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.
Originally, Draenor was a planet with a nigh-uneventful history until a series of progressively more incredible and unusual events, brought to the world from outside sources, plunged it into chaos. According to what we knew -- which was admittedly very little -- the orc clans of Draenor had no issues with the rest of the world, or with each other. There may have been the occasional squabbles between clans, but there was nothing remotely resembling full out war ... at least nothing that's been recorded in history as we know it. However, the announcement of Warlords of Draenor seems to indicate a big history lesson is on the way.
Draenor's history, one distinct moment in time has been altered, creating a separate fork -- a bubble of time, if you will -- that has changed the fates of these old heroes. So who are the Warlords of Draenor? We have their names. What we don't have is the new history revealed in the expansion just yet. But even in the original timeline, these orc warlords each had different, unique histories that all tied in together, courtesy of the Burning Legion's meddling and influence.
Ner'zhul was originally a shaman and spiritual leader of the Shadowmoon Clan, but his wisdom and reputation far exceeded the clan he called his own. Widely respected and admired by the orcish race for his deep connection to the spirits, it was Ner'zhul who originally and unwittingly set the stage for history as we know it today. Ner'zhul was contacted by a spirit who he presumed was his deceased mate, Rulkan -- and she had some disheartening news. According to Rulkan, the draenei were plotting against the orcish race, and it was only a matter of time before full out war would rage. Ner'zhul took this knowledge back to his people, and that's where the slaughter of the draenei began.
Later, Ner'zhul discovered that Rulkan was in fact Kil'jaeden the Deceiver. Horrified, he returned to his people with the intent of telling them the truth, but instead found himself betrayed. Kil'jaeden had already been informed of Ner'zhul's intent to betray him, and stripped the shaman of his powers, forcing him to simply watch as the orcish race fell further into bloodlust and depravity. When the Dark Portal was destroyed at the end of the Second War, Ner'zhul was caught in the blast. While recuperating, he went just a little mad, just a little more power-hungry. When approached by Teron Gorefiend with a plan to find new worlds for the Horde to conquer, he agreed, and quickly went about bringing that plan into action.
Unfortunately, that plan also involved opening mass portals all over Draenor -- an act that shattered the world into the disparate regions floating in the Twisted Nether that today is called Outland. As the world began to shatter, Ner'zhul decided to ditch the majority of the orcish race and escape Draenor by leaping through one of these portals. He was greeted on the other side by Kil'jaeden, who tore Ner'zhul apart, taking his spirit and binding it to the helm of the Lich King. Ner'zhul was no more -- but his legacy would certainly live on.
While Ner'zhul certainly enjoyed and craved a fair bit of power, it was nothing in comparison to his apprentice, Gul'dan. Gul'dan was the one who informed Kil'jaeden of Ner'zhul's impending treachery. This earned him Ner'zhul's wrath, and Kil'jaeden's favor -- the demon lord promptly rewarded Gul'dan with a higher position, more power, and far, far more prestige than Ner'zhul had ever possessed. Gul'dan was taught the ways of warlock magic, bringing together other, like-minded orcs and eventually forming the Shadow Council, a secretive sect of warlocks and others that directly served the Burning Legion. He began to restructure the orcish race and clan system, uniting them into the Horde that would, one day, pour through the Dark Portal and wreak havoc on Azeroth. It was the Shadow Council who quietly kept this new Horde a keenly honed blade, pointed at the throats of the draenei on Draenor, and making sure the orcs didn't deviate from their devotion to the Burning Legion's tasks.
Gul'dan is perhaps the most evil villain in Warcraft, aside from members of the Burning Legion. He didn't do what he did out of some false assumption that the world or the orcish race would be better for his actions. He wasn't tricked into the job, an originally altruistic orc who'd just gotten into the wrong situation. He did it because he craved power, prestige, and he would do absolutely anything to get it. He knew full well what he was doing was evil, and he simply didn't care. He reveled in it. Later, after leading the orcish Horde through the Dark Portal into Azeroth, Gul'dan would then betray the Horde and take off for the Tomb of Sargeras -- not to help the Horde. Oh no. It was because the Tomb held all sorts of delightful untapped power, power that Gul'dan thought was rightfully his, and he wasn't coming back until he claimed his just reward.
He didn't end up coming back at all. Gul'dan met his end, torn to shreds by a horde of angry demons deep within the Tomb of Sargeras. But his actions, his depravity, and his willing embrace of all things evil set the path for the Old Horde to follow.
Kargath Bladefist, leader of the Shattered Hand clan, was one of the original members of the Shadow Council -- not as a warlock, but as a warrior and a warlord. When the Old Horde stormed through the Dark Portal, Kargath and his clan stayed behind on Draenor -- but they weren't particularly happy about it. After the Alliance victory at the end of the Second War, the Alliance Expedition came through the portal with the intent of hunting down Ner'zhul and stopping his plan to open portals to other worlds. Instead, they found Kargath Bladefist ruling over Hellfire Citadel. He was meant to be a distraction, something to keep attention off of Ner'zhul, and once he realized he had simply been left in Hellfire to die, he pulled together his forces and escaped.
