Ganondorf's key art from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

How ‘Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’ Refreshes a Familiar Villain

When the epic and final trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom dropped, fans steeped in the series’ lore lost their (our) goddamn minds. Here was Ganondorf, back in the flesh for the first time in a Zelda game since 2006. 17 freaking years ago! The mummy was him! We were all right! It felt great. And he’s being voiced by Matt Mercer in the English dub. I will play the game in Japanese like the complete snob I am, but I can recognize well-earned hype when I see it. And there’s a lot of hype for this very evil and very muscular man.

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However, if you’ve only played Breath of the Wild, to which TotK serves as a direct sequel, you might be confused right now—for good reason. After all, didn’t we beat Calamity Ganon at the end of BotW? We did. So the questions begin: Is Ganon different than Ganondorf? Are they different beings entirely? Do they have some kind of familial relation or something? What the actual hell is going on with the lore of this series?

The good news is, there’s a short answer to your question. Ganondorf is a human being, a former Gerudo chief who really, really wanted the Triforce. Ganon is the monster that human being became when corrupted by his greed over the Trifoce of Power—in some timelines.

That’s right. For a deeper answer to this question, it’s time for a little visit to that beautiful head-scratcher known as The Legend of Zelda‘s official timeline. Because that short answer doesn’t answer the most important question Tears’ final trailer posed: How the hell do Ganondorf and Calamity Ganon both exist in the same time frame?

Ganondorf: the man, the myth, the legend

It’s dangerous to go alone. Here, take this: It’s a full explainer of The Legend of Zelda‘s timeline. I wrote it myself. It’s no Master Sword, but if this is your first foray into Zelda timeline territory, you might find it helpful.

For our purposes, we’re only concerned with the timeline starting at Ocarina of Time. (Except for Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, the games’ release dates have absolutely nothing to do with where they fall on the timeline.) At the beginning of Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf is the leader of the otherwise entirely female Gerudo tribe. Only one man is born to the Gerudo every 100 years, and he automatically becomes the leader of the tribe. Rude.

Anyway, Link and Zelda discover that Ganondorf is trying to take the Triforce and overthrow the crown to become King of Hyrule himself. Why does he want this, you ask? Did fantasy villains in the ’90s need a deep reason to covet power? Do actual, real people in the present day need a deeper reason? No. They did not, and they do not. Unfortunately.

Long story short, Ganondorf more or less succeeds. The Triforce only allows those with a balance of Wisdom, Power, and Courage in their hearts to take the whole thing. Ganondorf, you may be surprised to learn, does not have that balance. So he’s imbued with the Triforce of Power, and the other two pieces scatter to wait for their eventual owners.

Link is a literal child when all of this goes down, however. Some divine power decides he’s too young to be the Hero of Time, and so he’s forced to take a seven-year nap, during which Ganondorf has free reign. When he finally wakes up as a teenager, he gets down to business.

Ganon’s origins and the timeline split

Spoilers for Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess below

The final battle of Ocarina of Time is where Zelda‘s timeline breaks into three separate branches. It’s all made possible due to the titular Ocarina of Time, which can send someone back and forth through time.

During a showdown at Hyrule Castle, Link defeats Ganondorf and begins to flee with Zelda. However, in one last, desperate attempt to not die and best lie, Ganondorf uses the last vestiges of the Triforce of Power to transform into a gigantic, terrifying, and—yes—powerful beast. The name of this new beastly being? Ganon.

In Ocarina, Link defeats Ganon, and the beast becomes the humanoid Ganondorf once more. Ganondorf is sealed away in the Sacred Realm, where Link had taken his nap. This timeline is called the Adult Era because these events occur in the branch of time when adult (read: teenager) Link bested Gano. The next game in this timeline is The Wind Waker. It takes place ages later, when Ganondorf is human, after his seal is broken.

Back in Ocarina of Time, Zelda creates a second timeline in the immediate aftermath of the battle with Ganon. She sends Link back to relive the years of his childhood that were stolen from him. Therefore, this is called the Child Timeline. Link warns everyone about the threat the still-human, pre-Triforce of Power Ganondorf poses. Ganondorf is arrested and eventually sentenced to death. For some reason, it takes people literal decades to get around to it. This leads to the events of Twilight Princess.

So there’s a humanoid Ganondorf in both the Child and Adult timelines. However, Ganondorf is killed in both of these timelines. Curiously, in the Child timeline, he’s then resurrected in the Ganon form (in Four Swords Adventures). This hurts every Zelda fan’s brain. Don’t worry too much about it.

But wait, there’s a third timeline. You know how most people lost Ocarina of Time‘s final battle a number of times before finally managing to beat Ganon? Well, Nintendo went ahead and made that canonical. And so we get the Fallen Hero timeline, in which Ganon kills Link. Except for Four Swords Adventures (WHY?), every game with Ganon takes place in this timeline.

Every game except, perhaps, Breath of the Wild.

What’s up with Ganondorf and Calamity Ganon in BotW and TotK?

The fact that Ganondorf’s mummy was underneath Hyrule Castle all along—seemingly sealed away—blew everyone’s minds. It seems to imply that the Calamity Ganon we fought in Breath of the Wild was some kind of unconscious permutation of human Ganondorf’s immense power. It’s a different kind of bestial form for Ganon.

Remember, all that gunk around Hyrule was called Malice. As in, Ganondorf’s Malice. This Malice can attack and hurt people even while he’s seemingly unconscious. Ganondorf even uses Malice to attack Link and the Master Sword at the very beginning of Tears of the Kingdom. Gotta give the man credit, he sure knows what he wants.

We know Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom lay at the end of the timeline, but Nintendo has yet to clarify which branch they’re on. However, one popular fan theory poses that they’re so far in the future, they unify all three branches.

If Breath of the Wild was just Ganondorf’s naptime dreams made physical and tangible, imagine what going up against the real guy is going to be like. I have chills.

(featured image: Nintendo)

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.