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.
Garrosh Hellscream is almost an enigma in his own right. You wouldn’t think that, by first glance — after all, right now he fits the bill of brutal orc bent on global domination. But Garrosh’s story has had so many moments between the depressed and unwilling would-be leader of Garadar, and the bloodthirsty warleader of Mists of Pandaria that it’s difficult to determine where, exactly, he went from point A to point B. I’ve been asked about it before by many, but KyleCaligiuri phrased it really well, so I’ll reprint the question here.
Is there some piece of lore I’m missing explaining Garrosh’s actions between Cataclysm and Tides of War? Shattering helped put a *bit* of a positive light on Garrosh after WotLK, I felt, since he was remorseful about what happened with Cairne (in that he didn’t want to win by cheating…) and I felt his leader short story did as well, if I remember correctly. I’m now playing through the Horde campaign finally, and the events in Stonetalon further point that he is all about honor and pride in the Horde. Also, Ragefire Chasm is all about defeating the dark shaman so that they don’t end up with another threat like the Twilight’s Hammer or Burning Blade. Yet, this is all contradicted in Tides of War, where he drops a bomb just as Krom’gar did in Stonetalon, and embraces the dark shaman. I’m only up to Desolace right now in the Horde campaign, so do we see his progression toward the more corrupt Garrosh, or is this still yet to be explained?
It’s that disconnect between moments that confuses people. Garrosh may be many things, but two-dimensional is not one of them. Who is Garrosh Hellscream, and how did he find his way to this path that flies in the face of his previous actions?
Back in Burning Crusade, Garrosh was a figure that most really didn’t care for, and it wasn’t because he was a brutal warlord. In fact, it was just the opposite — he lacked any kind of motivation at all. It was in Garadar he sat, bemoaning the sins of his father and frightened of the prospect of leadership, afraid that if he were to take that mantle of leadership from Geyah, he would inevitably lead the Mag’har down the same path his father had led the rest of his kind, so many years before.
Although players tried to show him through their actions that there was hope for the Mag’har, it didn’t really matter to Garrosh. What he needed most at that point in time wasn’t hope for his people, but hope for himself. That arrived with Thrall in the conclusion to the Nagrand storyline for Horde. When Thrall showed Garrosh his father’s heroic actions, when he pointed out that Grom was not the monster Garrosh had believed all these years, it gave Hellscream the hope he needed.
It also gave him a gigantic legacy to live up to. For Garrosh Hellscream, his world went from a space with one finite ending to it — the doom of the Mag’har at his hands — to a space of wide-open possibility. A space where he could lead, if he wanted. A space where he could be a hero, if he wished. Suddenly, Garrosh’s fate was not entangled with the fate of his father, it was sitting right there in his own hands. The choice was his, but more importantly — the freedom of that choice was his.
And that terrified him.
But just as quickly as that choice was given to him, it was taken away. Thrall whisked Hellscream off to Azeroth, and the question of who he would become was lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces and situations he had no way to comprehend.
The short story Heart of War sheds some light on those first moments in Azeroth. Garrosh was a stranger in a strange land, a brown-skinned orc that had never been touched by demonic corruption. He was surrounded by those who had, one way or another, been affected by his father’s deeds. Yet the opinions of the people of Orgrimmar were as vast and varied as the many, many paths that Hellscream could follow if he so chose. Some embraced him as a reminder that all was not lost, and others … others thought differently.
One of these was Krenna, an orc that made an appearance in Wrath of the Lich King. Krenna made it very clear that regardless of Grom’s final actions, there were still those that were bitter. There were those that were angry, unwilling to look past what Garrosh’s father had done, the example he had set that led the orcish race to corruption — the same corruption that still tainted the skin of every orc child born on Azeroth.
She pointed out the vast city of Orgimmar not as a hallmark to orcish freedom, but something akin to a prison made at Thrall’s behest. Krenna was absolutely right — there were no farms in Durotar, no wealth, no resources. To the north lay Ashenvale, a bounty in all aspects, but Thrall was unwilling to take anything from kaldorei lands. Why would a Warchief supposedly so concerned with his people’s welfare ignore that solution?
