The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Structural analysis: Part II
The fifth step on Harmon’s story circle, ‘Find,’ is similar to the Three-Act Structure’s midpoint. It represents the opposite of the first point, ‘You,’ which is when the hero is in a zone of comfort. The ‘Find’ step is the zone of discomfort, where everything that the character took for granted has been thrown into upheaval. As Harmon says:
“This is where the universe’s natural tendency to pull your protagonist downward has done its job, and for X amount of time, we experience weightlessness. Anything goes down here. This is a time for major revelations, and total vulnerability.”1
In Breath of the Wild, this major revelation is Zelda’s realization that prayer and dedication are not enough to unlock her power. She took that assumption for granted, and now that it has been debunked, she must face Calamity Ganon without her power.
Zelda’s ‘Find’ moment occurs in the aptly-named ‘Return of Calamity Ganon’ flashback, which begins at the foot of Mount Lanayru. Zelda has journeyed to the spring at the peak, just as planned, and has returned empty-handed. This is not the way Zelda thought her story would end. All her life, she was told that devoting herself to her prayers would yield results, yet she has reached the end of the line with nothing to show for it.
Her champions express varying levels of dismay, but they’re all committed to helping her find other ways to unlock her power. The Zora champion, Mipha, is just about to make a suggestion when an earthquake rocks the group. Revali, capable of flight, blasts into the sky to scout out the situation. Sure enough, it’s the exact scenario they’ve been dreading all this time: the rise of Calamity Ganon. The champions are ready to fight together, but first, Urbosa wants to put Zelda someplace safe. Zelda won’t hear of it, however, saying: “I am not a child anymore! I may not be much use on the battlefield…But there must…there must be something I can do to help!” With the darkest hour approaching, Zelda is unwilling to give up. Even without her sealing powers, she’s committed to standing with her champions. This choice is an essential component to the Find step, as Harmon notes:
“[Find] is also another threshold, in that everything past this point will take a different direction (namely UPWARD), but note that one is not dragged kicking and screaming through these curtains. One hovers here. One will make a choice, then ascend.” Zelda has made her choice; now, it is time to ascend.2
Walking a new path is no easy process. That’s why Step Six, ‘Take,’ corresponds to the Three-Act Structure’s ‘Disaster’ moment. Even though the hero has made their choice, it comes at a high price. Zelda’s ‘Take’ moment exacts a particularly high toll, as it costs her many of her allies. It’s only the realization of what truly matters that keeps her from losing Link as well, and that realization is what allows her to continue her ascension to step seven.
Zelda’s ‘Take’ step is split across two flashbacks: ‘Despair’ and ‘Zelda’s Awakening.’ Set shortly after ‘Return of Calamity Ganon,’ ‘Despair’ depicts the direct aftermath of his attack. The Guardians and the Divine Beasts have both been hijacked by Ganon, leading to untold devastation. The four champions are trapped inside their respective Beasts, the kingdom has fallen, and Zelda’s father is certain to die. Only Link and Zelda are left, forced to flee through the mud and rain before the Guardians can catch up with them. It’s only a matter of time before Zelda loses her footing and falls into the dirt, where Link holds her as she weeps into his arms. “It’s all my fault!” she says through tears. “All my friends…the entire kingdom…my father most of all…I tried, and I failed them all… I’ve left them…all to die.” These words echo the emotions of the quintessential ‘All is Lost’ moment, except there’s still someone Zelda has yet to lose: Link.
The second flashback in the set, ‘Zelda’s Awakening,’ depicts Link’s last stand against an army of Guardians. As the Guardians swarm beneath a spark-filled sky, the battered-and-bruised Link can barely stand. Zelda begs him to run, but he refuses, taking up his sword when a Guardian spots them. It charges a powerful beam, aiming for Link’s head, but Zelda pushes him aside and holds out her hand. The holy light of the Triforce glows in its center, and a blinding light fills the field. One by one, the Guardians collapse, purged of the evil that inhabited them. Zelda barely has time to register what’s happened before she hears Link fall behind her. She runs to his side and holds him, telling him he’s going to be all right, but he’s already slipping away from consciousness.
As she clutches him to her chest, the sword in his hand emits a strange chime and glows a powerful blue. Zelda tilts her head, listening as if the sword is speaking to her, and asks if Link can still be saved. At that moment, her royal retainers come running, and Zelda commands them to take Link to the Shrine of Resurrection. This healing spot, built using the same technology as the Divine Beasts and the Guardians, is the only way she can save Link. She won’t be coming with them, however. Instead, she must proceed to step seven on her own: the Return.
