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Know Your Lore: A Precarious Position Part 1 - Horde

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.

Things are about to get much worse.

- Deathbringer Saurfang

On the surface of things, it seems like we may be about to turn the corner. Garrosh Hellscream's True Horde is about to face its enemies and the Warchief has alienated so many of his former allies that the Horde itself has erupted in civil war. But once we start thinking about the aftermath, it all starts to seem a little murkier.

After all, even though we know that there will apparently be a new warchief appointed after the fall of Hellscream, that won't immediately fix the tensions that led to the Horde making war on itself. Hellscream's former supporters won't just vanish - with the vast majority of orcs behind him, Hellscream's legacy is bound to continue and any new warchief is going to have to face those orcs who took up arms for the True Horde and come up with a way to re-integrate them into the Horde as a whole. Meanwhile, it's likely that those who supported the Darkspear Rebellion are going to want to see substantial changes made to the way the Horde functions - the orcish ideals of Lok'tar Ogar, of unquestioning loyalty to the warchief are by necessity broken now. The Horde of the future is a Horde that has survived a mutiny, has seen a leader deposed - it cannot be bound by tight-knit expectations of loyalty and honor. The blood elves and forsaken, tauren and goblins and trolls who had a hand in making the new warchief possible will have demands, and they're not all going to be possible to meet.

Meanwhile, the Alliance will have found itself in the position of kingmaker for its enemy. What does the future hold for Alliance/Horde relations? Will the Alliance forget the past several years of Horde aggression or will it demand concessions from its weakened enemy? And if Varian Wrynn doesn't take advantage of this moment to reclaim Azshara and Ashenvale, or Gilneas, what backlash will he have to face from within his own faction? Thanks in no small part to the threat of the Horde, Wrynn has found himself rising to the position of war-leader for the Alliance as a whole. But can he maintain that position with a much less threatening Horde, especially if he doesn't move to take advantage of its weakness?

Let's look at potential threats to any return to stability. This week, we'll discuss the forces at play within the Horde.

The Forsaken

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know here, but Sylvanas Windrunner emerges from the Horde civil war with the strongest position. Her army is mostly untouched from the Pandaria campaign, which she took almost not part in. With her val'kyr, she can now forcibly convert her enemies (as was seen in the forcible conversion of the living on Fenris Isle) and is no longer dependent on the Lich King's plague to raise more of her undead followers. Her own version of the plague is an effective destroyer of life, as seen in Northrend and Southshore as well as Gilneas. Having convinced Darius Crowley to depart Gilneas to save his daughter Lorna from undead and survived Lord Godfrey's assassination attempt, Sylvanas now controls much of what was once the heartland of humanity - much of the former Lordaeron, plus the entirety of the nation of Alterac, over half of Gilneas and she's making inroads into the Western Plaguelands (Andorhal is hers) and the Arathi Highlands.

With Hellscream gone and the Kor'kron in disgrace, one may well expect to see Undercity free of its orcish overseers soon. This leaves Sylvanas completely free to pursue her own goals without interference. What those goals are beyond ultimately killing everything that lives, we have yet to determine. With the nearby blood elves demonstrating a willingness to make their own decisions about their future, however, she may have to deal with them before she can move in other areas. Whether she chooses diplomacy over conflict will determine how free she is to attempt to push further into what remains of the old human kingdoms of the north.

Whoever the new warchief is (assuming it's not her) he or she will have to deal very carefully with Sylvanas.

The Orcs

After the fall of Hellscream, the orcs remain the largest and most disciplined military within the Horde. Consider that it took a combined assault from the rest of the Horde (including a sizable minority portion of the orcs themselves) and the Alliance to invade Orgrimmar and defeat the orcs holding the city. Even outnumbered heavily Hellscream's True Horde put up a tremendous fight, and after the fall of the warchief, what of his followers? What of those orcs who turned against him, but who will now find themselves in a post-defeat landscape? Unlike the loss following the Second War, this is an orcish loss partially wrought by orcs, and this will create some significant tensions within the orcish people.

Whoever the new warchief is - whether it is a returned Thrall, a newly ascendant Vol'jin, or some other figure entirely - the orcs will have to be one of her or his big concerns. They're still the majority of the Horde, and they're definitely not going to be happy about Hellscream's defeat. Whether they supported or opposed him, his was in many respects a return to the Horde of Doomhammer, when orcs were ascendant and powerful, a warrior race out for conquest. It's clear that the shamanistic veneer of Thrall's reign as warchief was paper thin, and that the orcs of Azeroth are not interested in a return to the ways of their people before the rise of the Horde. The orcs are a more martial people now, and that will need to be addressed.

Garrosh Hellscream didn't invent the cultural forces that drove his reign. Those forces are still there.

