Know Your Lore: Orcish victimization and the blood of Mannoroth
If you’ve been playing World of Warcraft for a while, or were familiar with the Warcraft 3 game or tie-in books like Lord of the Clans and Rise of the Horde you were aware of a certain conception of orcs and their nature and identity. All the way from Warcraft 3 till now, we had a picture of the orcs as a people misled by leaders who either didn’t see properly or didn’t care and delivered them into a demonic pact with the Burning Legion that they were ignorant of. Grom Hellscream, the first orc to drink the Blood of Mannoroth, did so not understanding the cost of his actions. Ner’zhul, the elder Shaman who led the orcs of Draenor into the Horde, was tricked by Kil’jaeden the Deceiver.
While Gul’dan knew full well the cost of drinking the Blood, he didn’t inform the other orcs of the cost, and gleefully misled them in order to trade his people into worse than slavery. When we met Grom in Lord of the Clans, he’s an orc whose glory days are behind him, one who believes it’s his fault that his people allowed themselves to submit to a course of genocidal murder and demonic bloodthirst.
It’s a tragic story. One that clearly wins a degree of sympathy as Thrall, son of Durotan, formed his New Horde during the events of Warcraft 3. The orcs were now free from the Blood Curse brought about by Gul’dan’s treachery, free to return to a way of life they’d led before the coming of the Legion to Draenor. Some went so far as to blame the draenei for what happened to the orcs. If not for the draenei, the argument goes, the orcs would never have been targeted by the Legion, would never have drunk the blood of an annihilan, never been corrupted.
This is why Warlords of Draenor is fascinating. Ordinarily, we can’t go back and see what actually would have happened had things been different — you get one chance at the wheel, one chance to do things right or wrong. You can’t know what would have happened had someone warned the orcs before Grom drank the Blood. Except now, thanks to Kairozdormu and Garrosh, we absolutely do know what would have happened. What would have happened if the orcs had been warned, told what the Blood was and what it would do?
They would have drunk it anyway.
Victory at any cost
There are actually two parts to the myth of orcish victimization to examine. First, that they were a relatively peaceful people and wouldn’t have moved to make war on their neighbors if not united through trickery and convinced that the draenei threatened them, and second that the demonic blood of Mannoroth warped them into bloodthirsty monsters after they were tricked into drinking it without knowing the real cost. It’s clear that demon blood like that of Mannoroth absolutely does change those who partake of it — fel and chaos orcs are examples of how it can warp and twist the body and mind.
But the events of Warlords show us that even after Garrosh’s warning has been heeded and Gul’dan imprisoned, the nascent Iron Horde under Hellscream has no problem murdering the draenei as well as enslaving or threatening to destroy the ogres and their ogron and gronn and magnaron kin if they’re not useful to the Iron Horde war machine — and for what reason? Is it because Garrosh believes the draenei are a threat? Does he even try and convince anyone of this? No, he simply tells the orcs of Draenor that it is their destiny to unite and rise up into a powerful Horde and dominate the world, and they willingly choose to wage war on the rest of the world in the service to that ideal. He doesn’t mislead them, either accidentally as Ner’zhul did or deliberately as Gul’dan would — he simply tells them ‘we are strong enough to conquer the world’ and they agree.
He does, however, tell one great lie. He allows Grommash Hellscream to see a vision of the future — of his people enslaved to demons, marching to war on an alien planet, and their defeat and imprisonment in camps, but he intervenes before Grommash can see beyond this defeat, to a future where he himself would fight alongside Thrall against Mannoroth and win back his people’s souls with his own life. He only allowed Grommash to see the disaster of his own history, and not the redemption, and this instilled in the elder Hellscream (and only him) an unshakeable resolve to resist corruption. As far as he knew, he personally had ended his people’s existence, and he’d do anything to prevent it. Garrosh was well pleased with this, as it led him to the creation of the Iron Horde. But that was still just Grommash who was lied to. The rest of the Iron Horde simply accepted that a war of conquest wasn’t just inevitable, it was desirable.
The blood is the death
So we’ve dealt with the idea of the orcs of Draenor as a peaceful people. They were aggressive and martial, willing and eager to go on a war of conquest against their neighbors (and it should be pointed out, orcs had plenty of reasons to hate ogres — the ogres were hardly some innocents in all this, but rather a cruel and tyrannical would be empire in their own right) without being misled into it. A case could be made that Garrosh did mislead them, but he didn’t do so by telling them they were in danger, but merely that their destiny was one of victory and conquest, which suited the ancient tribal civilization of the orcs just fine.
But we see what happens when, after military defeat against a much stronger force than the Iron Horde had expected mounted. Gul’dan returns, with the same cup of demon’s blood in his hands, and this time Kilrogg Deadeye chooses to drink knowing full well what it will do to him, and to his people. This is no mistake — this is no orcish hothead seizing out of ignorance a promise of power, this is a seasoned orc chieftain who gave up his own eye for a moment of foresight, the clear and certain knowledge of his own death. And the Iron Horde follows him willingly, aware, into slavery. They join the Legion without hesitation, and this is the greatest defeat to the great myth that the New Horde was founded upon. Because when push came to shove, the Iron Horde proved that the lie wasn’t necessary.
Now, this doesn’t do much to prove that all orcs are malignant. Many humans, night elves, dwarves, draenei, trolls, even tauren have taken a similar offer. Indeed, all it really does is de-mythologize the orcish people. Thrall’s conception of the Horde was one born out of an essential ignorance of his own people. Raised by a cruel human, given what little kindness he knew as a child by humans, his thought process has always been rooted in those early experiences. The stories told to him by Hellscream and Orgrim Doomhammer about what orcs were like before the rise of the Horde were idealized, stories of a time almost entirely gone.
Now we see the orcs as people, some good, some evil. Some simply striving to come out on top of a horrific situation. The true legacy of Warlords of Draenor is that we got the chance to go back and try again, and we see what happened — learned that even Garrosh bought into that myth of orcish character, with disastrous consequences for us all.
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