Kerrigan: An Analysis of the Queen of StarCraft

Kerrigan: An Analysis of the Queen of StarCraft

Sarah Kerrigan. No character in the StarCraft universe evokes more rage or interest than the Queen of Blades. From Kerrigan’s humble origins as a slave to the confederate military, to her rise in becoming ruler of the universe, Kerrigan has grown and changed a lot over the course of the series. In my personal opinion she is an extremely interesting and dynamic character. What makes her so dynamic and such a controversial character among the fans?

To begin to answer this question I draw your attention to Uprising, an e-book written by Micky Neilson. It outlines the origins and meeting of two of StarCraft’s most iconic characters: Kerrigan and Arcturus Mengsk, leader of the rebel group Sons of Korhal. Even to begin with, the relationship between these characters is extremely complicated. They first meet when Mengsk sends a Sons of Korhal raiding party to retrieve Kerrigan from a confederate research facility. Kerrigan, at this point in the story is under the Confederates' mind control to keep her in line. Deciding that she could be a useful ally, Mengsk frees her from her mind control, then convinces her she’s on the wrong side and recruits her into his army. At times Kerrigan seems to look at Mengsk as something between a father figure and an idol. She frequently speaks of him with reverence, at his mental prowess, at his skill as a leader, and at his integrity as a man.

starcraft uprising

The relationship between Mengsk and Kerrigan is explored in the e-book StarCraft: Uprising.

Another important character in this story, relative to Kerrigan, is that of Lieutenant Rumm, the Confederate officer involved in Kerrigan's initiation as a Ghost. He attempts to coerce her into serving his government through various inhumane methods, including threatening to kill her father. She refuses to work for him, forcing Rumm to take control of her mind through technology. After being freed by Mengsk, Kerrigan eventually winds up taking her vengeance by killing Rumm.

Somo Hung is Kerrigan's love interest in Uprising. Hung is something of a precursor to Jim Raynor but exists as his own character as well. Whereas Raynor is down-to-earth and something of a tough guy, Hung is more intellectual and enjoys literature and philosophy. However, they are very much alike in one key way: they’re both good, unassuming people where what you see is what you get. Kerrigan doesn't need her telepathy to see what they are thinking or intending, and after her experience with Rumm and the Confederacy that's a very good thing.

In the end, Kerrigan discovers that while she’s been working for Mengsk, he’s been using her for his own personal goals. Obviously she takes issue with being manipulated in that way, but before she can leave Mengsk gives her a piece of information that shocks her to her core. While she was under Rumm's control, she killed his father in cold blood. Despite this, Mengsk informs her that he doesn’t want revenge as she has proven herself a useful ally. While Mengsk has forgiven her, Kerrigan still feels insurmountable guilt for her evil deed.

If this book proves anything, it’s that Kerrigan struggled with issues of morality even before her transformation into the Queen of the Zerg. When murdering Angus and Rumm, Kerrigan is described as animalistic and aggressive. This description is a stark contrast to how she is portrayed throughout the rest of the book, as a cunning and insightful person who cares a lot about others and wants to make sense of her self and her life.

In StarCraft, Kerrigan’s story continues as the second-in-command of the Sons of Korhal. It is here that she first meets Jim Raynor while she continues to help Mengsk with his plan to defeat the Confederacy and free the people of the Koprulu Sector. Kerrigan also begins to see things in Mengsk that she hadn't before. His ruthless attitude, and with that his willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals - even using the Zerg as a living weapon, brings harm to others. This distaste for Mengsk's methods transforms her internal conflict (between the side of her that is a murderer and the side of her that is a moral human being) into an external one as she continues to try and be a moral compass for Mengsk.

sarah kerrigan

Sarah Kerrigan in ghost armor.

This story reaches it's climax in the mission "New Gettysburg". Mengsk needs somebody to go on a suicidal mission to protect the Zerg from the Protoss, so the Zerg can destroy what's left of the Confederacy. For this mission he chooses Kerrigan. Kerrigan is successful in her mission of routing the Protoss, but at her moment of triumph, the Zerg overwhelm her. Mengsk, instead of trying to rescue her, orders an immediate retreat and Kerrigan is presumed dead. At this point, there are a few questions that are brought up, some of which we still don’t have answers to.

