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

In the Warhammer 40,000 galaxy, the Imperium of Man is built on the backs of transhuman soldiers. There are the iconic Space Marines, who are genetically engineered and mass-produced by the Emperor of Mankind, but if you need something more specialized you can turn to the Adeptus Custodes. This group consists of 10,000 people and each one is a work of art. These philosophical warriors serve as the Emperor’s personal guards and agents, even in his current skeletal state.

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

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

Image: Game workshop

It wasn’t until 2017, with the seventh edition, alongside the launch of the current Lore era, that they became their own army that players could control alongside Tyranids, Necrons, or Astra Militarum. The Bananas, as they are often affectionately called by the fanbase, are popular because they are a cost-efficient way for new players to get into the game. If one isn’t tasked with painting dozens or hundreds of little men, painting just a few Gold Custodes is a much less daunting and much cheaper task. They are Henry Cavill’s favorite armywhich is currently working on a 40K adaptation with Amazon.

If you’re a Custodes fan, you’ll probably enjoy how buff and wise these soldiers are. Meanwhile, the haters tend to not like the fact that the Custodes are super-supersoldiers in an environment already so dominated by Space Marines. In the arms race to get bigger and bigger guys, the Custodes are the absolute pinnacle of the Imperium’s power scale.

The faction was originally depicted as exclusively male. After the Emperor united Earth’s warring factions under the banner of the Imperium over 10,000 years ago, he began a tradition whereby noble houses would give up their firstborn sons to become material for creating Custodes. But the most recent 10th edition codex contains 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 powerful immunity to the Warp), but the official Warhammer account confirmed that she was actually a female Custodes.

Fans were not happy with the revelation. β€œNot even a whisper in lore or novels or a single miniature since 1987,” one fan wrote in response to X. β€œNow suddenly BOOM ‘they were always a thing.’ No world building or development. So disappointing and sad.” The revelation was also discussed on 40,000 fan forums and subreddits, such as the meme board r/Grimdank, which enforces the “no female Space Marine” rule because it’s such a heated and controversial topic in the fandom. In light of the revelation, the mods are allow posts on the topic for a week. The pinned message from mods reads in part: β€œBy this time I consider the proverbial horse to be dead and truly defeated, because realistically both topics share the exact same arguments, meaning they have already been answered by and from all POVs.”

Until now, Space Marines and Custodes have both been portrayed as exclusively male. 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 on a large scale. But Custodes are not mass produced; these noble babies are made by hand in an extremely specific process.

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

When we were working on the lore, there was no reason why they couldn’t be male or female (and as things stand, there’s still no reason why they couldn’t be). But there is a non-narrative reason, namely the previous IP overlord who said “There are no female Custodian models, they are all male, so don’t write female ones.”

A few years later there was also a Studio Mandate, which stated: β€œDo not 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 rush into battle against the insectoid Tyranids, with models of both armies posing to create an epic battle diorama.

Image: Game workshop

This begs the question of whether this is a retcon – one that conflicts with the Custodes’ long-standing identity – or if it’s merely 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 piece 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 small change, especially compared to the other changes Custodes have seen lately. For example, they now leave Terra and move into real space together with Roboute Guilliman and the armies of the Imperium. Games Workshop also regularly hands out retcons, such as the change to the Necrons that turned them from mysterious Terminators into fully fleshed out characters dealing with politics and power struggles.

Change can be good, and the Custodes still retain all the moral ambiguity and knowledge of their previous iterations. Some fans will simply rejoice at the possibility of a ten-foot-tall woman who could crush humanity’s enemies – and I think that’s wonderful.

And as some old hands tell it, this kind of flexibility has always been the intention of the larger 40K canon. Nick Davis, a former Games Workshop employee, shared a thoughtful message on X about his efforts to make Warhammer a more inclusive hobby during his time with the company. β€œI’m overjoyed to see that the hobby that once gave me the means to live is so inclusive,” he wrote. β€œIt is pure joy to see LGBTQ+ female gamers and see them represented at the highest level of GW toy soldiers.”