I love doing lore columns, and I really enjoy doing Tinfoil Hat Editions of Know Your Lore -- I like the process of finding all the loose threads from expansions past and pulling them together in a way that is just weird enough to feasibly work. Sometimes, however, I come up with ideas that are just a little too far out there for a Tinfoil Hat Edition. Certainly they're interesting enough, but feasible? Not in the slightest.
When it comes to Warlords of Draenor, there are a lot of questions that haven't been answered. This is to be expected. We haven't even seen the beta for the expansion yet. We have absolutely no idea where that story is going to lead, other than commentary at BlizzCon suggesting that it will directly feed into the expansion following. Yet that tiny little comment, along with some thinking about Warlords itself gave me a theory regarding the next expansion. No, not Warlords -- I'm talking about the expansion after that.
It's entirely implausible of course, which is why I'm not sticking it in the Know Your Lore column. But what the heck, let's take a moment and ask ourselves what if -- and consider the possibility of Azeroth's greatest villain reborn.
In Warlords of Draenor, we are visiting a version of Draenor that was never destroyed. Never mind the possibilities of an alternate version of Azeroth, because we've already been told several times over that it's not something we're going to see. But consider Draenor, untouched. Orgrim Doomhammer. Grom Hellscream. Blackhand. Ner'zhul. All of the old heroes of the Horde, and the Alliance's biggest villains from the First War and beyond. Having them all around again is something akin to a nightmare for the Alliance -- after all, Stormwind was razed to the ground by the Horde of old. Varian's father was murdered by the Horde of old.
At the same time, Warlords offers a conundrum in and of itself. In the original timeline, the orcs ravaged Draenor to the point of its own destruction, murdered most of the draenei civilization and charged through the Dark Portal to invade Azeroth all due to the influence of the Burning Legion. They drank the blood of Mannoroth, they bound themselves to bloodlust and servitude. On this version of Draenor, that event never happened. The only thing evidently -- we're presuming -- holding them together and turning them into a fighting force to be reckoned with are the heated words of Garrosh Hellscream.
If this is the case, do we really need to murder these orcs at all, or can they simply be reasoned with? They aren't riddled with demonic blood, they aren't fel-tainted -- they're just orcs. In a way, they're almost a better alternative than the orcs we have on Azeroth. Our orcs are green because they came from a bloodline of fel corruption. The orcs of alternate Draenor have no such connection. Is it too much to presume they could be reasoned with?
There's only one problem with this. His name is Gul'dan.
In the original timeline, Gul'dan sided with Kil'jaeden, got his former master kicked to the curb, introduced warlock magic, convinced the majority of the orcish race to drink the blood of Mannoroth, formed the Shadow Council and established the original united Horde with a Warchief at its helm. He prematurely aged orc children to give the Horde more soldiers for the war effort. He escaped his own execution at the hands of Orgrim Doomhammer by offering him what eventually became the first death knights: orc warlocks, former members of the Shadow Council who had their spirits instilled into the bodies of dead Alliance soldiers. And when push came to shove, he deserted Orgrim and the rest of the Horde in search of the powers of a god -- a search that ended in his ultimate demise.
We were lucky he died when he went to the Tomb of Sargeras. Gul'dan is one of the most sadistic, cruel, power-mad, evil characters that has ever been introduced to Warcraft. He has never cared about anyone but himself, his status, and how he could elevate that status even higher. Kil'jaeden saw it, was pleased with it, and encouraged it. Why? Because Kil'jaeden saw in Gul'dan a lust for power and a lack of anything remotely resembling kindness, empathy, compassion. Gul'dan was, in that original timeline, the orcish incarnation of everything the Burning Legion purposed to be. But guess what? In Warlords, Gul'dan isn't dead.
Instead he appears to be the only orc foolish enough to continue allying with Kil'jaeden after Garrosh's arrival, from the looks of his appearance in promotional material. In fact, his green skin, glowing eyes and mysterious spiny appendages suggest he not only continued that alliance, but embraced it with just as much passion as everyone else turned away. So here we have Gul'dan, who in the description on the official website is apparently embroiled in a fight with Ner'zhul, his former master, to take his "rightful" place in the Iron Horde, and to apparently try and tempt more orcs into infernal corruption.
