WoW! Thoughts! — On Missing Information and Missed Opportunities

Thoughts on how glossing over the Iron Horde's initial appearance makes crucial character decisions appear haphazard and cheapens everyone.

Playing through Warlords of Draenor has been immensely enjoyable. Blizzard is still at the top of their game for producing engaging expansions. Everything since rushing through the Red Portal with Thrall and Maraad has been exciting, but just how we got to the point of standing opposite the Iron Horde in Tanaan is a little unclear. Blizzard ignored a major part of the events that lead to us journeying to Draenor, and I was hoping that our interactions with Thrall or Maraad or Khadgar would shed some light on just how we got here. So far, they have not. As a result, there are several unanswered questions about what is happening on Draenor.

At the end of War Crimes, Garrosh disappears with Kairoz from the Temple of the White Tiger. The reader is told that they absconded to an alternate version of Nagrand, but regarding the characters on Azeroth, Vol’jin sums up their knowledge best: “So now we got a high and mighty bronze dragon inventor, the last black dragon, and the son of Hellscream all working together, and we don’t even be knowing where or when to look for ‘em.” Blizzard released a series of short stories and comics detailing the creation of the Iron Horde and describing events on Draenor, but nothing is told of what is happening on Azeroth during this time.

After Garrosh flees his trial, the next we see of Azeroth is the Iron Tide event and Maraad’s history lessons for Varian during Lords of War. By that point, the Iron Horde has already breached the portal, and Varian seems quite aware of the nature of the threat – aware enough to ask Maraad about the old Warlords. The crucial piece of information that we are never given is how Varian, and more importantly, Thrall, learn about the threat that is before them.

At Blizzcon 2013 Chris Metzen got into a bit of trouble for describing the journey to Draenor as a “boy’s trip.” His point was that Thrall was going to Draenor without his family to deal with Garrosh and the carnage he had wrought. But Thrall going to Draenor is crucial to the story being told this expansion. Of anyone in the Horde, Thrall has ties to several major characters this expansion.  Before leaving Tanaan, Thrall encounters the alternate Grommash, who in the original timeline was his close friend in Warcraft III. Thrall also gets to interact with his parents, Durotan and Draka, which leads to some amusing moments, even if he never explains their relationship to them. The logical argument was that Thrall needed to go to Draenor for narrative purposes, and therefore Aggra would stay home with the children because someone had to. Despite playing into gender-roles, it was not a gender-based decision.  The story required father Thrall to be on Draenor so mother Aggra was relegated to babysitting.

After the outcry over Metzen’s comments, plans clearly changed. In War Crimes Aggra watches over their child during the climactic fight at the Temple, and when Thrall finds her in the aftermath, both she and child are safe with three corpses nearby indicating that Aggra is more than capable of playing parent and combat-shaman at the same time. Thrall still travels to Draenor alone (as Aggra is not with us during the initial raid through the portal), but once he meets Draka she begins to needle him like any good mother, even if she does not know of the relationship.

Draka: You fight with much experience, Thrall. Why do you not have a mate?

Thrall: I-I do! I saw that my mate remained behind to care for our little ones.

Draka: You… wanted her to stay? This is war! More than ever, this is when family belongs at your side!

Thrall: I.. never looked at it that way.

Draka: What a strange green orc you are.

As reinforcements are eventually brought through the various portals from Azeroth, Aggra is indeed one of them, and finally joins Thrall and Draka at Wor’var in Nagrand. After Thrall defeats Garrosh, Aggra is by his side as the argument ensues amongst the assembled heroes regarding how to proceed.

Draka’s comments and Aggra’s resulting appearance show Blizzard is clearly eating crow over Metzen’s statement, yet this reaction is also poorly thought out.  Blizzard is presenting Aggra as a strong female character at the expense of presenting Thrall and Aggra as good parents. Children tend to fare poorly when introduced to war zones, as evidenced by both the original Durotan and Draka’s fates as well as the tale of Sunwalker Dezco.  If Durotan does not bring his  family to meet Orgrim Doomhammer, then the Shadow Council assassins would only be able to kill Durotan, and Thrall is not left an orphan abandoned in a crime scene.  Likewise, in the tragic Bleeding Sun, Sunwalker Dezco loses one of his children when he unwillingly brings him into combat.  Draka may claim that family belongs together even in times of crisis, but in a world of war, that is not always a viable choice.

