We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
Happy Saturday, everyone! It’s amazing to see just how much effort and dedication is being put into each and every piece for this collab. Today, we’re joined by Heather of the great Just Geeking By. Please be sure to check out her blog and the causes she represents. After an impressive The Games That Define Us piece, it looks like Heather just couldn’t get enough World of Warcraft.
At over 5,000 words, this piece is lengthy and epic, so if you plan to read/watch it in one sitting, you might want to grab a snack and drink!
Heather, thank you for contributing this amazing piece. Take it away!
When I first started playing World of Warcraft I wasn’t that interested in Jaina as a character. Lady Proudmoore, the leader of Theramore, seemed to be the complete opposite of me. I wasn’t someone who cried out of pride when their King did something nice; I was more like Sylvanas, bitter and crying for vengeance. What could I possibly have in common with the blue-eyed perfect blonde mage? As it turned out, quite a lot. My first clue should have been that I didn’t like her because you always notice traits in others that you have in yourself and judge them for it.
It wouldn’t be until two expansions after the events of Icecrown Citadel that I would begin to understand Jaina. During Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh Hellscream unleashed a mana bomb on Theramore Keep obliterating it and the people that lived there. The companion novel Tides of War by Christie Golden showed us an insight into the everyday lives of Jaina and her companions, her night elf bodyguard Pained and her apprentice the perky sharp-tongued gnome Kinndy Sparkshine. The people of Theramoore and Jaina herself became more than just NPCs in a game, and as we were taken through the heart-breaking events that we’d witnessed in-game I bonded with Jaina. All she had ever done was try to help people, working for peace and someone so full of hate had not just destroyed everything she had built but had taken the lives of the innocent in a catastrophe that would forever weigh upon her soul.
“People?” Jaina echoed. “I can’t even call them that anymore. They’re not people. They’re monsters. And so are you! My father was right—it took an entire city of people slaughtered before I could see it. I was blind to what the orcs were, because of you. You tricked me into believing that there could be peace, that the orcs weren’t bloodthirsty animals. But you lied. This is war, Thrall, and war hurts. War is ugly. But you started it! Your Horde obliterated Theramore and is now blockading the Alliance cities in Kalimdor. Whole populations are being held hostage, are being attacked. Well, as we stand here, Varian is leading the fight to break that blockade. And when I’ve completed my task, I’ll help him. And then we’ll see who holds whom hostage! But first—I destroy the city named for Orgrim Doomhammer, in the land named for your father!”
Like Jaina I’m an empath, I feel the pain of others and wish that I could save them from it. Until the events of Theramore, there was one thing that set Jaina and me apart; she had not felt that all-consuming rage caused by pain. While she had certainly had her share of pain that had shaped her (I’ll get to that in a bit) it hadn’t broken her. Losing Theramore did. The loss of everything she held near and dear coupled with the guilt of failing to save her people led Jaina down a dark path of self-destruction. She had always been a powerful mage, showing an aptitude for magic from a young age which set her apart from the rest of her sea-faring Kul Tiran family. It never occurred to her to ever use that power for evil, only ever using it to destroy to protect and help the Alliance. Now though it was easy for that power to become something dark, to be turned against the creatures who had taken from her; the Horde.
The once compassionate voice for peace was gone, forever scarred by the horror of seeing the magic-wrecked corpse of her beloved apprentice Kinndy shatter to pieces beneath her fingers. Every argument and each muttered comment about the traitorous horde came rushing back including that fateful day with her father where she chose to protect the horde over him, resulting in his death. That guilt had weighed heavily on her ever since, and now Jaina found that her sacrifice had been for nothing. The emotions bubbled up and exploded in an expressive display of elemental magic that threatened to destroy the horde city of Orgrimmar, taking the lives of innocents. It was something that Jaina would never recover from, and it was only through the combined efforts of her lover Kalecgos, the blue dragon, and friend Thrall, former warchief of the horde, that she was saved from her own actions.
