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Know Your Lore: Garrosh Hellscream and the nature of villany

Anne Stickney

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.

Garrosh Hellscream has been a controversial figure ever since he took the reins of Warchief in Cataclysm, but never quite as contentious as he is now. Presented as the final boss of this expansion, Garrosh's actions have spun wildly out of control, his thirst for and abuse of power quickly turning him from a potentially good Warchief to a monster whose iron grip over the Horde has only served to splinter and fracture the individual races that compose it, rather than bringing them together.

Although ... technically, Garrosh has brought the Horde together. The disparate races are working together with a sort of fierce, single-minded unity that we haven't exactly seen before. Rather than each race working individually on their own tasks, with their own motives for doing so, they have banded together with one purpose in mind, a goal that they all share: Getting Garrosh out. In a way, Garrosh has been just as good for the Horde as he has bad. But does Garrosh Hellscream work as an end game villain? Yes and no.

Know Your Lore Garrosh Hellscream and the nature of villany

The villain in WoW

Typically, the villain figure in World of Warcraft has always been presented as a threat to the world itself -- C'thun and the rest of the Old Gods, Deathwing, the Lich King, Kil'jaeden and the Burning Legion, the list goes on. Each had their own motives for doing so, but each was irrevocably focused on taking Azeroth for their own and turning it into their own villainous version of paradise, whether that be a world overridden by Scourge, or the end of the world. As heroes of the world, it has always been our charge to stop their dastardly plans and save the world as we know it.

And also typically enough, each of these major villains have always been either corrupt, or the source of corruption. The Old Gods are notoriously good at this, having completely turned Deathwing from an Aspect to the harbinger of destruction -- the whispers of the Old Gods and their true motives have been a repeated theme over several expansions, looping in the majority of the Aspects into the story as well. So too is the Burning Legion -- led by a former Titan whose downfall was his own descent into madness, and he continued that path of corruption by convincing Kil'jaeden, Archimonde and many willing eredar to follow him. Kil'jaeden created the Lich King, an entity that soon gained a mind of its own and corrupted noble Prince of Lordaeron Arthas Menethil, dragging him inexorably to his fate.

Garrosh Hellscream, on the other hand, is anything but your typical Warcraft villain. In fact, he's the polar opposite of most of Warcraft's arsenal of villain archetypes. In Burning Crusade, Garrosh struggled with the shadow of his father's failure, depressed and concerned that he was doomed to repeat history and lead the Mag'har to despair and corruption. In that moment of weakness, Warchief Thrall showed up, showed Garrosh how his father heroically sacrificed himself to free the orcs of their corruption, and gave the younger Hellscream something to stand and take pride in.

In that moment of clarity, Garrosh transformed from uncertain and unwilling leader to proud son, ready and willing to take charge. Swept away, instead, to Azeroth, Garrosh was not allowed to lead, instead placed in the role of advisor, a role designed to teach him of leadership. However, all those valuable lessons Thrall wanted to teach Garrosh went by and large unlearned.

Know Your Lore Garrosh Hellscream and the nature of villany

Garrosh's downfall

It's really a pity that of all the lessons Thrall taught Garrosh, the only one to stick was the one regarding his father Grom being a hero. Garrosh let that go completely to his head, convinced and determined that his idea and vision of the Horde was the only correct way to proceed. He wasn't given enough history of the scattered races of the Horde, and had no real idea how to communicate with them -- instead using his usual bravado and the assumption that he was, and always would be, right.

If anything "corrupted" Garrosh, it was his own overblown sense of self-importance and overconfidence in his plans. It was the fact that he'd gone from a world of sadness and misery to one of elated pride, and he has let that pride overwhelm him. It was like giving a kid with no idea what candy is a bar of chocolate, and once they'd discovered how wonderful that was, giving them the keys to a candy store and telling them to run the place. Let's face it, that kid isn't going to run the candy store, he's got no idea how to run a business. But you can bet he's going to eat a boatload of candy -- why not? He's in charge, isn't he?

This is really what makes Garrosh interesting, because his entire downfall was born from within, not born from an outside source. You could argue that had Thrall never shown up and told him the tale of Grom, Garrosh would have done nothing with his life -- and you'd likely be right. That's why Garrosh is unlike any other villain in Warcraft's history. Garrosh's downfall didn't begin with a moment of corruption -- it began with a moment of uplifting revelation. It was that moment of revelation that sparked the catalyst for who Garrosh would become on Azeroth.

Know Your Lore Garrosh Hellscream and the nature of villany

Villainous deeds

And because of this, Garrosh's actions in Cataclysm and later on in Mists are doubly damning towards his character. Garrosh is fully convinced that his actions are the right ones to be taking. He's not listening to some power-hungry corrupt entity like the Old Gods or the Burning Legion, he's making these decisions for himself, somehow justifying those decisions in his head as the best moves for the Horde moving forward. At the same time, he's dispatching those races that he deems as weak, claiming they have no place in a Horde that is meant to be strong.

