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.
As a leader, Tyrande Whisperwind holds the distinction of being the oldest living native racial leader on Azeroth and the most enigmatic. Though we know plenty about the other various racial leaders of the Alliance, Tyrande has remained a quiet figure working behind the scenes, rarely speaking up. In fact, most of Tyrande's appearances have been in novels and Warcraft 3 -- in World of Warcraft, she's barely had any screen time at all.
But even though Tyrande isn't much of a presence in World of Warcraft, she's arguably one of the strongest leaders the Alliance has. Not just because of the length of time she's been leading the Night Elves -- over 10,000 years -- but because that time has afforded her the opportunity to fine-tune her leadership. Tyrande doesn't possess the brash nature of Varian Wrynn or even Genn Greymane, the temper of the Dwarven Council of Three Hammers, or even the quiet vigilance of Velen. What she does possess is the intelligence to know when alliances are necessary -- and the patience to deal with even the most frustrating of allies or enemies.
The War of the Ancients
Before the War of the Ancients, Tyrande was living an idyllic life in the city of Suramar, accompanied by the twin brothers Malfurion and Illidan Stormrage. The three had grown up together, and as they grew older, each chose their own path. Tyrande was smart, a capable huntress who often bested Malfurion and Illidan -- and when it came time to choose, she chose the path of the priestess in the order of the Sisters of Elune.
It was her relationship with Illidan and Malfurion that eventually caused the first real conflict in her life. Both brothers viewed her highly, and as they grew, both took notice of her, Illidan in particular. Malfurion, on the other hand, quietly watched Tyrande from afar, never really expressing his feelings in any overblown fashion. And it was to the quiet, understated brother that Tyrande found herself drawn -- the understated and stalwart Malfurion.
Tyrande's life was abruptly thrown into chaos during the War of the Ancients, a gentle, quiet woman suddenly confronted with the harsh realities of war and a representative of an odd race, the likes of which had never been seen on Azeroth before.
In the War of the Ancients trilogy, the orc Broxigar was sent back in time to the early days of Night Elf history and promptly captured by the Night Elves. Though the Night Elves treated him like a caged animal, Tyrande was drawn to the orc, healing his injuries, bringing him food and treating him with kindness. Broxigar returned respect with respect, and Tyrande eventually hatched a plan to free the orc from his imprisonment.
As the war progressed, Tyrande found herself drawn into battle time and time again, her skills as a huntress and her fierce devotion to Elune becoming more and more apparent with every fight. And when notice arrived of High Priestess Dejahna's death, the only person completely surprised by her choice of successor was Tyrande herself. Though Tyrande didn't feel as though she could step into the role of a capable leader, she took the position, knowing that the Night Elves needed someone capable to follow and trusting Elune to lead her down the correct path.
Despite being named leader, Tyrande refused to hide behind the scenes and led a strike force of Sentinels into the back door of Azshara's palace, intent on confronting Azshara herself and putting a stop to the abuse of the Well's powers. But Azshara's guardsmen stopped her forces, and Tyrande nearly found herself killed for her foolishness, barely making an escape. In the ensuing battle between Malfurion and Azshara, the Well was destroyed, causing the Sundering.
The girl who waited
The Sundering ripped through the world, and the Night Elves sought out a hasty retreat, finally making their new home on the peaks of Hyjal. Unfortunately, though the original Well was destroyed, Illidan created a new Well in an effort to preserve the font of arcane magic. Malfurion and Tyrande were horrified, imprisoning Illidan in the Barrow Dens for his affront. They then sought out the advice of the Aspects, not wanting to destroy the well for fear of creating a second Sundering. This is when the Aspects founded Nordrassil, the first World Tree, and charged the Night Elves with protecting the new Well.
This was also the beginning of the wait for Tyrande Whisperwind.
Each Aspect gave something different to the Night Elves. Alexstrasza grew the World Tree; Nozdormu placed an enchantment upon it that granted the Night Elves immortality. But it was Ysera's gift that would have the greatest affect on Tyrande's life. She tied the tree to the Emerald Dream and asked the Night Elf druids to help her rebuild the world via the pathways of the dream. This required the druids to sleep for centuries at a time, linked to the Emerald Dream and roaming its lush fields.
It also meant that Malfurion was one of the first to agree to slumber, despite the mutual attraction he and Tyrande shared. And while Malfurion slept peacefully, Tyrande was left with the task of rebuilding a people that had been shattered and torn from the conflicts of a war that pitted Night Elf against Night Elf. It wasn't just a matter of rebuilding a home; the trust that the Night Elves had in each other was broken. The former Highborne of Azshara's court were forbidden the use of arcane magic, and those that weren't Highborne looked upon them with disgust. After all, it was the Highborne's dabbling in the arcane that brought about the Sundering in the first place.
So here we have a novice priestess, suddenly appointed leader of her people, and the one love in her life -- a love who deserts her to other duties. While those duties are important, to be sure, it left Tyrande with little to do but try to pull the pieces together and wait. When the former Highborne decided to revolt and launch an arcane storm over Ashenvale, Malfurion awoke long enough to deal with the situation, banishing the Highborne from Kalimdor and regretfully returning to his slumber soon after.
