We all kinda knew it already, due to Blizzard trademarking "Return of the Lich King" a while back and with the icon of the new expansion featuring icy runes. Now, Hearthstone China has gone ahead and spilled the beans already a few hours before the announcement stream.
The above image was posted on the Chinese Hearthstone site and it was immediately re-uploaded on Reddit. According to a translation by u/LiriX, the name of the new expansion is likely to be "Knights of the Frozen Throne", although this can be likely to change. Another Reddit user has also datamined some assets from the Chinese website.
What's certain is that the new expansion seems indeed to revolve around the Lich King, Icecrown Citadel and perhaps Death Knights. You can see in the banner that all of our beloved heroes have turned into blue-eyed Death Knights. Is a new hero/class coming or is it just a tease?
The story of the Lich King is extremely complicated and long, but I will try to summarise it for Hearthstone fans that don't know the original Warcraft story. The very first Lich King was Ner'zhul, an Orc Shaman and leader of his clan who had done some questionable actions. Ner'zhul was tricked into serving the eredar demon lord Kil'jaeden, whom he tried to defy. Kil'jaeden captured Ner'zhul and offered him one last chance to serve him. Ner'zhul's mortal form was destroyed and his spirit became the Lich King, master of the terrible army of the undead.
Ner'zhul created a base of operations in the frozen continent of Northrend, where he ruled from the Frozen Throne. From there, he psychically commanded the undead armies. Ner'zhul unleashed the undead plague, a disease that turned any living form into his undead servants, onto the human kingdom of Lordaeron. His main adversary was the prince of Lordaeron, Arthas Menethil.
However, in his quest to beat the undead Scourge, the young paladin Arthas travelled through a dark path. For example, he ordered the culling of an entire city because most of its citizens had contracted the plague. Eventually, he reached Northrend, hunting down Mal'Ganis. Mal'Ganis was a mere lieutenant of the Lich King, but Arthas thought he was the leader of the undead. In Northrend, Arthas found his long-time friend, Muradin Bronzebeard, who led him to a legendary weapon, Frostmourne, that was supposed to help them beat their opponent once and for all. However, the already burdened mind of Arthas was filled with Ner'zhul's whispers as soon as he touched the blade. He ended up becoming the very first of Ner'zhul's Death Knights.
The trailer of Wrath of the Lich King, World of Warcraft's second expansion.
Arthas went on to murder his own father and his former teacher, Uther the Lightbringer. He unleashed the undead armies on his own kingdom and the kingdom of the High Elves, thus destroying the biggest part of the northern areas of the Eastern Kingdoms. He was also responsible for turning the Ranger General Sylvanas Windrunner into an undead banshee. He even beat Illidan Stormrage, who had tried to stop him, in a duel. Eventually, Arthas' spirit was fused with Ner'zhul's and they became what is now known as the Lich King. His minions built a fortress called Icecrown Citadel around the Frozen Throne. The Lich King remained dormant there for many years.
Ultimately, after The Lich King's awakening, Tirion hosted The Grand Tournament to find the best fighters among Azeroth to defeat this villain for good. Arthas was beaten by the combined forces of Azeroth, a faction of Death Knights that had rebelled against their former master and some heroes like Tirion; his former lover Jaina; and his former slave Sylvanas, who had escaped from his control many years ago and along with other Undead, who had their own free will, had created the faction of the Forsaken. Bolvar Fordragon took his place as the ruler of the damned, because "there must always be a Lich King".
A 3-hour video by Nobbel87 on the story of the Lich King.
This is just a very brief summary of the story of the Lich King, where I tried it to include as many references to heroes we know from Hearthstone as possible. We will learn more about the story of this expansion from the mini adventure that will accompany it.
Don't forget to tune in for tonight's stream, where we will get official information on the upcoming expansion!