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Warlords of Draenor and the absence of Aggra

Let me tell you a little about my sister. My sister is married, in her thirties, and has four children -- all boys -- ranging from four to sixteen. Her house is a wild cacophony of boys being boys and the calls of various animals that she's acquired. It's a mini-farm, if you will, full of chickens, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, a couple of snakes, and possibly a species or two that I've missed. In addition to raising four boys with her husband, she also owns her own business. She runs her own grooming company here in town, and is both the sole employee and owner, successful enough that she's usually booked for at least a month out, if not more.

In addition to that, she runs two Renaissance festivals a year, hauls her family to regular camp-outs with the faire crew, regularly plays D&D with the gang, and knows how to shoot a longbow and a black powder rifle (and is a pretty good shot with both of them), along with cannons and trebuchets. She's a dab hand at cooking at home and over a campfire out in the wild, knows how to kill, gut and butcher just about anything, and how to tan and stretch a hide. On top of all that, I've heard she's a marvel at breaking up fights, reading bedtime stories, wiping tears from faces, kissing boo-boo's away, and snuggling in the mornings when little ones are sleepy and grumpy about getting up for school.

And god help anyone that comes between her and her family.

I'm telling you this story not to brag about my sister, although I love her very dearly, but to make a point that seems to have been sorely missed somewhere in the story of Warcraft. My sister isn't just a wife and mother. She's a warrior. She's a fighter. She's a spark of ferocity that will not be quenched. Where is her counterpart in Warcraft? That's a really good question.

When the character of Aggra was first introduced in The Shattering, I have to admit I wasn't exactly fond of her. Here was this orc woman from Garadar, a shaman tasked to give Thrall the journey of self-discovery he needed. At the time, we had no background on Aggra at all, and we still don't -- we barely know anything about her past. Her story began, it seemed, when she and Thrall locked eyes for the first time and slowly began to walk down that path of true love that would eventually end with a wedding we witnessed in game. It seemed, at the time, that Aggra existed solely as someone to be a love interest for Thrall, and had little to no purpose beyond that.

But Aggra grew on me over the course of the next several novels, mostly because she really worked as a foil for Thrall. Where he faltered, she was there to pick him up. Where he began to drift into self-doubt, she was there to give him a verbal smack upside the head. And when Thrall quite literally found himself torn apart in game, she was there to walk the world when nobody else would and smash those pieces back together again. From day one, she refused to call Thrall by anything other than Go'el, insisting that as long as he continued to bear the name of slave, he would continue to be one. Slave to humans, slave to fate, slave to his own perceived inadequacies -- it didn't matter, it would still hang over him until he chose to set it aside and freely walk his own path, instead.

Yet at the same time, Aggra was a little rude. A little brusque. When she made these corrections, she wasn't exactly making them kindly in most cases. But it was what Thrall really needed -- someone to pull no punches and let him know exactly what was up with the world and his place in it. To me, I really liked that aspect of her character, largely because we really hadn't seen many orc women in the story before. I like the idea of orc women being tough. Orc society always reminded me in a way of Klingon society in Star Trek -- it only made sense that the women of that society be just as rough and brutal as the men.

When Aggra found out she was going to have a baby, part of me quailed just a little. A baby in Warcraft is almost a kiss of death from a story perspective -- once a woman takes that step into motherhood, she's never really heard from again. You'll notice that none of the major women characters in Warcraft have children -- either that, or children in Warcraft don't really have mothers to speak of. There are a few exceptions here and there, but those exceptions don't really have a lot of story around them. There was one exception to this in Mists, and that was Vereesa Windrunner. Recently widowed, she took to the battlefields and fought her heart out on the Isle of Thunder -- but her children with Rhonin were never mentioned. They've never even been seen in game.

