So Master Duegathalas has begged my forgiveness for suggesting that my Warchief be unceremoniously disposed of for the sake of game plot. I have not yet decided whether I am going to give it.
Okay, so I will, because I ♥ Dueg. Trollsie be a sucker for a man with a twirlable 'stache and a great big... crit rating. But the post inspired me to think back on some vague ideas I had about upcoming events.
It is pretty glaringly obvious at this point that Blizzard doesn't want us to like each other anymore. The "War" in Warcraft is intended to be the two factions against each other, as well as the various and sundry Scourges and Old Gods and Legions and other assorted evil crap that occasionally tries to eat Azeroth. This whole "tenuous peace" thing they talked about in the original game trailer is, for better or worse, done with. But if we're going to turn this into all out fuck-your-mother warfare between the two sides, one side or another is going to have to fire the first shot -- either overtly, or by making it look like the other side did.
I'll give Dueg credit for his basic point: Thrall is a major stumbling block to this. It's awfully hard to have war between two factions when the leader of one of those factions is staunchly against it. And I know I have, in fits of fangirl rage, demanded that Blizzard just have him assassinated already rather than continuing to water down his character in the face of Hellscream's petulance. But Thrall is one of the two most beloved leaders in the game, tied only with Sylvanas for fan devotion. Frankly, I don't think Blizzard wants this war hard enough to actually do the deed. As well they shouldn't; he's one of the strongest "good person trying to do the right thing" storylines in the Warcraft universe, and call me a sap, but that's worth hanging on to. They can't kill off Thrall for the same reason J.K. Rowling couldn't kill off Harry Potter -- to have a character the reader/player is that invested in fight that long and hard for their goal only to die in the end is just too fucking depressing, especially in a universe with so much sad, stressful and straight-up tragic shit going on.
So we're left with two ways this war can happen: either Thrall somehow ends up out of power, or Varian pushes the envelope so far that even Thrall can't turn the other cheek.
Let's look at the first option. There's not a really defined line of succession in the Horde, at least not that I've been able to see. If Thrall just randomly shuffled off this mortal coil -- hit the peace pipe too hard and took a nose-dive off Thunder Bluff or something -- the most likely successor would be Saurfang. He's still "High Overlord" to Garrosh's "Overlord" after all, and was sent to Warsong Hold to babysit him.
There's one catch to this, though: would Saurfang take power? Unlike either Thrall or Garrosh, he lived through Mannoroth's blood curse. And we've seen, in both the 3.0 Scourge invasion of Orgrimmar and that one quest in Borean Tundra, that he can still be pushed into that bloodthirsty rage, glowing red eyes and all. This in itself isn't really a problem for a Warchief, but it's also made clear in his dialogue with Garrosh in Warsong Hold that he clearly remembers the atrocities the orcs committed from within that rage, and deeply regrets them. (If you're Alliance, or not to Northrend yet, or went through Howling Fjord exclusively, do yourself a favor and look that up. It's an incredible speech.) Given that he seems to oppose balls-out bloodshed himself, he probably wouldn't want anyone with those tendencies in charge -- himself included.
But at the end of it... "I won't let you take us down that dark path again, young Hellscream. I'll kill you myself before that day comes." If the two of them were the only options for leadership of the Horde in Thrall's absence, Saurfang may well realize that he's the better choice.
This, of course, is presuming that Thrall were simply removed from the picture by an outside source such as illness or battle. That is not the only way he could leave power.
