Know Your Lore: The legacy of Garrosh Hellscream
“Pride. It is the most insidious of sha. It is good until it is bad. And then it is more dangerous than all the others combined.”
This is the story of an orc whose life played full circle, ending where it began — before it began actually, in an odd twist of fate, time and a little bronze magic. It plays in counterpoint to the tale of Emperor Shaohao, who hid away his kingdom, so confident and prideful in himself and his people’s abilities that he was certain they would thrive in abject isolation from the rest of the world. The orc, on the other hand, came from an absence of pride into a sudden and overwhelming abundance of it.
And it slowly ate him alive.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Warlords of Draenor legendary quest chain.
You see, when I was young… I was EMPEROR.
Garrosh Hellscream began his life surrounded by orcs who prided themselves on being uncorrupted by the fel magics that riddled the rest of their people. But what drove him to despair was the fact that his father — his bloodline — was responsible for that corruption in the first place. His father, Grommash Hellscream, was the first to gladly drink the blood of the pit lord Mannoroth. His father, a leader of remarkable strength, his father, who so many gladly and willingly followed. Garrosh carried the name Hellscream, yes, but not with pride — it was a constant, bitter reminder that his bloodline was doomed to lead into ruin.
And despite this, Garrosh was chosen to lead the Mag’har after Greatmother Geyah passed on. She saw something in him, perhaps a spark that he couldn’t see himself, that deemed him worthy to take over when she was at last gone. Yet Garrosh could not fathom doing so, convinced that he would lead the Mag’har astray. And when strangers from another world showed up and started helping out the Mag’har village, he grew even more despondent. Of course he was never meant to lead. He was a Hellscream.
In one moment, everything changed. Thrall arrived on Outland, spoke to Greatmother Geyah, learned of Garrosh’s sorrow and could not let it stand. Because Thrall had witnessed Hellscream’s redemption on Azeroth, years after Draenor had been left behind to shatter into the remnants that remained. And he played that scene for Garrosh Hellscream, who witnessed first hand that his father was not the failure he’d thought — instead, he was a hero. A hero to every single orc walking on Azeroth. And suddenly, Garrosh went from having no faith in himself and his ability, to bursting with pride — pride for his father, pride for his bloodline, pride for the orcish race and its apparent ability to overcome even the most horrific of circumstances.
Thrall asked him to return to Azeroth, and Garrosh accepted. How could he not? He had his father’s name to live up to.
Yet Azeroth, Orgrimmar, the orcs that lived on … they were very different than the orcs Garrosh grew up with, the orcs Garrosh remembered, the Horde Garrosh remembered. They looked at him as if he were strange, because he was strange to them — he was brown, the first Mag’har to come to Azeroth, a reminder of what the orcish race had lost. And while Garrosh was grateful to Thrall for the revelations about his father, he soon came to realize that Thrall was not your typical orcish leader … and according to some citizens of Orgrimmar, he wasn’t a very good one, either.
Thrall says: We will send scouts to assess the situation. I will also convene with the Lady Proudmoore and see what plans the Alliance has.
Garrosh Hellscream says: Gragh! I cannot take this! While you talk and deliberate, our enemies grow stronger! Were it my choice, I would have put all our available forces onto that frozen rock and conquered it for the Horde!
Thrall says: If this is a trap, it is one I will not blindly walk into! Do not make the same mistakes as your father, Garrosh!
Garrosh Hellscream says: After all that he did for YOU and YOUR people? MAK’GORA!
Garrosh Hellscream challenged Thrall because he looked at the orcish race as it existed on Azeroth and saw, perhaps, a reflection of the orc he had been before Thrall arrived. A collective of people who were resigned to their fates, people who lacked the drive, the aggression, the thirst for conquest that was a driving force for the orcish race on Draenor. Thrall went out of his way to try and settle conflicts with words, with diplomacy, with anything but aggression. He made treaties, he avoided conflict. The orcs in Durotar and the Barrens made do with little, when the forests of Ashenvale were just down the road, teeming with resources the Horde could use, and yet Thrall deemed it unnecessary.
And Garrosh simply couldn’t understand. He challenged Thrall to a mak’gora because he saw, yet again, evidence that Thrall was unwilling to act. Thrall sent him to Northrend to lead, and sent Saurfang with him to try and teach Garrosh that there was more to leadership than blind action. Left mostly to his own devices, Garrosh led the Horde forces to a decisive victory in Northrend, and returned a hero of the Horde. A hero who embodied the orcs of old, something that made him incredibly popular, and when Thrall had to leave someone in charge of the Horde just before the Cataclysm, Garrosh was admittedly the best choice, in his eyes.
Thrall told Garrosh to lead the Horde, and the first thing Garrosh said in reply was that he was not fit to lead — tactics, battlefields, this was all well and good, but politics were not something he was comfortable dealing with. Thrall reassured him that there was no other better suited to lead the Horde in the old ways, that he would have advisors helping him every step of the way. And Garrosh took the job, stepped in as acting Warchief — and found himself promptly stalled by the advisors that were supposed to be helping him. Cairne Bloodhoof burst into his quarters, accused him of a heinous crime he did not commit, slapped him across his freshly-tattooed face and challenged him to a mak’gora. Of course Garrosh accepted the challenge — it was the orcish way. But angered, his pride bruised, he asked to comply by the old ways — a duel to the death. And Cairne Bloodhoof agreed.
