Thrall – What Happened, Man?

***As a note, this entry discusses model updates in Warlords of Draenor. If you are trying to avoid spoilers about those kinds of updates, you may want to take a pass on this one. Fair warning.***

It’s hard to preface this post because Thrall – as a character – is such an integral part of the World of Warcraft. Some love him, some hate him. Like Jaina, he’s very polarizing amongst the playerbase. Whether that makes him a good character is debatable. Some (MEEEEE!!) would argue that negative attention is still attention and any character that gets lore discussions going means the writers of the game are doing their jobs. Others would argue that flat writing (Garrosh, for example) doesn’t do the story any favors even if it gets people talking…or venting as the case may be. I can see both sides of the situation.

Thrall is…haha. Oh boy. I would argue that if “main characters” existed in the Warcraft Universe, Thrall would be central among them. In a world where there are countless NPCs and storylines that stretch into the fathomless Ether, Thrall and several other characters sit like the anchoring trunk of a tree. If there were Warcraft themed cereals, Thrall O’s would be right there on the shelf next to the Tyrande Wheaties. HE’S AN IMPORTANT GUY IS WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY.

With the start of the Cataclysm expansion, Thrall started to take a much more central role in the storyline. He essentially became a “free agent” which in the warcraft universe means that he was more useable in the plot. If you fly solo and have less responsibilities, you can do more in a story. The reason we see Tyrande or Jaina in less “solo” roles is because they CAN’T do that. They have people to lead, places to guard, Malfurions to ignore. Jaina can pop in now and then in a siege or two, but she doesn’t have time to go on a life altering journey of discovery because Dalaran would be sans glorious and beautiful leader.

Why they chose Thrall of all characters to be the more leading faceman of Warcraft, I don’t know. People speculate, they mock, they infer. I have my thoughts on that too. But for all the, “God WHY does Thrall keep popping up?” discussions that happen in story circles – there you go. He’s a solo agent of progressing the story. If you look back through the Warcraft franchise – he always kinda was like that. (Along with other leading characters.) Nothing has changed for him except he gave up the mantle of Warchief – which was preventing him from continuing the same role he had as a character in the RTS games.

Imagine if Sylvanas didn’t have to stay in the Undercity to keep the Forsaken under her thumb? Yeah, there you go. Responsibilities are like, such a drag, man.

On this, the year of our Lord Warlords of Draenor 2014’s eve, the alpha client has launched and the fruitful delving and plundering of the expansion’s assets has begun. With that has come the preliminary character models – Velen and Thrall included.

I try to keep an open mind, and I also want to add the caveat that: ALPHA ALPHA ALPHA ALPHA ALL THINGS SUBJECT TO CHANGE!!!

But my preliminary look at Thrall’s model made me say, out loud: “Man, what happened to you, guy?”

The model is of a vaguely orc-like looking guy in a trenchcoat…robe…thing. The outfit is interesting, but now Thrall stands completely erect. Shoulders back, neck held high. The main thing that marks Thrall as an orc at this point is his green skin. He actually looks more like a human than an orc. If you don’t believe me, here’s a side-by-side image comparison of the new male orc model, Thrall’s new model, and Gilbert the improverished (He just needs a little more time to find himself, okay?) human warrior:

like malcolm in the middle but less funny

like malcolm in the middle but less funny

(With credit to mmo champion for the image of Thrall’s new model.)

Look at that and tell me which one Thrall more closely resembles. It’s like, right there. *grabs your head and smushes your face against your computer monitor* See? SEE?!

This model update is the latest in a long line of updating the art to make Thrall appear more humanlike in appearance when compared to other orcs. If you trace the artwork of Thrall back to the RTS games, you see him gradually lose his hunching posture, his body fills out more naturally, and his face gains a more human appearance as well. WHY?!

There are a couple of possible explanations, and I don’t like either of them. The first is that he was an orc raised by humans; Blackmoore specifically. Trained to be a gladiator but taught by human hand, it might explain why Thrall has begun to subconsciously emulate the humans he spent so much time around. But…there were orcs in those camps too. Also, like, the horde has orcs and he spent a pretty long time around them? Soo.

The other explanation could be that Thrall has spent so much time on his own lately finding himself, that he’s just naturally adopted the new, less orclike posture because…I don’t know? Shaman magic and the journey of self discovery and enlightenment? Lol. *throws notecards in the air*

The obvious answer here is that they want a way to make Thrall distinctive from all the other orcs, especially now that we’re going to alternate Draenor where orcs flow from mighty waterfalls and rain from the skies on cloudy days. But I have got to say – that sucks. Both for all the other orcs, and for Thrall himself.

The guy was already going to stick out because he had green skin. Making him so human in his appearance doesn’t really serve a helpful purpose – except to make him more identifiable by the players. The age old idea of people subconsciously feeling more of a bond with him because he looks more “human” than his fellow orcs. This is the same logic applied to the dimorphism of a LOT of the female models in game. To be “attractive” is to have that more ideal human physique. But this is a world where little rat men scurry through tunnels holding candles, and bird men can be attorneys at law. What I’m saying is – was doing this to Thrall even necessary?

Here’s my main issue with these subtle changes to Thrall over the years. Thrall, the orc, was very proud and fierce. The dude fought alongside Rexxar and Grom Hellscream with orcish pride. He slung the doomhammer and Lok’tar’d to the Heavens. He was an orc then. He looked like an orc, he acted like an orc, and he was an ORC HERO.

Now he’s a humanized hero, in more ways than one. Since he’s been pushed more to the forefront, he has sacrificed a LOT of his orcish features and essentially become human. He was an orc when they needed him to be an orc, but now that they need him to step up and be a more neutral hero – he looks the part of a bland human everyman so people can “identify” I guess.

PLUS he stands among the other orcs in the horde, all hunched over. Garrosh is hunched over. The orcs in the siege of Orgrimmar are hunched over. It almost makes you equate that hunchy thicker orcs = bad and stupider and Thrall with his superior posture and physique = paragon of light and intelligence. It’s a leap, but can’t you kind of see that? And now he’s going to meet his father Durotan and his mother Draka (sort of) looking…almost like he came from a completely different race.

Honestly, I get it. Thrall has ALWAYS been a different orc. He has fought to maintain his identity as an individual and an orc in a hostile world that would see him hang because of it. But I think that is the part of his character that resonated with people so much. To see such a key part of him changing and going away just makes me feel…sad. I don’t think this new model is badass. I think it flies in the face of how a once proud orc and warrior of the horde has dropped intriguing and harrowing parts of his personality and by proxy physique as the story has gone on. And it’s a shame. If a more humanlike Thrall is what the writers want, so be it. But I’ll just sit here and miss the Thrall that once was.

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