World of Warcraft: The Evolution of Thrall - A Look at the Blizzconline Panel with Terran Gregory, Christie Golden, and Sean Copeland
22/02/2021 à 11:01
Terran Gregory, Christie Golden, and Sean Copeland from Blizzard's story and franchise development team got together at Blizzconline to talk about the evolution of one of the most iconic characters in World of Warcraft history: Thrall.
Thrall, son of Draka and Durotan, gladiator, shaman, warchief, Lord of the Clains. How do we even begin?
Lord of the Clans
The began with
Lord of the Clans
, an early Warcraft that was canceled, that detailed Thrall's journey from Orc slave raised by humans into becoming the Warchief of the Horde. As Blizzard still wanted the story to be told, they had Christie Golden write
Warcraft: Lord of the Clans
as part of the Warcraft: Blizzard Legends series. Christie spoke about how it was this project that made her utterly fall in love with Thrall, as well as with Azeroth and the World of Warcraft itself.
Christie spoke a little about introducing the character of Taretha Foxton - a human girl who also became Thrall's first friend As she was kind, open-minded, and affectonate, she strongly contrasted with the cruel slavemaster humans that Thrall was used to.
Raised by humans to become a gladiator, Thrall's childhood was always uniquely different to other Orcs, and when he did finally escape and reconnect with the Orc Clans, it was a learning curve. Thought Thrall brought a fresh perspective to the Clans, he also struggled with his own identity as Grommash Hellscream helped him figure out who he was and what it means to be an Orc. The panel spoke about how Thrall's unique perspective helped him to form the modern Horde.
Thrall did something none of his people before him did - he abolished the clans. He was like, "I don't want there to be petty infighting. I want this Horde to succeed and be different to everything that it was before.
He was really in a way forming the new family, not just the new Horde, but his new family with people that he trusted. With Vol'jin, with Cairne, people who were not orcs, but they were part of his family, this Horde.
When Terran asked Christie what she felt was the final statement of Lord of the Clans, she responded that it was that Thrall had finally accepted his destiny, and had accepted his history - that his time spent with the humans was part of what made him who he is today.
The panel opened their discussion of Warcraft III by highlighting his relationship with Jaina Proudmoore - with Sean drawing comparisons between Jaina and Taretha Foxton. As Terran pointed out. Jaina and Thrall were both part of a second-generation that had inherited the conflict between the Humans and Orcs. Perhaps this is why they were able to do the unthinkable when the prophet Medivh asked it of them: to be willing to put aside their differences and work together for the sake of Azeroth.
Terran also highlighted the well-known cinematic in which Grommash Hellscream sacrificed himself to save the Orcs from the curse of the demon blood, and how iconic the moment was when Grommash said "I freed myself", and Thrall replied,
"No, you freed us all."
Terran pointed out how impactful this moment must have been on Thrall - how Grommash redeemed himself in the end despite all the mistakes he had made, and how this would have shaped Thrall's perspective on the whole Hellscream line. In other words, it would influence how he responded to Garrosh - even when Garrosh was too hot-headed and aggressive in the way that his father had sometimes been.
Before wrapping up their discussion on Warcraft III, Christie told a cute anecdote about seeing the introduction to Warcraft III for the first time. There's a scene where Thrall bolts upright and his eyes are blue, and when she saw that Christie said she started crying. She had only seen black and white illustrations of him before, and to see a character she loved so much come to life before her eyes had a profound impact on her.
And I was like, "My baby!"
Vanilla World of Warcraft
The panel next moved on to World of Warcraft. By this time, Thrall's new Horde had settled in Durotar - an arid desert. Sean pointed out that Thrall specifically chose a place like this as part of atonement for the things the Horde had done to Azeroth in the past.
The panel spoke once again about the conflict of identity that Thrall felt - how he admired and aspired to the Orcish primal ferocity tempered with honor, but how different it was from his human upbringing, and how he might have struggled to understand it.
Terran brought up Cairne Bloodhoof, and Christie pointed out how Cairne was older, and perhaps played another father figure to Thrall. This had the panel talking about the theme of family, and how central it seems to be to both Thrall's story and the story of the Horde.
The Horde was a group of people who had to bind together in order to find their place in the world.
What I love as a tagline for the Horde is, they had to survive in a place that was hostile to them.
Found families. The families you build that you're not necessarily born into.
