Warcraft lore is a continually fluctuating beast of a thing that can change at a moment's notice. This is particularly true for stories and plot developments that we hear over the course of beta testing, prior to an expansion's actual release. Nothing announced for Mists of Pandaria in the way of plot development is really set in stone and slapped into lore until the day you can purchase the game for yourselves and play it to your heart's content.
Even then, things might not be what they appear to be. Early this week, we had a fairly eye-opening announcement from Community Manager Zarhym in which he stated that perhaps Thrall wasn't slated to make a return to warchief once Garrosh had been removed, unlike all previous assumptions had suggested. Given the fact that Thrall's just saved the world, not to mention the fact that he's about to be a father, it's hard to picture him gladly taking his place as warchief again. There are more reasons than just those, of course.
But then that leaves the major question: Who the heck is going to be warchief? We don't have answers, but we've got five interesting possibilities for you to consider.
We need to look at why Thrall left in the first place. He didn't think he was fit to be warchief and lead the orcs in the way they apparently wanted to be led. That hasn't changed with Cataclysm; if anything, that rift between Thrall and traditional orc thinking has gotten even wider. Thrall's journey in Cataclysm was a journey of self-discovery and a strong lesson about his place in the world and the place of all mortals in the world.
Thrall has always held the opinion, much like Jaina Proudmoore, that there are far larger dangers in the world out there to be concerned with, dangers that vastly outweigh any petty squabbling between Alliance and Horde. If anything, his participation in the events that led to Deathwing's downfall only reinforced his opinion. A rampaging dragon bent on the destruction of the world is a much larger issue than fighting in Ashenvale. We're talking about the needs of the world vs. the needs of a faction -- and Thrall is siding with the world on this one.
Speaking of the world, it's still in shambles. Deathwing's emergence tore the landscape of Azeroth asunder and sent the elements of the world into a tizzy. Just because Deathwing is dead, it doesn't mean that everything is going to be magically better again. In fact, things might have gotten a little more chaotic, especially given the fact that Ragnaros and Al'Akir are now dead, and Neptulon is nowhere to be found. The world's been saved, but the elements still need a guiding hand and reassurance that everything is all right again -- something that Thrall could help with, along with the Earthen Ring.
Thrall's had his eyes opened by the Aspects and the events of Cataclysm. Given the amount he's seen, it's just unlikely that he'd quietly step back into the role of warchief, particularly when tensions between the Alliance and Horde are heating up to a boiling point. And that leaves us wondering exactly who's going to step up to the plate.
Vol'jin isn't just the leader of the Darkspear; he is also arguably the most vocal opposition to Garrosh's placement in the first place. If anyone understands Thrall, it's Vol'jin. The Darkspear were the first addition to the Horde on the way to Kalimdor. And just before making that trip, while his father died at the hands of the Sea Witch, Vol'jin was off on a vision quest with his friend Zalazane. In that vision quest, Vol'jin saw bits and pieces of his future, including the Darkspear's departure from Orgrimmar.
Vol'jin has held this knowledge somewhere deep within for years, knowledge gleaned in the months before the orcs arrived on the tiny jungle island, saved the Darkspear from the Sea Witch, and offered their hand in alliance. He may not have remembered all of it, but as the events of Cataclysm played out, there had to be a part of him deep inside that remembered the visions, remembered Garrosh's face. It's likely a good chunk of the reason Vol'jin argued so vehemently against Garrosh, because deep in the corners of his mind, there was an inkling of memory.
"I brought de Darkspears here to protect our bodies," he said. "We live to fight another day. But that just our bodies. One thing the Darkspears can't lose, loa, we can't ever lose, is our soul. The Darkspears have a soul, and if we stay with this orc, do his bidding, we lose our soul. And there be no comin' back from that."
Vol'jin isn't a leader like Thrall. He understands that fighting comes with a price, yes, but he also understands that sometimes you simply have to fight. He understands that struggle is a constant, but struggle is also a key to freedom. He also, in his way, understands the importance of keeping those tentative Alliance threads intact. Without the help of the Alliance, who knows what would have happened in Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman?
