Thrall is the only orcish leader who wasn't a despot, or one corrupted by power, because the orcs are a race that becomes corrupted easily if given to much of it. Thrall is the only one who can survive that because he thinks outside the normal orcish way of thinking...Inevitably, most of the people who think that Thrall should return as Warchief claim that either there are no other suitable candidates, either because of oddball age and race restrictions, or because Thrall's just got that certain je ne sais quoi that lets him succeed where all others are doomed to failure. This is an extremely narrow minded viewpoint, and one that's constricting the narrative, preventing it from exploring it's potential. I've already talked about what this kind of mindset says about Thrall, but let's flip it around: let's take a look at what this viewpoint says about the Horde.
Also, I vote for him as returning warchief. Vol'jin is NOT AN ORC. Saurfang is TO[sic] OLD TO LEAD. THERE ARE NO OTHER ORCS CAPABLE OF TAKING THE MANTLE.
Whenever you're constructing a story, and you've got two major elements of your narrative interacting, you've got to look at the relationship from both sides to ensure that in your attempt to elevate one element in the interaction, the other element isn't denigrated in ways that you didn't intend. These problematic inferences occur on two levels, in universe, and out of universe.
In universe, these situations are destructive to future narratives, unless monitored and properly accounted for. A good example in WoW is Varian Wrynn's slavery at the hands of the Horde. What was intended to give proper motivation to Wrynn's hatred of the Horde also had the side effect of completely undermining the idea of the Horde as an entity that respects individual rights, and more directly made Thrall look like a tool whenever he raged about his own past enslavement.
Out of universe, it's not as dangerous to the story, but it's potentially hazardous to the author. These occur when the creator draws too heavily on stereotypes in their characterization, and then place those stereotypical characters in situations that run a little too close to comfort to modern hot button issues. Blizzard's one "pound of flesh" comment from their race of former slaves with huge noses and an insatiable avarice away from a visit from the Anti-Defamation League.
While this scenario has the potential for both, let's look closely at the in universe implications, because if they offend someone in real life, then it's a completely different problem, and one that I may or may not cover in a separate post at the time that it becomes and issue.
Let's look first at the comments that only Thrall can lead the Horde, and any other candidate would succumb to their baser impulses and threaten both the Horde and their neighbors with ruination, as Garrosh's regime has done. What does that say about the Horde, and orcs in particular, when the only orc that can lead the orcs successfully is the only orc that was raised by Humans? Are the orcs so inept at basic social conduct that even Adelas Blackmoore, generally considered one of the worst human beings to set foot on Azeroth, is a superior parent to every orc in existence? If Durotar and Draka had had their shot, would Go'el be just another bloodthirsty orc who wars with everything that comes within reach of his axe?
So far, there have been eight orcs that have claimed the title of Warchief to one degree of legitimacy or another, not counting the ancient warchiefs that predate the Draenei Genocide. Blackhand the Destroyer, Orgrim Doomhammer, Ner'zhul, Thrall, Garrosh, Kargath Bladefist, Rend Blackhand, and Mor'ghor.
Blackhand the Destroyer was the first Warchief of the Horde in the Warcraft era. He ruled the Horde from just before the opening of the Dark Portal, until his assassination at the hands of his subordinate, Orgrim Doomhammer. Some of the highlights of his command: The consumption of Mannoroth's blood, the use of fel magics to steal the youth from orcish children in order to grant the Horde more soldiers, the invasion of Azeroth, and the Corruption of Draenor. He consumed the blood of Mannoroth, and was, in general, not a great person.
Orgrim Doomhammer succeeded Blackhand, via assassination. He ruled the Horde from the Siege of Stormwind until the Battle of Blackrock Mountain at the end of the Second War, where he was defeated and captured by Turalyon. Some of the key points of his reign: Torture and murder in the sacking of Stormwind, the use of necromancy to create Orcish Death Knights such as Teron Gorefiend, the use of fel magic to corrupt the runestones of Quel'Thelas to warp his Ogres into Ogre-Magi, the Burning of the forests of Quel'Thelas, and depending on which source you consider cannon, the cowardly ambush of Anduin Lothar under the auspices of parley. It was under Orgrim's command that the Horde became so corrupt and decadent that Eittrig fled in shame. Orgrim did not partake in Mannoroth's Blood, so his decisions fall upon his own head. Thus far, Orcish Warchiefs are 0-2.
