The events at the Wrathgate are by now well known. At the Wrathgate, the Horde and Alliance were working together -- apparently Varian had agreed that an alliance of the two sides was necessary. However, a subset of Forsaken led by Grand Apothecary Putress had been working on a new plague -- one that would not only wipe out the Lich King, but all living beings that opposed the rule of the Forsaken as well. This included not only Alliance members, but Horde -- and while the events at the Wrathgate occurred, Varimathras staged a coup of the Undercity, driving Sylvanas and the rest of the Forsaken out of the former capital of Lordaeron and claiming it for himself.
This meant little to King Varian. What mattered was that his best friend, the man who watched over his kingdom in his absence, Bolvar Fordragon, had been brutally murdered at the hands of the Horde. With the news that the Horde had lost the Undercity, Varian leapt at the opportunity -- not only for revenge for his fallen friend, but to reclaim Terenas' fallen kingdom for the Alliance. After defeating Putress, Varian expressed his opinion on the matter:
And after learning of Thrall and Sylvanas' presence in the Undercity, King Wrynn fought through to confront them, regardless of Jaina's protests. He says the following to Thrall upon confronting him in the throne room:Look around you, brothers and sisters. Open your eyes! Look at what they have done to our kingdom! How much longer will we allow these savages free reign in our world? I have seen the Horde's world. I have been inside their cities. Inside their minds ... I know what evil lies in the hearts of orcs.
Right. There are two arguments to be made here, bear with me while I cover both sides and speculate on some theories while trying to draw reasonable motives for both. On the one hand, we have Varian Wrynn -- a man who, to date, has had large chunks of his life ripped away from him by the Horde. His father murdered before his eyes by an orc, Lothar murdered by another, Varian himself held in captivity for the better part of a year with no knowledge of who he was, and now the one man he had left that he could depend on, yet another advisor, friend, brother, and second father to his son, murdered by the Horde as well. To Varian, it simply didn't matter if it was a coup or not.I was away for too long. My absence cost us the lives of some of our greatest heroes. Trash like you and this evil witch were allowed to roam free -- unchecked. The time has come to make things right. To disband your treacherous kingdom of murderers and thieves. Putress was the first strike. Many more will come. I've waited a long time for this, Thrall. For every time I was thrown into one of your damned arenas... for every time I killed a green-skinned aberration like you... I could only think of one thing.
What our world could be without you and your twisted Horde... It ends now, Warchief.
To Varian, what mattered was that he would have to return home and tell little Anduin that the man he'd thought of as a father in Varian's absence was dead. And that killed Varian -- it wasn't the losses, it wasn't the deaths, it wasn't the continued ruin of his kingdom, it was that he would have to go home and explain to the bright, charming young lad that Bolvar was dead, and it was at the Horde's hands. It was the fact that his son would now have to go through the grief that Varian himself had experienced, a grief that he held heavy within his heart. That was one of two final straws to push Varian completely over the edge.
On the other hand, we have Varian -- and we have him citing his time in the arenas as a horrible, terrible time that he will never forget. Yet despite his claims, the comics present a different story -- Varian was never really mistreated, he was simply made to fight for his life. Then we have Thrall, who was made to do the same -- but where Varian was imprisoned for only a year, Thrall was imprisoned for the entirety of his childhood, locked away from his people with no knowledge of their language or beliefs, and beaten regularly by the drunken bastard who thought that raising a baby to fight as a means of income was a giggle. Thrall, who lived in isolation with no friends save a young human girl named Taretha who thought of him as a brother -- and whose head was promptly removed when her allegiances were shown. Thrall, who was willing to simply let the humans of Durnholde Keep, his captors, live if they'd just let the orcs go -- and got Taretha's head in a bag thrown at him by way of answer to his request.
There is no comparing the two. With Varian, we have a man who had everything in the world going for him and abruptly lost it and continued to lose it at the hands of the Horde; with Thrall we have an orc who was raised with nothing and fought to regain that which he'd never had before, peacefully. Because despite Thrall's violence at Durnholde, it wasn't what he wanted -- it was a result of Alliance actions. The two leaders aren't really the same, much as Blizzard likes to draw comparisons between the two -- they're on completely contradictory paths, and that's what makes it interesting.
