Know Your Lore: The trial 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.

War Crimes, the latest novel from Christie Golden, released earlier this week. In the book we finally see the trial of Garrosh Hellscream -- former Warchief of the Horde, apprehended during the final moments of the Siege of Orgrimmar. We aren't going to be talking too in-depth about plot points and book spoilers in this column. We'll save that for next week. But we are going to talk about Garrosh Hellscream, the Alliance, the Horde, and the trial itself -- the need for a trial at all.

Because let's face it: Garrosh Hellscream is a murderer. He slew countless victims, both Alliance and Horde. He decimated Theramore. He decided to ally with those that Warchief Thrall had blatantly turned away, and even directed the Horde to attack, during his reign. He didn't so much try and redesign the Horde as he did give it a gut job, tear it down from the inside out, and try to rebuild it even stronger. He's guilty. He's beyond guilty. There isn't really any need to prove what he's done, the evidence is permanently etched into Azeroth -- the crater left where Theramore once stood.

Why on earth would a confirmed killer need a trial?

Please note: The following column has a few minor spoilers for War Crimes. If you're mid-book, or have yet to read it, you might want to come back when you're finished with it.


Before we look at the trial, let's revisit the career of Garrosh Hellscream. He grew up in Garadar with the Mag'har -- orcs that had never been corrupted by the Burning Legion. In Burning Crusade, Garrosh met then-Warchief Thrall for the first time, Thrall delivered a stirring little holographic show of Grom's heroic demise, Garrosh realized his father was a hero, and everyone was happy. And then Thrall took Garrosh Hellscream, plucked him from the village in which he'd grown up, and dragged him back to Azeroth -- a world that was about as different from Draenor, and Outland, as you could get.

Garrosh went on to lead Horde forces in Northrend, a campaign that met with resounding success. Upon his return to Orgrimmar, Thrall made him Warchief. Garrosh protested it. He very deliberately said that he was not one for politics, he was a military leader. But Thrall gave him the job anyway, and departed. So here's what Garrosh Hellscream, the Warchief, did. He gave Thrall what he asked for. He tried to return the Horde to the old ways. The really, really old ways. The ways he was familiar with -- the ways of Draenor, of the Old Horde. A Horde that didn't include weird allies of different races. A Horde that was built for one thing, at the time of its formation: the destruction of the draenei race.

Every step Garrosh took after the moment he stepped up as Warchief was a carefully planned move to further the Horde's resources, land, and glory. The Shattering wrecked the world, Garrosh seized the moment while the Alliance were distracted with Deathwing and survival, claimed new land and resources for the Horde. But once Deathwing was dead, the Alliance were no longer distracted -- which meant Hellscream had to ramp up the action and switch gears to full-blown war. And he wanted Kalimdor, all of it. Then came Theramore, then came Pandaria and a merciless campaign that saw him turn on those who weren't immediately loyal, and then came his downfall.

Varian's choice

And that's when it got really weird to most people, because logically speaking, King Varian Wrynn should have just let Thrall lop off Garrosh Hellscream's head at the end of Siege. Or stopped Thrall long enough to deliver the blow himself. To many, it made very little sense for Varian to agree to let a trial take place. However ... Varian had a few different things to think about in that moment. One of those things was invariably his days as a gladiator, and the orcish concept of an honorable death. If he had let Garrosh die in that moment, after a battle well fought, Garrosh would have died with his honor intact. It didn't matter if Thrall struck the blow, or Varian did -- Garrosh would have died honorably. More importantly, he would have been satisfied with his death.

It wouldn't have been a punishment. He wouldn't have answered for anything he'd done. Not to the Horde, not to the Alliance, and certainly not to Pandaria -- which is the second thought that likely went through Varian's head, especially after Taran Zhu stepped up. Garrosh Hellscream was not alone on Pandaria. He didn't release the Sha single-handed. He didn't destroy the statue of the Jade Serpent. That was us -- Alliance and Horde, fighting each other, taking out our aggressions yes, because he helped incite and foment the tides of war -- but Garrosh Hellscream was not responsible for those things. And the pandaren were well aware of that.

