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Breakfast Topic: The Lessons of the Wrathgate

Matthew Rossi

I was interested to find out via our very own Mike Schramm the Fleshcrafter that Blizzard has a YouTube channel now. The main reason I was interested? Because I can watch the Wrathgate cinematic several times a day and not get tired of it. It's simply one of the things I enjoyed most about Wrath of the Lich King, a potent, powerful and personally experienced series of soloable quests that leads to an awesome rampage through Undercity that creates more tension and drama than it solves. No matter what toon, I've made sure to go through this complete quest chain as soon as I can, as both Horde and Alliance get to see some fantastic lore goodness and interact as near equals with the big figures of their respective factions.

Who gets to escort Jaina to her meeting with Thrall? You do. Think of it this way: remember in WCIII when Rexxar and Thrall met up with Jaina? This time, it was you and Thrall. It really did an amazing job of injecting immediate, powerful connection between your character and the great figures of the factions, as well as bringing the war against the Lich King (and the presence of other forces seeking to take advantage of it, ala Putress and Varimathras) back home to the cities of old Azeroth. Who can forget seeing Orgrimmar crowded with refugees?

Moreover, watching the Alliance soldiers rally around Bolvar and the Horde come sweeping in under Saurfang the Younger always gives me a bit of a nostalgic feeling. This was the culmination of the 'This threat's so big we have to work together' mindset that saw us form the Might of Kalimdor under Saurfang, that united us against Kil'Jaeden at the Sunwell. This was the last, best hope for peace and unity. Had Bolvar and Saurfang not fallen, had the Forsaken not been split by civil war, if a unified front persisted against Arthas at this critical moment who knows? We might well be looking at the first steps of real detente between the factions, perhaps even a pan-Azerothian league of states and powers that includes all of the Horde and Alliance races as Putress strangles it aborning.

It's clear that the lessons taken from the Wrathgate by Varian Wrynn, while understandable (frankly, if my best friend died due to the actions of those we were supposed to at least be tolerant of if not working with, and I saw the abominations of the Undercity for the first time while trying to capture the ones responsible, I might take the same tact he did) were the wrong ones. The upcoming battle at Icecrown Citadel and the Cataclysm to follow call for the same kind of ability to see past grudges, but both Varian and Garrosh have taken the Wrathgate and subsequent events to mean that conflict between Horde and Alliance is inevitable and necessary. Many will die who did not have to because of Putress' betrayal at the Wrathgate, the Horde's inability and outright failure to prevent it, and the Alliance's inability to see past it. Varian's rage has twisted his general tendency to look forward to battle into a burning desire to lead the Alliance into war despite the possible cost: his refusal to act to stop Yogg-Saron was a failure of a man putting his anger ahead of a King's duty to his people, and it was directly traceable to Varian's inability to forget the Wrathgate.

For this failure, Varian is clearly responsible, but so too is Thrall. Thrall's failure to actually lead the Horde culminated at the Wrathgate. While he's a personally powerful and dynamic leader, he's also displayed an inability to rein his own people in, or even to know what those ostensibly under his command are doing. As Warchief, he possesses an absolute role of leadership the Alliance lacks (Varian's rule is over one kingdom, even if it is the largest and most powerful one in the Alliance) and Thrall's inability or unwillingness to prevent the Forsaken from splintering and the actions of their rebel faction at the Wrathgate reflect badly upon his leadership. While Varian cannot command the leaders of other nations (even if it seems as if leaders like Magni are maneuvering him into just such a role as Alliance 'Warchief') Thrall can. And yet, he did not. His personal valor is unquestioned and his power capable of leading the assault into Varimathras' claimed domain even in the teeth of the dreadlord's armies (with Sylvanas' help, of course) but while Thrall is indisputably a power to be feared personally, his leadership has grown lax. His hand is loose upon the tiller, so to speak, and he only grasps it when the waves are about to swamp the ship instead of before the storm hits.

In the end, both factions have mishandled the opportunities given to them and have failed to learn from Saurfang the Younger and Bolvar at the Wrathgate. Ironically, for two whose deaths have so helped to rend their facions asunder in hatred and animosity, these two stood shoulder to shoulder, man and orc, and challenged the Lich King as equals and allies. It may be the last such stand ever made by members of the Horde and Alliance. And it certainly was one of the best. As we head towards Icecrown I can't help but look back on how we got there.

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