Deep Thought: GW Jumps the Shark with Skulls


GW decades-long infatuation with skulls is no secret – but they’ve gone too far.  Come see.

Remember back in the day when Khorne was new and his followers liked loping off heads now and then.  The early days of Khorne and the other Chaos Renegades looked like this way back in 1988:


Fast forward another decade and the basic Chaos plastic kits that have been with 40K and Warhammer Fantasy have looked like this for a while:

99120102005_KhorneBerzerkers02 99120201006_WarriorsofChaosNEW02

Sure – skull motifs, but not literal skulls themselves. Then slowly but surely, Age of Sigmar has kicked it all up a notch.  Because now if you love Chaos, you will START GROWING SKULLS FROM INSIDE!

It all started with this dude, the Khorgorath:


OK, that makes sense, he’s a daemonic construct – essentially a REALLY PISSED OFF Khornate Santa-sack of skulls – and he knows EVERYONE has been naughty!  I’ll give him a pass as that is basically his theme…

Then I started to look more closely at other Age of Sigmar minis.

Like Korghos Kul:


Yes, those sure look like he has skull intestines.  Or maybe he just accidentally swallowed some skulls and hasn’t passed them yet.  That would certainly explain his temper.

Then this week we get Archaon and his brand new awesome mini.  But wait, what do I see there…


Yup, more skulls, pushing thier way out from within.

I understand you – GW CAD guys.  You discovered a neat new trick – you can have skulls coming from within models now.  Heck you probably have a 3D macro for it so you can just cut and paste them all over the surface of anything you wish – like a skulltastic Land Raider!.

But please – don’t.

GW has already WAY overdone it in the skulls department in pretty much all it’s systems. It’s generally unwise to keep pushing cliches- else they move into farce territory. So why don’t you instead take some of your skull expertise and put it to good use – like say some new skeletons to replace these dudes who for some reason are still being sold!



I mean if any faction REALLY should have the best skulls out there it’s Undead – not Khorne…

~ What’s your take on the skulls in GW’s models – too many too few, or just right?

  • Grafton Is Dust

    GW’s skull fetish is something we often lampoon at the local store, especially when we we clubbed together for a load of terrain and spent a couple of weeks painting it up for a city board. Skulls everywhere, the Realm of Battle Boards have them spilling out of pavements and pouring out of walls for pete’s sake.

    • georgelabour

      Considering that in real life there ARE monuments, temples, and even entire districts of old cities filled, or even made of, the bones of dead people it’s really not to hard to imagine the imperium doing something similar only taken to an insane level.

      Heck they even put gargoyle statues many dozens of meter high on their spaceships because they help ward away evil spirits.

      Tack on the oddities that come with excessive use of psychic powers and all those skulls make a lot more sense.

      • An_Enemy

        You’re making excuses for the skulls now? How deep does the apologist hole go?

        • georgelabour

          A simple explanation causes you to react with petulant disparagement and accusations?

          Just how all consuming is your bigotry?

          The better question is why is it aimed at the maker’s of toy soldiers instead of something more important?

          • dreamwarder
          • georgelabour
          • dreamwarder

            Oh really? In order to be a hypocrite here, I must be a shill just like you. Not only are you admitting to being a GW shill, you are accusing me of the same thing, so please tell me where you have seen me acting as a shill for a company. Or are you just ignorantly throwing around dictionary definitions of words without understanding their meaning? Surely not. I mean, it’s not like you called someone a bigot because they disagreed with your ridiculous GW defence? Oh wait…

        • Chris. K Cook

      • Muninwing

        see, i wish there was something in the Imperium that mirrored exactly why old world europe has so many skulls. they certainly have the same circumstances.

        1. 1000-1800 years of dead bodies
        2. strict religion with specific and limited burial conditions
        3. lack of useable space for said burial conditions

        result? the bones pile up as the mostly-decomposed bodies are dug up so the churchyards (hallowed ground) can be used for new burials.

        now apply that to Holy Terra — a planet-city where the deepest part of our ocean is a canyon with half-mile-high statues carved into it for over 10,000 years (mentioned in “The Last Church” before the Emperor unified the planet and started the Great Crusade)… an ultra-strict fascist grimdark religion based on fanaticism and extremism as made necessary by the ultra-evil waiting for anyone less vigilant… on a planet that is one giant city…

        where are all the people buried?

        if the Ecclesiarchy incorporated elements of the Second Coming and the Resurrection (the reasons why europe has the ossuaries they do) into their motifs, you’d have a whole lotta bones to put somewhere with respect and due ceremony.

        • georgelabour

          The book Legion of the damned takes place on a planet that is literally one giant graveyard. In fact people ‘rent’ graves there because it’s considered a holy site. The entire world was turned into one massive cemetery because a high lord of terra (or something like that_ was born there.

