Hellscream’s Eternal Hatred

So what should happen this morning but this:

Now, a great discussion can be had about how awesome this patch is going to be, how excited I am to see the story of Mists of Pandaria come to a conclusion, the factional disposition of the ships arrayed in the oncoming fleet (seriously, there are people who want to talk about that in a serious “Ghostcrawler doesn’t love me because an Alliance ship is sailing alongside a Forsaken ship” manner)… but there’s a particular throughline in this trailer that really sold something to me. Something Blizzard’s really been working at selling every since they announced the Siege of Orgrimmar and Garrosh Hellscream’s heel-heel turn.

Out the gate, I’ll mention that I never liked Hellscream’s elevation in the narrative. I liked Thrall and Thrall’s sensibilities as a leader during the classic/BC days, and seeing Garrosh act like a tool in the 3.2 Secrets of Ulduar trailer rubbed me the wrong way. I was among the people who wanted anyone other than Garrosh to be Warchief when we found out Thrall was going off to do his World Shaman gig. And I simmered while Garrosh bungled one thing after another in the questing experience. So hearing we were going to kill him? I was all thumbs up at that.

Consequently, a lot of people were talking about how Garrosh has been hit with the villain bat. And I was into that until a couple events took place. First, I read Sarah Pine’s second contribution to the Faction Leader shorts that centered on Hellscream. Second, I heard Christie Golden’s comments after writing Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, where Garrosh has gone full-on heel and is aggressively going after the Alliance. (I also read Golden’s book because dude, Jaina.)

Suffice it to say that my opinion on Garrosh has shifted a bit. I think arguments can be made that he is being portrayed consistently as a hero of what he envisions the Horde to be. The problem is that how Garrosh envisions the Horde, and how Thrall, Vol’jin, Varian, and Jaina all view the Horde, is pretty dramatically different. But if there’s something about my education in writing fiction that’s stuck, it’s that villains can’t be written as mustache-twirling ne’er-do-wells; they have to be the hero of their own narrative.

So about that trailer…

What I think is interesting in this trailer for 5.4 is that Garrosh’ characterization is pretty locked in with how he’s been portrayed in Mists so far, and is a logical extension of his portrayal in all media leading up to the present. I think this is demonstrated specifically by his dialogue with Taran Zhu.

“Your father dealt in powers ‘beyond reckoning.’ Where is he now?”

That Garrosh gets enraged when Zhu mentions Grom makes sense. Even if Thrall succeeded in convincing Garrosh that Grom was ultimately a hero, Garrosh is still really sensitive about the part where Grom led the Horde down a pretty dark path when he drank the blood. Garrosh isn’t being lolevil here: Zhu is making a crack about Grom, Garrosh can’t let that stand. Looking back at Heart of War, Garrosh was equally incensed when Krenna makes a crack about Grom.

“They are no longer part of MY HORDE.” 

Garrosh has been butting heads with Baine, Vol’jin, and Lor’themar since the beginning of the Pandaren campaign. He killed Vol’jin for being insubordinate; he doesn’t need the trolls. Baine walked away from him after Northwatch, and only lends token support in Pandaria; he doesn’t need the Tauren. Lor’themar walked away from Garrosh to run his own game on the Isle of Thunder, making airs that it was for the Horde, and Garrosh straight-up doesn’t care. So Garrosh is convinced that he really hasn’t got a need for anyone else now that he has the Heart of Y’shaarj. Garrosh isn’t being lolevil here either: if the objective of the Horde is to become strong and dominate your enemies (which is a logical conclusion after Heart of War), then those who haven’t got the stamina to keep up with Garrosh don’t have a place on the winning team.

“They will come for you.” “Yes, I’m counting on it.”

Garrosh operates purely on the assumption that the path to glory and honor for the Horde is through confrontation and warfare and given the history of the Horde throughout the franchise, this is consistent with stated orcish goals. Now that he has the ultimate arsenal, he’s certain he’ll win that contest when it comes down to it; he just has to wait for Varian and the Voodoo Revolution to come knocking and answer the challenge. This isn’t Garrosh being lolevil: the only way to be the champion is to demonstrate that you can crush all challengers.

