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.
This is it.
This is the moment beyond which we cannot return. For both the Alliance and those members of the Horde in open revolt, there is now no longer any path but forward, and that path leads through Orgrimmar's iron walls, past her legions of defenders, and must inevitably lead all to the iron throne of Garrosh Hellscream in his subterranean fortress below Orgrimmar itself. The Warchief has declared his intent to lure the armies of the world to make open war against him on his terms, on ground he controls, and within a week that intent will have become reality. The die has been cast.
For some, this is the culmination of a desired confrontation. Both Vol'jin and Jaina Proudmoore fall into this category - both want the Warchief removed and some measure of revenge for personal slights and injuries. Vol'jin's grudge is of longer standing, and his desire for retribution stems from an attempt to have him assassinated, but Jaina seeks redress of a loss of an entire city in the bombing of Theramore, the loss of an apprentice, of friends and colleagues and the last refuge of a refugee people. For others, like Thrall and Varok Saurfang, this is a conflict of brother against brother and they seek to avoid it even as they suspect that it cannot be avoided. Still others, like Lor'themar Theron and Varian Wrynn, were brought to this point reluctantly and only act now in the best interests of their people.
Some reluctant, others eager, but in the end it all comes down to this - two full scale armies invading the most fortified, heaviest defended place on the planet Azeroth. The war that Hellscream began has finally found its way back to Orgrimmar.
For the orcs, this is a particularly bitter moment. Not all orcs, especially not all of the ones who followed Thrall to Kalimdor, support Hellscream. For some, Garrosh is a representation of their warrior spirit and his untained Mag'har nature won him support and loyalty, but even back during the Cataclysm there were as many orcish voices raised in concern over his plans as there were those supporting him. For some orcs, this has been the return of a theme they've heard before and didn't much like how it ended, and don't want to go through it again, while for others it was the chance to try again. This division in the orcish people was exacerbated by Garrosh's recruitment of those orcs who would or could never have been part of the Horde under Thrall - for better or worse, Thrall's mentality may have set the stage for Garrosh, but the World Shaman could never have convinced the Blackrock or Dragonmaw to make common cause with him, or moved them to join a Horde under his command. Hellscream, in embracing those elements of the Horde that never stopped fighting the Second War, has displayed the widening divide in the orcish people between those who want to move away from that period and those that think this time we can win.
Whatever agony orcs might be feeling (at least those fighting against Hellscream), this is an unalloyed sea change in the rest of the Horde. Up until this point, the Horde has always been the orcs and their amazing friends. But after, a sitting orcish Warchief will have been deposed in part by the actions of the non-orcs within the Horde, and this may well mark the point in time when the Horde moves from an orcish institution that allows non-orcs within its ranks to a full international alliance of nations. The trolls, tauren, blood elves and even the goblins have all stepped forward to display animosity and opposition to Hellscream to date, and it seems likely that the forsaken will take the opportunity to at least reclaim Undercity from the Kor'kron. Whether or not the next Warchief is an orc, the fact remains that any future leader of the Horde will have to take the full Horde into account. There can never be another Hellscream, leading by preaching to his base and ignoring the rest of the races under his banner.
That movement has been developing for years - it's really a legacy of the migration Thrall led his people on from the Eastern Kingdoms, and the alliances he made on the way to Kalimdor and Durotar, his meetings with Sen'jin and Cairne Bloodhoof - but in admitting first the forsaken, and then the blood elves and goblins after them, Thrall started the process that has found itself leading up to now, when the Horde has to decide what it is and what it is going to be.
As interesting as that is, however, for the Alliance this moment is in a way even more important, because it is the first time since Blackrock Mountain that the Alliance has taken the fight to the Horde. And it is the first time ever that a sitting Horde Warchief, in control of a force of Horde troops and in defense of a Horde capital, has been besieged by the Alliance. The Alliance lost Stormwind to a Horde force, and defended Lordaeron against Doomhammer, but has never, ever marched on a Horde capital of any kind, much less one as heavily fortified as Orgrimmar.
This is important for a number of reasons. First off, it is the first time in years that the Alliance has managed to make a unified military push, since Northrend. All of Varian Wrynn's offscream actions in the past few months since Patch 5.1 have led us to this moment, when the complete Alliance war machine - night elves, dwarves, humans, gnomes, even draenei and worgen - will make an offensive move. Depending on how the victory plays out - how costly it is, how many die to achieve it, the relative strength of the victors and vanquished, the relationship between the Horde rebels and the Alliance forces - we could be looking at the moment when Azeroth begins to find common cause between these two great world-spanning powers, or the moment when the Horde finds itself an alliance of nations and the Alliance becomes a horde of military forces under a supreme warleader.
Frankly, the Alliance has always been (even back when it was mostly just an Alliance of human nations) a ponderous beast to get moving. When the Alliance became a group of allied peoples, with their own leaders and leadership, the inertia got even worse - it takes forever to even get the Alliance to meet to discuss issues like the Horde invasion of Ashenvale or whether or not to admit the worgen as members. So I'm less surprised that Varian took so long to get the Alliance to this point than I am that it happened at all. In a way, this is why I can't get too worked up at the idea of the Alliance deciding to take advantage of the fallout of Orgrimmar's fall in any real way - any such decision would be immediately the subject of enormous debate between the very disparate leadership of the Alliance, each with his or her own axes to grind. Some, like Jaina and Tyrande, I can imagine advocating immediate military action, but Velen would oppose, and its likely both the Council of Three Hammers and High Tinker Mekkatorque would see continued involvement in Kalimdor as a quagmire distracting them from their own priorities. As for Varian, can he take his eyes off of Lordaeron and the forsaken long enough to reconquer Azshara, and to what end?
It's still fascinating to think about a more proactive Alliance from here on out. Whatever the circumstances, one thing is clear - a win here is a huge victory for a faction that has been suffering reversal and calamity since Deathwing erupted out of Deepholm.
Soon we'll get to see the end of the beginning, if not the beginning of the end. The die has been cast. Now all roads lead to Orgrimmar.
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.