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.
When Mists of Pandaria was announced in 2011, the reponse was a little mixed. Part of this had to do with the fact that we were dealing with a race that had been by and large considered nothing more than a fanciful April Fool's joke by many, but a larger part of it was the sheer expanse of the unknown. We had no idea what to expect out of Mists. We had only the vague descriptions and pieces of lore we got out of BlizzCon that year. We had absolutely no idea what the story was going to look like in Mists, and we had no idea who the final boss of the expansion was actually going to be.
Several months later, it was revealed that Garrosh Hellscream would be the final boss of the expansion. And at BlizzCon 2013, Warlords of Draenor was announced -- a continuation of Hellscream's plans. We got plenty of information about the various orc clans, plenty of information about Draenor, but once again, we find ourselves without a clear idea of who that final boss is going to be. And interestingly enough, people don't seem to be focusing on that at all. So why don't we take a moment to step aside and ask that question. Who is most likely to be the master villain of Warlords?
Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition. The following contains speculation and history based on known material. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.
The father of Garrosh Hellscream seems to be a popular choice among most players, largely because the developers came straight out and said that Grom would be the final boss at BlizzCon 2013. Except that they immediately followed that information with a lot of laughter and joking, which had many attendees, myself included, thoroughly convinced that they were joking about the answer itself. Think about it: we just finished an expansion with one Hellscream as a final boss. Do we really think we're going to run into the same thing this time around? I don't think so.
How it could work This doesn't mean, however, that the idea isn't a feasible one. Grom Hellscream was the leader of the Warsong clan, but he didn't inherit that title -- there were rumors that he was someone involved with the prior chieftain's demise, but they were never proven. And the Grom of Draenor isn't the somewhat more mellowed version we saw in Lord of the Clans and Warcraft III. Grom Hellscream, in our version of reality, had to suffer with the consequences of his actions -- he had to watch the fallout from the disastrous alliance with the Burning Legion. He had to watch the clans fall apart, the orcish race thrown into internment camps.
When Thrall came to Grom in our history, he found a Grom that had not been humbled necessarily -- but it was a Hellscream who realized that perhaps he hadn't made the best decisions he possibly could have. But Grom Hellscream, leader of the Warsong clan in Warlords, has not had those experiences. He's still the same over-zealous, powerful orc leader that pushed his way forward and volunteered to drink the Blood of Mannoroth in our history. He's not even necessarily the kind of orc that would even consider being friends with Thrall, in this version of history.
So here we have proud Grom Hellscream, leader of the Warsong clan, abruptly approached by his son from the future and apparently told something, enough of a something to get him to lead the Iron Horde and follow Garrosh's plans to assault our Azeroth via the Dark Portal. Is Hellscream enough of a threat to be considered an end boss? I don't think so -- but I suspect we'll be facing off against him at some point. What the fallout will be from that particular scuffle is anyone's guess.
Likelihood For a raid boss of some sort? There's a pretty good chance of that. For the final boss of an expansion? It doesn't seem quite as likely. The thought of Blizzard following a Hellscream-centric expansion with another one doesn't make a lot of sense. But stranger things have happened.
Another popular choice is Gul'dan, former apprentice of Ner'zhul. In the original history, Gul'dan's manipulations and schemes led directly to the opening of the Dark Portal and the First War. He was responsible for the formation of the Shadow Council, the creation and subsequent torture of Garona Halforcen, and the orc behind the position of Warchief -- it was Gul'dan scheming that originally created the position and put Blackhand in it.
How it could work In Warlords, Gul'dan is apparently the only orc that has kept his ties with the Burning Legion intact. Now a fel orc through and through, Gul'dan leads the Stormreaver clan and is directly pitted off against Ner'zhul and the Iron Horde. That's right -- Gul'dan isn't sided with the Iron Horde in this at all. But don't think that means that he's sided with us, either. Gul'dan is and has always been evil, through and through. He craves power, and he will step on anyone and anything in his way to get it.
It is highly doubtful that his demeanor has changed at all on this alternate version of Draenor. He might be sided against Ner'zhul and the Iron Horde, but he's not going to turn around and help the Alliance or Horde unless there is something specific in it for him. And given both the Alliance and Horde's history with Gul'dan, neither are likely to go to him looking for help. If anything, you might see us helping Ner'zhul and the Shadowmoon clan fight off Gul'dan in an attempt to splinter the Shadowmoon away from the Iron Horde and get them on our side.
That said, Gul'dan isn't someone to be trifled with. He's got the Burning Legion -- or at the very least, one high ranking member of the Burning Legion -- on his side. And if we've learned anything about Gul'dan over past history, he's very persuasive. It's entirely possible he could somehow gather enough of an army on his side to prove a considerable threat.
Likelihood Slightly more likely. Gul'dan is the single most evil character we've encountered in Warcraft history -- aside from the demonic forces of the Burning Legion, of course. If there's a way for Gul'dan to conquer, he'll take it. And with the support of the Legion on his side, it makes him more dangerous than all the Iron Horde put together.
