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Know Your Lore: State of the Horde, 2012

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 good to be Horde. All over the world of Azeroth, the Horde is conquering new territory, claiming new land and expanding far, far beyond the few holdings it had in vanilla World of Warcraft. Back then, the Horde merely eked out an existence, defending small outposts where it could. Sylvanas and her Forsaken stayed by and large in Tirisfal Glades, with a tiny outpost in Silverpine and a slightly larger one in Hillsbrad Foothills. The tauren stayed largely confined to Mulgore, with a few settlements to the south and southeast. The trolls took refuge in Orgrimmar, with no real land to call their own save one tiny village on the coast and another small outpost in Stranglethorn Vale.

Now, the Horde is branching out in a major way. Sylvanas has dominated the forests of Silverpine and the rolling farmlands of Hillsbrad and is working her way east through the Western Plaguelands. The trolls have taken back the Echo Isles, and the orcs of Orgimmar are claiming new land to the north and the east, moving in a tidal wave of barbaric conquering. The Horde is flush with the glorious victories in Northrend, eagerly seeking more territory. In Cataclysm, it's very, very good to be Horde.

Or so popular opinion states.

The aftermath of Wrath

Wrath of the Lich King wasn't just an expansion about the Lich King and his defeat; it was also very much a jumping-off point for the current struggles between Horde and Alliance. The return of a fiery and temperamental King Varian Wrynn signaled a departure from the tentative peace held between the two factions. Well, maybe not peace so much as a mutual, grudging sort of respect. In vanilla, the Horde's actions were by and large restricted to attacking foes that the Alliance didn't particularly care for, either.

This was all under the leadership of Warchief Thrall, whose ideal world was one in which the Alliance and Horde could coexist without needless aggression. But that ideal world was just that -- an ideal. The reality of the situation is that tensions between the two factions may die down every now and again, but they are an ever-present ember that refuses to die. And all it takes is one pivotal moment, one spark, for that ember to roar back into a full-fledged blaze.

That spark was Garrosh Hellscream. Though older than Thrall in years, he seemed far younger emotionally, spending his days gloomily watching Greatmother Geyah grow weaker and weaker, convinced that the Mag'thar would cease to exist under his leadership. When Thrall arrived and showed Garrosh the heroic death of his father, Garrosh took a sharp turn from being ashamed of his heritage to being ridiculously proud of it, to the point that he was willing to argue with Thrall over his ways of leadership.

And that blaze was ignited the moment Garrosh and Thrall first exchanged sharp words. Garrosh challenged Thrall to a duel, yes. And in response, when the duel was interrupted, the Warchief sent Hellscream to Northrend to temper the troops out there into an army that could bring down the Lich King. And that's exactly what Hellscream did, to the delight of the orcs of the old ways. He led with brutal efficiency, emphatically making a stamp in Northrend's icy shores and paving the way to a victorious trip home.

At every turn of his journey in Northrend, Garrosh continued to question Thrall -- his beliefs, his strange choice in allies, his odd desire for peace. Garrosh pointed a finger at Thrall's way of thinking and without mincing words, said, "This is wrong. This is not how an orc should behave." And that seed of thought planted in Thrall's mind, combined with the exuberant reception of Garrosh's triumphant return to Orgrimmar, led to Thrall's choice to take his leave. It wasn't the only reason, but it had a large part in his departure.

Garrosh Hellscream didn't initially want that leadership role, but once it had been given, he took it and held it close to his heart. Convinced he could lead the orcs in the way that his father had so many years ago, convinced that his victories in Northrend could be turned into victories all across Azeroth, Garrosh has led the Horde down a path of total domination. The Horde war machine rolls mightily over Kalimdor and leaves nothing in its wake.

Yet the Horde war machine is curiously absent of races other than orc.

The fractured path of Cataclysm

Though the orcs of the Horde are well treated, the other races of the Horde are not treated nearly as kindly. Garrosh seethed when Vol'jin thought to question his authority, exchanging enough heated words with the troll leader that Vol'jin simply took his Darkspear brethren and left, leaving only a small contingent behind in Orgrimmar. And though Thrall may have pled with Vol'jin to give Garrosh a chance, Garrosh is not proving himself capable as far as the trolls are concerned.

