“Hero” is a misnomer when discussing Gul’dan.
While the Warrior Hero Garrosh let his own hate change him into an enemy of the people of Azeroth, he started out as a brave and noble warrior. And Medivh, the alternate Mage Hero, might have done some horrible things, but he had been possessed by the lord of all demons and still managed to fight his control enough to avoid doing anything catastrophic.
No such redeeming words can be said about Gul’dan. The orc Warlock is a villain through and through, Warcraft’s most enduring villain, even, having been a fixture of the series since the first real-time strategy title.
While he died at the end of the second game, his actions have touched in one way or another every single game or expansion in the series, culminating in his “revival” in a sense, as an alternate past version of him eventually made his way back to Azeroth due to Garrosh’s time traveling plot. Villains in Warcraft come and go, but Gul’dan’s shadow is ever-present.
Origins in Draenor
Gul’dan was once a shaman of the Shadowmoon clan. The clan was known among the orcs of Draenor as the one most attuned to the elements, the stars, the matters and mysteries of the spirit. It was a clan of powerful, enlightened casters, and Gul’dan displayed so much potential that he was soon apprenticed to the most powerful among them, the Chieftain Ner’zhul.
The orcs in general place great regard in the cult to their ancestors, and the Shadowmoon often communed with their ancestral spirits for guidance. It was on one of such communions that, at a certain point in time, Ner’zhul was cautioned against the draenei by a powerful ancestor. The Chieftain then took it upon himself to rally his comrades into fighting their usually peaceful neighbours, afraid that failing to do so would later damn his race.
But soon Ner’zhul started doubting his course. The elements of Draenor, who had always supported the orc shamans with guidance and power, stopped responding to their pleas. Sensing that something was amiss, Ner’zhul probed deeper, and discovered that the ancestor that had been guiding him had in fact been one of the Eredar lords of the Burning Legion, Kil’jaeden, in disguise.
But even before Ner’zhul forsook his path, Gul’dan took it up and redoubled it, in full knowledge of the evil he was dealing with. Kil’jaeden promised the apprentice shaman unlimited power as a Warlock, and in turn Gul’dan swore to deliver his proud race as servants of the Legion.
To achieve this, Gul’dan formed his own clan, the Stormreaver Clan, and an inner circle of orc casters tempted by the demonic power, the Shadow Council, whom he determined would be his spies and agents. He united the Horde under the leadership of Blackhand and had most of them drink the blood of the pit-lord Mannoroth, amplifying their natural strength and ferocity, and binding them in unholy union with the Legion.
As Gul’dan’s and Blackhand’s Horde was nearly done exterminating Draenor’s draenei population, Sargeras, the Dark Titan and ultimate master of the Burning Legion, through the possessed body of the Guardian Medivh, contacted Gul’dan, offering him a chance at godhood.
When Aegwynn, Medivh’s mother and the greatest Guardian in history, destroyed Sargeras’ body in battle, she had sealed his remnants in a hidden temple, sunk deep beneath the oceans. As an ultimate safeguard, she made it so that no being belonging to the world of Azeroth could gain entry to the Tomb of Sargeras. As such, even though Sargeras had ultimately succeeded in possessing Medivh as a host, he was still barred from recovering his body and attaining his full power.
Gul’dan, born in the other world of Draenor, would be his key. In exchange, he would be granted power beyond mortal comprehension.
It was an offer the warlock could not refuse. Working together with the possessed Medivh, Gul’dan opened the Dark Portal that allowed travel between worlds, and manipulated the Horde into following Blackhand’s command and marching into Azeroth.
With Gul’dan supporting it in the shadows, and the demonic strength granted by the Burning Legion, the Horde advanced through Azeroth in the following years.
But just as the great city of Stormwind was about to fall, Gul’dan’s plans suffered a setback.
Medivh’s young apprentice, Khadgar, had discovered his master’s dark secret, and together with Medivh’s childhood friend, Lothar, and Garona, the guardian’s lover, had set out to invade his tower and end his possession, even if it cost the guardian his life.
Due to the guardian’s own attempts to resist possession, Gul’dan hadn’t been able to discover the location of the Tomb of Sargeras, and so, he decided to attempt a risky ritual – diving into the Guardian’s mind while his defenses were low. He did this while Medivh / Sargeras confronted his friends. And he lost the gamble – as they killed Medivh, ending his possession and banishing the spirit of Sargeras to the twisting-nether, the shock threw Gul’dan into a coma.
When Gul’dan woke, the Horde was out of his control – the honorable Orgrim Doomhammer had killed Blackhand and assumed leadership. But Doomhammer, having conquered Stormwind and knowing little else but the honor of battle, kept pushing further into human territory, which was in line with Gul’dan’s goals.
In exchange for the favor of the new Warchief, Gul’dan gave up Blackhand’s two living sons, rend-blackhand and Maim Blackhand, and promised to furnish the Horde with an undead army. Later, failing to raise the dead of Stormwind, Gul’dan sacrificed his own followers and bound their captive souls to the deceased humans, creating the abominable Death Knights.
His lust for power ended up spelling the Horde’s doom. In control of over one-third of the forces of the Horde, Gul’dan decided that it was time to resume his quest for godhood, and withdrew his armies to set out to sea, searching for the Tomb of Sargeras. He left Orgrim Doomhammer at a crucial point in his campaign to take the human kingdom of Lordaeron. Doomhammer was forced to retreat, and the Horde was defeated.