Kargath also holds the unique distinction of being the only orc on this list (other than Grom) to have spoken to Garrosh Hellscream prior to his return in Warlords of Draenor. It wasn't a happy conversation. Kargath traveled to Garadar with the intent of finding more orc soldiers for the Horde -- and Greatmother Geyah informed him that there were no orcs capable of fighting in Garadar. At her side was Garrosh Hellscream, riddled with sickness and desperately asking about his father.
Kargath had recoiled when Garrosh started spitting up blood, and he continued to back away now. "No. They are no warriors." Disgust and despair added venom to his words. "They are not even orcs anymore -- they are useless." He glared at Geyah, at Garrosh, and at the other villagers behind them.Obviously, Kargath's fate in the original timeline had him rise up as the leader of the Fel Horde and meet his end in Hellfire Citadel, something that we saw play out in the Burning Crusade expansion. But it's going to be incredibly interesting to see if, or how, this little exchange in Garadar influences Garrosh's perceptions of Bladefist.
"You pathetic weaklings!" he snarled, raising his voice as best he could. "Do the Horde a favor and die here! If you can't help defend your people, you have no right to live!"
Although Gul'dan had set the Horde into motion, bringing together all the clans under one banner, he knew full well he could not successfully lead it. The Shadow Council was a thing of secrecy that must not be discovered, and so he needed someone -- a figurehead -- to "lead" the Horde while Gul'dan called the shots. Luckily, he had that someone in Blackhand, a member of the Blackrock clan who was very strong, very charismatic, and not terribly bright. Gul'dan told Blackhand of the Shadow Council in secret, and offered Blackhand a plan -- Blackhand would lead the Horde, and be a member of the Shadow Council in secret as well.
Blackhand, particularly full of himself and eager for more power, agreed, offering his shaman to act as the Horde's first warlocks, and his own children for experiments in age-acceleration. Blackhand quite successfully led the first Horde against Stormwind and won the first war. But his victory was short-lived -- when the Shadow Council was uncovered, most of its members murdered and Gul'dan sent into a coma, Blackhand was left to his own devices. Unfortunately, they did little to defend against Orgrim Doomhammer, who promptly put an end to the Horde's first "Warchief" and took the title as his own, as well as leadership of the Blackrock Clan.
Kilrogg Deadeye was the leader of the Bleeding Hollow clan. At the onset of the First War, Kilrogg worked closely with the Twilight's Hammer clan, led by the ogre Cho'gall, in an attempt to attack Stormwind. The attack failed miserably, Cho'gall and Kilrogg instantly turning on one another in an attempt to place blame for the failure. In later years, Kilrogg fought under Warchief Blackhand as well as Orgrim Doomhammer. When the orcs fell to the Alliance in the Second War, Kilrogg went into hiding, keeping well away from the Alliance and their internment camps.
Kilrogg eventually made his way back to the Dark Portal, where he learned that the remaining orcs on the other side were coming together once more under Ner'zhul's leadership. He was able to let both Ner'zhul and Teron Gorefiend know what had been going on in Azeroth, and led the expedition back to Azeroth to steal powerful magical artifacts in order to fuel Ner'zhul's dark rituals -- accompanied by his old friends, Grom Hellscream and Kargath Bladefist. Unfortunately for Kilrogg, this would end in disaster.
While en route to deliver the items to the Black Temple, Ner'zhul, Kilrogg and Teron made a pit stop in the ruins of Auchindoun. It was there that Kilrogg Deadeye made his end, killed by Alliance force commander Danath Trollbane. But his legacy continues to live on -- his son Jorin Deadeye stands proudly as one of the Mag'har, and warlocks all over Azeroth and beyond use the Eye of Kilrogg as a standard spell.
And then we have Grom Hellscream. While many sing songs of Grom and his noble sacrifices during the Third War, his achievements on Draenor were far less illustrious. Grom Hellscream was the leader of the Warsong clan, an uncontested leader at that, but he did not gain the position through hereditary ties. The death of the prior chieftain was suspicious, but none dared question Hellscream. A powerful warrior, Hellscream led the Warsong clan into the war against the draenei with no reservations about the matter at all. More importantly, Grom readily embraced the prospect of battle and war.
But Grom Hellscream's single most important act was to be the first orc to drink the Blood of Mannoroth. Because Grom drank, the other orc chieftains readily followed, and the orcish race began its descent into blood-hazed infamy. Because of Grom's actions, the majority of the orcish race found themselves bound to the Burning Legion. Later, Grom would lead the charge against Shattrath City, slaughtering draenei by the thousands. Grom and the Warsong clan remained behind on Draenor as the rest of the Horde fought in the First War, only coming to Azeroth once Draenor faced certain destruction.
And from there, his tale of eventual redemption and sacrifice is very well known. Although that sacrifice freed the orcs from the bloodlust that bound them, the fact remains that without Grom Hellscream's initial actions, his sacrifice would never have needed to come into play. If he hadn't readily drank the blood of Mannoroth, the fate of the orcish race might have ended very differently -- although ignoring the will of Mannoroth and Kil'jaeden would have certainly brought about the Burning Legion's wrath.
The hints and glimpses we've seen so far of Warlords of Draenor suggest that there is far, far more to learn about these figures and the clans they lead than ever before. The world of Draenor is a harsh, unforgiving world. The orcs are just as harsh and unforgiving, it seems -- and while the original history of these orc warlords is no walk in the park, it looks as though the new history we're going to see in the new expansion is far more brutal than that.
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.