Twilight Princess – The Arbiter’s Grounds

Arbiter's Grounds Entryway

I think we all need to agree that the Arbiter’s Grounds dungeon in Twilight Princess is seriously fucked up.

After Ocarina of Time, there are two Hyrules. There is the “adult timeline” Hyrule in which Ganondorf is defeated by Link and sealed away. This becomes the Wind Waker timeline. Zelda then splits the timeline by sending Link back to a past in which Ganondorf has not yet entered the Sacred Realm. This becomes the Twilight Princess timeline.

In the latter timeline, Zelda manages to convince the King of Hyrule that Ganondorf is plotting treason. This ultimately results in what we can assume to be the imprisonment of almost all of the Gerudo. A massive prison is built over the Gerudo Fortress (although there is also a theory that it’s built over the Spirit Temple, which some people dispute), and everyone (including children, as there are tiny skeletons in the dungeon) is presumably executed. Meanwhile, Ganondorf is chained to some sort of sacrificial altar and condemned to a barbaric death without any sort of trial or due process.

Judging from Midna’s explanation of who the Twili are, which is corroborated by the light spirit Lanayru, this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened in Hyrule.

Earlier in the game, Zelda had said to Midna that “These dark times are the result of our deeds, yet it is you who have reaped the penalty.”

This statement is deliberately opaque, but she’s not wrong.

I’m fascinated by the Zelda of Ocarina of Time. She is brave, clever, and resourceful, but she makes horrible decisions. As an adult, she takes pity on Link and sends him back to the past, thereby depriving her world of its hero. As a child, she is responsible for the genocide of an entire race. Given that there is a third timeline branching out from Ocarina of Time in which Link is defeated, it’s possible that she’s actually responsible for the doom of multiple Hyrules. The Zelda of Ocarina of Time is at the center of a nexus of timelines in which terrible things happen.

All things considered, the Twilight Princess timeline actually has the least catastrophic outcome. Still, I can’t help but wonder what Zelda, who by all rights is not a bad person, must have been thinking as the Gerudo were rounded up and the Arbiter’s Grounds were constructed. How could she have possibly justified this to herself, even knowing that it was the least of all possible evils?

This is why I want a game narrated from the perspective of an adult Zelda. When all of your choices are unconscionable, how do you find the wisdom to choose?

All this being said…

In my own head, the Ganondorf in Twilight Princess is not the same Ganondorf that caused all the trouble that led to Ocarina of Time. Even if OoT Zelda’s father absolutely broke Hyrule (as Veran, acting through Queen Ambi, attempted to break Labrynna through the construction of the Black Tower in Oracle of Ages), something like the Arbiter’s Grounds could not have been constructed quickly. Ganondorf, who is wearing a crown and a full suit of armor (instead of a bodysuit) when he’s executed, doesn’t look like he’s been imprisoned for years.

Of course, it could have taken Hyrule years to catch Ganondorf, while the time he spent fighting or fleeing from the kingdom’s forces changed the way he presented himself. During the scene in which the sages appear before the broken mirror, they say that Ganondorf was blind and easily caught, but there’s no way of knowing whether they’re telling the truth or just trying to make themselves (or their predecessors) look good. There’s also no way of knowing whether the sages that Link encounters are the same sages that dealt with Ganondorf in the first place.

Still, when Link returns to Telma’s Bar after this scene, Auru tells him that the sages who spoke to him in the Mirror Chamber were once tutors to Princess Zelda. I’m not sure how he could have known this, and he could simply be repeating bits of hearsay, just as Shad doesn’t have the full (canonical) story regarding the sky people. But if he’s correct, and if the same sages that Link met are the sages that witnessed Ganondorf’s banishment into the Twilight Realm, and if the sages are mortal enough to act as Zelda’s tutors instead of being kept in a state of suspended animation in the Sacred Realm (as Rauru apparently was in Ocarina of Time), then it would make infinitely more sense for TP Ganondorf to have been caught and imprisoned during TP Zelda’s lifetime.

This is what Hyrule Historia (p.113) has to say, however:

In Hyrule, Princess Zelda was informed of what would happen in the future by Link, the Hero of Time. She realized that leaving Ganondorf to his own devices would cause the downfall of her kingdom. Many years later, Ganondorf, the infamous demon thief who wielded the power of magic, was finally to be executed.

The Ancient Sages performed the execution of Ganondorf in the Arbiter’s Grounds. However, Ganondorf, who had been chosen by the Triforce of Power, did not perish, and managed to kill one of the sages. Thrown into a panic, the remainder of the sages used the Mirror of Twilight to banish Ganondorf to the Twilight Realm. They were then instructed by the gods to protect the mirror.

Ganondorf and his malice, sent to the Twilight Realm, plunged the shadowy domain into madness.

Of course this raises more questions than it answers. Having Twilight Princess adhere to the strict timeline laid out in Hyrule Historia will always be problematic.

( Header image from Sacred Flames on Tumblr )

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