This is just one of the things that led Garrosh to challenge Thrall to a Mak’Gora, just before the launch of Wrath. He lost the battle, but he won a trip to Northrend to lead the armies of the Horde as a result. With that role, Garrosh had something to prove — it wasn’t just about winning the war, and it had hardly anything at all to do with the Alliance at that point.
In a way, Garrosh Hellscream set out to prove to Thrall what Thrall couldn’t see — that while the heart of the Horde beat, it did not beat strong. And that there were those of Thrall’s people who were just as hopeless and lost as Garrosh had been for so many years in Garadar, helpless to decide their destiny, locked behind a wall of diplomatic restrictions. Garrosh wanted to lead the Horde to a decisive victory, but more importantly, he wanted to show them they had that potential for strength.
In Northrend, Garrosh led the orcs to that victory — he led the Horde to that victory. But what he was working with wasn’t really the full Horde, the true Horde. To be certain, the Kor’kron provided excellent warriors at his disposal, and the tauren were just as fierce in battle. But the blood elves had a pittance of representatives, and none were really warriors on par with orcish or tauren hands.
In fact, if you look at the Northrend campaign, you’ll note an absence of troll or blood elf warriors out there in the field. There are a few, but the dominant majority are orc or tauren. Even the taunka were descendants of the tauren, and more than eager and willing to assist Garrosh in his campaign. This may very well be why Garrosh’s current view of the Horde seems so lopsided. The war in Northrend was the only place he had to view the Horde as a cohesive, working unit of soldiers, fighting side by side.
Yet in those ranks, some races were absent. Each of the absent races had their own reasons for not being particularly present, but Hellscream didn’t know that. What he knew was what he witnessed first hand — orcs were strong, tauren were strong, blood elves weren’t terribly useful and most of them were tied up with those strange magic-users in Dalaran. Forsaken looked to be useful at first, but in one moment turned from useful citizens to outright murderers. And to Garrosh, the back story of that didn’t matter, either.
What Garrosh witnessed was that the Forsaken, however cunning and resourceful, were willing to turn at any moment in time. They were willing to turn on the Horde, and they were even willing to turn on themselves, as demonstrated by the Battle for the Undercity. They were not strong allies, they were creatures that by and large could not be trusted. While they had the same goal in mind — putting an end to the Lich King — it was apparent that perhaps the sheer convenience of that goal wasn’t even enough to keep the Forsaken loyal.
Yes, Garrosh is almost blatantly racist in his treatment of the other Horde races. But he doesn’t have a lot to go on, and he was shoved into that leadership role long, long before he was ever remotely prepared for it.
In an ideal world, perhaps Garrosh could have spent more time at Thrall’s side. Perhaps he could have learned the history behind this band of misbegotten races that Thrall had inexplicably united under one banner. But he didn’t have that time — he didn’t get that time.
“I understand battle, yes,” he said. “Tactics, how to rally troops — these things I know. Let me serve that way. Find me a foe to face and defeat, and you will see how proudly I will continue to serve the Horde. But I know nothing of politics, of … of ruling. I would rather have a sword in my fist than a scroll!” — The Shattering
And perhaps the most painful realization to all of this is that Garrosh Hellscream absolutely knew he was not capable of leading. When Thrall approached him with the position, the normally proud Hellscream nearly shut down. He pointed out his weaknesses, yet Thrall insisted that as far as he was concerned, Garrosh loved the Horde, and that was enough. He reassured Garrosh, and talked him into taking a position that he was not even remotely prepared to take.
If you really want to know whose hands are stained with the blood of Theramore, I suggest you look at Thrall, not Garrosh. And if you’d like to know why Garrosh shows so many different sides of himself through Cataclysm, and comes into Mists as a warlord, you may want to look at Thrall as well. In Cataclysm, Garrosh shows several different sides — there’s the side he shows Sylvanas in Silverpine, there’s the side he shows us in Stonetalon Mountains.
