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A question asked via email this week on the podcast got me thinking: who is in charge of the orcs right now? All the other races of the Horde have their own faction leaders, but following Hellscream's defeat and the ascension of the new Warchief (following this paragraph, I will be using the name of the new Warchief, as Garrosh Hellscream has been available on LFR for a week now) this leads us to an unusual circumstance - for the first time ever, the Warchief is not an orc, and thus, not the direct faction leader for the orcs in addition to his role as overall leader of the Horde.
Now, for those of us who saw the cinematic, this question seems to have a simple answer: clearly Thrall is now in charge of the orcish people, yes? He is the first to kneel and proclaim that he will follow where the Warchief leads. However, upon several rewatchings, one thing is clear - he says he will follow. He doesn't claim to speak for anyone else.
This leads us to another question - if Thrall isn't to speak for the orcs, then who is? Of course, another question we could ask is, does it matter?
The state of the orcish people within the Horde at present is fairly complicated. Many orcish heroes stood against Garrosh - figures like Thrall, Varok Saurfang, Eitrigg (and a sizable contingent of PC's), while others like Nazgrel remained at their posts and thus were not directly involved in the Siege or its aftermath. But based on the vast army that Hellscream mobilized, it's fair to say that in addition to large contingents of the Dragonmaw and Blackrock orcs, Hellscream had the loyalty of many of the orcs who had once pledged themselves to Thrall - orcs like General Nazgrim, who fought and died true to their oaths and their current Warchief. Still others, like Reghar Earthfury, seemingly disappeared during the crisis, and figures like Eitrigg attempted to sway the Warchief away from his mad course before finally standing directly against him.
This means that, post Hellscream's defeat and Vol'jin's assumption of the mantle of Warchief (a title fully invented by Gul'dan the orc warlock) that the orcs are in a situation unlike previous ones - this is less a defeat and more a collapse, orcs fighting against orcs alongside other peoples. In order to unify the orcs, this collapse must somehow be repaired, the divisions in loyalty healed. And part of the problem is, during his tenure as Warchief, Garrosh let two fairly large contingents or orcs join the Horde who were never loyal to Thrall or his vision of a New Horde.
Ironically, the Blackrock presence in Hellscream's ranks was due to Eitrigg and his son Ariok. The two of them executed a plan that destroyed many of the warlocks and corrupted shamans from positions of leadership they'd assumed following the death of Rend Blackhand, and in so doing freed the Blackrock from their association with Deathwing - but this left the Blackrock with a large power vacuum and no established leaders to speak of. When Garrosh offered them membership in the Horde, it was easy for them to see the benefit of accepting his offer, and they found Garrosh a far more acceptable leader than Thrall, with his strange ways and talk of coexistence. For people who've played Horde over the years, it can be hard to realize that Thrall is a very atypical orc. While he's certainly capable of great anger and violence, his idealized view of the orcish people has always been founded in his childhood raised apart from them. Garrosh presented a far closer ideal to that of Warchief Blackhand the Destroyer or Orgrim Doomhammer - a Warchief rooted in the warrior traditions of their people.
Similarly, while the Dragonmaw under Zaela had rejected their own self-styled 'Warchief', Overlord Mor'ghor and his fel orcs, they still were the clan that under Zuluhed and Nekros Skullcrusher used the Dragon Soul to enslave the Red Dragonflight and the Dragonqueen Alexstrasza - having been divided by the split between Outland and Azeroth, the Dragonmaw had fallen on hard times. If not for the coming of Garrosh's Horde forces during the Cataclysm, they might have found themselves pushed out of the Twilight Highlands entirely. Under Thrall, there had been no effort to repair relations with these orcs, no doubt in part due to Thrall's efforts to repair relations with the Dragonqueen. Garrosh, however, saw in the Dragonmaw an asset to be cultivated. For her part, Zaela shares with Garrosh a loathing for fel orcs and other demon-touched abominations - it's notable that Garrosh rejected the very idea of using demonic magics even while tapping the power of an old god and empowering his ranks with dark shaman. Garrosh fulfilled the role of Horde Warchief that the Dragonmaw would expect, in a way they would recognize and respond to, and there was simply no reason for them to be loyal to Thrall over Garrosh, or Thrall's vision for the Horde over Garrosh's vision. Thrall left them to rot - Garrosh brought them into the fold. In return, they served as soldiers and dragonbreakers for the True Horde Garrosh assembled.
It's hard to say how many of the orcs who fought in the True Horde were of these two clans. It's likely that near to all of the total strength of both were in Garrosh's service, but it's impossible to know how many that was, or if that could be the majority of Garrosh's forces. Clearly at least some orcs from the time before Garrosh's ascension served him up to the end. The question now becomes, can the Horde eject those who served Hellscream and remain intact?
While Malkorok died in Garrosh's service, leaving the Blackrock once again leaderless, it's unlikely that Warlord Zaela died - she was seen to vanish as soon as her newest mount Galakras was brought down. It's equally unlikely that she will cede control of her Dragonmaw to the new Warchief, who isn't even an orc, nor that she would accept Thrall as a leader. As long as Zaela lives, there's at least one strong Warlord to rival any new orc faction leader. It's very likely that the majority of the Dragonmaw on Azeroth would rally to her cause - whether or not she would accept the orcs of the Outland branch of the clan is an open question. Many are 'traitors to their own blood' in her own words, fel corrupted former servants of Illidan. It's possible that she might be willing to overlook that in the face of her need for allies and a power base. For that matter, Zaela would be a much more congenial leader for those remnants of the Blackrock clan that served Garrosh as well. Her ideology is much closer to theirs, and her close association with Garrosh places her as an obvious 'successor' to his ideology of Orc Supremacy.
Who, then, can stand as the orcish leader within the Horde as it stands and somehow cope with all this? Is Thrall the orc for the job? Or has his time as World-Shaman removed him too much from the daily concerns of his own people, a people he was raised apart from and has shown a certain lack of understanding towards? And if not Thrall, then who? Varok Saurfang had more or less retired before recent events forced him to confront Hellscream, to no avail. He's a respected orc warrior, brother to Broxigar, but ultimately his age sets him apart from the very orcs he would be attempting to lead - they are the children and even in some cases grandchildren of his generation, the descendants of orcs like him who fought in the First and Second War. His people experienced the agony of defeat and the curse of Mannoroth's blood - the generation that followed Garrosh were the ones left to live with the legacy of their decisions and actions, without the sense of responsibility for their crimes and atrocities. Similarly, Eitrigg is nearly as old as Saurfang, and equally unlikely to serve as a leader for this new, younger generation. Figures like Nazgrel, while still older, are young enough to connect with the current generation of orcs, but he's been away in Outland so long he lacks a reputation.
In the end, despite the difficulties, Thrall may be the only choice for the role. Which could lead to difficulties down the line. Glad I'm not in charge.
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.