Obviously, this post will contain significant spoilers for Tides of War. (This week's minipost will be on Tuesday rather than Monday.)
Here's a few placeholder images to push the spoiler text down. Or if you want to go right to the previous post, here's a link: Theramore as speed run / Challenge Mode practice.
I've been mulling over Tides of War for a few weeks now, trying to figure out just what I thought about it. Obviously, I'm not thrilled with what happens, but that's not necessarily a criticism of the novel itself - if it's supposed to make us (both Horde and Alliance) angry and upset, then in that regard it's been a wild success! And one thing for sure, it definitely sets the stage for interesting events to come.
That being said, there were a number of things I disliked. Some minor, such as the apparent deaths of the charming and eloquent Frandis Farley (the first time I've seen a non-Sylvanas Forsaken in a novel written with an actual personality and not just "hey look at me I'm a zombie"), the somewhat predictable and heavy-handed romance plot, and Thrall's literally-come-from-the-sky arrival to save the day.
I don't necessarily mind the pairing of Kalecgos and Jaina (though it's a pretty cliche fulfillment of Thrall's ridiculous "you should find a man" advice at the beginning), but I did kind of roll my eyes how the very first time they meet, suddenly Jaina is worried about her hair and her wrinkles and other nonsense.
As for Thrall showing up to calm Jaina down...ugh. There was no reason for Thrall to be the one to do this, since he didn't care what was going on earlier in the books. Inserting him here is just living up to the Green Jesus moniker.
If anyone, it should have been Varian to talk her down, for a few reasons. First of all, it would be a nice reversal of the roles the two have played for two expansions now, with Varian raging and Jaina being the calming influence. Flipping this would have been a nice extension of their unique relationship as peers.
Secondly, VARIAN of all people asking Jaina to not destroy the Horde/orcs in fury would mean a LOT. Not only would it truly illustrate how Varian has actually matured and grown up in the last few years/novels, but the shock of VARIAN firmly opposed to outright annihilation might pierce through Jaina's rage, and make her stop and think about her actions. After all, if there is one person on Azeroth who could absolutely relate to what Jaina is feeling...it's him. (Much more so than Thrall, because what the hell does Thrall know about this? His life hasn't been perfect, but he's never actually witnessed his home be destroyed by invaders and become a tragic survivor like Varian and now Jaina. I'm honestly surprised Jaina didn't just narrow her eyes and incinerate Thrall on the spot for his arrogance.)
I also didn't like how the Horde as a whole either comes across as MORONS who fail to see what Garrosh is doing, or EVIL because they see and don't care. And furthermore, how Baine and Vol'jin talk about rebellion and standing up for themselves/what's right, and yet, they never show any real spine in the entire book, instead just knuckling under to Garrosh's bullying and intimidation time after time.
The Horde may have "won" this fight, but they've never looked weaker and less appealing than right now.
Anyway, onto my main point.
Garrosh makes no freaking sense at all
The Garrosh we see in Tides of War...is a very different Garrosh from who we've seen before. And not just in a "oh, he's in a bad mood today" sort of way. He's a completely different person.
This is very alarming and disappointing. One of my biggest fears upon hearing that we'd be eventually fighting Garrosh as a raid boss was that Blizzard was just going to throw away his personality, nuances and character development that we've witnessed over three expansions and two (three?) novels. I'm not being facetious - you may not LIKE the character that Garrosh has become, but go take a look back at depressed Nagrand Garrosh to young punk Wrath Garrosh to kick-in-the-door Cata Garrosh and tell me his character hasn't evolved. I, along with many others, grimly hoped we wouldn't just end up with a "lol Garrosh is bad now, DEAL WITH IT" shift to explain his eventual role as a raid boss.
But with Tides of War, it appears that this is exactly what has happened.
Garrosh in Tides is...he's just a monster. He's violent, sexist, abusive and bullying. He's perfectly okay with roughing up or killing Horde citizens who don't toe the line, doesn't care about the lives of his soldiers, doesn't care about honor(!), and doesn't really care about the Horde so much as he just wants to prove what a badass he is.
What the HELL, Blizzard?
This is a COMPLETELY different orc than the hotheaded yet indisputably honor-driven Garrosh we saw in the Shattering. It's a COMPLETELY different orc than the furious Warchief who executed an overzealous lieutenant in Stonetalon for crossing moral and ethical lines.
Honestly? It reads like a bad fanfiction story. :\
As I digested the novel, I grew more and more annoyed every time Garrosh did something dishonorable or out of character. At first I was saddened, then upset, then disgusted. It kept throwing me off as I read, actually, due to how jarring and wrong his actions were.
