Know Your Lore: The future of the Horde

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 been an interesting couple of expansions for the Horde. Cataclysm saw Warchief Thrall step down from the leadership role that players were accustomed to, and appoint Garrosh Hellscream as Warchief in his stead. Mists of Pandaria saw Hellscream take that leadership role to an extreme that resulted in all-out war between Alliance and Horde, with the pandaren and the continent of Pandaria unceremoniously chucked into the middle of it all. Hellscream's reign has been brought to an end in patch 5.4 -- but where does this leave the Horde?

Warchief Hellscream's notorious visions of a new future ended up dividing the Horde, and his caustic treatment of the non-orc races drove a wedge into the faction that ultimately culminated in the events of 5.4. The end of his stint as Warchief brought about a new leader ... but what comes after the dust has settled? Will the Horde recover from the damage done by Hellscream? And what does the future of the Horde hold, now that Hellscream's reign is over?

Please note: There are spoilers for patch 5.4 immediately following the break. If you are avoiding spoiler content for the Siege of Orgrimmar, run away!

Know Your Lore The future of the Horde

A new Warchief

The new Warchief of the Horde has been revealed, and the leader of the Darkspear now speaks for the entirety of the Horde as well. Considering Vol'jin's efforts in pulling together the shattered remnants of the Horde races, as well as Vol'jin's views of what the Horde is really meant to be, this shouldn't be a surprise to players that have been following along with the story. Vol'jin's campaign wasn't born solely out of the need for revenge or any kind of unnatural bloodlust -- it was born out of the desire to see the Horde return to what it was meant to be.

It was that desire that brought about the Darkspear Rebellion, and that desire that ultimately united every other race against Garrosh Hellscream. Say what you will about the assorted races of the Horde, but despite their vast differences in opinion, they will come together when necessary. They've proven that time and time again, in Outland, in Northrend, during the Cataclysm, and now. Although these races don't necessarily share the same beliefs or outlook on the future, they are willing to put those differences aside, when necessary to do so.

It's what Thrall envisioned when he brought the Horde together in Kalimdor. Originally, it was simply a way to unite the orcs of the internment camps into one cohesive unit that would return to the old ways of the orcs. That original vision evolved as more races were added to the Horde, each with their own beliefs and goals, but willing to put any differences aside and work together. As Vol'jin put it in patch 5.3, the Horde is a family -- and when the whole world tries to put them down, the family comes to pick them back up.

Now isn't that just the biggest load of bull you've ever heard in your life?

Know Your Lore The future of the Horde

Thrall's Horde

This is what Thrall's Horde was in reality: A group of assorted motley races brought together for the noble purpose of survival that remained by and large completely stagnant for years. What did Thrall do during his glorious reign as Warchief? Well, he brought a bunch of different races together, races that all shared one thing -- the rest of the world was pretty much out to get them. The Forsaken had nobody, the Darkspear were summarily booted out of Stranglethorn Vale years ago, the tauren were a group of nomads that spent much of their time under siege by the centaur. When the blood elves joined the Horde, it was because they literally had no allies left.

In other words, these people were all brought together because they had nowhere else to turn. And once they were brought together, they by and large did nothing at all over the course of the next several years. They united when they had to -- against the Old Gods, against the Burning Legion -- but when they weren't fighting as a united front against some force of terrible darkness, they did little to nothing at all. Thrall spent his time as Warchief desperately trying to forge some kind of diplomatic agreement with the Alliance -- and did little for his people in the meantime, as illustrated in the short story Garrosh Hellscream: Heart of War.

"Ha!" she snarled. "Let me ask you this, Hellscream: have you really seen this city? Yes, the marketplace overflows. But where does it come from? Where are the farms in Durotar?"

Garrosh narrowed his eyes. He knew there were a few on the outskirts of Orgrimmar, but they raised mostly swine and certainly brought no harvest of grain or fruit.

