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.
The character Thrall has been a mainstay and a highlight figure in Warcraft lore since his first appearance in Warcraft 3 and the novel Lord of the Clans by Christie Golden. We've covered Thrall and his history before on Know Your Lore, particularly in the current orc politics article, which went over the situation with Thrall and Garrosh Hellscream. Since the release of that article, certain things have been revealed that make another short look at the former Warchief of the Horde necessary.
Thrall has always been a fascinating character to myself and many others. Originally, he seemed to be designed as a simple "true hero" for the brutal orcs to follow, a beacon of honor and integrity in an otherwise incredibly violent, savage society. With Thrall, we were introduced to an orc who had the misfortune of losing both of his parents when he was just a baby, an orc raised in slavery for the amusement of Blackmoore. But a deeper look into the character revealed several intrinsic flaws with the hero that were openly explored the further we progressed into World of Warcraft's storyline.
Please note: The following article contains spoilers for The Shattering by Christie Golden. If you'd like to remain unspoiled, veer away!
As a child, he was raised by humans -- notably by Aedelas Blackmoore, who found the baby orc and saw in him an opportunity to make some easy gold via the gladiatorial rings that were popular after the Second War. He named the baby Thrall -- "slave." Thrall wasn't exposed to Blackmoore at first; he had the fortune of being raised by the Foxton family, a group of Blackmoore's servants. While just a baby at the time, Thrall was not treated unkindly. Clannia Foxton was frightened of the small, green child; her husband Tammis was also wary of the child but eager to improve his standing in Blackmoore's eyes.
However, it was their daughter Taretha who provided much of Thrall's early exposure to humankind. She never looked at him with fear; he was merely her baby brother, who happened to be an odd shade of green and looked nothing like the other humans of the encampment. Despite his strange appearance, she treated him with the utter kindness and devotion of a sister. A year later, when Blackmoore took Thrall away to begin his gladiatorial training, Taretha was upset at the loss of her baby brother, and when the opportunity presented itself to speak to him again, she took it gladly.
Thrall learned to read and write from a tutor who was kind to him, and at age six, abruptly began his training in combat. His trainer, a man simply called Sergeant, taught him of mercy and also treated him with as much kindness as he could when Blackmoore wasn't present. During this time, Sergeant had books delivered to the young orc so that he could learn about strategy and combat.
Thrall hesitated, then lifted his blue-eyed gaze. Blackmoore's eyes bored into his own. "Do you know what your name means?"
"No, sir." His voice sounded so rough and deep, even in his own ears, next to the musical lilt of the humans' voices.
"It means 'slave.' It means that you belong to me." Blackmoore stepped forward and prodded the orc's chest with a stiff forefinger. "It means that I own you. Do you understand that?" For a moment, Thrall was so shocked he didn't reply. His name meant slave? It sounded so pleasant when humans spoke it, he thought it must be a good name, a worthy name.
Taretha Foxton delivered the books that Thrall read, and she started up correspondence with Thrall via notes slipped in the tomes. She and Thrall communicated entirely through writing during the next several years. But the beatings at the hands of a drunken Blackmoore grew worse and worse. The first gladiator battle that he lost resulted in such a severe beating that Thrall finally made up his mind to escape.
Taretha helped him to do so, creating a distraction so that the orc could sneak out undetected.
His experience with humans was far from over, but it all began with Blackmoore, Taretha, and Sergeant. At this point, he had learned that while some humans were tremendously unkind, there were many that could be trusted. He'd learned to read, write and speak in Common; he'd learned how to fight. He'd learned from the humans that he was a slave and exactly what that meant; he'd learned about mercy, honor and kindness. He was roughly 18 -- fully grown, but hardly more than a child, with only a tentative understanding of the orcish language and no real understanding of what the orcs, his people, were. But he desperately wanted to find them and find out."They call you a monster," she said, her voice thick again as she stepped away from him. "But they're the monsters, not you. Farewell, Thrall."
Thrall traveled to the internment camps first, to see what his true people were all about. He was horrified to discover that they had all fallen under some sort of strange lethargy. The savage people he'd read about in books were apparently no more. Instead, he encountered a people that were dull, lifeless, and strangely red-eyed, apparently sapped of all free will and unable to do anything about it.
He listened, captivated, as the red-eyed orc spoke in a soft voice of tales of valor and strength. He told of charges made against impossible odds, of heroic deeds, and of humans falling beneath a relentless green tide of orcs united in purpose. He spoke wistfully of a spiritual people as well, something Thrall had never heard of.
Thrall still had only the smallest grasp on what exactly his people were -- but he knew now what they had been. And that society seemed so much better than anything he had encountered in his short life. He was driven to help them, but there seemed to be little he could do."Oh, yes," Kelgar said sadly. "Once, before we were the proud, battle-hungry Horde, we were individual clans. And in those clans were those who knew the magic of wind and water, of sky and land, of all the spirits of the wild, and they worked in harmony with those powers. We called them 'shamans,' and until the emergence of the warlocks, their skills were all we knew of power."