Similar to Jaina, I am familiar with self-destructive behaviour and have been pulled back from the brink by those who care for me. Fuelled by the rage of injustice, pain and guilt, I’ve tried to destroy what I thought was causing the pain. As Jaina would eventually find out it’s not that simple, and as I followed Jaina through her personal journey I began to work through my own.
“What if the Horde killed your friends? Your family? Destroyed everything you had. Could you maintain your convictions even then?”
Before the destruction of Theramore, the horde was attacking the city and the Alliance were trying to repel the attack with the aid of the Kirin Tor, a neutral faction of Mages made up of members of the Horde and Alliance. During the battle, a member of the Sunreavers, the horde representatives in Dalaran, was found to be sabotaging their efforts and working alongside the attackers. The destruction of Theramore had also claimed the life of the leader of the Kirin Tor, Rhonin, and Jaina was prophesied to become his successor. Upon finding out that more Sunreavers had been working with Garrosh to steal a powerful ancient mogu artifact by using Dalaran portals to access the Alliance city of Darnassus, Jaina was once again infuriated. With the help of the Alliance representatives, the Silver Covenant, the Kirin Tor purged the Horde from Dalaran.
This time Jaina constructively used her fury, guiding adventurers to Thunder Isle to seize control of it before the Horde could. While fighting their way through the stronghold of the Thunder King, the Alliance forces came face to face with the horde lead by the blood elf leader Lor’themar Theron. A standoff between Jaina and Lor’themar Theron nearly came to blows and would have it not for the intervention of the Alliance’s Pandaren ally Taran Zhu. Urging both leaders to break the cycle of hatred and retribution by walking away, his words managing to reach Jaina just as Thrall and Kalecgos had done previously. She left Lor’themar with a final reminder that no true peace would ever be possible as long as Garrosh led the horde, and was taken by surprise when he stated that was why they needed to conserve their strength for another day, suggesting that there were even people within the Horde who wanted to stop Garrosh.
Like Jaina I can see both sides of a story which makes me a good mediator for others, however, in personal situations I become just as blinded by anger. I become judgemental, tainting everyone with the same brush event when their actions show otherwise. The Horde would go on to rebel against their Warchief with Horde and Alliance laying Siege to Orgrimmar to stop Garrosh once and for all. Despite that Jaina urges King Varian, the same man she once wept over for showing compassion to an orc in Icecrown Citadel, to demand that he take the opportunity to take over Orgrimmar and finish the Horde once and for all. It’s a far cry from the young woman who openly welcomed Horde to Theramore to hold peace talks with the Alliance. When Varian ignores her, choosing peace instead of hate, Jaina burns with betrayal.
“You will not address me in this manner. I am a leader in my own right, not your lieutenant, and not your child,” Jaina said, her voice like ice. Thunder rumbled as if in response. She trembled with anger.
“You are a member of the Alliance,” Varian retorted, stepping closer to her.
“Do you know,” said Jaina, biting off the words, “the more I think about it, the more I think the former leaders of the Kirin Tor were right—that it’s better to be independent. Do not push me, Varian Wrynn. Because I will push back if I have to.”
It is not the first betrayal that Jaina has felt, nor the last, something else that we have both experienced. Love, family, friends, colleagues; every step of the way it feels as though both Jaina and I have had someone stabbing a knife in our back rather than being there when we really needed them. While no one expected Varian to conquer a city just to make Jaina feel better (as a good friend he knew it would not have helped in the long run anyway), there was more he could have done to help her get through that part of her life. As someone familiar with hate and anger, especially towards the Horde, Varian was in the perfect position to help Jaina. Instead of doing so he focused on her past sins, using her actions to justify his anger towards her. Those actions, helping the Tauren when they needed it, resulted in Jaina receiving an early warning about the Horde attack on Theramore and saved many innocent lives. Yet when Jaina points this out to Varian he turns it back on her again, saying that it is now her that is calling for vengeance against the horde.
