Reading the most recent comic preview (the one that made Alex consider quitting the comic altogether) I suddenly found myself wondering how they intend to resolve this. Are they both Varian? Was that magical ritual both remember intended to split the King into two more easily manipulated halves? Whatever the case, the King as he appears in Wrath of the Lich King is much more like the aggressive, hot-tempered Varian who is seen in the preview going forth to try and find the person who killed his father rather than stay at home and rule the kingdom the man left him. He's much more like the gladiator than the diplomat. What does this mean for Stormwind, the Alliance, and we as players?
Well, the list of atrocities personally witnessed by Varian Wrynn are at this point pretty long. This is a man who, as a child, walked in as Garona cut his father's heart out. Llane Wrynn made the decision to welcome a half-orc into his castle, extended his friendship to her, and she turned and used that friendship to kill him on behalf of Orgrim Doomhammer, and Varian saw it happen. Then the orcs burned Stormwind to the ground, forcing the young king to flee for his life with Anduin Lothar as his only father figure, to grow up in Lordaeron as Lothar begged, cajoled and even demanded various forces join a new Alliance against the orc invaders. Then, as Varian grows up in Lordaeron, guest of King Terenas Menethil, his surrogate father dies at the hands of the same orcs that burned his city and killed his father.
Already we've got the roots for a pretty impressive hatred of orcs. Murder your father, destroy your city, then murder the person who is effectively your replacement father. Now, add to this the strain of replacing your father on the throne once Stormwind is rebuilt (and he's clearly shown spending less time ruling and more time riding around in disguise fighting bandits and trying to find Garona) which led to his being less than on top of the whole Defias fiasco, and you've got a young man who clearly feels inferior to the great kings and leaders of his experience, his father, Lothar and King Terenas.
Just in time for Terenas to die horribly at the hands of his traitor son and Lordaeron, the city he spent his formative years in waiting to return to his kingdom, becomes a charnel pit of the walking dead. I can't imagine Varian was particularly stable or happy before his attempt to broker a peace accord with the Horde (at Jaina's request, no less) led to him being kidnapped, tortured and magically damaged, winding up on the shores of Durotar with no memory of who he was. Queue the gladiator music as an orc shaman sucker-blasts him with an Earth Shock and enslaves him. All told, Varian/Lo'Gosh is remarkably restrained up until the death of Bolvar in the Wrathgate tragedy.
I find it all very interesting and I even call it the "Jack London" scenario of WoW. If you've read Call of the Wild and White Fang then you can see in the Thrall/Varian dichotomy an effort to bring that kind of element to play here: Thrall was the son of a chieftain murdered by his own people, raised by humans and shown both brutality and love from humans, who turns on human ways to embrace his heritage and grows to find the support of various strong figures (Drek'Thar, Orgrim, Grom Hellscream) and who rises to bring civilization to his people, finding support and friendship to this day from figures like Eltrigg, Rexxar, and Saurfang the Elder. Varian, for his part, saw his father, his city and his mentors one by one killed off, grew to adulthood with no support from any elder figures, fell into captivity and only escaped when he embraced the savagery of his situation and exceeded it, and every time he tries to find a peaceful solution has something taken away from him, be it his memory and identity or his support (people like Bolvar, who ruled his kingdom for him while he was away).
Thrall has seen the best and the worst of humanity, while Varian has only seen the worst of orcs. Thrall has built his people a new home in the world they came to destroy, while Varian has lost his home and seen the kingdom that sheltered him destroyed, and now inhabited by Thrall's allies the Forsaken. At the end of the events of the Wrathgate quests, Thrall is given the unquestioning support of Saurfang while Varian is left not only without Bolvar, but with outright dissent and rebellion from Jaina. The two really are almost perfect mirrors of each other, and it's fascinating from a story perspective to watch it all play out.
Now, a lot of people don't like Varian. There are charges that he's racist (and he is, if you view his hatred for orcs and undead as being biased or not based on actual experience - I would only counter that he has no reason to think better of orcs or undead, and having seen Llane get his heart cut out by a close friend might have soured him on the idea of giving his enemies a chance to get close to him, much less Bolvar dying at the hands of an undead-derived plague made in the very heart of the Undercity itself) or that he's irrational or emo. I'm not really sure how to respond to the emo idea - generally speaking, personally leading a direct attack on enemy ground is not quite what I think of as emo, but whatever - but in terms of his irrationality, I think it's clear that everything he does is quite rational if you make the assumptions he has.
Obviously, as a Horde player I find Varian's assumptions biased and unfair. He's clinging to the traumas of his past too tightly and using them to justify his current decisions. Orcs are actively trying to change and leave the past in the past, which includes things like their genocidal rampages through Draenor and Azeroth. The elder members of the Horde have memories they can barely stand to deal with and while revenge might make you feel better, it doesn't bring about a better world. Right now, from a Horde perspective, Varian is just making things worse and dividing everyone's attention at a time when the Lich King is clearly the bigger threat to everyone.
From an Alliance perspective, though, Varian's a breath of fresh air. Unlike Magni, Tyrande or Fandral, he's actively leading, getting out there and doing instead of sitting back mired in various personal issues. He's giving people a direction, marshalling the troops, and saying enough. To a people who experienced the past few years of Alliance stagnation due to the machinations of a big lizard, that's awesome right there. To a faction that has seen the Horde blossom, grabbing land all over Kalimdor and squatting right in the ruins of the greatest human kingdom ever, a leader willing to tell the Horde where to get off doesn't seem like such a bad thing. I can't imagine the average citizen of Stormwind particularly cares if their King is being fair to the people that burned their city to the ground. They probably wish the orcs had been wiped out instead of held in camps.
If you assume that the new Horde is essentially the same as the old Horde at its heart, then Varian would seem the perfect leader for the Alliance. If instead you view the new Horde as a whole new entity trying to forge a new destiny for its members, then Varian would seem the worst possible leader for the opposing faction at such a time. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing where this new dynamic goes, even though I've never been much for worrying about there being enough War in Warcraft. If quests like Battle for the Undercity are the result, then bring on more factional hatred, I say.