The first guilds have put an end to Garrosh Hellscream's reign as Warchief of the Horde in this week's new World of Warcraft Raid, the Siege of Orgrimmar - and with it, learned who the mantle has been passed onto, and what this might mean for the Horde and the Alliance. Major Spoilers for Patch 5.4 follow!
Garrosh is defeated by the forces of the Alliance and the Darkspear Revolutionaries, but not killed - he is taken under the guard of the Shado-Pan (Taran Zhu making a bandaged appearance after catching the sharp end of Gorehowl through his chest in the trailer) to stand trial in Pandaria. It's a bit rich of Zhu to state that the Pandaren people most of all have suffered under Garrosh - hello, Theramore? Stonetalon Mountains? Ashenvale? - but there we go. Expect Garrosh to escape in time for the next raid/dungeon set up (just so he can declare 'The Siege of Orgrimmar was merely a setback!'). But who amongst the Horde's leaders will take his place?
Vol'jin of the Darkspear is the new, reluctant Warchief of the Horde.
Vol'jin is an interesting if slightly predictable pick for the new Warchief. He's spent the years since Cataclysm advocating for Thrall's new Horde over Garrosh's return to more volatile, Orc-focused policies, right up to being the one to lead the revolution against him. But Vol'jin has inherited a Horde in tatters. Briefly galvanised by the need to remove Garrosh from power, the Horde is otherwise nowhere near the position of strength it maintained under Thrall's leadership.
The orcs, who had climbed to a place of great power under Garrosh, have been decimated by the losses sustained by the Orc-only Kor'kron Guard in Garrosh's defence of the city - and now face being wrenched from their higher stature amongst the Horde races, a place they've more than happily sat in for almost 3 years. With Garrosh on trial and Thrall a member of the Earthen Ring all but moved on from his Horde, they've lost their most prominent leadership figures within the faction as well, with no clear representative in sight. The Blood Elves have sat largely ignored by their allies since Silvermoon City joined with the Horde 7 years ago, until Lor'themar Theron threw his weight behind Vol'jin, but they now face the awkward position of being cast out of Dalaran, a once pan-faction organisation in the world of magic now allied with the Alliance under Jaina Proudmoore (more on that later). Sylvanas and her Forsaken have been running around Gilneas and the Silverpine forests largely unchecked by Garrosh, with their armies growing larger thanks to the joining of the Val'kyr and Sylvanas' continued use of the Plague of Undeath - and to top it all, Varian Wrynn has sworn to deal with her and retake Gilneas for the Worgen, a future problem for them to face. The only real factions within the Horde that are relatively unscathed are the Tauren and the Trolls - even Vol'jin and Baine have suffered losses in leading the revolution - and the Goblins, but that's only because Gallywix's followers have been largely marginalised since their entry to the Horde.
As well as cleaning up the mess left behind by Garrosh's dabbling with dark magics and the old gods, Vol'jin will have to deal with the individual troubles facing the factions of the Horde before he can truly unite them. But with Sylvanas growing more independant and the Orcs suddenly facing a power vacuum, it'll be no easy feat for the new Warchief.
But what of the Alliance? With Garrosh removed, their impetus for fighting the Horde at the moment is largely resolved. But their ending cinematic could indicate there are more problems on the horizon than they imagine - and a previously close ally could potentially become their greatest threat.
It all seems a bit hunky dory now for the Alliance - Varian has come into his own as King and united his peoples in a way previously unknown to him, and he's had his moment to prove to the Horde that the Alliance are capable of fighting back against any continued aggression. With peace tentatively secure, Varian seeks to re-establish an Alliance foothold in Kalimdor, and reign in the expansion of the Forsaken in the Eastern Kingdoms, but the newest threat to the Alliance may come much closer to home: Jaina Proudmoore.
Just look at her going all Lady Macbeth in that cinematic! Some of Jaina's hatred is understandable, after Garrosh brutally destroyed Theramore with a Mana Bomb, but in the short time since the attack on Theramore Isle, this once strong advocate of Peace amongst the races of Azeroth has changed radically for the worse. Between this newfound desire to destroy the Horde, believing that they can never be trusted as she had once hoped, and her systematic purging of non-Alliance Magi from Dalaran, Lady Proudmoore is very close to her tipping point - and as Archmage of the Kirin Tor and one of the most powerful Magic users on the planet, who could possibly stop her if she grows tired of Varian's calls for peace? I'm getting a strong feeling that sooner rather than later, we might see Jaina become a threat to Alliance and Horde alike.
The Alliance and the Horde sit in a precarious balance previously unseen in Warcraft, both factions battered, bruised or on the brink of falling apart to in-fighting in many ways. If rumours (and Wrathion) are to be believed, and the Burning Legion has more plans for Azeroth, neither side is ready to hold them back yet. We'll learn more of what's exactly in store for the World of Warcraft at Blizzcon in November, with the inevitable reveal of the next expansion pack, but for now, Azeroth has an uncertain, yet exciting future ahead of it.