Know Your Lore: The Lightbound and High Exarch Yrel
This Know Your Lore contains spoilers for Battle for Azeroth beta content. All such content is subject to change. If you don’t want spoilers don’t read further.
Yrel was in many ways the breakout star of Warlords of Draenor. In an expansion that seemed to only realize as a bit of an afterthought that yes, the Draenei should play a major role in an expansion set on Draenor, Yrel was the face of the Draenei on that alternate world. She promised Khadgar that she and the people of Draenor would come if we ever needed their help. That she would rebuild Draenor and drive any remaining demons from her world.
But that alternate Draenor was over thirty years in the past. The Warlords we fought and the allies we made were younger versions of people we knew from our own history. We were soon too busy dealing with the invasion of demons on our own world, led in part by Gul’dan. And while we were here and now, dealing with our problems, that Draenor moved on without us.
We first see Yrel as a slave, stolen from her family by the Iron Horde under Grommash Hellscream and his Warlords. We rescue her and return her to Shadowmoon Valley alongside the other Draenei enslaved by the Iron Horde, only to witness in short order how her sister is kidnapped and sacrificed by Ner’zhul, head of the Shadowmoon Clan under the Iron Horde. Then Ner’zhul uses the Dark Star to lead an Iron Horde invasion of the Temple of Karabor, and Yrel is forced to witness as Velen sacrifices his own life to purify said Dark Star, returning it to the Light as the Naaru K’ara.
Yrel grew in power and determination throughout the expansion. She avoided Maraad’s hatred of the Orcs, even being able to fight alongside Durotan to oppose Blackhand in Shattrath Harbor. There, she saw Maraad die, in the end choosing to save her life and redeem himself for having failed during the genocide the Orcs committed against his people on his Draenor. Yrel fought to defeat the Iron Horde, pushing them back into Tanaan and, when they chose to drink the blood of Mannoroth and become the Fel Horde, leading the way to Hellfire Citadel and the ultimate defeat of Archimonde.
And that’s where we left her.
The High Exarch
At the end of Warlords, Yrel is one of two of Draenor’s leaders. The other is Grommash Hellscream. Leader of the Warsong Clan, Grommash spent the entirety of the Draenor campaign waging a war against the Draenei. He enslaved them and forced them to work to build the Dark Portal. Those were the mines that you first freed Yrel from. On Grommash’s orders, Ner’zhul tapped into the shadowy power of the Dark Star. In pursuit of those orders, Ner’zhul murdered Yrel’s sister and caused the death of Velen.
Yet, amazingly, Yrel didn’t turn to Grommash as soon as Archimonde was dead and cave his skull in with Maraad’s hammer. Instead, according to the Mag’har, she actually made common cause with the Orc directly responsible for her people’s enslavement, and the deaths of the people she loved. Remember, this isn’t some abstract point to Yrel. She personally experienced the cruelty of the Iron Horde. When Grommash Hellscream said We will never be slaves, he meant Orcs, and only Orcs. Everyone else was going to be conquered. And yet, despite this fact, Yrel tried to work with him and the remaining Orc clans of Draenor.
In her story, Yrel was eventually promoted from Exarch to High Exarch. This isn’t surprising. In Shadowmoon Valley, Velen chose Yrel. He even transfered the glyph that floated above his head to her. Her rapid ascent to Exarch and her pivotal role in the defeat of Archimonde would likely have been seen by her people as signs of a greater destiny as well.
The Mag’har opinion
It’s clear from the broadcast text that’s been datamined that the Mag’har of the current Draenor view Yrel as a tyrant. The Lightbound under her are seen as brainwashed zealots. And it’s tempting to view this through the lens of Xe’ra and her attempt to force Illidan Stormrage to become the champion of the Light. If Xe’ra tried to force the Light onto him, why wouldn’t the Naaru try and force it on everyone? Why wouldn’t Yrel, following their orders, do so? And that may in fact be exactly what’s happening.