In the meantime, Gul’dan and his forces succeeded in raising the Tomb of Sargeras from the depths of the ocean, but the very volatility of the demonic powers he sought to control resulted in his undoing.
His magic drained from the effort of unsealing the tomb, and his forces thinned by both the guardians of the tomb and the pursuing forces of the vengeful Orgrim Doomhammer, he was ultimately torn apart by wild demons that had been attracted to the tomb by the dark energies sleeping within.
No-one was then left in Azeroth that would further Sargeras’ cause, hence rekindling in the Dark Titan’s spirit his commitment to invading the world through the Legion, so that his demonic generals could restore his physical form once and for all.
Gul’dan died as the most powerful warlock the world had, and to this day, has ever known – a fact that has been recorded as quoted by Medivh himself, and confirmed by historian brann-bronzebeard’s research.
Such was the power of Gul’dan at the time of his death, that his own skull became an artefact of immeasurable power, later used by both his former master Ner’zhul in order to open portals into other dimensions. But the very act of using the skull seemed to corrupt his wielder, slowly filling his mind with Gul’dan’s whispers.
Khadgar, Alleria and Turalyon were eventually able to wrest the skull from Ner’zhul’s grasp and use it as part of a ritual to shut down the Dark Portal for good – but lost it soon afterward to the collapse of Draenor.
Eventually, the skull came to be in the hands of the demon hunter illidan-stormrage who used it to empower himself into becoming half night-elf, half demon, much to the dismay of his brother Malfurion Stormrage.
Years ago, during World of Warcraft’s “The Burning Crusade” expansion, players finally got to confront Illidan, and many of the victors came away with Gul’dan’s skull, for their own empowerment.
It was thought that would be Gul’dan’s end, as a memento forgotten in some adventurer’s bag. But this was not to be….
The Warlock Class
Even though “warlock” was a word used since the beginnings of Warcraft history, the noun was usually attached to mages that meddled with demonic magic, and not to a particular gameplay unit. Medivh himself, while possessed, has been occasionally referred to as a warlock. And Gul’dan was represented in Warcraft II as a Death Knight.
It was much later, with the creation of World of Warcraft, that the Warlock class came into its own.
The World of Warcraft warlock took the mage concept, that of a scholar that, through study and concentration, could bend both the elements and raw arcane energy to its will, and applied it to demonic energy. A Warlock was a spellcaster who forsook the use of those elements and instead drew his power from the lower planes.
All warlocks were by definition more destructive than their mage counterparts, and were both able to steal the souls from the opponents they killed, souls that they then used to power more advanced spells, and able to sacrifice their own health in exchange for more mana to fuel said spells – and so life-tap was born.
The concept of sacrifice for power – be it their own sacrifice, that of their allies, or defeated enemies – is central to all warlocks, creating a play style that is uniquely powerful but also permanently dancing near the brink of oblivion. Just as in Gul’dan’s tale, a warlock player may find himself at the mercy of his ambition. And so it is beautifully captured by Hearthstone’s Warlock Hero power and card mechanics.
Additionally, there are three major types of warlock: Demonology warlocks are experts in summoning and sacrificing demons, using them as bodyguards, lackeys, or to empower their spells; Affliction warlocks specialize in weakening their foes and siphoning their health; and finally, the Destruction warlock channels his full power into raining fiery death unto his opponents.
Hearthstone warlock cards successfully cover all of these themes, even if affliction seems to be the odd one out. Cards like the many demon minions, hellfire, siphon-soul and corruption can all be traced back to their World of Warcraft heritage, something that will be explored in a future article.
In reality, Gul’dan never returned. He simply appeared anew. When the Warrior Hero Garrosh Hellscream schemed with rogue elements of the Bronze Dragonflight to go back in time and change the history of the Horde, he created an alternate timeline.
In this alternate timeline, his father grommash-hellscream was elected Chieftain instead of Blackhand, and warned by Garrosh himself of Gul’dan’s plan to enslave them to the demons of the Burning Legion, as well as of his future acts of treason.
But what he didn’t expect is that instead of being defeated, the Gul’dan of that timeline changed his strategy, bidding his time in the shadows while the World of Warcraft players worked to undermine Garrosh’s and Grommash’s Iron Horde.
Once Garrosh was dead and Grommash’s defeat seemed imminent, Gul’dan stepped out of the shadows, once again offering his dark bargain to an exhausted and broken Iron Horde. While Grommash resisted, his followers did not, and Gul’dan assumed control of the new Horde, taking Grommash prisoner and resuming his efforts to open the Dark Portal to Azeroth and his final prize.
He was ultimately defeated by the players, but not before summoning his demonic ally Archimonde, one of the three greatest Eredar Lords of the Burning Legion, for a final confrontation.
Upon defeat, in the moments before being banished back into the twisting-nether, Archimonde used the remainder of his powers to send Gul’dan across time and space and into World of Warcraft’s current timeline.
Gul’dan was never so close to victory. He currently lords over the Broken Isles, summoning an army of demons to invade Azeroth, while he takes the final steps toward the revival of the Dark Titan Sargeras.
It is in the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, that the heroes of Azeroth will make their final stand against the Burning Legion, and that Gul’dan’s ultimate fate will be determined.
So we come to the end of one more lore article, and this one was even more lore-heavy than usual. The next one will be devoted to the cards, minions and legendaries available to the Warlock Hero.
In the meantime, please let me know if I missed something via the comments, and share your opinion about the Hero and it’s story.