In Harmon’s story circle, step seven, ‘Return,’ marks the point at which the hero journeys out of the darkness and returns to the light of the familiar. The look of this process can vary depending on how the hero’s journey has gone thus far. “For some characters,” says Harmon, “this is as easy as hugging the scarecrow goodbye and waking up. For others, this is where the extraction team finally shows up and pulls them out- what Campbell calls ‘Rescue from Without.‘”3 For Zelda, it is the moment when she returns Link’s sword to its place in the Lost Woods, where it will wait for him to awaken from his long slumber.
The flashback entitled ‘The Master Sword’ begins with Zelda kneeling in front of the Great Deku Tree, an elder guardian in the heart of the Lost Woods. As the Deku Tree looks on, Zelda speaks to the sword, saying that although Link’s slumber will almost certainly remove his memories, he will still be driven to return to his sword. When the Deku Tree asks her what she plans to do next, she says the sword has spoken to her, and her work is not yet finished. She then asks the Deku Tree to deliver a message to Link when he awakens, but the elder tree stops her and says: “Words intended for him would sound much better in the tones of your voice, don’t you think?” She agrees, and then she places the Master Sword in its pedestal to await Link’s return.
Chronologically, ‘The Master Sword’ is the final flashback in the game, but it is not the end of Zelda’s story. The end of her ‘Return’ step, while not shown directly, is related to Link via her father’s spirit. Once Link has awakened from his sleep, the king’s ghost reveals that Zelda returned to Hyrule Castle to fight Ganon alone, and she has been holding him back for one hundred years. When Link is by her side once more, she will finally be able to purge Ganon from the world. This marks the transition to the eighth and final step: ‘Change.’
Harmon’s final step, ‘Change,’ corresponds with the Three-Act Structure’s Climax. In Harmon’s words:
“In an action film, you’re guaranteed a showdown here. In a courtroom drama, here comes the disruptive, sky-punching cross examination that leaves the murderer in a tearful confession. In a love story, the man runs across the tarmac, stops the taxiing airplane, gets on board and [confesses his love].”4
For Princess Zelda, the ‘Change’ step is both an action film and a love story, as it weaves together her fight against Ganon with the love she feels for Link. Whether that love is familial, affectionate, or romantic is ultimately irrelevant in the face of the larger truth: protecting Link was what allowed her to find her powers. Therefore, it is natural that he be present for her ‘Change’ step, as this step represents the culmination of everything she has learned.
The final step begins when Link reaches the top of Hyrule Castle, where both Zelda and Ganon wait for him. Zelda has sealed herself inside Ganon, forcing him into cocooned stasis, but her power is failing, and she can no longer hold Ganon back. The beast bursts through, forcing Link into battle. When Ganon is seemingly defeated, he explodes in a shower of pink light, but this is merely a brief respite—a false climax. The true climax comes when Ganon reforms in Hyrule field. He’s larger and meaner than ever before: a hideous monster made from the purest rage.
Zelda, still sealed inside Ganon, offers Link a Bow of Light for the fight ahead. He takes the weapon and uses it to shoot through the seals of light that Zelda marks on Ganon from within. By striking the final seal, Link liberates Zelda, and she appears at Ganon’s feat. The beast lowers his head to her level, meeting her eye, and she is finally able to face down the great evil that has been threatening her since she took her first steps on the story circle. Before traveling the circle, Zelda could have never met Ganon head-on, but her journey has changed her physically and emotionally. She now possesses her sealing power, along with the confidence and the motivation to wield it.
With her hands folded in prayer, echoing her earlier prayers during the ‘Search’ step, Zelda calls on the divine power of her ancestors. A brilliant light floods her body and spills out over the field, forcing Ganon into the sky. He twists and writhes under the sacred assault, but he is powerless in the face of what she has become. She is the master of her power: the fully-realized hero.
1, 2, 3, 4 Harmon, Dan. Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details. Channel101, 2009.
* Reference Footage: Gamespot. All 18 Memories In Order – Zelda Breath Of The Wild **SPOILERS**. YouTube, 2017.
** Additional Reference Footage: Funderburk, Joey. All 18 Memories In Order – Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (No Subtitles). YouTube, 2017.