This theme of family carried into the Burning Crusade, as the panel spoke about Thrall, who was born on Azeroth, traveling through the Dark Portal to the home of his parents, and of the Orcs - Outland, previously known as Draenor. For the first time,
Once there, he met Greatmother Geyah - his grandmother. As Sean pointed out, this was Thrall's first time meeting a blood relative, and she gave him something incredibly precious and important: His real name. "Thrall" which means slave, was the name Blackmoore gave him - a cruel name given to him only to reinforce the fact that he was owned by someone else - but his true name, the name his family gave him, was Go'el.
Sean went on to speak about Thrall's meeting with Garrosh Hellscream, son of Grommash, and how Garrosh had been raised with the shame of what his father had done. Thrall had the opportunity to let Garrosh know how his father redeemed himself in the end, but he also took Garrosh under his wing, bringing him back to be part of the Horde in Azeroth. Now, Thrall was the father figure.
Wrath of the Lich King
This brought the panel to Wrath of the Lich King, and how Thrall had chosen to give Garrosh high command over the expedition of Horde forces that were sent to Northrend. Terran spoke about how Garrosh's more aggressive tactics were getting results, how well other Orcs were responding to his leadership - and how this made Thrall begin to doubt himself. Garrosh seemed like a natural Orcish leader, but Thrall was always half-way between human and Orc.
Christie agreed, highlighting how Thrall began to follow the path of the Shaman more. Shamanism was always a specifically Orcish thing, that clearly set him apart from humans, so this might have been partly an attempt to define himself. Christie also pointed out how Garrosh had his own self-doubts - as a sickly child with a disgraced father, he was never seen as a strong Orcish leader, so this was his opportunity to prove himself.
I'm not just going to be an Orc, I'm going to be the Orc-iest of the Orc-iest Orcs!
She suggested that this caused Garrosh to overcompensate - making him aggressive and prideful - and Terran pointed out how, under Garrosh's influence, this caused a lot that the Horde needed from Thrall began to slip away. Sean agreed, speaking about the famous dialogue between Garrosh and Saurfang in Warsong Hold. Garrosh is young and rash and wishes to prove himself, but as an old Veteran, Saurfang remembers the terrible side of war - and the atrocities his people committed.
High Overlord Saurfang says: Your father's blood runs strong in you, Hellscream. Impatient as always... Impatient and reckless.
High Overlord Saurfang says: You rush headlong into all-out war without a thought of the consequences.
Garrosh Hellscream says: Do not speak to me of consequences, old one.
High Overlord Saurfang says: I drank of the same blood your father did, Garrosh. Mannoroth's cursed venom pumped through my veins as well.
High Overlord Saurfang says: I drove my weapons into the bodies and minds of my enemies.
High Overlord Saurfang says: And while Grom died a glorious death - freeing us all from the blood curse - he could not wipe away the terrible memory of our past.
High Overlord Saurfang says: His act could not erase the horrors we committed.
High Overlord Saurfang pauses.
High Overlord Saurfang says: The winter after the curse was lifted, hundreds of veteran orcs like me were lost to despair.
High Overlord Saurfang says: Our minds were finally free, yes... Free to relive all of the unthinkable acts that we had performed under the Legion's influence.
High Overlord Saurfang nods.
High Overlord Saurfang says: I think it was the sounds of the draenei children that unnerved most of them... You never forget...
High Overlord Saurfang says: Have you ever been to Jaggedswine Farm? When the swine are of age for the slaughter... It's that sound. The sound of the swine being killed... It resonates the loudest. Those are hard times for us older veterans.
Garrosh Hellscream says: But surely you cannot think that those children were born into innocence? They would have grown up and taken arms against us!
High Overlord Saurfang shakes his head.
High Overlord Saurfang says: I am not speaking solely of the children of our enemies...
High Overlord Saurfang pauses.
High Overlord Saurfang says: I won't let you take us down that dark path again, young Hellscream. I'll kill you myself before that day comes...
Saurfang turns away and looks at the map instead.
Garrosh Hellscream says: How have you managed to survive for so long, Saurfang? Not fallen victim to your own memories?
Saurfang turns around for a moment to answer.
High Overlord Saurfang says: I don't eat pork...
High Overlord Saurfang spits.
The panel spoke about how Garrosh's presence, and his desire for a more aggressive, Orc-centered Horde, began to conflict with the more peaceful side of the Horde, represented by characters like Cairne. Terran pointed out how Thrall had a blind spot with Garrosh because of Grommash. As he had said earlier, Grommash's redemption affected how Thrall perceived the Hellscream line.
