Hyrule Castle is the final dungeon of the game, but it doesn’t really feel like a dungeon. Instead of emphasizing exploration and puzzle solving, Hyrule Castle is a stronghold to be breached.
Midna fires the first salvo by using the magic of the Fused Shadows to transform into a flying tentacle monster. The dark magic of the Twili, when combined with the power of the Triforce of Wisdom, allows her to break through the golden barrier surrounding Hyrule Castle.
Link must then fight his way through hordes of monsters. Rusl, Shad, Ashei, and Auru show up at a certain point, but they don’t do much and seem like an afterthought. Mostly it’s just Link and his sword against an army of Bulblins and armored knights called Darknuts. Link’s goal is to make it to the throne room on the upper level of the castle.
When he gets there, Ganondorf is waiting for him. “Welcome to my castle,” he says. Then he delivers his villain monologue:
Your people have long amused me, Midna. To defy the gods with such petty magic, only to be cast aside… How very pathetic. Pathetic as they were, though, they served me well. Their anguish was my nourishment. Their hatred bled across the void and awakened me. I drew deep of it and grew strong again. Your people had some skill, to be sure…but they lacked true power. The kind of absolute power that those chosen by the gods wield. He who wields such power would make a suitable king for this world, don’t you think?
Midna snarls at him and unleashes her Fused Shadow tentacles. After it becomes clear that Link intends to fight him, Ganondorf says:
Both of you, faithless fools who would dare to take up arms against the king of light and shadow… So you choose. And so you shall feel my wrath!
There are three interesting things going on here.
The first is that, after her opening lines (“So you’re Ganondorf. I’ve been dying to meet you”), Midna does not speak throughout this exchange. She is apparently too enraged to form words. Meanwhile, Ganondorf is in perfect control over himself. This is a direct contradiction against the Sages’ earlier description of him as being “blinded by rage and his own might.” It might be that he’s mellowed with age, but he seems neither stupid nor reckless.
The second is that Ganondorf refers to the deities of Hyrule as “the gods.” This is in contrast to the light spirits and Zelda herself, who talk about “the goddesses,” as in Zelda’s farewell to Midna after the endgame credits, “I know now the reason the goddesses left the Mirror of Twilight in this world.” Are Ganondorf and Zelda talking about different entities? Or does Ganondorf, who comes from a matriarchy, understand the three Hylian deities carved on the castle throne as “male” because they are “other” to his own culture?
The third is that Ganondorf calls himself “the king of light and shadow,” which is a curious turn of phrase. The most obvious explanation is that he has conquered both Hyrule and the Twilight realm, but he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in the Twili, having left Zant to his own devices in the Palace of Twilight. According to what the King of Red Lions tells Link at the beginning of The Wind Waker, Ganondorf is “the emperor of the dark realm the ancient legends speak of,” but Ganondorf contradicts this description at the end of that game when he tells Link that “my country lay within a vast desert.” Since the Ganondorf in Twilight Princess also comes from the desert, I don’t think he’s saying that he rules over a light realm and a dark realm. Rather, it’s more likely that his reference to “light and shadow” indicates two separate sides of Hyrule. In the light, there is the legend of a hero, a princess, and a villain. In the shadow, there is the actual history, which Ganondorf later says is “written in blood.”
Although she is kind to Midna, Zelda doesn’t have much to say to Link after Ganondorf is defeated, and she hardly looks him during the final scene in the Arbiter’s Grounds. I wonder what Zelda knew, and what she was thinking?
I’m not trying to suggest that Ganondorf was blameless, or that Zelda made the wrong decision in helping Link fight him, but I think there was probably more going on here than either Link or Midna realizes.
As the endgame credits roll, the kids from Ordon go home. The Gorons wrestle each other, Prince Ralis mopes around Zora’s Domain, King Bulblin rides home across Hyrule Field, the three sisters hang out at the fishing hole, people in Castle Town do the Malo Mart dance in the central plaza, yeti love hearts rise about the Snowpeak Ruins, Shad investigates the Temple of Time in the Ordon Woods, and the sun sets over the Arbiter’s Grounds, where Midna prepares to return to the Twilight realm. The full dialog between Zelda and Midna, which I quoted from earlier, goes like this:
Midna: Well… I guess this is farewell, huh? Light and shadow can’t mix, as we all know. But… Never forget that there’s another world bound to this one.
Zelda: Shadow and light are two sides of the same coin… One cannot exist without the other. I know now the reason the goddesses left the Mirror of Twilight in this world… They left it because it was their design that we should meet. Yes… That is what I believe.
Midna: Zelda… Your words are kind, and your heart is true. If all in Hyrule were like you… Then maybe you’d do all right. Thank you… Well, the princess spoke truly: as long as the mirror’s around, we could meet again… Link… I… See you later…
But then Midna shatters the Mirror of Twilight, along with my heart. I totally cried.
Link places the Master Sword back into its pedestal, and Ilia is waiting for him when he gets home. Everything is peaceful, almost as if nothing ever happened.
Meanwhile, I was just sitting there, tears rolling down my face, totally traumatized.
( Header image by Alderion-Al on Tumblr )