Varian's actions in the Undercity weren't the actions of a king that was thinking for his people -- his actions were of a man who'd been pushed one too many times by people into believing that peace was a possibility. Think of this: Every time Jaina told him that the orcs weren't really their enemies, that there were good orcs among the bad, all Varian could hear were his father's words when he was a young child, telling him the same thing. Follow that with what happened -- his father's corpse before his terrified eyes, the woman that his father had reassured him meant no harm carving into that corpse. The wet noise of knife through flesh, his father's flesh, forever etched in his mind. This is why Varian doesn't agree with Jaina -- and he's doing his damnedest to make sure it isn't her body, or that of his son, that he finds dead next.
Jaina on the other hand had other ideas, and promptly teleported Varian and his forces out of the Undercity before the inevitable slaughter could begin. King Wrynn doesn't want her dead at Horde hands, although he finds her beliefs naïve, and he didn't hold her accountable for her actions in the Undercity for that reason. He may view her as deluded, but he doesn't wish her harm. He knows in his heart that Jaina is chasing after the same dreams that he wants -- a world of peace. The difference between the two is that while Jaina thinks peace can be made with the Horde, Varian believes that peace will occur only after the Horde are eradicated.
The Alliance continued their assault upon Icecrown, and Jaina had to deal with her own issues -- those of Arthas, the man she loved once upon a time and the dark path he followed. She blames herself for what happened -- if she'd been a better woman, he would've stayed, would've married her some day. There would've been children, Lordaeron would have thrived, and the Kirin Tor or the Silver Hand would have dealt with the plague. Terenas would still live. The Forsaken wouldn't exist. If she'd only been what Arthas needed.
Needless to say, pretty selfish thinking on Jaina's part -- honestly once the Burning Legion and the Lich King sets their sights on someone; you can pretty much guarantee that they're going to have their way. But these thoughts continued to weigh heavily on Jaina, along with the unanswered question of whether or not Arthas could be redeemed, whether he remembered her or whether the Lich King had taken utter control.
This undoubtedly affected her relationship with Varian. As the two major leaders of the human part of the Alliance, it was up to them to defend their people against threats, and forge ahead with the idea of one day living in a peaceful Azeroth. I suspect that Jaina sees a little of Arthas in Varian -- a fine, promising leader, a good king. But Varian is dangerously close to falling down the path of hatred that Jaina witnessed Arthas follow firsthand -- and Jaina is dead set upon preventing it. Does she have romantic feelings for Varian? Who knows -- it's been hinted at here and there, but it could just be the closeness of their stations that draws her to him.
Regardless, something came up during all of the activities in Northrend. A dwarf by the name of Brann Bronzebeard had discovered something horrifying in the Titan ruins of Ulduar -- an Old God named Yogg-Saron who threatened Azeroth's very existence just as much as the Lich King. Brann brought his findings to the Kirin Tor, now led by a mage named Rhonin, and Rhonin immediately sought out both Varian and Thrall, convinced that the only way to combat the menace and defeat Yogg-Saron was through the combined efforts of Alliance and Horde. Varian arrived first, with Jaina -- who spotted Thrall outside along with Garrosh, a.k.a. The Worst Diplomat Ever.
It's really worth it to watch the trailer again, because so much happens here -- Varian is willing to listen to Rhonin, and perhaps would've been willing to listen to Thrall had Garrosh not opened his yap and said a few choice words intended to set Varian off. And it worked -- this was the final straw. It was apparent that however Thrall felt about peaceful relations between their people, his opinion was not reflected in the rest of his kind -- and he was unable to even control those that he supposedly ruled over as Warchief. To Varian, Thrall is not a leader -- he's simply the one in charge, and from the looks of things, not for long. I suspect at this point that Varian was confident that Thrall would die one way or another -- more than likely, at the hands of his own people.