She feels a similar feeling of betrayal when her lover Kalecgos tries to talk to her during Garrosh’s trial. Unlike Varian Kalec’s words are spoken with love rather than criticism when he talks about how consumed by bitterness she has become. For Jaina, it just feels like even more neverending criticism and she feels frustrated at having to list everything she’s been through, to justify her ongoing suffering. Life is hard, and when you’ve got depression it’s even harder. While people think they’re helping by pointing out how you’re feeling, by holding up a mirror to your negativity as if by magic you will suddenly realise the type of person you’ve become and just snap out of it, it never ever helps. Even if it is something that you need to hear all it does is add more guilt to the ever-growing pile. At that moment Kalec betrays Jaina by not knowing this, by falling into that trap and by not staying with her. He says he cares and yet he leaves.
“Then I’ll get right to the point. For the Kirin Tor to fight at full strength, we need the mages of the Horde to join our ranks.”
“NEVER! Do you hear me, Khadgar?”
“Jaina, we know the pain you’ve endured. But this is about–”
“They obliterated Theramore. They left us to die on the Broken Shore. Again and again, they’ve proven to be monsters… cowards!”
“I’ve made my case. With respect, I move for a vote.”
“Very well. But consider your choice carefully. If you let those vermin back into this city, I will not be counted among your ranks when you welcome them.”
The final nail in the coffin of betrayals for Jaina came after the death of King Varian at the Broken Shore, a death that Jaina was sure could have been avoided if the Horde had not chosen to retreat. With the monstrous Burning Legion once again returned to destroy Azeroth every faction is arming themselves for the hardest fight of their life. For the Kirin Tor, this means accepting Horde members back into their ranks a decision that Jaina, their leader, vehemently disagrees with. The rest of the Council of Six votes against her and as promised she leaves, giving up the leadership of the Kirin Tor and everything she has worked for to stand by her convictions. It’s something that she shouldn’t have to do but has to be done and I’ve felt the same way myself.
“I’m sorry, Arthas. I can’t watch you do this.”
Before Kalec walked away from Jaina there was a much more harrowing tale of a relationship in Jaina’s life, and one that I cannot help but find a correlation between an event in my own life. As a young student, Jaina crossed paths with the Prince of Lordaeron, Arthas Menethil. It was not long before their friendship grew into love and at one point Arthas and Jaina were engaged to be married. Arthas began to doubt the decision and chose to abruptly end the engagement, however, the two of them later rekindled their relationship. But by then it was too late; the Scourge invasion had begun.
When Arthas discovered that the demon Mal’Ganis had infected the grain in Lordaeron causing it to turn people into the monstrous undead minions of the Scourge he went mad with rage. Horrified and demoralised he vowed to stop Mal’Ganis who was hiding in the city of Stratholme. Accompanied by Jaina and his mentor Uther, Arthas headed for Stratholme only to find that the citizens had already eaten the plague-tainted grain. Knowing that they would soon turn the undead Arthas proposed a cull of Stratholme’s citizens, slaughtering them before they turned. Uther refused, unable to condone the slaughter of innocents even when ordered to by his King. Feeling the same way Jaina followed Uther, walking away from the man she once loved and telling him that she couldn’t watch him do this.
That was the start of the long dark path that led to Arthas becoming merged with Ner’zhul, the Lich King, and Master and Lord of the Scourge. As the Lich King, he was responsible for atrocities far worse than the Culling of Stratholme, as that fateful day would later be known as. Fighting on the front lines of the Third War Jaina was forced to face the reality of what her former fiance had become, to see the pain and suffering he caused every day. She would relive it again many years later when Arthas emerged from the Frozen Throne again. Now fully merged with the Lich King he had banished the last of his humanity and Ner’zhul’s spirit to become the sole personality of the Lich King.
Despite everything, Jaina never gave up hope that humanity existed within him, and when Uther’s spirit confirmed that was the case she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to save him. Uther is quick to emphasis that it is a dwindling presence and tells her that the Lich King has to be destroyed. Jaina hesitates, at first unsure of how she can kill her Prince but then hardens and delivers Uther’s vital information to Varian and his men. After Arthas was defeated a hero returns an item to Jaina, an old locket that once belonged to her. It’s a sentimental gesture and as Jaina explains it speaks to the actions of someone who has not lost their humanity entirely.
