Know Your Lore: The haunting legacy of Grom Hellscream

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|03.25.12

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Know Your Lore: The haunting legacy of Grom Hellscream
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.

I chose Garrosh because he has the strength to lead our people through these trying times. For all my supposed wisdom, there have been moments that I've barely been able to hold the Horde together. The Wrath Gate and Undercity displayed that clearly.

The Horde cries for a hero of old. An orc of true blood that will bow to no human and bear no betrayal. A warrior that will make our people proud again. Garrosh can be that hero. I did not make this decision lightly, Vol'jin.

I know our alliances will suffer for it. I know the Horde will be irreversibly changed. But I made this choice with confidence that Garrosh is exactly what the Horde needs. I'm trusting you and the other leaders to not let this divide our people. You are stronger than that.

Let's just cut to the chase here: It was revealed in the press event information that Garrosh Hellscream, current Warchief of the Horde, will have his reign abruptly ended in Mists of Pandaria. The son of the great Grom Hellscream will no longer be Warchief, and it's not only the Alliance that will be participating in his dethroning -- it's the Horde as well. Though it may seem like a rash course of action, in all honesty, this has been coming for a very, very long time.

After all, he is the son of Hellscream.

Grom Hellscream, leader of the Warsong

Grom Hellscream was a part of the old Horde of the days before the Dark Portal and the journey to Azeroth. He was an orc of the old ways, when reputation was built not by words and negotiation but by raw displays of power and brutality. He was a warrior and a leader, ruthless and cunning.

And he was the first of all the orcs to willingly drink the blood of the demon Mannoroth. It wasn't out of respect to the Burning Legion or any willingness to serve that he drank. It was the fact that within the blood lay power, and more power meant more prestige within the Horde. Grom drank and led the way for the rest of the orc clans, ensuring their corruption.

It was a selfish action, but it wasn't until years later that it occurred to Grom exactly what he'd done. After fleeing through the Dark Portal as Draenor tore itself apart, Grom and what was left of the Warsong Clan fled, hiding out in the Eastern Kingdoms and keeping a low profile. It was a position that Hellscream wasn't used to, and it gave him time to do something he hadn't done in a long time, if ever -- to think about his actions and the consequences of those actions.

And when a young, yet-to-be-Warchief Thrall showed up at his doorstep seeking information about his past, Hellscream let him in and let him stay. And when Thrall asked questions about the state of the orcs, lethargic and listless in the internment camps in which they'd been imprisoned, Hellscream admitted that a large part of the orc's fate was his fault. He admitted that he'd inadvertently led them to their own doom, cursed to live in listless imprisonment forever -- that is, until Thrall stepped up and proposed freeing the orcs and returning them to their former glory.

Grom helped Thrall do just that and traveled with the new Warchief to Kalimdor to start a new life. But when push came to shove, when Grom was once again faced with the decision to either retreat or once more drink the fel-tainted blood of a pit lord, Grom chose power and glory over simple self-preservation. And when Thrall caught wind of what he'd done and freed him once more from Mannoroth's control and brought him to his senses, a furious (if contrite) Grom Hellscream traveled with Thrall to put an end to Mannoroth and free the orcs from the blood curse once and for all.

He died a hero. He died having freed his people from the enslavement he'd pressed them into unwittingly so many years before. But in the end ... he died.

Garrosh, son of Grom

Grom left behind something Thrall didn't know about: his son. And Garrosh Hellscream had no knowledge of Thrall or of his father's fate. In fact, all he knew was that his father was the first to drink of the demon's blood and pave the way for the orc's corruption, something that was thrown in his face every day in the tiny village of Mag'har survivors. Mag'har. Untainted -- untouched by the sins of Garrosh's father. Garrosh could not bear the shame of his father's choice, and indeed spent much of his formative years listless and unhappy -- and who could blame him, really? What kind of bloodline did he have to live up to?

But just as Thrall showed up for his father Grom at Grom's darkest hour of introspection, Thrall showed up for the younger Hellscream and delivered him from his depression. Thrall showed Garrosh that his father may have made mistakes, but he died a hero. Garrosh went from an orc in the darkness of depression to an orc desperately trying to live up to his father's reputation.

Thrall took Grom's son to Azeroth. He introduced Garrosh to the idea of the new Horde. He tried to show him the ways of diplomacy and negotiation. And Garrosh didn't really understand the ideals that Thrall was trying to teach him. How could he? He was an orc of Draenor, an orc raised in the ideals and thinking of old. To Garrosh, the life of an orc had always been simple -- show your power, show your strength, and the world will shower you with glory and affection. Live in weakness, and the world will walk all over you.

Garrosh seethed under Thrall's influence, rather than being molded by it. And that led to the challenge just before Wrath's launch in which Garrosh finally stepped up and pointed out that Thrall was no real Warchief at all. The match was interrupted by the arrival of the Lich King's heralds -- but still, Garrosh had a point, from his perspective -- the perspective of an orc who hadn't been born into slavery and raised by human hands.

Garrosh Hellscream led the march into Northrend, and he led his forces in the way an orc of the old ways should -- by conquering wherever possible and never showing an ounce of weakness. The Kor'kron guard fought with ruthless and brutal efficiency guided by Garrosh's orders. In the end they were victorious, and the Lich King fell. Garrosh returned a hero, having led the Horde to victory, and the Horde embraced him wholeheartedly as a result.

Like father, like son

But here's the thing -- there's a curious sort of similarity between the story of Garrosh so far and the story of his father. The common factor in both of these stories is Thrall. Grom drank the blood of Mannoroth and spent a chunk of his life hiding in the forests of the Eastern Kingdoms, regretting his actions and the fate of the orcs, doomed to live in internment camps. Garrosh spent most of his youth in Garadar, glumly living in the shadow of his father's sins, waiting for the inevitable day when Greatmother Geyah passed on and the Mag'har simply faded away.

