Legend of Zelda: How Tears of the Kingdom’s Possible Double Meaning Hints at a Major Timeline Shakeup

The long-awaited title to the game we've been calling The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 hints at some fascinating timeline possibilities.

The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom
Photo: Nintendo

The release of every new Legend of Zelda game is a cause for celebration, but the wait for Breath of the Wild‘s sequel has been especially difficult. Not only is Breath of the Wild considered one of the best entries in the franchise, but Nintendo has been especially secretive regarding pretty much every detail about the follow-up. They’ve even kept the sequel’s official name a secret due to its reported significance and potential spoilers. Now, though, we finally know what “Breath of the Wild 2” will officially be called. Based on our early read of the game’s debut trailer, and the possible implications of that subtitle, Nintendo may have been right to worry about sharing it too soon.

Nintendo capped off their latest Direct presentation by revealing a new trailer for the next Zelda game. While virtually everyone expected that game to cap off the latest Direct showcase, few expected that the project’s next trailer would finally reveal the project’s full title: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Even better, we now know that the game will launch on May 12, 2023.

That little trailer gives us a lot to talk about, and we hope to bring you more thoughts and analysis in due time. For now, though, the most significant piece of new information in that preview does seem to be the game’s “Tears of the Kingdom” subtitle. After all, that name (and a few of the trailer’s most fascinating details) strongly suggest that Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom don’t just take place at the end of one Zelda timeline but may actually exist somewhere at the end of every Zelda timeline.

Just what are the “tears of the kingdom?” Is that a play on the phrase “keys to the kingdom?” Possibly, but it’s even more likely that the title is referencing actual tears (or at least the divine equivalent of tears). After all, tears are a recurring item in later Legend of Zelda games. The first Zelda title to use them was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which asked players to collect Tears of Light in order to revive the Spirits of Light. Those tears reappeared in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Hyrule Warriors as collectibles needed to improve Link’s swords and as a resource item, respectively. The only other Zelda game to prominently feature tears thus far is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but in that game, the specific items are called Sacred Tears and are only used to stun the Guardians of the Silent Realm. Still, Skyward Sword is the earliest game in the Zelda timeline, so you could take that to mean that the concept of tears has technically been in the franchise’s lore since its known beginning.

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So where do the “Tears of the Kingdom” fit into all this? Well, the beginning of that new trailer clearly displays a mural of a mysterious figure with gigantic ears (or maybe wearing a fancy headdress) surrounded by seven tear-shaped symbols. These could be the titular “tears of the kingdom,” and it’s certainly possible that your main goal in the game could be to collect them. It wouldn’t be the first time a Zelda game was based around a plot-relevant MacGuffin, and, if true, the use of tears in that context would mark a return to a more classic Zelda adventure structure of collecting magical items. As for who the mysterious mural figure is, it could very well be yet another depiction of the Goddess Hylia, who reincarnated into a mortal form and would eventually create the royal family of Hyrule. In a sense, she essentially created the kingdom of Hyrule. Keep that little detail in mind for later.

Of course, thanks to the not-so-mystical power of homonyms, there is at least one other major way to interpret the Tears of the Kingdom subtitle. As you know, tears can refer to drops of liquid that are associated with crying, but at the same time, tears can also refer to rips or splits. In The Legend of Zelda’s case, those “tears of the kingdom” could certainly be related to physical items, but that title may also refer to rips in the fabric of space and time.

Much of the Tears of the Kingdom trailer centers around that aforementioned mural, which is mostly obscured in shadow. However, some segments are prominently displayed, such as what appears to be a hero leading the charge against a horde of bokoblins and moblins, as well as two different depictions of a figure that certainly appears to be Zelda. The mural is clearly displaying events in Hyrule’s history, but which part of Hyrule’s history? After all, the Legend of Zelda timeline famously splits into three distinct branches following the events of Ocarina of Time. As noted above, we know that Breath of the Wild occurs at the end of a timeline, but Nintendo has always been coy about which specific timeline it is set after. Maybe that’s because Tears of the Kingdom will somehow incorporate elements of all the timeline branches.

Intriguingly, the game’s trailer ends with a look at its updated logo, which includes two dragons (or serpents) entwined in a circle (more on that in a bit) and a Master Sword with a decidedly Twili-themed edge. For those who don’t know, the Twili are the inhabitants of the Twilight Realm from Twilight Princess. If that design is indeed a reference to the Twili, then Tears of the Kingdom would mark the first time the Twili are mentioned outside their introductory game (Hyrule Warriors notwithstanding), which could have serious implications for the Zelda timeline. While you could argue that logo places Tears of the Kingdom, and, by extension, Breath of the Wild, firmly in the “Hero is Triumphant” timeline, what if the games take place after all of the games in a kind of reunified timeline?

If that sounds confusing…well, it is. It’s also obviously unproven at this time. However, consider some of the other unsolved Tears of the Kingdom mysteries. For instance, who is the mummified man in the announcement trailer back when the game was still referred to as Breath of the Wild 2? He certainly looks like Ganondorf, but Ganon/Ganondorf was killed in Breath of the Wild. How can Ganondorf still be alive after Ganon’s death if they’re supposed to be the same person? Either the main villain of Tears of the Kingdom isn’t Ganondorf (perhaps they separated into different entities) or somehow, two distinct instances of Ganon/Ganondorf were living side by side in Hyrule during and prior to the events of Breath of the Wild. Since the game’s 2021 E3 trailer shows Link turning back time on a spiked ball of death, the latter seems more likely.

That brings us back to the idea that there are some serious timeline shenanigans happening in this game. Said shenanigans could have even fused three different incarnations of Hyrule into an appropriately calamitous single timeline. Even if that’s not exactly what’s happening, it’s becoming impossible to ignore Tears of the Kingdom‘s various little callbacks to previous games as well as its emphasis on Hyrule’s general history.

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Of course, this theory isn’t the only explanation. Maybe Tears of the Kingdom is a “sequel” in the sense that it was developed after Breath of the Wild, but perhaps the games aren’t actually connected chronologically. Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom could even take place in different timelines. In one, Ganon was the dominant force that kept resurrecting until he went crazy and became Calamity Ganon, and in the other, Ganondorf retained control and was eventually trapped underground. This alternative would still be a major timeline shakeup since many of us assumed that sequel would pick up after the previous game and take place in the same timeline. 

Then again, perhaps the “tear” in Tears of the Kingdom is less metaphysical and instead refers to the floating islands in the sky. After all, those sky-bound archipelagos are apparently a major element of the game, and judging by the trailers, they were formed by some unknown force tearing up the land. As a result, Tears of the Kingdom has a very Skyward Sword look to it, with an emphasis on verticality and platforming. We might be reading too much into things here, but that could also be the point.

Remember the dragons or serpents in the Tears of the Kingdom logo? This might be a case of apophenia (the tendency to see patterns where none exist) talking, but those creatures certainly seem to resemble the ouroboros: a symbol of the cycle of creation and destruction depicted by a circular snake devouring its own tail. The Zelda series started in Skyloft (chronologically speaking), so could Tears of the Kingdom see the rebirth of this floating sky island, which in turn could open up a brand new chapter of Zelda stories as history repeats itself (at first) before everything splinters off into more even more timelines?

While we likely won’t know the full meaning of Tears of the Kingdom‘s name until after we’ve all played the game in 2023, we do know that Nintendo was worried that the game’s name would reveal a little too much information. If the next Zelda game is set to upend the already wild nature of the infamous Zelda timeline…well, we can certainly understand why they’d go to such lengths to keep that a secret.