Terran spoke about how the Cataclysm was perhaps one of the biggest disasters ever to happen to Azeroth. As a Shaman, Thrall would have felt the pain of the planet personally, and felt personally responsible to try help heal the world. The panel spoke about Christie's prequel novel
, during which Thrall was determined to pursue a greater understanding of the elements, and returned to Outland to study the path of the Shaman in the land of the Orcs. Christie made it clear that Thrall was not running away, and Sean agreed.
The world was breaking, and he needed to go to a world that had broken and talk to its elements.
Of course, this was when Thrall met Aggra, his soon-to-be lifemate, who - Sean pointed out - was unimpressed by Thrall's position on Azeroth, refused to call him Thrall as his name is Go'el, and treated him as the student he ultimately was in this scenario. Thrall left Garrosh in charge during this time - a decision that many other Horde leaders disagreed with, and Sean spoke about how the final meeting between Thrall and Cairne involved Cairne begging Thrall not to make this decision - a decision that would ultimately lead to Cairne's death. That their final conversation was an argument is something Thrall will never be able to erase, and it's a regret that still hangs over him.
You never know when it's going to be the last time you'll talk to somebody. Especially your best friend.
This did have us wondering if Thrall would get a chance for one last conversation with Cairne. Though he hasn't been seen in the Shadowlands yet, anything is possible. However, if such a reunion is planned, the panel gave no hint of it.
Terran moved on to the trailer for Patch 4.2 - Rage of the Firelands. This patch would see a return of Ragneros the Firelord, and in the trailer, Thrall is struggling to connect with the elements.
In the trailer, the closeness that has developed between Aggra and Thrall is seen. Later, after the Druids of the Flame abducted Thrall, split him into four, and banished him into the planes of the elements, it was Aggra who enlisted the player to help her rescue Thrall.
And Aggra rose to the occasion. She said "Not on my watch". And she grabbed the player and...
Strong Orc women. I love them!
Thrall and Aggra were married, but the chaos of everything that happened during Cataclysm caused Thrall to have a crisis of faith. While Garrosh's position as Warchief was originally supposed to be temporary, by this point Thrall had lain down the mantle of Warcheif once and for all.
Mists of Pandaria
In Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh's rule became more and more oppressive - ultimately leading to the Darkspear Revolution, where members of both the Alliance and the Horde banded together to remove Garrosh as Warchief. The panel skipped ahead right to the end of MoP, to the Siege of Ogrimmar final cinematic. Confronted with the consequences of his own terrible choice that was naming Garrosh Warchief, Thrall finally seems to realize his blind spot, and is able to see through it.
And who was the first person to step to Garrosh as he lay defeated on the ground? It was Thrall. As he approached Garrosh, weilding the Doomhammer, he laid upon him the statement, "You are not worthy of your father's legacy."
Terran pointed out how the Horde turned to Thrall, expecting him to become Warchief once more, but Thrall was no more confident in his leadership ability now than he was before. In fact, his doubts were exaggerated.
I thought giving the Horde to Garrosh was a good idea. Why are you looking to me for further leadership?"
Warlords of Draenor
The panel spoke about how Warlords of Draenor really brought to the forefront those themes of family and belonging again, as Thrall is able to visit a version of Draenor as it was when his parents were alive. Garrosh had escaped justice and traveled here as well, and had changed the course of this Draenor's history by stopping his father from drinking the demon blood.
Instead, Garrosh and his father began to build the Iron Horde, and members from both the Alliance and the Horde had to travel to Draenor to try confront this threat. Terran spoke about how this gave Thrall a unique opportunity to find the Frostwolf clan - and his own parents.
Of course, as Christie pointed out, these weren't really Thrall's own parents, or his Clan, but rather an alternate timeline reflection of them. Once again, Thrall was placed in a position of somewhere between belonging and not belonging, of having a sense of family, but still feeling like an outsider. In fact, he never even told alternate Duratan and Draka that he was supposed to be their son.
Ultimately, Thrall and Garrosh's story came to a full circle in the Nagrand finale cinematic, set on the same hill in Draenor that Thrall and Garrosh first met on in Outland, where Thrall faced Garrosh in a Mak'gora. Thrall is not only forced to confront Garrosh, but he's forced to confront his own mistakes and how he, personally, failed Garrosh.
