like the one above is that she did need someone to rein her in, that the others were right for wanting to tame her. That’s a troubling path, especially considering that she’s the only major female character in the games. But I’m enough of an optimist to doubt that they’ll go that way. Blizzard knows how iconic Kerrigan is, and it would take some serious fumbling to dismantle such an esteemed character so thoroughly.
As far as Flashpoint itself goes, hardcore lore enthusiasts will get a kick out of it, but it may not hold interest for more moderate fans. Though the book wasn’t my cup of tea in the end, the curiosity first piqued by the Heart of the Swarm trailers is now thoroughly fired up. All the pieces for a truly remarkable character are there. It’s up to Blizzard to pull it off.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a nap. I was up well past midnight talking to my brother about how great Brood War was.