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.
As the expansion rolls on, we are lurching towards something that we've known was coming since the beta for Mists of Pandaria -- Garrosh Hellscream's downfall and the Siege of Orgrimmar. Yet what we didn't know that day that were were informed of the expansions focus, is just how the new Warchief's reign would end. And as the patches have continued to roll out, we have more of an idea and a solid picture of both the Alliance and the Horde's place in this conflict. Make no mistake, Hellscream has made far too many enemies in his short reign, both within and without.
Yet there are those who point out Garrosh's actions and the possibility that his actions may not be under his control. That perhaps he's been corrupted by the Sha while searching for power in Pandaria. Or perhaps the bones of Mannoroth that Garrosh uses as his throne still have some vestige of darkness that lingers within. Or that perhaps the Old Gods have been slowly leeching their influence into Garrosh. Regardless of the methods behind it, there are plenty of people all wondering the same thing -- is Garrosh Hellscream corrupt? Are we going to fight the Warchief, only to discover a far greater horror waiting for us?
Let's make one thing absolutely clear -- Garrosh Hellscream did not want the job of Warchief. In fact, when Thrall first offered him the position in The Shattering, Garrosh almost immediately pointed out that he was unsuitable for the job.
"I understand battle, yes," he said. "Tactics, how to rally troops -- these things I know. Let me serve that way. Find me a foe to face and defeat, and you will see how proudly I will continue to serve the Horde. But I know nothing of politics, of ... of ruling. I would rather have a sword in my fist than a scroll!" -- The Shattering
Although Garrosh had many years under his belt as the supposed leader of the Mag'har in Nagrand, he really wasn't much of a leader at all, as players who leveled through the zone soon discovered. In fact, he spent most of his time in Garadar actively avoiding making any leadership decisions, terrified that he would lead the Mag'har to their doom just as certainly as his father had drank the blood of Mannoroth and paved the way for the corruption of the orcish race back before the First War.
Thrall may have shown Garrosh the error of his assumptions regarding his father's deeds, but he didn't show Garrosh how to be a proper leader. He didn't even let Garrosh attempt to take that responsibility -- instead, he brought Garrosh to Azeroth and made him an advisor. Garrosh then demonstrated he wasn't fit to lead several times over the course of his stay in Orgrimmar. But he tried, at least, to understand. In the short story Heart of War, Garrosh heard first-hand from those that were pleased to see him, and those that were not. He also heard first-hand from those that were neither content nor particularly happy with Thrall's reign as Warchief. And he took those conversations and blew them up, challenging Thrall to a duel for leadership of the Horde.
Keep in mind that the reasons for that Mak'Gora were utterly superficial at best. When the Lich King's minions attacked Orgrimmar, Hellscream demanded that troops be sent to Northrend immediately. But Thrall pointed out that this was likely a trap -- that sending in soldiers blindly would be a poor idea at best. He wanted to send scouts to assess the situation before sending in an army that might just find itself murdered and brought back as agents of the Scourge.
It was a smart tactic. What would've happened, had the Kor'kron and Orgrimmar's strongest been immediately turned to Scourge upon arriving on Northrend's shores? The Lich King would have had whatever army he gathered in Northrend, and the mightiest that the Horde had to offer. But Thrall went one step too far when he reminded Garrosh all-too-sharply about the cost his father had paid for walking blindly into a situation. That's when Garrosh challenged him to the duel. Because Thrall had the utter gall to insult his father.
While it's likely that Thrall would have swept the floor with Hellscream, the assault on Orgrimmar interrupted that particular duel. And Thrall, understanding that the situation was far more dire than he'd originally assessed, decided to send those troops to Northrend, because it was clear that the situation needed to be immediately handled. He sent Garrosh to the north, because Garrosh was frothing at the mouth to lead something, anything, by this point in time. It wouldn't do to keep Hellscream in Orgrimmar where he would continue to argue with any decision Thrall made -- it was high time Hellscream went north and made some decisions of his own.
So here is Garrosh Hellscream, in that leadership role he so desperately craved. What did he witness, and what did he do? As to the latter, he conquered. Plain and simple. The Horde stomped across Northrend and decimated any Scourge they happened to find. But Garrosh also witnessed some very important, key things during his time in Northrend that later affected every decision he has made since that point in time -- things that colored his perception of the other Horde races in a significant fashion.
The actions of the Forsaken in Northrend gave Garrosh a very clear view of their place in the Horde. Although the events at the Wrathgate and the subsequent coup and Undercity takeover were, according to Sylvanas, completely out of her hands, what Garrosh saw in these actions were that the Forsaken, regardless of their power, were weak. They faltered from within. They were willing to commit horrifically evil acts, and they were willing to turn on each other in the process. They were even willing to turn on their leader. To Garrosh, this showed two things: Sylvanas had very little control over her people, and the Forsaken could not be trusted for any reason.