What Garrosh did not expect was how easily Cairne fell. Oh, Hellscream celebrated his victory, but the glancing blow that brought the old bull to his knees and ultimately finished him was not enough to take him out. Gorehowl had been poisoned, right underneath Hellscream’s nose, and according to Eitrigg, the Horde was beginning to murmur that Garrosh must have known, must have planned it all. It had become glaringly apparent that regardless of Thrall’s faith in Hellscream, the rest of the Horde had little of the same. And so Garrosh began to lead the Horde as the Horde of old — and began shutting down those who would oppose his plans.
Those plans began in Cataclysm, conquering lands shattered by Deathwing’s arrival and claiming valuable resources for the Horde, resources Thrall had been too complacent, too diplomatic to simply reach out and take. He began to turn the Horde into the war machine it was meant to be — the Horde he remembered from his days on Draenor, the Horde before his father drank the blood of a pit lord, the Horde formed originally to systematically take out the draenei and conquer Draenor for the orcs. A Horde that his father would have been proud of. And when push came to shove, when enough resources had been gathered, when enough materials, enough weapons had been built, he moved on from simply gathering enough to thrive into a plan of continental conquest, starting with the Alliance town of Theramore.
There was no excuse for what Garrosh Hellscream did to Theramore. It was flat-out, planned slaughter, the murder of countless innocents, of good men and women, the destruction of the one Alliance city that had done the Horde no harm in its years of existence. But for Garrosh, Theramore served two purposes — it got rid of a major Alliance port, thus leaving only the already beleaguered night elves ripe for the picking, and it served to demonstrate who in the Horde was loyal, and who was not. Who would follow orders, and who would not. Who could be trusted, and who could not. It was a massive success, on both fronts. The orcs of Orgrimmar reveled in the victory, while the other races of the Horde … did not seem to take quite as much pleasure in the total conquest.
This would not do. And as the war between the Alliance and Horde continued to ramp up and escalate, Garrosh began shutting out those who questioned, those who were not worthy of the Horde in his eyes — eyes that had seen the original Horde on Draenor, witnessed its purpose first hand. Garrosh led the Horde like a Hellscream. And with every victory, his heart swelled with pride. Pride in the Horde he had built, pride in the orcs as they returned to the ways of old, and pride in himself, in his bloodline, in the fact that he was bringing more honor to the name Hellscream, just as his father had.
It’s no wonder Garrosh heard the siren song of Y’shaarj, saw how it could be useful. And it’s no wonder, really, that when Hellscream left the room in which the heart had been locked away for thousands upon thousands of years, leaving Gorehowl behind, that the Sha of Pride sprung from the remnants. It wasn’t Shaohao’s spirit that brought Pride back with a vengeance — it was Garrosh’s arrogance, reveling in what he had accomplished. Reveling in what he would accomplish with the heart in his grasp, what glory he would bring to the Horde … and to the name Hellscream.
That’s what ultimately brought Garrosh to his knees — his pride, his arrogance had grown so great that he could not fathom a world in which we could defeat him. Yet although Garrosh laughed in the face of his accusers, made a mockery of the trial, of those who would have seen him redeemed, there was still a lingering doubt that haunted him as he sat in his cell, awaited his judgment. Because despite all that he had done, all that he had accomplished for the Horde, everything he had done in his father’s name … there was perhaps an uncertainty as to whether or not he’d really brought honor to the name Hellscream after all. His father was still dead. The Horde had been twisted beyond even what redemption he could offer — they had made it clear that they were no longer interested in the old ways.
Thrall’s Horde was not and never would be the Horde of old. And in looking for an answer, an explanation, he was conveniently approached by a bronze dragon with the supposed power to change it all. To shape the world the way it should have been — a world in which the Horde never fell to corruption to begin with. A world in which his father never drank the blood of the pit lord, a world in which the orcs would be Thrall — slave — to no one. A world in which he could raise an army that would conquer, as the Horde should. A world in which his father would be proud of him.
Yet in the end, Garrosh made a fatal choice. He could have left well enough alone, he could have remained the rest of his days on Draenor. He could have watched his father conquer the world, fought at his side, content to live as an orc should, in his mind. But his pride would not let him leave Azeroth behind so readily. His pride demanded revenge. All of this may be why Garrosh Hellscream sought to turn the Iron Horde on Azeroth, because we represented a future that, as far as he was concerned, should never have come to pass.
Garrosh Hellscream never lived to see the end results of his actions — he lived just long enough to experience the consequences. But although Garrosh’s story is over, his legacy lives on, oddly enough, in the father he was so desperate to save. Grommash Hellscream leads the Iron Horde, yes, but when given the opportunity to drink fel blood a second time, Grommash turned away from the chalice. His son — the orc he never realized was his son — lost his life to those strangers from another world, yes. But perhaps Grommash is beginning to realize the root of all problems — the reason for the very existence of these strangers — lies in what Gul’dan offers. And it is a price he is unwilling to pay.
Garrosh would be proud.
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