After the capture of Doomhammer, a large contingent of the Horde fled back to Draenor, where Ner'zhul assumed the mantle of Warchief. Leaving the atrocities the Horde committed under his command prior to the official formation of the Horde, and the atrocities he committed as the Lich King after his capture by Kil'jaeden, Ner'zhul's reign was not a peaceful one. Ner'zhul promptly turned to a visitor to Draenor for an alliance, Deathwing, the Mad Aspect of Earth. Under Ner'zhul's command, the Horde raided Azeroth once more. They destroyed Alliance outposts in Alterac, stole the Book of Medivh from the Stormwind Library. They raided Dalaran and murdered Sathera, a close friend of Archmage Antonidas, taking the Eye of Dalaran in an eerie forshadowing of the attack on Dalaran that Ner'zhul would command in his future capacity as the Lich King, which would take Antonidas' life. These items, along with the Jeweled Scepter of Sargeras, granted Ner'zhul great power. When the Alliance Expeditionary Force laid siege to Ner'zhul's bastion of power in Shadowmoon Valley, Ner'zhul panicked, and attempted to flee the world to escape his fate. The magnitude of power he unleashed tore Draenor apart, and cast him into the Twisting Nether, where he came into the cruel embrace of Kil'jaeden. Ner'zhul never drank Mannoroth's Blood, and puts orcish warchiefs at a dismal 0-3.
Following the shattering of Draenor, the Horde bifurcated into two entities, with two Warchiefs. On Draenor, Magtheridon rallied the remaining orcish clans to his banner, empowering Kargath Bladefist as the Warchief of the Horde of Draenor, commonly known as the Fel Horde. Kargath was an easily manipulated orc, far closer to Blackhand the Destroyer, than either of the two more independent rulers who directly preceded him. Kargath served Magtheridon, and warred constantly with the Sons of Lothar, who held the line at Honor Hold, in the very shadow of Hellfire Citadel. When the Illidari enslaved Magtheridon, Kargath's loyalties turned to the new ruler of Outlands, Illidan Stormrage. Kargath led the Fel Horde until the rebellion of the Ashtongue Deathsworn led to the downfall of Illidan, and without Illidari support, and with the forces of Honor Hold bolstered by reinforcements from the reopened Dark Portal, Kargath was eventually hunted down and slain within the Shattered Halls of Hellfire Citadel. Not only did Kargath drink Mannoroth's blood, but he also drank Magtheridon's blood, to the point where he turned red. Corruption ran deeper within Kargath than any other Warchief in the bloody history of the orcs. 0-4.
Meanwhile, back on Azeroth, the overwhelming majority of the orcs languished in internment camps. One Orc had a dream. A dream to reunite the disparate souls trapped under the lock and key of the Alliance. So he raided the internment camps, freeing those orcs that he could, and reached out to a downtrodden tribe of trolls to aid him in rebuilding a Horde where orcs could live free of the humans who defeated them so long ago. That orc's name was... Rend. Personally, I find Rend Blackhand to be one of the most damning, and compelling indictments of the orcs. Rend IS Thrall. A young orc was the son of a prominent clan leader who was assassinated by a fellow orc. His youth was stolen from him. Upon seeing and escaping the ruin of his race through sheer luck, he took it upon himself to free his brethren and to fight to create a place for the orcs in a world that was not their own. Personally, I'm very disappointed that Blizzard didn't take the time to explore the relation between Thrall and Rend. Rend escaped the final battle at Blackrock Mountain because his clan, the Black Tooth Grin, was tasked with reigning in Gul'dan's renegade Stormreaver Clan. After the Horde was routed, Rend and his brother, Maim, served as the rear guard for the Horde's flight back to Draenor. At the foot of the Dark Portal, the brothers fought against Turalyon himself, barely escaping with their lives as they fled into the wilderness. Thereafter, Rend declared himself Warchief of the True Horde, and freed the warriors of the Blackrock Clan and Dragonmaw Clan from the internment camps, leading them to an ancient city carved into Blackrock Spire. There, they became caught up the internal struggles of the denizens of Blackrock Mountain. The depths of the mountain was ruled by the Elemental Lord of Fire, Ragnaros, who dominated the Dark Iron Dwarves who inhabited the Shadowforge City, and sent them to purge the new alien presence within the mountain. These attacks quickly began to overwhelm the nacent Horde, and took the life of Maim. Rend's Horde was only saved from annihalation by a timely alliance with the rulers of the peak of Blackrock Mountain, Nefarian and the Black Dragonflight. Ironically, Nefarian's backing gave Rend a strong enough position that he could turn away envoys from Ner'zhul's Horde seeking the aid of the Dragonmaw who served Rend. This forced Ner'zhul to obtain his airpower from another source, an alliance with Nefarian's father, Deathwing. Rend conducted several incursions into Alliance territory, most notably in Redridge. Rend's reign finally came to an end at the hands of adventurers who slew Rend during their assault on the way to Nefarian's lair in the peak of Blackrock Mountain. He drank the blood of Mannoroth, much like the other mediocre warchiefs, and leaves the orcish warchiefs at 0-5.
