Before the Lich King was affiliated with the notorious Arthas Menethil, he was the orcish shaman Ner’zhul. The Lich King we know today is a spectral being with immense power, including the power to control the Scourge (undead of Azeroth). For such a powerful being, the Lich King is actually rather young in terms of demonic and evil power. But before we dive too far into the Lich King’s story, let me get this out of the way for those that are new to the lore articles.
This is a large topic I have split into 3 parts. This, being the second part, is about the Lich King up until the point of Arthas donning the infamous helm. We’re going to do down one story that has multiple tangents. I may touch on some of the applicable tangents, but that is not the intent of the article. If you’d like to dive deeper into any of these other stories, just let me know on any platform you may find me in.
Lastly, it’s extremely important to recognize that this Warcraft universe is massive and old. Continuity is my number one priority when conveying these stories. That being said, there are quite a few unanswered questions within this world and what I present will be a culmination of cross referenced sources such as books, articles, videos, and the games themselves. So let’s get into it!
NER’ZHUL, THE REVERED
Our story begins with Ner’zhul on the world of Draenor. He was chieftain and elder shaman of the Shadowmoon clan, yet every orc, regardless of clan or affiliation, looked to him due to his strong connection with the spirits. He was the closest thing to a leader that the orcish clans recognized before the formation of the Horde. Such strength and respect caught the attention of Gul’dan, who was instructed by the demon Kil’jaeden to find a suitable leader for the orcish invasion of Azeroth. Gul’dan approached Ner’zhul, claiming his village was attacked by ogres, prompting the chieftain’s hospitality, taking him in as an apprentice.
Before arriving in the Shadowmoon village, Gul’dan had gone to the Throne of the Elements to confront the elemental spirits. He was successful in throwing the elements out of sync with each other, creating a rift where the shamans could no longer communicate with the elements.
Ner’zhul didn’t cope well when it came down to the lack of communication from the elements. One of the consequences of that being out of order, was that he could no longer speak with his deceased wife, Rulkan. The strong shaman began slipping into grief and despair.
In his grief, he found his wife’s spirit once again. As he dreamed, his wife would talk to him and give him advice. Among this advice and information, she mentioned that the draenei were the reason for the elemental issues. She divulged their plans to destroy the entire orcish race and also mentioned that the only way for the orcs to survive was to unite under one banner and destroy the draenei. The only problem with her insight was the fact it wasn’t actually Rulkan. It was Kil’jaeden invading the dreams of Ner’zhul, disguised as his wife, in order to gather the orcs together as one.
Demon lord Kil’jaeden
Ner’zhul was skeptical at first. Not easily deceived by the demonic lord. However, Gul’dan also knew Ner’zhul would be hesitant to make such a bold move. So Gul’dan went to the Bladewind clan as a messenger of the Shadowmoon clan, prompting them to attack the draenei that they’d been fighting for years. The Bladewinds did indeed attack the draenei, only to be destroyed when the draenei launched an offensive campaign against them.
Seeing what the draenei had done to the Bladewinds (and not knowing of Gul’dan’s involvement), Ner’zhul was furious and now wholeheartedly trusted in his visions. From the ashes of the Bladewind clan, Ner’zhul birthed the Orcish Horde, designed to destroy the draenei.
As Ner’zhul watched and participated in the attacks against the draenei, he became worried that he was indeed being deceived. These people weren’t warmongerers. They were a relatively peaceful race until acted upon and forced to fight. Sensing his doubts, Kil’jaeden took a different approach to communicating with Ner’zhul. He appeared to him as a bright elemental entity. Stricken at first by the vision, Ner’zhul’s astonishment gave way to his growing doubts, and he journeyed to Oshu’gun, a mountain where spirits reside.
When he arrived at Oshu’gun, he was appalled that the real spirit of his wife wasn’t the one communicating with him all this time. Sickened by his acts, under the influence of the imposter, Ner’zhul returned to Shadowmoon valley to make things right. However, he found that Gul’dan had been at work while he was away, and had formed the Shadow Council and seized control of his people. Many members of the Shadow Council wanted to kill Ner’zhul, but Kil’jaeden needed him alive, so Gul’dan enjoyed torturing the once powerful shaman. Ner’zhul was left ‘in power’ simply as a symbol rather than the acting leader of the Orcish Horde.
Ner’zhul being tortured by the Shadow Council
Ner’zhul was no longer a threat to the Shadow Council, so he was ignored during their meetings. He became privy to the information that the demon Mannoroth was summoned into the world and the the orcs would be told to drink of his blood. Knowing of the honor of the Frostwolf clan, Ner’zhul sent a message to Durotan advising him to not partake of the blood in order to remain free of any demonic influence. Durotan received this message and heeded the advice to not drink the blood.
With the orcs united under one banner, Gul’dan led them through the Dark Portal onto Azeroth. More information around the Horde found here, so I won’t spend much time on it. While the Horde was gone to the wars, Ner’zhul was haunted by his feeling of betrayal and self loathing for his actions. He felt responsible for the scourging of Draenor and the potential downfall of the orcish race. After the Second War on Azeroth, Gul’dan was killed and the Dark Portal was destroyed, halting any further assaults on Azeroth from Draenor.
Ner’zhul lay low in Shadowmoon valley with his people for two years while he recovered from an injury he received from the Dark Portal’s destruction. He was then approached by Teron Gorefiend, a previous disciple.
Gorefiend wanted to open new portals to explore other worlds as opportunities to give orcs a second chance at life. With Draenor dying, it was the best way for Ner’zhul to make amends for the problems he had caused the race. He agreed and set out to lead his people to a new age for orcs.
No Rest for the Wrongdoers
In order to open new portals, Ner’zhul had to find particular artifacts, among them was the skull of Gul’dan. He found each artifact and began searching for a new world to inhabit. He then noticed that the skull of Gul’dan began speaking to him. The apprentice continued whispering lies into his master’s ear even after death. The subtle whisperings turned Ner’zhul’s attention away from the Horde and more toward his own gain. He had fallen once again to the enticing voices of demonic powers.
Ner’zhul with the skull of Gul’dani
Casting a spell to create portals for his followers, Ner’zhul refined his focus from the Orcish Horde, down to his own desires and newfound power. Putting aside his desire to lead the Horde, he commanded his followers to enter the portals. One protested and was cast aside, followed by Ner’zhul going into one of the portals.
With Ner’zhul’s power came a great cost to the world of Draenor. When he entered that portal, his spell split the world apart, thus creating the realm of Outland.
THE LICH KING
Ner’zhul and his followers were immediately captured by Kil’jaeden himself after entering the portals. Kil’jaeden had a new plan for the shaman, and tore his spirit from his body. Agreeing to serve the demon once again, Ner’zhul’s spirit was merged with the Helm of Domination and encased in a throne of ice.
Helm of Domination
With the binding of Ner’zhul to the helm, his power grew exponentially and he became a spectral being of uncanny power. Kil’jaeden then sent the throne and helm to Azeroth where it landed in Northrend.
And that my friends, is how the Lich King was birthed and came to Azeroth.