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.
Spoiler warning: There are spoilers for the novel Wolfheart in this post, as well as brief spoilers for Mists of Pandaria.
Lore and story writing can be an incredibly tricky thing. The trickiness is only amplified when you're dealing with a story as large as that of Warcraft. This is a universe that spans four original games and six expansions from 1994 until now. In other words, if Warcraft were a baby when it was born, it'd be a legal adult this year -- pretty crazy to think about. What's even crazier is trying to keep track of the myriad convoluted storylines that have come to pass since Orcs and Humans was released.
As of right now, we know that Cataclysm introduced a lot of different lore threads that have not and will not be resolved by Cataclysm's end. And we also know that there is plenty of new lore coming up in Mists of Pandaria. But as new lore, Mists doesn't really address those threads left behind in Cataclysm, at least not in the first iteration of the new expansion. This may change as patches are added later on down the road -- or we may be on our way to setting up for a shift in story that Mists needs to bridge.
So why don't we take a little peek at those stories left unaddressed and try to sort out what is yet to come?
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 what is to come as a result. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.
The machinations of Wrathion
For a new character, Wrathion has been very busy, and he'll continue to get busier in Mists of Pandaria. Wrathion's motives during the rogue legendary quest chain were pretty cut and dry -- escape the clutches of the Red Dragonflight, take care of any remaining pesky black dragons that might want to try and take him out, and retire to live in blissful solitude. It's a pretty strong set of goals for a dragon who's fresh out of the egg, but he has a definitive purpose when going about his business. Wrathion simply wants to be left alone -- end of story.
Except it's not the end of the story at all. Wrathion is alive and well and hardly far from the rest of the world. He's sitting in the Tavern of the Mists and apparently offering a new quest chain for players over the course of the Mists expansion. In datamined voice files, Wrathion speaks of an upcoming conflict far larger than the petty battles between Alliance and Horde and suggests that an end must come to the violence, so that our efforts can be turned toward this much darker enemy. That sounds like an incredibly sensible idea, when you think about it.
But there's an issue with this. Wrathion is a black dragon -- and black dragons have never been concerned with the fate of the world. In addition, Wrathion spent the entirety of the rogue legendary quest chain speaking volumes about how he'd love to simply be left alone. What happened in between his departure after the legendaries were obtained and his appearance in Mists? Something must have changed his mind and done so in a significant way. For a dragon obsessed with solitude, he seems to be pretty willing to chat with everyone in Pandaria.
The far larger issue, however, lies in the fact that yes, Wrathion is a black dragon -- but he's a type of black dragon we've never dealt with before. He's uncorrupted by the taint that bled through the rest of the black dragonflight, supposedly free from the madness caused by the Old Gods. This seems like a good thing, but think about it -- we've never dealt with an uncorrupted black dragon before. We have no idea what they think about, what their motives really are, whether they have the best of the world in mind like the rest of the dragonflights or whether they are thinking of some far more sinister purpose.
And that uncertainty makes Wrathion's journey all the more fascinating. By draconic standards, Wrathion is still just a child, yet the words he speaks and the realizations he's come to sound incredibly mature. Just what is this black dragon up to? Is he telling the truth when he says there is something far more dangerous just down the road, or is he playing the Alliance and Horde like puppets, testing to see how far we'll go, how much he can get away with?
Azshara's mysterious disappearance
Azshara, Light of Lights, was the former leader of the kaldorei nation and a spellcaster whose power rivals that of Archimonde and Sargeras. After the War of the Ancients, Azshara and her court were swept under the sea, transformed into naga by the will of the Old Gods in exchange for unending servitude. Azshara made an appearance in Cataclysm, but the appearance was brief; she was merely serving as a diversion from Hyjal, something to keep Malfurion Stormrage occupied while Ragnaros and his minions wreaked havoc over the lands surrounding the fragile regrowth of the World Tree.
But that was it. One brief, tiny appearance in Darkshore, and the Light of Lights vanished. We have bested Illidan and Kil'jaeden, taken down the Lich King, and put an end to Deathwing's plans to ruin the world for his masters -- yet Azshara may well be just as powerful if not more so than any of these creatures. And while we have put an end to Deathwing, we have not entirely dealt with the Old Gods who used the former Earthwarder as a puppet for their plans, whatever those plans may be.
Deathwing made it a point to ally with both Al'Akir and Ragnaros. It wasn't because he thought the elemental lords were incredibly cool; it was because the Old Gods decided it would be best to work with their former lieutenants. Yet Deathwing didn't approach Neptulon. There was no way that he could do so. Dragons aren't particularly effective underwater, after all. Instead, it was the naga who were sent to do the bidding of the Old Gods, who also sent their minions to assist Azshara's people in their quest to overthrow the elemental lord of the oceans.
Yet Azshara is incredibly clever. We know this, and we know she is incredibly powerful. The transformation of the Old Gods in exchange for Azshara's servitude may have been given in earnest -- or Azshara may be working on her own plans under the nose of her masters. Regardless of this, Neptulon has vanished, whisked away by Ozumat in the Throne of the Tides, and we've no idea where he's been taken.
That means that the Old Gods have an elemental lord in their pocket who still hasn't been used. It also means that Azshara and her people are unofficially the rulers of the oceans -- which was the plan all along. Whether it was the plan of the Old Gods or the plan of Azshara remains to be seen. But wouldn't it be interesting if the rest of Azeroth were suddenly stuck in the middle of a war between the Old Gods and arguably one of the most powerful, cunning sorceresses in the world?