Garrosh didn't make a ton of Cataclysm appearances, but he was definitely around. He was honorable in Stonetalon, scared and pissed (and admittedly, sexist) in Silverpine, and brash, foolish yet incredibly fearless in the Twilight Highlands intro quests. Combine these moments with his Shattering, Wolfheart, and leader short story roles, and you've got a very polarizing, interesting character. Oh, flawed, sure, but that's what MAKES a character interesting. He had weaknesses, but he had good points, and he had firmly established beliefs and motivations.
So where was THIS Garrosh in Tides of War?
Why does the book read like Varian Wrynn wrote it?
I sighed upon finishing the book and sulked about it for a few days, lamenting the criminal butchering of Garrosh's character, just so that (I assumed) everyone would want to kill him at the end of Mists. It was everything I had dreaded, but worse.
But then I stopped to think about it a little.
It was suspicious, frustrating and insulting. Very much so. In fact, extremely so.
We're told over and over again just how horrible Garrosh is. We see it in everything Malkorok does. We see it in Garrosh's STFU attitude to, well, everyone who isn't Malkorok. We see it in his arrogance, his callous disregard for honor and valor, and of course - the big one - we see it in the bomb. Blizzard and Golden practically beat us over the head with a giant club that says GARROSH IS BAD NOW throughout the entire book.
It's too much. It's TOO blatantly wrong. I think there's more to this.
I think we're supposed to wonder why he's so different.
Here's an analogy. Let's say Garrosh comes home to Orgrimmar one day and finds out someone has raided his cookie jar. Furious, he begins searching for clues that might indicate the perpetrator. He finds a small troll voodoo fetish, and some paint smeared on the shelf that appears to be Darkspear war paint. The evidence has spoken - the thief was a troll!!
But what if there was more? What if there was also a broken Darkspear arrow, a troll feather headdress, blue troll fur scattered around the cookie jar, and bright red, stiffened mohawk hairs on the floor? And only two fingerprints on the jar? And a scrap of torn cloth on the door that came from a Sen'jin tabard?
Do you see what I'm getting at? At this point, there might as well be TROLLS WAS HERE, MON spray-painted on the wall. Which means that, in all likelihood, it WASN'T a troll, but rather "evidence" intentionally and purposefully left behind to direct Garrosh toward an incorrect conclusion.
When does overwhelming - unbelievably so - evidence become not proof, but instead, a red herring?
Back to Tides of War, now. If you were to say to yourself, "What are the ways Garrosh could show he's a complete evil monster?" and make a checklist, how many of these traits would be found in the book? Doesn't care about honor? Check. Abusive and sexist? Check. Willing to sacrifice his own troops for personal glory? Check! Willing to destroy the entire city using a GIANT BOMB, even though he was so adamantly opposed to this EXACT THING previously? BIG FREAKING CHECK.
It's just too much. I mean, what else could Garrosh even DO* to vilify himself that he doesn't already do in the book? If it had been just one or two loathsome acts (not including the bomb), okay, I guess he's bad now. :( But this many? Meeting every requirement in the "How to Spot An Evil Overlord" checklist? That's totally suspicious. Nothing triggers alarm bells like someone who is perfect, whether it be perfectly good, bad, right or wrong.
(*other than extremely icky/horrible real-life crimes that I'm not going to discuss, and had better never actually see in WoW. Comments about these other acts will be deleted.)
Here's a few of the traits that struck me as heavily implicating yet mysteriously unexplained.
Who the hell is Malkorok?
This is probably the most obvious indication that something's weird. Introducing a new important character is fine, when their role and importance to the plot makes sense. Take Kinndy, for example. Even though (in my opinion) it's obvious she's in the book to be a martyr, her presence in Theramore is explained, it's believable and perfectly plausible, and she's not a huge major player, but an apprentice. Totally fine.
But Malkorok? This Blackrock orc is jarring and bewildering to readers right from the start, and this confusion continues throughout the entire book. Who IS this incredibly violent, sadistic brute? Why is he suddenly the Horde's second-in-command? Why does he have Garrosh's permission - scratch that, his blessing - to beat up or MURDER Horde citizens who dare voice opposition? Why is he invincible in battle, and physically stronger than Baine?
We don't get answers to any of these questions. He's just...there. Untouchable, unstoppable, and completely free to do whatever he wants. His presence comes across as sloppy, annoying, and feels extremely contrived. And I think it's supposed to.
The theft of the Focusing Iris
Early in Tides of War, the Focusing Iris is stolen from its Blue Dragonflight escorts, much to the surprise and shock of the rest of the blue flight. The scene is tremendously violent, with "violent black gashes that looked as if lightning strikes had rent the frozen soil," and boulders that had been ripped from the ground and hurled great distances. There is also a "lingering stench of demonic activity"(!) as well as other magics, and marks from ordinary weapons.