They were also really, really useful potential allies. Allies that could be lost if they weren't given due consideration when thinking about what to do about Hellscream. If Varian or Thrall had simply killed Garrosh and been done with it, as far as the pandaren were concerned, that would have robbed them of any kind of justice. It might have shattered any hope of diplomatic resolution in regards to what had been done to Pandaria's shores. Handing Garrosh to the pandaren and telling them to put him on trial? That was actually a pretty smooth diplomatic move, for Varian Wrynn. Garrosh gets his punishment -- and let's face it, anything but a death sentence was very unlikely in that moment -- and the pandaren have someone to bring to justice. Someone to draw the attention away from any perceived Alliance transgressions.


There was a huge moment at the end of the Siege, but it wasn't one that was immediately obvious to us, the players, the ones who have been watching all of this unfold since the expansion launched. That tense moment between Horde, Alliance, and pandaren required Varian to think on his feet in a way that he likely hadn't expected. If it had just been Alliance and Horde, maybe that choice would have been an easier one to make. Maybe he would have simply wiped the Horde out. But they weren't alone -- there were the pandaren to consider. Handing Garrosh to the pandaren, for them to bring to trial, that satisfied them on one level.

But do you really think the pandaren would have been appeased had the Alliance immediately turned around and wiped the Horde out? Or would they have seen that act of violent aggression as an act that could be viewed as outright slaughter? Remember, Vol'jin and his rebels had a tentative ceasefire with the Alliance. It wasn't an agreement to work together, and it certainly wasn't an agreement to be friends -- it was an alliance of convenience at best, between two sides that were fighting the same foe. Had the pandaren seen the Horde struck down, immediately after Hellscream had been turned over, they might have turned around and declared war on the Alliance, convinced that they were just as violent and bloodthirsty as their Horde counterparts.

This is where we, as players, fail to make that connection. Because we know everything there is to know about the Alliance. We know everything there is to know about the Horde. We've played through it in the games, we've read the books, we've watched the cinematics. In the world of Azeroth, the pandaren have no knowledge of any of this. They spent ten thousand years cut off from the rest of Azeroth, and their first impressions upon the sudden departure of the mists was that we were warmongering savages with a lust for violence. That's all the pandaren had to go on. Had Varian given the call and struck the Horde down, he would have proved that first impression right.


That's why the trial is so incredibly important, and why it had to happen. That's why it was important that it was presented through visions of time. Showing those historical moments, letting the Alliance and Horde choose which moments to display, gave the pandaren -- and more importantly, the Celestials, the background that they had been lacking. It wasn't just about the visions themselves, it was also about which visions each side chose to present, and what those choices said about the presenters. It was a crash course in Azeroth's history -- history presented and shown simply as it occurred.

It was also a chance for both Alliance and Horde to finally see all those quiet, sometimes shocking moments that had happened in other novels, expansions, and comics. Once again, we as players outside of Azeroth know about all of these things -- we've read them, we've played through them. Anyone that read The Shattering knows that Baine went to Jaina for help, and Jaina helped him out -- and so did Anduin Wrynn. Anyone that played through the troll starting zone knows that Vol'jin flat-out threatened to kill Garrosh Hellscream, to his face.

But Varian didn't. Thrall didn't. Nobody in that courtroom did, save for the people that were there to originally witness it. They most certainly do now, after the trial -- and that gives both Horde and Alliance, every race in either faction, a heck of a lot to think about and deal with in the expansions to follow. Both Alliance and Horde had major players with secrets, and at the trial, those secrets were laid plain and bare for all. Some of the reactions, we saw play out in the novel. Some we have yet to see. We don't really know, yet, what the repercussions from that trial will be. Of course, the trial didn't end as intended. The events that happened within the scope of the trial might not really play into what we see in Warlords at all.

Then again, there was one other person sitting there and witnessing the trial. Watching as the darkest secrets of Alliance and Horde were exposed, quietly observing as weaknesses were laid out for all to see. Garrosh Hellscream may not have said much of substance at his trial, but he was paying attention, and he was listening -- and he took every secret and weakness with him to Draenor. Whether or not he handed any of that information to the Iron Horde, we'll have to wait to find out.

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.