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Link is lost in thought while wielding a stick on his back in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

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Let’s dive into Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s bonkers ending

Hyrule’s distant past collides with its future

Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

In a game like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which is designed to encourage wandering off the beaten path, it can be easy to lose the central narrative thread.

Like its predecessor, the sequel drops protagonist Link into a massive world full of Shrines, Korok Seeds, armor sets, iconic weapons, roaming dragons, and Great Fairies. What’s more, there are basically two extra open worlds to explore this time around, and plenty of experimental hijinks to enact along the way. Which is all to say that by the time you finally decide to confront the Demon King Ganondorf, any number of hours may have passed since the last cutscene or crucial plot point.

That’s where we come in. Once you’ve finally completed the “Find Princess Zelda” quest line (or if you don’t care about spoilers), use our explainer below to answer your burning story questions, before reloading your last save and working your way toward 100% completion.

[Ed. note: It may go without saying, but spoilers follow for the end of Tears of the Kingdom.]

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom; a shirtless Link skydiving into Hyrule Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Is Zelda evil?

Throughout the course of Tears of the Kingdom’s “Regional Phenomena” quest line, Link and his Sage companions witnessed Princess Zelda acting strangely. During Link’s mission to rid the Goron population of its addiction to Marbled Rock Roast, for instance, she was seen commanding Marbled Gohma, the eventual boss of the Fire Temple. Numerous NPCs at stables also recount odd stories of the heir to Hyrule’s throne acting out of character.

So, is the eponymous character evil? No. Far from it. Toward the end of the “Crisis at Hyrule Castle” quest line, which tasks you with chasing “Zelda” through the deteriorating halls of the iconic abode, an apparition of the Demon King Ganondorf appears and reveals that this version of the princess was merely a puppet apparition, much like the Phantom Ganon clones scattered throughout the world. Whether you’ve encountered one of these enemies or not, the ensuing boss fight involves several of them.

After said boss fight, with Hyrule Castle cleansed of its Phantom Ganon infestation, the question remains: Where is Princess Zelda? If you’ve completed the “The Dragon’s Tears” storyline — which requires you to find the Dragon Tear in each of the mysterious Glyphs that have sprung up across the Surface of Hyrule — or spoken to the Great Deku Tree after meeting up with Mineru, the Fifth Sage, then you’ve discovered the obvious: Zelda is a dragon. Duh!

The Light Dragon, with flowing yellow hair, ethereal blue horns and dorsal scales, flies through the skies of Hyrule Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Let’s rewind. At the very beginning of Tears of the Kingdom, when Link and Zelda stumble upon Ganondorf’s tomb/prison cell, accidentally trigger an apocalypse, and send massive chunks of Hyrule into the sky, Zelda phases out of existence while Link plummets to the ground. As we discover in Memory #4: An Unfamiliar World, Zelda has actually travelled back in time to the very founding of Hyrule, millennia ago. (From what I’ve seen, it’s not made explicitly clear how she time-traveled, or who sent her into the past in order to save her. My assumption is that, as the Sage of Time and the descendant of Sonia, whose signature Zonai ability is Recall, Zelda’s time-manipulation abilities may have catapulted her into the past while in survival mode.)

After spending a good deal of time with Rauru and Sonia (both of whom founded Hyrule) and Mineru (the Zonai architect/engineer/genius who turned out to be the Sage of Spirit), Zelda slowly runs out of options for traveling back to her own time. When Ganondorf, along with his pesky puppet-Zelda, assassinates Sonia and steals her Secret Stone, and proceeds to survive a counterattack by Rauru, Mineru, Zelda, and the four original Sages, Zelda enters desperation mode. She confers with the dying Mineru, and despite the latter’s protests, decides to travel back to the future the hard way. Read: She swallows her own Secret Stone in order to become an immortal dragon that can roam the skies for thousands of years while recharging the power of the Master Sword in its forehead before Link arrives to pry it out.

That’s badass.

Is Zelda stuck as a dragon?

If you’ve landed on the Light Dragon (Zelda) and retrieved the Master Sword, but have yet to kill Ganondorf and complete the “Find Princess Zelda” quest, it’s natural to wonder whether Zelda is destined to be an Immortal Dragon forever.

Luckily, she’s not! After retrieving the legendary blade, Link delves into The Depths below Hyrule Castle, enters the Forgotten Foundation, and confronts the Demon King Ganondorf once more (with help from the five Sages he recruited throughout his travels). Link and his team defeat Ganondorf, who then “activates” his Secret Stone (formerly Sonia’s) in order to face Link in one-on-one combat and also be even hotter:

Ganondorf, smiling after activating his Secret Stone, during the second stage of the final boss fight in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Link, of course, survives this second phase of the fight, and Ganondorf decides to take a page out of the ol’ “Eat a Secret Stone and turn into an Immortal Dragon” playbook. Ganondorf, now known as the Demon Dragon, clamps Link between his demon gums and soars into the sky. Zelda, as the Light Dragon, arrives, the Demon Dragon drops Link from its mouth, and a Shadow of the Colossus-esque fight ensues. With Link on her huge head, Zelda flies above the Demon Dragon, allowing the tiny-by-comparison Link to skydive onto the enemy’s back, slash a few weak points with the Master Sword, and then deliver the finishing blow to the Secret Stone that’s embedded in reptile Ganondorf’s head.

He explodes, Link’s Zonai arm lights up in glorious fashion, and Link and Zelda are sent to an ethereal realm, where the spirits of Rauru and Sonia lend their power to Link’s Zonai arm (in a Triforce, of sorts?) to transform Zelda back into her Hylian form. Link wakes up while plummeting back to Hyrule. He grabs Zelda and makes good use of Tears of the Kingdom’s fantasy physics by plunging into a deep lake at terminal velocity.

Link, kneeling by Zelda, back in the present day after having defeated the Demon King Ganondorf in his dragon form Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

It’s at this point that Zelda answers the question of “Why didn’t she, in her Light Dragon form, just fly down to Link while he was exploring Hyrule, and give him the Master Sword as soon as he left that first group of Sky Islands?” Apparently, Zelda’s long period as a dragon felt more like a dream, one which she barely remembers. The implication is that she wasn’t fully there the whole time, and only regained a sense of purpose once she saw the Demon Dragon attacking Link. She tells Link that she had witnessed Hyrule during an epoch of peace before her transformation, and that she has many stories to tell him. Then, the game ends. Sort of.

Is there a post-credits scene?

There is indeed a post-credits scene! Building on the conversation she had with Link after defeating Ganondorf, Zelda invites the other five Sages (Mineru is in her spirit form) and Purah (because Purah rules) back to the platform where she first recovered the decaying Master Sword that had been shot into the past. Here, she outlines her plan to bring about an everlasting peace to Hyrule. The Sages verbalize their promise to help her do so — with Link just sort of standing there in awkward silence — and the game truly ends.

Whether that infinite peace will become a reality, or the land will brush up against apocalypse again in a possible sequel (I would absolutely be down for a trilogy of Zelda games) remains up in the air.

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