I sent you into Stonetalon Mountains with an army. Your orders were to secure this land for the Horde. Instead, you laid waste to the land. Murdered innocents. Children even… I spent a very long time in Northrend, Krom’gar. I learned much about the Horde in that time. While there, a wise old war hero told me something that I would carry with me forever… “Honor,” Krom’gar, “No matter how dire the battle… never forsake it.” — To Be Horde…
Why is it that Garrosh Hellscream would condemn a soldier in his army for murdering innocents, and then turn around and do precisely the same thing in Theramore, not more than a year or so later? What happened in Hellscream’s mind, that this action he once condemned turned into something he is now apparently just fine with?
It wasn’t Hellscream that changed. It was the nature of the goal that changed, and Hellscream is far, far more cunning than anyone would care to guess.
Garrosh had a problem with Krom’gar’s actions not because they were wrong, but because they flew in the face of what Garrosh was trying to accomplish. At that point in time, this was not a war he was fighting — this was simply a mission to secure land for the Horde. And that mission did not include the casual slaughter of civilians. Garrosh Hellscream came into leadership by merit not of a political campaign, but a military campaign. He warned Thrall flat-out that he was capable of leading armies, but knew little of politics, and Thrall put him in a political role anyway.
And thus, the Horde war machine was born.
Cataclysm was an example of Garrosh Hellscream trying to figure out what the various leaders of these races were up to, and how they could be used to contribute to that war machine. Nothing less, nothing more. Thrall said he wanted the Horde to embrace the old ways, and Garrosh decided to give him just that, to the best of his ability. But Garrosh’s memories of the Old Horde are memories of wars fought, the wars that took his father Grom from his side. They are memories of the days spent in Garadar, hearing tales of battles fought in far-off places.
Essentially, the disconnect doesn’t really lie with Garrosh Hellscream, it lies between the conversation and the understanding that he and Thrall shared. Thrall was asking for one thing, which meant something else entirely to Hellscream. Hellscream agreed to give Thrall what he wanted, but was unaware that Thrall meant something entirely different. That is the disconnect, here.
In Tides of War, Garrosh decided that he had spent enough time trying to capture land for the Horde. It worked in Cataclysm because the Alliance were incredibly busy trying to deal with the devastation that Deathwing had caused, and figure out a way to get Deathwing out of the picture. Now that the threat of Deathwing had been removed, the Alliance could well and truly put together and launch retaliation against the Horde.
Garrosh was not about to give them the chance to do that. In fact, he wanted to make sure there was no way they could ever pull that off. So he plotted and planned, and he came up with a way to keep the Alliance in check. Threaten a base with an armed assault — enough of an armed assault to guarantee that the best of the best Alliance officers and leaders would be present. Pretend to fail.
And then bring in a bomb to take them all out, simultaneously and without warning.
It was an utterly genius plan, and it would have worked had Rhonin not been involved. But now, the Alliance is not crippled as Garrosh intended. They are angry. They are very, very angry. Garrosh kicked the bee’s nest, and now he has to figure out a way to bolster his forces to compensate for that. That’s why he’s looking at the mogu — because the mogu found a way to take an entire continent and bring it to its knees, and that’s what Garrosh wants to do with the Alliance.
For Krenna. For the Horde. For all of those orcs who looked at Thrall and questioned, “Why are we living in poverty, why are we living with the bare minimum of what we need, when there is so much more out there that we could have in our hands? If we are strong, why are we not showing the world our strength?”
In a way, it’s almost oddly ironic — Garrosh was living in darkness, mired in a lethargy similar to the orcs of the internment camps after the Second War. And just as he freed those orcs from their imprisonment and gave them a purpose for being, Thrall gave Hellscream the same freedom. But instead of leading Hellscream to his destiny as he led the orcs to Kalimdor, Thrall pushed Garrosh into that space of freedom and simply said “Choose.”
Choose heroism, or choose villainy. Choose strength, or choose weakness. Choose honor, or choose cowardice. Choose your path, Hellscream — the choice is yours to make.
It’s a pity that Hellscream was left with choice, and no way of knowing how to choose.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
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.