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 Alliance and Horde have been notoriously at each other's throats since the two factions began in the days of the First and Second Wars. And although I have come up with some crazy theories regarding the innate reasons behind that latent aggression between the two factions, they're simply theories. They may make sense, in a bizarre and meta fashion, but they are in no way true. So here we are, left with a simple question: What makes the Alliance and Horde so prone to aggression? Why do they continue to battle, and turn their noses at the thought of making peace?
To ask why we fight, is to ask why the leaves fall -- it is in their nature.
While I do enjoy coming up with fanciful reasons for all of this, there is one blatant, simple reason that stands on its own: Misunderstanding. Sheer, unadulterated ignorance and a stubborn unwillingness to try and understand. Both sides possess a single-minded obsession with violence and retribution that has never faded, nearly thirty years after the events of the First War. And when you step back and take a look at the conflict between the two factions with a neutral eye, the whole of the aggression turns into a delightful, tragic, almost laughable comedy of errors and escalation.
Let's take a look at where some of the common misconceptions surrounding both Horde and Alliance have gotten us.
The internment camps
Following the Second War, the remaining orc forces of the Horde were rounded up and ushered off into internment camps. As prisoners of war, they treated with cruelty -- and they succumbed to a strange lethargy, listless and unwilling to fight. Thrall famously liberated the orcs from their cruel prisons and led them to freedom, far away from any Alliance settlement, intent on restoring them to their noble heritage -- heritage he'd heard tales of. Thrall was, after all, raised by humans, not orcs. What he'd learned of orcish heritage was tales told by Grom Hellscream and later, Drek'thar.
But let's back up a second. Yes, the orcs weren't exactly treated kindly in the internment camps -- they were prisoners of war, after all. But the very existence of the internment camps was a moment of mercy from the Alliance. Both Thoras Trollbane and Genn Greymane wanted the orcish race slaughtered down to the last after the Second War. It was King Terenas who insisted that the orcs be imprisoned. He was convinced that the orcs would see the errors of their crimes. His actions put a rift in the Alliance of Lordaeron that eventually tore the whole thing apart. Genn left the Alliance of Lordaeron over it.
In fact, that strange lethargy was a cause of concern for the Alliance. Archmage Antonidas was researching it because people thought that it was some sort of disease, and didn't want it to spread. He theorized correctly -- that the orcs had been under demonic influence, and that influence was simply wearing off. If Terenas hadn't shown a moment of mercy, there would be no new Horde today.
Conflict after the Third War
Orc, human, and night elf forces came together successfully to defeat Archimonde at Mount Hyjal in the Third War. So what happened? Territorial disputes. The night elves were unwilling to offer the orcs any kind of useable land or resources, and the humans were equally unwilling to do so. In order to survive, the Horde had to take what it could -- and take what allies it could. Likely the biggest mistake Thrall made in his career as Warchief was allowing the Forsaken to join the Horde. It wasn't something he took lightly -- he had to be talked into it by Hamuul Runetotem, who thought the Forsaken had a chance at redemption.
But that act pretty much closed the door on any hope the Horde had on successfully coming to any kind of negotiations with the Alliance. The Forsaken weren't just misunderstood dead guys -- they were former Scourge. They committed horrific atrocities while they were under the Lich King's sway. What's worse, after they broke free of the Lich King's hold, they went ahead and began slaughtering the rest of the living in Lordaeron. As far as the Alliance was concerned, the Forsaken were monsters -- and in a way, they were right.
Between that, and leftover feelings of animosity from the First War, there was no way any kind of negotiation stood a chance. Thrall's Horde was not the Horde of old -- but the allies it chose to consort with implied that it was the same as ever.
Alliances during the Burning Crusade
Round two, fight! As both Horde and Alliance forces entered the Dark Portal and traveled to Outland, tensions continued to build on both sides. But once again, both sides united to put a stop to the Burning Legion -- this time, Kil'jaeden. In fact, the interaction between the blood elves and draenei was the perfect illustration of what an alliance between the two factions could accomplish. Even though the blood elves had sabotaged the Exodar, causing it to plummet to Azeroth, Velen was able to distinguish between the elves that served Prince Kael'thas, and subsequently the Burning Legion, and the blood elves who were simply blind followers.
Not only that, but Velen was willing to actually help the beleaguered blood elves and restore the Sunwell. The source of all their power -- the thing that caused all those crazy addictions that eventually led their leader straight to the Legion's doorstep. And Velen didn't ask for a single thing in return. In contrast, the blood elves had the help of the Forsaken, yes -- and were forced to send what little aid they could to Northrend, under threat of that alliance being broken.
