In Mists of Pandaria, the Alliance and Horde both come across the Wandering Isle, the back of enormous turtle Shen-zin Su, floating listlessly around Azeroth’s oceans. On it are a group of Pandaren, the eponymous former denizens of Pandaria who have inside them a sense of adventure and wanderlust not shared with most of their brethren.
After a series of kerfuffles, the Pandaren are left with the toughest choice they’ve ever had to make: in order to survive the rest of Azeroth, sides must be taken between one of the two major governing bodies on the planet. The intrepid Ji Firepaw, an admirer of the Horde’s bootstrap mentality, aligns himself with the Horde, while the tranquil Aysa Cloudsinger and her meditative followers decide to join the like-minded Alliance.
So that’s it, right? Firepaw and Cloudsinger serve as representatives of their followers (now known as the Huojin and Tushui Pandaren, respectively), and besides some panda-on-panda violence as an unavoidable consequence of joining sides in a war aside, everyone’s happy: the adventurous Pandaren get to to see the world and lead fulfilling lives, and the Horde and Alliance both bolster their numbers and gain important footholds in Pandaria.
Well, not exactly.
In the Siege of Orgrimmar, MoP’s final raid, Garrosh has gone berserk, excavated the Heart of Y’Shaarj from the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, causing an unconscionable blight on the once beautiful land of Pandaria in order to wield the wicked power of the Sha, and has begun culling non-Orcish members of the Horde to create what he calls the ‘True Horde.’ In the chaos, Aysa narrowly saves her friend-turned-adversary Ji from execution at the hands of the Kor’kron. The two vow to return to the Wandering Isle, essentially wishing they had never left. While no formal announcement was made, outside of performing basic tasks during Garrosh’s trial, both seem to have washed their hands of their former affiliations.
It’s a heartwrenching and deceptively involved story (WoW Insider has an excellent writeup if you’re interested in reading more about it). But where does it leave the thousands of displaced Pandaren who risked life and paw to serve their faction, under the banner of their fearless leaders (who split)? I know desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’m not blaming them—Ji was about to lose his life over witholding information he had no knowledge of—but Firepaw and Cloudsinger’s recantation doesn’t mesh with either the Huojin or Tushui philosophies at all.
So now King Varian and Warchief Vol’jin are left with a smattering of Pandaren to deal with. How do they know they can even be trusted? The two appointed as leaders proved unreliable in the face of danger. Sure, they swore allegiance upon first embarking for Orgrimmar/Stormwind, even pledging to kill their own kind in the name of their faction. In the case of the Horde, however, that allegiance was sworn to Garrosh, who was Warchief at the time. From Vol’jin’s perspective, can a bunch of vagrants from a floating turtle who so eagerly vowed to obey the command of a genocidal tyrant without a second thought really be trusted? And given there are no physical differences between Huojin and Tushui Pandaren, if one defected to the other side, would anyone even notice?
It’s disheartening to see Pandaren lore not even really wrapped up and instead just forgotten about in their own expansion, especially since nobody really expects any major Pandaren developments in future expansions. The only logical reason there are still Pandaren in the Horde and Alliance is, I suppose, that they have decided on an individual level to stay, and Varian/Vol’jin aren’t going to turn away able bodies.
Maybe that’s okay, though. The remaining Pandaren forces are left without a leader to call their own, orphaned by the monks who lead them to these strange lands. But maybe that’s exactly the way they want it. After all, these are the few, brave Pandaren who forsook the beauty and grandeur of their homeland in search of adventure and spiritual fulfillment. Their former leaders may have realized they weren’t cut out for such a life, but in the words of the Tushui themselves:
“Discipline is not a war that is won. It is a battle, constantly fought.”