For both, the arrival of Thrall was a mixed blessing. Grom didn't know anything about Thrall. He found it odd Thrall couldn't speak more than a word or two of orcish, but something about Thrall inspired Grom to move on and brought back the heart and passion he'd lost after the Second War. As for Garrosh, Thrall's arrival showed him quite literally that his father was a hero, and that he didn't have a shadow to live under; instead, he had a hero to live up to. For both, it was an awakening.

And when Grom traveled to Kalimdor, acknowledging Thrall as his new Warchief, he fell back to his old way of thinking, trying his hardest to bring honor and glory to the Horde no matter what the cost. Thrall gave him explicit orders to leave the humans alone, but Grom went ahead and murdered a camp of humans in Stonetalon anyway, largely because he didn't understand how Thrall's peaceful thinking could get the orcs anywhere in the world. And when sent on a menial task as punishment, Grom instead found himself faced once more with the choice of drinking the blood of a demon or retreating and bringing shame to himself and to the new Horde. And there was no way a Hellscream was going to live with the shame of defeat.

Garrosh traveled with Thrall to Azeroth, and just as his father before him, rankled under the strange ways of Thrall's ideology. He watched the orcs of the new Horde; he listened to their tales, their doubts of Thrall's adequacy as a leader, of his inaction, of his strange ways of diplomacy. And Garrosh wasn't about to let the orcs, new Horde or old, live in shame. He challenged Thrall, and instead of winning or losing the fight, he found himself shipped to Northrend to lead.

That's where Garrosh flourished. He led the orcs the best he could, just as his father had. He led them in the same fashion that Grom led the forces of the new Horde into the forests of Ashenvale, determined to prove that he would bring honor and glory to the Horde and show Thrall that his ways were strange and quite possibly wrong. Warchief Thrall did the unthinkable at this point -- he agreed with Garrosh. Not only did he agree, he stepped down and gave Garrosh the mantle of Warchief, expecting him to lead the Horde in his absence.

And just as Grom traveled with Thrall to put an end to Mannoroth and save the Horde from the fel corruption it had brought upon itself for good, Garrosh took the position of Warchief and led the Horde in a manner that would bring them prosperity and plenitude, no matter what the cost. Both Garrosh and Grom had moments in which they demonstrated honor and mercy; both were fully aware of these basic tenets of orc philosophy, but neither ceased in their relentless task.

The mantle of Warchief is Garrosh's Mannoroth. Think about that for a moment.

The folly of Thrall

In between all of this is Thrall, inexorably locked to his fate just as Grom was to his and Garrosh is to his own. In Garrosh, Thrall saw his old friend, the hotheaded orc who had a moment of very real regret for his actions, the orc who spoke with ferocity and bluster but underneath it all keenly regretted the decisions he'd made. When Thrall brought Garrosh to Azeroth, he wasn't just bringing him out of some wish to see him grow or out of some debt to his father. Thrall was trying, in his own way, to change history.

Thrall looked at Grom as an older brother, one who had fallen into darkness, and Thrall led patiently back into the light. But the path Thrall paved for Grom didn't work out, and Thrall likely thought the majority of that was to do with the demonic blood that still taints the orcs of Azeroth today. Grom died, and a little part of Thrall died with him. In Garrosh, Thrall saw a second chance, a chance to change the fate of the Hellscream line for the better. So he brought Garrosh to Orgrimmar to show him the ways of the new Horde, and he expected Garrosh to fall into line and accept his strange way of thinking.

Because to the orcs of the old world, the orcs of Draenor, the orcs born in a time before the internment camps, Thrall's way of thinking is very strange. When Thrall stepped down as Warchief, it was partially to explore his roots as a shaman -- but there was likely a part of him that realized perhaps Grom was right, way back when. Perhaps Grom was correct in his line of reasoning. Perhaps the Horde weren't meant for that ideal vision of the world that Thrall so desperately wanted to bring into being. Perhaps it wasn't ready for it.

Garrosh was put in charge partially because he was a war hero, but it's also extremely likely that this was Thrall's way of trying to make amends with his old friend, to see what would have happened if that path taken by Grom had been different, and to give Hellscream a chance to flourish and thrive, instead of locking him down and sending him on a menial task as punishment. That punishment led to Grom's demise, and I don't think Thrall was about to let it happen again.

But what Thrall failed to realize was that Grom and Garrosh are cut from the same cloth. They are Hellscream; they are mighty warriors of the old ways. They were both born and bred thinking that power and strength was the only way to survive in the world -- and in the world of the old Horde, this was absolutely true. Garrosh isn't corrupted by demon blood as his father was, but he is and always will be corrupted by the idea of absolute power ultimately deciding his place in the world. He will do anything to remain on top. He will do anything to bring his idea of honor and glory to the Horde.

The only shred of hope remaining for Garrosh is that not once has it been deliberately stated that he will die. Check the interviews. It is always very carefully stated that Garrosh is taken down, but never once does the word death enter the picture. Perhaps Garrosh can be redeemed, just like his father -- but unlike his father, perhaps Garrosh can live on, with better understanding of what it means to be a Hellscream and what it means to be Horde in this new age.

The story of Grom Hellscream was one of the most poignant and vivid moments of Warcraft III. His death was one of honor, despite the transgressions of his life. The story of Garrosh Hellscream has been slowly developing over the course of three expansions, and it has just as much depth, if not more, than the story of his father. In the end, one can only wait to see how this plays out -- and wonder, if Garrosh had been left in Garadar, if he had not been brought to Azeroth, what his life might have been.

For more information on the people, places and history mentioned here, check out other Know Your Lore columns, 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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