Is it any wonder that the blood elves considered, even briefly, defecting from the Horde? The relationship between the draenei and the blood elves was barely mentioned by either side. The draenei didn't receive any kind of punishment for what they'd done, and the blood elves received no acknowledgement of their short alliance with the draenei, either. In fact, both sin'dorei and draenei were by and large ignored when the war in Northrend began, their curious alliance completely forgotten in favor of fighting the Lich King -- and fighting between the Alliance and Horde.
The Battle for the Undercity
Although the battle at the Wrathgate proved pivotal in erasing all tentative peace between Alliance and Horde, for a moment it appeared as though that peace would actually come to pass. Bolvar and Saurfang appeared to be almost comrades on the battlefield, fighting side-by-side with apparent respect for each other. It wasn't until Putress launched his attack on both forces that it all came crashing down -- and what the Alliance seemed all too willing to forget was that the attack was not just on Alliance forces, but on Horde forces as well.
When Varian pushed into the Undercity, it wasn't to reclaim it for Sylvanas. It was to reclaim it for the Alliance. He had absolutely no interest in hearing about what had really occurred at the Wrathgate. He had no interest in looking at Sylvanas or the Forsaken with anything but disgust. And who can blame him? The halls of Lordaeron were once Varian's home -- they were shelter and a place of comfort after Stormwind was destroyed in the First War. For that matter, Varian held absolutely no love for the orcs, and why would he -- he was just a child when he watched his father die at the hands of Garona.
If Jaina hadn't intervened, it's entirely likely either Varian or Thrall would be dead right now. And the Alliance and Horde would have wasted their time murdering each other over it instead of focusing on the real issue -- the Lich King. But there's really one moment in history that stands above all as the moment this all began ... and the ramifications of that moment continue to this day.
The Horde invasion
The Alliance held and has continued to hold an impression of the Horde as a bunch of vicious, unruly savages. While there is truth behind that impression -- the Old Horde was in fact incredibly cruel, ruthless, and bloodthirsty -- the orcs behind the Horde were not acting of their own volition. They were pawns and puppets of the Burning Legion, tricked into servitude by the manipulations of Kil'jaeden and a very few orcs who were incredibly willing to serve in exchange for power, manipulating the rest of their race into following suit. But that was only one side of the Dark Portal. The other side of the portal was engineered by the human sorcerer Medivh, who had been possessed by Sargeras in the womb. Sargeras' influence led Medivh to contact Gul'dan and begin the creation of the Dark Portal.
In other words, the invasion of Azeroth was pretty much orchestrated by the Burning Legion from beginning to end, on both sides of the equation. In this, it was a massive success -- because the chaos wrought from that initial battle still continues to plague Azeroth to this day. Never mind how many demons have been killed since then, never mind how many victories both sides have won against the Burning Legion -- in this one simple act, Sargeras and Kil'jaeden guaranteed that Azeroth would be awash in war even without the presence of the Legion.
You know how the Alliance is quietly helping the Darkspear Rebellion in an effort to encourage more Horde casualties on both sides, to ultimately weaken the Horde as a whole? This is the Burning Legion's equivalent of that -- as long as Alliance and Horde are occupied with fighting each other, the Legion can continue to slip in and attack. Every moment the Legion has been defeated to date has been a moment where Alliance and Horde come together. The only exception to this is the War of the Ancients -- which took place thousands of years before the Alliance and Horde even existed.
Sargeras wasn't playing a short game with his possession of Aegwynn. He was waiting for Medivh. He was waiting for Kil'jaeden to complete his complete corruption of the orcs of Draenor. Kil'jaeden wasn't sent to conquer Draenor by any stretch of the imagination -- he was sent to find an army that could take Azeroth. And he did, with resounding success. If the First War had never happened, the Alliance would never have existed -- they'd have no reason to. The Horde never would have existed -- they'd have simply continued their existence on Draenor. And with a Guardian to watch over Azeroth, the world would continue to thrive.
In just a few calculated moves, Sargeras set up a domino effect that changed the face of Azeroth forever. It put into place a power struggle that continues to distract both Alliance and Horde to this day. And while both sides have been willing to put aside their differences until now, the Horde has a new leader -- a true son of Draenor who is willing to do whatever it takes to obtain victory. Garrosh Hellscream isn't just a threat to the Alliance. He's the one creature that currently has the power to push the conflict between Alliance and Horde into all-out chaos -- leaving the world open and vulnerable to another Legion attack. This is what Wrathion sees -- this is why he's trying to determine which side will be the victor in this war. Because as long as two sides exist, Azeroth will remain in constant danger, an ever-weakening target for the Legion to strike.
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.