First off, why is Kerrigan is so loyal to Mengsk? As Raynor points out, simply saving her from the confederacy isn't enough to cause her to be so devoted to him. Kerrigan deflects this by coming up with a weak excuse, that the Protoss are coming to destroy the entire planet. She doesn't really explain how she knows this, and we find out later that the Protoss commander, Tassadar, was specifically avoiding destroying anything but the Zerg. We can postulate at this point that her guilt over killing Arcturus's father is what compels her to be so loyal, that somehow going on such a risky mission will make it up to Arcturus and to herself, but this is never confirmed.

Secondly, did Mengsk intentionally send Kerrigan down to New Gettysburg to die? This question has no definitive answer and probably never will. Later on, both Kerrigan and Raynor seem to think so, but Mengsk does not respond to their accusations. It is worth noting that he never explicitly denied that he sent Kerrigan to her death.

kerrigan betrayed at new gettysburg

Kerrigan betrayed at New Gettysburg.

Lastly, if Mengsk betrayed Kerrigan, why did he do it? Was it because she was questioning Mengsk’s methods and orders? Something that is brought up in Uprising is that Mengsk has no use for irresolute individuals in his army; he threatens Somo Hung when Hung questions whether or not he should join the Sons of Korhal. Or was it simply revenge for Kerrigan killing his father? He killed the two ghosts responsible for killing his sister and mother so that would not be out of the question. My personal perspective rests somewhere in-between the two points. With the Confederates defeated, Kerrigan had outlived her usefulness and her moral dissonance would be problematic after he created his new government. So he sacrificed her in a seemingly affable and guiltless way but secretly took vengeance for his father. This, however, is just my theory.

The next time we see Kerrigan, she has been transformed by the Zerg. Changing her from the disharmonious girl she was into a monstrous killer who has no need for integrity or principles. A half-human, half-Zerg hybrid with only two goals: to grow more powerful, and to kill anyone who gets in her way. The two halves of Kerrigan's biology reflect the two halves of Kerrigan's character. Sarah and Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades.

Sarah is a happy, intelligent, cunning woman with no preconceptions about life. She struggles with having to kill for what she believes in and avoids having to do so at all costs. While Kerrigan is the rabid animal who hungers for nothing but control and revenge. I don't believe that she has a split-personality, or that Blizzard would ever be heavy-handed enough to showcase these two halves in the game's dialogue. However, I still feel this is an important aspect of her character. In part Sarah is who she is, while Kerrigan is what all the various men in her life have transformed her into.

Up until this point, Kerrigan has had many different men in her life. Each one acting as a sort of father. Firstly, there is her biological father from when she was a small child. A decent if rather ordinary man who gave her life. Then there was Lieutenant Rumm, who acts as a cruel abusive father, he expands her talents as a ghost while torturing her and those she cares about. Of course there's Mengsk, who gave her, her freedom but manipulated and sacrificed her when it served his interests. There is also the Overmind, who empowered her while stripping away her humanity and free will. To a certain extent even Tassadar acted as a father to Kerrigan - someone who taught her an important lesson while also degrading her in some other way. Each one of Kerrigan’s subsequent fathers has empowered her, while also harming or hurting her in increasingly heinous ways. Rumm showed her the potential of her psychic power, but he enslaved her and killed her biological father. Mengsk gave her hope and freedom, but then betrayed her even after she'd proven herself to him. While the Overmind gave her the strength to pursue what she desired, but at the same time made her into a monster with no free will.

arcturus mengsk

Mengsk and many other characters have played a patriarchal role in Kerrigan’s life.

Then came the Brood War. With the Overmind killed by Tassadar, Kerrigan was now free to pursue whatever dreams she still possessed. At the same time, the Cerebrates were now working to create a new Overmind - as this new Overmind would take control of her just like this first, this was something that Kerrigan could not allow. She quickly enlisted with the one group that hated the Zerg enough to possibly see past what she was: the Protoss. Using her now advanced mental powers to take control of the Protoss Matriarch’s mind, she managed to manipulate the Protoss into helping her to do battle with the new Overmind.