I've written about women in Warcraft before, before Mists of Pandaria was released. And I was quietly surprised and pleased with Mists of Pandaria, because it seemed like things were on the right track. Let me be clear here: I wasn't asking for that "strong female character" trope that so many people seem to be gung-ho about. I just wanted to see more women out and about doing things that were cool. And boy, were they ever doing cool things in Mists. Pandaren don't really have what I'd call "gender roles." Everyone does everything in Pandaria -- cooking, having families, raising crops, brewing beer, brawling, fighting in the front lines -- gender really doesn't matter. It wasn't even brought up as being anything extraordinary. Pandaren just do what they do. The stories weren't about the gender, they were just about badass people doing badass things, and some of those people happened to be female.

The reason I bring all of this up is that Aggra will not be making the journey to Draenor with Thrall and the gang in the next expansion. As Chris Metzen put it at the Adventures Continue panel at Blizzcon, "That honeymoon is over, it's more of a boy's trip." My heart sank a little at that, because what I really wanted to see, what I haven't seen out of Warcraft before is a character of a very different kind -- the warrior mother, fierce and protective, warm, nurturing, and capable of opening a can of whoop-ass in a heartbeat if you cross her. The type of mother who is gently kissing her children good night one moment, and toting a gun with a baby on her hip the next. The mother who flat-out refuses to let motherhood slow her down, instead using motherhood as a very good reason to fight even harder.

For a recent example of this, check out Frigga in Thor: The Dark World. Heck, check her out in the original Thor. Wife of Odin and mother of Thor, in both films she's a gracious, lovely, gentle and kind woman who will not hesitate to haul a sword out of nowhere and gut someone with vicious accuracy if the need calls for it. She's not just a lady, she's not just a queen, she's not just a mother, she's a warrior of Asgard -- and anyone who crosses her won't soon forget that. Or perhaps they will, after they're done gasping their dying breaths. She's a quick hand with a sword, after all.

Aggra was a character who was so incredibly suited to this role that I pretty much expected her to make that trip to Draenor. Not only did I expect it, I was totally looking forward to it. She has a tremendous amount of potential, a character whose surface had barely been scratched, and she worked so well with Thrall that it seemed only right that she come along. After all, she's spent much of her relationship with Thrall following along and helping him during his journey of self-discovery -- why would she suddenly decide staying at home was a better idea? That brusque orc woman doesn't exactly seem the type to let a baby slow her down in the slightest.

If anything, I pictured her in much the same vein as Dezco -- fighting ferociously with a baby casually slung over her shoulder and showing the kid exactly what it means to be an orc. It suits everything we've seen of her character so far. She's not the type of character that will stand down and simply sit quietly while "the boys" go off and have an adventure. I'm pretty sure she's the type of character who, had Thrall delivered said "boy's trip" line to her face, would have cuffed him, given him an earful of loving vitriol that would have turned him a slightly darker shade of green, and flat out refused to do anything but stay by his side and keep his damn orc hide safe if it took her last breath to do it. She did it in Cataclysm, why would she not do it in this instance?

Draenor is Aggra's home. Thrall's ancestors are her ancestors. Her heritage is wrapped up in that world just as much as Thrall's happens to be. She's not a delicate flower of femininity, full of quiet grace and winsome charm. She's an orc, just like every other orc on the planet and off, full of fire and ferocity and savagery and an iron will that will not be bent just because she has a baby at her side. She's a mother, yes -- but she's also a shaman, a fighter, a fierce protector, someone with a keen insight into what it means to be an orc -- and she's the perfect companion to take this journey with Thrall. To defend him, to protect him, and yes, in some cases to maybe slap some sense into his head if he gets confused or pick him up and dust him off if he gets knocked down.

And I have to admit, while I'm really excited about Warlords of Draenor, I'm equally as disappointed about Aggra. I was hoping her character would turn into something really extraordinary, the warrior-mother that we have yet to really see in action anywhere in game. If my sister can pull off doing everything she does in real life while successfully and lovingly raising four kids to adulthood like it's nothing at all, you'd think a fictional sometimes-cantankerous orc could do the same.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, BlizzCon

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