“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” – Joseph Campbell
When I think of a hero, I think of Tirion Fordring. Really, that’s all I have to say. Because in the end, that is what sets him apart from every other element in the World of Warcraft. Warcraft has always been epitomized to me as an exploration in the idea that there is no true good, and no true evil. A fallen good guy becomes a bad guy, a redeemed bad guy becomes a good guy, and orcs are not the monsters they appear to be and humans can be more monstrous than you would think. It has always felt to me that the World of Warcraft existed in an honest view that there was no black and white in the world. Tirion Fordring is one of the exceptions to that. Tirion always put his values before his life, his family and anything else. He believed that honor and justice were more important than power and wealth. He sacrificed everything he had to preserve his honor and save the life of an orc that any other would see put to death before hearing a word it had to say. In a world of grays, Tirion Fordring is the white.
I struggled to write this post for ages. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I wanted to do it right. I wanted to do my best to show the world why I think Tirion Fordring is one of the greatest characters in Warcraft. I had originally contemplated writing it like I did part 1, a long and winding narrative that exemplified what was best in the story of Fordring, and showed him for the true hero I feel he is. Then I remembered that wasn’t what I set out to do months ago when I first decided to write this. I didn’t want to tell the tale of Tirion, I wanted to defend him. There have many questions raised about this character, one’s that I think have been a great injustice to what my views were. So I wanted to stand up and address all this. Granted, it hardly seems relevant an entire expansion later. Tirion rests quietly in his home in Hearthglen now, as his Crusade seeks to purify and redeem the fallen lands of Lordaeron from the destruction wrought by the now beaten scourge. I still want to write this. I still want people to read it. So I have settled on finding the biggest arguments I could think of against Tirion, and write my counter argument in favor of the Ashbringer. I would suggest refreshing yourself on part one, as I will be referring to the events discussed in it.
How did Tirion purify the Ashbringer?
Chronologically, this is the first time we get to see Tirion Fordring following the death of his son, Taelan, and swearing his oath over his child’s lifeless body. So it seems right to start with this point. During the Battle of Light’s Hope, Tirion Fordring commits his first act of outrage to the players by purifying the Ashbringer and driving back the Lich King with it. Why was this an outrage? Well, that has a lot to do with the history of the Ashbringer. For the longest time, the Ashbringer was essentially one of WoW’s own urban legends. There were hints of its existence – it was data mined, the Shendralar seemed to know of its existence as well as the ever unlikely Nat Pagle, developers hinted at it, and with the introduction of Naxxramas the world finally learned what happened to the blade through a strange scene that played out when a player that had pried to blade from Highlord Mograine’s hands and took it to the Scarlet Monastary. It was there it was hinted that the Highlord had another son, hidden away in Outland, that would be able to forge a new Ashbringer.
The idea was always that the players themselves would be able to purify the blade and wield it. You would find the lost son of Mograine and build the Ashbringer anew. But there was no lost son in Outland, despite the multitude of theories about which random NPCs that could be the one to help rebuild this ancient and powerful weapon. Then, after all that, it gets purified by Tirion Fordring. A character that a good chunk of people either didn’t remember or never got to meet in the Plaguelands. It was – to quote the forums – a slap in the face.
However, narratively it worked. Tirion was a man that had a connection to the Holy Light powerful enough to survive excommunication, he was a founding member of the Order of the Silver Hand and one of the first paladins. To say he was powerful in the ways of the Light would be putting it lightly. The lost son of Mograine turned out to be Darion, who fulfilled his destiny by breaking away from the Lich King’s chains and threw the cursed blade to Tirion. So why didn’t the players get to do this? Perhaps it was for the purpose of story. A powerful paladin to purify and wield a legendary blade of good, to lead the war against the powerful fallen paladin who wielded a legendary blade of evil. However it was no ‘out of the blue’ moment. Tirion’s astonishing connection to the Light was established as early as 2001 with the book ‘Of Blood and Honor’. In many ways, this was the catalyst for the entirety of the expansion, because without Tirion’s Argent Crusade, it is debatable if the assault on the Northrend would have ended in success at all.
What was the point of the Argent Tournament?