In Orgrimmar, the orcs have players steal rice from the trolls who have stayed behind, deliberately depleting their resources in an effort to feed the Horde forces. Any troll caught trying to steal back their supplies is brutally murdered, again at player hands. This subtle subterfuge plays on both sides. When Vol'jin sought help in the fight against the Zandalar, he did not approach Garrosh for it. Instead, he placed a troll in the Valley of Spirits, among those of his kind who stayed behind. And this was enough to stay under Garrosh's radar -- a hint that the warchief pays little to no attention to the trolls of the Horde.

And then we have the goblins, the latest of the Horde's allies. However, they are treated less like allies and more like useful tools for the Horde war machine's disposal. Stuck in another isolated corner of Orgrimmar, the goblins work to create weapons and vehicles, new technological innovations for the Horde to use in their quest to conquer the land. As with the trolls, the goblin's supplies are stolen as well, and the same fate is meted to any goblin that tries to steal the supplies back again: death.

The blood elves may have a contingent in Garrosh's chambers, but it is a tiny handful of representatives that seems to be present only to remind Garrosh that the sin'dorei exist. As for the Forsaken, none are to be seen. They have been relegated to the Eastern Kingdoms, and for all the shining new buildings in Orgrimmar, the Forsaken don't seem to have a place at all. Garrosh makes no bones about his dislike for the Forsaken, and only one pitful representative is allowed in his chambers, along with her two bodyguards.

For the Banshee Queen's part, Sylvanas has clashed with the new warchief on more than one occasion. And every step of the way, she sweetly reassures Garrosh that she only has his best interests in mind -- until his back is turned. Once his attention is pulled elsewhere, Sylvanas Windrunner does exactly what she pleases, when she pleases to do it. This includes actively using the plague that was expressly forbidden by Garrosh. Her acidic dislike for the brute is made blatantly clear on more than one occasion.

As for the tauren, the tauren are struggling -- and struggling greatly. The loss of Camp Taurajo and the upsurge of Alliance activity in The Barrens has led to the tauren retreating into Mulgore, closing off the way into the lush valley by a giant gate that is under constant patrol and watch. Baine Bloodhoof is trying to lead in the footsteps of his father, but every conversation with Garrosh invariably turns into a discussion of what the tauren can do for the Horde rather than what the Horde can do for the tauren. And as a relatively young leader, Baine hasn't figured out what to do about that yet.

The current state of the Horde

While by all outward appearances it seems as though the Horde has an upper hand, in truth, it is on the brink of crumbling into dust. For all of Garrosh's bravado, his unwillingness to depend on his allies or heed their advice, wisdom, or words of caution is slowly coming back to haunt him. It may not be blatantly evident just yet, but the warning signs are there, and they are only growing brighter by the day. The Horde may be on the winning side at the moment, but there are few who are actually celebrating the victory. Instead, most are looking at the current Warchief with a mixture of contempt and disgust -- and in the case of orcs, with more than a little fear.

The wrath of Hellscream is something to be feared, after all. If you cross his path, he will put an end to you without a second thought. If you deign to say something derogatory about his leadership, he will not hesitate to put you in your place. If the negative thoughts you hold for the warchief ever reach Garrosh's ears, you will pay the price for supposed treason and treachery.

The Horde may appear to be a strong, capable war machine, but in reality, it is simply being propelled forward with no real motivating force behind it. There is less and less pride in being a member of the Horde and more of a wary capitulation about it. The Horde may seem strong, but it is not standing as a wholly united front. While the facade may look like a force of domination, the foundation is teetering. All it would take is one swift push, and the entirety of it would fall squarely on Garrosh's head.

The question is whether not not Garrosh Hellscream is aware of this. Are his orders and bluster and threats because he feels this is the best way to make the various races of the Horde cater to his whims? Or are they because somewhere, deep down inside, Garrosh knows that things aren't going according to plan? That he is determined to lead the Horde as he led the troops in Northrend, or because he is slowly coming to realize that while running troops in Northrend was something he was very good at, running a united nation of various races is something far more difficult?

And as we head into Mists of Pandaria, the Horde's future is growing far more dim. Garrosh appears to be intent on not only conquering any land he can get his hands on but crushing the Alliance as well. Meanwhile, the various races of the Horde are suffering and continue to suffer while he turns a blind eye. It may seem like a very good thing to be Horde from an outsider's perspective -- but from the inside, while it may be good to be Horde, there is no longer any pride in it.

Next week, we'll take a look at the Alliance perspective. What have the Alliance been up to, where are they standing in Cataclysm, and where will they go in Mists? The answers and potential are frankly quite intriguing.

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.

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