Know Your Lore: Why Grommash Hellscream shouldn’t die
I’m getting a little deja vu. This seems like a hauntingly familiar topic — a little under three years ago I was writing much the same about another Hellscream, wasn’t I? But despite the familiar title and topic, we’re working off of a different supposition here. It’s one that hasn’t really been completely confirmed, despite vague inference that Grommash Hellscream would in fact be the last boss of Warlords of Draenor. Given what we’ve seen so far from patch 6.2, that prospect is looking less likely, but it’s still entirely possible that the elder Hellscream could meet his end before Warlords is over.
And that would be a pity, because there’s a heck of a lot that could be done with Grommash, if he were given the opportunity. While I originally said Garrosh shouldn’t die because it would seem like a waste of character development, with Grommash, the brush goes even wider than that. It’s not just Grommash’s character we’re looking at here — it’s the entire state of the Horde as we know it. Did the Horde need Garrosh Hellscream? Yes, it absolutely did, and now that he’s gone, there’s a void left behind that could be filled, oddly enough, by his father from another reality. But before you get me wrong here, I don’t mean Grommash should fill that villain role. Far from it.
Warcraft‘s story has always been told in circles that were established during the original RTS games. First we had the First War in which the Horde reigned triumphant, then the Second War in which the Alliance struck back and won, and then the Third War, in which both sides learned how to get along and get on with the very important task of saving the world. And then, somewhere in between the space where Warcraft III ended and World of Warcraft began, that tentative peace began to fall apart. In World of Warcraft, we were back to that uneasy state of war between the two factions, although not quite as violent as the First and Second wars. In Burning Crusade, that state of tentative peace resumed as we worked together to defeat a common enemy. In Wrath of the Lich King, that tentative peace between factions started to once again split. In Cataclysm, it was all out war. In Mists of Pandaria, that war ramped up viciously, and in the end, we once again came together to defeat the common enemy — that common enemy just happened to be leading the Horde at the time.
And in a move that is entirely full-circle, we’ve now actually gone back in time to just before the events of the First War, literally beginning that cycle anew, although in a slightly different way. But there was a wrench in the works that was quietly thrown in during Burning Crusade, and his name was Garrosh Hellscream. Garrosh’s introduction was notable for two reasons — first, he’s the son of Grom Hellscream, a notable figure from Thrall’s past. Second and far more importantly, it actually marked an important moment when Thrall finally got off his rear end in Orgrimmar, traveled somewhere, and did something of note. He was the impetus that brought Garrosh Hellscream back to Azeroth in Wrath of the Lich King.
The impetus for all that story direction in Wrath, Cataclysm and Mists was Garrosh Hellscream. It was his presence that pushed Thrall to his limits and beyond. With every move that Garrosh made, he was not only insistently shoving the story of the Horde further, he was also fomenting the story on the Alliance side of the equation as well. Garrosh was the reason that tentative peace began to fall apart in Wrath. He was the reason it exploded into all-out war in Cataclysm. And he was the reason we were all brought back together again in Mists of Pandaria. To top it all off, he was the reason we went to Draenor in the first place, in the current expansion. Love him or hate him, Garrosh Hellscream was what kept that cycle spinning onward.
And now, he’s dead.
Let’s look at little more closely at World of Warcraft — the original iteration. In the original game, the two factions worked mostly on opposite ends of the world from each other. They rarely interacted, save for battlegrounds, and later on when they came together at Ahn’Qiraj. But by and large, the two stories played out separately. The Alliance were dealing with the absent state of Stormwind’s king and the overbearing threat of dragons in their midst. The Horde, meanwhile, were dealing with … not a lot, really. Struggling to hold their place in the world, occasionally fighting in skirmishes with the Alliance. In some cases, like the original iteration of Blackrock Depths, the Horde was event sent to help the Alliance out, albeit discreetly. This was all due to the leader of the Horde, an orc named Thrall who was raised by humans and really felt strongly about the idea of peace.
The big problem with Thrall is that because of the way he was written, because of his place in the world, he was ultimately a block in the road that was keeping the Horde from really going anywhere or doing anything significant. If Thrall had his way, the Horde and Alliance would be at peace with each other, quietly co-existing in harmony. That’s all well and good, and a lovely sentiment, but it makes for absolutely horrible gameplay and story development. You need conflict for a story to move onward. You need major events to keep things exciting. And in a game called Warcraft, war is pretty much the way you keep that story moving onward. Thrall was a good character, but he had nowhere to go and nothing to do. And despite the fact that he united the orc clans and brought them to Kalimdor, he hadn’t really done much for the Horde beyond that.
