How Tears of the Kingdom Fits Into the Zelda Timeline

Breath of the Wild's open-world was a new beginning for the Zelda franchise, but Tears of the Kingdom's timeline hints suggest we didn't know the half of what a fresh start that game was.

Tears of the Kingdom Zelda Timeline
Photo: Nintendo

For decades, fans have struggled to lay out the Legend of Zelda series’ chronology. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild didn’t help matters as it introduced a Hyrule ravaged by Calamity Ganon. Nobody really knew which part of the timeline the game fit into; just that it took place in the far future of one of them.

The latest Legend of Zelda game, Tears of the Kingdom, is a sequel to Breath of the Wild. The game’s first teaser trailer stated that fact quite blunty, so clearly Tears of the Kingdom must take place after Breath of the Wild. For the most part, that does seem to be the case. Many characters from Breath of the Wild return in this game (including Riju, Purah, and Tulin) slightly older and slightly different than they were before. Heck, Hyrule now has a newspaper, so several years have clearly passed. Of course, none of these elements help us definitively determine which branch of the infamously confusing Zelda timeline Tears of the Kingdom (and, by extension, Breath of the Wild) sits in.

However, Ganondorf may be a big part of the key to this mystery. By now, most Zelda fans should be well-acquainted with Ganondorf. He, or, at the very least, his porcine alter ego Ganon, has been a major recurring villain ever since the series began. Whenever players fight one or the other, we either face the original Ganon or a reincarnation.

While it’s odd Ganondorf is the main villain of Tears of the Kingdom since players killed Ganon in Breath of the Wild, I’m not complaining since the resulting game is fantastic. Well, that and the fact that Ganondorf is often the crux of the Zelda timeline.

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For those who don’t know, Ganondorf essentially split the history of Hyrule thanks to a time paradox. The Link of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time sealed Ganondorf in the future, leading to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and its sequels. Yet Link, as a child, also foiled Ganondorf’s plans in the past, creating the timeline where The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess exist. And because quantum physics states every possibility that can happen will happen, one timeline involves Link dying, thus letting Ganondorf win and lead into the events of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Thanks to the multiverse theory, each timeline is technically canon. While their respective Ganons and Ganondorfs all sprouted from the same King of Thieves, they ended up becoming different people (kind of). So which one did Tears of the Kingdom’s Ganondorf spawn from? Surprisingly, most signs point to “none of the above.”

As with Breath of the Wild, parts of Tears of the Kingdom’s story unfold through memories. In one of them, Ganondorf pledges his loyalty to the king of Hyrule. This scene mirrors Ganondorf’s actions in Ocarina of Time, except he isn’t bowing before a Hylian king; Ganondorf is bowing before King Rauru, the first king of Hyrule. That’s the same Rauru that gives Link his right arm at the beginning of Tears of the Kingdom. A later memory reveals that Rauru sacrificed his life to seal Ganondorf underneath Hyrule Castle, which is where players find him at the start of the game. Apparently, Ganondorf rotted away there for a good 10,000 years.

Given this information, we might have to throw out everything we thought we knew about the timeline placement of Tears of the Kingdom (and Breath of the Wild). Since the game states Ganondorf was present for the founding of Hyrule, that must place Tears of the Kingdom somewhere between The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time, right? Well, no. Koroks and Rito are present in Tears of the Kingdom, and according to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker lore, the Kokiri and Zora evolved into those races in response to the Great Flood. And you can clearly see Rito in the flashbacks that take place 10,000 years ago. So what gives? Were the Koroks and Rito actually alive but in hiding during previous Zelda games? Probably not, but I have two theories.

One possible explanation is that Tears of the Kingdom actually takes place in the far future. Shocking, I know, given that Nintendo previously confirmed as much, but I’m talking about a far, far future so removed from prior entries that the world underwent a reset and the Hylians/Zonai founded a second Kingdom of Hyrule that mirrors the Hyrules of past entries but functions differently. Whether or not the Ganondorf in Tears of the Kingdom is one from a previous Zelda game or an actual reincarnation doesn’t really matter. However, that theory still has a few holes in it, such as how the Rito and Zora exist side by side in this world. That is where my second theory comes into play.

Given all the contradictions between previous Zelda games and Tears of the Kingdom, we can probably conclude that the game, and by extension Breath of the Wild, isn’t connected to the rest of the Zelda canon at all. Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom most likely occur in their own separate, fourth timeline. Plenty of similarities link the disparate histories (such as Bokoblins, Gorons, the Triforce, and Hyrule itself) but a complete disconnect resolves most, if not all, inconsistencies. This includes why Rito and Zora can exist at the same time, how Ganondorf witnessed the founding of Hyrule, and whatever is going on with the Gerudo’s new Amazonian anatomy.

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Since the above theory is nothing more than conjecture based on context clues, do not take it as anything more than, well, a theory. Unless Nintendo explicitly states when The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom takes place in the Zelda timeline, we have no idea how it actually fits in with the rest of the franchise’s canon. Then again, one could easily assume each Zelda game exists within its own separate universe, regardless of what Nintendo says. How else could you explain the constantly shuffling geography of Hyrule? Or how the realistic (for 1998) world of Ocarina of Time canonically spawned the cartoonish people of Wind Waker, many of whom sport oversized heads and stubby legs?

But what are your thoughts? Do you have any theories or headcanon of your own? Let us know in the comments below.