Ah yes, the Tournament. That point during Wrath of the Lich King when players who weren’t already angry at Tirion for stealing ‘their’ Ashbringer began to despise the man. After all, what could be dumber than establishing a big fancy jousting tournament in the middle of a war? It was sheer stupidity! Wasn’t it? I’d be lying if the introduction of the Tournament didn’t have me scratching my head for a moment. It seemed like a weird choice, but as I continue to play through it and listen to the NPCs that wandered the tournament grounds, it began to make sense to me. There were many reasons for the tournament.
The events of the Wrathgate had bitterly divided the war effort. The Horde and Alliance were at each others throats and it only got worse as the assault on Icecrown began. The Horde and Alliance forces were almost completely devoted to doing nothing but fighting between each other across the darkened glaciers. Most of the quests you receive that actually further the goal of reaching the Citadel are given to you by each factions’ ambassador with the Knigths of the Ebon Blade – the epic bro duo of Thassarian and Koltira – where as the quests that the Horde and Alliance captains give are mostly directed at preparing for and attacking the enemy faction’s forces in the region. Meanwhile, every dead soldier was strengthening the Scourge. Necromancers would wander the battlefields and resurrect fallen Horde and Alliance fighters so they could defend what once was their enemy. The Tournament was a neutral ground that both served to unite the two factions and use their aggression against each other to further the Crusade’s goals. By pitting the Alliance and Horde against each other in non-lethal combat, Tirion and his forces were able to ignite the passions of both sides of the conflict and find some of the best fighters available, they then would induct them into their ranks as a Crusader in their own right. No longer taking orders from their faction, you would go the Argent Crusade’s tent to pick up your daily assignments (Death Knights would report to their superiors in the Ebon Blade, who had joined up with Crusade back the Light’s Hope.)
The tournament was designed to draw in fighters from every walk of life as well. Those who wanted to defeat the opposite faction, those who wanted glory, and those who were just trying to fill out their wallets. No matter what, each person who fought through the tournament were recruited to the cause in some fashion. Those who wished to prove their worth to join the assault on Icecrown were invited to take the Trial of the Crusader, were you would face the most powerful and dangerous enemies that the Crusade could find. This is where there are a number of complaints. People have often asked me if the point was to make sure that no life was wasted and turned to the Scourge, then why have a giant tournament where people get killed constantly in massive raid fights? This is a distinct division of gameplay and story. For the sake of engaging gameplay, one must risk death. You can wipe, you can die, and you can just run back in and try again. However, in story that doesn’t happen. It’s assumed for the sake of plot, that you essentially “one shot” the entire raid. Those who aren’t up to par and drug off the arena floor and healed up by the Crusade’s healers.
However, you might be thinking that using a lavish tournament to try to overcome the bitter rivalry of the factions is a bit naive. I think Darion Mograine would agree with you. Tirion is an archetypal paladin through and through, he believes in second chances, that good will prevail over evil, lawful good alignment – all that jazz. It’s something Darion had been annoyed with since arriving in Icecrown (which may be the reason that while the Ebon Blade is represented at the tournament, Darion himself never shows up.) Tirion’s devotion to doing things the “right way” and not following Darion’s suggestions to sink to the Lich King’s level and play dirty is a good hint towards the mentality behind the tournament. It’s part of Tirion’s “right way.” The forces of Azeroth will unite together and tear down the walls of Icecrown, and good defeat evil. Naive, no? Damn inspiring too, if you ask me.
Why build a Tournament at the Lich King’s doorstep in Icecrown?
While outside of the narrative, we know that the Argent Tournament was originally meant to be held in the Crystalsong Forest but due to the immense lag in the area from Dalaran it was moved to Icecrown. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a perfectly good reason for it to be held there. The most important of which would have to be that the Tournament is a powerful symbol to those who come that the Lich King is not all powerful. You see, the reason the Horde and the Alliance have been sitting in airships the entire time is not because they like the view. Neither faction has been able to make a lasting dent in the Lich King’s forces to establish a permanent base in Icecrown. In fact, only two groups can claim to have made such an accomplishment: The Ebon Blade – who know how to exploit Icecrown’s weaknesses – and the Argent Crusade. In fact, the Crusade has established two bases on the glacier. So the fact that the Tournament stands on that unholy ground shows to members of any faction that arrives that, Yes, the Lich King’s power is not absolute. And despite the attempts by the Cult of the Damned to interfere and sabotage the Tournament, through the unity of those it has drawn in it continued to stand. Tirion’s “right way” is working.
