WoW! Thoughts! — On the Patch 5.4 Cinematics

Thoughts on the climax of Mists of Pandaria and the culmination of years of speculation.


And so it ends.  Two weeks shy of the one year anniversary of Mists of Pandaria’s launch, Garrosh Hellscream was defeated for the first time and the end-of-expansion cinematics began popping up on Youtube and WoW news sites.  Pummeled by ten or twenty-five members of the Alliance or the Horde, Garrosh lay beaten on the floor of his throne room.  This is the time when we once again become nameless champions, and the major characters in Warcraft lore step forward to provide closure that we have earned after our travels across a new continent and our warring through central Kalimdor.

And that closure gave several characters the moments they deserved while setting up plots for down the line.

First, the deposed warchief.  Expectations going into the expansion were that we were going to kill Garrosh.  After all, raid bosses don’t usually survive our onslaught.  But Garrosh is different.  After slaying major characters like Illidan and Arthas, Blizzard has learned that sometimes you need to save a villain for a return battle.  And not just within the same expansion like Kael’thas in Burning Crusade.  Thus, Garrosh is remanded by Taran Zhu and dispatched to Pandaria to stand trial for his crimes.  It’s interesting to see such conflict conclude with adherence to the law, and it’s an especially fitting punishment for Garrosh.

One of the biggest proponents of Victory or Death is denied both — instead left to sit in a cell awaiting his fate.  This also gives him the opportunity to escape and wreak even more havoc.  We know there are legions of orcs that support him and what he represents.  He could certainly call upon them to (re)form an army to terrorize Azeroth.  Additionally, a trapped Garrosh can threaten the world in other ways.  If the Burning Legion were to discover his whereabouts, they could easily abduct him, and force him to drink demon blood.  Knowing what that did to his father and knowing what Garrosh was able to do entirely of his own accord, a Fel Garrosh would not only be menacing to face, but it would be such a deliciously ironic fate — as being forced to walk in his father’s path is the one thing Garrosh has always tried to avoid.  The fact that Garrosh will live to see future expansions is an exciting prospect.

Also, his pauldrons survive the fight!  Watch them slink off Garrosh’s shoulders as Thrall chastises him, only to still be on the floor as Varian lectures Vol’jin.  This is entirely logical, since the Tusks of Mannoroth can drop for normal or heroic kills.

Despite what Garrosh had done, it was still surprising to see Thrall try to claim Garrosh’s life by smashing his skull – with Doomhammer, no less!  Thrall clearly felt responsible for what Garrosh had done, as he appointed Garrosh to be the Warchief; enabling his atrocities.  Jaina chastised Thrall for shirking his responsibilities in the matter at the start of Tides of War, and now, at the end of the expansion Thrall was ready to murder his one time friend as a way of accepting his role in the matter.  However, he was denied his opportunity.

Varian Wrynn has one of the more interesting roles in the cinematic.  He interrupts Thrall from killing Garrosh, seeming to claim that the Alliance has the right to kill Garrosh as well.  He accedes to Taran Zhu claiming Garrosh, and then is spurred by Jaina to challenge the weakened Horde.  He approaches the faction leaders, seeming like he is going to attempt to prevent their unity, only to get there too late and come face to face with Vol’jin.  In the post-quest text Varian admits that more bloodshed would not be beneficial, as not only does it continue the cycle of violence, but it presents the Alliance with the problem of how to deal with a conquered Horde.  They have no need of claiming Orgrimmar or Thunder Bluff, they just need for the harassment in Ashenvale and across Kalimdor to stop.

It is with these words that Blizzard’s true purpose of Garrosh’s reign comes to light.  They needed an aggressive Warchief to set in motion the Horde expansion that would correct the underdeveloped Horde experience started at WoW‘s launch.  Thus, Garrosh was christened Warchief at the beginning of Cataclysm, so he could push into Alliance territory.  The problem was that the only fair response is for the Alliance to fight back which, outside of sacking Camp Taurajo, didn’t really happen (and couldn’t because the Horde push had to become permanent).  Although, with the Horde land-grab complete, the aggressive Warchief had outlived his purpose.  Garrosh’s arc throughout Mists, from Theramore to the Vale and back to Orgrimmar, was intended to justify his removal.  Culminating in the assault on Orgrimmar, the resolution needed to feature the ascension of a respected Warchief.  However, Thrall has transcended the title, so Thrall’s new proxy is Vol’jin.  Not only are the two close allies and philosophically aligned, but Varian keeps looking to Thrall throughout the cinematic, including when Vol’jin claims to speak for the Horde, as if to say, “you approve of this?”  Vol’jin may be a new face on the Warchief’s throne, but he represents the days of Thrall’s leadership.

