If you haven’t watched the cinematic I’m about to discuss, then click here.
What does it all mean?
In the wake of one of the most devastating and controversial events in the game’s 14 year history, this cinematic was exactly what the gaming community needed. It demonstrates that which I most love about the Horde, and the orc race in general. Despite the corrupt blood in their veins, they aren’t savages or untamed beasts like in so many other worlds. I’d say of the many races to choose from, they’ve the best background. The green-skin featured in this ‘Old Soldier’ cinematic is none other than legendary horde warrior Varrok Saurfang. I’m not going to waste time and effort trying to explain all of Saurfang’s backstory, because that really means diving into the entire backstory of the orc race which goes back a lot longer than World of Warcraft. It’s a bit dated now, but this Lore For Noobs video sort of tells you what you need to know about the orc himself.
Saurfang still feels guilt for the atrocities committed by him and his people whilst under the influence of demon’s blood. That includes the assault of Shattrath City, and the massacre of innocent civilians and children. This piece of history becomes important very soon. During the lead-up quests in The War of Thorns, Saurfang refuses to kill any innocent night elves. Even more crucially, he directly goes against Sylvanas’ orders. After (dishonorably) intervening in the fight between his warchief and Malfurion Stormrage (who’s basically a god at this point), he refuses to finish the druid off and lets him flee. And we can see how much he disagrees with Windrunner in the cinematic, in which he warns her that their actions would bring about a massive reaction by The Alliance.
In addition to that fiery flashback, there’s another one with a far different tone. This one takes place in Icecrown Citadel, during the game’s second expansion. The son that Varrok had sworn to protect from a life of bloodshed was betrayed and killed in the initial assault, only to be raised by the Lich King as a Death Knight. Even in-game, it was a touching moment when the legendary badass High Overseer Varrok Saurfang paused the massive attack to mourn his son. As a proud warrior race, orcs value a noble death – and being stabbed in the back by the devious dead was far from it. At least the way he went out, Dranosh Saurfang died fighting.
And that’s exactly what Varrok planned to do, it would seem. After seeing what the new Warchief was capable of, the battle-weary soldier could see what direction the horde was moving in. By forcing the Alliance out of Northern Kalimdor, he knew it would provoke a reaction – yet he stood there ready to defend the undead city of Lordaeron against impossible odds. Too many. It’s undeniable that Varrok stepped down from the walls ready to face the Alliance forces alone to intentionally find his own death. He might be the most renowned living orc, other than Thrall, but even he is sure to die against those odds.
The exact reason, though? If Varrok was seeking a valiant and poetic warrior’s death, he would have achieved just that by waiting until the dawn and defending the walls. But that would have been defending Sylvanas, her actions, and the Horde against an attack he knew the Warchief had brought on herself. That’s not a cause he believes in. But going out and facing them to die on his own terms, while he still had honour, instead of a false cause? That’s much more the orcish way. Saurfang was still stood for an unknown amount of time, staring out at the siege engines and wondering what on Azeroth was going to become of the Horde.
That was, until this naive young shaman came out to join him:
Zekhan is the son of a troll who’d served alongside Saurfang in The Third War, which is when the Horde and Alliance (sort of) teamed up to defend Azeroth against demons. If you’ve played the first or last expansion or read any of the books, you’ll know that demons really do have it out for the mortal races of Azeroth. He comes out with bold claims that if he dies, it will be with glory and honour and for the good of the Horde. In my eyes, that’s what tipped our Varrok over. He’s seen true honour and purpose; leading the quest to find a new homeworld for his dying people, slaying evil tyrants hell bent on killing and then death-knightifying the world, fighting black dragons hell bent on conquering the world. This is just a pointless war, started by a bitter leader, which will cost them their lives. He’s seen it once before with Garrosh Hellscream, whose father Grom was famous for basically saving the whole orcish race. Now he was seeing it again.
But the real line that hit me during this whole clip came from Zekhan the Troll.
“I can’t. He’s dead. The Horde – it’s all we have”
It’s delivered with real sadness behind it, which quite impressed me. It’s not just referring to the shaman’s dead father or Saurfang’s dead (and then re-dead) son. It’s a testament to exactly why the Horde was formed in the first place, and its core principles. When the Orcs were lead through the Dark Portal to ravage Azeroth, they weren’t exactly very well-received. They had to forge alliances with other unsavoury types (Trolls), those with no other friends (Undead) and those whom they saved from extinction (Tauren). That’s right, whilst today’s Horde might not seem like the type to save anyone – Thrall’s orcs basically rescued the entire Tauren people, and they continue to honour that blood oath to this day. That in itself should be enough to demonstrate what it was Zekhan was trying to say. No matter how many of its leaders turn evil, the Horde will always have the Horde, because it was built on something deeper than just a king or a warchief.
The cinematic ends with Saurfang having a change of heart, brought about by the optimism of a fresh-faced and long-tusked shaman. This makes me very happy. Varrok Saurfang is a fucking badass, and him dying in a solo charge against an entire Alliance army would be a more than fitting end. But the experience, wisdom and integrity he’s built over the past decade of cleaving enemies to pieces is worth keeping in the universe. It also means that the upcoming Battle for Lordaeron might swing in the Horde’s favour, with this legendary figure on the battlefield for the home team.
I’m now going to say something predictable. Varrok Saurfang could potentially be the next warchief of the Horde, and that’s why there’s this focus on him and his disapproval of Ms Windrunner. He’s one of the oldest and greatest orcs alive, and is currently in command of Orgrimmar (Sylvanas prefers the dark of Lordaeron’s undercity). The Trolls have fought alongside him for years, and they’re only down the road from his city, so they’re on side. Goblins are pretty opportunistic, so will follow whoever’s closest or strongest (Orgrimmar is both). I imagine the Tauren of Thunder Bluff would gladly follow a Horde with Varrok at the helm, as his own ideals work well with their own (For the first time since Thrall was Warchief). As a (mainly) Tauren Sunwalker Paladin myself, I’d definitely follow Saurfang. I don’t know a lot about the Blood Elves, but they’re miles away from the Horde’s mainland so will probably be devastated along with the Undead in Battle for Azeroth. No great loss, I don’t trust them any more than I trusted Sylvanas (and that hunch was definitely right)
Hats off to Blizzard, this cinematic has worked exactly as intended. It’s got me stirred up about the war in a way that the burning of Teldrassil simply didn’t (I care about Orcs and the future of The Horde, I don’t care about trees). It’s also got me thinking about what direction the next expansion will take. I’m not sure exactly, and could chance a few guesses, but I can’t see Sylvanas staying on top of it for long. She’s a beloved, famous character, but so were Varian Wrynn, Vol’Jin, Garrosh, Tirion Fordring, and the countless others who’ve died so far. Once the epic fights are all done, the world is changed forever, and Sylvanas is dead for real – I’d like to see Baine Bloodhoof in charge. I mean, really? We’ve had two orcs, a troll, now an undead’s in charge? They’ll cycle through every named NPC ever made, and if we end up with Trade Prince Gallywix as Warchief instead of a Tauren I might have to consider switching teams.