It's far worse than that.
In the Cthulhu Mythos, Azathoth is a shapeless blob of bubbling chaos that sits at the center of the universe. Chaos, unencumbered, simply floating in space ... The name Azathoth isn't his real name; it's just what he's referred to as in the Necronomicon. In the extended versions of the mythos, it's been stated that he gave birth to the stars at the beginning of time, and at time's end, he would devour them all. Let's take another look at the origin of Azeroth.
As far as the time line is concerned, what seems to have been set into place with Ulduar is that the Titans arrived and created Azeroth, then left. Later, they returned to find the place overrun with Old Gods. But they discovered something curious upon their return -- they could not destroy the Old Gods, because doing so would destroy the planet as well. So instead, they imprisoned the Old Gods deep beneath the earth and created the Aspects to watch over the world. They also created fail-safes. In the event of an Old God's escape, Algalon the Observer would visit the world and determine its status. If the world was beyond saving, he would activate a signal asking for the re-origination of the world -- basically, the world would be destroyed, and Azeroth would start over.
One thing that has always, always bothered me about that story is this: If the Titans were prepared to put in a fail-safe to destroy the world in the event of the Old Gods' escape, why didn't they simply re-originate the world at the outset? Why would they balk at destroying the world, if the world was infested with chaos?
But if you look at the origin story a little differently, it starts to make sense. The Azathoth from Lovecraft is a blob at the center of the universe, a being of innate and utter chaos. He reeks of it. He is likely the source of all of it. Now back to Azeroth -- the Titans came to Azeroth and created order on the planet. ... What if the planet was the order?
What is the most logical way to put chaos in order? By containing it.
Azeroth wasn't just a planet. Azeroth was a malevolent entity, the spawn of chaos in the universe. The Titans didn't just put order to a little planet in the middle of nowhere. They traveled to the center of chaos, found the being responsible for it, and fought like mad to contain it in a cell. A spherical cell made of earth, wind, fire, water -- they encased the creature in a planet. And the planet, unassuming and unknowing of what exactly was at its very core, what the purpose of the world actually was, did its planetoid thing and simply existed, floating at the center of the universe.
The creatures roaming the world were primal, brutal, and easily influenced by the dark core of the world on which they were born. They were no more than insects or parasites to Azeroth, easily manipulated extensions of its being. But the Titans inadvertently left Azeroth with the tools to try and make his escape. The very elements that formed the planet's shell were themselves creatures prone to chaos; it was an easy matter to coerce them into servitude. As war and chaos reigned on the planet's surface, Azeroth continued to bubble and seethe in the center of the world, each battle making him stronger ... and creatures erupted from Azeroth, working their way to the surface.
The Old Gods aren't just malevolent entities that appeared out of nowhere. They are Azeroth's children, extensions of the beast that lies at the heart of the world. And when they returned, the Titans didn't just hit that re-orgination device because it wasn't a simple matter of having to rebuild a planet. It was a matter of unleashing the chaotic beast known as Azeroth upon the universe and having to fight it back into another prison -- a wholly unpleasant task with unknown ramifications on the rest of the universe, a task that needed to be avoided at all costs.
Yet imprisoning the Old Gods did little to guarantee the safety of the world for those who lived upon it. Neltharion, supposed warder of the earth, of the deep and secret places beneath it, was easily influenced by Azeroth's herald, the unknown equivalent of Nyarlathotep. This creature manipulated Neltharion into creating the Dragon Soul in an attempt to deliberately cause the Sundering. Because the one thing Azeroth wants most is to be freed from his accursed prison, heedless of any parasitic life that might exist on the world.
It didn't quite work, and the Shattering was a continuation of Azeroth's efforts. But the Old Gods still cannot be killed, not outright. Why? Because of us. Every battle we fight, every moment of outright violence, every heroic struggle we encounter on Azeroth's surface does nothing but fuel the dark heart of Azeroth. Think about the timing of the Old Gods' appearances. C'thun arrived during The War of the Shifting Sands, a massive onslaught between the Kaldorei and the Qiraji. What if C'thun wasn't actually present at the outset of that war -- what if he was spawned because of it?
