A DIRGE FOR HELLSCREAM (Part 1: Fatherhood)

Even though I know that there aren’t really a lot of folks out there reading this, I feel it’s important to point out that there will be spoilers for the Nagrand questing experience in Warlords of Draenor and you should proceed with caution if you haven’t experienced that in context yet.

What’s interesting about the Nagrand finale is that it provides a single conclusion to what are ultimately two different narratives: there’s the story presented in-game of Garrosh and his rise and fall, from his introduction in Burning Crusade up until now, and there’s the whole story of Garrosh presented throughout the entire franchise, across short stories and novels in addition to the game itself. I’m going to focus on the former story first, since that’s the one most players are going to be familiar with (though if you’re reading this, you’ll probably be interested in the latter story as well.)

The first story is really all about Thrall as a surrogate father for Garrosh: when Garrosh is introduced in BC, he’s characterized as a young, depressed orc who grew up in the shadow of his father Grom’s damnation of the whole race. Thrall returns, not only telling but showing everyone on Draenor that Grom died a hero, a redeemer of his people. And Garrosh swells up with pride that his father’s legacy has been restored. Thrall, as the bearer of Grom’s legacy (and Orgrim’s, and Durotan’s, and maybe even Saurfang at this point…) becomes the replacement father for the Mag’har, all of whom grew up without their fathers’ guidance.

As we see Garrosh later in Wrath of the Lich King, he’s become Thrall’s right-hand, even if his intolerance for the Alliance races doesn’t bode well. The beginning of the echoed admonition (“You disappoint me, Garrosh”) reinforces the idea that denying Garrosh approval is intended to punish him for his bad behavior. Garrosh’ earlier exchange with Saurfang at Warsong Hold has airs of this, since Saurfang is (rightly) advising caution, but the undertone of Garrosh’ abrasive response is “Thrall put me in charge here, not you, so stop trying to be my dad by telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.” And all of this following Garrosh’ leadership challenge before the Scourge Invasion (in which Garrosh’ lines all sound like “dad, you’re doing it wrong, I can do it” and Thrall’s responses being “son you’re not ready”) sets up the Northrend campaign as being Garrosh’ coming-of-age, prove-to-me-you’re-a-man event.

There’s a constant sense of Garrosh trying to impress Thrall by being forthright, and every time Thrall is disappointed with him, Thrall’s never specific about why he’s disappointed, so Garrosh gets the wrong idea and screws up worse the next time. Because Thrall’s never had a son and Garrosh has never had a father, so neither of them quite know how to understand one another.

Cataclysm has Thrall leave Garrosh in charge of the Horde to go off and be the World Shaman, and this is where you see Garrosh slipping into a new phase of trying to impress an absentee father: by outdoing him. Thrall united the clans to bring them out of bondage? Garrosh reaches out to the Dragonmaw to bring them into the fold, and even takes Blackrock defectors like Malkorok under his wing. Thrall took a harsh land like Durotar for the Horde? Garrosh savagely grabs territory to secure new footholds for the Horde. The event in Stonetalon, taken in context (and not as Afrasiabi’s mistake, wrought by internal miscommunication) is Garrosh questioning whether or not he’s doing the right thing, but he nonetheless chooses the path of violence. The choice doesn’t matter, though: Thrall isn’t there to admonish him, or to guide him. The bottom line is that despite all the work Garrosh is doing, Thrall is nowhere to be seen. (Players seec him plenty, but Garrosh isn’t in on any of that.)

Mists is where we really see Garrosh finally come into his own. He blows up Theramore because he wants to take Kalimdor for the Horde and Theramore is a prominent target to demonstrate on. He invades Pandaria because he wants it for the Horde. He pursues the Divine Bell because the Horde needs the best weapons in order to survive. He starts cutting weak links like Vol’jin out of the Horde because the Horde needs to be strong. When he gets the Heart of Y’shaarj, he realizes that he now has the ultimate arsenal, which turns all the emotional energy of the Horde’s warriors into weapons. The Horde will never be tools in the hands of others again, but they will instead be the hands that wield weapons and display their strength in glorious resplendence over Azeroth. He doesn’t need to prove himself to Thrall anymore, not if he can prove that he’s made a stronger Horde than Thrall ever could. So even when Thrall himself comes to him and says to give it all up, Garrosh says “no, daddy. I’ve done good, you’re just too weak to see it.”

