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.
I spent a very long time in Northrend, Krom'gar. I learned much about the Horde in that time. While there, a wise old war hero told me something that I would carry with me forever...
"Honor," Krom'gar, "No matter how dire the battle... never forsake it."
The Stonetalon Mountains, nestled in the heart of western Kalimdor, are one such location that's come under heavy fire from both sides. Formerly home to the Venture Company, the Stonetalon Mountains are now under contention by both sides, in an effort to grab what resources and land are immediately available. For the Alliance, it's a harder fight than previously thought. Not only is the Alliance dealing with Horde forces, they're also dealing with an ancient evil lurking beneath Stonetalon Peak.
As for the Horde ... the situation is relatively grim. In response to Alliance forces attacking from Northwatch Hold, Warchief Hellscream has assigned some of his best forces to the area. Overlord Krom'gar, an Azerothian orc with an almost fanatical devotion to Garrosh, leads the troops. Krom'gar hasn't been seen in game before now, but his attitude is reminiscent of Hellscream's forces in Northrend. Bloodthirsty and brutal, he is intent on wiping out all Alliance forces in Stonetalon and claiming it all in the name of the Horde.
What's interesting about Stonetalon Peak isn't just the story -- it's the shift in attitude. It doesn't just serve to highlight what's been going on in the Stonetalon area; it serves to highlight what's going on in the Horde itself. Gone are the days when NPCs quietly beseech you to help heal the Charred Vale. Now as a member of the Horde, players are expected to arm land mines in order to blow up any night elves encroaching on Horde outposts. The shove for supremacy is strong here, just as it was in the snowy hills of Icecrown.
In Icecrown, the Horde forces sought to not only wipe out the Scourge that served the Lich King, but also the Alliance forces, even though the Alliance forces had the same goal in mind: to destroy the Lich King and his army once and for all. The lunacy of the situation didn't occur to the Horde. It was simply a matter of wiping out their enemies, even when those enemies were at their weakest. Especially when those enemies were at their weakest.
It's a moment that's reflected in Stonetalon as well. The goblins, new to the Horde and eager to please their new allies, constructed a gigantic bomb attached to a hot air balloon. Its final destination was Windshear Hold, an Alliance base located just to the north of Krom'gar Fortress. However, Krom'gar's plans were foiled by an attempted attack. The Alliance, having discovered the balloon and its grim cargo, sought to detonate the bomb at Krom'gar Fortress and destroy any hope the Horde had of holding the land. Overlord Krom'gar couldn't allow this to happen, and so he ordered the balloon to move north.
Horde scouts reported that the night elves were preparing their own weapons of mass destruction and hiding them within an ancient tree to the north. Since the bomb could not be used on Windshear Hold, it was flown instead to Cliffwalker Post. Cliffwalker Post was a small tauren outpost situated high above Battlescar Valley, where fighting between the Alliance and Horde armies had reached a brutal climax. But upon arrival at Cliffwalker Post, a startling revelation was made by the tauren that called this area their home.
The night elves weren't holding weapons of any kind. In fact, the night elves of the area were young druids in training, and the ancient tree was nothing more than a druid grove called Thal'darah. Druids, both night elf and tauren, studied there together for generations, and there was no reason to suspect that these nature-loving creatures would do anything to destroy the fragile land around them. High Chieftain Cliffwalker tried to convince the Horde General of this, but General Grebo wouldn't hear of it, accusing Cliffwalker of treason -- and so the High Chieftain sent his son Orthus into the valley to speak with the night elves thereand prove that the druids had no weapons of any kind.
Orthus never returned.
Players sent to meet Orthus manage to find the young tauren -- or what remained of him. The glade itself was full of frightened young druids, running in terror with nowhere really to go. Armies of Alliance and Horde surrounded the glade, and the sounds of battle ripped through the air, the little druid glade trapped smack in the middle of it all. Orthus lay dead at the top of the ancient tree along with several night elf bodies. There were no weapons in sight, no obvious signs of foul play, but Orthus' dead hand clutched an insignia. Not an Alliance insignia -- the insignia of a Krom'gar General. Grebo's insignia.
High Chieftain Cliffwalker was furious. His son had been betrayed, murdered by the Horde who supposedly followed an honorable path. He ordered his wife to leave, but she refused to leave her husband's side. After giving the insignia back to General Grebo, High Chieftain Cliffwalker let the general know that his lies had been exposed. Instead of apologizing for his actions, the general called Cliffwalker a coward, spineless and a disgrace to the Horde, and attacked the Chieftain and his wife. Forced to defend themselves, the Cliffwalkers killed General Grebo.
Despite their grief, the Cliffwalkers knew what they had done was wrong -- and that they would certainly be killed for treason once word of it got back to the Horde. But instead of taking flight, they ask players to speak to Overlord Krom'gar and explain the situation to him. After all, the player witnessed everything that transpired -- surely he could convince the Overlord that the Cliffwalkers were innocent, and that the general was in the wrong. But Overlord Krom'gar heard nothing of it and immediately ordered his troops to Cliffwalker Post, to take care of the "traitors" once and for all.
