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.
Warning: there will be spoilers for Cataclysm in this post.
They came to Azeroth with the Old Horde: orcs, much like any other tribe, loyal to Blackhand the Destroyer. Their fate under Blackhand was the same as any other orc tribe: defeat by the forces of Stormwind. Under the rise of the new warchief, Orgrim Doomhammer, the Dragonmaw would accompany the now victorious Horde north. There, they would move from a minor clan to a powerful force, supplying the Horde with an instrument they would use for victory thanks to the machinations of an ancient evil. They were the instrument that he used to defile his oldest foe, and the blood of the Aspect of Life and that of her offspring stained the Dragonmaw clan who used them so brutally.
Eventually, it came to an end. The Dragonmaw, however, did not. Driven from their conquered territory, the vast fortress of Grim Batol, some found their way back home to Draenor only to find that world now a shattered ruin. Others clung to holdings in Azeroth, even going so far as to ally with Rend Blackhand and his Dark Horde. What future can there be for these, the furthest fallen, who tumbled from heights of power and influence to find themselves the servants to other, darker forces than even they themselves could comprehend?
To discuss the future of the Dragonmaw, we must discuss their past.
Legacy of the Old Horde
The Dragonmaw were a fairly unremarkable clan before coming to the mountains of Grim Batol. Considered small but powerful in battle, the Dragonmaw were loyal to Blackhand the Destroyer before and during his invasion of Azeroth. Their chieftain, Zuluhed the Whacked, had the best nickname of any orc chief, and was also one of the last few orcs who could get the elemental spirits to talk to him, retaining some level of shamanistic power even after consuming the blood of Mannoroth. Zuluhed was so loyal to Blackhand that after Doomhammer "retired" him, the crazy shaman actually pledged his loyalty to the deceased Blackhand's sons Rend and Maim and their Black Tooth Grin clan rather than directly to the Blackrock clan now headed by Doomhammer.
However, while he didn't like Doomhammer much, Zuluhed did enjoy the increased victory content of Doomhammer's reign. So when the old shaman began having strange visions of a powerful magical device of some sort, he went to Doomhammer and asked the Warchief to let him send a force of Dragonmaw to find it. Doomhammer didn't much like Zuluhed either, but the two orcs understood each other. Much like Doomhammer, Zuluhed cared more about victory for the Horde as a whole than for bickering and arguing about who killed who. (Besides, everyone knew that Doomhammer had killed Blackhand; it wasn't a secret -- he even went around showing people Blackhand's messily severed head. There really wasn't much point to arguing over it.) Therefore, when Zuluhed came to Doomhammer and said he could provide a powerful magical weapon for the Horde, Doomhammer was willing to allow him to try.
What neither orc understood was that Zuluhed's visions were coming from Neltharion, the Earth Warder and Dragon Aspect of Earth. Better known nowadays as Deathwing, the ancient dragon had spent thousands of years searching for the Demon Soul, a magical disc he himself had created during the War of the Ancients in order to allow him to dominate or destroy the other dragonflights and become master of all Azeroth.
It didn't work out exactly as he had planned.
While the device was potent enough to almost entirely wipe out the Blue Dragonflight, it had also been so powerful that it had begun to crack and warp Deathwing from within. His skin erupted as molten rock boiled out of him, causing him to resort to ever more drastic measures to keep his body together. Despite this, his paranoid obsession with the device made him keep it close, where it could more easily destroy him from within.
Malfurion Stormrage stole it from him during the ancient battles with the Burning Legion, thus inadvertently saving Deathwing from being killed by his own creation. The other four Aspects couldn't destroy it (Deathwing had tricked them into using their own power to help him make it), but they could seal it magically so that he himself could never again use it. Once Deathwing found it, therefore, he needed expendable pawns to take possession of it and use it, since he himself could not. Zuluhed and his clan looked exceedingly expendable to Deathwing.
With Deathwing's "help," Zuluhed found the Demon Soul. However, the disc resisted his attempts to use it. Therefore, Zuluhed chose to entrust it to Nekros Skullcrusher, a former warlock who had abandoned the demon magics to return to his role as an orcish warrior. However, after losing his leg, Nekros was unable to fight; had Zuluhed not chosen him to hold the Demon Soul, his future would have been a bleak one. With the Demon Soul, however, Nekros became powerful and respected among his clan and the Horde itself.