          AS for the issue of where the bones go. Various books, especially the Dark Heresy RPG, make mention of the sheer number of relics, ossuaries, etc flowing around the imperium. The old joke about Sebastian Thor being an eight armed 20 foot tall, muli-headed monster gets made at least once in the Ecclesiarchy sourcebook.

          And then of course we have servo skulls, defensive fortifications with the skulls of the fallen worked into the walls (wall of martrys fluff), etc etc.

          As for where the people of terra get buried. I imagine the ultra rich can afford small plots on a cemetery world, or in ancestral crypts. Maybe some choose to have their remaines shot into the very sun that gave the species life. But for the poor…well bones can be recycled the same way as any other old structural support material can.

    • yorknecromancer

      Makes sense with the Imperium. They’re a martyrdom culture, utterly fixated on death. You see similar imagery in other cultures.

      Makes sense for Khorne as well – the Skull Throne is a central tenet of Khornate theology.

      Everyone else, though, and it falls apart. But then, Tau don’t have any skull iconography. Nor do Eldar (apart from Death Jesters, where, again, appropriate). Dark Eldar used to get a bit of it, but that’s been toned down in favour of the ‘tribal tattoos’ thing. Orks get a fair bit, but mostly in the same way pirates do.

      The ubiquity of skulls in 40K is mostly down to the Imperium, where it’s just a HUGE part of their death-worship culture. If you want a more detailed explanation of why, I did write one up back in the summer…

    • nurglitch

      When you have a warhammer, everything looks like skulls!

  • aracerssx
    • aracerssx

      … to that for thrice the price

      • aracerssx

        literally you can get 15 knights for 3 of those

        • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

          I prefer the old ones.

          • bobrunnicles

            Better get them now before they are removed from the GW site in favor of the new ones…right now they are still listed as available.

        • Muninwing

          you remember the VC Blood Knights? how many vc cav could you get for one box of them? it was $60 for 5 before they ported over to finecast… and a box of skeleton knights was$35/10

          price of hobby/luxury items is based on demand and useability, not on correlation to other items, not on used resources.

      • bobrunnicles

        These make the five Blood Knights you can get for $99 almost seem like a bargain….

        • Dennis J. Pechavar

          Which is absolutely insane.

  • Ira Clements

    Bring back those old Chaos Marines. Oh GOD bring them back. Such style.

    • Wonder Pony

      Those are the ones I have. I still love ’em. Little fellers….

      • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

        you are a lucky man.

        • Ira Clements

          If GW really wanted to win bac my dollars they would just need to start a retro line that casts in metal and offers some of these older models.

          • nuggy

            I agree fullheartedly on everything except the metal casting part. Make them in resin and Id be all over that!

    • Boondox

      YES!! Like the Traitor Marine from the cover of WD99? That was the picture that lured me to Chaos so many years ago. I love my Chaos Marines on horseback even though I have to carry an ancient WD to prove that yes, GW did make those…

    • Muninwing

      only with a game worth playing…

      and for that you might have to go back to 6th ed WHF…

  • Bad Meat

    Deep Thought: Taco Balls Jumps the Shark with Ads

  • Ken Winland

    Well, they *are* skulls for the skull throne…?

    That god *does* have a skull fetish.

    • Muninwing

      but why aren;t they adorning the skull throne instead of coming out of his followers’ armpits like sweat?

      • georgelabour

        Khorne cares not from whence the skulls flow. DUH!

        • Yellow Sigmarine

          Particularly manly Khorne dudes braid their armpit hair with skulls. The most insane Bezerker is he with nostril hair skulls.

          • georgelabour

            Only those that prosper can judge what is sane.

            And in the AOS fluff it seems Khorne has been ‘prospering’ it up hardcore for a long time.

        • Muninwing

          but doesn’t he want them? why would he give them out to his followers?

    • Spacefrisian

      I think he has some issues, not a fetish.

      • Observador

        That would be slaanesh, who have a fetish for…absolutly everything in existence

  • MarcoT

    It’s a pretty cool and (AFAIK) unique twist on the hellish theme. What’s wrong with it?

    • Markus Beckers

      I’d say things like the Chaos Dreadhold are a bit overdone with all the spikes and skulls. Especially perfectly aligned looks terrible. with just a bit less skulls and spikes you could could even us this for battles with other races.

    • Muninwing

      it’s overdone, i think is the issue. there are other manners in which to illustrate the idea that these are “bad people” or whatever.

      and i know that part of Khorne’s thing is skulls. i think that it’s used effectively in many ways. but it’s getting a little ridiculous in terms of how often it’s used.

  • euansmith

    The painting on those Warriors of Chaos is really cool; particularly the guy with skulls painted on to his armour.

    • Spacefrisian

      I wonder why its not done in….SKULLWHITE!!!

