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.
They are the Watchers on the Wall, the Sword in the Shadows. They are the Shado-Pan, Pandaria's fiercest warriors and arguably its darkest residents. Charged with restraining and controlling the sha -- vile creatures born of negative emotion -- the Shado-Pan have protected Pandaria from destruction for centuries. And although their numbers may be small in comparison to the rest of Pandaria's population, the Shado-Pan have succeeded in that mission ... until now.
Taran Zhu, leader of the Shado-Pan, holds the distinction of having what is likely the most tumultuous run as leader of the Shado-Pan -- and a great deal of the troubles he has had to deal with directly involve us. Oddly, Taran Zhu is one of the more contentious of Pandaria's new lore figures -- yet his actions are no different than one would expect, from his place in pandaren society.
Shaohao, the Last Emperor
In the years after the mogu were overthrown, Pandaria gave rise to pandaren Emperors. The last Emperor of Pandaria, Shaohao, came into power and as was tradition, sought the council of a jinyu Waterspeaker. In the waters of the river, he saw the events of the War of the Ancients and the Sundering. Shaohao quickly realized it was up to him to save Pandaria. His travels took him to the Jade Serpent, who told Shaohao to divest himself of his burdens, purify his spirit, and become one with the land. And so Shaohao set out on this journey, and in doing so, discovered the sha.
With the help of the Monkey King, Shaohao divested himself of his burdens, one by one -- and they took the form of the sha, monstrous creatures born of negative emotion and thought. Because these creatures were born of pure emotion, there was no way, really, to kill them -- but they could be imprisoned, and they could be contained. To that end, he founded the Shado-Pan, a group of Pandaria's greatest warriors who were charged with restraining and controlling the sha, thus keeping Pandaria safe.
Once he had completed his tasks, Shahao made one last proclamation to his people -- that they should live each day to the fullest, and sleep each night with the peace of a mind unburdened. Pandaria slipped into the mists, and the Shado-Pan began their long vigil, a vigil that has lasted ten thousand years.
The Shado- Pan
"The sha are the collective power of all the fear, hatred, and evil in our land. They are an enemy who will show no mercy and will never tire. They manipulate the mantid and drive the yaungol against our people. As the Shado-pan, it is our sworn duty to destroy the sha. We are the sword and shield against their terror, the last and only line of defense against the evil they would bring to Pandaria. If you take the oath of our order, you are willfully choosing to battle the sha again. And again. For the rest of your lives. We shall train you in their destruction, and we shall arm you against their fear, but one thing is assured: it will never go away."To become a member of the Shado-Pan is to become a member of an elite sect. It's not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. Initiates are given a test, the Trial of the Red Blossoms, that pits them against three trials -- Wisdom, Strength, and Spirit -- and each section of the trial is deadly. There are few Shado-Pan in the world for this very reason -- to be Shado-Pan requires not just physical strength, but the wisdom to understand how Pandaria works, what the sha are -- and the spirit to face and withstand the savage emotional assault that the sha bring every day.
It is accepting the knowledge that regardless of how hard you fight, there will always be more to fight against you. The Shado-Pan watch the Serpent's Spine to keep the mantid at bay, fully aware of their hundred-year gestational cycle. They are also well familiar with the yaungol, and keep them at bay as well. But most important, above all else, are the sha. Unlike the mantid, the sha never rest. They are an ever-present, constant threat, kept in check by the warriors of the Shado-Pan.
Once seen by the sha, a Shado-Pan is marked for life -- the sha quickly learn the minds of their enemies, their weaknesses and fears, and use that to their advantage. Fighting the sha isn't as simple as swinging a sword -- it requires severe emotional resolve. Keep in mind that the Shado-Pan have been trained to deal with the sha for ten thousand years -- the rest of Pandaria? Likely, the majority of Pandaria really hasn't experienced the sha in full effect. They don't know how the sha work, nor do they know how to combat them -- they aren't the Shado-Pan.
Which makes sense, when you look at what Shaohao told his people. "Live each day to the fullest, sleep at night with a mind unburdened." Unburdened by fear, despair, hatred, anger -- unburdened by anything that could unwittingly feed the sha. Shaohao did his best to make sure that the sha would never run rampant, and, just in case, set aside a group of warriors to keep the sha in check. The life of the Shado-Pan is one of controlled emotion, of servitude that more often than not, likely ends in one form of unpleasant death or another. But the Shado-Pan serve to protect Pandaria, and it's a noble task that they have carried out without fail for ten thousand years.
As leader of the Shado-Pan, Taran Zhu bears what is perhaps the heaviest burden of all. He oversees all of the warriors, and oversees the inner workings of the order. Underneath Taran Zhu are the Masters of the three different disciplines -- Omnia, overseen by Master Yalia Sagewhisper, Blackguard, led by Master Wan Snowdrift, and the Wu Kao, led by Master Nurong. Each Master reports to Taran Zhu, and Taran Zhu is left with the weighty task of watching the world and making sure the sha don't get out of control.
