Know Your Lore: Warriors of Azeroth and beyond, Part 2

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.

Second verse, same as the first - we're talking warriors of lore and story in the Warcraft universe. What does it take to get on either of these lists?

  1. Don't obviously be a member of another class. I skirted the edge of this one for last week's list, but not this week - these are the warriors. No Bolvars, no Turalyons, no Rexxars or the like. If you cast spells or skulk in the shadows or are a death knight, you're not on this list. Sorry, Highlord Alexandros Mograine, but you were a paladin, and you don't count. Maiev Shadowsong definitely uses stealth, she's out.

  2. You have to be somehow more iconic than the badasses on last week's list. That means, in my opinion, you're more important in terms of lore than Muradin Bronzebeard, Baine Bloodhoof, and Broxigar the Red. That's not an easy bar to jump over.

  3. Those are my criteria. I just think lists with less than three points on them look weird.

Let's get started on the list.

Sky Admiral Catherine Rogers

Yes, she gets on the list before Brox. Why? Because while Brox is dead and his legacy lives on in one act, Catherine Rogers is very much alive, and her legacy is still being written. In one expansion, she went from 'who' to either a war criminal or a hero, depending on your outlook. Having lost her entire family to the destruction of Southshore by the Horde and not being of a mind to particularly distinguish which members of said Horde are responsible, she's now a steely eyed commander perfectly capable and willing to order her people to gun down unarmed orcs trying to swim to safety.

Make no mistake, Catherine Rogers is the kind of warrior who is going to keep this war going in the future. People who've lost too much to forgive and forget, who will push old grudges forward into the future. Her impact is yet to be fully felt - remember that when presented with the opportunity to try and find a way to use the Sha essence as a weapon against the Horde, she was enthusiastically for it. There is literally nothing she will not do to defeat the Horde - I have to imagine the idea of leaving Orgrimmar intact with a warchief installed was in her eyes the worst move the Alliance could have made, and she's probably already planning steps.

We haven't seen her in actual, hand to hand combat yet, just as a commander. This hurts her position on the list - I honestly could have just as easily put her on last week's list and put Brox up here, but I chose to switch their positions entirely because Brox isn't alive, making things happen (unless we meet Brox 2 on Draenor) but Catherine Rogers is alive, active, and carrying around a hate for her family's murderers that will urge her onward. She has resources, a high position in the Alliance military, and an unquenchable desire to wipe out the Horde. She's worth watching.

Warlord Zaela

Unlike Sky Admiral Rogers, we have seen Zaela fight. She led a rebellion among the Dragonmaw orcs that placed them solidly in Garrosh Hellscream's camp, giving him another entire clan of orcs loyal to him and him alone (and not to the ideals of the Horde established under Thrall) - this ultimately led to the fortification of and siege of Orgrimmar. Zaela's Dragonmaw took a significant role in the defense of Orgrimmar, and the Warlord ultimately rides into battle atop the proto-deake behemoth Galakras.

Zaela is important for many reasons - as Warlord of the Dragonmaw, she maintains (and even extends) their use of captures and broken dragons as slaves and beasts of war, which helped prop up Garrosh even as he alienated the other races of the Horde. She rose from relative obscurity to become the undisputed leader of her clan, a clan that was never made part of the Horde under Thrall - their presence in Garrosh's Horde definitely skewed things. In many ways, her presence and that of her people were the beginning of Garrosh's slide into the totalitarian methods of rulership that he would later use - it's important to point out that Zaela and the Dragonmaw joined the Horde before Malkorok and the Blackrock did.

Moreover, Zaela escaped the siege and is suspected to play a role in future events. If she travels to Draenor with Garrosh, the Iron Horde could well develop utter mastery of the skies of that world - Zaela possesses the Demon Chain, an artifact with great power (it was formerly the chain attached to the Demon Soul) to break the wills of dragons. If it works on other beasts, havoc could well result. And besides all this, Zaela's no slouch in a fight, either.

Cairne Bloodhoof

Cairne was the father of the modern tauren nation. He held his tribe, the Bloodhoof, together despite constant attacks from the centaur people of the barrens. Cairne had realized early that the nomadic ways of old were no longer tenable for his people - that despite their great strength and understanding of the ways of the Earthmother, they would be harried endlessly spread out as they were, that all the tribes had to come together as a nation if they were to survive. With the help of Thrall and his outcast orcs, Carine managed to execute his dream and brought his people together. Thunder Bluff wouldn't exist today without him, nor would the Horde.