Perhaps it was only Tyrande's mimicking what she loved most about Malfurion -- his patience, his kindness, his stalwart and quiet nature -- that paved her path of leadership. Perhaps after witnessing the hot-headed, rash nature of Illidan, she was simply trying to avoid his mistakes. Or perhaps her faith and devotion to Elune had prepared her for a vigil that would last for thousands of years. But Tyrande waited for Malfurion, leading her people, rebuilding Night Elf society and treating her people with kindness and respect.
The Third War and beyond
Ten thousand years later, the Burning Legion made a return to the shores of Kalimdor, making a beeline for Hyjal. Tyrande, much older and wiser, decided the best course of action would be to awaken the druids, starting with Malfurion. Their reunion was less than joyous, considering the circumstances. And the Tyrande that Malfurion returned to was slightly less gentle and kind than he remembered. Ten thousand years of leadership will do that to a person, and 10,000 years of being alone also has a tendency to make one a little bitter.
The Tyrande that Malfurion returned to was tougher, older, wiser and experienced in the ways of leadership. As she said to Malfurion, she didn't "have the luxury of sleeping through times of great peril." Malfurion sought to awaken the other druids sleeping the Barrow Dens, and Tyrande agreed -- until she saw the doorway to Illidan's prison. That's when Tyrande made a decision that would change the course of Night Elf history: She wanted to free Illidan from his prison and ask for his help. Though Malfurion protested, Tyrande went ahead with her mission, leaving Malfurion to his task of waking the druids.
Oddly, Tyrande's actions more closely mirrored those of Illidan than Malfurion at that point. But her reasoning was sound; Illidan knew more about the Burning Legion than either Malfurion or herself, and if he could be persuaded to lend his help, he would be a valuable asset to the Night Elf forces. Her reasoning may have been sound, but Illidan's actions were not. After fighting off demonic forces in Felwood, Illidan used the powers of the Skull of Gul'dan, his body twisting into the demonic form we see in World of Warcraft. Malfurion banished Illidan for good, and Illidan didn't argue, simply taking his leave. It wasn't the last time they'd see Illidan Stormrage.
Though the Third War was long and bloody, Tyrande had help in the form of Jaina Proudmoore and the orc warchief, Thrall. At first, Tyrande was entirely unwilling to ally with the strangers, but an appearance from Medivh and an explanation soon cleared things up. And eventually, the three forces succeeded, though at a dire cost -- the World Tree was destroyed, and with it, the immortality of the Night Elves. It may have been the sudden loss of immortality suddenly at the forefront of Malfurion's mind or simply a desire to stay with Tyrande a bit longer, but stay he did.
Unfortunately, his stay was interrupted by a return of Illidan, who had apparently formed an alliance with the Naga -- former Highborne transformed after the Sundering flung them far beneath the sea. Malfurion and Tyrande immediately set off in pursuit along with the warden Maiev Shadowsong, going as far as the Eastern Kingdoms in pursuit. Illidan eventually escaped, but Tyrande came to the realization that it was a mistake to set Illidan free in the first place. And when at last Malfurion and Tyrande returned to Kalimdor, Malfurion once again slept within the depths of the Emerald Dream, though not by choice; he was trapped and lost within the vastness of the Emerald Dream by a dark force that twisted the denizens of the Dream and the Dream itself. And Tyrande was left alone once again to lead her people -- this time, with the knowledge that Malfurion was in danger.
We've covered the events of the novel Stormrage before, so I'll keep the summary brief: Tyrande had a vision in which Malfurion was dying and set out for the Emerald Dream to save him in the midst of yet another war -- this time, the Nightmare War. Once Malfurion was freed from the Emerald Nightmare, he realized Tyrande was still there, waiting patiently, and decided it was about time he asked her to marry him. The two were wed, and Azeroth was joyous.
The joy for the Night Elves didn't last for long. In Cataclysm, the Night Elves were a deliberate target for much of Deathwing's destruction, starting with the torching of the park in Stormwind and ending with the sheer amount of devastation that ripped across the coasts of Kalimdor. Auberdine was torn to pieces along with Feathermoon Stronghold, and countless Night Elves lost their lives in the chaos as a cyclone threatened to tear Darkshore apart. Malfurion put a stop to the cyclone and then traveled to Hyjal; Tyrande remained in Darnassus, leading and trying to soothe the spirits of her people in their grief.
In the end, Tyrande Whisperwind is a bit of an enigma. Despite thousands of years leading her people, she's still prone to moments of uncertainty and seems to lean on the mostly absent Malfurion more often than entirely necessary. For a leader who has spent so long standing on her own, Tyrande wavers back and forth between standing on her own two feet and depending on others. It makes her a confusing character, to say the very least -- but she isn't without strength. She has the kind of strength to lead her people through three different wars, the wisdom to call upon the help of others when necessary, and above all, the patience to deal with life's little annoyances with tranquil rationality.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
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.