A major question in Brood War is whether or not Kerrigan has truly been freed from the Zerg biology that has taken hold of her. Is she truly free of the Zerg's influence, or has the infestation itself taken a hold of her mind? Towards the end of the expansion pack, a new imperialist Terran faction known as the UED manages to take control of the fledgling Overmind. In response to this threat, Kerrigan goes out of her way to recruit her old allies, Mengsk and Raynor. Saving Raynor from the overwhelming hordes of Zerg on Aiur, and Mengsk from a UED fleet that intends to have him executed. Of course, their alliance doesn't last long, and Kerrigan betrays Mengsk. The pawn has become a king, and in one brilliant stroke Kerrigan manages to kill both Mengsk's second-in-command Edmund Duke and Raynor's new Protoss ally Fenix. Here's where a lot of the criticism of Kerrigan comes in. Some people believe that Kerrigan didn't deserve this victory - that her allies were mostly responsible for her victories and that they were just victims of the story’s plot to make Kerrigan look good. What I think these people are missing here is that when Kerrigan makes her offers to Mengsk and Raynor their only choices are really either to die or join forces.

zeratul

Zeratul is arguably Kerrigan’s greatest foe and archenemy.

Raynor and Fenix are forced to work with Kerrigan because she's offering them salvation. Not only is she willing to help protect them from the Zerg on Aiur, she’s also offering to organize a coalition that’ll deal with this new UED force that’s threatening to enslave or kill everybody. They mention once or twice that they know what they’re probably doing is a bad idea, but they figure they can trust her to at least wait to betray them once the UED has been dealt with. Zeratul only works with her due to his complete devotion to his Matriarch. Also because Kerrigan makes a good point, whether or not he's playing into Kerrigan's hands, killing the Overmind is a good idea. Either way, Kerrigan is the lesser threat. As for Kerrigan's victory being the result of her allies' hard work, besides the fact that it was Kerrigan's choice to ally herself with these people, there are also quite a few occasions where it's her plan and her manipulation that brings her victory. For example, using the Matriarch to manipulate Zeratul into killing the Overmind, even Duran, by all appearances, isn't sure what's going on - though his sincerity is as always, in question.

So after manipulating her allies, after killing her enemies, her revenge is finally completed. Mengsk is banished to Korhal, the Overmind is dead for good, the UED expeditionary fleet has been completely annihilated, and Raynor and Zeratul have gone into hiding. Everyone has been defeated, and Kerrigan now sits atop her throne unchallenged. But what was the point of all of it? What did she want all along? She wanted one thing: control.

The character of Linderman in Heroes puts this concept particularly well in a single quote, "Like most women whose lives have been ruined by men, all Jessica really wants is security, and money buys that. Money's all she's ever really cared about." Substitute money with power and Jessica with Kerrigan and you’ve pretty much summed up Kerrigan’s entire motivation. Kerrigan teamed up with every established power in the sector but in the end, she betrayed them all. Kerrigan is the archetypal bastard, she was created from an unholy union between different factions, and because of this she is scorned and hated by all. She’s hated by the Zerg for being a Terran, and by the Terran and Protoss for being infested by the Zerg. Essentially because of her unique biology, Kerrigan does not belong anywhere. So instead she has chosen to take over and make the rules herself, she decides who does and doesn't belong.

In part, what also makes Kerrigan interesting in Brood War, is that for the first time she’s whole. All her ethical misgivings have been justified - betraying Mengsk is all right because he deserves it, killing Fenix is fine because he’s a warrior, it's his dream to die in battle. She has all of Sarah’s clarity and cunning, mixed with Kerrigan’s drive and determination forming into one extremely powerful individual. Another interesting aspect is that in Brood War she is probably for the first time in her life, in complete control of all her actions. No neural inhibitors, no guilt-trips and no mental control by the Overmind, every action is of her own free will, and not because she’s infested.

And that is who I think Kerrigan will continue to be in the future. In StarCraft II it is extremely likely that there will be forces that threaten her well constructed empire and her security. It is very likely that Kerrigan will move to prevent this, because when it comes down to it she is terrified of her own vulnerability.

And that is why I am so interested in this character; she possesses a desire to be strong, but she needs justification for her actions no matter how flimsy her excuses. Her fear that she is somehow in the wrong, or that she’s defenseless, is overwhelming. This combination makes for an extremely complex character. One who I hope the writers involved continue to make just as dynamic, just as complicated and most importantly: just as dangerous.

sarah kerrigan

What does the future hold for Kerrigan?