This was achieved by using it to capture the Dragon Queen herself, Alexstrasza. Nekros became her warden, torturing her, murdering her eggs in front of her, and forcing her to breed with her ailing consort Tyrannastrasz in order to produce mounts for the Horde to ride. Even after the defeat of the Horde at Blackrock Mountain, the Dragonmaw held onto Grim Batol and used the dragons to leverage their rule of the dwarven fortress, but Nekros was consumed with fear of what would happen when Tyrannastrasz died and the Dragonmaw no longer had the means to produce red dragon eggs for mounts.
Manipulated by Deathwing, Nekros made the mistake of trying to move Alexstrazsa and her eggs out of Grim Batol. This led to Alexstrasza's freedom, the death of Nekros (she ate him), and the temporary defeat of Deathwing as the other remaining aspects engaged him in pitched battle. Meanwhile, a human wizard used one of his scales to destroy the Demon Soul, for even as the Soul was destroying Deathwing, so could he destroy it. Its destruction returned the other aspects to their full power, although it did not free Deathwing from his slow degradation as he burned alive from inside.
Dragonmaw of Outland
Nekros' death led to the remaining Dragonmaw on Azeroth being absorbed into Rend Blackhand's Dark Horde, thus serving as relatively weak pawns of Nefarion and the Black Dragonflight. But Zuluhed the Whacked had escaped that fate, somehow returning to Outland and joining forces with Illidan Stormrage and his Illidari demons. Zuluhed served Illidan much as he had Orgrim Doomhammer, using his clan's expertise at breaking dragons to give the Illidari forces Netherwing slaves to serve as mounts. (Ironically, this time Zuluhed was enslaving Deathwing's own offspring rather than Alexstrasza's.)
While Zuluhed served Illidan directly, several of the Dragonmaw became fel orcs, such as Overlord Mor'ghor, who headed up the operations on the Netherwing Ledge. Some of these fel orcs had apparently been privy to Deathwing's true role behind the scenes at Grim Batol, perhaps even helping to facilitate the Dragonmaw coming to serve Nefarian. Mor'ghor clearly knew Deathwing's role and served the Black Dragonflight directly at some point.
Zuluhed eventually died at the hands of the Netherwing dragonflight and their mortal allies, who then infiltrated Mor'ghor's own ranks and trick the fel orc into believing them loyal servants of the Dragonmaw. At the end, all Mor'ghor gets is yelled at by Illidan; disgraced, he fled alongside many of his fellow fel orcs.
You may at this point be confused, since Mor'ghor's flight from the Netherwing Ledge takes place behind the scenes. But we know it happened because of those aforementioned Cataclysm spoilers.
After the near collapse of the Dragonmaw in Outland due to this event, Mor'ghor fled to Azeroth, where he and his fel orcs became the elite of the Dragonmaw who remained in Azeroth. None of the Dragonmaw who'd survived the debacle of Grim Batol and who eked out an existence in the hills of the Wetlands were fel orcs, and they simply couldn't stand up to the raw power the blood of Magtheridon had given Mor'ghor and his followers. While the Alliance and the Horde strove to outdo one another and defeat the Lich King, Mor'ghor seized total control of the remaining Dragonmaw forces following the death of Nekr'osh Skullcrusher, son of Nekros, and relocated them to the treacherous Twilight Higlands. He even went so far as to construct a large port to celebrate his self-appointed reign as Warchief of the Dragonmaw.
The Dragonmaw and the Warchief's contumely
An inability to keep up with the pace of change seems to go hand in hand with drinking demon blood until your teeth grow to look like barbecue skewers. Mor'ghor seemingly did not get the memo that Garrosh Hellscream was done crying at fireside in Garadar and was out and about wrecking up the place in Northrend. When a Horde emissary from Garrosh contacted the Dragonmaw and offered an alliance, Mor'ghor basically snorted and said, "Hellscream? The same guy who couldn't rouse himself from his emo trance in the firelight long enough to kill a couple of fat ogres? That guy is in charge of the Horde?"
This leads to some unwise decisions on Mor'ghor's part (like, say, killing a Horde ambassador); as a result, the racial tensions between the fel orcs and the Dragonmaw who managed to stay clean of the demon blood breaks out into full-fledged conflict, aided and abetted by Horde heroes and supplied by Horde weapons.
With Mor'ghor's death, a new Warlord has taken the reins of the Dragonmaw. Pledged to the Horde in return for their aid in striking down Mor'ghor and his fel orc followers, the Dragonmaw now stand to turn their expertise to the Horde campaign in the Twilight Highlands. How their long, blood-soaked history will affect their future role in the Horde has yet to be determined, especially as Deathwing is concerned.
If you want to know more about the people, places and things that appeared in this Know Your Lore. be sure to read these other posts:
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.