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Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s story and ending explained

The Legend of Zelda series has always been known for its heroic fantasy stories, even if some of those tales follow a simple hero’s journey structure. But Tears of the Kingdom takes the franchise’s narrative ambitions to a new level. It tells a sprawling epic that spans eras, digging into the lost history of Hyrule. It’s an important installment for the series — one that’s sure to confuse the heck out of anyone who fancies themselves a “Zelda timeline” historian.

With all the time-jumping shenanigans and the heaps of lore, it can be a little hard to keep the events of Tears of the Kingdom straight. Whether you’re looking to clarify some story beats or are just interested in seeing where the tale goes, we’re here to help with a rundown of both the basic story and ending of Tears of the Kingdom.

It goes without saying that the following article contains spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (as well as the ending of Breath of the Wild). I’ll be going through what happens in the memories scattered around Hyrule, as well as some content tied to quests. That includes the ending, but I still highly recommend playing the game to its end, as its final gameplay sequence is worth experiencing firsthand.

Link’s story, explained

Tears of the Kingdom takes place after the events of Breath of the Wild, in which Link successfully defeats Calamity Ganon. It’s not exactly clear how long after that battle we pick up from, but it seems that a few years have passed. In any case, the story begins with Link and Zelda exploring the depths of Hyrule. They discover a few key things down there, including a red substance called gloom that’s infecting Hyrule.

The bigger discovery, though, is a set of murals depicting an event called the Imprisoning War. That conflict saw the ancient people of Hyrule (the lost Zonai race) fighting the Demon King Ganondorf and sealing him away. While The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past also had an Imprisoning War with a similar premise, the event in Tears of the Kingdom appears to be its own thing entirely. Shortly after that, Link and Zelda actually find the imprisoned corpse of Ganondorf, which has been sealed with a tear-like stone. That doesn’t last long.

Link and Zelda under Hyrule Castle.

Ganondorf springs to life, which causes Link to draw the Master Sword – a weapon powerful enough to defeat him. Unfortunately, Ganondorf uses the gloom to destroy both the sword and Link’s arm. Most notable about the scene is that Ganondorf somehow knows who Link and Zelda are, mocking someone named Rauru for putting their faith in Link. With the heroes thwarted, Ganondorf raises Hyrule Castle into the sky. Zelda falls into the blackness below before disappearing with a yellow flash, while a mysterious blue arm brings Link to safety on the Sky Islands above.

We learn that Link was saved by the spirit of Rauru, an ancient Zonai creature who was the first king of Hyrule. It turns out Ganondorf destroyed Link’s arm in the encounter, so Rauru replaced it with a mechanical one that he’s able to communicate through. After completing a few shrines, Rauru leads Link to the Temple of Time, where he places his destroyed Master Sword on a pedestal. It disappears, but somehow reappears in front of Zelda in the same location.

Before I dive too deep into Zelda’ story, let’s get the easy part out of the way. Link must defeat Ganondorf by regaining his power and investigating some mysteries in Hyrule. He goes to different cities and helps the various races deal with issues caused by the gloom (the Zora’s water is poisoned, for instance). As he explores, he meets the ancestors of the people that imprisoned Ganondorf originally: Sidon, Tulin, Riju, and Yunobo. Each character inherits their ancestors’ sage powers and tear stone during the main story, vowing to help Link in the final battle.

Yunobo in Tears of the Kingdom.

After gaining those allies, Link eventually learns that there was a secret fifth sage as well. A long questline eventually takes him to an underground forge where he meets the spirit of a Zonai named Mineru, the elder sister of Rauru and the spirit sage. Link creates a mech out of Zonai devices, which Mineru is able to inhabit, allowing her to fight alongside the other sages in the battle against Ganondorf.

With all the pieces in place, Link has assembled a small army capable of storming Ganondorf’s sky castle. There’s just one problem: Where the heck is Zelda?

Zelda’s story explained

Here’s where things get a little strange. There’s a doppelganger version of Zelda running around Link’s time causing mayhem that doesn’t appear to be the real princess.