Cliffwalker's wife was the first to fall to Krom'gar's army, the small tents and huts at the outpost set ablaze. And as High Chieftain Cliffwalker watched in horror, Overlord Krom'gar ordered the bomb released to Thal'darah Grove, forcing the chieftain to watch as it detonated and destroyed the ancient tree as well as the few frightened druids that remained behind. Women, children, innocents ... all dead, and a smoking crater was all that remained of the druid's precious grove. And as Overlord Krom'gar gloated over his victorious plans, a newcomer arrived on the scene. Warchief Hellscream.
Overlord Krom'gar says: Warchief! I... I was carrying out your command!
Garrosh Hellscream says: My command? Was my command to murder innocents, Krom'gar?
Overlord Krom'gar says: Warchief... Sir... I...
Garrosh Hellscream says: Am I a murderer, Krom'gar?
Overlord Krom'gar says: No, Warchief!
Garrosh Hellscream says: Then I ask you again: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!
Krom'gar begins to cower before Garrosh.
Garrosh Hellscream says: I sent you into Stonetalon Mountains with an army. Your orders were to secure this land for the Horde. Instead, you laid waste to the land. Murdered innocents. Children even... I spent a very long time in Northrend, Krom'gar. I learned much about the Horde in that time. While there, a wise old war hero told me something that I would carry with me forever... "Honor," Krom'gar, "No matter how dire the battle... never forsake it."
Garrosh Hellscream says: Overlord Krom'gar, you have disgraced the Horde. You have brought shame to us as a people. By my right as Warchief, I hereby relieve you of your duty.
Garrosh picks up Krom'gar by the throat and lifts him over the edge of the lift bridge.
Garrosh Hellscream says: YOU ARE DISMISSED.
Garrosh drops Krom'gar off the edge, sending him to his death.
This is one of the pivotal moments of Cataclysm, because it highlights one of those changes that we didn't see in the end of Wrath -- the moment when Garrosh realized that the fighting he encouraged in the Northrend war was no longer an acceptable option, that it simply did not apply in southern Azeroth because there were civilians potentially at risk. It's one thing to be fighting an army that is prepared to fight; it's another thing entirely to attack a defenseless group of druids who not only are doing nothing to provoke an attack but also have no real way of defending themselves. The druids of the glade were not warriors; they were not members of the Alliance army. They were innocents caught in the midst of battle.
It's the same Garrosh we see in the novel The Shattering by Christie Golden -- a Garrosh that is prepared to fight with honor but realizes that honor has contingencies. Dueling to the death with Cairne Bloodhoof was an honorable act because Cairne initiated the duel and was prepared to die; Magatha's interference, however, prevented that duel from being fair and removed all honor from the battle. Cairne came to that battle prepared to die, but Magatha took all the fight from him, and Garrosh didn't realize it until it was far too late. Instead of the victor in an honorable battle, Garrosh was just a cog in a murder scheme planned out by the Grimtotem. There was no honor to be had in murder.
It may also very well be why Garrosh's reaction to Overlord Krom'gar's acts was so strong. The death of a tauren by orcish hands, and once again, that death was a dishonorable one -- it was an echo of the shame he felt when he learned that Cairne's death was not an honorable one and that he had murdered someone who couldn't fight back. This time though, it wasn't a treacherous Grimtotem who poisoned the blade and paved the way for his shame -- it was an orc Overlord who had been trusted with the position of command, an orc that Garrosh himself had placed in that position of command. There was no reason for Krom'gar to act the way he did, other than sheer bloodlust. And it is obvious from Garrosh's reaction that mindless bloodlust will not be tolerated.
In Cataclysm, and in Stonetalon in particular, it's made clear that while the Horde may be on a march to claim land and resources, they are trying to do so as honorably as possible. This has a large part to do with Warchief Hellscream and his perception of honor -- and we have High Overlord Saurfang to thank for that. While they are prepared to fight for land, the Horde under Warchief Hellscream is prepared to fight armies -- slaughtering innocents is something that will not be tolerated.
Which makes the rest of Cataclysm even more interesting. Garrosh is learning, and Garrosh has stated that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated -- and yet that behavior is being acted out in other areas of the world, notably in Silverpine Forest and Hillsbrad Foothills, where the Forsaken have gone wild and ignore the Warchief's wishes. It may be that Garrosh Hellscream will soon discover what kind of strain Thrall was under as Warchief, that a Warchief's eyes cannot watch everything at once. How he chooses to deal with this knowledge is still up in the air; however, I don't think it's likely that we'll see Garrosh willingly give his position to another -- he's far too determined to lead, and lead the right way.
The eyes of Hellscream are upon us, but they aren't the eyes of an orc driven to bloodlust. They are the eyes of a cautious leader, a watchful leader, one who has a very defined line between what is honorable and what is not. Stonetalon remains as a cautionary tale to any who cross that line ... and they will learn in the instant before their death the folly of dishonor and what it means to cross a Hellscream.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
- Garrosh Hellscream
- High Overlord Saurfang
- Sylvanas Windrunner
- Current Horde Politics: the Orcs
- Cairne Bloodhoof
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.