"I am Gul'dan... I am darkness incarnate. I will not be denied."
- —The History of Orcish Ascension
Gul'dan was a former orc shaman from Draenor who became the first orcish warlock as well as the de facto founder of the Orcish Horde. Abandoning the ways of shamanism and betraying both his people and his mentor to the demonlord Kil'jaeden for personal gain and power, Gul'dan was directly responsible for the orcs' fall to demonic enslavement as well as for the Horde's invasion of Azeroth. Tutored by the lord of the Burning Legion, he became the founder and master of the Shadow Council as well as the original creator of the necromantic terrors known as death knights. He often referred to himself as "Darkness Incarnate" and "The Destroyer of Dreams." Gul'dan is considered one of the most powerful warlocks to have ever existed.
Rise of the Horde Edit
Little is known of Gul'dan's early history except that he was originally a member of the Shadowmoon clan, and showed extraordinary talent with working with the elemental powers of shamanism. Because of this, he was chosen as the honored apprentice to the elder shaman Ner'zhul, chieftain of the Shadowmoon Clan and spiritual leader of the orcs. At some point he found a rare two-headed ogre, Cho'gall, when he was young, and began to train him. Gul'dan was present at the Kosh'harg celebration in Nagrand.
As Ner'zhul rallied the orcs for a war against the draenei at the behest of Kil'jaeden (hiding behind the facade of a powerful ancestor referred to as "The Beautiful One"), Gul'dan supported Ner'zhul fully. However, when Ner'zhul began to notice that they could no longer call upon the power of the elements or the ancestors, the shaman began to sense something was amiss. He discovered at Oshu'gun that he had been duped by Kil'jaeden and attempted to back out. To Ner'zhul's horror, he discovered that Gul'dan had seen everything at Oshu'gun and told Kil'jaeden of it all before Ner'zhul returned. Kil'jaeden approached Gul'dan and offered him the chance to become a master of warlock magic, on the condition that he help bring the orcs under his banner. Gul'dan accepted with no qualms whatsoever, and immediately began the work of reshaping the orcs, hitherto a collection of simple shamanistic clans, into an unstoppable and bloodthirsty Horde.
As a necessity of his bid for power, Gul'dan trained a number of like-minded and powerful orcs, whom he named the Shadow Council. The Council was soon using its power and influence to direct almost every aspect of orc society, so as to distract those few who opposed his dark ideals from their true masters, Gul'dan and Kil'jaeden. He opened schools of demonology and necromancy to teach shamans new power to replace their lost connections to the elements, transforming them into necrolytes and warlocks. He even founded and created his own clan, the Stormreavers, who were loyal only to him. However, this clan wasn't founded until sometime later. To seal the bargain between him and Kil'jaeden, Gul'dan and the Shadow Council offered the clan chieftains the Blood of Mannoroth. The resulting Horde was bloodthirsty, barbaric, and evil, an extension of the demons whom they now worshiped.
As a test of the Horde's strength, Gul'dan and the Shadow Council guided the orcs into murdering every single Draenei they could find on their homeworld. The near-extermination of the Draenei, a race as old as his master Kil'jaeden, proved that the orcs were ready for the next slaughter. It was at some point during these proceedings that Gul'dan "bred" one of his orcish warriors to a draenei female. The result was a Garona - a child that, as it would be discovered later, looked surprisingly human. Gul'dan had her magically aged and tortured, later also placing controls on her mind to ensure obedience. She quickly became the chief interpreter of the Shadow Council and Gul'dan's personal spy and assassin. He also sent Blackheart the Inciter, whom he recruited after taking control of the Horde, and Vorpil with a group of orcs to plunder Auchindoun. Gul'dan also manipulated the election of Blackhand as the Horde's new warchief, as he was the perfect pawn for the Shadow Council. Though Blackhand was competent in battle and a relatively sound tactician, he had a lust for power — and thus was easy for Gul'dan to control.
The First War Edit
Eventually, Gul'dan was contacted by the mad sorcerer Medivh - possessed by the Dark Titan Sargeras - who offered him the promise of godhood, locked away within the Tomb of Sargeras if he would use the Horde to conquer Azeroth. Gul'dan agreed, and with the assistance of the Shadow Council, he helped Medivh open the Dark Portal between Azeroth and Draenor. Over the next few years, Gul'dan and his ogre-mage apprentice Cho'gall would secretly manipulate the Horde as it rampaged across Azeroth. Gul'dan convinced Grom Hellscream and his Warsong clan to remain on Draenor during the conflict later known as the First War. In the year 0, Durotan and Draka were killed on his orders.
