The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Structural analysis: Act III
With Zant out of the way, the Climax of Twilight Princess is focused on only four characters: Link, Midna, Zelda, and Ganondorf. For a Legend of Zelda game, this is to be expected, but for a story that focused on both Link’s friends and Midna’s people, the cast feels artificially constrained. The final conflict with Ganondorf also lacks weight due to his limited role in the first and Second Acts. Although his influence permeates the story, he doesn’t directly threaten any of the characters until the Climax. Every hurdle that the protagonists face is due to Zant, who has his own will beyond acting as Ganondorf’s proxy. Zant wished to become the King of the Twili because he believed that the Twili people were unfairly imprisoned; Ganondorf simply wants power for power’s sake. Other entries in the series may expand on those motivations, but within the confines of Twilight Princess, they’re barely paid lip service—and by the time they are, it’s too late for them to matter. In the end, it all comes back to the Billy Wilder quote from the Act I study: “If you have a problem with the Third Act, the real problem is in the First Act.” The Climax isn’t weak because of the scene itself; it’s weak because the scene isn’t properly supported by the Opening.
The Climax begins when Link and Midna enter the gardens of Hyrule Castle. Together, Link and Midna fight their way through full battalion of Ganondorf’s guards. The Bulbin King who kidnapped Ilia and Colin also makes an appearance, if only to surrender to Link’s superior fighting skills. Like many of the details in Twilight Princess, his mini-arc is interesting when viewed by itself but makes no sense within the game at large. His only plot-relevant actions were the multiple kidnappings he conducted, and neither of them had any purpose. In the end, the Bulbin King didn’t serve the strongest; he served the demands of the plot.
Once the Bulbin King and his kind have been defeated, Link and Midna make their way to the top of Hyrule Castle. Princess Zelda is waiting for them, hovering in the center of the throne room in suspended animation. It’s not clear how her body was restored, but what is clear is that she’s not going to be easily saved, as Ganondorf is sitting on the throne below her. It’s yet another throwback to Ocarina of Time, right down to the way the shots are framed. Unfortunately, it lacks the punch that Ocarina of Time‘s climax carried, as that iteration of Ganondorf was established as the primary antagonist from the start. This Ganondorf is an afterthought, one meant to invoke the positive feelings associated with a previous title without doing that title’s work.
Ganondorf welcomes Link and Midna to ‘his’ castle, making his new position clear. He then thanks Midna for the anguish of her people, as it gave him the power to reawaken. They were amusing to him, he says, as they had some power, but not the kind granted by his gods. His power is what makes him qualified to be this world’s ruler. This invocation of the game’s theme helps define Ganondorf as an antagonist, as he sets himself in opposition to Midna and Zelda. While the two princesses believe that strong rulers put their people first, Ganondorf believes that strong rulers are defined solely by their power.
When Ganondorf declares himself king, Midna proclaims that she will defy him to the last. It’s a show of bravery that’s immediately tested when Ganondorf attacks Princess Zelda. Midna hurls herself in his path, ready to absorb the blow, but Ganondorf slips through and possesses the Hylian Princess’s body. Midna is tempted to crush Ganondorf while he hides inside Zelda’s body, but she cannot bring herself to do it. This quiet moment shows how much Midna has changed from the selfish, headstrong loner she was in Act I. She has learned gratitude and compassion, traits that lead her to both risk her life for Zelda and spare Zelda’s life after her possession.
Ganondorf repays Midna’s kindness by tossing her aside, forcing Link to fight the possessed Zelda himself. Thankfully, Link buys enough time for Midna to join in with her Fused Shadows, and she’s able to rip Ganondorf out of Zelda’s body while sparing Zelda’s life.
When Ganondorf pulls himself together from the darkness, he adopts the form of an enormous boar. Link engages him in wolf form, and with Midna’s help, they successfully subdue the evil beast. As he fades into the darkness, fragments of light emerge from Midna’s body and return to Princess Zelda. Zelda’s eyelashes flutter open, and she awakens for the first time since the game’s midpoint. Midna opens her mouth to speak, but Zelda tells her there’s nothing she needs to say. “Your heart and mine were as one, however briefly…” Zelda proclaims. “Such suffering you have endured…” Midna hangs her head, jaw quivering. Yet again, Twilight Princess chooses to show Midna’s emotion through silence to powerful effect.
Black smoke pools along the ground as Ganondorf begins to reform once more. To protect Link and Zelda, Midna teleports the duo to the safety of Hyrule Field and equips the Fused Shadows to fight Ganondorf one-on-one. It’s another example of how selfless she’s become since her introduction. It also foreshadows her willingness to separate herself from her friends for the good of the group, which will come into play in the Wrap-Up.
The scene shifts to Link and Zelda’s reformation in Hyrule Field. As they struggle to get their bearings, the castle explodes in a burst of rock. Ganondorf emerges from the dust on horseback. He’s holding Midna’s helmet, which he shatters in his fist. This cinematic shot is a call-back to Link’s earlier horseback heroics on the Eldin Bridge when he’s framed similarly after triumphing over the Bulbins. But this time, it is not the hero who has triumphed; it is the villain.
As Ganondorf charges at Link and Zelda, Zelda calls upon the Light Spirits to create powerful arrows that can knock him off his horse. With those arrows and Link’s riding skills, Zelda is able to slow Ganondorf down enough to dismount him, and Link duels Ganondorf in a ring of light. Like the previous encounter in Ganon’s tower, this set-up bears a striking similarity to Ocarina of Time‘s final encounter. This climactic conflict ought to carry some weight after Midna’s apparent demise at Ganondorf’s hands, but the abrupt transition into the final fight leaves no room to dwell on why it started. The only thing Ganondorf feels the need to comment on before the fighting starts is their swords, which has some meaning to him but little relevance to the story as a whole. Still, his obsession with swords does pay off within the scene, as the fight ends when Link knocks Ganondorf onto his back and stabs him in the very wound the Sages left with their sword.