To which I say ... what if he were offered a better, stronger, more powerful alternative?
In the original timeline, after Gul'dan's death and the defeat of the orcish Horde, Gul'dan's death knights returned to Draenor, and Teron Gorefiend offered Ner'zhul an opportunity -- the leadership of the Horde, and the ability to open portals on other, softer worlds, worlds which the Horde could conquer at their leisure. Ner'zhul took him up on this, using powerful artifacts to do so. The first of these was the skull of his former apprentice, still haunted with Gul'dan's essence. The whispers of Gul'dan soon began to influence Nerz'hul, eventually driving him to a point where, at the moment of Draenor's inevitable destruction, Ner'zhul abandoned the Horde and fled through a portal to parts unknown. On the other side of the portal, Kil'jaeden lay in wait. Tearing Ner'zhul apart, he left the orc's spirit intact, binding it to a helm, trapping it in the Frozen Throne, and creating the Lich King.
The rest is history, from our end. But on this Draenor of old, this Draenor in which events were changed ... the Lich King doesn't exist. Ner'zhul hasn't fallen, his shamanistic powers have not been stripped. Where then, one wonders, is the creature that would become the Lich King? Where is one power-hungry and just mad enough to take the helm?
What if Kil'jaeden is still talking with Gul'dan in this alternate Draenor, and simply offers him the Lich King's powers for his own? Gul'dan is just insane enough, just evil enough to jump at that chance. In the original timeline, he held no reserve at all regarding the idea of creating death knights. Spirits are not sacred ideals to Gul'dan. Necromancy is not something he would flinch away from practicing -- it's something he'd eagerly embrace. And if Kil'jaeden senses that our world, our Azeroth is ripe for the taking, who better to take it than a Lich King that didn't come from a background of desperately trying to do what was right, but slipping into darkness -- a Lich King who had no soul, no soft heart beating in moments of temporary weakness?
Lich King 2.0
What does that mean? It means after Draenor we have something far, far more dangerous on our hands. With Warlords, we're essentially playing through an alternate universe version of Orcs vs. Humans, Beyond the Dark Portal -- a pretty amazing, nostalgia-induced trip to a world that we've never visited in MMO format. Wouldn't it then make sense to continue that trend with a reboot of The Frozen Throne? This time, it's not Nerzhul or Arthas we have to worry about, but Gul'dan -- and Gul'dan is not about to have any momentary lapses of weakness. He has no heart to worry about. He has no ties, no love for anyone, anything on Azeroth. It's simply Gul'dan, evil personified, at the helm of one of the most diabolical creations the Burning Legion has ever imagined.
But here's the kicker: he's not the only Lich King. On Azeroth, we have our own version -- and isn't it about time we re-visited Bolvar Fordragon and see what he's been up to? What would it be like to have the Scourge fighting on our side? Would Bolvar's soul remain intact after all this time, able to direct the Scourge not to wreak havoc across the world, but to instead save that world from destruction? And this seems almost a perfect opportunity to tie back into the question of Sylvanas's motives, the Forsaken, the death knights, Gilneas, the fate of Koltira Deathweaver, the question of Calia Menethil's whereabouts -- every question related to Lordaeron and the undead that Wrath and Cataclysm just didn't get time to answer.
What would The Frozen Throne have looked like, if the Lich King hadn't rebelled against the Burning Legion, instead embracing the alliance and using it to its fullest capacity? What kind of creature would the Lich King have been if it were made not by punishing those with the temerity to disobey the Legion's command on Draenor, but as a reward for one of the most soulless, diabolical minds in the Warcraft universe? It's a far-fetched idea. It's so far-fetched as to be out of the realm of plausibility, which is why this column isn't a regular Know Your Lore. But it's interesting to consider the possibilities -- and it makes me even more curious to see what kinds of stories Warlords holds.