One blue wonders who could possibly be strong enough to kill five blue dragons and make off with the Iris. At the time, we don't know, but it certainly sounded pretty bad. Demonic magic? Powerful elemental control, or failing that, raw power mighty enough to shatter and hurl boulders around?
Now, we find out later that the Horde stole the Iris, needing it for Garrosh's big plan. But what's NOT addressed is just how a Horde raiding party managed to surprise and overcome five dragons who were surely on guard, given their charge - no small feat! Also, this battle did not sound like a long, extended affair where the Horde's numbers, arrows and magic whittled the dragons down - no, it is described more like an assassination or ambush, with the dragons dying in their humanoid forms, peppered with arrows in their throats, killed before they could react or defend themselves.
Furthermore, nothing indicating the identity of the attackers can be found - not a scrap of banner nor any distinctive arrow fletchings. In other words, whoever carried out the attack was clever enough not to bring anything that would give them away, and also methodical/thorough enough to clean up the battlefield afterward, leaving no trace of their presence.
...I love the Horde, but does that sound like any Horde raiding party that YOU know of?
I mean, look at Garrosh as a typical orc. Clean up after a battle? Hell, following his duel with Cairne he doesn't even remember to grab his beloved and cherished axe, Gorehowl. Luckily for him, one of the Kor'kron fetches it for him, but my point is that "cleaning up" is hardly on a Horde post-battle to-do list.
What this ambush DOES remind me of, however, is a similar ambush that took place in the Shattering, where orc assailants interrupt a peaceful meeting between Hamuul Runetotem's tauren druids and some night elf peers. What was the result of that attack? Oh, only the brutal deaths of every druid in attendance except Hamuul, driving a wedge between the two races, and the start of the events that would lead to Cairne Bloodhoof's untimely demise.
In that attack - which ALSO starts with archers shooting arrows into their targets' throats - Hamuul angrily confronts the leader of the attackers, thinking they were Horde soldiers. This mysterious orc identifies himself as Gorkrak, and acts dumb and slow to fool Hamuul into a measure of false safety, before renewing the attack on him and the other tauren. The ploy works, too, as Hamuul is caught completely off-guard and only survives through sheer luck.
Now THAT might be someone who'd be clever and sneaky enough to make sure not to leave any visible clues or indications behind. As well as, you know, being pretty capable at that whole murder thing.
We also find out that Gorkrak is a member of the Twilight's Hammer, but we are the only ones to know this. Though it is never outright stated, Hamuul must have still believed that Garrosh was behind the attack, for this apparent brutality and treachery is why Cairne storms into Grommash Hold and starts throwing accusations. We know what happens next, tragically, but in all the fuss and tumult surrounding Cairne's death, everyone forgets about Gorkrak, who is never heard from again.
So what happened to him and his little band of murderers? Did they get killed with the rest of the Twilight's Hammer? Or did they survive, make up new identities and find a new affiliation, one that would welcome their particular suite of talents? Is THIS why Garrosh trusts Malkorok so much - because he was able to do the impossible, and steal away the key component to their ultimate plan? And is he actually unknowingly celebrating the same orc that set off the events that led to his unfortunate duel with Cairne, the one "victory" Garrosh will always regret?
Gorkrak cackled as he ordered his band to slaughter the night elves. Malkorok cackled in the horrifying aftermath of Theramore's destruction. When are we going to hear that sinister laugh next, I wonder?
Garrosh's complete change in personality
Garrosh has always been brash, hotheaded and cocky. That's just who he is. But he's also been someone that has, until now, been deeply concerned with honor and his own personal prowess. We saw these characteristics play significant plot roles in the Shattering (where his sense of honor leads to the duel with Cairne, and later, his awkward peace with Baine), and in Wolfheart (and other incidents) where Garrosh can't WAIT to leap into the fray to fight the Alliance with his bare hands.
In Garrosh's eyes, defeating a foe doesn't mean anything if they didn't fall to your own hands. He's not like Sylvanas, to whom personal triumph takes a distant backseat to overall victory. Thus Garrosh's distaste at her use of the plague as an indirect form of fighting. It's effective, yes, but it's cowardly and weak. It is the weapon of a sneak, not a warrior.
However, in Tides of War Garrosh does his best Banshee Queen imitation, and pulls off a deception that would make her proud. Not only does he care more about victory than conquering Theramore with his own sweat and blood, but he also tricks the Alliance by stalling so the Alliance has time to bring in additional and valuable soldiers. Who he then murders in an indirect, hands-off, cowardly attack that feels...well, exactly like Sylvanas' use of the plague against Gilneas, and her total plague-based destruction of Southshore.