Ganondorf staggers to his feet with the Master Sword sticking out of his stomach. Although he proclaims that the battle is not over, the Triforce of Power cannot sustain him. As its glow of the Triforce fades from his hand, the scene cuts to an image of Zant, who stares ahead blankly for a moment before tilting his head so far to the side that it snaps. While it’s unclear what’s happening here in the literal sense, the way Ganondorf’s eyes go dull makes the meaning clear: Ganondorf has no more power. He dies on his feet, sword still in his abdomen. The camera draws back, showing Link and Zelda against the horizon as they stare at Ganondorf’s once-proud corpse. It’s a visually satisfying scene, but its impact is limited, as Ganondorf simply wasn’t developed enough to make him an effective antagonist.
As an extension of the Climax, the Wrap-Up to Twilight Princess works because completes the established character arcs and closes its loose ends. As an epilogue to the entire narrative, the Wrap-Up suffers from the same issues as the Climax: it fails to deliver on any of the plotlines established in the game’s First and Second Acts and instead focuses almost entirely on Link, Midna, and Zelda. This puts the Wrap-Up in the strange position of succeeding based on the preceding plot point but failing based on the narrative as a whole.
The Wrap-Up begins once Ganondorf has been slain. As Link and Zelda collect themselves, a warm glow fills the horizon. The light spirits gather around a small shadow that appears to be Midna. When they disappear, Link charges up the hill to confirm for himself. It’s an emotional moment that builds on the strong companionship they’ve cultivated throughout the game. Link may be a silent protagonist, but his actions in this scene show that Midna changed him as much as he changed her.
At the top of the hill, Link skids to a halt in the presence of a robed figure on their knees. The stranger stands and turns, revealing their face. It’s a staggeringly tall woman with fiery hair, yellow eyes, and blue-grey skin: all features that defined Midna. As Link stands agape, the woman laughs and says: “What? Say something! Am I so beautiful that you’ve no words left?” It takes Link a moment to recover, but then he smiles, and the picture fades to black.
The next scene opens after an undetermined amount of time, at the top of Arbiter’s Grounds. Link, Zelda, and Midna are all gathered around the door to the Twilight Realm. Midna makes it clear that this is goodbye, as their two worlds cannot mix. Neither Link nor Zelda disagrees with her, but Zelda comments that light cannot exist without shadow, and vice versa. In her eyes, it must have been the will of the gods that they would meet. Midna nods, recognizing the sincerity in Zelda’s words, and accepts that Hyrule may yet thrive if its people are like its princess. Her wry expression adds her signature sardonic tone to the comment, but she speaks as sincerely as Zelda.
Once Midna’s said farewell to Zelda, she thanks Link for his help with a sad smile. So long as the Mirror of Twilight exists, she reminds him, they might be able to meet again. Then a tear rolls down her eye. As it glows with divine light, she lifts it into the air and flicks it towards the mirror, saying: “Link… I… See you later…” They’re the last words she utters before the Mirror splinters outward in a spiderweb of shards. As she races up the steps, Link and Zelda don matching looks of horror as they realize what Midna has done.
With one final smile, Midna fades into the shadows. The moment she’s gone, the mirror shatters into countless fragments that glitter in the twilight. It’s a powerful moment not only because of the impact it has on Link and Zelda, but also because of the way it was set up. The decision calls upon Midna’s personal growth, show-casing her newfound selflessness, and it invokes the theme by solidifying her status as the ‘true ruler’ of the Twili. The tear she uses to break the mirror also demonstrates the strength of her relationships with Zelda and Link, which were both established in the Inciting Incident and developed with each additional plot point. Midna’s decision to isolate herself is heartbreaking for everyone involved, yet it is also satisfying because it is consistent with the character she has become.
With Midna’s plotline concluded, the credits roll over glimpses of Hyrule’s many iconic locations. The final shots return to Ordon Village, where one of the villagers yells outside Link’s house and receives no answer. Nearby, Ilia waits by the village gates, watching something in the distance. The last shot is of Link riding away from the village, setting out to parts unknown. It’s a natural conclusion to the game’s Third Act, as the exploration of Link’s relationship with Midna leads to the assumption that he’s directionless in her absence. However, it doesn’t work nearly so well as a Wrap-Up to the First Act because it contradicts the established relationship Link has with the people of Ordon. Like the rest of the Third Act, the Wrap-Up is both a success and a failure, depending upon how it’s judged.
Early pacing issues and conflicting plotlines cost Twilight Princess much of its early momentum, but the narrative picks up once it focuses on Midna’s development and strips away extraneous characters. This gradual pivot leaves the First and Third Acts feeling disconnected to the point where Climax has little to do with the opening. This creates a disjointed experience that can neither be entirely praised nor entirely condemned. While the highs it reaches with Midna’s character growth are some of the best in the series, the lows it hits with Ilia’s haphazard plotline are some of the worst. Ultimately, the game suffers from trying to tell two different stories at once: the story of Ordon and the story of Midna. It is only when it makes the questionable decision to let one of those stories go that the other is allowed to shine. Whether that was the right decision or not is open to interpretation, but there is no doubt that the narrative could have been improved through judicious editing.
* Reference Run: SourceSpy91. The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD – MAIN QUEST – FULL GAME Walkthrough. YouTube, 2019.
** Reference Script: Ashley Bakaitus, Eleanor Bennett, and Daniel Brabander. Twilight Princess Project. http://zelda.obdurodon.org, 2008.