Know Your Lore: Warlord Zaela and the Dragonmaw Clan

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|02.03.14

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Know Your Lore: Warlord Zaela and the Dragonmaw Clan
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.

They are Dragonmaw -- a clan that seems a little out of place in the name department, having existed long before dragons ever arrived on Draenor. However out of place that name may have been at the time, the clan lived up to it with brutal efficiency upon traveling through the Dark Portal and arriving on Azeroth. Yet for all its bravado, all its strength, and all its extremely powerful artifacts of questionable origin on its side, the Dragonmaw didn't really flourish. In fact, it found itself ironically subject to the manipulations of those it tried to subjugate, over and over again.

One orc woman saw the path her clan was destined to travel, the seed of corruption that was quickly threatening to tear the Dragonmaw apart, and feared for the fate of her clan. But when given a chance to make a difference, she seized the opportunity, killed her own Warchief and was rewarded with the chance to lead the Dragonmaw at the side of the Horde. Zaela may not have a lot of story behind her just yet, but make no mistake -- she will do whatever it takes to guarantee the safety and survival of her clan.

It's a pity that her methods involve allying with the most hated orc on Azeroth.


The Dragonmaw Clan had its roots on Draenor, though how the clan got the name is still a mystery. There are, however, plenty of theories out there about the matter. The most sensible option is that the word "dragon" is just a mistranslation of whatever the orcish term for "giant flying monster" happens to be into the Common language. Alternatively, there may simply be myths and legends about dragons on Draenor, despite their absence until Deathwing arrived during the events of the Second War on Azeroth. Regardless, the Dragonmaw were a fierce clan, relying more on their wits and the use of magic than simple brute force -- and it made them a force to be reckoned with.

Although the Dragonmaw and their leader, Zuluhed the Whacked, were strong supporters of the original Horde, it wasn't until their arrival on Azeroth that they really began to make themselves known. During the Second War, Zuluhed had a vision of a powerful artifact hidden away somewhere in the mountains of Redridge, and asked permission from Orgrim Doomhammer to locate it. That powerful artifact was none other than the Dragon Soul, hidden away by Malfurion Stormrage thousands of years before, during the War of the Ancients. Zuluhed called the object the Demon Soul, and attempted to unlock its powers himself, but was unsuccessful in doing so -- so he handed the artifact to his second in command, Nekros Skullcrusher, in the hopes that Nekros would have more success.

Did he ever. Nekros not only managed to unlock the powers of the Demon Soul, he used the artifact to capture and subjugate none other than Alexstrasza herself. He forced her to bear children that were loyal to his clan, threatening to kill them all if she didn't obey. As the Lifebringer, Alexstrasza couldn't bear the thought of being the instrument of her flight's demise, and so obeyed Nekros' orders and gave the Dragonmaw an endless supply of draconic steeds. But she seethed at the temerity of Nekros and his clan, and when eventually freed by the efforts of Rhonin and her consort Korialstrasz after the Second War, she promptly turned on Nekros, swallowing him whole and freeing her children.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dark Portal, Zuluhed had plans of his own. At some point during the Second War, Zuluhed traveled back to Draenor. And at some point later, after Draenor's destruction, Zuluhed pledged the support of himself and his clan to Illidan Stormrage, settling at Dragonmaw Fortress in Shadowmoon Valley. From there, Zuluhed got down to business and engaged in much the same tasks as Nekros over on Azeroth. He captured the matriarch of the newly created Netherwing flight, Karynaku, and began enslaving her children to serve the Dragonmaw.

In Burning Crusade, players are enlisted to help the Netherwing and put a stop to Zuluhed. Curiously, while the Dragonmaw of Outland appear to have been tainted and transformed into fel orcs at the behest of Illidan Stormrage, Zuluhed himself still appears as a normal, if green, orc. After successfully undermining the efforts of the Dragonmaw, Illidan Stormrage himself appears, outraged that the Dragonmaw fell for the ruse of the player's disguise.

Although the ultimate fate of the Dragonmaw in Outland was left unknown, Illidan's words and behavior, as well as the words of the Netherwing, implied that the clan met its end. Yet Illidan was not the only powerful ally the Dragonmaw had in Outland -- they were frequently visited by a black dragon in human guise named Sinestra. She made a deal with the Dragonmaw, trading the services of the black dragonflight in return for Netherwing eggs, planning to use them for her own purposes.

The fall of the Dragonmaw

And this is where the story of the Dragonmaw clan would have reached its natural conclusion -- destroyed in Outland, in tatters in Azeroth, still trying to defend itself from the creatures it nearly succeeded in subjugating. But the cruel, sad twist in all of this is that each time the Dragonmaw tried to enslave or somehow manipulate the draconic race, they were being quietly manipulated by one of its own. Deathwing the Destroyer was responsible for Zuluhed originally locating the Dragon Soul. Because the artifact had been enchanted so that no dragon could hold or use its powers, Deathwing simply found others to do so on his behalf, unwittingly.

As for Sinestra and the Netherwing, this was also Deathwing's doing -- he secretly coerced his former consort into collecting the Netherwing eggs and using the fragments of the shattered Dragon Soul to bring about the creation of the Twilight Dragonflight. In both instances, the Dragonmaw were instrumental to fulfilling Deathwing's plans -- and in both instances, they had no idea they were under his direct influence, or that the amazing plans they'd come up with to gain power and prestige were in actuality the plans of a dragon.