The actions of the blood elves were equally enlightening. In the short story In the Shadow of the Sun, it's made blatantly apparent to the reader that the sin'dorei don't really have much to offer from a military standpoint. They are still struggling with trying to recover from the decimation of Quel'Thalas in the Third War, as well as the further atrocities committed by Kael'Thas during The Burning Crusade. They simply don't have the manpower or the strength to fully contribute to the war effort in Northrend, and Lor'themar knows it -- yet Sylvanas pressures him into sending troops regardless. The troops that Lor'themar had to send were a pittance, at best, but he had to send them, lest Sylvanas pull her support entirely and his race simply crumple and die out.
Garrosh Hellscream didn't know any of this. Keep in mind that his knowledge of Azeroth's history is limited at best -- he didn't know about the Third War. He didn't know about the current state of Silvermoon, nor the precarious alliance between sin'dorei and Forsaken. All he knew was this: In one of the most horrific wars he'd ever witnessed, the sin'dorei that were sent to help were hardly a help at all. It was a smattering of support, with soldiers that weren't really demonstrative of any kind of strength. To Garrosh, this demonstrated that either the sin'dorei were simply weak and useless, or that they were deliberately sending the smallest showing possible to demonstrate their lack of respect.
And then we have the Darkspear. The Darkspear are a relatively small tribe to begin with. Vol'jin's efforts were concentrated on reclaiming the Echo Isles. Did he send soldiers to Northrend? Yes, absolutely. But the selection of trolls was small. Not because Vol'jin had no respect for the Horde, but because Vol'jin simply didn't have that many soldiers to offer to begin with. And while Thrall understood the importance of taking back the Echo Isles, Garrosh did not. He didn't know the history of the Darkspear. He didn't know that the reason Sen'jin Village was so small, the reason the Darkspear were taking shelter in Orgrimmar, was because a witch doctor, a former friend and ally, was merrily practicing dark voodoo and picking off whatever Darkspear he could get his hands on.
What Garrosh Hellscream witnessed was this: Out of all of the assorted races of the Horde, only the tauren offered any kind of large-scale assistance without flinching. Only the tauren offered enough able bodies to make a difference. Only the tauren demonstrated not only strength, but the loyalty and trust that the situation so desperately required. Not only were the tauren strong, but their relatives, the taunka, were also strong -- and readily willing to swear themselves to the Horde as allies.
These are the lessons Garrosh Hellscream took from Northrend. This is the picture, however cloudy, however uninformed, that he had in his mind of the current state of the Horde. And this was the story in his head as Thrall made him Warchief and said, here. Take my people. Show them the right way to follow. Lead them in the old ways. Lead them to triumph, and honor.
Given this, is it any wonder that Garrosh has acted in the manner that he's demonstrated through the course of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria?
Clashes in reasoning
When Garrosh Hellscream stepped into that role of Warchief, he had little respect for Vol'jin right off the bat. Part of this was due to his observations in Northrend, made utterly clear when Thrall appointed Garrosh as Warchief in Grommash Hold.
Thrall: You know that these are troubling times for the Horde. Our supplies dwindle. Our lands are barren. Our warriors are in need of rest. These are tasks that must be addressed for the good of the Horde. Vol'jin: Da people be happy with our success in Northrend. Garrosh Hellscream: "Our" success? Troll, you played no part in the Horde's victories in Northrend. While I led our warriors against the Lich King, you merely took back a few scattered islands. Vol'jin: Watch yourself, young one. You don't- Eitrigg: Garrosh! Vol'jin! Hold your tongues. There are larger issues at stake. Vol'jin: Forgive my outburst. Warchief, please, continue.
In that moment, Vol'jin established what Garrosh would assume for the next two expansions -- that Vol'jin had no real knowledge of what had happened in Northrend, and more importantly, that Vol'jin had no real understanding of the struggles the Horde was facing in terms of limited supplies and land. Thrall pointed out what Garrosh had heard from others in Heart of War, and Vol'jin seemed quick to dismiss it. Vol'jin was, in fact, pointing out that Garrosh had done a good job in Northrend -- but all Garrosh could see was an opening volley in critiquing Thrall's wisdom, and he wasn't about to stand for that.
And it simply went downhill from there. Garrosh Hellscream spent the next two expansions attempting to unite the Horde, with disastrous results. He viewed the tauren as strong allies, but Cairne made a fateful error in judgment when he assumed that a vicious attack on a peaceful summit between Horde and Alliance druids in Ashenvale was ordered by Hellscream. It wasn't. It was a trick by the Twilight Cult. Cairne's assumption led to a Mak'Gora, and Cairne agreed to make it a duel to the death. Did Cairne know Magatha would poison Garrosh's blade? No, not until it was far too late.
