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Know Your Lore: Orgrim Doomhammer, part 2

Matthew Rossi

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

See last week's Know Your Lore: Orgrim Doomhammer, part 1.

When talking about the second Warchief of the Horde, a few salient facts must always be discussed.

Orgrim Doomhammer did not drink the demon blood. Frankly, as purely subjective and biased as it may be, I don't find the idea that, "Oh, well, they were addicted to the demon blood," is anything like an excuse for what the Horde did in the First and Second Wars. Objectively, the Horde burst through the Dark Portal, murdered everyone in their way (people who had never done anything to them), sacked whole cities, and in general were akin to a plague of gigantic green locusts. It's not forgivable simply because they willingly choose to slurp down on the ichor of Mannoroth first. Nor is Doomhammer any more laudable for having engaged in those selfsame actions without having drunk. Doomhammer never made even a token effort to parley with the humans. He saw them as vermin to be exterminated so that his people could have their fertile lands for their own, and had the Horde won the war Doomhammer waged across the Eastern Kingdoms, there is no doubt that he would have gleefully put the entire human race and its allies to the sword -- and entirely without the "curse" to in any way explain his actions.

Whatever else he may have been -- quick to anger, reluctant to challenge his people's direction as his old friend Durotan did, overly eager to display his own prowess (even if doing so meant becoming as battle-hungry as any blood-drinker) -- Doomhammer proved himself to be a superbly able tactician and relentless force both on the battlefield and off it. It must be said that the Horde came within a few hours of totally destroying Lordaeron as it had Stormwind. Pretty much every Forsaken active today would have lost someone to the orcish Horde of the time, and it was only the betrayal of and defection of Gul'dan that ultimately ended the Horde's chance for final victory.

Doomhammer Triumphant

Try to imagine the scene as the First War comes to a close. The humans of Stormwind have fled their ruined city on a ragtag fleet of ships, leaving the Horde in effective control of all of the territory between the Dark Portal and the human city. Gul'dan lies comatose, Blackhand as dead as the human King Llane Wrynn. Garona, the half-orc assassin who killed Llane, returns to the orcish ranks to find not Gul'dan, not Blackhand, but Doomhammer waiting for her.

He was anything but pleased with her, and her homecoming was not one of triumph. Having just assassinated Blackhand, Doomhammer now had his eyes set firmly on wiping out Gul'dan's cabal of warlocks, the Shadow Council, so that they could not provide the so-called Elder Shaman with any support. Garona found herself at the mercy of Doomhammer's rather effective torturers. Under their ministrations, she eventually broke and told them where to find several members of the Shadow Council. (One wonders why she needed to be tortured at all, but we do know that Garona was under magical compulsion to obey them; perhaps it was necessary to break those compulsions.) Armed with this information, Doomhammer proceeded to wipe out every single warlock he could get his hands on.

These actions and what came after them showcase how Doomhammer often let his pragmatism override what might be considered better judgment. Strictly speaking, Orgrim Doomhammer was a tactician, and he was loath to let any possible advantage slip through his fingers. He killed the warlocks because they were a detriment to him and his goal of unopposed leadership of the Horde. But having killed them, he now worried that he would lack the magical power necessary to overcome the humans. Finding himself as Warchief on an alien world with an unknown enemy to the north, he was therefore receptive when, upon awakening, Gul'dan prostrated himself at his feet and told Doomhammer exactly what he wanted to hear: that he, Doomhammer, would of course reign as uncontested Warchief, and that Gul'dan could and would replace the slain warlocks with a new order of mystical warriors. And so Orgrim Doomhammer countenanced the creation of the first death knights.

Again, Doomhammer was a so-called "uncorrupted" orc. He had not drunk the blood of Mannoroth. Yet he was so obsessed with victory that he let his sworn enemy create the walking undead in order to achieve it, a man he suspected was behind the death of his best friends Durotan and Draka, the mother and father of the orc child who would grow up to be known as Thrall. The Backstabber (as those still loyal to Blackhand would call him) proved time and again that there was absolutely nothing he would not do when victory was at stake.