The riddle of Maiev Shadowsong
Maiev Shadowsong had one purpose in her life: to guard Illidan Stormrage and prevent his escape. When Illidan was freed by Tyrande, Maeiv pursued him like a fevered bloodhound from one end of Azeroth to the other. And when Illidan jumped ship to Outland, Maiev followed. For years, Maiev was imprisoned in a dungeon near the Black Temple, and for years, Maiev plotted her revenge. Illidan wasn't just a criminal who tried to kill her brother. He was a remnant of the wretched Highborne that followed Azshara like lapdogs. He was a reminder of everything that nearly ruined the kaldorei race during the War of the Ancients. Proud, arrogant and incredibly powerful, Illidan wasn't just her enemy -- he was prey.
In The Burning Crusade, Illidan met his end at Maiev's hand. But his choice last words cut Maiev to the core: "The huntress is nothing without the hunt. You are nothing without me." It was ultimately a statement born of pure truth, and Maiev realized in that moment that her life had been nothing but the hunt. Now that Illidan was dead, there was no purpose to her existence. For one so hell-bent on revenge, Maiev was now nothing more than an empty shell.
And so it was up to Maiev to find a purpose again. She chose to return to Darnassus and train a new contingent of Watchers, and Tyrande agreed to allow her to do so. But Maiev still burned inside. The path that the kaldorei had chosen was not one that Maiev thought suitable for her race. Maiev came from an era that reviled arcane magic, an era where the kaldorei lived in solitude, and the notion that the night elves willingly agreed to join with the Alliance didn't sit well with her.
But the breaking point was the moment that Tyrande and Malfurion chose to allow members of the Shen'dralar, the Highborne, into Darnassus, and allowed them to teach arcane magic. This was blasphemy as far as Maiev was concerned. It was an invitation to return to the days of old, the temptations of old, a willing invitation to the Burning Legion that would mirror the disaster of the Sundering. Maiev wasn't about to put up with that, nor was she about to put up with the sudden arrival of the worgen, who were an inferior race of mongrels as far as she was concerned.
And so Maiev set things up and let the dominos fall. She systematically framed the worgen for the murder of the Highborne, all the while committing the murders herself. And this led up to her final plan, the execution of Malfurion Stormrage. To Maiev, Malfurion was simply an echo of his twin brother, and his acceptance of the Highborne was all the proof she needed. Malfurion was not fit to lead the kaldorei as far as she was concerned, and that acceptance was nothing more than treason in her eyes.
Maiev's plans were thwarted by her brother Jarod, but Maiev escaped. Her whereabouts are currently unknown. Maiev is now a wild card, and her motives are incredibly clear. She will do anything to preserve her ideal vision of the kaldorei, and anything that comes between the kaldorei and that vision must be eliminated. This leaves a world of possibilities for Maiev Shadowsong and almost guarantees that we will see her again at some point. Whether this is in game or in another novel, who knows?
The many faces of Sylvanas Windrunner
Sylvanas is a contentious character. People either love her or love to hate her. In that aspect, she almost rivals Garrosh for being a character people love to talk about. Sylvanas' actions in Cataclysm clearly show that she has only the best interests of her people in mind -- in her eyes, the survival of the Forsaken is key. Nothing is more important to Sylvanas than her people, and there are those who question whether her devotion to her people outweighs her loyalty to the Horde.
It's certainly a point of interest, given what we've seen Sylvanas do so far. She's allied with the val'kyr, former servants of the Lich King, and she's made it a point to expand her borders as far across the Eastern Kingdoms as she can. When Sylvanas and her Forsaken forces took Andorhal, they also took Koltira Deathweaver, ushering him somewhere to the depths of the Undercity. It was implied that he would be transformed into a much more willing servant of the Horde -- or the Forsaken, judging from Sylvanas' motives.
Sylvanas was supposedly pushing into Gilneas at the behest of the Horde, but judging from her efforts elsewhere, Gilneas may not be a step for the Horde at all. Rather, it may be simply another point on the map for the forsaken to claim. Sylvanas and the Forsaken were bent on vengeance throughout the entirety of World of Warcraft. She and her people achieved their vengeance in Wrath of the Lich King. Now, Sylvanas seems just as single-mindedly devoted on securing a future for the Forsaken as she was on the Lich King's demise.
Is Sylvanas really up to no good? Or is she simply incredibly misunderstood? Is she actually serious about her people's place in the Horde, or has Garrosh's rise to power made the choice to focus on the Forsaken, rather than the good of the Horde as a whole, an easier one to make? While we may not see any additional developments or revamps to Cataclysm content in Mists of Pandaria, who knows what will happen in future expansions? It's entirely possible we'll see something with her in the future -- and given her popularity, it's almost a guarantee.
There are dozens more plot threads, villains, motives and tangles of story that have yet to be unraveled; these are merely a handful of possibilities. And Mists of Pandaria is opening up an entirely new set of questions to be answered, with implications that are astonishing and affect the entirety of Azeroth. Whether we address a few of the myriad issues left over from Cataclysm's end or dive head first into an entirely new lore, it's incredibly clear that Warcraft's still got plenty of story left to tell.
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.