While I did not have a former partner turn into the Lich King and go on a murderous rampage, I have known what it is like to be tormented by memories of a past relationship. To have someone begin as your Prince Charming and then later turn on you, growing darker and more dangerous. As Arthas turned on his companions before the Culling of Stratholme, I too have had someone turn on me and tell me it was my fault. That I didn’t do things right, that I didn’t put enough effort in, and so on. The term for this behaviour is gaslighting. My Lich King was not the Lord of the Scourge, but he was no less of a monster.
“Who better to rule a lost city… than someone who has lost her way? It seems every path I have taken has led me back here.”
After Jaina teleports away from the meeting of the Council of Six she’s not seen again throughout the battle with the Legion, striking out on her own to take down demons. She returns briefly to Dalaran after the Legion is defeated and speaks with Kalecgos, appearing more composed yet still troubled. Jaina confides in the blue dragon that she didn’t like who hate had turned her into, explaining that since the fall of Theramore all she had been doing was reacting. She had found herself stuck in a rut and she still did not know how to get out of it. Nothing makes her calm anymore, and she has no happy aspirations. She informs him that she’s leaving again, but not because the Horde has returned to the Kirin Tor; it’s because she needs to find out how to be true to her own nature. Kalec apologises for not being able to help her and she tells him that there’s nothing he can do; it’s something only she can do for herself.
What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like the very definition of depression. I’ve been suffering from depression since I was 13 and I as I read these words I related to every one of them. Now, as someone older and more experienced, I can also relate to Kalec as someone who has supported a loved one through depression. Like Jaina I’ve had to face my own battles, take my own journeys on my own and step into the unknown. Most of the time it was terrifying, sometimes it didn’t work and I would fall down and have to dust myself back up again. Other times it led to something so unbelievably worthwhile that I would never have believed it and never known if I’d not tried it. Just like Jaina.
Following her talk with Kalecgos Jaina wanders aimlessly, first to the ruins of Theramore and then to her birthplace in Kul Tiras. In the city of Boralus, she watches as her mother gives a memorial to her father who died during the Third War. The crowd interrupt her, shouting that they remember. They remember how he died; his daughter betrayed him to the Horde. Hidden amongst the crowd Jaina can only listen, her thoughts in turmoil as not for the first time she reflects that she was trying to do the right thing and failed. She follows her mother and advisors after the memorial, overhearing news of a missing noble family and an Admiral’s concern for the Kul Tiran’s safety now that tensions are rising between the Horde and Alliance again. His suggestion to reach out to the Alliance, and thus Jaina, are quickly quashed. Hurt by her mother’s vicious comments, Jaina’s resolve hardens and she vows that her people, the Kul Tirans, will not stand alone.
I heard, I heard, across a moonlit sea,
The old voice warning me,
“Beware, beware the Daughter of the Sea”,
I’ve spoken about Jaina’s guilt several times, and in the Battle for Azeroth expansion, we see Jaina actively engage and confront a lifetime of guilt. She failed to save her people at Theramore, and that was clearly on her mind when she heard that Kul Tiras faced the same fate. She returns to active duty as a member of the Alliance with a shocking appearance at the Battle for Lordaeron. Arriving in a floating Kul Tiran warship that she raised from the ocean floor, Jaina saves the Alliance’s forces from the deadly blight. She stays by King Anduin’s side as he fights his way to the new warchief Sylvanas and teleports everyone to safety when she destroys the city with blight rather than letting it fall into Alliance hands.
Upon learning that the Horde had allied itself with the island nation of Zandalar, and losing most of Stormwind’s fleet, Jaina suggests that she should return to her homeland of Kul Tiras to recruit their legendary fleet. She promises to return with the fleet or not at all. It is a bold statement, but Jaina knew that the fate of both the Alliance and her homeland were at stake. She either succeeded or the Horde won. Her return to Boralus was met with distrust and hate, the guards arresting her upon arrival and urged by an advisor her mother treated her as a traitor and threw her in jail.