"Exactly!" she continued. "There are none. All we have is hauled in from miles away." She glared at the bag where she stored her net. "Or what we can wrest from the desert. As for safety!" She laughed. "The Alliance encroaches farther into our land daily. If you can call this red rock 'land' anyway! To the north is Ashenvale Forest, full of everything we could ever need, but did we settle there? No! Instead we live in a desert! So tell me, Hellscream, why would the good warchief, who loves his people so, condemn us to this wasteland when just up the river there is far more bounty? He is either corrupt or incompetent, or both, and you seem to fit right in!"

This was the reign of Warchief Thrall. A reign in which the Warchief was so wrapped up in the idea of a united world, of Alliance and Horde working together, that he was unwilling to do anything that might step on the toes of those potential new allies. Is it any wonder that the Horde never really made any kind of significant move, any kind of progress throughout vanilla, Burning Crusade and Wrath? It took Thrall stepping down and another Warchief stepping up to force any kind of significant movement or land grab.

Garrosh Hellscream was not a good Warchief. He not only divided the Horde, but he blatantly ruined any hesitant steps Thrall may have made toward diplomacy. He deliberately wrecked the city of the one Alliance ally the Horde may have had -- and from the looks of things in the final Siege of Orgrimmar cinematic, that relationship will never be repaired. Any bit of diplomatic good Thrall may have done during his tenure of Warchief simply doesn't exist anymore -- Hellscream took care of that. But -- and this is a big but -- Hellscream did more towards getting the Horde land and resources in his short-lived span as Warchief than Thrall ever did in the entirety of his reign.

But Hellscream isn't a factor anymore. Instead, we have Vol'jin. And I have to ask, was the leader of the Darkspear really a good choice for that role?

Know Your Lore The future of the Horde


Here's the thing about Vol'jin -- he may have united the disparate races of the Horde. He may have brought them together and shot them like an arrow at the heart of Orgrimmar, the heart of Garrosh Hellscream. But one shining moment of unity does not a good Warchief make. Need proof? Look at Thrall -- he escaped the internment camps, freed the rest of the orcs, put an end to their imprisonment and brought together a new Horde. That act, that one, simple, selfless act of salvation was enough to make him a ridiculously popular Warchief ... for a time.

And once the glow of freedom granted had faded, once the dust had settled and the Horde had time to look around, they began to realize that Thrall's Horde, while idealistic and "good," truthfully held little promise for them at all. It's why Krenna is so bitter -- certainly her people were freed, but what came after freedom? Nothing. Nothing but the dirt and rocks of Orgrimmar, the possession of a parched, dry land that bore barely enough for anyone to survive on. Why did the orcs rally around Garrosh Hellscream? Because he was doing something.

Know Your Lore The future of the Horde

Vol'jin has been leader of the Darkspear for years, but what has he actually done with that leadership role? The trolls successfully made the move to Kalimdor, but the betrayal of Zalazane sent the trolls away from the islands they had hoped to call home. Some settled in a tiny coastal village, the rest settled in Orgrimmar, where they sat. Stagnant. Again. As for Vol'jin, he spent his time in Grommash Hold, supposedly advising Thrall. It took years for him to finally launch an attack against Zalazane. Luckily, the attack was a success.

After that attack, Vol'jin promptly got into an argument with the new Warchief that escalated to the point that Vol'jin threatened Hellscream's life. Vol'jin retreated to Darkspear Isle, and gathered the rest of the Darkspear around him. Unsure of what to do, he consulted with Thrall -- who asked the Darkspear leader to give Hellscream a chance. And that was enough for Vol'jin to simply roll over and do nothing as far as Hellscream was concerned.

Certainly he stood up to the Zandalari. He even asked both Horde and Alliance for their assistance in ending the Zandalari threat. But as far as Hellscream was concerned, Vol'jin was a non-entity -- and he remained as such until Hellscream got wind of Vol'jin's ardent disapproval, and sought to have him assassinated. Let's be clear, here: It took an attempt on Vol'jin's life for the troll leader to finally step up and do something about a ego-maniacal warlord whose blatant racism and favoritism was ripping the Horde apart.