While the Horde could physically swap leaders, Alliance leadership was constant throughout Mists.  With the violent Garrosh set to be replaced, Varian had to shift from being a hot-headed warrior-king to a pragmatic diplomat.  These changes occurred through his interactions with Anduin, and especially his battles with Garrosh.  After Theramore, Varian realizes that he can’t immediately react to Garrosh’s attacks, as that plays into the orc’s tactics, and instead began studying and looking for weaknesses.  He nearly claimed the Blood Elves for the Alliance, and managed to work with the Horde Rebellion to secure a victory.  At this point he has no interest in assaulting the Horde, instead issuing a harsh threat to establish the tone of their new relationship.  When Varian sticks his sword in the ground and demands the Horde show honor, his evolution is complete.  He is as much a new King as Vol’jin a new Warchief.

And indeed, Vol’jin is the new Warchief.  The fact that his rise was obvious is a testament to Blizzard’s story crafting, as they had been leading Vol’jin to this since his confrontation with Garrosh in The Shattering.  Especially after Vol’jin’s dominance in patch 5.3, he seemed the likeliest contender.  And just to highlight that he’s going to be an honorable leader, we see him first refuse the position, only to be encouraged by the rest of the Horde leaders granting him respect.  Vol’jin is the leader wise enough to not want the position, who is focused more on the greater good than his own aspirations.  He will be a steady Warchief.

The most interesting part of seeing the two cinematics is that without the context of what comes before the confrontation between Varian and Vol’jin (Jaina goading Varian, Vol’jin’s reluctant ascension) each opposing faction seems especially harsh to the other in those final moments.  In the Horde cinematic, Varian comes across as brash and violent, while Vol’jin in the Alliance cinematic is especially menacing.  Trolls slouch so much it’s easy to forget that they tower over humans, but Vol’jin comes from a position beneath Varian (as he’s kneeling when he accepts his leadership) to eye to eye with the King (showing that the Warchief is an equal) and as his shoulders and back stretch, he threatens to rise above Varian.  Vol’jin’s ascension has been a long time in the works, and it’s great to see it finally pay off.

While Vol’jin climbs, Jaina continues to fall.  She managed to keep her anger in check even after losing Theramore, as she took control of the Kirin Tor and allowed them to remain a neutral faction, but when the Blood Elves betrayed her again to claim the Divine Bell, she violently kicked them out of Dalaran and has seemingly lost all sense of compassion.  While she and Varian watch the Horde conclave, she urges Varian to strike and prevent the Horde from reforming.  She sounds like a little devil perched on Varian’s shoulder, or the Emperor telling Luke to strike down Vader.  She may be right, in that allowing the Horde to continue to exist is going to lead to further conflict, but her anger is almost comical at this point.

It’s easy to imagine her, mad and powerful, pulling the Kirin Tor from the Alliance, and deciding that she is going to have to wipe out the Horde on her own.  Backed by the strongest of archmages, she may well be unstoppable in that case.  As much as Garrosh’s development was well executed in going from a sad, whiny wuss in Garadar to prideful Vale-Destroyer, it’s a credit to Blizzard that fan-favorite Jaina could now be a raid boss in her own right and it wouldn’t be surprising. Players are already dismayed at the path Jaina seems to be treading, and many wouldn’t like losing such a strong female character.  Yet given her desire for destruction, she may already be lost.

If anything, after the escalation of the conflict in Cataclysm this sets the pieces on the board back to where they were just prior to World of Warcraft‘s launch.  The tenuous pact that had evaporated four years after the races of Azeroth united to defeat the Burning Legion has been restored, and the Drums of War are silenced for now.  The slate is clean for some new threat to emerge.  From below, perhaps?

WoW! Blurbs!

PVP Season 14 has begun!  Arena teams are dead.  It doesn’t matter – the real PVP is on the Auction House.

Blizzcon virtual tickets are on sale now!  If only I could buy them with virtual money!

Brewfest is happening, but for a limited time only.  Except for those of us who celebrate Brewfest everyday. *hic*

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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