Spoilers for Patch 5.4 lurk within this post, like a hideous phalanx of grue.
I can't shake this feeling of dread lately. Thinking about the Siege of Orgrimmar, about Garrosh Hellscream, about the Horde and what's to become of it, and of the Alliance. Thanks to the most recent sound files, we know a few things, but what we don't learn from those files is as interesting as what we do learn. And yet, I can't shake this feeling of dread.
What am I dreading? The villain will be defeated, right? The heroes will be triumphant, the rebels and the Alliance will storm Orgrimmar and the 'True Horde' will be toppled from the fortresses it has made of a formerly vibrant, brawling town. All will be right with the world, yes?
Maybe yes, but maybe no. I keep looking at Garrosh Hellscream -- the orc who successfully led a disorganized Horde rabble to Northrend and welded an army out of it -- and thinking about what comes after the siege. What happens when the son of Grom is defeated? What happens to the Horde? What happens to the Alliance? What happens to Azeroth? What happens to us?
My first concern is the interference of the black dragon Wrathion. Despite his tender years, he's proved himself to be a consummate meddler, stage managing a legion of Azeroth's most powerful into an unofficial host of heroes and using them as the sharp point of the wedge. The black dragon may not be influenced by the corruption of the Old Gods, but it's not entirely clear that he is without outside influences - his consumption of Lei Shen's heart and lapse into a vision filled fugue state gives me extreme pause. We still don't know if the Titans are friendly, or completely uncaring, and seeing Wrathion delve so far into their lost lore makes me uneasy. Remember, the very device that purged Wrathion's egg in the Badlands was a Titan device from Uldaman. Wrathion's monomania, his complete insistence on the unification of Azeroth under one banner, makes him a potential menace, and how many of Azeroth's heroes deliberately let him put a Titan eye on their very heads?
It's clear that as part of his design, Wrathion intended the subjugation of the Horde following Hellscream's failures with the Divine Bell and his digging up of the Vale. Indeed, Wrathion even says that he initially backed Hellscream's victory over the Alliance, until Hellscream went too far. If he was so obsessed with unity at all costs, why would Hellscream's use of Yshaarj cost him Wrathion's loyalty? Is it merely his memory of what the Old Gods did to his flight and his 'father' Neltharion, aka Deathwing, or is it the influence of the Titans on Wrathion? While under the influence of the Heart of Thunder, Wrathion calls out We must rebuild the Final Titan. What is the Final Titan, and how is it rebuilt? One can concoct many theories - my current favorite is that the Heart of Thunder serves as a memory seed, carrying the personality and/or operating system for the apparatus that would do the work of rebuilding, and that by consuming it Wrathion has effectively stated the process of turning himself and all his plans into a means by which the Final Titan can be rebuilt. But the point is, we don't know.
Consider also this - in Wrathion's analysis, Varian Wrynn and the Alliance could conquer the Horde within a year. Think about this - for all the military force present in Orgrimmar, the forsaken in Lordaeron, the blood elves of Silvermoon, the trolls of the Echo Isles and the Tauren of Thunder Bluff would be conquered within one years time. Wrathion is many things, but stupid isn't one of them. Why does he sound so convinced of this? He alludes to massive casualties on both sides, and states that Thunder Bluff would hold out the longest, but he makes no bones about the fact that he expected Wrynn to use the fall of Orgrimmar as the first step on a campaign of conquest and that he had no doubts how it would unfold. Considering he's called everything else right since his arrival in Pandaria, we then have to ask - if the Alliance could conquer the entire Horde within one year, why is that, and what will happen should the Alliance itself ever realize that?
Make no mistake. We have in fact never seen the Alliance make aggressive war. For all the Horde claims to the contrary, the Alliance has never been imperialistic in its ambitions. Indeed, were there no Horde pressing on Alliance borders, there would probably be no Alliance. But the past several years, from the Cataclysm to now, have done what the member states of the Alliance themselves never could. They've brought unity and at last singular leadership to the Alliance as a force. Varian Wrynn has stepped forth to be the Dux Bellorum of the entire Alliance, leading troops from each Alliance nation to the very gates of Orgrimmar itself. The Horde's greatest advantage in battle was their fanatical, dedicated, singular militarism based around a cult-like loyalty to a leader figure, a Warchief. But Hellscream has lost that loyalty among all but a fraction of the orcs themselves, and following this, the idea that the Horde can find that loyalty again is an open question. But the Alliance? The Alliance has found that loyalty. They will have had concrete evidence of it. The Alliance has powerful figures like Jaina Proudmoore and Vereesa Windrunner who actively hate the Horde, and will support any action against it. It has impetuous figures like Tyrande Whisperwind, who view hesitation as weakness. And in Varian, it has a figure who can lead a united Alliance force anywhere he wants it to go.
The Alliance is incredibly dangerous to the stability of the world following the Siege of Orgrimmar, and if the Horde doesn't get its act together fast they may find that out the hard way.
The Horde has always viewed itself as an underdog, an organization made up of the disenfranchised. But they've lost that organization - their unity is in tatters, and even though the sound files imply that there is a Warchief who takes Garrosh's place, can any of the potential candidates - Vol'jin, Thrall, even Saurfang - possibly unite the Horde? One imagines Lor'themar Theron and Sylvanas Windrunner taking this opportunity to strengthen their own bases in preparation for a potential conflict - the voice files indicate that Lor'themar is no longer willing to allow Sylvanas to threaten or intimidate him, going so far as to threaten her - and it becomes very difficult to imagine either of them looking at the other in the same way. As close as their forces are to each other, and as far away from Kalimdor as they are, it becomes very easy to imagine any Warchief having difficulty uniting the Horde post Garrosh. Paradoxically, it may be that only someone like Garrosh could keep the Horde united in today's Azeroth. As the Horde's position fragments, the Alliance only gets stronger, and it's possible that in a few brief years we'll be looking at unchecked Alliance aggression, as a human warleader pushes a naval force into Silvermoon or sends steam tanks up into Alterac, pushing the forsaken out of Tarren Mill before jets of flame that leave no bodies to reanimate.
The future is not set. Indeed, with the arrival of the Timeless Isle, I'm starting to worry about the past as well. Why did this place suddenly reveal itself with the parting of the Mists as the Sha of Pride finally made his move? What about the Isle renders time itself into something else entirely? With the Aspects gone, there's no one to stop mortal meddlers from playing with the Isle, and I greatly dread what they could discover. Worse, it's hardly the only place one could go on Azeroth to meddle with time, now is it? Either remnants of a defeated 'True Horde' or victorious Alliance forces could well decide to seize the Caverns of Time, and that worries me even more.
And I haven't even mentioned the Burning Legion yet. Then again, what do I even need to say? A powerful organization of demonic forces that spans countless worlds personally led by a demon who hates both Azeroth entire and has personal grudges against the Horde (for slipping free of his control) and the Alliance (Velen, who he hunted for 25,000 years) is still out there, and it still wants to drain Azoerth of all that powerful magic in the various Wells, Sunwells and Vales. All in all, I can't help but think that in years to come, we may need Garrosh Hellscream, or someone like him. Varian Wrynn, you may well be calling yourself Lo'Gosh before too much longer.