Ultimately, this inconsistency is why the information about how Thrall and everyone on Azeroth learned of the Iron Horde is so important. From a storytelling perspective, we know that Thrall needs to go to Draenor. From a storytelling perspective, we know why it was disappointing that Aggra would stay behind, and ultimately why it was decided she should go. But from a lore perspective, little reason is given why Thrall needed to go through the portal in the first place. We need to know what Thrall and Aggra knew before the Iron Tide event, so that we can understand their decision relating to Thrall engaging the Iron Horde while Aggra waited behind and then the subsequent reversal of that decision. Draka’s dialogue is cute as meta-commentary on the game and it is consistent with her original timeline counterpart’s decision to remain with Durotan on his visit to Orgrim, but the outcome of that meeting ultimately underscores Draka’s flawed logic.

And that is the biggest part of why Thrall should insist that either he or Aggra stay on Azeroth. It is ultimately not about babysitting – there are plenty of trusted members of the Horde that can handle watching a child  – but it is about making sure that they have at least one parent to grow up with. Thrall was raised an orphan and had to travel through time and space just to meet a version of his parents.  That should definitely influence his parenting style. If he has the opportunity to deny his children the circumstances that he was faced with by not putting both himself and his wife in harm’s way, then he should opt to take that. Draka may insist that family belongs together during times of strife, but Thrall’s life has been full of strife without a family to support him.  Thrall essentially has the same opportunity that Garrosh was offered in journeying to Draenor; each orc can stop his parents from making the biggest mistake of their lives.  While Garrosh prevents Grom from drinking the demon blood, Thrall fails to educate his mother about her impending mistake.  Instead of debating her, it is played as a meta-joke about how Blizzard handles gender bias.

Instead, if Blizzard truly wanted to examine gender roles, they needed to present Thrall and Aggra making decisions about their family. Given that Thrall had never been to Draenor proper and only saw Outland the few times he was there during Burning Crusade and prior to Cataclysm, perhaps it would have made sense for Aggra to head over in his stead. She may not be a former Warchief, but she is a brown orc, much like the natives of this new (old) world, instead of a green-skinned orc who at first glance would appear aligned with the enemy. Plus, there’s no awkwardness regarding Aggra’s parentage (assuming Thrall even knew that meeting Durotan was even a possibility).

Plus Thrall is still wearing some of Doomhammer’s armor and wielding his namesake weapon. Sending Aggra through the portal first allows Blizzard to portray her as a bad ass (imagine if she was allowed to swat orcs around with Maraad during the Tanaan intro as opposed to Thrall) while also letting Thrall stay home and play father. Aggra could even comment in front of the player how great a father Thrall is, showing that masculinity is not just about wielding a big hammer and smashing bad guys.

Ultimately, it is not important whether Thrall or Aggra stay or go to Draenor. There are plenty of reasons for Blizzard to select each outcome in the story they are telling. What is important is how they are telling that story. Without focusing on the reasons for each of the characters staying or going, then all the decisions seem arbitrary. Aggra’s appearance in Draenor seems arbitrarily made as a response to the Blizzcon criticism, and characters that behave in such a haphazard fashion are not strong characters, despite how many pirates they can kill while protecting their child.

World of Warcraft is an expansive universe, and while it does seem to focus on father-son relationships, there is plenty of room for strong female characters. But if Blizzard wants to present them properly, they need to  do so in the proper context. How do Varian, Maraad, Thrall, and Aggra know the nature of the Iron Horde threat? That information, and what the characters do with it, is important, and it is a shame that Blizzard seems to have established that the answer is “they just do.”

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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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