Why Warhammer 40K fans were shocked by a recent Custodes codex reveal

In the galaxy of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man is built off the backs of transhuman soldiers. There are the iconic Space Marines, who are gene-crafted and mass produced by the Emperor of Mankind, but when you need something a little more specialized, you might turn to the Adeptus Custodes. This group stands 10,000 strong, and each is a work of art. These philosopher warriors serve as the personal guards and agents of the Emperor, even in his currently skeletal state.

These warriors are super strong, incredibly fast, and incorruptible by Chaos. But one question lingered: Can they be women? According to one recent X post from the official Warhammer account, the answer is yes, which means the Custodes are now the subject of social media debate.

The Custodes have been around since Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, the original version of the game published in 1987. The Custodes are 10-foot-tall transhuman super-warriors, crafted from an infant, gene-forgery, and Warp Magic, and built to serve the Emperor on Terra. They literally can’t disagree with the Emperor, which is quite funny since the faction brags about their intellectual prowess so often.

Image: Games Workshop

It was only in 2017 with seventh edition, alongside the launch of the current lore era, that they have become their own fieldable army that players can run alongside Tyranids, Necrons, or Astra Militarum. The bananas, as they’re often fondly referred to by the fan base, are popular because they’re a cost-efficient way for new players to get into the game. If someone isn’t up to the task of painting dozens or hundreds of little guys, painting just a few golden Custodes is a much less daunting, much more affordable task. They’re also the favored army of Henry Cavill, who is currently working on a 40K adaptation with Amazon.

If you’re a Custodes fan, you likely enjoy how buff and wise these soldiers are. Meanwhile, the haters tend to dislike how the Custodes are super-super-soldiers in a setting already so dominated by Space Marines. In the arms race to have continually bigger boys, the Custodes are the absolute peak of the Imperium’s power scale.

The faction was originally depicted as being exclusively male. After the Emperor united the warring factions of Earth under the Imperium’s banner over 10,000 years ago, he began a tradition where the noble houses would give up their firstborn infant sons to become material to make Custodes. But the most recent 10th-edition codex includes a point-of-view piece of lore from Calladayce Taurovalia Kesh, who uses she/her pronouns. Some fans wondered if this was a Sister of Silence (Custodes work hand in hand with this mysterious order of mute women with a powerful immunity to the Warp), but the official Warhammer account confirmed that she was actually a female Custodes.

Fans weren’t thrilled with the reveal. “Ever since 1987, not so much as a whisper in lore or novels, or a single miniature,” one fan wrote in response on X. “Now all of a sudden BOOM ‘they were always a thing’. No worldbuilding or development. So disappointing and pathetic.” The reveal was also discussed on 40K fan forums and subreddits, such as the meme board r/Grimdank, which maintains a “no female Space Marine” rule because it’s such a heated and contentious topic in the fandom. In light of the reveal, the mods are allowing posts on the topic for one week. The pinned post by mods reads, in part: “By then i’ll consider the proverbial horse dead and truely beaten, since realistically both topics share the exact same arguments meaning they’ve already been answered by and from all POVs.”

Space Marines and Custodes have both been depicted as exclusively male up until now. For Space Marines, this is explained in-universe by the fact that their male biology is solely compatible with the complex biological processes used to create enough of them at scale. But Custodes aren’t mass-produced; these noble infants are handcrafted in an extremely specific process.

For a while, it seemed Custodes would remain exclusively male. Aaron Dembski-Bowden, an author with Games Workshop’s publishing arm Black Library, wrote a relevant post on Reddit five years ago about his experience writing Custodes for the Horus Heresy novels:

At the time of working on the lore, there was no reason they couldn’t be male or female (and as far as things still stand, there’s still no lore reason they can’t be). But there is a non-lore reason, which was the previous IP overlord saying “There are no female Custodian models, they’re all male, so don’t write any female ones.”

There was also a Studio mandate a couple of years after that, saying “Don’t do female Custodians.” Again, that seemed to tie in with the release of an all-male mini line.

Two very rare moments of direction from on-high.

The Adeptus Custodes roll into battle against the insectoid Tyranids, with models from both armies posed to create an epic battle diorama. Image: Games Workshop

This raises the question of whether this is a retcon — one that goes against the long-standing identity of the Custodes — or whether it’s just aligning the lore with ideas from creatives involved with the franchise. Warhammer is no stranger to retcons; a core concept of the setting is that players are piecing together a subjective truth from biased documents and historical events.

The social media furor currently unfolding suggests that female Custodes are a big deal, but it’s actually a relatively minor change, especially compared to the other changes Custodes have seen recently. For example, they’re now leaving Terra, trekking out into real space alongside Roboute Guilliman and the armies of the Imperium. Games Workshop also hands out retcons regularly, like the change to the Necrons that turned them from mysterious Terminators to fully fleshed-out characters dealing with politics and power struggles.

Change can be good, and the Custodes still retain all the moral ambiguity and lore from their previous iterations. Some fans will simply be delighted at the possibility of a 10-foot-tall woman who could crush the enemies of mankind — and I think that’s beautiful.

And to hear some old hands tell it, this kind of flexibility has always been the intent of the larger 40K canon. Nick Davis, a former Games Workshop employee, shared a thoughtful post on X about his efforts to make Warhammer a more inclusive hobby during his time with the company. “I am overjoyed seeing the hobby that once gave me a means to live, being so inclusive,” he wrote. “Seeing female, LGBTQ+ gamers and seeing them represented at the highest level of GW toy soldiers is pure joy.”

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