Know Your Lore: The fate of Garrosh Hellscream

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.

In a recent edition of The Queue, one of our readers asked a question regarding the fate of Garrosh Hellscream in patch 5.4. It was a question that many players have actually been asking ever since Garrosh's fate was revealed. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I won't mention that fate here, but be forewarned that this edition of Know Your Lore is chock full of spoilers for patch 5.4 that discuss the situation in full.

Garrosh Hellscream's journey began as leader-in-training for a remote, tiny village in Outland. Clouded with shame over his father's misdeeds, Garrosh was listless, depressed, and convinced that he was destined to lead his people down the same dark path that his father had. In the years following his introduction, Garrosh has discovered his father's heroic sacrifice, strove to live up to his name, eagerly sought to strengthen the Horde, and then promptly fulfilled his own sad vision of the future, leading his "True Horde" down a path of darkness that eerily echoed the familiar refrain of the Old Horde from so long ago.

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!

The Trial of Hellscream

Many players were confused, shocked, irritated, or -- in some cases like my own -- delighted that Garrosh Hellscream did not in fact die at the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar. While Thrall made a move that suggested he was about to smash in the dethroned Warchief's head, he was stopped from doing so by none other than King Varian Wrynn. Varian pointed out that Garrosh's punishment was not solely for the Horde to decide. Garrosh Hellscream didn't just shatter the Hord -- in fact, that was pretty much the smallest thing in the list of horrible things Garrosh did over the course of his reign.

And of course Varian was right. Garrosh Hellscream put into motion the actions that wiped out Theramore and everyone in it, including several high-ranking members of the Alliance armies and the leader of the Kirin Tor. Baine tried to warn Jaina of the impending attack, and he was successful -- she managed to gather enough allies to fend off the Horde armies. But what she didn't know, and what Baine didn't know, was that Hellscream had another plan all along -- the mana bomb. It's entirely possible Hellscream knew that Baine would send a warning. In fact, Garrosh may have been counting on just that.

Taran Zhu's suggestion was a good one, and one that made perfect sense. Garrosh did more to wreck the continent of Pandaria than anyone else, Alliance or Horde. His foolhardy insistence upon trying to harness the power of the mogu, and later still, the Old Gods, brought nothing but ruin to the continent and the pandaren living upon it -- and Hellscream didn't seem to care. Not one whit. He flat-out murdered the protectors of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms by excavating the heart of Y'shaarj and plunking it in the waters of the Vale. He didn't bother staying behind to survey the wreckage, instead taking the heart and its powers to Orgrimmar, to be used at his disposal.

In this case, it's clear that of all of the atrocities Garrosh committed, he hit Pandaria the hardest. He fractured the Horde, he completely flattened one Alliance outpost, and he went on to wreak the most damage to Pandaria itself. It makes perfect sense, then, for Garrosh to be taken to trial in Pandaria, to stand for his crimes. But some aren't quite so happy about Garrosh's fate.

Know Your Lore The fate of Garrosh Hellscream

Garrosh dies

Let's say, just for the sake of postulating scenarios, that Garrosh Hellscream died. After the final battle in the Siege of Orgrimmar, Thrall's hammer fell and Hellscream's head was splattered on the pavement. What would happen, in that scenario? The one thing that caused both Alliance and Horde to unite, albeit briefly and only for the sake of convenience, would be gone. If Garrosh had died, what would Varian then do? Would he have taken Jaina's words to heart and tried to murder the rest of the Horde leaders in Hellscream's throne room?

I don't think so. I think that Varian of all people at this point in his life would realize that killing the Horde leaders would make the Alliance no better than the monsters they professed the Horde to be. Baine, Vol'jin, and the other leaders standing in that throne room obviously didn't approve or stand behind Hellscream's actions -- if they had, they wouldn't have been working so eagerly to take him down. Were the other leaders blameless? Absolutely not -- certainly not Sylvanas, whose actions in the Eastern Kingdoms have been questionable to put it mildly. And it took an awfully long time for Vol'jin, Baine, and Lor'themar to get enough people together to do anything.

But killing the leaders of the Horde wouldn't shatter the Horde. If anything, it would cause the remnants of the Horde to band together even more tightly. As it stands, the Horde may have pulled together to put an end to Hellscream, but it's currently standing on shaky ground with a freshly appointed leader -- one who had been leader for all of five seconds before Varian was demanding to speak to him -- and no direction at all. If Hellscream died, the Horde would have no focus for their hatred. If the rest of the Horde leaders were killed by Varian and his compatriots, the Horde would suddenly have a brand new target to focus all that hatred on.

If Garrosh Hellscream had died, the Horde would no longer have had anything to put that focus towards. Their story, such as it was, would end in the interim, while they figured out what to do next. As for the Alliance, they would have been robbed of a satisfactory conclusion to their storyline. Not only would Garrosh be dead, but he'd be dead at the hands of Thrall, and the Alliance would've had no say in the matter at all. That's equally unsatisfying. The pandaren would have had no input, no say at all regarding the fate of one of the greatest criminals ever to walk the continent -- again, an unsatisfying end.