  • Ebon Hand

    I highly disagree. You can NEVER have too many skulls, especially when it comes to Khorne worshippers, who are all about the skulls. Skulls are skully skull skull skullish and skullmondo skullest skull skull. Flaming skull.

    Seriously though, skulls rule.

    • euansmith

      A flaming skull… with studs… and a dagger through it!

      • Ebon Hand

        Spitting out skulls with skulls for eyes!

        • Old zogwort

          Crawling with servitor skulls

    • Old zogwort

      I wish GW made an skulls only sprew. With all kinds of skulls and critters. Horse skullls, bird skulls, flying dead babies, sabretigre servitors, cyber eagles you name it.

      • Observador

        Now you have my atention

      • Chris. K Cook


  • Old zogwort

    We don’t have nearly enough skulls. I would love it if 40k minis would actually represent the older artwork. With dead animals, babies, skulls and wires everywhere.

    • Old zogwort

      I want these kind of drawings to become real models

      • Old zogwort


        • Chris. K Cook


  • TimW

    Skulls…skulls are apocalyptic motifs. When there is mass death, there are always plenty of skulls to decorate things. Just go see the Bone Church in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Its adorned from floor to ceiling with skulls from plague victims.

    • georgelabour

      I bring things like that up whenever people seem to forget settings like Warhammer owe a lot of their design aesthetics to a sort of medieval-gothic-renaissance mash up that draws as much from millenial doom sayers as it does Heavy Metal magazine.

    • Muninwing

      but some of that was not plague… it was the oldworld christian need to bury bodies in hallowed ground for the resurrection, and the finite nature of churchyards.

      you’d bury a body, let it sit for 8 years or so, then dig it up and move the bones inside. the new dead would go in the old graves.

      eventually, you have too many bones to not do something with them. thus, many churches having ossuaries and bone-decorations and skull-walls — but being

      sedlec (kunta hora) had thousands from plague that had added up, but it was a major burial location in the area so it’d have had tons of bones anyway. and other places stacked up their dead for other reasons — sometimes just time. there, though, it’s not a celebration of the dead but a symbol of promised eternal life and religious optimism.

      • TimW

        Thanks for your comment. I learned something!

  • I assume a part of why they’re going overboard is the skulls make those parts even harder to recast, and the ornate details visually sets apart the details of their modeling and casting from other companies’. Sometimes less is more though. I’m down with quite a bit of skulls on my 40k models, but there’s definitely better ways to show off their capabilities than slapping skulls on almost literally every available space. It’s also cheapened some of the models that did have more ornate modeling. E.g., when everybody else had just skull motifs or decals, the Librarians’ horned skull shoulder pads stood out and made clear they were special. Now everybody’s got some ridiculous shoulder pad, usually a skull.

  • Azrell

    for 40k at least they use skulls everywhere because they are circuit boards. yeah, no thinking machines… so they use people instead. Just think what things would look like if all electronics and computers contained human parts for circuits…

  • Valeli

    I think it’s a bit tricky to draw the line that defines the somewhat intentional camp GW has always gone after from the point where it becomes too much…. I would agree though, that skulls have become overused lately.

  • Alhazred TheMad

    Unrelated but I love the fluff for the Khorgorath in the novels. They literally eat skulls until their full, and then go to Khornes throne room and barfs them at his feet. That somehow is way worse then Slaanesh’s beasts just smelling nice.

  • mark hearne

    Skulls are fair meh but that new Blood angels Chaplain looks boss

  • Jooster

    The skulls are only a part of the problem. New models are horrible because they’re crammed with 3edgy4u details.

    Less is far, far more.

  • Muninwing

    i think we are seeing, in many ways, with many avenues, the effects of serious change. and usually things get worse before they get better. overdoing the designs is just as much an indicator as the bad-quality fluff that has come out (notably, the kauyon book and the first couple AoS releases).

    first we had the Kirby-Ward era, with a buffoon of a CEO who had little ot no control over his design team and allowed them to do as they pleased without a unified vision. then the already-existing “codex creep” became a design strategy instead of a natural tendency. WHF got it worse at first, with HElf ASF->VC summoning->DElf everything-riduculous->game-breaking daemons… but soon it trickled down into 40k when 5th gave us the SM codex, the first indicator of Ward’s influence on the game (and the first indicator of a weak design direction with the abysmal 5th ed FAQs, the inconsistencies involved in not having a team on the same page, and the issues with gameplay that acme out of those fractures and disregard for balance). later, 5th fell apart with Necron/GK dominance and other balance issues. it all lines up with CEO involvement.

    now we have Rountree making his own changes. probably not a coincidence that Ward left. ET->AoS and the good (and bad) of such a paradigm shift. more focus on formations and adding new potential armies to play. it’s top-down indicators of a new person at the wheel, trying to fix what they perceive as the problems with the last guy’s reign. some fixes will work, others will not. hopefully, we’ll see some adjustments as the cracks appear, and bad or nonfunctional or not-as-intended ideas will get scrapped, but if upper managment is stubborn they’ll get worse before they get better. and design will suffer until everything is in line.