Warchief Vol'jin

And this is why I worry, and why I look at the future of the Horde with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Vol'jin may have united the Horde and booted out Hellscream -- but what comes next in Vol'jin's reign? Are we going to see a return to the stagnant rule of Thrall, in which the Horde essentially does nothing but try to make amends and make friends with the Alliance again? King Varian Wrynn may be many things, but he is not and never will be an idiot -- and it will likely be a cold day in hell before he even considers trusting anyone in the Horde ever again. As for Jaina Proudmoore, it seems the Horde can cross her off the list of potential allies -- Hellscream ruined any friendly feelings she may have had for the Horde.

I don't really expect Vol'jin to try and make friends, to be honest. He seems to be of the opinion that the Horde and Alliance don't really need to like each other in order to co-exist. He does acknowledge that the two may need to work together from time to time, but they don't necessarily need to like each other in order to do it. It's a solid viewpoint on Alliance and Horde tensions, and it's slightly better than Thrall's ever-optimistic view of an Azeroth in which we all hold hands and sing. But is it really enough to rule the Horde?

The problem here isn't Vol'jin. He's a strong character with strong ideals and a compelling vision, even if that vision was introduced only recently. The problem is that question that lingers at the end of any war -- what now? What is the Horde going to do now? When the dust dies down from the war, when Garrosh is put to trial and his sentence doled out, when the Horde begins to mend the wounds that Hellscream wrought, what exactly is Vol'jin going to do with them? Vol'jin may be many things, but he's not a warmonger -- and honestly, when one really looks at Vol'jin's life, he's not exactly the most capable leader in the world, either.

Know Your Lore The future of the Horde

United in theory

Is Vol'jin going to look at what Sylvanas has done in the Eastern Kingdoms lately? Is he going to call her to task for her actions? Is a troll really going to embrace the blood elves as potential allies? Will Vol'jin do anything about the remnants of the Grimtotem? Are the tauren going to do anything, now that Hellscream's reign is over and the grieving for Cairne has subsided? Will Vol'jin reach out to the goblins and pandaren, new allies gathered under Hellscream's reign? Is Vol'jin going to do anything about the mess that the Horde has made of Pandaria?

The Horde may stand supposedly united at the moment, but there are far too many plot threads left unaddressed, threads that weren't answered during Hellscream's reign. Is Vol'jin really capable of addressing those threads and doing something going forward, or is he merely going to sit back and let the Horde do what it wants to, until someone else tries to make an attempt on his life? Is he going to lean on Thrall and ask him what to do, or is he going to stand up and actually do something about the lack of basic resources that had Krenna, and many others, so very, very bitter during Thrall's reign?

On the other hand ... is Vol'jin actually the new Warchief? In a Korean interview with Lead Systems Designer Greg Street and Technical Director Marco Koegler, it was revealed that Garrosh would not be replaced at the end of 5.4 as expected. Yet the cinematic we saw clearly shows Vol'jin taking that leadership role. Which is correct, here? Is Vol'jin really the new Warchief of the Horde -- or was he simply placed in that role for now, until a more suitable replacement can be found? That long look exchanged between Thrall and Varian seems to imply there is more to be said about the appointment of Vol'jin than what was actually stated flat-out.

Although Vol'jin feels like the right choice for leader in theory, was he really the right choice after all? Was he simply given the title so that the Horde wouldn't appear to be leaderless to the Alliance that were standing right there, demanding to talk to the leader of the Horde? Was he chosen because he was fit for the role, or was he chosen because there simply was no other choice that could be made, at that moment? Either way, it's going to be interesting to see what the future holds for the Horde. I hope it's not a stagnant future -- that the Horde actually has something to look forward to, a new purpose to fulfill, now that Hellscream's reign is over.

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.