With those words, Kelgar unwittingly sparked a revolution that would change the face of the Horde forever. It was because of his tales and soft plea for help, coupled with Thrall's desire for a home with his people, that Thrall sought out Grom Hellscream, who had evaded capture for years. Hellscream was bitter, angry at the results of the Second War and intensely curious about Thrall. An orc raised by humans, yet one who knew of honor, of mercy? Astonishing.Kelgar shook his head. "It is not the strength that is gone, Thrall. I could kill the guards in a heartbeat. Anyone here could. It's the desire. I do not wish to try to climb the walls. I want to stay here. I can't explain it, and I am ashamed, but that is the truth. You will have to have the passion, the fire, for all of us here."
"Should we then change your other name? It is the term of a slave," said Hellscream, squatting and watching Thrall closely with red eyes. "It was meant to be a badge of shame."
Thrall thought as he chewed and swallowed. "No. Blackmoore gave me the name so that I would never forget that I was something he owned, that I belonged to him." His eyes narrowed. "I never will. I will keep the name, and one day, when I see him again, he will be the one who remembers what he did to me, and regret it with all his heart."
Hellscream told him bits and pieces of orcish history, about a time when orcs existed on Draenor in different clans. Thrall showed him a blanket he'd had since he was a baby, and Hellscream identified it as coming from the Frostwolf clan -- these were Thrall's people. Hellscream listened to Thrall's stories about the internment camps and realized the only way to free the orcs from their lethargy would be to break into the camps and lead them away. But they'd need help -- and so Thrall traveled to find the Frostwolves, both for their assistance and to try and discover the family that might have been his.
While staying with the Frostwolves, Thrall got his first taste of shamanism. Drek'Thar, shaman and protector of the Frostwolf Clan, saw some sort of potential in the young orc. But first Thrall had to work very, very hard to earn the trust of the Frostwolf Clan. While he struggled to be accepted, Drek'Thar spoke often to the young orc, telling him of Draenor, of the orcs' struggle with corruption, of his father and mother, and at last, of the lethargy which quickly overtook the orcish people:
"I believe that the lethargy you reported seeing in the camps is the emptiness our people are feeling when the demonic energies have been withdrawn. Without that external energy, they feel weak, bereft. They may not even know why they feel this way, or care enough to ponder it. They are like empty cups, Thrall, that were once filled with poison. Now they cry out to be filled with something wholesome once again. That which they yearn for is the nourishment of the old ways. Shamanism, a reconnection with the simple and pure powers of the natural forces and laws, will fill them again and assuage that dreadful hunger. This, and only this, will rouse them from their stupor and remind them of the proud, courageous line from which we have all come."
And with that, he began to train Thrall in the ways of the shaman. What exactly it was that he saw in the young orc is unknown -- perhaps it was the honest, unflinching eagerness to free the orcs. Perhaps it was the utter lack of any demonic taint. Perhaps it was simply that Thrall was an open canvas, a blank slate with no real prior connection to the corruption that had riddled the orcs for decades. Regardless, what Drek'Thar saw in Thrall was a chance for a return to the old ways, a return to the life the orcs had lived before the Burning Legion had stepped in. Thrall was not only eager to learn, but he possessed a natural spark for shamanism that was extraordinary. Drek'Thar decided it was time for Thrall's initiation to the shamanistic ways, and Thrall passed with flying colors.
"Well done, my child," said Drek'Thar, his voice trembling with emotion. "I had hoped they would accept ... Thrall, you must know. It has been years, nay, decades, since the spirits have accepted a shaman. They were angry with us for our warlocks' dark bargain, their corruption of magic. There are only a few shamans left now, and all are as old as I. The spirits have waited for someone worthy upon whom to bestow their gifts; you are the first in a long, long time to be so honored. I had feared that the spirits would forever refuse to work with us again, but ... Thrall, I have never seen a stronger shaman in my life, and you are only beginning."
"I ... I thought it would feel so powerful," stammered Thrall, his voice faint. "But instead ... I am so humbled..."
"And it is that which makes you worthy." He reached and stroked Thrall's cheek. "Durotan and Draka would be so proud of you."
Later, word of Thrall's potential had spread to an orc who would take Thrall in under his wing as second in command of the Horde forces: Orgrim Doomhammer, a legend among the orcs. And Orgrim wanted his people freed from the internment camps just as badly as young Thrall did.
At this time, the majority of Thrall's life had been spent with humans, learning human ways. He escaped after brutal treatment at the hands of his master, with the help of a kind human woman who was like a sister to the orc. He had only begun his journey of discovery, but in that short time, he had eagerly learned all he could of the orcs -- their history, what had befallen them, and the wondrous, spiritual path of the shaman. Yet he was still unsatisfied, still wanted to see his people freed -- and with Orgrim's acceptance, Thrall would see that day."You come from a proud and noble line, Thrall, despite the name which you have chosen to keep. Let us honor that line together."