Why didn’t Tirion interfere when the Lich King crashed the Tournament?
So the Tournament was working, people were coming around the Tirion’s side, and then at the end of it all, the Lich King shows his face. And what does Tirion do? He offers him a chance to give up. Then the Lich King plunges Fordring’s newfound champions into the depths of Azjol-Nerub to face Arthas’ own champion – Anub’Arak. Why the heck did Tirion not just jump down and kill Arthas? Why did he offer him a chance to surrender? How the heck could Vry admire such a moron of a human being?! Well, I’ll tell you.
The most important thing to remember is that Tirion cannot defeat the Lick King. Not in Icecrown. Not alone. His victory at Light’s Hope was only possible due to the fact that they battled on holy ground. Icecrown is the opposite – unholy ground. Tirion knew this when he decided to build the Tournament in Icecrown, and it’s the reason he won’t engage Arthas in combat like this. The Lich King has the upper hand due to terrain, power and the element of surprise. It would be downright foolish to try to engage him. As for the offer to surrender? Well, I did say he was an archetypal paladin. I can’t fault him for that.
But why did he build the Tournament over Azjol-Nerub? How stupid was that? Not very. Azjol-Nerub runs under a good chunk of Northrend, mostly where you can find a good amount of scourge activity. I’d wager to say it runs underneath through most of the central part of the continent: the Dragonblight, Crystalsong Forest, and Icecrown. So unless you had somehow mapped out the entire expanse of both the upper and lower kingdom, I’d think the odds of building over it are pretty good.
How come Tirion gets all the credit?
I killed the Lich King, and yet Tirion gets a statue? What the heck is up with that? Well, I always likened it to a famous general. You always remember the general for what they accomplished, but you don’t remember each and every troop that served under them. Oh, sure. If you were one of those troops you remember the others like they were your brothers and sisters. You fought and shed blood together on the battlefield, but in the grand scheme of history? Well, Washington has a monument, but not his troops. Tirion Fordring, the last living founding member of the Silver Hand, the Ashbringer, and the leader of the Argent Crusade. Commander of the forces that united together paladins, death knights, Horde and Alliance to defeat the Lich King, enemy of all of Azeroth. Tirion, who upon losing everything, devoted his existence to the destruction of evil on the face of Azeroth, purified the Ashbringer and used it to shatter the cursed blade Frostmourne. He didn’t deserve a statue? A statue surrounded by statues of orcs and humans – the ‘iconic’ races of both the Horde and Alliance that united under his banner.
I think that after all of the things I’ve written about here, I would hope that some would see some merit in why Tirion was instrumental in the defeat of the Lich King. This wasn’t something that the Horde would have accomplished, or the Alliance. They couldn’t even get a base set up in Icecrown, and they spent more time fighting each other than enemy. Without Tirion’s Argent Crusade, there would have been no victory to be found in the cold recesses of Northrend, only death. That is why Tirion is at the center of the statue. Because he was at the center of this victory. He is surrounded by statues of the Horde and Alliance because through them, victory was won.
Tirion isn’t a glory whore. He’s a man that devoted his life to seeing Arthas brought to justice. He rallied people to his cause. He led them to victory. And in the end, he had no second thoughts that it would be his fate to take Arthas’ place on the Frozen Throne and become the Jailer of the Damned. It was only though his old friend Bolvar, that his fate was spared. Tirion Fordring is Wrath of the Lich King’s Aragorn. He’s the reason I rolled a paladin. He is a good man, and someone that brings out the good in all of us.
That is why I will defend Tirion Fordring.
(…Oh by the titans, I just made a Tirion speech didn’t I? Well, I guess that’s fitting. This post is also dedicated to a batch of burnt cookies. Their sacrifice towards the cause will not be forgotten.)