Both Rend's Horde and Kargath's Horde had one common element, both included portions of the Dragonmaw Clan, which was split upon the collapse of the Dark Portal. One portion escaped to Draenor under the auspice of the Clan's chieftain, Zuluhed the Whacked. The remainder of the clan was trapped on Azeroth, and were led by Nekros Skullcrusher, Alextrasza's jailor. Zuluhed's portion of the clan pledged alliegence to the Fel Horde of Draenor, and Nekros' portion pledged themselves to Rend's Dark Horde. Both leaders were killed shortly before their Warchief's own deaths, and the Dragonmaw clan found itself split, isolated and alone. Zuluhed's second in command, Overlord Mor'Ghor, took advantage of the reopened portal, and traveled to Azeroth, where he seized control of the Azerothean Dragonmaw, and named himself Warchief of the Dragonmaw, and presumably the successor to Rend's Horde. Mor'ghor was by far the most impotent warchief that any orc ever had. When confronted by Garrosh Hellscream, he found himself deposed in a bloody manner in very short order. He drank the blood of both Mannoroth and Magtheridon. 0-6.
We can safely assume that Garrosh will do something even more atrocious than usual that will condemn him to be the 7th failed orcish warchief, nearly half of those failed leaders having been free of any corruption on the part of the blood of either Mannoroth or Magtheridon.
This leaves us with Thrall, the only somewhat functional leader the orcs have ever had. Like Garrosh, Orgrim, and Ner'zhul, he never partook in the blood of a Pit Lord. Like Garrosh, he was spared the horrors of the First and Second Wars. Like all the Warchiefs, he never suffered within the internment camps. Like Ner'zhul, Thrall is a powerful shaman. The only thing that separates Thrall from the multitude of failed despots that his race has produced is his upbringing among humans. What does that say about orcs? Is that really the message that Blizzard wants to send? The only time that the orcs weren't a terrible menace to everything around them is when they were kept human supervision, and barring that, the only time that they were ever within spitting distance of civility was when they were being reigned in by the most human orc in history. Great message to put out there, Blizz.
Putting Thrall back on the Throne just reinforces this ugly truth. The moment he takes a breath from the laborious job of holding back the orcish bloodlust, everything falls apart. So he must return to the throne, and resume his role as the warden who holds back the base nature that damns the orcish people. Garrosh might have asked Sylvanas what difference there was between her and the Lich King, but this plot begs the question: what difference is there between the orcs and the Scourge? The same mocking answer applies: isn't it obvious, they serve the Horde.
However, truth in fiction is malleable. The future is unwritten, and with skillful craftsmanship, anything is possible. If Blizzard wants to raise the orcs above their current depiction of the base savage, then all they need to do is find a way to write it in that fits with the narrative. Give the orcs a leader. Not someone like Thrall, who's a few broken tusks and a skin dye job away from being human, but a leader of the orcs, from the orcs, and for the orcs. Give them a leader who can coexist with their neighbors better than Thrall could, which honestly, looking at the constant skirmishing in Ashenvale dating back to prior to Thrall's formation of the Horde, shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. It could be an older orc, to show that an orc can rise above their past. It could be a younger orc, one born in the aftermath of the Second War. An orc born just after the Battle of Blackrock Mountain would be in their mid twenties now, a young charismatic leader, perfect for deposing a despot like Garrosh. Che Guevara was 28 during the Cuban Revolution. Mustafa Ataturk was in his thirties during the Turkish War of independence. Give the Horde an icon like that, someone with that kind of charisma and magnetism, without all the baggage that Thrall has unfortunately accumulated. A young revolutionary who challenges the orcish mindset that has existed for decades, and wins. That's the leader that the orcs need. That's the leader that this story deserves. And no, that doesn't mean Med'an.
Blizzard spent two expansions building up Garrosh to take the mantle of Warchief. The overall leader of the Horde should be a well developed character. Someone that's been seen before. As many people have mentioned, there really isn't an orc that's had the degree of exposure that Garrosh got during BC and Wrath outside of Thrall and Saurfang. Thrall is a terrible choice, which leaves Saurfang, whom many write off as too old, and I tend to agree with them on that point. I do think that they could make a salvageable go at things with Saurfang in charge, I really like the idea of infusing some young blood into the orcs. With both the available candidates being sub-optimal, a question presents itself. Why does the Warchief have to be an orc?
Several reasons have been presented in arguments. The Warchief must be an orc because the warchief has always been an orc. Fat lot of good that's gotten the Horde thus far, eight Orcish leaders have managed to get the orcish population decimated, corrupted, and took them from holding nearly an entire world, to holding some deserts and blighted lands on an alien world. Some traditions aren't worth clutching to.