The Blood Elves

Make no mistake - Lor'themar Theron and the blood elves have learned three important facts from the rise and fall of Garrosh Hellscream.
  1. Neither the Horde nor the Alliance can be trusted with the fate of the sin'dorei.
  2. The blood elves have regained a great deal of strength in the ten years since the Scourge destroyed the Sunwell. While they are no match for what they were, they're not weak and easily bullied. Their mastery of arcane magic makes them the mages of the Horde, and they have a new martial outlook unlike what they were when they joined the Horde. They are no longer supplicants.
  3. Strength must be used in the defense of one's people.
The blood elves were the driving force behind the invasion of the Isle of Thunder and the destruction of the Thunder King, from a Horde persepctive. When the blood elves came to Thrall, it was with their hat in hand, begging for aid, reliant on Sylvanas and her forsaken. None of this is true any longer. While they still haven't recovered from the staggering losses of the Scourge invasion, they have found in themselves a sparse, whipcord strength forged in adversity. Simply put, with the re-ignition of the Sunwell at M'uru and Velen's hands, the blood elves are not dependent any longer.

Whatever comes, the blood elves know they can respond. They aren't weak, and more importantly, they know it. At present this is good in that it helps them take part in the battle against Garrosh, but with Sylvanas to their southern flank we could be looking at the next Horde civil war in the offing. Lor'themar and his people will not allow anyone to use them as fodder again.

The Darkspear Trolls

When is winning worse than losing? When you're the Darkspears, and you simply don't have the numbers to rule the Horde. As allies of the orcs, the Darkspears were in an enviable position, but as their power has grown and the Echo Isles have returned to their control, they now find themselves led by a figure who may have ascended to the world stage, at a time when the rest of the trolls of Azeroth flounder. Their ancient civilization teeters on the brink, and as the only troll tribe winning the Darkspears may soon feel torn between ancient bonds of racial sympathy and the role the rebellion has placed them in.

Even if Vol'jin doesn't take the seat of power, he's proved he's a troll to be reckoned with. Vol'jin following Garrosh's defeat is the troll who first stood up and said no to the warchief - he is, essentially, the successful mutineer who must now feel some responsibility towards steering the floundering ship. The problem is, it's often much easier to pull something down than it is to then replace what you destroyed. Vol'jin's rebellion has effectively ended the legacy of Doomhammer's Horde, but what will replace it? What will the Horde become? The Darkspears are in a position to supply some of that answer - will Vol'jin's vision of the Horde as a family of outcasts win?

Never forget that not even all of his own tribe agree with Vol'jin - his childhood friend Zalazane once took the Echo Isles from the Darkspears, after all. Will the Darkspears become embroiled in the fall of the Zandalar? Will Vol'jin be able to serve both his people and his faction?

The Goblins

Don't count them out. The most rabidly mercantile people on Azeroth, even those goblin cartels not part of the Horde will be salivating at the possible profits in rebuilding Orgrimmar again. But the Bilgewater Cartel, led by Trade Prince Gallywix, is in an even stranger position. Bullied and menaced by Garrosh, they really only turned on him when he reneged on his trade agreements with them and now that he's been deposed, Gallywix stands a survivor who has effectively triumphed. Despite his being willing to sell out his own people during the Cataclysm Gallywix is by default the strongest goblin in the Horde and in control of the Horde's industry.

And he's eminently for sale. Who gets Gallywix's support comes down to who pays him enough.

The Tauren

I don't believe Baine Bloodhoof will become warchief. He's too young in his leadership position and played too secondary a role to Vol'jin in the revolution. While he and his tauren supported the uprising, they didn't lead it.

Still, Baine is a young tauren, and one who has been through a lot in recent years. His decision to ultimately blame Garrosh for his father's death over more reasonable culprit Magatha Grimtotem may speak to a general darkening of the tauren racial character. In recent years, tensions over their very presence in the Horde have begun to shape tauren society - some wish to return to a nomadic society, others to exert more influence on the Horde as a whole.

Tauren on an individual level are the most awe-inspiring warriors the Horde has. While the orcs as a people are the most disciplined and racially motivated warrior force, tauren are the biggest and the strongest and everyone knows it. The raw physical might of the tauren is nothing to be ignored. With Garrosh gone, the tauren find themselves finally in a position to throw that weight around, if they so choose. Goblin strip mining, forsaken plagues, even goblin profiteering all have aspects that dismay and upset the tauren and their sensibilities - a Horde which lacks the tauren as a calm, steady influence but which must instead contend with them as a force for change will definitely have to make adjustments.

Next week, how will the Alliance change? What forces must it contend with going forward?
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.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore, Mists of Pandaria

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