As often happens when you spend enough time getting into the head of a character or two (or more), that fictional person begins to grow on you. When I started Heart of War I will admit I had little love for the younger Hellscream. I thought him brash, full of himself, and woefully ignorant of Azeroth. But I went into the story production armed with the following philosophy: everyone is the protagonist of their own story. As such, I was determined to give Garrosh, as my Australian husband sometimes quips, a fair shake of the sauce bottle.
I admit I still think of Garrosh much as I did before: brash, full of himself, and woefully ignorant of Azeroth and its history. Still, as I worked on his story, going through draft after draft, I began to see beyond that veneer. What I felt I glimpsed was, in reality, the core of a frightened man, abandoned by his family yet saddled with legacy of that same family's greatest shame, stricken ill and bedridden among a society that valued physical warrior prowess above all. Here was someone desperate to prove himself, yet terrified to do just that, lest he go too far. In his heart of hearts, I felt Garrosh was powerfully insecure. To this day I believe that he, as a character, is defined by insecurity in a way that no other major figure in WoW ever has been.
Which makes Garrosh's story all the more heartbreaking. For here it is, at last -- that despondent and in many ways pathetic Garrosh we first met in Nagrand -- his worst fears are coming true. He has become exactly what he feared he would, if given the opportunity. There's an aching tragedy in that. It's not, fundamentally, a satisfying character narrative arc. In fact, it's a rather terrifying one.
And I love it. I love that Blizzard won't pull that punch. It's not the first time Blizzard has done this to a character so many of us wanted so much more for. Kael'thas Sunstrider was a popular character from Warcraft III, and to many fans our re-introduction to him in The Burning Crusade was an unpleasant shock. I know a lot of people who held out with a shred of hope, after it was revealed that he hadn't actually died at Tempest Keep, that he would still ultimately be redeemed and return to Quel'Thalas a triumphant king. That is the direction we both wanted and expected the narrative to take.
We were disappointed. Kael'thas came back even worse than before, a shell of his former self, to be destroyed for good. Like Garrosh, there is no satisfaction in this character arc. It is all tragedy, but it is, in my opinion, interesting tragedy. Garrosh and Kael'thas, they are stories that say, "Sometimes there is no going back." Sometimes, you don't deserve to be forgiven. The people you have led, the people you have loved, they can choose to tell you, "No." Sometimes, you simply lose.
That is heavy. And really, really atypical for a fantasy setting, which is, let's face it, usually about our fantasies -- and those don't often involve losing spectacularly and being forced to live with the loss.
And yet, sometimes I think these stories are better. Sometimes they're even more inspiring than the redemption. Kael'thas is gone and the blood elves have, somehow, had to keep going. Their final, greatest hope destroyed, they had to stop waiting for him to restore their nation, and get to work restoring it themselves. Garrosh has crossed the threshold of no return and his Horde is devouring itself, but from the catastrophe will arise something new and, hopefully, better. The ancient tree that dies and falls leaves a hole in the canopy through which light can finally reach the forest floor.
Garrosh and Kael'thas both failed. Those of us who wanted to see their stories end in success can mourn that in our own silly, fannish ways, through blog posts and Twitter conversations and endless debates on the Story Forums (if we dare). But the thwarting of their heroic narratives has left so many more interesting possibilities for WoW's overall narrative, that I can't be too sad about it. What do you do when tragedy strikes? What else can you do, but pick up and go on?