But let's take one step back from Gul'dan and look instead to his master -- the demon lord Kil'jaeden. Kil'jaeden originally came to Draenor for two reasons. First was the discovery that Draenor was the home of the draenei, those eredar that fled instead of taking Sargeras' offer. Secondly, he was looking for some kind of mortal army that could be easily manipulated and used to invade worlds. The orcs of Draenor seemed like they would be a suitable army -- and a useful tool for enacting his revenge upon the draenei. Kil'jaeden tricked Ner'zhul into thinking the draenei were enemies, and when Ner'zhul discovered the deception, Gul'dan ran to Kil'jaeden to fill him in. Ner'zhul's powers were stripped, Gul'dan was made the new favored orc in the Burning Legion's eyes, and the rest is history.
How it could work In this version of Draenor's history, Ner'zhul and the rest of the orcs never drank the Blood of Mannoroth. Somehow, Garrosh managed to get to them in time to prevent them from siding with the Burning Legion. Gul'dan, judging from his appearance, has chosen to side with the Legion anyway -- but the rest of the orcish race turned away, instead focusing their hatred on the draenei. On the one hand, Kil'jaeden would probably be happy that the Iron Horde still seems to be at odds with the draenei and intent upon wiping them out. Vengeance is still being served, right?
Not so much. Kil'jaeden reports to a higher power -- Sargeras, the fallen Titan who serves as leader of the Burning Legion. He was ordered to find a mortal army, and he failed in that aspect. Certainly personal revenge is all well and good, but the last thing one would ever want to do is incur the wrath of Sargeras -- and Gul'dan and the Stormreavers aren't really enough of a mortal army to conquer worlds on their own. And here's the other side of that coin: Sargeras failed to take Azeroth during the War of the Ancients. But here we are, strong heroes from a much stronger Azeroth in the future, all filing our way onto Draenor and leaving our world unprotected. If Kil'jaeden managed to wipe all of us out, Sargeras' victory over Azeroth would be a piece of cake. It would only be a matter of time.
Likelihood Sunwell Plateau was a really cool raid. The final showdown with Kil'jaeden was a ridiculously complicated and entertaining fight with a story-filled ending that properly closed the expansion out. Unfortunately, not a lot of people got to really see it when it was current content -- which meant that Kil'jaeden didn't really register as the big bad that he has the potential to be. Because of this, it seems much more likely that we'd see him as an expansion-ending villain -- one that manages to make his escape and possibly bring about the events that Wrathion foresaw in his visions at the beginning of the Mists legendary quest chain.
Let's just go way out in left field for a moment and take the prospect of Kil'jaeden one step further. We've been told, repeatedly and often, that the alternate version of Azeroth will not come into play in Warlords. Whatever is on that world is not something we're going to see. But what if one of its denizens decides to pay Draenor a visit -- a Guardian of Tirisfal possessed by the leader of the Burning Legion, one who is very much wondering what went wrong?
How it could work Maybe we do face off against Kil'jaeden at some point, and maybe we defeat him, or maybe we send him running back to the Twisting Nether in tears. Here's what we know of Azeroth's original history: Somewhere, somewhen, at some point in time Sargeras used Medivh to reach out and contact Gul'dan about creating the Dark Portal. It happened. What triggered that happening? Is whatever triggered that event absent in Warlords? If not, what exactly would happen if Sargeras had Medivh contact Gul'dan, and instead of finding an orcish army ripe for conquering worlds, he found a disaster in the making? Could Medivh, with all his Guardian power, find a way to Draenor?
Keep in mind here that we would not be fighting the actual fallen Titan Sargeras. We'd be fighting a Guardian of Tirisfal possessed by Sargeras' spirit. Killing Medivh wouldn't really kill Sargeras -- it'd cause the same reaction that happened when Anduin Lothar lopped Medivh's head off. Radio silence as Sargeras returned to the Twisting Nether to regroup and make another plan. One that, again, would likely involve another full-scale attack on Azeroth, the same thing we saw in Wrathion's visions during Mists.
Likelihood Honestly this is probably the least likely option on the table. But it's fun to think about!
While it's interesting to consider any of the above characters as potential expansion-ending villains, what really strikes me as interesting isn't the lack of information surrounding that final boss -- it's the lack of concentrated focus on that fact. With Mists, players were desperate to hear who exactly we'd be fighting when all was said and done. For whatever reason, that question really doesn't matter with Warlords at all. Instead, the focus seems to be shifting around the concept of time travel and what this alternate Draenor means in relation to our present history.
Whether that's intentional on Blizzard's part, or simply mass confusion that really needs to be cleared up sooner rather than later, is anyone's guess. But I'm kind of hoping we don't hear who that final villain is going to be. I'd like to see it a surprise -- because despite all our predictions and theories, the real treat lies in finding out the correct answer. Not from a developer, but from the game itself. If Mists taught us anything, it's that the power of surprise, the element of emotion, that instant of the big shock reveal bears far more weight in game than out.
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.