With spoilers for patch 5.3 circulating, speculation is still rampant over who will replace Garrosh as the next Warchief. Given that his actions are becoming increasingly heinous, it seems unlikely that he will retain any sort of power once Orgrimmar is sacked. Lor’themar and Vol’jin appear to be the front runners for claiming his title, but the way events are unfolding it seems there may be yet another unconsidered option: no warchief at all.
Varian Wrynn is often compared to Garrosh in that both are regarded as their faction leaders. While Garrosh has the title of Warchief, Varian’s only position of power is that he is the Commander of the Alliance military. Outside of battle, he has no dominion over the other races in his faction, unlike Garrosh who demands subjugation from every member of the Horde. Varian faces these struggles in patch 5.3 when he goes to Ironforge to enlist Dwarven aid. Twice he is rebuffed by members of the Dwarven Council, something that highlights just how voluntary participation in the Alliance is and how weak Varian is outside of Stormwind. As the Horde is structured in a way that every member serves the Warchief, Garrosh cannot be denied aid by anyone for fear of the death penalty.
It is this iron-clad servitude that has led to Baine, Vol’jin, and Lor’themar chafing at Garrosh’s leadership, especially when ordered to engage in military tasks they disagreed with such as assaulting Northwatch Hold or battling the Mogu in Mogujia. While Thrall could have claimed the same fealty that Garrosh does, Thrall led in a much more just manner. When the Horde leaders assemble to determine who should succeed Garrosh, they will consider looking for someone who would have deferred to them and respected them as Thrall did, but that is not enough. To leave the Warchief as a position that can claim such power is a mistake. Even if they allow someone reasonable to take the throne, there’s no guarantee that whoever follows them will also be reasonable. Leaving the seat of Warchief with power to be abused will assure that another Garrosh will arise in time. Given the lengths to which the Tauren, Trolls, and Blood Elves are going to protect their Horde, I can’t see them allowing these events to happen again.
The Warchief title should be dissolved. Vol’jin or Lor’themar may claim a position of high-ranking military leadership, especially given their performance in Pandaria so far, but they should reject the Warchief title out of disdain for how Garrosh handled his reign. That would leave the Horde as a group of independent but like-minded races working together with common military goals. Effectively, the Horde would turn into the Alliance.
One of the promises that was made for this expansion was that Varian would be sent on a series of trials that Alliance players would get to experience with him. So far, Varian has preached patience in waiting for the Horde to strike and expose themselves rather than engaging in any direct combat. The intent of these trials was to elevate Varian to a position where he could be viewed as High King, with a position to rival the Warchief as a true leader of a fortified Alliance. Instead, it seems that equality will come from dropping Horde leadership to Varian’s level.
Weakening the unity of the Horde may be a necessary function. While a totalitarian state allows for a great villain (Garrosh has pissed off everyone such that I don’t think there’s a player who won’t enjoy combating him at the end of Mists), it does not provide compelling government for players to choose to participate in. The Horde exists as a machine of conquest, but one without much personal freedom. Given that we treasure our freedom in our personal lives, it is incongruous to not receive that in our virtual worlds. To log in and experience a world with military police casually abusing power and imprisoning citizens for no reason is a bit disconcerting. It is a great motive for fighting, as these are wrongs to be fixed by heroes, but until we are able to start that fight we are implicitly supporting these actions.
The Horde’s government is a holdover from the RTS games when they were villains that we had the luxury of being able to play. Once Thrall came into being, the Horde changed to become friendlier and slightly more peaceful. This is why many of the characters from the Old Horde were bosses that we’ve had to confront. Teron Gorefiend, Kargath Bladefist, and Zul’jin are just a few of the prominent Horde members in Warcraft II that have been defeated by Horde players in WoW. Removing the Warchief title from the Horde is the final step in severing that aggressive legacy.
Most likely, Vol’jin or Lor’themar will become the Warchief soon, but when they do they will be representing that title in a much different fashion than those who held it before. As the Horde wages its civil war, it is fighting for the soul of the faction. When Vol’jin and Lor’themar win, it would only be accurate for them to remove any vestiges of the prior regime. We’re lucky that Warcraft gives us such varied characters and deep factions to think about and participate in. Whatever happens to the Warchief at the end of Mists, it’s going to be a compelling saga.