Zelda holding the decayed Master Sword in Tears of the Kingdom.

It turns out that when Zelda was separated from Link, she traveled back in time. She reemerges in ancient Hyrule and meets Rauru and his wife, Sonia, who take her in. That’s how she gets the destroyed Master Sword, which has somehow traveled back in time too. Zelda is determined to get back to her time, but the king and queen don’t know how she can. They suggest she speak to Mineru, who mentions that she could potentially return through a process called dragonification. That occurs when someone swallows a tear stone, turning them into an eternal dragon. Zelda could theoretically do that and return to her time simply by living long enough, but the process is strictly forbidden as it’s irreversible.

In the meantime, Sonia trains Zelda to harness the time powers she appears to possess. The princess also tells Sonia about Link, the hero from her own time who has the power to fight darkness. That winds up being a crucial detail.

It turns out that all of this is occurring in the middle of the Imprisoning War. Ganondorf launches an attack on Hyrule and is thwarted by Rauru. In defeat, the Demon King notices Rauru’s tear stone. Ganondorf pledges his allegiance to Rauru in Hyrule court, but that’s simply a ruse to get closer to his power. The Demon King tries to trick Sonia by sending a gloom-creature disguised as Zelda to meet with her. She sees through the ruse, but Ganondorf stabs her in the back, kills her, and steals her stone. That truly transforms him into the Demon King, forcing Rauru to retreat with Zelda as Ganondorf calls an army of monsters to Hyrule.

A sage grabbing ganon by the throat.

From there, we get more backstory on the original sages. Rauru calls the five Link met together, as well as Zelda, and gives each their own stone. They pledge their allegiance to Rauru and become the sages sworn to defeat Ganondorf. Zelda tells Rauru that Ganondorf is alive in her time, so she knows whatever they do won’t actually defeat him. Their only hope is to stall him and leave the rest to Link in the future. That’s exactly what happens, as the sages seal Ganondorf and Rauru sacrifices his life in the process.

Tears of the Kingdom ending, explained

All of that sets the stage for an epic final act where time really gets screwy. With Ganondorf imprisoned, Zelda still needs to find a way back to her time with a restored Master Sword. It turns out that the weapon can be repaired, but it’ll take a long time as the blade needs to be bathed in light for a while. She finds a way to kill two birds with one stone — and I mean that quite literally.

Zelda puts Mineru’s spirit into her Purah Pad and entrusts it with an ancient Zonai who will give it to Link in the future. Then, she swallows her secret stone and grabs the destroyed Master Sword right before she transforms into an eternal dragon. With the sword stabbed into her head, her light power is able to restore the blade over the course of centuries as Zelda lives long enough to return to Link’s timeline. Link eventually discovers all this and pulls the fixed sword out of Zelda’s head.

Link holds up the master sword on top of a dragon.

With five sages and a fixed Master Sword, Link heads to Hyrule Castle to defeat Ganondorf. It turns out that he’s not actually in the sky fortress though; he’s in the depths below the surface. Link and the sages dive down and launch an attack on Ganondorf’s army (if you haven’t gotten all the sages, Link also has to fight the bosses at the end of their temples too). After clearing out the army, Link and the sages battle Ganondorf.

On the brink of defeat, the Demon King pulls one last move: he swallows his own stone and becomes a dragon himself. Luckily, Link has a dragon of his own to help him. Dragon Zelda swoops in and assists Link as he destroys Ganondorf for good. Link then uses Rauru and Sonia’s power stored in his arm to restore Zelda back to her human form. The two gather back at the Temple of Time with the new sages and Mineru formally entrusts the kingdom of Hyrule to them.

That’s where the happy ending leaves off. There isn’t much of a sequel setup other than Zelda and Link swearing to protect Hyrule again with new sages at their side. It isn’t clear if the next Zelda game will continue that story or jump into a new part of the timeline, but Tears of the Kingdom does tie off the story neatly. Perhaps we’ll get more lore in one final musou spinoff like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is out now on Nintendo Switch.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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