The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. Youre playing the game, youre fighting the bosses, you know the how — but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
There are no spoilers for Warlords of Draenor here, because were not talking about that Blackhand. No, the Blackhand were going to talk about today is the original, the first Warchief of the Horde, the leader of the Blackrock orcs. A raider of the Sythegore Arm and a feared wolf-rider, Blackhand was both tactically brilliant and overly fond of flattery – he rose to the position of Warchief because he possessed both the ruthless cunning necessary to lead the Horde and the ego and vanity that Guldan used to manipulate him. It was this strange mix in his personality, his bloodlust and desire for power yet gullibility and willingness to be misled that led him to the position of Warchief, led him onto an alien world, and ultimately led him to his death.
Blackhand was first in command of the Blackrock clan. He had three children with his mate Urukal, Griselda, Rend and Maim. Griseldas fate shows us that not all orc clans were as egalitarian as the Frostwolves. But before all of that, before he sold his children to warlock magic to make adults from them before their time, before he was Warchief, before he drank the demon blood after Grom Hellscream, Blackhand was an ambitious, cruel, and eager warrior who sought glory in battle, and his own aggrandizement.
On Draenor before
One misconception about the orcish people is that their shamanism made them somehow less violent. But Draenor is a harsh world filled with violence. Ogre empires, the sadistic gronn, saberon and arrakoa all proved perilous, as did the native beasts of the land. By the time the draenei vessel crashed in Nagrand, the orcs had long since grown into a people who were capable of great violence thanks to the world they were born to. Even among a people so conditioned to brutality as a means of survival, Blackhand stood out.
Blackhand was always an orc of contradictions. He was respected for his prowess, his acumen in combat, his exploits as a leader of the Sythegore Arm, a group of wolf-riding raiders. His Blackrock clan was respected and feared, and Blackhand was so confident in his position among the orcs that when visiting the Frostwolves, he actually felt free to impugn his hosts, telling Garad that the sickly Draka was a disgrace to his entire clan. Among the Blackrocks, Blackhand said, such a weak child would have been left to die at birth, exposed to the elements. Yet as arrogant as Blackhand was, he was also an insecure orc. He was ever covetous of more respect, more power, more regard from his fellows.
When Nerzhul the Elder Shaman first began telling the various orc clans of the threat posed by the draenei, Blackhand simply didnt care. Whether or not the draenei were actually a threat was unimportant. They presented an opportunity for him to prove himself. Blackhand personally led the Sythegore Arm on many assaults on the draenei, seeking always to ensure his own prestige in the bloodshed he unleashed. Well before any orc had drunk the blood of Mannoroth, Blackhand was proving that orcs didnt need the blood of a demon to be fierce marauders and relentless killers – Draenor itself was a hard and ruthless enough world to teach orcs how to kill.
Yet it wasnt until after Nerzhul discovered that he had been used by Kiljaeden and Guldan supplanted his former mentor in the affection of that demon lord that Blackhand found a patron, of sorts. Because Guldan saw Blackhand more clearly that the head of the Blackrocks saw himself. In Blackhand, Guldan had found the perfect pawn. An orc respected by his fellows, renowned for his ferocity and strength in battle, yet strangely malleable, gullible, always willing to believe anyone as long as they flattered and cozened properly. Guldan subverted Blackhand with minimal effort. All he had to do was telling him a sinister truth to conceal the even more sinister truth behind it.
Guldan revealed to Blackhand that the draenei were, in fact, nothing more than scapegoats, that the ancestor spirits and elementals were turning their backs on the orcs, but that a new path to power had been found. Guldan promised Blackhand power and respect – he told Blackhand that he would be a member of the ruling elite, the secret Shadow Council he was assembling to rule Draenor. And Blackhand believed him. Blackhand eagerly ordered his shaman to train in the new magics and become warlocks, not realizing that Guldan subverted their loyalty. Blackhand eagerly accepted as Guldan manipulated the newborn Horde into selecting Blackhand as their new Warchief, their first Warchief. It never even occurred to Blackhand that Guldan was using him – after all, wasnt he Warchief? It never occurred to him that Guldan had chosen him for the position because of his strange gullibility, his eagerness to believe anything as long as it was flattering to him and his prowess.
To destroy two worlds
Orgrim Doomhammer, Blackhands second in command, understood his clan leaders failings all too well. He watched as Blackhand allowed warlocks to twist his own children, to age them artificially to adulthood to be more cannon fodder for the Horde. He saw that merely claiming not to be worthy to drink from the same vessel as his Warchief would be enough to convince Blackhand that it was so, because it flattered Blackhand. Guldan wasnt so easily fooled, of course. Blackhand, for his part, utterly failed to see the growing tension between his second in command and his erstwhile advisor.
When the war against the draenei was over, Blackhand accepted Guldans argument that a new world was needed for the Horde to conquer, as Draenor was dying from the warlock magics that were now practiced so freely throughout the Horde. He led his troops through the Dark Portal, and there he began to see his unimpeded path to power and prestige balked for the first time. First the army of the humans balked his Horde at every step, then his own daughter Griselda, tired of her fathers patronizing attitude towards woman proved herself beyond his control. Her alliance with the ogre Turok and her fortification of the Deadmines was seen as an affront by her father, and he ordered her death. Considering hed forced her to undergo the Drain Life ritual to age her to adulthood, then forbade her to drink the blood of Mannoroth in order to shame her, its not surprising she rebelled. Her death seemed to teach Rend and Maim, his two sons, better obedience. Its unknown if Griseldas death in any way spurred Orgrim on – he was known to have liked Griselda alone of Blackhands three children.
What is certain is that, tactically brilliant though he was, Blackhand was too much Guldans puppet to lead the Horde to successful victory over the humans. This is because Guldan didnt actually care if he won or lost against the humans. It was a divine apotheosis that Guldan pursued on Azeroth, in a partnership with the human wizard Medivh (who was himself host of the spirit of Sargeras) and so, while Blackhands Horde floundered attempting to destroy Stormwind it was only a matter of time before Blackhand himself was on the chopping block.
Interestingly enough, Blackhand was still successful in his plan. He and Guldan managed to insert Garona into the Kingdom of Stormwind, where she struck as the assassin she was bred to be, cutting out King Llane Wrynns heart and thus dooming Stormwind to defeat. Yet while Blackhand was on the verge of triumph, his ally (and secret master) Guldan found himself comatose following an attempt to wrench the location of the Tomb of Sargeras from the dying mind of Medivh. While Guldan lay trapped in his own body, Orgrim Doomhammer killed Blackhand the Destroyer, who never saw it coming. Able to play the role of general and plan the most outrageous of betrayals, Blackhand seemed incapable of believing anyone who said good things about him could ever be a threat, and he died for it.
The aftermath of Blackhands death was fascinating. Doomhammer (known as the Backstabber by those loyal to Blackhand) became Warchief, his first action to dismantle the Sythegore Arm to prevent those loyalists from moving against him. Of his fateful decision to allow Guldan to live, weve already spoken – but he also allowed Rend and Maim Blackhand and their Black Tooth Grin clan to exist, and serve the Horde, a mistake that would gall Thrall later on. In the end, Blackhands genius for planning and executing plans couldnt save him from his weakness, his need to believe that he was far more respected and capable than he actually was.
As for his Iron Horde counterpart, he never found himself a Warchief. Perhaps this helped him control his raging egomania, or perhaps the ruler of Gorgrond is as prone to flattery as the Warchief was. Well find out soon.