Know Your Lore: Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|04.08.13

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Know Your Lore: Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties
Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties
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.
"Why?" a voice asked. Vol'jin felt the voice in his bones; it rumbled inside him. "Why you lead our people to subjugation? Surely it be better to fight alone an' proud, to die alone an' proud." "No," Vol'jin said, thinking it through. "De Darkspears should always be free an' proud. But we got to be alive to be free. If we dead, we lost. Better to bide our time, to endure. We be an ancient race, mon, and we endure."
Vol'jin may have been abruptly thrown into the role of leader for the Darkspear tribe, but that doesn't mean he wasn't prepared for it. The leader of the Darkspear is far more clever than one would think. And although he readily agreed to think over what Thrall had said regarding Garrosh Hellscream, it seems in Mists of Pandaria that the conclusion he's come to is that while Thrall's intentions may have been good, the placement of Garrosh as Warchief of the Horde was an error ... one that needs to be corrected.

All around Azeroth, the Horde is crumbling to pieces, and the blame lies on the actions of Garrosh Hellscream. Yet how can Vol'jin justify turning his back on the Horde, leading the Darkspear into the unknown? How can Vol'jin justify his actions in Cataclysm, Mists, and the upcoming release of patch 5.3?

Please note: Today's Know Your Lore contains some brief spoilers for patch 5.3 content. If you're trying to avoid spoilers, you may want to turn away.

Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties

Loyalty, Honor and the Horde

The Darkspear were at one point one of the smallest troll tribes left on Azeroth. Cast out of Stranglethorn by the other tribes, the Darkspear relocated to a remote set of islands off the coast. But the years have changed, and with them, the balance of the troll populations. The Darkspear are likely no longer one of the smallest tribes on Azeroth, simply because both Alliance and Horde have been murdering various other tribes for so long that they are dying out. This is what the Zandalari have been sensing, this is partially why the Zandalari sought to unite all the troll tribes way back in patch 4.2.

And the Darkspear tribe would have been extinct at this point in history, were it not for Thrall. His fortuitous arrival on the Darkspear islands was something that Sen'jin saw in advance. So too, did Sen'jin see his death -- and he sent his son, Vol'jin, on a vision quest before Thrall's arrival. Sen'jin knew his days were numbered, and he knew his son would have to take over, and in order to do that, his son had to be prepared for the years to come. But that vision quest wasn't just to learn how to be a shadow hunter, how to speak with the loa. It was a test that Vol'jin passed with flying colors.

When he returned from his quest, Vol'jin not only knew immediately that his father had passed, but he knew what it meant to be a leader. He knew, through a series of visions growing dimmer in his mind by the second, that Thrall was someone who could be trusted. The Darkspear needed to endure, to survive, and the only real way to accomplish that goal was to trust Thrall and join the Horde. Yes, there was some part of it that lay in gratitude, but the larger part of it was this: Vol'jin wanted to do what was best for his people, and the loa had guided him to that path.

This is the Horde that Vol'jin allied himself and his tribe with. A ragtag, motley group of orcs on the path to their destiny ... a future that was destined to be entwined with the Darkspear, according to the loa. For good or ill, the two races were bound together by fate.

Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties

Garrosh Hellscream

That's where the events of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria come into play, because they have a lot of players scratching their heads. Why would the leader of the Darkspear turn his back on that very same Horde that saved his entire tribe from certain catastrophe? Because the Horde of today is not the same Horde that Thrall so eagerly led down the path to destiny so many years ago. The simple fact of the matter is that Thrall respected Vol'jin, sought his advice and opinion on many matters. He understood where Vol'jin had come from, having shared a variation of that past.

Both Vol'jin and Thrall rose to leadership by leading their people to salvation. For Thrall, it was earned by freeing the orcs from imprisonment and uniting them under one banner. For Vol'jin, it was an inherited title, but his people were no less desperate for guidance -- the Sea Witch posed too large of a threat to be ignored, and the death of his father required that he step up and take his place. Both Vol'jin and Thrall were new leaders, unsure and uncertain of where that destiny would lead, but willing to take a chance nonetheless.

