Tears of the Kingdom Timeline Theory Radically Rewrites Zelda History
Is time a flat circle?
Nintendo has developed and published more than 40 games in the Legend of Zelda series over the past 37 years — almost none of which were released in chronological order. So trying to establish a comprehensive timeline connecting them all seems nigh impossible. But the upcoming Breath of the Wild sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, might just tie it all neatly together with the oldest trick in the book: a time loop.
The Theory — Elements of this theory have been around since 2011’s Skyward Sword, which basically serves as the origin story for the entire Zelda franchise and introduces the eternal demon king Demise as Ganon’s predecessor — or perhaps even true his form? Meanwhile, Breath of the Wild takes place in what seems like the timeline’s distant future. But what if it’s not that simple?
In a February episode of the Nontendo Podcast, co-host Wood Hawker points out how the myth outlined at the start of Skyward Sword sounds almost exactly like what happens in Breath of the Wild and its upcoming sequel.
“They tell a story about how the land below was corrupted by a great calamity, and they all fled to the sky,” he says. “My theory is that all of this that’s happening now is what is destroying ... Hyrule and the ground below. Is [Tears of the Kingdom] the story that was told at the start of Skyward Sword?”
Streamer Eric “PointCrow” Merino posited the same theory several weeks earlier with even more evidence.
The other crucial detail here is that both Skyward Sword and Tears of the Kingdom feature islands floating in the sky. But in Skyward Sword, everyone lives on those islands after escaping a threat below until Link falls to Earth and has to save the day; while in Tears of the Kingdom, it seems like civilization is still surface-based but may eventually relocate upwards.
In other words, Tears of the Kingdom appears to be a prequel to Skyward Sword... while also being a distant sequel to the very same game.
The Evidence — PointCrow to a quote from Nintendo’s Bill Trinen, who told IGN in 2021 that releasing the subtitle of the game would be a spoiler. (He specifically said that subtitles “start to give little bits of hints about maybe what’s going to happen.”) When the title “Tears of the Kingdom” was revealed in a September 2022 Nintendo Direct, it didn’t really spoil anything. The kingdom is probably Hyrule, but what tears are we talking about? PointCrow argues that the reveal itself was the spoiler, but only because of the logo.
“The logo is a spoiler!” PointCrow says. “It’s an Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail. It’s a symbol of a loop or infinite. This could mean that the Zelda timeline is a loop.”
The Ouroboros observation isn’t exactly new either. At least one person on Twitter noticed immediately after the September 2022 Nintendo Direct, noting that the design seems to directly reference the dragon statues that are part of the ancient Zonai ruins in Breath of the Wild. This ancient culture disappeared thousands of years prior to the events of that game and may be responsible for originally sealing Ganon. Link’s strange new arm in Tears of the Kingdom also seems to be related to Zonai magic, which further lends support to this theory.
One important detail to point out is that the Tears of the Kingdom Ouroborous has two heads instead of just one, which could be a clue that the game features two distinct Links at different points in time whose adventures eventually close this time loop.
Either that or, in typical Zelda fashion, this timeline is even more complicated than we think.
The Cycle Begins Anew — Before Demise is totally defeated at the end of Skyward Sword, he curses himself, Link, and Zelda to a “cycle with no end.”
“I will rise again!” he promises. “Those like you ... who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero, they are eternally bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!” Therefore, Demise seems like the origin of all evil, and Ganon’s various forms are merely reincarnations of that.
In the “History of Hyrule” section of the lore book Creating a Champion, which focuses almost exclusively on Breath of the Wild, it’s written that tradition requires each princess born to the royal family be named Zelda, which is a convenient way to explain why the princess is always named Zelda in every game, even if they’re technically a different person. That same book also notes: “In every age where Ganon rises up to cause chaos, there are born two defenders fated to protect the kingdom: a warrior with the soul of the hero and a sacred princess who is the goddess reborn.” So it’s all rather consistent with the emphasis on cycles.
If the entire Zelda franchise is built on cycles, then is it possible the entire timeline is just one big cycle itself?
The Inverse Analysis — Overall, this theory takes a few liberties that may make it difficult to fully connect the various pieces, especially if we consider the origin myth of Skyward Sword.
The legend told at the start of Skyward Sword notes that “the earth cracked wide and malevolent forces rushed forth from the fissure” and those evil forces sought the ultimate power protected by the goddess Hylia. She sent an “outcropping of earth” skyward to protect the surviving humans and the ultimate power before returning to fight and seal the evil forces.
But the Tears of the Kingdom trailers make it seem like Zelda and Link break the seal that’s holding Ganon’s mummified corpse down, and it’s the ensuing outpouring of dark malice that thrusts Hyrule Castle into the air. While none of this technically invalidates this theory, it’s still enough to make us assume that Tears of the Kingdom will do the same old Zelda thing by telling another legend that exists parallel to but apart from the rest.
Then again, it would be pretty cool if the entire franchise turned out to be one giant, two-headed ouroboros.