For all of these reasons, he'd make an excellent leader. The only thing standing between him and that leadership are the orcs. And those orcs may or may not trust Vol'jin, largely because of his abrupt departure from Orgrimmar and his lack of support for Garrosh. On top of this, Vol'jin isn't an orc himself -- and the backbone of the Horde has always been the orcish race. Would the orcs gladly look to a troll as a leader? It's an excellent question.
Baine's reign began in tragedy, the death of his father a direct result of Grimtotem meddling. But it extended beyond that, as far as Baine was concerned. Something about Garrosh Hellscream rubbed his father, Cairne, the wrong way. Something about Garrosh caused Cairne to challenge Garrosh to a duel. Something about Garrosh put his father in the situation that led to his death, and it was a situation his father stepped willingly into. We know the story behind the challenge; we know that Cairne mistakenly blamed Garrosh for the actions of the Twilight Cult. But Baine certainly doesn't.
Baine is also no stranger to the Alliance. After the Grimtotem coup following his father's death, he sought refuge with Jaina Proudmoore and spent the next several days speaking to her and to young Anduin Wrynn. Anduin may have been the son of Varian Wrynn, but he carried none of his father's deep-seated hatred for the Horde. He even gifted Baine with a powerful weapon, Fearbreaker.
Baine is the son of Cairne Bloodhoof, beloved leader and uniter of the scattered tauren tribes. Yet despite this, Baine is still a young leader. He's not quite settled into his role as high chieftain just yet. And despite his understanding of Garrosh and his patience in favor of a united Horde, Baine's still not entirely certain of his role with the tauren people. Will we see that change in Mists? That, we don't know just yet. Given his age and his experience, however, Baine's not the most likely choice in the book.
High Overlord Varok Saurfang is a legend among the orcs and among the Horde. He's a hero, a veteran of the First, Second, and Third wars, supreme commander of the might of Kalimdor in the war against the qiraj in Silithus. Brother to Broxigar, a legend in his own right, Varok Saurfang is quite possibly one of the most respected and powerful orcs in the Horde. This is largely because he doesn't beat his chest and announce his power; he simply exudes it from every pore of his being. Varok doesn't demand respect -- he deserves it.
And as a veteran of all of these wars, Varok is intimately familiar with the face of the Horde, both old and new. A staunch supporter of Warchief Thrall, Varok remembers with utter clarity the years before Thrall's birth, the grim years of fighting, of being enslaved by demonic-induced bloodlust. He remembers the dark, and he remembers the light of Thrall's entrance, how the former warchief took a beleagured and listless imprisoned people and led it once again to greatness.
Varok may not be a fan of the Alliance, but he understands the necessities of war and the urgent need to ally with enemies in the face of far greater danger, having participated in both the Third War and the war against the silithid, both of which required working with the Alliance for the greater good. And Varok is an orc of the old ways. He remembers the days of Doomhammer, and he remembers both the thrill of victory and the heavy price the orcs had to pay to achieve it. It's a cautionary tale that Varok carries close to his heart and will never, ever forget.
That said, the events of Wrath of the Lich King nearly shattered Varok. He proudly brought his son Dranosh from Nagrand to Azeroth, only to watch him fall at the Lich King's hands. He struggled with the knowledge that his son was no longer, yet his body still lived, bound by Frostmourne to serve the Lich King alone. And in the end, he took the body of his beloved son back to Nagrand to rest. After Wrath, Varok remained in Northrend, content to mop up the mess left behind.
Varok would make an excellent warchief, given his credentials and all that he's seen. But the larger question is whether or not he'd step up and take that position if offered it. Varok's life has been one of glorious victory and wearied defeat; he's not a young orc by any stretch of the imagination. Varok once told Garrosh that he would rather kill the young orc than watch him walk the dark path down the road to crazed bloodlust that his father took. It's a question of whether or not his words were true and what Varok would do next in the event that day came to pass.
Here's an idle and out-of-left-field thought -- Thrall really isn't up to being warchief. What about the woman who came along, shoved him straight down the path of self-discovery and didn't hesitate to put him in his place when he was entrenched in self-doubt? Aggra is a new character to the Warcraft universe, but her place is an old one. Raised in Nagrand, Aggra is doubtlessly familiar with Garrosh and his ways, intimately familiar with the days of Garrosh's depression and his failure to snap out of it.