So at last, when we come to this final showdown between Garrosh and Thrall, there’s an overwhelming sense that Garrosh is finally fed up with Thrall acting like his dad. Especially when he’s been hanging out with his actual dad for an extended period of time.


To an extent, I can really see where in-game Garrosh is coming from here. The Warchief title was never something that was meant to be bestowed, but instead something that was taken by the strongest orc on the field. Blackhand got it by virtue of being that strongest orc, at least in terms of public acknowledgement. Orgrim took it by killing Blackhand, and Thrall only got it from Orgrim because the Doomhammer was about to die. Grommash has it right now because no can stand up to him.

So for Thrall to say to Garrosh “here, you can have this job” instead of making Garrosh earn it through combat, it was a failure on Thrall’s part. Give Garrosh more time for dialogue and you’d probably hear: “You didn’t give me the experience I needed to earn my title. You gave me a horde that didn’t make any sense to me, and told me to protect it against a world that wants to snuff it out. I did the best I could, I pulled every trick I could come up with and it was never enough for you. So how dare you say that I failed the Horde when you set me up to fail from the start?”


Thrall never praises Garrosh in-game. Thrall’s only comments to him that the players ever hear after his introduction have to do with disappointment. So Garrosh having this internal narrative where Thrall is this disappointed surrogate dad actually makes a bit of sense at the end. You might pity Garrosh for being so wrong. And when Thrall responds to Garrosh by saying that he chose his own path, the player is basically assumed to believe that Garrosh just made all the wrong decisions… but there’s another edge to it: ultimately, Thrall busied himself so much with saving the orcish people (or the world they have to survive on) that he ended up doing a sorry job of saving Garrosh from himself.

The in-game narrative for Garrosh ends without him ever seriously considering the possibility that he was wrong, convinced that he was doing what he thought was right for the Horde. Thrall, meanwhile, ends up winning because he can call the elements, and he’s convinced that HE’S doing what’s right for the Horde. And players are generally going to be go along with Thrall on this, since he’s always been a hero.

In the end, history moves in a circle. Thrall gave birth to Garrosh Hellscream, wanting him to become a hero, and when Garrosh became a villain instead, Thrall brought an end to the monster he’d created. But it’s important that Thrall starts the final fight using the Doomhammer and then has to end it using the elements; he can’t match Garrosh’ raw strength and combat prowess, but his powers as a shaman are what lets him win the day.

Thus, the in-game narrative carries forward the big Thrall story that’s been at the core since Thrall took over the orc narrative in Warcraft 3: it’s not enough to simply be strong. You also need wisdom, and you need to respect the forces that are greater than yourself. Thrall respects the elements, and they aid him in his time of need. Through his example, the orcs need to remember to respect the world around them, which Garrosh refused to do and which the Iron Horde has discarded under Garrosh’ tutelage.

The bottom line that underscores the end of Garrosh’ story, however, is this: can the orcs ever truly return to the idyllic shamanistic lifestyle they had before they were introduced to the concept of war on a grand scale? Is it even possible to abandon the Horde, regardless of the forces that created it or sustain it? Garrosh didn’t think so, and he wanted to move forward instead of backward, no apologies. Thrall is bent double to an eternal struggle of trying to get the orcish race back into a box that they can’t fit into anymore. However, because Blizzard doesn’t seem interested in letting players choose between those two paths, Garrosh has to die.


There’s a lot more to say on the subject, but it requires us to look at Garrosh and how he’s moved in the non-game products, especially Christie Golden’s novels and the faction leader short stories.


One thought on “A DIRGE FOR HELLSCREAM (Part 1: Fatherhood)

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