The assault on Theramore is effective and deadly. It's also indirect and utterly lacking in honor or glory. It's textbook Forsaken war strategy. So why the hell is Garrosh using it?
Garrosh's strange invincibility
There's a dramatic moment in the book where a Theramore soldier, Captain Wymor, valiantly sacrifices himself to lure Garrosh into range of a devastating explosion. He succeeds magnificently, and draws Garrosh right to the point of detonation, and they are both blown to bits as a result.
Except...Garrosh survives? Wymor is toast, but Garrosh shows up later with nary a scratch on him. Jaina is surprised that Garrosh survived ("Garrosh," she whispered. He shouldn't have survived the blast that had killed Wymor - but somehow he had.), but doesn't have time to puzzle over this unexpected and unwanted miracle, which is then never mentioned again.
But how DOES Garrosh survive? The bomb didn't malfunction - it worked exactly as Wymor intended. But Garrosh is hale and hearty just a few pages later, with no sign of being injured or blown up. He's not staggering and coughing up soot, he's not covering in smoke and burned, he doesn't mention how a brave Grunt pushed him out of the way and took the blast for him...nothing. He's just...there. It's very odd.
Malkorok's strange invincibility
This stupid orc just continues to annoy, doesn't he? Not only does he strut around Orgrimmar pummeling people he doesn't like, and threatening the Horde leaders we DO like just to show them how big his manhood (orchood?) is, but oh look, he's also practically a god when it comes to combat!
Of course he is. Why wouldn't he be.
Seriously though. Malkorok kills dozens of Alliance soldiers with ease, basically waltzing through the entire battle untouched and unconcerned, a feat he repeats later when Jaina is blowing up the Horde warships. Oh, and he's not only skilled, he's also absurdly strong, being able to physically outmuscle Baine - BAINE! A TAUREN! - in a straight-up strength match.
This guy just has no weaknesses. He's a perfect killing machine/enforcer/advisor. There's those alarm bells again!
The. Damn. Bomb.
And of course, we come to THE tipping point, the act of malice that is so incredibly counter to Garrosh's nature that people have been screaming about it: the Mana Bomb. Everything that Garrosh had done up until this point had been disappointing and alarming, but not completely unbelievable. But a BOMB? After Garrosh's outrage in Stonetalon upon learning that Krom'gar used one? You know, just that little moment that was Garrosh's most defining moment of character development the entire expansion?
The parallels between Stonetalon and Theramore are no accident. They CAN'T be. It's FAR too important an event in Garrosh's history and character to simply hand-wave, or dismiss as lazy writing. No, the use of a giant bomb in Theramore is a direct reference to the events in Stonetalon, one intended to make us think back and realize that hey, wasn't Garrosh AGAINST this type of tactic? WTF?
But instead of frothing at the mouth (like I have been doing) and raging about this incongruity...maybe we should stop to recognize that this revelation is exactly the point. Garrosh WOULDN'T do it. At least, not normally. And yet...he did. So instead, the question isn't "would Garrosh do this?" but rather "WHY would he do it?"
What's making Garrosh all un-Garrosh-y?
I'm going to go with Malkorok. We're probably supposed to feel surprised by his sudden, inexplicable appearance and insertion into the Horde political hierarchy, and shocked at how much trust Garrosh places in this stranger. But if Malkorok is twisting his Warchief's ear, and subtly leading Garrosh down paths he would not normally have considered, let alone chosen? Well, suddenly the suspicious, bizarre nature of Garrosh's decisions might make sense, if they didn't actually come from him to begin with. It might be magical influence, or maybe it's just someone really, really good with words.
If Malkorok is more than he seems, it would also explain why no one can touch him in combat, and also why he's strong enough to taurenhandle Baine. Throw in some magical abilities, and you've also got an explanation as to how Garrosh mysteriously survives Wymor's fatal explosive trap.
So just who is this sinister Blackrock orc, really? Well, the obvious answer is an agent of an Old God or an Old God itself (hooray, MORE Old God corruption >_>). It could also be a Sha wreaking havoc, though I don't really know much about the Sha yet to say how likely this might be. These possibilities would make sense...but ugh, they're sure boring. There's nothing really to explore or discuss if this is just another case of The Old God Did It, so let's just move on.
(Exception: Unless Garrosh WILLINGLY made a deal with some dark forces, and it's not corruption against his will. That would be an interesting change. Now, what type of incident would make him do something stupid like that?)