Powerful as he was, Carine's not on the list for pure warrior prowess - several of those who are on the list last week could be considered rivals for the old bull in a purely physical sense. Cairne makes the list for his importance both to the Horde and to his people. The very idea of a 'new' Horde with a different focus comes from Cairne's alliance with Thrall, an association of equals that eventually became a friendship deep enough that Thrall would declare Cairne as his brother. Having fought alongside Rexxar during the founding of Durotar, it was always Cairne's heart - his love for his son, his love for his people - that was his greatest strength and at times a weakness. It's also telling that, even at the end of his long life, Cairne was a physical threat - when he challenged Garrosh to the Mak'gora, no one took it lightly, not even the young Hellscream, and during their fight Cairne acquitted himself well before he was felled by the poison.

In the end, his main flaw was an inability or unwillingness to move against an obvious threat in Magatha Grimtotem. Whether it was due to his being overly wary, unwilling to act against one of his own people, or just plain bad judgement, it cost him his life and it cost the Horde his presence.

Every tauren in the Horde today is there because Cairne saw something of worth in it, and the Horde that Vol'jin seeks to recreate is the one Cairne helped bring into being. Cairne Bloodhoof was the personification of what a tauren in the Horde is and should be. The Old Bull is dead, but he'll never be forgotten.

Orgrim Doomhammer

The first self-appointed Warchief of the Old Horde and the one who passed his mantle, armor and weapon on to Thrall, Orgrim Doomhammer was a study in contrasts. Neither a zealot nor a dupe, he carried out his Warchief's orders until a chance finally came to take a stand against them. Taking advantage of Gul'dan's lust for power, Doomhammer rose up, slew Blackhand, and killed most of the Shadow Council in the process, showing a keen eye for power relationships. Yet he never could muster the will to put personal honor above victory, neither for himself nor his people. By allowing Gul'dan to live and create the death knights, he gained a powerful force to oppose Alliance mages and priests, but he also sowed the seeds of his own defeat by allowing the warlock too much control over these malefic creations.

Doomhammer's entire life was spent caught between these extremes. Smart, capable, cunning, and yet not quite the unbending orc of honor he wanted to be, he made compromises for the sake of victory and position. Unwilling to drink the Blood of Mannoroth, he flattered his warchief rather than take a stand on principle, and thus remained part of the Horde, engaging in every atrocity commanded by Blackhand (and thus, by Gul'dan behind him). Even after overthrowing Blackhand by force (and proving beyond a doubt his own physical might - Blackhand was no weakling, and Doomhammer killed him in single combat) he saw no way out of the war with the humans, for years of Shadow Council rule had left Draenor nearly uninhabitable, and so he chose to continue the invasion. He allowed all sorts of crimes - the rise of the Dragonmaw to prominence and the use of the Demon Soul to enslave Alexstrasza and the Red Dragonflight was under his watch, approved directly by him - because they would get results.

In the end, atop Blackrock Spire, he fought the greatest warrior the humans had, and he won. It was the worst thing that could have happened to him. (Whether you believe he won via trickery and ambus depends on which version of the story you remember.) For in the end, while Doomhammer was a cunning warrior and a powerful warchief and his people respected him, his enemy was so beloved by his people that his death touched off a firestorm of rage that crushed the orcs in the very teeth of what appeared to be victory. Winning the fight cost the orc warchief everything. It cost his people everything. Shipped back to Lordaeron in chains, he managed to escape in the confusion but found his people trapped on a world that feared and hated them.

The final act of his life was spent in training Thrall to succeed him, although the young orc didn't grasp the significance of his actions. Doomhammer's death at Hammerfall was perhaps unworthy of him - a panicky human stabbed him in the back with a lance - or perhaps was exactly what he always wanted, and what he would have rather had at Blackrock. A death in combat.