Unbeknown to her mother, Katherine, it was the advisor that was the real traitor and their actions would eventually come to light thanks to a hero of the Alliance. Jaina was exiled to Fate’s End, an island where no one ever returns from and ended up in the clutches of the Gorak Tul, king of the ancient drust. Gorak Tul pulled Jaina into Thros, the Blighted Lands, a death realm filled with nightmares. There she remained trapped in her nightmares, filled with guilt and reliving the worst moments of her life over and over again.
Her suffering and torment continued until Katherine ventures into Thros with a hero to find Jaina and free her. There they witness Jaina as a child surrounded by visions of the past. Citizens from Theramore confront her accusing her of leaving them to die, and telling her she should have stopped Garrosh. Jaina says that she failed them all. Katherine tells Jaina that she is the power and the fury of Kul Tiras, but “even the strongest of us can’t save everyone”. The words penetrate through the vision and Jaina disappears, leaving them to find the next one.
This time it is Rhonin who accuses her of tainting the faction and telling her that he was a fool to think she could be their leader. Jaina stutters a reply about them lying to her, and Katherine counters this vision by telling her daughter that reason alone is not enough. Making a decision without any feelings leaves only empty darkness behind, Katherine explains.
As this vision disappear Katherine hears a familiar voice; her late husband. However, it’s not Daelin they find at the next vision but Varian Wrynn who yells at Jaina for not letting him seek justice in the Undercity. He names all the Horde leaders he could have stopped, including Garrosh and the current Warchief Sylvanas; all the lives he could have saved if she hadn’t stopped him. Demoralised, Jaina blames herself. After defeating the Deceiver, Katherine returns to her daughter, saying that seeking an end to bloodshed is a notable pursuit and one she wished Daelin had learned.
The final vision disperses leaving Katherine and the hero to find the real Jaina. They find her staring at her father, another minion of the nightmare, as he taunts her for siding with the Horde which inevitably ended with his death. Katherine demands that it shows it’s true form, and they defeat it, finally leaving them alone with Jaina. As Katherine reaches her she sees Jaina as a child sitting on the edge of a building crying, wringing her hands. She says she’s done everything wrong and Katherine begins to see Jaina’s memories unfold, all the nightmares and memories that Jaina has been reliving in Thros. Starting with the Culling of Stratholme, then to her confrontation with her father and his death, and culminating in Jaina accepting her mother’s judgement when she arrived in Boralus. The many people Jaina has lost appear in front of her including Varian, Kinndy, Rhonin, Daelin and Arthas. Katherine disperses her vision-self with a wave of a hand and lifts Jaina’s chin, bringing Jaina back to herself and reality. She asks her forgiveness, then tells her to forgive her father and herself. The spell of Thros broken she moves to help her daughter out of the realm of nightmares and back into the light. Their exit is interrupted by Gorak Tul himself, and Jaina defeats him before teleporting the three of them to safety.
Each of the nightmares Jaina experienced in Thros is those dark little voices that we hear in our mind. The ones that tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we can’t do anything. Just as Jaina said “I did everything wrong”, so too have I said that and so too have I had someone tell me to forgive myself. The Thros questline felt like a mirror of cognitive therapy behaviour (CBT) to me, and while therapy isn’t quite the same as going to a realm of nightmares, it certainly can feel just as dark and draining. It is holding a mirror up to yourself and recognising those ugly thoughts and countering them with positive assertions just as Katherine did to disperse them. Just as Jaina did we can find our way out of the darkness; we may need some help to do it but it is definitely possible.
“Change, Jaina thought. It brings pain; it brings joy; and it is completely inescapable. We are, all of us, our own phoenixes, if we choose to be. Out of the ashes, we can be reborn.”
Those were Jaina’s thoughts after the loss of Theramore when Thrall and Kaelecgos had pulled her back from the brink of complete self-destruction. Everything had changed for her, and she had risen from the ashes of Theramore into something new and terrifying. At that point, she had no idea what else was to come, what she would need to go through to be reborn.