He isn't acting out of any inner, sinister intent. He's simply trying to re-envision the Horde into a pillar of strength, a force to be reckoned with, an army that can be launched at any perceived enemies at a moment's notice. Was this Thrall's vision of the Horde? Absolutely not. Garrosh has systematically committed atrocity after vile, reprehensible atrocity, all in the name of making the Horde "strong." He was so convinced that this was the correct course of action, and he'd been handed so much power, that anyone daring to breathe a dissenting word was abruptly removed from the picture.

Garrosh Hellscream doesn't want the end of the world. He doesn't want to rule the universe. He has no grand plans beyond simply making the Horde the best, strongest faction/war force that he possibly can. His plans, as mentioned in Tides of War, weren't of global domination. He simply wanted to conquer Kalimdor and claim it for the Horde. You'll notice he didn't bother mentioning the Eastern Kingdoms -- as far as Garrosh is concerned, the blood elves are a primarily weak force, as demonstrated by their distinct lack of any strong presence in the Northrend war, and the Forsaken aren't worth dealing with. They are cannon fodder to him. They're nothing more than a meat shield for his prize warriors.

Know Your Lore Garrosh Hellscream and the nature of villany


Those plans changed in Mists of Pandaria. Why? Because Pandaria was a massive continent that hadn't been claimed by either side -- and Garrosh wanted to get his hands on it first. You'll notice that this immediately led to a much larger clash between Alliance and Horde, not to mention the Pandaren. And you'll notice that Garrosh seems to have moved on from that idea of conquering Pandaria in the name of the Horde. Instead, he's adjusted his plans to simply ripping the land apart, taking what magical resources could be useful, and returning with them to Orgrimmar.

The Alliance aren't going to just hand over Kalimdor without a fight, so Garrosh intends to be prepared for it. In the meantime, he's had to deal with the uprising of a bunch of increasingly unruly underlings and "lesser races," which has also distracted from that ultimate goal. His elite war forces are being tested on both fronts -- by the Alliance, and by a rebellion full of people unwilling to let him simply continue on with what he is doing. People are no longer meekly falling into line, and rather than consider that, and learn from it, Garrosh has simply tried to tighten his grip even further.

Garrosh is not really a thinker -- but he does have a strong military, tactical mind. He can come up with brilliant, complex military strategies, but he does so at the expense of anyone that might offer up an objection, merely crushing them under his feet and continuing with his plans. In a word, he lacks compassion -- he lacks that spark of sympathy and caring for others. Although he professes that all he is doing is in the name of a better Horde, in reality the reason he is so dead-set on completing this task is because he desperately wants recognition for himself. He wants to be praised, he wants to be lauded, he wants to be considered the hero that his father was.

Know Your Lore Garrosh Hellscream and the nature of villany

Expansion-worthy villainy

Does this make him worthy of being the main villain of an expansion? Sort of -- see, there's one major flaw with Garrosh's story, and it has nothing to do with the story at all. The problem with Mists of Pandaria, the problem with Garrosh Hellscream as a final boss is that he was revealed to be that final boss before we even hit the beta servers. He was revealed as sitting in that role, without any justification at that point for earning that title. Tides of War began that progression, and Mists of Pandaria continued that character progression further.

But the fact that we already knew what he was going to become made that journey largely meaningless. He was simply slapped with the villain label, instead of actually growing into the role. Consider this -- what would the expansion have looked like if we hadn't known Garrosh was going to be the final boss of the final raid? What would it have looked like, if you had gone in and played out the events of patch 5.1, watched the story of the Divine Bell, completely clueless about how far Garrosh was about to fall?

If we had gone in without that knowledge, we would have paid far closer attention to what exactly Garrosh was doing. We would have followed along with that story, popcorn in hand, wondering exactly what happened to Hellscream, and how far he was going to fall. We would have watched in utter shock as Vol'jin was nearly assassinated at the Warchief's behest. We would have looked on in vague, nauseated horror as Garrosh excavated the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and discovered the dark heart of Pandaria, intent on using it for his own plans.

Garrosh Hellscream would have earned his place as the rightful villain of the expansion, instead of simply being given the label and then expected to live up to it. This had the effect of deflating Garrosh's ascension to villainy and turning him from less of an evil schemer, to more of a caricature of villainy. Each move that he made was obviously to push him further into that role of villain, there was no surprise about it at all. And that's probably Mists of Pandaria's largest failing. In an expansion full of twists, turns, and an ever evolving, delightful, intriguing story, the ending was given away before we even had a chance to open the book.

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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