And both understood the futility of endless fighting. Both understood that sometimes, for the greater good, it is necessary to work with the enemy in order to defeat what is at hand. Both held a great deal of respect for their allies -- not just the orcs, but later the tauren as well. Even though the motives of the Forsaken were misguided at best, Thrall saw the greater good in having allies in the Eastern Kingdoms. When the blood elves sought to join the Horde, Thrall welcomed them, once they had proven their worth -- because they were worthy, in Thrall's eyes. And because of this, they were worthy in Vol'jin's eyes as well.

Enter Garrosh Hellscream, and Thrall's peculiar choice to grant him the title of Warchief. It is entirely likely that Vol'jin understood why Thrall had to leave -- the Darkspear held just as many shaman as the orcs, and they knew the chaos of the elements was something that had to be immediately addressed. But Garrosh, despite his background of leadership, was no leader. He even protested this himself, when Thrall offered him the position. And Garrosh was certainly no diplomat -- his treatment of the other races of the Horde was downright insulting. There was no respect held for those that Thrall had deemed as worthy allies, unless they were of orcish blood.

Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties

Vol'jin's choice

When Vol'jin's belief in the Horde crumbled, he didn't immediately shutter the Darkspear away and leave -- he turned to Thrall. Why? Because Thrall, until that point, had shown nothing but wisdom. In Vol'jin's mind, it was inconceivable that Thrall could make such a poor error in judgment. And in that conversation between Thrall and Vol'jin, played out on Sen'jin Isle, Thrall reassured the Darkspear leader. He emphasized the importance of what the people wanted -- that the Horde wasn't just made up of its leaders, it was made up of the people standing behind them. And those people wanted Garrosh Hellscream.

Yes, Vol'jin told Thrall he would think it over, but he never, not once said that he agreed with Thrall's decision. The underlying reasons held truth, of course -- being a leader isn't just a matter of decreeing when, where, and how your people are to behave, it's about listening to your people and making sure that they have what they want, and what they need. But was the choice a correct one to make? Was Garrosh Hellscream a good replacement? As time went on, that answer became clearer and clearer to all involved.

In Tides of War, Vol'jin leads the Darkspear to march on Northwatch Hold. Is he proud of the Horde's actions? No. Do Garrosh's moves make sense to Vol'jin? No. Then why would he lead his people in a vicious and unprovoked attack on an Alliance settlement? Because, much like Lor'themar, Vol'jin had little choice in the matter. Word was getting around that Garrosh had allied with the Blackrock, and that those Blackrock orcs were doing their best to quash any ill words spoken of the Warchief ... usually by putting any dissenters to death.

Could Vol'jin have stood up and spoken out? Why yes, he very well could have -- but it would have ended, much like the Mists scenario, with a dagger in Vol'jin's back. Instead, Vol'jin did what he had to do. Because as he said to the loa in his vision quest so many years before, the Darkspear needed to be alive to be free. Dead, they were lost. The tribe had to endure and live on, and the only way to accomplish that goal was to carry out what Garrosh had ordered.

But it didn't mean that Vol'jin had to like it. And it didn't mean Baine had to like it, either. Baine and Vol'jin were in much the same straits -- both leaders of a small band of people who would be helpless if their leaders suddenly died with no one to replace them. Baine knew this, and it was why he too carried out Garrosh's orders -- for protesting those orders would cost the tauren race far too much in return for a few choice words.

Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties

When loyalty dies

"I brought de Darkspears here to protect our bodies," he said. "We live to fight another day. But that just our bodies. One thing the Darkspears can't lose, loa, we can't ever lose, is our soul. The Darkspears have a soul, and if we stay with this orc, do his bidding, we lose our soul. And there be no comin' back from that."

Vol'jin continued to pledge his loyalty to the Horde. Not Garrosh Hellscream, but the Horde -- the idea of the Horde, the ideals that both he and Thrall agreed upon. But if there is anyone on Azeroth who understands, intimately, what is currently happening within the Horde, it is Vol'jin. He came from a history in which the Gurubashi Empire abruptly crumbled due to tribes unwilling to work together. Tales of that struggle have doubtless been passed on from Darkspear to Darkspear for generations, and will continue to be told for generations to come.

