Back when the trailer for Patch 5.4 came out, (exactly a year ago today, it turns out) I wrote a big piece that dug into Garrosh Hellscream’s motivations as a character and how that’s demonstrated across a wide spread of media. It’s fitting, I think to look at the cinematic trailer for Warlords of Draenor and consider not only Garrosh’ role in the action (and how he’s developed since the start of 5.4) but also Blizzard’s present characterization of Grom Hellscream.
To really dig into the backstory on Grom, you have to understand the origins of the orcs and where they came from. Without basically sitting down and reading Christie Golden’s Rise of the Horde to you, the short version is like this: the orcs were a loosely-affiliated nation of semi-nomadic individual clans who occasionally tussled with each other over resources, and occasionally traded with the unusual draenei folk who’d appeared some centuries before. They weren’t 100% peaceful, but they had their guidance from their shaman, who got their directions from the spirits of the orcish ancestors. This is a pretty self-sustaining system, in that it conditions the orcs to keep doing what their forebears did, and to eschew revolutionary concepts.
When Ner’zhul unwittingly leads the orcs down a path of war against the draenei, the orcs take to it with gusto. They’re a savage people living in a savage world; their coming-of-age rituals have got a high mortality rate; they are a race that praises strength and fortitude, and going to war against another people, even under false pretenses, is an opportunity to demonstrate that strength. And when Gul’dan wrests control from Ner’zhul, the only thing that really changes is that the shaman are becoming warlocks and everyone’s turning green. Ultimately, the orcs have always been a violent people, but no one ever pointed them all at the same target before.
This is why it’s so critical that the turning point we’re shown in the cinematic is when Gul’dan offers the Cup of Unity to the orcs. Grom is the one who pushes to the front of the pack to drink, even ahead of Blackhand, the Warchief, because Grom is someone who already lacks hesitation. Gul’dan needs Grom to demonstrate to all of the other orcs (not just the ones cowed by Blackhand) that the power promised by the blood of Mannoroth will make even the ideal orc into an even more powerful fighter. In the original timeline, Grom does not ask any questions: he stomps up, takes the cup and drinks it. Yet here, in Warlords, he looks to the Stranger for confirmation, and then asks a question.
“And what, Gul’dan, must we give in return?”
This is when you know that everything will change. Grom is not hesitant, he is not fearful. But he’s been warned ahead of time about what would happen if he drank the blood… something that Durotan himself feared to do in the original timeline. Through his question Grom is demanding that Gul’dan be upfront about the consequences, and while it’s played up much more dramatically here than it was in Rise of the Horde, Gul’dan lifting his hood and revealing his green skin and red eyes tell the whole story of the path the orcs are meant to take from this point.
As an aside, it should be noted that this is a character moment for Gul’dan just as much as it is for Grom. Gul’dan being willing to sacrifice himself for power feels like a statement he’s making about all orcs: “I’m okay with turning green in order to become a god, isn’t everybody?” The way he replies, the conviction in his voice… Gul’dan flat-out doesn’t care who or what gets doomed so long as he’s more powerful at the end of the day.
And again, it’s so important for GROM to be the one that sells this to the other orcs by example. He’s the ideal orc, and Gul’dan is trusting that he won’t ask questions. So when Grom pours out the cup instead of chugging it, it’s the logical result of him getting confirmation from Gul’dan that this is going to be exactly what the Stranger warned him about.
Now, Mannoroth being on the scene is new, and I think that warrants it’s own post, but let’s focus on what Garrosh, as the Stranger, must have done here:
“Gul’dan is going to promise you something you already have.”
“What he promises will strip away everything that is pure and right with the orcish people.”
“He would turn us into slaves for his masters. Will we gain power? A pittance, and the price we pay for it is our freedom.”
“Drink from the Cup of Unity and we shall be the slaves of monsters.”
When I talked about Garrosh before, I talked about how Malkorok may have sold him a narrative about how badass the Horde was before Thrall’s Shamanistic Repentance Train started up. It could be that Malkorok might not have been too off the mark; if what he said bolstered Garrosh into having a vision for the Horde, and if Grom ends up buying into that same vision, then there’s weight to the idea that the orcs always wanted to be conquerors. They just needed the right push in order to realize that, and once they got going on the conquest train, there really wasn’t any turning back.
So by merely extracting the truth from Gul’dan about what the demon kool-aid would do, and by killing the monster trying to push it, Grom saves his people: as a mirror to how Grom saves his people in the original timeline, you can’t get a more stark reflection, except the twist here is the timing.
I want to talk more extensively about the usage of Mannoroth here, but I think I’ve gone on enough for one day. ^_^