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40k Lore: The Emperor, Part 2: Plans, Intentions, and Personality

5 Minute Read
Jun 3 2010

Once again let’s take another look at what we know about the 41st millennium’s most potent of personages, The Immortal Emperor of Mankind – Part 2.

No one who knows much of anything about the lore of 40k would really deny that the Emperor is one of the greatest shapers of the human history.  His actions and designs have truly defined current face of the galaxy in a way that few other individuals could possibly claim.  Yet despite this we know little of what precisely he has done in his time to achieve this, what his ultimate intentions for humanity are, or what manner of person he is.  We have already taken a look at what we know about his origins, so now let’s examine some of his actions, with an eye towards cracking the thorny question of how his vast and inscrutable mind works, and what sort of person he is.
In fact the one thing we do know for certain about his goals is that the survival and advancement of humanity as a whole is paramount to everything he does.  This has been asserted by the Cabal Psyker operative John Grammaticus, who had touched his mind, and by revelatory insight of the last priest on Terra.  However, both of these individuals also saw that this devotion to humanity as a species and a civilization was to the Emperor beyond any other concerns that might be an obstacle to that, such as those of morality or the wellbeing of individuals.   In the words of Grammaticus’s masters in the Cabal the Emperor looks to the big picture, and sees the long view as well as any being in the galaxy, but this perspective is at the same time uniquely skewed towards one overwhelming  belief, the “manifest destiny” if you will of the human species.  Once we grasp this, we understand that no action or plan, no matter how ruthlessly Machiavellian it might be, is beyond the Emperor.

Consider some of the greatest plans he has engineered that we actually do know about.  First though, a SPOILER ALERT, some of what follows reveals fairly detailed events from the Horus Heresy series, if you have not yet read them, I would both caution you against reading further and highly recommend them.  It has long been hinted that the C’tan known as the Void Dragon was entombed on Mars, but the truth is more complex than this.  In fact the Dragon was, in the distant past, in hiding on Terra after a ruinous loss to the Eldar led his fellow C’tan to scent blood in the water and turn on the previously supreme C’tan.  After untold millennia in hiding the Dragon encountered the Emperor (the precise circumstances of this event are unclear), and was soundly defeated, only to be bound and imprisoned by arcane means.  In time the Dragon’s prison was moved to Mars where its very presence in some way influenced the Martian colonists towards ultra-technological pursuits, which became all but holy and were spread throughout the galaxy along with humanity.  At the same time the Emperor himself influenced the growing religion of the Omnissiah in such a way that he could fulfill the requisite prophecies (which he himself had crafted) and take the position as supreme embodiment of the Machine Cult.  All of this was orchestrated to insure that some of humanity’s advanced technology would survive the coming catastrophe of the Age of Strife (which the Emperor had foreseen), and that it would remain fully under the Emperor’s thumb.  Not only that, but it showed that he was willing to subvert his own profoundly atheistic outlook, one that seems to be as sincerely held as anything we know about him, for what he saw as a necessity.

Another of his schemes is tied to his retirement from the final years of the Great Crusade in order to gain control over the entirety of the galactic Webway network, thus binding humanity together more tightly than ever, even across the vast gulfs of interstellar space.  And yet he chose to keep this this grand design a secret from all of his sons.  Similarly, he was completely aware of the existence and malignance of the four Ruinous Powers, and yet kept this information a secret from the Primarchs as well.  Indeed, perhaps the only being to be even close to being fully privy to the Emperor’s thoughts and plans was, oddly enough, not one of his twenty “sons,” but Malcador, a human mere being (albeit among the most potent psykers in history).

And yet in a number of other ways he has acted in ways that seem to place specific individuals above the good of humanity, and act in ways that seem remarkably short-sighted for one who was able to foresee the coming of the Age of Strife and discover the Webway, and then generate labyrinthine plans to take advantage of this knowledge.  He personally spared the life of the Dark Angel aspirant Zahariel in spite of the simple expediency that letting him be killed would achieve, and the fact that he was already touched by mysterious forces whose goals remain unclear, and would become a major player in the Dark Angel’s schism.  Similarly, he took great pains to convince one old priest of the righteousness of his atheistic views, a man that (as chance had it) he had already saved from a painful death on the battlefield even though he fought against the Emperor’s soldiers at the time.  Why would he not have known of Magnus’s errors in dealing with the Warp before they became such a climactic issue, and taken steps to rectify them?  Finally, it is difficult to understand how he could have completely failed to foresee the Heresy itself, and how he could refuse to believe the warning signs of Horus’s coming treachery, even when told of it directly.  These small actions seem to suggest that, despite his vast intellectual abilities, and prodigious foresight (both mundane and prescient), and his all but unsurpassed capacity for ruthlessness in pursuit of his goals, he is in the end still fallible, and still human enough to make simple errors and be driven by very human desires.

So in the final analysis, who is the Emperor?  He is a leader and guardian whose greatest drive and desire, the very core of his being, is for the betterment of his people, and who is capable of any action, no matter how cold, in order to achieve this.  An avatar of sorts for directed and goal oriented Darwinian process.  He is a schemer of truly grand capability and mind bogglingly great complexity and patience.  But despite being the towering pinnacle of human intellect, and ability, with millennia worth of accumulated wisdom and knowledge, he is still fundamentally human, capable of human mistakes, emotions, and attachments.

Tales of Heresy
Descent of Angels
A Thousand Sons

What do you folks think?  Clearly there is much yet to learn about him, but is this a good “read” on the Emperor?  Or perhaps, most convoluted of all, he truly is infallible, and everything that has happened has gone exactly as he wished for some unknowable purpose…

If you have a favorite corner of the 40k lore that would like to see featured, or just a lore question you think would interest the community, let me know, you can even PM me on the forum if you like.  New ideas are always welcome.

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