The Warchief must be an orc because the orcs are the core of the Horde. This one has a degree of merit. As long as the orcs are the majority in the Horde, both in terms of population and military power, then the other races are second class citizens, and their voice is of minimal importance. But as I said earlier, the future is unwritten and the status quo is not god. Just because the orcs are the core of the Horde now, does not mean they have to stay that way. There's going to be open war in Orgrimmar. Garrosh is going to die. The Warchief is going to die. Do you think the core constituency of the orcs will just roll over and let it happen? Do you think he won't have supporters who will fight with him, who will die with him? No. Like any civil war, casualties on both sides will bleed the whole. I expect the Kor'kron, the Warchief's elite bodyguards, to die to a man to protect their Warchief, to protect their honor. Think about that for a minute. The finest warriors the orcs have to offer, making their final stand. How many of the rebels will they kill before they fall? We're going to watch the core of orcish military strength eat itself alive. Once that's happened, can the orcs still make the claim that they're the heart of the Horde? If the tables have turned on the orcs, and they're but a shadow of their former selves within the Horde, then what's preventing the Trolls, Tauren, or even the Forsaken for making a push for the Throne?
It was the plan all along for Thrall to come back. This is probably the dumbest defense out there. Plans can change. Bad plans should change.
Ultimately, I've become more and more convinced that not only should Thrall neither return as the Warchief, but that the orcish leader who replaces Garrosh should not also succeed him as Warchief. Sylvanas, Vol'jin, and Baine are all more established than any of the current crop of orcs, and any of them could produce more compelling stories than we would get with Thrall back at the helm. However, it would be difficult to justify a cease fire between the factions with Sylvanas running the show, which really only leaves Vol'jin and Baine as viable candidates. Vol'jin is a pretty stable character, his leadership credentials are well established, and he's already established a degree of cooperation with the Alliance. While it would be more difficult to create internal storylines with Vol'jin in charge, it would do wonders to stabilize the situation and allow Blizzard to put the focus back on external threats. Baine is a much less proven leader, and as such, it opens up a lot of potential openings in terms of internal Horde storylines with regards to his struggle to find his leadership identity, and weather he can be firm enough to reign in the disparate factions that make up the Horde. He's also the easiest to shore up the relationship with the Alliance, as he already has a friendship with Anduin and Jaina, which might help take the edge off Jaina's purported bloodlust, and Anduin is the easiest route to soften Varian.
For the crazy, out of nowhere, no chance in hell candidate... Magatha Grimtotem. The Grimtotems had already allied with the Alliance in Stonetalon, and she has all the reason in the world to want Garrosh to go down. If she were to take advantage of a poor turn in the war to return to Thunder Bluff and finish her coup, she could then withdraw Tauren forces from the conflict, holding them in reserve as the orcs and trolls take the brunt of the punishment from the Alliance forces. Once the Battle of Orgrimmar concludes, Magatha seizes the throne and uses the Grimtotems recent assistance to the Alliance to leverage Varian to withdraw his forces and treat with her diplomatically rather than risk an occupation of a hostile populace. This can create far more internal storylines than any other option. Vol'jin will likely distrust Magatha, the new orcish leader might fall on either side, Sylvanas' approval will depend on entirely how much Magatha tries to leverage control over the Forsaken, and odds are Lor'themar will fall in line behind Sylvanas. On the Alliance side of things, Varian might trust Magatha, but Jaina and Anduin, who befriended Baine, will likely be suspicious of her. I think Magatha would build quite a compelling story upon Baine's corpse. But as I said, there's no chance in hell that Blizzard would pull the trigger on that.
As for the orcish leader, there are a number of character who have had about as much development as Garrosh got in BC. I've got a couple that I think might have potential. Warlord Zaela is one of the best candidates. She's a young orc with limited ties to the Horde. She's essentially an unknown quantity to the majority of the Horde. She developed nicely in Twilight Highlands, but unfortunately, she hasn't been seen in the MoP beta yet. A more likely candidate would be Nazgrim, who went from a lowly sergeant in Grizzly Hills, to a Legionnaire in Vas'jir, to a full fledged general in Mists of Pandaria. He seems level headed, and his combat experience would make a strong case for an Ataturk or Von Stauffenberg style revolutionary. A military leader who sees the route that an increasingly erratic leader is dragging the country in, and he takes it upon himself to try and overthrown the tyrant. Ultimately, I think that Zaela is the best choice to take over the orcs, but I think that given Nazgrim's implementation into Mists already, he'd be the easiest choice to implement that wouldn't be terrible.
Forcing the orcs to step back from their primacy is the best way to allow the orcs to evolve as characters, and it's also the best way to advance the Horde's narrative. Stories need to move forward, and the return of Thrall to the Horde would force stagnation onto the World of Warcraft's story.