From Stormwind to Lordaeron

Striking north from their conquered territory, the Horde soon made new allies in the goblins and trolls. Zul'jin initially refused to ally with Doomhammer, but a timely rescue from the high elves of Silvermoon changed his mind, and the legendary Amani warleader brought his forest trolls into the Horde. Various goblin groups served Doomhammer's Horde as mercenaries, combining their love of profit and their love of explosions. The initial push north went very well for the Horde. It was this drive, spearheaded by Doomhammer, that led the Horde to conquer and use Blackrock Spire as a primary base of operations on Azeroth. Despite their hostility to him (as he had, after all, killed their father), Orgrim let Rend and Maim Blackhand actively control the mountain for the Horde. Similarly, as the drive north pushed into Khaz Modan and the Wetlands (forcing the dwarves to retreat into Ironforge itself), Orgrim's ruthlessness showed itself again.

The orc shaman Zuluhed the Whacked was one of the few remaining who could still talk to the elemental spirits to some extent. Almost all of the orc shamans had converted to warlock practices when the elements turned their backs on the orcs due to their waging an unprovoked war against the draenei. Zuluhed, however, still had some contact, and apparently he used those spirits to help him find a powerful magical artifact, a golden disc. Later, it would be revealed that Deathwing had arranged for Zuluhed to find it, so it's possible Zuluhed wasn't actually still a shaman at all. Zuluhed reported his finding to the Horde, and Doomhammer gave him and his Dragonmaw clan permission to use the device for the good of the Horde. Using it, they enslaved the Queen of the Red Dragons herself, Alexstrasza, the Aspect of Life.

It's doubtful that Doomhammer understood that Alexstrasza was an intelligent, nearly immortal being of ancient power with direct responsibility over life itself. It's also doubtful that he would have cared. To him, her continuously being forced to breed with her consorts and lay eggs that were taken from her and used as mounts for Dragonmaw soldiers meant nothing. In essence, she was raped by means of a magical artifact, forced to bear young, and then those young were turned into weapons -- again, all on Doomhammer's orders.

Doomhammer's strategy unfolded as a salient sent into the heart of the Eversong Woods drew off half of the Alliance forces, while a secret deal with the traitorous Lord Aiden Perenolde of Alterac allowed the Horde to move the majority of their forces through the Alterac Mountains and into Lordaeron itself. There, they besieged the city and nearly destroyed it. Two things managed to derail this assault. The first was the arrival of Turalyon on a fleet of elven warships from Eversong, the Horde's salient having finally drawn the elves into a full commitment to the Alliance cause. The second, and more important, was Gul'dan's betrayal and the sudden withdrawal of the Stormreaver Clan and Cho'gall's Twilight's Hammer from the Horde forces.

Driven back first to Tol Barad, Doomhammer manifested his fury at Gul'dan's betrayal. No, not at Gul'dan's having killed his best friends. Not at Gul'dan having used foul necromancy to twist and defile nature. Not even at Gul'dan's disloyalty and lack of honor. No, Doomhammer's fury was raised at Gul'dan entirely because, at the very doorstep of victory, he was denied it. Having sacrificed everything, every scruple, every moral and ethical objection at the altar of victory, Doomhammer saw it taken away from him by the very orc he'd allowed to live entirely because pragmatism demanded a countermeasure only Gul'dan could provide. Pragmatism brought Doomhammer to the very gates of the last true redoubt of humanity, and pragmatism slammed those gates closed on him.

Doomhammer's End

The Stormreavers and Twilight's Hammer paid the price in blood, but Gul'dan was already dead and thus beyond Doomhammer's reach. Meanwhile, the Alliance forces now hemmed him in on every side. A painful retreat, driven back in an excrutiating series of defeats, led to the final battle on the slopes of Blackrock Mountain. If you played Warcraft II, you saw the Backstabber use treachery and an ambush to slay Anduin Lothar. If you read Tides of Darkness, you saw Doomhammer defeat Lothar in single combat.

