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Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: The secret of Pandaria

Anne Stickney

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.
"It's just possible that the curious race we're going to meet in this mystic land, may just teach us a thing or two about who we are, and why we fight." -- Chris Metzen, BlizzCon 2011
What do we know about Mists of Pandaria? We've been told that the major conflict highlighted in this expansion will be between Alliance and Horde. We've also been told that this will be one of the bloodiest wars since the days of Warcraft II. We've been told that there will be consequences for our actions, and we were told when the expansion was announced at BlizzCon that the pandaren have something to teach us. So what's up with that? And what's up with the crazy map making a reappearance?

That's the funny thing -- it's all interconnected, possibly. Today we're going on a Tinfoil Hat trip through Mists of Pandaria to talk about my favorite crazy map, some theories on Azeroth, and why exactly Garrosh needs to be removed.

Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition, meaning the following is a look into what has gone before with pure speculation on how it happened and what is to come as a result. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.

The genesis of Azeroth

Remember the last time that crazy map made an appearance? It was in yet another Tinfoil Hat Edition, discussing the genesis of Azeroth and the strange relationship between the works of Lovecraft and the creation of the world our characters happily live on. In Genesis of Azeroth, I talked about the Old Gods and their wish to reap chaos and madness.

It's been stated that we cannot kill the Old Gods; it would mean destroying Azeroth itself. This is because the Old Gods have somehow integrated themselves with Azeroth -- or, as I speculated in Genesis of Azeroth, because Azeroth itself is the point in space and time where chaos originates, much like Azathoth in the Lovecraft mythos. The world Azeroth isn't really a world -- it's Azeroth's prison, and destroying the Old Gods would set Azeroth free and unleash the chaos upon the cosmos.

I also talked about the best way to contain chaos. The conclusion wasn't more fighting -- it was balance, the sort of balance that the pandaren aspire to in their lives. At this point, we didn't have much to go on with Mists of Pandaria, other than the small bits of information we were given at BlizzCon. But now that we have the beta, and now that we've seen a small sampling of what the pandaren are all about, I think that the theory needs to be modified.

We aren't just mortals. There's something extraordinary about us all. There's a reason why we fight, and there's a reason why the balance of power shifts back and forth from side to side, and there's definitely something the pandaren have to teach us. Because in their wisdom, they know far more than we do about the world. Let's take a different look at that star.


Well now, that's a little uncanny, isn't it?

The Wu Xing and the balance of the world

The images above are examples of the Wu Xing, or the Five Elements. If you've been in the Mists beta, you may recognize some of the words used for the various elements. But Five Elements is the common translation to English -- they're more commonly known as the Five Phases, the Five Agents, Five Movements, or Five Stages.

More importantly, according to the theories behind the Wu Xing, the structure of the cosmos itself mirrors the five phases. Each phase represents different aspects of nature, and all of these phases interact with each other to create a balance or order. These phases don't work together in perfect harmony; what they do is work with and against each other. The elements mutually generate and consume each other, and each element has the ability to keep another in check. It's a delicate balance.

The moment one element begins to dominate or one disappears is the moment that leads to a vicious cycle of consumption and eventual chaos. Warcraft is a mish-mash of different concepts, cleverly woven together to tell an overall story. While the term Wu Xing isn't mentioned directly in Mists, we still see evidence of it here and there. The Huojin, the Tushui, the Temple of the Five Dawns -- it all lends itself back to the Wu Xing. Now why would that be, and what does the Wu Xing have to do with the crazy star map that may reference Old Gods that reference Lovecraft?

Chaos, order, and balance

What if the two correlate to each other in a specific way? Let's look at the Aspects. Each represents a different part of the world -- time, nature, life, magic, earth. Five aspects, possibly five Old Gods, five dawns which may or may not correlate to five elements. Five is a magic number, apparently.

The titans supposedly created Azeroth and made order out of chaos -- but the titans and their constructs have a funny way of talking. Whenever a titan construct babbles about Azeroth, it speaks of it and of us as almost a science experiment, using incredibly technical language to describe what's going on. So maybe we are a science experiment -- or maybe we are the prison. The mortals of Azeroth are the balance, holding chaos at bay.

What we do on the world of Azeroth -- every fight, every triumph, every loss -- it all ties into that cycle of balance that keeps the world ticking, much like the Wu Xing. Only it's not just keeping the world ticking; it's attributing balance to combat the chaos that the Old Gods want more than anything to unleash. We are keeping them in check, and it's not by battling with them -- it's by the simple nature of our existence. We are just as much a part of the Old Gods' prison as the earth beneath our feet. The Aspects were put into place to see that we flourished -- and oh, how we did.

Speaking of the Aspects, look at what happened when one of them, Deathwing, fell out of the cycle. It created an opening for the Old Gods to work their way in and mess with the Aspects. Once all Aspects united and defeated Deathwing, the powers they held faded away, their purpose complete. The Aspects were there to shape us and show us that balance needed to be upheld at all cost, and by defeating Deathwing, they achieved that purpose. The mortals of Azeroth are now free to uphold the balance that must be in place to keep the Old Gods in check. Sort of. See, there's one small, minor problem with this.

The orcs aren't mortals of Azeroth. They are not in Azeroth's programming.

Why Garrosh Hellscream has to go

The moment the orcs stepped on Azeroth, that's when all hell really started to break loose. What if Draenor was another of these titan experiments? What if Draenor was meant to be in balance as well? Look what happened when outsiders arrived. The draenei showed up, and suddenly the Burning Legion took a very keen interest in the world. Enough that they started messing with the balance of it and sent the orcs to Azeroth.