Then again, maybe it's nothing quite as...large-scale. Maybe Malkorok is actually someone using Garrosh to settle a few personal grudges? Like always, the fundamental question when considering plots and mysteries is simple: "Who benefits?"
Shall we look at who has suffered from Garrosh's sudden change of heart? There's Garrosh himself, in the eyes of his peers (and us, as players). Baine has certainly been kicked around and verbally beaten down, was forced to break his tentative truce with Jaina, and now agonizes over what the tauren were party to. There are the Horde citizens who have suffered Malkorok's wrath. And finally, of course, Northwatch Hold, followed by Theramore.
Now who would be on bad terms with all of these parties? Who has a score to settle with the Horde, but specifically Garrosh and Baine, but also Northwatch and Theramore?
I'll give you a hint - for someone who's not actually in Tides of War, she's sure mentioned a fair bit. And oh hey, look at that, her Cataclysm storyline is EXTREMELY unresolved, but chock full of future plot potential.
She's a diplomat, a master at verbal manipulation. She's devious and ruthless, cruel and vindictive, and ohhhh boy does she have unfinished business with everyone mentioned above. Could there be a more delicious revenge for Magatha to inflict on Garrosh than permanently tarnishing his honor? And how much would she enjoy Baine's obvious agony and helpless frustration at what Garrosh was making him do?
As for Theramore? The Grimtotem in Dustwallow Marsh have always clashed with Theramore's forces (we also learn that this is still the case in Tides of War), and just because Magatha is currently at odds with the Horde doesn't mean she's going to turn a blind eye for what Theramore did to the tauren of Camp Taurajo.
How would she pull off such a ruse? Oh, have I neglected the part where she's been quietly gathering relics of great power, unnoticed by both the Horde and the Alliance? In fact, players unwittingly help her acquire FOUR such artifacts in Thousand Needles - The Rattle of Bones, The Writ of History, The Drums of War, and The Doomstone.
Let me repeat that. THE DOOMSTONE.
We haven't heard from Magatha in the novels since her banishment from Thunder Bluff, and we haven't seen anything from her in-game after she gets her hands on these powerful items. This is NOT a good thing. Who knows what sort of trouble she's been up to behind the scenes? She's a lot like Sylvanas, in that she is NOT someone you want to turn your back on. I usually consider the Banshee Queen the most dangerous wildcard in the Horde, but Magatha (if she still counts as Horde) would absolutely be a close second.
There's no way she's forgotten the indignities she suffered at the hands of Garrosh and Baine, and it's just a matter of time before she makes her play. Or, perhaps she's just done it, and EVERYONE has suffered as a result.
A familiar feel
One last, off-hand thought on the matter. Magatha aside, considering Malkorok not as an infuriatingly horrible orc but rather as a potential spy has led to an amusing realization. We've actually seen this exact type of deception before, where a powerful evil creature was able to slip into his enemy's ranks undetected, twisting and manipulating their actions for his own benefit, keeping his vast power hidden within a simple mortal frame. Whether it was via magical enchantment or just his amazing force of personality, this individual was able to completely fool influential heads of state and basically screw with every major decision the Alliance made.
This manipulator was, of course, Deathwing, in his guise of Lord Daval Prestor.
Now, Deathwing's dead. Supposedly. But he was hardly the only dragon (specifically, black dragon) who liked impersonating mortals to spread chaos. And what is Malkorok? He's not just any orc - he's a Blackrock orc. As in, the orc clan who has long enjoyed a partnership with Nefarian, Deathwing's son.
Why would a black dragon disguise itself and infiltrate the Horde's ranks? Well, in addition to the death and destruction they might cause - that Malkorok has ALREADY caused - there is that little detail about Wrathion running around murdering every black dragon he can catch wind of. And he's ensured/confirmed that most of the black flight is dead. Most...but not all. Perhaps a worried survivor, after Deathwing's demise, decided that the best/only way to survive was to go into hiding, and avoid angry little brother's detection. After all, Wrathion is pretty hellbent on his quest, but he's decidedly uninvolved and uninterested in Horde/Alliance politics (so far, at least). "Garrosh's new second-in-command" might fall completely under his radar.
In any case, regardless of who Malkorok is and what has caused Garrosh's bizarre personality shift, I sure hope there's more to it than meets the eye. Flipping Garrosh to being this cliché, soulless fiend just "because" would not only be sloppy and extremely lazy, it would be a severe waste of a LOT of lore investment. Blizzard spent so much time building him up from his humble Nagrand beginnings...I find it impossible to believe they'd just toss it all out the window.
There has to be more that we just don't know yet. There HAS to be.