Frankly, neither was impossible for him. Lothar was a great warrior but much older than Doomhammer, and it's certainly possible that he could have lost in single combat. It's also quite possible that Doomhammer wouldn't have taken the chance and simply would have had his enemy jumped by goons. Either way, Lothar's death did not at all demoralize the humans. Doomhammer expected that as much as the Horde was often rendered confused and unable to act by a sudden power vacuum at the top, the humans would also be demoralized by Lothar's death. That's not what happened.

Turalyon and his men savaged the orcs. Turalyon himself slapped Doomhammer to his knees and took him in irons, a prisoner, to Lordaeron to be judged for his crimes against the people of Azeroth. For Doomhammer, an orc who had seen victory as the only hope for his people and the only goal worth pursuing, this defeat was shattering.

Doomhammer spent an indeterminate amount of time held captive in the palace of King Terenas Menethil of Lordaeron. He eventually escaped, possibly because they apparently let him keep his hammer, based on the fact that he had it when he died; I don't eally know why you'd let the dude who killed Anduin Lothar keep the hammer he killed him with, but I apparently lack the keen mind of the Lordaeron prisonkeepers. He made his way to an internment camp, where he beheld his people in their near-catatonic state. Whatever one can say about Doomhammer's treatment of other peoples (and one could say it was monstrous butchery in many cases), his concern for his own never wavered. Seeing the orcs broken and defeated nearly destroyed him. Shattered by the plight of his people, he retreated to a hermit's life. He remained there until contacted by Drek'Thar of the Frostwolves and told of the young orc who had found them.

Doomhammer went to the Frostwolves and tested the young orc calling himself Thrall, ultimately finding himself bested in single combat. Thus convinced, Doomhammer explained his true identity and outlined a plan for the liberation of the orcs from the internment camps. After several such raids, Doomhammer met his fate in battle with the humans guarding the camp in the Arathi Highlands. The Backstabber died stabbed in the back by a human lance. His last act was to pass the hammer of his ancient family line on to Thrall, in so doing, fulfilling the prophecy so long spoken of it -- the same prophecy he had discussed over dinner with the Prophet Velen before the wars, before he himself slaughtered so many of Velen's people, before Ner'zhul's war, Gul'dan's war, the rise of Blackhand, the demon blood, the Dark Portal ... With the death of Orgrim Doomhammer the end of an era came, as the first orc born on Azerothian soil rose to lead the Horde.

The Legacy of the Doomhammer

Doomhammer's legacy is more ambiguous than that of, say, Grom Hellscream (who despite many questionable deeds is still revered as a savior by the orcs for his part in slaying Mannoroth) or Gul'dan (who is reviled wholly for his role in helping bring the orcs to the brink of eternal slavery). Even when compared with his old friend Durotan, Doomhammer is hard to objectively judge. Like Durotan, he questioned the path the orcs were taking. Unlike him, he did not take any actions to personally try and move them off of that path. His leadership of the Horde was far more effective than that of Blackhand, and it's absolutely unquestionable that had Doomhammer not been the leader, the Horde may never have even reached Blackrock Mountain, much less nearly conquered all of the Eastern Kingdoms.

Doomhammer's pragmatism and brutality made him a remorseless force on the battlefield and effective as Warchief, but they also pushed him to make too many deals that ended up costing him the very victory that had motivated them, as well as any honor he might have held onto. Rape, torture and even necromancy were allowed if they brought results. In the end, Doomhammer might not have been able to win without them, but he didn't win entirely due to their presence.

His role in the liberation of his people is also far less of an atonement, because he didn't seek to atone for anything. He sought to free the orcs from the camps not out of any feeling of guilt over their fate or his role in the war, but purely because they were his people. From the moment he ascended to the position of Warchief, victory for his people was his primary concern. Nothing else mattered. It made him a great war leader, but it also cost him the war -- and ultimately, his life given in their service. His name lives on in the name of Orgrimmar itself and in the warship Orgrim's Hammer. He will not easily be forgotten by either the Horde or the Alliance.

He was an orc, for good or ill, all the days of his life and to the last day of it.

For more information about the lore of this column, please look at our other Know Your Lore articles, such as:

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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