And that was the moment that Draenor began to crumble. The balance shifted, and one side clearly began to dominate over all others -- so much so that the world ripped itself apart as a result of that race's actions. It tore itself into chunks and went spinning off into the Twisting Nether. Outland is a cautionary tale of what happens when that balance is thrown into disarray. So we have the orcs on Azeroth now, yet Azeroth was pretty OK for awhile there, wasn't it? Sure, C'thun reared his ugly head, but it wasn't this mass sea of destruction. But then, of course, the Horde was being led by Thrall and his strange theories of peace.

Maybe Thrall's theories weren't just theories. Because Thrall was born on Azeroth. Like it or not, he's a native of the planet, and as a native of the planet, the planet seeped into his existence. His theories seem odd to the orcs of Draenor, and that's largely attributed to the fact that he was raised by humans -- but what if it wasn't just his weird upbringing? What if Thrall were the first attempt by Azeroth to integrate these strange green beasts from another world into the cycle? Except ... Thrall's not in charge anymore, is he?

Instead, we have Garrosh Hellscream, a native of Draenor, an orc of the old ways, and an orc who has no concept of balance or the natural give and take of the world. Garrosh is focused entirely on domination, and he is forging the Horde into a dominating force that, if unchecked, will throw the world into a state of chaos the likes of which hasn't been seen since Draenor's destruction.

And that is why Garrosh has to go. Not because he is corrupted, not because he has been possessed, not because he's suddenly a gigantic villain. No, it's because Garrosh and his actions are the crowbar that is forcing apart the natural balance of the world. When Garrosh stepped into power, it was so that Thrall could go on his journey of self-discovery and try to fix the damage that had been wrought by Deathwing's emergence. Thrall was under the impression that Garrosh was the kind of leader that the orcs needed -- and he couldn't have been more wrong.

Cycles, viruses and programming

When the orcs first arrived on Azeroth, they ravaged the land, conquering anything in their path. It wasn't until the mortals of Azeroth banded together into that first Alliance that the orcs were finally pushed back. Funny, mortals of Azeroth banding together to bring order and balance back into the world. Sounds a lot like what's going on in Cataclysm, doesn't it? How about we look at this from a more analytical, titan-esque fashion.

The orcs that arrived on Azeroth were like a virus corrupting Azeroth's matrix, that balance that was needed to keep the chaos at bay and keep Azeroth functioning normally. In order to combat the virus, the various mortals of the world banded together and beat the thing into submission -- at which point, Azeroth's programming quietly took over and shut the virus down. That was the point that the orcs experienced that strange lethargy. It wasn't just the disconnect from the fel energy that ran in their veins. It was Azeroth politely shooting the virus with a tranq dart while it processed this information and decided on a course of action.

The program had been compromised. And the only way to keep the program running smoothly was to find a way to integrate that virus into the program itself. So here we have Thrall, conveniently born on Azeroth and therefore a native of the world and far more susceptible to Azeroth's programming. Thrall was raised by humans. It wasn't a kind upbringing, but he learned about honor, about mercy, and about all of the things native orcs from Draenor didn't know about. Everything he learned was very deliberate.

Thrall escaped with the help of another of Azeroth's natives, and his immediate action after that was to seek out his own kind. This was Thrall, the antivirus, being sent to infiltrate the orcs and integrate them into Azeroth's matrix in any way possible. Thrall wasn't just a leader because he rescued the orcs -- he became Warchief because Azeroth needed him in that position, in order to hopefully teach the orcs the ways of the world and how to behave properly within the confines of the matrix.

What Azeroth didn't count on was the other mortal races of the matrix being staunchly against this integration. But Thrall was doing his job as planned until he got a taste of the world his kind originated from. Azeroth didn't account for that in its programming, nor did it account for what Thrall brought back with him -- another native of Draenor. And that native did what any good virus does and corrupted Thrall into thinking he was incompetent and unfit to lead.

So Thrall left -- but his journey was a journey taken with the Aspects, and he learned about balance first-hand. He took the place of the Earthwarder, temporarily, and assisted in bringing balance back to the world. Upon witnessing Deathwing's defeat, the Aspects stepped back to let the mortals of the world run the show. After all, Thrall was obviously meant for this balance thing, just as planned.

Except Thrall no longer leads the Horde -- and now, the virus is running rampant again. And so, quite logically, the mortals of Azeroth have to come together and bring that virus back into control, just like they did back in Warcraft II. And it's not going to go away without a fight.

The secret of Pandaria

This is what the pandaren have to teach us: our role in the world, and our role in Azeroth's matrix. They have stories of the Sha, they even have prophecies of the Sha's return. Why the pandaren enshrouded their island in mist is at this point an unknown. Perhaps they were simply removed from the equation so that Azeroth had time to let the other mortal races reach the same level of enlightenment that the pandaren already possessed. But the pandaren know, intimately, that balance is the best course of action and that interrupting that balance leads to chaos unchecked.

Does this mean that Alliance and Horde are meant to skip together holding hands for all eternity? Oh, heck no. There will always be fighting. There have to be bouts of fighting, and there have to be moments of peace. The pandaren may represent the wake-up call the orcish race needs to shed some light and understanding into the curious back and forth that creates balance and order in the natural world. Once we learn of this balance, once we learn why we are here, then we can address the other horrors the universe has to offer. Then we stand a chance against the Burning Legion's armies.

And then, maybe, finally, we'll be prepared to face the deepest horrors that only Sargeras can unleash.

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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