Aggra is also unimpressed by the idea of a warchief. To her, it is simply another job that needs to be done and not something to wear as a badge of honor. When Aggra first met Thrall, she refused to use the title warchief or the name Thrall when she addressed him, instead calling him by the name his parents intended. Aggra put Thrall in his place, pointing out that if he really wanted to become a shaman and embrace what the spirits had to say, he'd have to leave the leadership role behind and concentrate fully on his future as a shaman.
In doing so, Aggra displayed a wisdom far beyond her years. And for the short amount of time she's spent on Azeroth, she's spent a giant chunk of it bailing out Thrall in one manner or another. When Aggra left with Thrall on a journey to the Maelstrom, it was interrupted by Alliance interference. And showing a remarkable aptitude for diplomacy, Aggra made tenative steps to reach out to the goblins of the Bilgewater Cartel, who had also been stranded on the isle. With their help, she rescued Thrall, and this helped strengthen the goblins' ultimate decision to ally with the Horde.
When Thrall failed to live up to the expectations of the Earthen Ring, Aggra refused to let him sulk in self-pity. And when Ysera asked Thrall to go on an errand for her, it was Aggra who encouraged him to go on the journey and see what he could find. The end result of that journey was a strengthening in Thrall's resolve and the realization that Aggra was his counterpart. And when the Aspects sought to strengthen Nordrassil, Aggra's strength and resilience came into play again. In fact, Aggra has shown at every opportunity that she is stronger than Thrall.
There are just a few things standing in her way, however. First of all, she is new to the Azeroth way of life, much like Garrosh Hellscream was upon his arrival. Would the orcs of the Horde really be willing to trust a stranger again? Secondly, there's the little matter of her child. It was revealed at the end of Cataclysm that Aggra is pregnant. We aren't quite certain how many years will pass between Cataclysm and Mists, but it's likely Aggra will still be occupied raising her kid. However, Varian seemed to do an all right job by Anduin despite being a leader and a ruler; Aggra might be able to pull off the same thing.
I know what you're thinking -- we're supposed to be removing the guy. How could he remain warchief? Well that's the thing, isn't it? What we were told at the Pandaria press event is that Garrosh would be removed. What if Garrosh isn't going to be removed after all? Garrosh is in the middle of finding out first-hand what exactly being a warlord will cost him. He's trying desperately to live up to the heroic image of his father, the image given to him by Thrall while he wallowed in self-pity in Nagrand.
Here's the thing: Garrosh has seen both sides of his father. He lived in despair for years, convinced that his father was the one who doomed the orcs to their grisly fate. Thrall's arrival showed him that his father was a hero. Garrosh's problem is that in that instant, he forgot all of his father's sins and instead embraced his supposed heroism. That is where Garrosh Hellscream failed. His father's life and death should have been a cautionary tale, but Garrosh turned it into an eager hero worship that has been driving him down the path of bloodlust and glory.
And Garrosh will happily continue down that path until he drives himself to ruin or someone steps in to show him the error of his ways. Every time someone has mentioned the darkness of his father's past, Garrosh's response has been to brush it off. After all, it didn't matter since he died a hero, right? What Garrosh should be doing is viewing his father's life as a lesson to be learned from, something that Varok Saurfang is intimately familiar with.
Thrall had hoped that Varok would rub off on Garrosh while they served together in Northrend. While Varok had some small influence, he couldn't quite overcome Garrosh's desperate need to prove that he was the hero his father had been. It is going to take one major, gigantic wake-up call for Garrosh to realize the error of his ways and see without question the path he needs to follow -- like, say, the combined forces of the Horde and Alliance showing up on Orgrimmar's doorstep.
Though ultimately we won't know for certain until the patch is released and events play out, all five of these examples have their pros and cons. It's definitely going to be exciting to see how all of this ends -- and hopefully, the Horde will end up with a warchief they can be proud of, instead of one they regret.
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.