So here we have the Dragonmaw Clan: Cunning, fierce, strong, and in tatters due to the machinations of dragons. Those that remained on Azeroth were constantly pitted against the dragons they once tried to control -- and were happy enough to destroy them at any given opportunity. Draconic heads were hung from spikes on Dragonmaw encampments, dragon wings were stretched and suspended from stakes to serve as banners. One thing was certain, in regards to the Dragonmaw -- despite the name, the clan had no love for dragons in any form.


On Azeroth, the Dragonmaw struggled desperately for survival. One member of their clan managed to flee Illidan's wrath in Outland, and he promptly arrived in the Twilight Highlands and proclaimed himself Warchief. But Overlord Mor'ghor wasn't just any orc, he was a fel orc -- a deformed, corrupted monstrosity that, to many Dragonmaw, had no destiny in mind for the clan other than their eventual corrupted ruin. They may very well have been absolutely right. Overlord Mor'ghor was seen on Netherwing Ledge talking with Sinestra and agreeing to hand over Netherwing eggs. It is entirely possible that he escaped Outland, and Illidan's wrath, with her aid.

When the Horde, led by Garrosh Hellscream, first arrive in the Twilight Highlands, the Dragonmaw, and Mor'ghor, wanted nothing to do with them -- and it was entirely possible this was because Mor'ghor had far more powerful allies he was working with, and didn't want any interference. It was with hushed reverence that Mor'ghor referred to Deathwing simply as "the master" on Netherwing Ledge, while talking with Sinestra. And he readily agreed, if somewhat terrified, to supply Sinestra with those eggs. It's entirely possible that Mor'ghor simply traded one master for another, and was secretly helping Sinestra, and the Twilight Cult, with their plans to produce more Twilight dragons.

Although Zaela was more than likely unaware of all this background between her Warchief, Sinestra, and the Twilight dragonflight, she knew one thing -- Mor'ghor was bad news for her clan, and would surely lead it into ruin. The fact that he was a fel orc, and recruited more fel orcs to keep everyone in line was more than enough to lend credence to her fears. When the Horde arrived and attempted to negotiate, she watched as the negotiator was killed without a second thought.

That both puzzled and enraged Zaela. Why would any orc turn down a requested alliance with another orc, especially when the clan's situation was so dire? This was not a matter of clan vs. clan to Zaela -- this was a matter of simple survival. When the opportunity rose to stage a rebellion with the assistance of the Horde, she quickly took it. With Zaela's resourceful cunning, it was over almost before it began, and Warchief Mor'ghor lay dead. As a reward for her deeds, Garrosh Hellscream gave her leadership of the beleaguered clan, and she swore her loyalty, and that of the Dragonmaw, to the Horde.

Hellscream's Fall

It was likely for those very reasons that Garrosh Hellscream sent for Warlord Zaela when the Darkspear began their uprising. After all, who better to put an end to a rebellion than one who had successfully staged a rebellion? Although Zaela proved unsuccessful in the end, she did not perish in the Siege of Orgrimmar. After being flung from the back of her mount, Galakras, Zaela disappears from sight. Garrosh Hellscream may have fallen in the Siege, and he may be on trial, but Zaela is still very much a supporter of Hellscream's Horde. And why wouldn't she be?

When the Dragonmaw were on the brink of destruction due to the mad plans of a fel orc, Garrosh was the one that arrived and helped deliver Zaela's clan a new beginning. Zaela never wanted leadership. That wasn't why she agreed to help engineer Mor'ghor's downfall. She simply wanted her clan to survive and thrive. While we don't know how old Zaela is, it's likely that even if she didn't actively participate in the First and Second Wars, she remembers them -- they weren't that long ago in Warcraft's timeline.

Garrosh Hellscream is the embodiment of that Horde of old. His Horde is the closest thing to that old Horde that Zaela has ever encountered. And while Thrall and his ideals of diplomacy would have been laughed at and ridiculed by the Dragonmaw of old, Garrosh exemplifies the Horde they remember, the Horde they swore themselves to, the Horde they followed through the Dark Portal in the First War. With all that in mind, it's no wonder that Zaela finds herself drawn to Garrosh -- he was her savior, the savior of her clan.


With that in mind, it's no wonder that Zaela follows Garrosh to Draenor in the upcoming expansion. Zaela came into the Horde with no preconceived notions of what that Horde really was. She had no idea that Garrosh was in the middle of systematically sealing his fate as one of the most reviled Warchiefs of all time. She had no idea that he was even doing anything wrong -- to all appearances, as an orc from an era where orcs were a dominant force to be reckoned with, Garrosh Hellscream's Horde was a perfect representation of the glory days the Dragonmaw had lost.

Of course Zaela is following Garrosh. This isn't a matter of Zaela being madly in love with Hellscream, although there may be some attraction there -- this is a matter of following the one orc who has shown her clan any hope, any promise. To Zaela, the actions of the Horde rebels look absolutely insane. Garrosh Hellscream may be many things, but he is not a fel orc, he does not embrace the idea of corruption to get ahead -- he embraces the idea of strength, of using the tools one has at one's disposal to make the Horde a dominating force to be reckoned with. Everything that, in Zaela's eyes, in the eyes of the Dragonmaw, the Horde should be.

And really, when it boils down to it ... Zaela has nowhere else to go. The Dragonmaw do not and never have fit in with the diplomatic, soft ideals of Thrall's Horde. They are not the kind of clan that would consider those outside the orcish race as "family," as with Vol'jin's ideal of the Horde. They can't simply go back to the Twilight Highlands to die in obscurity -- after tasting what it is to be strong, there's no way that Zaela would let her clan falter. In the end, the Dragonmaw, and Zaela, are like a puzzle piece found on the floor. Once part of something that may have been grand and amazing, now left to desperately try and find the space that they fit. Will they find it in Warlords? We'll have to wait and 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.
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