Upon returning from Thros Katherine and Jaina are thrown straight into battle; the traitor, Lady Ashmane is attacking Boralus. They clear the city of enemies and Katherine hands Jaina a pendant that once belonged to Daelin. Using the pendant Jaina summons the missing Kul Tiran fleet home, releasing it from the magical storm it had been trapped in. Effectively blocked in Lady Ashmane is forced to surrender.
Katherine chooses to step down as Lord Admiral and names Jaina as her successor. After being arrested and branded a traitor Jaina certainly had no idea that her people would welcome her as a hero and accept her as their Lord Admiral. When talking with her younger brother Tandred she admits she always feared that the Kul Tiran people would never accept her back, especially as she had no way to prove herself to anyone. He replies by saying that without her the fleet would never have survived, nor would Boralus have survived the Ashmane attack. It was her, and only her as a mage, that could have done all that. If she felt any lingering doubt that Kul Tiras needed her, or any guilt for abandoning her homeland to pursue magic it is put to rest by the knowledge that she succeeded in what she set out to do.
Jaina also succeeded in helping the Alliance, bringing the Kul Tirans back into the Alliance as allies and presenting King Anduin with a Warship as a gift.
With every crisis and obstacle that Jaina has faced, especially the feeling of losing her way, the feeling of finding one’s purpose and succeeding in accomplishing one’s goals is the biggest confidence boost there is. The additional bonus of being reunited with family and friends, including those thought to have long departed from this world, only adds to that feeling. It makes it feel as though all that pain, all that change was worth it.
As Jaina’s been going through these changes and finding her path I’ve been doing the same. I was diagnosed with a debilitating illness called ME and it has completely changed my life. I’d just discovered my dream career of becoming a librarian as my symptoms showed, and just like that the dream was ripped away from me. Jaina may just be a video game character, but she is one that has gone through a level of trauma and difficult that I can relate to and been reborn into something magnificent. I’ve been going through my own changes, finding my own path and while I’m not going to be magically powering any warships or summoning a fleet of ships any time soon, I’ve been accomplishing things I never thought I could do.
“Knowledge is power!”
I’ve talked about quite a lot of dark subjects, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about the passionate side of Jaina. From a young age, she was fascinated with books, her favourite place being the library in Boralus Keep. When she left for Dalaran her passion for knowledge continued and she pestered the Archmage Antonidas to take her as an apprentice. It’s not a surprise that she grew up to be a formidable mage and future leader of the Kirin Tor.
Leaving home to study in a strange place miles away from your family and people is a scary thing for anyone let alone a child, yet Jaina knew what she wanted and pursued it with determination. It is an attitude that says anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it, and one that Jaina has displayed throughout her life. Just as Jaina went out into the wider world in seek of knowledge, so did I. I left home for University at 18, and I’ve continued to pursue my academic career despite my disabilities. Some people are content with living in the same place their entire lives, but like Jaina, I laid down my roots elsewhere. Just as Jaina found her new home in Theramore I found mine in Scotland.
“What’s different this time?”
Jaina helps Thrall and Saurfang to save Baine from execution and is once again forced to face up to her past actions when the Sunreavers use it as a chance for vengeance. Although she can successfully teleport everyone to safety Jaina remains troubled by the past being stirred up again. Urged on by his companions Thrall approaches her and admits that he wishes he could undo it all because he did everything wrong. She tells him that they both have blood on their hands. As they gaze over the tranquil city of Thunder Bluff Thrall mourns for what is about to happen; the fury of Sylvanas and the destruction of another city – just like the world tree Teldrassil. Jaina reminds him that they had stood together on another slope looking at another world tree once before. That tree didn’t fall because the Alliance and The Horde worked together. Thrall shakes his head, saying that it’s a crossroad they’ve come to many times and it never works; what’s different this time? Her answer is simple; we are.
It is so easy to get bogged down with the past, with everything that has happened and to think that nothing good can ever happen again. Yet nothing stays the same. Our experiences change us whether for good or for bad, we never remain the same. We’re not the same people who made that choice 10 years ago, 2 years ago or even last week.
Just as the Horde and Alliance are involving into something new so are we.
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*