Aside from just directly disobeying Thrall, Garrosh has also insulted him to his face. "A true Warchief would never ally with cowards." He has absolutely no faith in Thrall's leadership these days; a far cry from how honorably he treated him in Nagrand. It's well within possibility that Garrosh could stage a coup -- bloody or otherwise -- and seize command of the Horde, or at least the orcs, himself. There is a common presumption among the lore-minded (though it's not been stated in-game) that the reason Thrall keeps Garrosh in power despite his insubordination is a massive amount of public support for him, partly as reverence for his father, and partly from citizens who agree with his anger towards the Alliance. If this is true, it'd be very easy for him to take power, especially if he were to frame it as 'inaction vs. action' as opposed to 'peace vs. war'. He may not have been able to best Thrall in one-on-one combat*, but a takeover would be easy enough if he could change the right minds. This speaks only to control of the orcs, of course, but Blizzard hasn't gone to any great lengths to show us how the other Alliance races react to Wrynn's grandstanding, so I doubt we'd hear much about the Horde reacting to this turn of events either. The trolls and tauren are still very reliant on the orcs, the blood elves are still very reliant on the Forsaken, and I doubt Sylvanas would particularly care. ("We still gonna fuck Arthas up?" "Sure." "OK, have fun.") And with Garrosh in full command of the Horde, it wouldn't take more than a cockeyed look from one side or the other to get a war started.
Hellscream taking power by hook or by crook seems like the most likely way for Thrall to end up out of the picture -- he could still be assassinated by the Alliance, but that would 1) leave the progression of power in too much question, and leadership likely to go to Saurfang or Eitrigg or someone else with some damn sense, and 2) make no sense from Varian's point of view. Even he has to realize that Thrall is the only reason we aren't at war yet, and that taking him out won't do anyone any favors. The exception to this would be if Varian had Thrall assassinated to get Garrosh in power, who'd be likely to attack the Alliance and let Varian have his war without having to look like the aggressor... but he's not exactly shown any qualms about being seen as an aggressor so far, and that still leaves point 1 open, that Garrosh is by no means the heir apparent to the position.
Now let's go back to that second option from the beginning: Varian does something so completely over the top that even our peace-loving Warchief is pushed to action. While Thrall has been a celebrated soldier for his entire life, it's always been in defense of his people, so the obvious possibility would be the Alliance simply taking the initiative and starting themselves a war. But that seems terribly unlikely, even coming from Wrynn. And the only time in lore we've ever seen Thrall pushed to a true bloodthirsty rage was the fall of Durnholde -- after an arrogant human leader had ordered his feisty, blond-haired best friend executed for defying orders to help him.
There's definitely not enough basis for this to happen yet, no. But let's say push comes to shove. Wrynn demands that Jaina cut off all ties to Thrall and Orgrimmar, and she refuses. Or else he decides to make some action against the Horde, and she objects -- or worse still, warns Thrall ahead of time. The Horde forces are ready for them, and blood is shed. And Wrynn finally snaps, hauls off, and has her killed.
It is debatable whether even in the face of her death, Thrall may honor Jaina's desire for peace and still avoid conflict. But for God's sake, the man has a heart. It's clear that he and Jaina are close friends as well as diplomatic allies, and Blizzard has gone to great lengths to make the parallels between Jaina and Taretha Foxton evident. In light of the threats to his authority and the crumbling peace he's tried so hard to uphold, losing her -- especially if it was because she was an ally to him -- would be a near crushing blow. I don't quite think he'd openly declare war just as vengeance for her death, but it would certainly make him rethink his willingness to negotiate.
On the whole, though, the clash between Hellscream and Wrynn has been played up far too much for it to be swept aside, and I feel pretty sure that the spark that finally lights the fuse will come from the friction between those two. Whether Hellscream pushes Wrynn to action from his current position, or ends up usurping power from Thrall and starting the conflict himself, remains to be seen.
And then we come down to the question on the minds of all who are struggling to avoid this war: if the Horde and Alliance are fighting each other, then who is fighting the Scourge?
The simplest answer would be that we stay in this tenuous holding pattern long enough to defeat Arthas, and then some event happens at the end of the Icecrown raid or the start of the next expansion to finally tip the scales. But that would be too easy, wouldn't it? Personally I've had a vision for a while now (half-baked as it may be) of how this could work out, without any character assassination necessary. Tune in to the next post for the details...
*I don't care what anyone else says about the 3.0 arena event -- call me a fangirl, but if an elemental shaman and a fury warrior are both at half health, and the shaman still has a full mana bar, the shaman is winning.