It took the arrival and introduction of Garrosh Hellscream to point that out. It took Garrosh insistently pushing against Thrall every step of the way for the point to really sink in — that Thrall, despite all his heroics in bringing the Horde together, was honestly a really ineffective leader. He was willing to lead the Horde to a new home and establish that new home, but when push came to shove, he wasn’t willing to fight the Alliance for that home, for the resources or space that the Horde needed. He would rather work on a peaceful resolution that frankly, despite his and Jaina’s best efforts, would never come to be. Not because of anything that Thrall did, but because the events of the First War were so horrific, so devastating that the chance of Varian Wrynn simply throwing up his hands and saying “Oh, I forgive you” is slim to none. You don’t forget your own father’s murder, not when you witnessed it with your own eyes. You don’t forget the destruction of your kingdom. Thrall may have been willing to try, but Garrosh was not. And when Garrosh stepped up as leader, he proved everything Varian believed about the orcs. That they were violent, murderous creatures bent on conquest and destruction — starting with the destruction of Theramore, a grim echo of what happened to Stormwind during the First War.
Here’s the problem we are facing right now: With Garrosh Hellscream dead, we have Vol’jin leading the Horde. Who is Vol’jin? What kind of leader is Vol’jin? What exactly is he going to do with the Horde? We don’t know. We have some very nice platitudes about family that he gave us during patch 5.3, but that’s about the extent of it. What we have, with Vol’jin, is a leader who pulled off something truly heroic to unite the disparate races of the Horde together as one, working together under the watchful eye of the Alliance to try and forge a future out of the harsh and sometimes unforgiving world. He’s viewed as a hero, the kind of hero nobody’s going to question. Does this sound at all familiar? It should — because it’s exactly where Thrall was at when he brought the Horde together and established Orgrimmar during the Third War. Hey, we even have entirely new construction again, to go along with the foreboding sense of deja vu.
What we have right now with Vol’jin is the unsettling potential of the Horde storyline returning to exactly what it was in World of Warcraft — nothing in particular going on, a leader unwilling to rock the boat. A stagnant leader with no major moves to be making. A leader without a Garrosh to prod and provoke him into action. In other words, a potentially boring leader that isn’t going to take the Horde story anywhere, leaving it limp and lifeless. And that’s a horrible idea, particularly for a character like Vol’jin, who only just began to see the first glimmer of real character development in Mists of Pandaria. Yet despite the novel bearing his name and all he accomplished in Mists, we’re left with little indication of just what kind of leader Vol’jin is going to be.
We’re also left with no real direction for the Horde to go. And that, in turn, leaves the Alliance sitting around. The thing is, both factions bounce off of each other, story wise. One makes a move, the other reacts. It goes back and forth, but for the past several expansions, it’s been the Horde making moves, and the Alliance fighting back. All because we had one pivotal character on the Horde side that was making those moves happen. Do we have an Alliance equivalent of Garrosh Hellscream? No — and maybe we need one. Or maybe we need to bring in an entirely new character to push Vol’jin in a different direction than his predecessor.
And that’s where Grommash Hellscream comes in. This is not the Grom of our past — this isn’t the orc that happily chugged the blood of Mannoroth at the thought of more power. This is a Grommash who has been both blessed and cursed with a vision that showed him exactly what that thirst for power would do to the Horde, if he let it take control. This is a far more cautious Grommash, one who proclaimed, proudly, that his people would never be slaves. It’s a Grom Hellscream who, when the Iron Horde was falling down around him, looked at that tempting gift that Gul’dan once again offered, and once again refused it. This is the Grommash Hellscream that Garrosh idolized, the heroic father he was trying so desperately, so hard to live up to.
“And we said well look, imagine him as this kid that grew up without the dad, but wanted it so badly. How far would he go? How far would he go — what if we enabled that? What if we enabled Garrosh his ultimate vengeance, to raise Grom as Warchief, as something like that.” — Alex Afrasiabi, BlizzCon 2014
We don’t need another Garrosh — but we might need the person Garrosh was trying to become. We don’t need another person in a villain role, pushing the story along. World of Warcraft has more than enough potential villains in its stable to provide conflict. In an interview at BlizzCon last year, I spoke to Alex Afrasiabi, who said that at one point in time they were considering giving Garrosh a redemption arc. Instead, they chose to let him follow that dark path all the way to its conclusion on Draenor. Grommash Hellscream was not only theoretically supposed to become that hero that Garrosh always wanted to see, he was also supposed to become that tool for Garrosh’s vengeance.
But he hasn’t. And that’s largely because we’ve halted his progress every step of the way. Now, Grommash is alone — the last of his followers have turned to Gul’dan and the Burning Legion for guidance. Wouldn’t it be kind of poetic if Grommash actually progressed from that tool of vengeance Garrosh wanted, to encompassing everything his son could have been? Someone who questions the Horde, but has the maturity to understand that things are very different on this world as opposed to his own. Someone who has the kind of tactical and leadership experience to question decisions, but the wisdom to think, listen, and understand. Someone who isn’t interested so much in carving the Horde of old out of the new, instead interested in how that Horde of old changed, developed over time.
Vol’jin needs someone that doesn’t view him as the hero of the Siege of Orgrimmar. Someone who can push him in a direction, or give him some motivation that keeps him from assuming that static role that Thrall held in vanilla WoW. Grommash Hellscream could potentially serve in that role. Not as a villain, but as that advisor that knows just enough of leadership to ask the right questions — and give Vol’jin the ideas and direction he may actually be searching for. It’s not in Thrall to take that kind of a role anymore, but it just might be the kind of role that a Hellscream — the right Hellscream — could fill.
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