One may ask why Taran Zhu seems to be so angry all the time -- why all the Shado-Pan seem to be angry. There's good reason for it. The residents of Pandaria have been encouraged to work with minds unburdened, but the Shado-Pan are not afforded that luxury. In order to defeat the sha, one must be able to call it forth in the first place. One has to fully understand what the sha are and how they work in order. And if you think about it that way, the emotional outbursts of Taran Zhu and the Shado-Pan begin to make sense.
The Shado-Pan have been given the largest burden of all. While the rest of Pandaria lives a life of peace and contentment, the Shado-Pan deliberately seek the opposite. In a way, the only reason the rest of Pandaria has been afforded the means to live peaceful lives free of worry and strife is because the Shado-Pan have taken on the emotional burdens of the pandaren race for themselves. Think about it -- if the sha are drawn to negative emotion, and the only pandaren excising that negative emotion are the Shado-Pan, then the Shado-Pan can essentially control when and where the sha spawn, and easily keep them in check. It's a heavy burden to bear.
And it's also been a remarkably effective means of keeping the sha in check for ten thousand years. Taran Zhu stands as part of a never-ending cycle that has successfully withstood the test of time, the proud leader of an organization that, while small, has single-handedly kept the sha in line and kept Pandaria safe. Shaohao knew what he was asking of the Shado-Pan when he founded the order -- and the very fact that few can pass the Trial of Red Blossoms stands as a testament to its success. The rest of Pandaria can sleep peacefully, when Pandaria's strongest warriors are on the watch.
Eternal servitude, eternal frustration
This is why Taran Zhu is so angry when he encounters the Alliance and Horde on Pandaria's shores. It's not just that we are strangers in a strange land, it's that we bring with us a wild, unpredictable storm of negative emotion that calls forth the sha in a manner never before seen. Neither Alliance nor Horde understand what the sha are or what they truly mean -- both are far too embroiled in their war with each other to realize the scope of what that hatred will bring. It's why Taran Zhu protested so violently against letting both sides into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, the most sacred place in all of Pandaria.
Taran Zhu can be angry because he can afford to be angry -- he understands what that anger will bring, and he knows how to handle it. What he does not know how to handle -- what none of the Shado-Pan are prepared for -- is the direct assault of sha on the pandaren race, and the chaos that ensues because of it. The mantid swarm early, and it sends the yaungol into an unprecedented migration. Each action leads to the death of more pandaren -- and it leads to more fear, more despair, more hatred, more chaos. If left unattended, the cycle will quickly spiral out of control and destroy Pandaria for good.
Yet both Alliance and Horde insist on continuing to fight. Even more disturbing are the actions of Garrosh Hellscream, who looks at the sha not as a deadly enemy, but a weapon to be used against others. For an organization that has dedicated ten thousand years to preserving order and balance in Pandaria, this borders on the obscene. It is absolutely, blatantly clear to Taran Zhu that neither Alliance nor Horde will even begin to understand the sha or Pandaria -- their eyes are blinded with hatred for each other.
Chaos and duty
Taran Zhu: ENOUGH!! There will be no more bloodshed today. I see now why your Alliance and Horde cannot stop fighting. Every reprisal is itself an act of aggression, and every act of aggression triggers immediate reprisal.Maybe Taran Zhu was a little harsh in his delivery of the message on the Isle of Thunder -- but neither Alliance nor Horde really gave him much choice in the matter. Despite the outbreak of sha across the land, despite both sides being informed what the sha were and how they worked, neither was willing to try and control themselves for the sake of Pandaria. To Taran Zhu, the Alliance and Horde are almost like children, each wanting to have the last word in an argument that will never, ever cease as long as each keeps trying to get that last word in.
Lady Jaina Proudmoore : They have undermined EVERY attempt at peace!
Lor'themar Theron: I must protect my sovereign people.
Taran Zhu: SILENCE! YOU must break the cycle. It ends TODAY. Here. The cycle ends when you, Regent Lord, and you, Lady Proudmoore, turn from one another. And walk. Away.
Taran Zhu could care less about the war between the Alliance and Horde -- our fate is not important to him. What he cares about is his duty -- the duty he swore himself to at his own Trial of the Red Blossoms, so many years ago. The oath that he took to uphold and protect Pandaria to the best of his ability -- an oath that eventually led him to lead the mighty Shado-Pan himself. He cares about the blight of sha that threatens to destroy the sacred Vale and the rest of Pandaria right along with it. He cares about his people, the pandaren who look to the Shado-Pan for protection and deliverance from certain destruction.
To put it bluntly, if Pandaria is a wonderful pool on a hot summer day, Taran Zhu is the lifeguard. The Alliance and Horde have decided to visit the pool at the same time, and get in a fight. Taran Zhu doesn't care who started the fight -- all he cares about is that two kids are in the middle of a screaming match hitting each other with water noodles, and it's ruining everyone else's good time. And if it were up to Taran Zhu alone, we would have all been chucked out of the pool a long time ago, banned from ever coming back.
Luckily, our fate isn't up to Taran Zhu, or we would have been banished from Pandaria the moment we set foot upon it. But we would be wise to listen to his words -- unless we want to be the sole blame for the destruction of Pandaria itself.
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.