Gul'dan saw the Horde led to supremacy over most of the Kingdom of Azeroth, but on the eve of the final siege of Stormwind, Gul'dan was aware of a raiding party against Medivh's tower of Karazhan. Realizing that the Azerothians intended to slay the Guardian, Gul'dan hastily ransacked Medivh's mind for the Tomb's location. He was still deep within the Guardian's thoughts when Lothar and Khadgar killed him, ending Medivh's treachery and forcing Gul'dan into a coma.
Without the counsel of Gul'dan, Blackhand was easily slain by Orgrim Doomhammer, who, with information acquired from an interrogated and tortured Garona, proceeded to slaughter Gul'dan's warlocks and the majority of the Shadow Council.
The Second War Edit
Gul'dan awoke from the coma with only Cho'gall, the Twilight's Hammer and his necrolytes still loyal to him; Blackhand, the Shadow Council and the warlocks were dead, and Garona and the other clans had betrayed him. Garona's betrayal of course had been forced. Doomhammer was willing to spare Gul'dan's life, despite his gut feeling he would one day regret this, and even let him run Balor and the ruins of Stormwind Castle, in exchange for information in regards to Blackhand's followers. This was simple enough; Rend and Maim hadn't professed continued loyalty to Gul'dan, so the warlock had no qualms about betraying them. Gul'dan informed Doomhammer that the raiders were preparing to join the sons of Blackhand and stage a coup against him, as Blackhand had once been a raider himself. Whether this information was true or not (not even Gul'dan was certain), it was possible, and Doomhammer disbanded the raiders and placed them among the many grunt regiments.
As a token of his "loyalty" to the new warchief, Gul'dan promised to create an army of undead riders loyal to him and him alone. Gul'dan and his necrolytes, led by Rakmar Sharpfang, tried to place the souls of the dead warlocks into the dead bodies of the Stormwind knights, and thus raising them as undead sorcerers. Their efforts were continuously met with failure, and a frustrated Gul'dan eventually found another way. He and Cho'gall joined his necrolytes in a powerful ritual and at its height he slaughtered each and every one of them. He transformed their hearts into mystical gems containing all their necromantic power and their souls. He placed these gems into truncheons and gave these truncheons to the bodies of the orc possessed knights, and was met with success as each on awakened the moment the truncheon was placed in its hand. They became the dread death knights, but at the end of the day their loyalty lay with Gul'dan, not Doomhammer. Satisfied Doomhammer left Gul'dan to his own devices to focus on the war; blissfully unaware that the death knights were not truly his soldiers.
Betrayal and death Edit
Ultimately, Gul'dan's thirst for power proved to be the Horde's undoing. On the eve of Doomhammer's attack on Lordaeron's capital, Gul'dan took the Stormreaver and Twilight's Hammer clans and set out to sea to locate the Tomb of Sargeras. With nearly half of his standing forces suddenly gone, Doomhammer was forced to retreat and hunt down the traitorous warlock. This reprieve would ultimately give the Alliance time to regroup and retaliate.
Gul'dan did indeed locate the Tomb, and used his power to raise it from the ocean floor. Taking with him his most select followers, Gul'dan cast open the doors and entered and began searching for the Eye of Sargeras. He did not however find the godhood he was hoping for. Instead, he was torn to shreds by a swarm of insane demons that had long ago been drawn to the tomb through the dark magics that emanated from Sargeras’s remains. The remainder of his clans were slaughtered by Doomhammer's retaliation. In those last moments, Gul'dan realized he had just been a pawn, that Sargeras had fooled him into doing his dirty work.
After Gul'dan died, his skull was turned into a channeling totem for demonic energy. A small shard of Gul'dan's soul remained within the bleached bone of the skull, where he whispered to whoever held it; the warlock proved to still be dangerous, even in death. The skull was used by Ner'zhul to open portals to other worlds on Draenor, and later by Khadgar to destroy the Dark Portal. After the destruction of the Dark Portal, Khadgar left the skull behind on Draenor in his haste to escape through one of Ner'zhul's rifts. Years later it would appear again on Azeroth, this time used by the Burning Legion to corrupt the forests of Felwood. After learning of its existence from Arthas the death knight, Illidan Stormrage found and took the skull, absorbing its power, remaining only half night elf and becoming half demon. Gul'dan's memories survived within the warlock magic of his skull and the runes he painted on the walls of the Tomb. Illidan found the Tomb using Gul'dan's memories from the Skull, and Maiev Shadowsong found the runes. When the tomb caved in, Gul'dan's final testament was buried.
His loyalists in the Twilight's Hammer clan would turn from the Burning Legion and begin worship of new masters.