This feeds back into what Golden said about Garrosh having something of a weak core. He isn’t able to participate in the First War because he’s too young, or in the Second because he’s got the pox. His impression of what the Horde is supposed to be is clouded by a lack of first-hand experience combined with the sentiments of Greatmother Geyah, as well as doubts about Thrall’s management of the Horde. So when you see a guy like Malkorok, a First/Second War veteran, someone who probably knew Grom and definitely knew Blackhand, you can hear him selling Garrosh on a version of the Horde that Garrosh likes better, one that validates all of his doubts but also shows him the path to victory. And that path is contingent on finding someone to punch, so you can start a fight, then win it, and prove you’re the best.

Garrosh isn’t evil for stirring the hornets’ nest; he wants to show the hornets he can beat them.

“You pandaren tried to bury your hate, your anger. But such power cannot be contained.” 

Garrosh has associated that hatred and anger are the keys to unlocking personal strength and power. If you hate your enemy, you possess that much more willpower in fighting against him, thus hate makes you stronger, and if stronger is better, hate is necessary. This might be the most unsupported element of the character’s narrative (to an extent, you see it played up during the Divine Bell sequence in 5.1, when Garrosh exhorts his warriors to manage their negative emotions and turn it into power) but it’s the most critical element to understanding why Garrosh isn’t really just drinking the villain Kool-Aid. Ultimately, Garrosh knows that the path of survival requires victory, and it’s not victory if it’s not domination, and would you dominate someone if you didn’t have a reason to hate him?

This is subjectively evil, but that really condemns the entire history of the orcish clan warfare that Garrosh is himself a product of.

“I answer to NO ONE.”

When you are #1, people bow. Those who don’t bow are cut down. And if someone is able to overthrow you, you’d better be dead as a result, because the shame of having the champion’s seat and losing it is too great a dishonor to bear. Always go out on top.

That’s how big daddy Grom did it, after all.

Villainy at its Height

Maybe Garrosh isn’t the best villain WoW has ever seen; he doesn’t have the inherent tragedy of Illidan’s story (“What can I do to make Tyrande love me?”), or the determination of Kael’thas (“How can I do what’s necessary to preserve my people?”), or the sheer overwhelming blindness of Arthas (“I’m the Prince! I know what’s right! Picking up this totally cursed sword will help me defeat th– oh crap I’m working for the bad guys now HEY DAD LOOK AT THIS COOL SWORD I FOUND!”) but he also hasn’t got the platform that those guys had in terms of story delivery. Warcraft 3 had a better platform for story because the player was given those heroes as an avatar. In WoW, given that our avatars are our own nameless characters, there’s not as much opportunity to form a bond with Garrosh and understand where he’s coming from. And it’s notable that all of the best opportunities for Garrosh’ character development take place in the short stories and books, not in the game.

Taking all the different perspectives into consideration is something that not all players are going to do; and ultimately, some players are just going to look at Garrosh and see a dude with a big bag of loot hidden in his chest cavity. But for me, I think that Garrosh is one of the most nuanced characters the World of Warcraft has seen, and while I’m going to take great personal pleasure in killing him, I appreciate what Blizzard has done to make him worthy of our attention.

What do you think? Do you buy Garrosh’ villainy? Think he’s really a misunderstood hero? Voted for a Basic Campfire? Sound off in the comments, tell me what you think. ^_^

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4 thoughts on “Hellscream’s Eternal Hatred

  1. I’m buying it finally. It seemed a bit contrived in the lead up, even with having played since BC and following Garrosh’s story—not to mention reading Tides of War as well. The trailer did something for me, but I couldn’t articulate exactly what it was. I wish Blizzard could’ve perhaps delivered more on this earlier in the expansion via actual gameplay (not to downplay what they did do), but overall, I’m feeling a greater drive to head into SoO and clean up.

    • There’s definitely a sense that Blizzard could improve on how to deliver meaningful story moments in-game. The problem, though, is how to execute nuance without the narrative tools of a novel, graphic novel, cinematic, or short story.

      I think if it were up to me, I’d just be driving more short stories onto the site. It’s less resources spent than any of the other options, you can give some characters attention and relevance to the overall narrative without having to warp gameplay around to deliver it, and hopefully there’s a greater narrative cohesion between what we see in-game (Garrosh being a megalomaniac) with what’s delivered in non-game materials (Garrosh being someone who talks like a megalomaniac but is really a misunderstood hyper-conservative with daddy issues).

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