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40K Grimdark Theories: The Emperor Fought Countless Horus Heresies

7 Minute Read
Apr 30 2020

Today let’s talk about a really crazy theory on the true nature of the Horus Heresy.

The Horus Heresy is the most important even in the 40K story and is an event told being told over dozens of novels, short stories and audio dramas by a host of authors. In any telling this large, and with so many people involved, it is almost certain that there will be some errors or inconsistencies. Writers, after all, are only human (currently at least, if any non-humans writers read this in the distant future I apologize). Any inconsistency, perceived or otherwise, often leads to some kind of theory to explain it. Today we are going to talk about one of the crazier theories out there about some inconsistencies. This theory comes from the folks over at Reddit and was originally posted by Legio Tempestus, let’s take a look at what they’ve got to say.


The Inconsistencies  

The theory starts out with going over some of the major inconsistencies we’ve seen in both the Horus Heresy Books and in particular the Siege of Terra books, and how some events don’t line up to what we “knew” happened. In particular some of the deaths and:

Thinking on it more, there’s a lot of things that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Dorn fighting Fulgrim is great, but it feels off. The annihilation of Angron. Sanguinius naming Abaddon the greatest warrior of the Legiones Astartes. Hell, the push of Abaddon in general, who has undergone enormous ‘character development’ long before he’s supposed to in the Black Legion books. He’s not the character we know, or what he should be.

Perhaps the most blatant ‘weirdness’ is Corswain’s appearance with his half of the Dark Angels. For a very long time, the Dark Angels have endured suspicion and shame for not being present at the Siege. There’s no way half their Legion appearing at the battle would have just been ‘forgotten’. In the same vein, the notable absence of ships like the Imperator Somnium from the Solar War.

OK so some things don’t quite add up, but those are just errors, right? Well what if they aren’t the theory says, what if they are deliberate clues left by the authors and purposeful “errors”? An interesting thought.

More than One Heresy

This thought, that the inconsistencies could be on purpose, leads Legio Tempestus to only one conclusion:


This isn’t ‘our’ Siege, nor is it ‘our’ Heresy.

Basically the idea they posit is that the Heresy we are reading about in the books is not the actual Heresy that leads up to the 40K Universe as we know it, but simple one iteration of the Heresy. For evidence Legio supplies some facts:

Let’s begin with something simple: the Emperor’s fascination with games and, more specifically, movements. Nearly every time we see him in the series, it’s with a regicide board close by. This affectation is shared by his key advisor, Malcador. They are playing constantly. Each move is met with a counter-move. Every action has a reaction. They are divining the actions of men and daemons. They have played out the Heresy uncountable times. They’ve likely played out far more than that during their time together.

In Master of Mankind, the Emperor talks about the nature of foresight. He tells us that it would take forever to chart every possibility, every eventuality. He can see the destination. He knows what awaits him there. But he cannot know what the ‘true’ path is.

Excepting, of course, that he can. By repetition. By game-playing. By walking that path over and over again, to see what went well and what did not. What would fit his design and what would not. What would bring him closer to that distant shore, and what would see him smashed on unseen rocks hidden below the waves. He says to Ra that the only way to know is to set sail – time and time and time again.

The theory takes this to a logical extreme, that the Emperor and Malcador haven’t just been playing out the Heresy in game form, but have also been fighting out the Heresy in real time over and over again, but how could the Emperor do this you ask?

Warp Shenanigans

Admittedly the theory does not have a solid answer to how this is being done but does have a few ideas. One is deals with Molech and the Emperor using the portal to the Warp there:


What do we know about the Warp? It’s paracausal. It is, in the strictest sense, multiversal. All possibilities lie within the Sea of Souls. Things that never happened. Things that will always happen. I posit that the Emperor, upon entering the gate on Molech, experienced an endless array of multiverses. I posit that he walked the infinite paths of the Warp. I posit that he has fought his Great Crusade many times before, the Heresy that followed it – and has never won. During Vengeful Spirit we have Horus, upon emerging from the gate, describe how he fought endless campaigns of conquest in his (vast) time there. Let’s assume – perhaps rightly – that the Emperor has done the same.

So maybe this is all being fought out as the Emperor travels through the warp. It’s also possible this is just a power the Emperor has, we’ve been told several times that the Emperor doesn’t experience time the same way as mortals, maybe he has some way of resetting His own timeline when needed (like Subaru in Re:Zero). Maybe all this is just in the Emperor’s mind.

Lastly, the theory goes on to discuss the Primarchs a bit, in particular both Russ’ and Horus’ travels in the Warp and the fact that both at different times see visions or alternate reality versions of themselves. it posits that there may even be some slippage between timeline and that a certain version of Primarchs may have swap universes.

Thoughts On the Theory

So the realist in me doesn’t really buy the theory at all. Errors and mistakes happen, especially in a massive series like this. Moreover, it’s not even clear all the “errors” pointed out are in fact errors, they could be just things we either didn’t know before or seeing events from new perspectives. They could even be the dreaded retcon. Additionally, I think GW would be taking a huge risk by having this not be THE Horus Heresy and a lot of people would feel cheated. So from a practical standpoint, I don’t really buy this theory.

However, the 40K theorist in me, that comes up with my own host of theories LOVES this idea. The idea of the Emperor endlessly playing out millions of “runs” through the Heresy (a la Dr. Strange in Infinity War) to find the correct path is pretty cool, and opens up the possibility for a ton of cool ideas, was there a version where Guilliman was the traitor? Dorn? It could also pave over any inconsistencies, it is a different timeline after all. Some other mysteries would be explained as well, such as the Emperor’s conflicting views/feelings on the Primarchs. Maybe He does really love them after all, as they are His sons, it’s just that He’s witnessed each of them die over and over again, and seen all of them at one point or another, betray Him, making Him more distant from them. It leaves open a lot of cool ideas.

Maybe there is even a version of the Heresy where this is true.


Lastly, the theory leaves open the possibility that the Siege books will end in an unexpected way. We think we have a pretty clear idea of where it is all going, so here it is more about the joinery than the destination, but what if we get thrown a curveball at the end? For instance, if this is a different version of the Heresy we don’t if it was just another failure and the 40K timeline is the only success, or if the version we are reading is the success and 40K is just another failure. Could we see an ending where Horus is redeemed somehow? Where Sanguinius doesn’t die? Is it possible that after 60+ books we could get a… happy ending? That’s kind of a cool thought.

Let us know what you think about this theory, down in the comments!

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