Know Your Lore: The Warcraft movie and streamlined lore
A lot of us I saw the Warcraft movie this week. As a person who pays attention to the lore, I saw a lot of changes from the established Warcraft canon, which isn’t surprising. The RTS games evolved over the course of time, and when World of Warcraft came out, it started adding new lore to the mix, changing and refining what we had already established. Anyone who played during The Burning Crusade remembers the infamous ‘Draenei retcon’ when it came out. The game is an evolving hydra, with new lore running smack into old — back when the first RTS was the only Warcraft we had, Stormwind was called Stonewind.
I’m used to watching lore bubble and froth as it cooks. One of the things I liked about Warcraft was they deliberately made changes to the game’s story in order to make it a cohesive whole, to make the characters and setting sensible and give them an organic unfolding rather than a series of decisions made years apart crashing into each other. As much as I love Rise of the Horde, it’s a book created to make the Orcs of Warcraft III with their shamanic traditions fit into the history of Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans, with their warlocks and the bloodthirsty Horde of Blackhand.
Frankly, I prefer the movie’s lore to that of the games.
There will be spoilers for Warcraft in this post.
The Story So Far
That isn’t to say I don’t love Warcraft lore with all its twists and turns and weirdness, because I do. But the needs of a two hour movie aren’t the same as a series of games, and to adapt everything we have in the games would have made Warcraft less a movie and more a sixteen hour miniseries. At the least.
The movie’s changes to the story are widespread. From inserting Orgrim Doomhammer into the Frostwolf clan (and ultimately inverting his character arc in a very satisfying and believable way) to creating the character of Queen Taria, wife of King Llane and sister to Anduin Lothar. In the canon, we have no idea who Varian’s mother was, and that’s always struck me as a huge hole in the lore. Furthermore, making Anduin Lothar a blood relative of Varian and Anduin Wrynn through their mother makes perfect sense, it fits the motivations and behaviors of the characters in either continuity, it’s just a plain improvement to my eyes. For one thing, it means that the line of the Arathor doesn’t die with Lothar and gives Varian (and Anduin) a real claim to the title of High King of the Alliance, since it was the debt the High Elves owed to the Arathor line that led to the creation of the Alliance as an organization in the first place. Plus, it explains why Lothar would be so determined to secure the Wrynn dynasty and its future, if they were his last living relatives.
It’s not necessary to explain his actions, but it adds something to them, and beyond that the character of Taria is an interesting one in her own right, unafraid to remind her famous brother that she is his social superior, willing to stand face to face with Garona knowing that the half-orc could kill her in a heartbeat. Taria is a figure we could desperately use in the games, a creation who makes the story stronger just by existing and acting as she does.
Different can be better
I also think changes like having Gul’dan be the only real leader of the Horde and much more openly, blatantly at its head (doing away with Ner’zhul) and having Orgrim Doomhammer a member of the Frostwolves from the beginning work out to the story’s advantage. The role Orgrim plays in this movie is almost Shakespearean, in terms of it being a tragic fate that could have been avoided had someone else been in his position. To use an old comparison, if Macbeth had been Prince of Denmark then Claudius would have died in Act I; the tragedy of the play is that Hamlet was Prince of Denmark, and his character was such that the circumstances he found himself in destroyed him.
The focus on Durotan, Draka and Doomhammer as the “good” side of Orcish culture is fascinating, as each Orc is one point of a triangle and things fall apart for the Frostwolves when Doomhammer breaks. Draka serves as the pure idealism, the hope for a better future, and Doomhammer embodies the practicality of the Frostwolf tribe that led them into becoming part of Gul’dan’s Horde in the first place — better to step through the portal to a new world than stay and die on a dead world. But Doomhammer’s pragmatism won’t let him see what Durotan and Draka are trying to show him — that Gul’dan is the real threat, the cause of all their suffering — and Doomhammer’s quiet No Orc is that powerful to Durotan earlier in the film ends up costing his clan, his friends, and himself. Doomhammer’s betrayal of his best friend is not one rooted in a hunger for power or envy over Durotan’s role as Chieftain. No, Doomhammer betrays his friend because his friend is proposing that they side with Humans over their own kind, and it isn’t until Doomhammer really sees what Gul’dan is that he realizes his mistake.
The Doomhammer of the games is a figure of contradictions — a loyal friend who nevertheless took no action to help his friend, a strong Blackrock Orc who only achieved the position of Warchief through treachery, and who immediately proved himself not much better than his predecessor in the process. But the Doomhammer of the movie is at once a far more noble soul and a far more tragic one — in attempting to stay true to his people he destroys their best chance for survival and peace and helps Gul’dan, a figure of unfettered evil who is barely even an Orc anymore. And the price he pays is the death of the two people he was closest to in the world, the loss of his Clan, and a position following a thing that reveals the true depths of its foulness while murdering his best friend in an unfair fight.
Likewise, the character of Garona, the change in her origins and who her parents are, and her ultimate choice at the end of the film (and why she makes that choice) is in my opinion an improvement. No longer is Garona a helpless slave conditioned to betray one of the few people who ever treated her well — now her decision honors that friendship, even while it seemingly betrays it.
Separate but superior
I’m leaving out a lot of changes. The death of Llane, Garona’s parentage, Khadgar’s whole story and his relation to Medivh, Dalaran and the Kirin Tor, the tentative relationship between Lothar and Garona that dies with Llane, all of these changes make for a tighter story. The fact that we got Llane’s death before the destruction of Stormwind (which itself isn’t at all certain to happen this time around) and the rallying of the Allied people of Azeroth to face the Orc threat, the fight between Lothar and Blackhand (a thing of pure beauty and exactly the way it should always have been), the pathos of baby Go’el set adrift like Moses in the river, even the scene of sadistic Orc Warlock Gul’dan saving a stillborn Go’el by stealing the life force from a nearby deer all serve to heighten the film’s story.
I know that we can’t go back and change twenty years of Warcraft in our games. But frankly, I almost wish we could. I liked this Llane, this Lothar, this Durotan and Draka and Doomhammer, this Medivh and Khadgar, this Garona and Blackhand and I wouldn’t mind getting to see where this setting goes from here. Hopefully I’ll get to see a sequel, but moreover, I’d like to get to play in the world that follows this film, and I’m a little sad I won’t get to.
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