N'Zoth's corruption of the Emerald Dream was noticed after the end of the Third War -- another violent outburst of chaos. On top of that, in the years between the Third War and the launch of World of Warcraft, that tenuous peace between Alliance and Horde was shattered, and the two factions began to fight again in earnest. What if N'Zoth's arrival was a result of all the fighting there?
Yogg Saron is located in Northrend, and part of the story surrounding his escape involves Loken, who was appointed to watch over the Old God's prison. Loken succumbed to the mad whispers of the Old God, going crazy himself -- but Yogg Saron didn't have Loken simply set him free. He had Loken subdue the other Watchers, one by one, and set the Aesir and Vanir to war with each other. Why would Loken pit them against each other, unless that fighting and raw chaotic power was used to further fuel the Old God? Perhaps he set them to war to give Yogg Saron enough power to subdue the Watchers.
But it wasn't quite enough to set Yogg Saron free. He needed more than just that. The arrival of the Lich King, the rise of the Scourge in Northrend, gave him more. And our arrival on Northrend's shores, our bloody battle with the Lich King and with each other, gave him even more power to work with, enough to fully emerge within the depths of Ulduar.
Other conflicts have erupted over time -- the First and Second wars between Orc and Human. We don't know what Old Gods rest in the Eastern Kingdoms, but we've seen their influence leeching from the shores of Tirisfal all the way to Stranglethorn Vale. They simply haven't been named yet. Each time we encounter one of these Old Gods, our response is to fight back against it and kill it -- but it never really dies. It won't die. It can't die.
During the war in Northrend, tensions between the Alliance and Horde once again escalated, breaking any remnant of tenuous peace born from Kil'jaeden's defeat. Prior to the Shattering, cultists freely walked the streets of the capital cities, spreading messages of the end times. After the Shattering, the conflict between Alliance and Horde erupted into all-out war, fighting breaking out all over the world. We can't kill the Old Gods. We can't kill them because the way we approach them is with violence, the kind of violence that further empowers the chaos of Azeroth. Each battle we have, with each other, against enemies, no matter how righteous the cause, only serves to fuel the fire even further.
So let me ask you again -- what is the best way, then, in the face of all that's occurred, to defeat chaos?
Pandaria and the Sha
This is what makes the concept of the Sha so interesting. The reason the Pandaren are so calm and peaceful is that their negative emotions manifest as the Sha. But these creatures start to spawn in abundance as living manifestations of the negative energy that is unleashed by the war between Alliance and Horde, brought to Pandaria's shores. And they bear an odd, faint resemblance to the stained glass panels in Ulduar, the ones that lead into the Decent into Madness and ultimately, Yogg Saron. That's a terribly odd coincidence.
The Pandaren aren't just a silly race. They are potentially the only race old enough to realize and understand what is going on with Azeroth. They may be the only race smart enough to have seen the Sundering for what it really was: not just a result of tampering with the arcane, but also the result of something, someone far more sinister, manipulating and shaping the world that encases him in a never-ending effort to be freed.
One more note of interest: Another creature in the mythos that I stumbled upon while refreshing my memory on Nyarlathotep was simply called "The Nameless Mists." ... I wonder what kind of deal the last Emperor of Pandaria struck to encase the continent in mists, and with whom?
This is just one vein of theories about the upcoming expansion. There are literally hundreds more than could be pulled from existing lore and countless others that could simply be created and tied into it. We aren't looking at an expansion of sheer nonsense and silliness here; there is a deeper plot to be had. Blizzard simply isn't telling us what's there yet -- because the fun lies in the unknown and the surprise. I'm happy with this approach, because it leaves everything open to rampant speculation ... and I do love my tinfoil hats.
Look forward to Mists. The erupting war and chaos is leading up to something far larger and more interesting than what we've been led to believe.
For more information on the people, places and history mentioned here, check out other Know Your Lore columns, such as:
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.