Know Your Lore: Genn Greymane and Gilneas
“Never take a man’s hand, son…’tis always better to stand tall on your own. It is what separates the great from the meek.”
Perhaps it was old King Archibald Greymane that made Genn Greymane into the man he would become, or perhaps it was Gilneas itself that molded the Worgen leader. Stubborn, arrogant, and proud, Genn Greymane is the man who chose to ignore Lordaeron’s pleas for help when the Scourge invaded. It was easy enough to do, as he’d walled off his country from the rest of the world, convinced that the kingdom had to be as self-reliant as he himself had been since he was a child.
And it was that stubborn conviction that eventually led to the downfall of Gilneas. The vision Archibald Greymane had for the kingdom was nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy in which a kingdom and a man too arrogant to offer help had nowhere to turn once Gilneas itself desperately needed help.
Archibald Greymane was the man who ushered Gilneas into an industrial revolution the likes of which outshone every other Human kingdom on Azeroth — and he knew it. Proud to a fault, he passed his wisdom onto his young son, and Genn devoured every word. After all, there was a ring of truth to what his father said. Under Archibald’s reign, Gilneas had grown without the help of any other kingdom, becoming an industrial powerhouse with no assistance from anyone.
And Archibald intended to keep it that way. He raised his son to be just as self-reliant, with the same views and opinions. That set of views bled its way into into the heart of every Gilnean citizen, who knew they were better off than the rest of the world. They knew they had worked hard to get where they were, and they took pride in that just as much as Greymane himself did.
But pride can all too easily transition to arrogance, and self-reliance can all too easily transition to isolation. What Archibald began inadvertently started the kingdom down the path towards both. After Genn became king, he also developed a reputation for being stubborn, proud, cunning of course but arrogant beyond belief.
To Genn, it was very simple: As his father had told him when he was just a young boy, it was always better to stand tall on your own. Gilneas had done so and blossomed under his father’s rule, without the help of any other kingdoms. Gilneas never asked for aid from anyone — the country never needed to. And if anyone asked for aid from Gilneas, what could they possibly offer in return, what kind of compensation could they give that Gilneas didn’t have enough of already?
It was this line of thinking that had Genn immediately questioning whether or not Gilneas should join the Alliance of Lordaeron in the first place. After all, the orcs didn’t pose a threat to his kingdom, and he knew that Gilneas was more than capable of defending itself. Why send good Gilneans to die in a war they had no stake in? What sense did it make? Darius Crowley tried to point out it was the neighborly, honorable thing to do, but as far as Genn was concerned, sympathy was simply something that would ultimately lead to the death of his people.
Eventually, Genn was persuaded not by the idea of being sympathetic to his fellow man, but by sheer politics — Lord Godfrey pointed out that if Greymane offered a pittance of support, both he and Gilneas would remain in the good graces of their fellow kingdoms. It made sense, but after the Second War was ended, Gilneas had little to show for it beyond dead soldiers and even more requests for aid from the outlying kingdoms. It was more than enough — Genn withdrew from the Alliance entirely, had the Greymane Wall constructed and cloistered his kingdom away from the pleas of those who, as far as Genn Greymane was concerned, couldn’t be bothered with the idea of helping themselves.
Mia, Liam, and Tess
This brusque outlook on life was not one that was shared with the rest of his family. His son Liam was set to inherit the throne, but didn’t share the values of his father. In fact, he had more in common with Crowley — far more sympathetic to the plight of others than Gilneas as a whole. Liam let his disapproval be known when Genn declined to send aid to Lordaeron after reports of the Scourge in the Third War. Despite their quarrels, he loved his father — he simply didn’t agree with his father’s way of thinking.
And Genn wasn’t entirely without care — he loved his family deeply, even if he didn’t choose to say it outright. If Genn’s wife, Mia, disapproved of his actions, she never let it be known, instead standing as support both for Genn and for the people of Gilneas, as the world was torn apart during the Shattering and the Worgen threatened to invade. As for Tess, she remained similarly quiet, but kept in mind the lesson that Genn had taught her — far different from any other. He told her, when she was very young, to find one beautiful thing every day, because it would make the hard days easier. She took that lesson to heart.
And when, at last, the wall came crashing down, when the Worgen began to hunt the city, when Gilneas was at its darkest hour, Genn had to come to some unsettling conclusions. His kingdom would not follow him blindly, as evidenced by the Northgate Rebellion. His kingdom was not the bastion of perfection he’d built it up to be, as evidenced by the Scourge that lay siege to the Greymane Wall. And he was not infallible, as evidenced by his decision to loose the Worgen upon the Scourge — an act that set in motion the Worgen threat.
Gilneas could, in fact, fall. And it did.
Feral, savage Worgen soon overran the capital, forcing Genn and the citizens of Gilneas to evacuate. Although the Worgen threat still loomed, a solution had been found — not an antidote, for the curse could not be cured, but something to keep the underlying rage in check. It was enough to save many who had fallen victim to the Worgen curse. Genn found this cure through the help of a Night Elf named Belysra Starbreeze, who was there when the Worgen were first created thousands of years ago. For the first time in a very long time, Genn had to ask for help, because he was infected with the curse as well. He couldn’t let his people see it, and Belysra helped him keep his secret concealed.
Unfortunately, the situation only got worse. With the Shattering, the Greymane Wall fell — and the kingdom of Gilneas came under attack by Forsaken armies in full force. Genn revealed his curse to Crowley, asking for his support — and eventually revealed the truth to his people as well, asking them to stand together and fight to reclaim Gilneas City from the Forsaken. Despite his fears, the Gilneans chose to support him, forming an army to reclaim the capital.
And he went to his son Liam and told him the truth: That it was his own foolish actions that brought the Worgen upon Gilneas. While the two didn’t shed any tears, Liam at last heard his father say that he loved him — and saw that his father was beginning to come to terms with what he’d done, a humbled man. Perhaps not entirely changed, but humbled nonetheless. The two led the assault into Gilneas City, and Liam sacrificed himself to save his father, taking a poisoned arrow that was meant for Genn.
Genn buried Liam in Gilneas, where he belonged, and vowed he would return someday. But that day was not to be soon — the Forsaken were too strong, and intended to unleash the plague. Left with no other options, Genn took his wife, his daughter, and what remained of his people — strong Gilneans all — and fled across the sea to Kalimdor, taking refuge with the Night Elves. There, Genn prepared to make amends with his past by joining the Alliance…and in order to do that, he had to contend with King Varian Wrynn and convince him that the Gilnean Worgen would make powerful allies.
But King Varian remembered what Genn had done during the Third War. He remembered how Gilneas had abandoned Lordaeron and simply let it fall, and he wasn’t so easily convinced that Gilneas could ever be anything more than a fair-weather ally at best. Genn realized he could sense Goldrinn’s presence around Varian, and helped the King of Stormwind master his anger through the same ritual that every Worgen went through to do the same — and after witnessing the Worgen in battle with the Horde, Varian reconsidered, and chose to support the Worgen’s inclusion.
Genn Greymane is somewhat of a relic — one of the last remnants of the old Alliance of Lordaeron. By the time we encounter him in World of Warcraft, he’s already begun to regret his choices in life, and throughout the course of the Worgen starting zone, we see the old king come to terms with the consequences of those actions. It took a lifetime to realize it, but standing tall leaves you with a long, long way to fall — and standing on your own means that there’s no one to catch you when you hit rock bottom. Luckily, Greymane still has enough pride to get back on his feet — if not for himself, for his people. His kingdom may have fallen, but if Greymane has his way, he’ll see the day the sun dawns over Gilneas once more.
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