Cyclical storytelling

In an ongoing story like that told in an MMO, there's always a continuing cycle of events, conflict and resolution that never ceases. It can't end -- if it did, there'd be no further reason to play the game. Because of this, stories in most MMO's follow the same familiar pattern: A villain is introduced who has some sort of terrible plan that poses a threat to the world. Players must band together and kill the villain before his evil schemes come to fruition. Once he is dealt with, another villain invariably arises from the woodwork and announces his horrible plans for global domination. Rinse and repeat.

There are two big issues with this endless cycle of killing villains. The first is that the longer you continue down that cycle, the more you run the risk of the story becoming repetitive and stale. In WoW, Illidan posed a threat, so we banded together and killed him. Kael'thas presented a threat, so we banded together and killed him. The Lich King posed a threat, so we banded together and killed him. Deathwing posed a threat, so -- you know how this ends -- we banded together and killed him.

The second issue with killing a villain is that once you kill that villain, his or her story comes to an end. You can't use them in any further content. Think about it -- what did we do after we finished everything in Outland? We went home and never thought about the place again. The same applies to Northrend and the new Cataclysm areas in Azeroth. We simply don't think about them anymore, because they no longer matter. The threat was addressed, and those areas ceased to be of any importance.

So what happens, then, if you leave that villain alive? All of a sudden, everything that character has done in his lifespan is still relevant, and will continue being relevant. And that leaves several different story threads open -- we don't just get to go home and forget about Garrosh Hellscream. The Alliance and Horde have to deal with the fallout, because the evidence of those crimes committed is still alive and breathing. More importantly, you have the story of the villain himself. Will he atone for his crimes and somehow redeem himself? Or will he be driven to further depths of depravity?

These are, of course, all technical reasons why it's far more interesting to leave Garrosh Hellscream alive. But there's one more major reason Hellscream should not have died in the Siege of Orgrimmar. It's a big one.

Know Your Lore The fate of Garrosh Hellscream

Crime and punishment

Orcs have an interesting view of society, dating all the way back to their shamanistic roots on Draenor. They follow a societal philosophy of honor -- in some ways, it's similar to the Klingons of Star Trek. Strength is everything. Weakness isn't to be tolerated, as illustrated in a quote from Rise of the Horde.

Kargath had recoiled when Garrosh started spitting up blood, and he continued to back away now. "No. They are no warriors." Disgust and despair added venom to his words. "They are not even orcs anymore -- they are useless." He glared at Geyah, at Garrosh, and at the other villagers behind them.

"You pathetic weaklings!" he snarled, raising his voice as best he could. "Do the Horde a favor and die here! If you can't help defend your people, you have no right to live!"

Garrosh Hellscream grew up thinking he was less than nothing -- a weakling destined to lead the Mag'har down the same path of darkness that his father willingly agreed to. His outlook on life was dramatically changed when Thrall arrived and informed Garrosh that his father was, in fact, a hero. He stood against Mannoroth and slew the beast, freeing the orcish race from their servitude and lifting the blood haze that had tainted the orcs for generations. He sacrificed his life to save his kind, and died a hero's death in return.

That's the thing about orcs -- death doesn't faze them at all. In fact, dying an honorable death is one of those things that orcs look forward to. For the strongest of orc warriors, there is no fear in battle. There is victory, or there is death. "Lok'tar ogar! Victory or death - it is these words that bind me to the Horde. For they are the most sacred and fundamental of truths to any warrior of the Horde." Honor itself is another thing held in high regard.

And if Thrall had actually lowered the Doomhammer and slain Hellscream, Garrosh would have gotten exactly what he wanted: An honorable death. He fought as viciously as he could, using every resource at his disposal, and still lost to his enemy. Victory or death -- Garrosh was not the victor, and therefore should have died. Swiftly and mercifully. Varian may or may not have known this, but what he did was prevent Thrall from giving Garrosh any kind of reprieve for what he'd done.

Death would have been honorable. Garrosh Hellscream does not deserve that honor. He deserves to be put on trial, deserves to live a long life in whatever prison the Alliance, pandaren and Horde deem suitable. Because denying a warrior an honorable death, forcing him to live in shame for his actions, slapped with the label of traitor, murderer, the screams of those innocent lives he ground to a halt forever lingering in his ears is the worst punishment one could give to an orc like Garrosh Hellscream.

Allowing Garrosh to die would be a mercy, and he doesn't deserve that mercy. He deserves to live on in shame and dishonor. He deserves to be reminded of what he's done. He deserves to go to sleep at night with nightmares of battles lost flashing before his eyes, to wake up in the morning and damn every breath he takes, knowing full well that when, at last, his life ends, it will not be with honor. It will not be with dignity. The name Hellscream, once lifted into infamy by the heroics of his father will now be blackened, tainted in history for all time -- because Garrosh Hellscream did not live the honorable life of a warrior.

While some may disagree with the decision to keep Garrosh Hellscream alive, it leaves the door wide open for future storylines involving Hellscream. Will Garrosh ever realize that his actions were wrong? Will he atone and try to restore the name of Hellscream to its former glory? Or will he crawl inside of himself and remain there, bitter, angry, filled with hatred and fury for those that could have ended his existence, and instead chose to sentence him to live with dishonor? It's an interesting question, and an interesting look at the life of a villain -- a viewpoint we rarely get to see.

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.