Garrosh Hellscream

We've written tons about Garrosh already. All I'm going to say here is, he combined physical prowess, raw brute strength, skill, and tactical acumen in one package. Love him or hate him, the younger Hellscream was and is one of the finest warriors of the modern generation. He combined Doomhammer's pragmatic willingness to bend the definition of honor to achieve victory with his father's reckless bloodlust, and sprinkled a cunning and inventive mind into the mix. His defeat in the Siege of Orgrimmar does not in any way mean his story is finished, and we'll see the repercussions of his actions in Warlords. He definitely belongs on the list.

Varian Wrynn

Another guy who has seen so much written about him that I don't see much point in belaboring it. He and Garrosh had one fight that ended in a draw (but one where Garrosh felt the need to retreat, urged on by his men), Varian has developed and changed quite a bit since his return. He makes the list ahead of Garrosh for three reasons - first, because he displayed the ability to come to understand Garrosh and his tactics and adjust his own strategy to cope with them. Second, because unlike Garrosh, he's still King of Stormwind and effectively war leader of the Alliance, and three, because I believe he could beat Garrosh in a fight. Garrosh talks a lot about unleashing rage, but Varian has learned a lot more about how to harness his than his Horde rival.

Varian has his problems, of course - his relationship with his son, for one - but I still like the big lug.

Varok Saurfang

Yeah yeah, we all knew the king of cleaving was going on the list. He may be old, he may have lost a step or two, he may even have gotten himself injured killing an entire hallway full of critters in SoO, but he's still Saurfang and he still goes on the list and he still gets to go ahead of Garrosh and Varian. And there doesn't need to be much said about it. There's a reason Varian let him take his kid's body out of ICC if you played Alliance - even the king recognized when he was outranked.

And if you were Horde in ICC, shut up, the RP was cool and you know it.

Grommash Hellscream

Demon blood, the cause of, and solution to, all the orc's problems.

I kid, but really, so much of what makes an orc an orc is tied up in the actions of Grom Hellscream, it's hard to separate the orc from the legendary figure and talk about that. Grom may have been the single best warrior of his people in pure hand to hand combat - could he have taken down Doomhammer? Saurfang in his prime? Brox? His own son? It's hard to say, but it's just as hard to bet against the personification of the Warsong. So much of what Garrosh became was in reaction to his father and that double legacy - first orc to drink the blood, but also the orc who stood and killed Mannoroth and ended the curse at the cost of his own life - that it's hard to imagine what the orcish people would be like today if Grom had never done either. Who would Grom be if not that orc? We'll find out in Warlords, but for now we're left with Grommash as we knew him.

From a blood crazed berserker running mad in the streets of Shattrath to a tired older orc who meets Thrall and points him to his destiny, Grom Hellscream has been a part of so many of the worst and the best moments of his people that it becomes so difficult to really consider how good he was as a warrior. Sure, he needed demon blood to defeat Cenarius, but Cenarius was a demigod. And yes, he died fighting Mannoroth, but so did the pit lord, killed by a single furious strike of Gorehowl. Between his demonstrations of prowess, his legacy, his culpability for and ending of the blood curse, and for what we're yet to see I put Grommash here.

But we all know he's not my number one pick. Because, in the end, there's only one warrior I would put on top of the list.

Anduin Lothar

I've written two big KYL's on why Lothar was awesome. You can read them here and here. I could easily write another two or three thousand words about Lothar, but it's not necessary. Lothar is on this list for all the ways he didn't make the mistakes others on the list have. He didn't become consumed by hatred and bitterness - he fought for his people because they needed defending. He didn't let himself fall into a trap by letting an enemy live, striking down one of his two best friends rather than let his people suffer further at Medivh's hands. He never traded his honor or principles for victory. He loved his people yet never waged aggressive war for them, he didn't allow his rage to overwhelm him, he certainly didn't drink demon blood or take any other sort of bargain for power, because power wasn't important to him.

He lived, fought, and died for his people and the preservation of his people, not for glory, not for conquest, not to take from anyone else anything. And in dying he proved immortal. Anduin Lothar is, quite simply, the warrior. Out of all these luminaries over the past two weeks, in the pantheon of warrior greats, Lothar stands atop the pinnacle.

I'm not promising to do these for every class, and I'm especially not promising to do it next week (I want to talk more about Warlords stuff) but I may be willing to do these for the other classes. The Warlock one will be easy, since it's just the word GUL'DAN in huge letters of green fire ten stories high.

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.