And as the scene plays out, all the history comes to bear. Even though Garrosh had become this horrific villain, in his core he was still the same child, or young adult, that Thrall had first met on that hill. And that child had been wounded, and felt abandoned, and felt wronged, and felt alone. "You left me to pick up your pieces." That is an undeniable fact. That is what happened.
Terran went on to highlight the exchange where Garrosh says, "Thrall! You made me what I am", and Thrall responds,
"No. You chose your own destiny."
This is, Terran pointed out, is a direct reference to the way Grommash finally made the decision to do the right thing, while Garrosh never ever took the opportunity to redeem himself - and how much of a disappointment that must have been to Thrall. Though he wins, the final shot is not of Thrall roaring in glorious victory. He's devastated.
No. A sullen shot. Defeated body language. Picking up the hammer and walking away and never looking back.
Terran pointed out how Thrall carried the weight of the burden of everything that had happened into Legion - where though he was on the battlefield with the others, fighting against the Burning Legion, the elements still weren't quite responding properly to his calls. Sean pointed out how Thrall came to feel disconnected from the Doomhammer, that he had fulfilled its prophecy and was no longer worthy of it. It became the artifact weapon for Enhancement Shamans instead.
I keep thinking of him sitting back there and going, "The Doomhammer is yours now." How much that must have hurt to say the words.
This was at the beginning of Legion, and we wouldn't really see Thrall again until well into Battle for Azeroth.
Battle for Azeroth
At this point, the panel spoke about the cinematic "Safe Haven". Vol'jin had died, Sylvanas was the new Warchief, and her rule was oppressive. She had begun the Fourth War with the Alliance, and her tyranny had reached a point where revolution was once again the Horde's only real way forward. Saurfang decided they needed Thrall, and had journeyed to the homestead Thrall had made for himself in Oshu'gun. Thrall had moved to Outland with Aggra and their children, and was living a life now entirely seperate from the Horde. Thrall is instantly defensive, thinking Saurfang has come to beg him to lead the Horde again.
What I love is that Thrall is like, "No, no, no I've told you guys, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going lead the Horde." Saufang goes, "I didn't ask," (Which was very well received among our viewership) "But I thought you would at least fight for them."
And that had to cut him to his core.
Christie went on to explain how Thrall realized he couldn't run anymore. He has to face his personal responsibility to the Horde. She highlighted how he had an axe ready-made, because some part of him always knew he would have to do this one day.
Terran pointed out how Saurfang made it simple for Thrall.
"The Horde needs you." It doesn't have to be more complex than that.
Christie highlighted how, once again, Thrall is straddling two worlds. He's in the Horde, but not its leader. He can be involved without having all the responsibility.
This brought Terran to another full circle - Thrall and Jaina Proudmoore in the Crossroads cinematic. Thrall speaks to Jaina about how they once saved the world together, and yet everything's gone wrong ever since. He asks her what's different this time, and she replies, "We are."
That hits, right? We are older. We have the wisdom. We aren't relegated to make the mistakes of the past. Perhaps there is a way we can find a better path forwards.
The panel ended with some tantalizing hints about the future of Thrall in the Shadowlands, with Christie suggesting strongly that a Draka and Thrall reunion is definitely on its way, a statement that's backed up by a
Shadowlands Maldraxxus Lore interview
Steve Danuser did with Turkish fansite Lorekeeper.net.
Christie Golden: His mother has not been idle in death. She has earned her place in Maldraxxus - in her refusal to give up, for her courage in sacrificing herself for her child, for her loyalty. She is now in a position of jeopardy and power of some sort. The Shadowlands is a pretty big place, but it's also smaller than you think.
Read More: Draka and Thrall Reunion Heavily Hinted in Evolution of Thrall BlizzConline Panel
Sean and Terran also spoke more about Thrall's position in the Horde itself, not as Warchief, but as a member of the council, and how it's important for the Horde to not belong to Thrall, or Blackhand, but to all members... suggesting we're unlikely to see Thrall take on the mantle of Warchief again any time soon.
The Thrall panel was an interesting choice for Blizzconline. Though Thrall has been present in the Shadowlands, we might have expected a panel about a character who's been more in the forefront - like Bolvar, Anduin, or Sylvanas. We wonder what this means about how important a role Thrall might still have to play in this expansion. But It was interesting to go through his history again and to realize just how much Thrall's confidence has been shaking, just how deeply he regrets some of the decisions of the past, and just how intensely he's felt like an outsider who can never quite belong his entire life. We hope that Thrall finds some peace this expansion - and that reunion with Draka sounds like a good start.
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