    having seen so many other businesses, organizations, and other institutions go from functional to not or repair from problems, i’d bet that Kirby was a non-present leader, that he allowed some of the designers to do as they wished without firm gudelines or an overarcing plan, and that there were people who rebelled in their own ways that only complicated problems (a balanced and conservative dex in an unbalanced ott game results in “underpowered crap” that alienates fans through not keeping up with creep). maybe Ward and Kirby were friends and he used it to gain leverage. maybe Ward was the leader, but didn;t have the capacity of vision he needed to keep everything unified. maybe they had a head of design that was sleeping on the job. maybe exec meddling contaminated the product. there’s plenty of places that it could have gone wrong, just like in editing or movie making or the like, the “designed by committee” uselessness that can occur when there’s no one leader.

    defaulting to “it’d look cool with more skulls on it” is the kind of thinking that should be reined in by a team leader. it’s also the kind of comment you’d get in a slightly different form from a meddling exec (“our audeince will like it more if there’s something edgy like skulls on it”). wisdom i sknowing where to stop, how to add other motifs, and where you ultimately want the design to lead to.

    Archaeon covered in emerging skulls is stupid — it’s not a motif, it’s an 80s garage metal band’s demo cover. there’s neither rhyme nor reason for it. but again, perhaps it could be used…

    Archaeon re-arising with an ascendent Tzeentch might mean incorporating more asymmetrical designs, shifting patterns, or the like where it was once hard edges (and maybe if there were one or two skulls they’d be half-human, half-warped things… or birdlike, or unnatural cthulhoid horrors). showing that Archaeon is equal parts all four might mean capturing elements of four different aesthetics without muddying them… and unless you have an idea of where the themes of each are currently and where they are going, that’s potentiall impossible. how involved with Slaaneshi motifs be? should you include GHR ideas despite Archaeon not having any previous link? how do you delineate between Nurgle and GHR ideas since AoS has muddied the differences?

    maybe i’d pitch a sectional idea — armor corroded and rusty, a great weapon blazoned with Khorne iconography (maybe a single skull on the pommel), a shield covered in twisting designs with feathers, eyes, or rippling hints of faces, and a helmet sleek and suggestive of precision and refinement (ok, and maybe with a crest with innuendo there for those looking for it). everything painted up in greyscale with touches of color (purple-glowing eyes, blue hints of detail on the shield, the verdigris and rust of corrosion on the armor, blazing red glyphs on the sword), and call him “Archaeon Reborn” and build fluff around his rebirth and quest to regain his past self’s memories and power… maybe with a twist this time.

    now i’m babbling. but you get the idea. i’d pitch that to my boss. my boss would decide if he liked it, see if it fit into the overarcing idea, suggest changes as necessary, and look to the other members of my team for input. then the boss would make final decisions (including the top-down feedback) and detail the direction we were all to go in.

    maybe sectional isn’t what they would want, and all aspect of his armor and personal effects should have the same components — sleek design, hard arrow-edged designs of brass running along the outside, underneath and on the edges a layer of corroded chain, and beneath the wider plates the swirling and changing designs. maybe someone would have an idea i liked better. maybe the overarcing plan is for Archaeon to be a mirror of Sigmar, and thus all annotated descriptions of Sigmar’s armor and appearance would need to be flipped to create what Archaeon should be. maybe everyone loves my idea except the CEO, who plans on steering the design team toward a different idea, and wants to incorporate more demonic or lovecraftian or 80s metal ideas because that’s what is predicted to be selling in the broader market in the quarters to come. but in the end, there’s one plan, and one goal.

    if there isn’t, that’s a systemic corporate and leadership problem. and that doesn’t solve itself until the “right people” learn how to run things properly, or the “wrong people” are removed.

  • kaptinscuzgob

    inb4 skeletons made entirely of skulls

  • Secundum

    (Also imo the Tomb Kings skittles still look fine)

  • Anggul

    How is this the last straw?

    There have been plenty of far worse things for skulls over the years. Easy pointless article is more like it.

  • I don’t know what should be wrong with those undead skeletons. I still lively remember the time when we got excited over them because we considered them a huge improvement over the current ones.

  • Alexandre-Albert Chartier

    This time I hope customer will realize skull are not badass but simply a dead symbol. Next time I ‘ll purchase minis from GW will be the day they release an OP AoS character without skull. Damn! the only AoS faction without skull in their army are Dwarf, no kidding. I

  • Chris. K Cook

    Yeah I had that same thought to when I say the Archie mini.

  • Stan

    The skulls are just more clutter layered on top of other clutter.
    Its the clutter in their cads designs that is the real problem.