Focus on a young couple. They go through a fairly traditional courtship, filled with the promise of a great future for their people. Suddenly, however, a dark threat appears over the horizon. She advises caution, but he chooses to rush in headlong, and each choice he makes draws him further and further down a path of darkness. At last she realizes that she no longer knows the man he’s become, but a timeless and fervent love still survives.
You look at that story and it’s easy to assign it to Arthas and Jaina and what they’ve been through together, but with the new narrative we’ve got in Warlords of Draenor, it’s actually something that plays perfectly well with Ner’zhul and Rulkan.
For Arthas and Jaina, the threat was the Cult of the Damned. For Ner’zhul and Rulkan, it was the Iron Horde. Both Arthas and Ner’zhul made a fateful choice that broke their relationships: for Arthas it was choosing to cull Stratholme in order to save Lordaeron, and for Ner’zhul it was reviving the Dark Star to keep the Iron Horde from slaughtering the Shadowmoon Clan. After that break occurs, both Jaina and Rulkan take the survivors into exile, while Arthas and Ner’zhul continue down a path of destruction. And ultimately, both Jaina and Rulkan are willing to put past hatreds aside in order to combat the greater threat; Jaina works with Thrall and the Horde against the Legion invasion at Mount Hyjal, and Rulkan enabled Prophet Velen and Yrel to assault Ner’zhul in his place of power at Anguish Fortress.
The idea that Rulkan joins the Alliance Commander as a follower is pretty much where her story stops at this point, but the commonalities with Jaina’s story up until the Battle of Mount Hyjal is something that really sticks out to me. Combine that with all the Cult of the Damned-like qualities that have been impressed upon the new Shadowmoon Clan in WoD-SMV, down to Ner’zhul summoning an Army of the Dead during his boss battle, and it really feels like Blizzard made an active attempt to align Ner’zhul’s narrative with Arthas’ as strongly as they could. I think it’s a pretty interesting turn, since it amps up the connection with the Lich King story (and Ner’zhul of all people going down in a launch 5-man really feels like a plant for future content), but it does so without really altering the existing Ner’zhul story.
Moreover, it infuses what I feel is a lot of additional character into Rulkan, who was
essentially killed off introduced in Rise of the Horde as a way for Ner’zhul to get duped by Kil’jaeden. Having her alive completely shifts his state at the start of the Iron Horde narrative (one of Kairozdormu’s “blades of grass”) while also putting a strong female orc character squarely in the Alliance narrative.
I’m pretty hopeful that we’ll see more of Rulkan going forward, because I feel like her addition to the narrative was for a greater purpose than even what we’ve seen so far. Callbacks to WC3 are great and all, but I’m really interested in seeing some new story as well, and Warlords has delivered on that while setting the stage for even more. We’ll see.