The Alliance forces pressed on, and Jaina, Rhonin and Brann were left to recruit whoever they could to deal with Yogg-Saron. Luckily the gambit worked, and focus could be returned to Icecrown Citadel, where the Lich King waited.
Leading one branch of the assault into Icecrown was Tirion Fordring. Now Fordring's got his own past involving the Horde -- in fact, he was once booted out of the Knights of the Silver Hand, stripped of his powers and exiled to the Eastern Plaguelands because of his friendship with an orc named Eitrigg. Tirion eventually reformed the Silver Hand during the course of World of Warcraft, and played a major part in the Battle for Light's Hope Chapel that saw the redemption of the death knights under the Lich King's hold. From there, he moved north to Icecrown, forming the Argent Crusade.
Tirion felt much the same way as Jaina and Thrall -- Thrall actually had a deep respect for Tirion, who Eitrigg refers to as his brother. King Varian on the other hand, was as unimpressed with Tirion's methods for peace as he was with Jaina's. After forming the Argent Tournament as a means to weed out only the strongest to send into the heart of Icecrown Citadel, Tirion invited both Thrall and Varian to witness the tournament. Thrall, of course, brought Garrosh -- partially because Garrosh was the leader of the Horde forces in Northrend, partially because he was hoping that he could show the orc that peace was an acceptable option. Mostly though, I like to think he brought Garrosh along because Thrall is apparently an idiot.
The tournament ended with both sides at each other's throats -- or rather, Garrosh at Varian's throat while Thrall tsk'd at him ineffectually. The winners of the tournament were sent to Icecrown Citadel along with the leaders of the factions fighting their way inside. For those that think Varian is a heartless bastard by this point, I need to take a moment and talk about Varok Saurfang.
Saurfang has always been a staunch supporter of Thrall and his stance for peace, and when Thrall traveled to Garadar during The Burning Crusade, Saurfang went with him, to find his son. His son then returned with him to Azeroth, and was sent to lead the forces in the north, just like Bolvar -- and, just like Bolvar, he met his death at the Wrathgate. But Saurfang the Younger didn't die to the plague, he died to the Lich King, and his soul was taken into Frostmourne. Later, the Lich King fashioned a death knight out of him and set him to guard the upper spire of Icecrown Citadel. Both Horde and Alliance have to kill Saurfang's son -- or rather, the thing that is wearing his son's face.
On the Horde side of the event, Saurfang leads the charge, and after the fight is over, takes his son's body home to return to the graves of his ancestors in Outland. On the Alliance side, Muradin Bronzebeard leads the charge, and after the battle ends, Saurfang arrives to retrieve the body of his son, and the following scene plays out.
Jaina isn't crying because she's "proud of her king." Jaina is crying because this is the moment she realizes that Varian, despite the violence, despite his actions, isn't taking the same route that Arthas followed. She realized somewhere in the Halls of Reflection that there was nothing left of Arthas in the thing he'd become, and her fear was that Varian was following the same path -- where Arthas followed a narrow-minded path of hatred against the Scourge, Varian followed a narrow-minded path of hatred against the Horde. But the difference between the two is that Varian has Anduin, his son, to remind him of what he has to protect, and what is important in life. Jaina's not crying tears of sorrow or pride, she's crying tears of relief.
And then we have King Wrynn, who despite all of his actions over the course of his life, is shown here to be, at heart, a decent man. He cannot deny the bond between father and son, he knows what it feels like, and the thought of losing Anduin terrifies him. It's possible that in this moment, he finally witnesses and is able to recognize the orcs as something other than vehicles for mindless bloodshed -- it's here that he's actually able to identify with an orc.
You may wonder why I've spent so much time on Jaina and Varian -- while it's true that there are many, many other figures that play a role in Northrend, we are focusing on Alliance politics here, and it's Jaina and Varian that are leading the way for the humans of the Alliance. Come back next time when I tie it all together and take a look at the human race in the face of the upcoming Cataclysm.