It may be.
But let’s face facts. The Orcs of Draenor directly, willingly and without Gul’dan’s influence decided to conquer and enslave the Draenei. They forced the Draenei to build the Dark Portal. They waged war on the Draenei for existing. In so doing, they allowed Gul’dan and his Shadow Council to bring the Legion to Draenor. It wasn’t a bunch of Draenei on the art from Warlords.
The Mag’har are descended from various clans, including the Warsong. They were and still are Grommash Hellscream’s clan. If you leveled in Nagrand, you saw the Warsong fighting for the Iron Horde and its quest to conquer the whole of Draenor. For the Mag’har to now stand and call the very people they put in chains ‘tyrants’ is a colossal act of willful ignorance. Especially when those people are saying You can join us and not you will serve us.
The Mag’har might just see every overture from the Lightbound as tyranny because the Mag’har themselves tried to enslave the people making the overtures. If you look at the actual broadcast text, it’s certainly a little patronizing, and potentially somewhat arrogant. But it’s hardly the battle cries of hardened tyrants.
Yield, mag’har! Embrace the Light!
We come to save you from your savagery!
Heed the High Exarch’s visions!
You have ruined this land! It is not too late to save it!
We can save Draenor together!
Join us in the Light, brothers and sisters!
The time of Grommash is past. Embrace a new future!
The Light saved us. It can save you, too!
The High Exarch only wishes the best for us all!
When Eitrigg first meets the Mag’har, they accuse him of being a Lightbound spy. Overlord Geya’rah claims that some Orcs joined the Lightbound willingly, while others had the Light forced upon them. But we don’t see that happen. And the Mag’har clearly hold no sympathy for their Lightbound enemies.
You’d think if the Mag’har seriously believed that the Light was forced on the Lightbound, they’d want to try and save or free their people who were being so cruelly used. However, there’s absolutely no sign of that in the broadcast text. There’s a lot of back and forth where the Mag’har claim the Naaru offer of order and peace under the Light are attempts to subjugate them and steal their freedom. But we don’t know what, in particular, the Mag’har want to be free to do.
The dying world
Complicating all this are at least two places in the broadcast text where Yrel is invoked as High Exarch. A dying member of the Lightbound invokes Yrel’s name directly as he dies. He says he has failed her. The Mag’har mention the High Exarch several times. What does it all mean? Is Yrel now a hardened, fanatical tyrant crushing all dissent? We can’t ignore the possibility.
But we can’t ignore the fact that the Mag’har of this alternate Draenor are the descendants of the Iron Horde, either. Nor can we ignore that we have no idea what ‘freedoms’ the Mag’har are fighting to protect. If Yrel worked alongside them for so long fighting the demons, what really changed? And what do the Lightbound mean when they say the following:
This once-fertile land is now lifeless dust. That’s what your hate has done! You have ruined this land! It is not too late to save it!
What hate are the Lightbound talking about? Are they blaming the Orcs for the coming of Archimonde? Or did the Mag’har do something else afterwards? What caused the break between Yrel, who had managed to put aside her anger at the Orcs for the deaths of her sister, her mentor and her friend to push back the Legion, and the Mag’har? Did Grommash try and find another shortcut for Orc power and dominance? Remember, the Warsong clan was powerful in Nagrand… as were the Pale Orcs that served the Void.
Everything may be exactly as the Mag’har have presented it. Yrel may have grown into a hardened fanatic who will never stop trying to conquer and enslave the Mag’har. After all, in a way that would be a poetic fate for Grommash Hellscream. To be trapped on a world with a woman who he tried to enslave, whose family and loved ones he killed, as she does the same thing to him.
But we don’t have the full story. And we have to remember the history before we assume the Mag’har are telling us the whole story. Why is Draenor dying? How do the Lightbound intend to save it? And is Yrel trying to strip from the Mag’har freedoms that are essential to life… or the freedom to dabble in dark magics that are speeding the process of Draenor’s death along?
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