The very state of the Darkspear, the size of the Darkspear, the current whereabouts of the Darkspear and the reason the Darkspear allied with the Horde in the first place is because of events being mirrored right now. Tribes united in one grand Empire, suddenly fighting amongst themselves as one tried to grab far more power than it could conceivably hold. Vol'jin knows what Garrosh is doing, and he knows what the end result of those actions will be, if nothing is done to stop him. He's seen this tale play out before.

This is why Vol'jin finally said enough is enough. He hit the breaking point and finally realized just how bad it had gotten when that poisoned dagger plunged into his body. Should he have done something sooner? Yes, absolutely yes. But there was one thing holding him back from doing so, and it was something so incredibly important that it took an assassination attempt to finally shake him into admitting what he simply didn't want to admit to himself.

Thrall was wrong.

The savior that had led the Darkspear to their destiny was not a savior. He was not infallible. He was not incapable of making errors in judgment. Vol'jin respected Thrall, trusted Thrall, and Thrall let him down. And it nearly killed Vol'jin to admit it, but no matter how much he trusted the former Warchief's judgment, no matter how much hope he held in his heart that Thrall would return ... it was not going to happen. The Horde was destined to fall apart, crushed underneath the feet of Hellscream.

Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties

The rebellion

Vol'jin has been walking a tightrope since Cataclysm and playing a very dangerous game. He followed Hellscream's orders to the letter, and nothing more -- but he made it very clear that he didn't trust Garrosh, and that Hellscream had done nothing to earn his respect. In return for that declaration, Hellscream continued to berate and belittle the Darkspear, expecting obedience rather than trying to earn Vol'jin's respect. And that was likely the hardest pill for Vol'jin to swallow, because it was Vol'jin's oldest friend who handed the title of Warchief to this creature that without doubt did not deserve it.

It's not the first time Vol'jin's been betrayed by a friend. In the days prior to his father's death, Vol'jin was sent on a vision quest to learn the ways of the shadow hunter and the loa -- but he did not make that journey alone. His closest, most trusted friend came along with him, a witch doctor named Zalazane. And just as the loa fortold, Zalazane eventually turned on his brother in all but blood, corrupting the Darkspear and using dark magics with wild abandon until his fall in patch 3.3.5.

In patch 4.1, Vol'jin decided to walk that tightrope a little further. When the Zandalari threatened to revive the Zandalari Empire, Vol'jin walked away, refusing to join in Zul's plans. Instead, he sought out allies in both Horde and Alliance, discreetly placing an emissary in the Valley of Spirits and away from Hellscream's eyes. As for the Alliance, he sent an emissary with a few small boats, making it clear that this was not an attack, but a plea for help. Neither were mentioned to Hellscream -- especially not the Alliance involvement.

Know Your Lore Vol'jin and conflicted loyalties
It's this action that likely had a major hand in what's to come in patch 5.3. The Alliance have been watching the Horde closely, and they can see what's going on. Varian tried unsuccessfully to ally with the blood elves, but the situation in Dalaran put a damper on that possibility. The next logical leap would invariably be to reach out to the one leader who not so long ago, reached out to the Alliance -- Vol'jin. And this time, Vol'jin agrees to the alliance.

Because Vol'jin has decided to do what absolutely, without question must be done. The Horde is falling apart. Once united by Thrall, it is crumbling to pieces under Hellscream's watchful eyes. In order to survive, in order to endure, the Horde must do what the Darkspear did, so many years ago -- find allies, band together and seek a destiny of freedom from suffering under one united banner. It is blatantly clear that despite how much Vol'jin wishes to the contrary, Thrall will not be making a return, and that leaves this onerous task squarely on Vol'jin's shoulders.

Vol'jin is not turning his back on the Horde. He's not pulling the Darkspear away, as he threatened to do in his brief conversation with Thrall -- that would be a coward's task. Instead, Vol'jin is embracing the Horde in all that it is, all parts, all races, all those who embrace honor, all those who are currently afraid to make a stand and state out loud, "This is wrong." And if that means working hand in hand with the Alliance for now, so be it.

Vol'jin is and always will be loyal to the Horde. And under the watchful eyes of the shadow hunter, the Horde will rise again.

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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