But the resultant fallout from Cairne's death put a pall on anything Hellscream could have hoped to accomplish. He apologized to Baine, he pointed out the poisoned blade, he openly condemned Magatha's actions, he offered the tauren a place of honor in Orgrimmar, in the place where the Warchief's throne once stood. But he couldn't bring Cairne back. And whatever wholehearted support the tauren may have offered the new Warchief was ripped away in the instant that Gorehowl ripped through Cairne's flesh and ended his life.
He told the Forsaken to take Gilneas for two reasons -- to test their strength, and to test their loyalty. If Sylvanas was really the strong supporter of the Horde that she purported to be, she would follow orders without question. Yet he still held very little respect for the Forsaken, as evidenced in the short story Edge of Night. And he held very little trust for Sylvanas. And why should he? She demonstrated she had very little control over her people, and on top of that there was the fact that she was essentially a walking, animate corpse akin to those that he had valiantly fought in Northrend. What differentiated her from the Lich King? Her actions in Silverpine certainly did nothing to highlight whatever difference there may have been.
Every move that Vol'jin made, every response that he had for Hellscream was colored and altered by that original altercation in Grommash Hold. Vol'jin may be a great leader, but he's also incredibly stubborn in his convictions -- and to Vol'jin, Garrosh had pretty much demonstrated from day one that he was not the kind of leader the Darkspear wanted to follow. He was not Thrall. He would never be Thrall. And the Darkspear had spent the last several years building a relationship with Thrall's Horde.
Lor'themar flew under the radar in Cataclysm, but in Mists, it was his opportunity to prove himself. All Garrosh knew was that the sind'orei appeared to be weak in Northrend. But they had strengths when it came to magic -- and Garrosh put that to the test in patch 5.1. In his own, odd, weird way, Garrosh's actions made sense: The Horde lacked strength. He was trying to find something that would lend them that strength. Were the Sha a good choice for that? Oh heck no -- but Garrosh has about as much understanding of the Sha as he does for the rest of the Horde, which is to say very little at all.
Is Garrosh corrupt?
Is Garrosh Hellscream corrupt? No. Absolutely not. Here is what Garrosh Hellscream is: A raw, inexperienced political leader. An orc that lacks the basic understanding of his allies' backgrounds. An orc who took Thrall at his word and sought to do what Thrall wanted him to do. Thrall wanted to address the barren lands and dwindling supplies of the Horde, so Garrosh set out to take land and resources by force in Cataclysm. Along the way, he discovered that the Alliance were in fact a pretty strong threat that stood in the way of completing this task. And at the end of Cataclysm, he sought to solve that problem by taking out every Alliance outpost and settlement on Kalimdor, to properly claim the continent for the Horde.
And yet despite his clear reasons for doing so, the rest of the Horde has done nothing but buck and fight him every step of the way. The only Horde race to show him unconditional support has been the orcs -- the rest have all had their protests. Even the goblins have demonstrated that they aren't in this alliance for honor, for glory -- they're in it for the profit. Is it any wonder that Garrosh is disgusted with the Horde? Is it any wonder that he has continued to tighten his grip? The Horde represents, to Garrosh, an infuriating mystery that he simply cannot figure out. He can't fathom why he hasn't got the support. He cannot fathom why the Horde isn't eagerly supporting his efforts to get them the resources they so desperately need. He cannot fathom why the Horde isn't eagerly standing behind his attempts to strengthen them.
Garrosh Hellscream isn't corrupt. Hellscream is a leader who is desperately trying to pull together some semblance of unity from a group of allies that are digging in their heels and arguing every step of the way. And that makes him one of the most fascinating characters Blizzard has in their current stable of villains. Because Garrosh Hellscream isn't a villain born out of corruption, out of outside influence. He's a villain born of complete and utter misunderstanding and ignorance. He's a stubborn, willful, angry leader who simply lacks the understanding and social graces to comprehend exactly what he's gotten himself into.
I seriously hope that we do not kill Garrosh Hellscream. I want to see what this character will do, if he is left alive. I want to see how he will take the condemnation of those that he has tried so valiantly to lead over the course of two expansions. I want to see what he will do when he is slapped with that label of villain by those who he has done nothing but try to help. Because frankly, a corrupt villain is one thing ... but a person who has been condemned for the actions he thought were correct is entirely another thing. And seeing where Garrosh goes from there would be far more satisfying, in the long run, than just another corrupt individual whose identity has been lost due to factors out of his control.
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.