The Legend of Zelda series is filled to the brim with fantastical characters, but there are none more important to the lore than the intertwining fates of three: Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf. While Link and Zelda manifest as different people in each installment, related only by ancestry, Ganondorf remains the same man, which allows for a metamorphosis of character through each game. While his alter ego, Ganon, appears in a majority of Zelda games to date, Ganondorf has only shown up in Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess.
Below is an analysis of the evolution of Ganondorf — from his ancient origin to his fallen fate, this is how the bandit king would become known as The King of Evil.
A Tragic Origin (Skyward Sword/Ocarina of Time)
Ganondorf was born into the Gerudo tribe of female thieves and raised by a surrogate mother/witch, Twinrova, to be their king. The Gerudos themselves are cruel and dangerous warriors and no doubt raised Ganondorf to share these very characteristics. It is assumed that, during the period when no male king is present, that Gerudos reproduce by using Hylian soldiers. Thus, Ganondorf, along with many other Gerudos born around the same time, has Hylian blood in him.
The desire to seize is a trait given to him through his Gerudo blood, but his craving for power is engraved into his fate. At the end of Skyward Sword, when Link defeats Demise, it is stated that an incarnation of him will follow the descendants of both Link and Zelda and torture the inhabitants of the land. This is an obvious reference to the constant threats of Ganon; however, it should not be assumed that only Link and Zelda’s descendants were punished for the killing of Demise. There was another person who had just as much to do with Demise’s fall as the heroes did.
If the conflict between Princess Zelda, Link, and Ganondorf were turned into a high school play, it would be like the rivalry between Link, Zelda, and Groose. Each character is analogous to their Ocarina of Time counterparts — Groose being the rival of Link while still displaying a great amount of strength, cunning, and motivation as he helps Link to defeat the Imprisoned. In fact, if it wasn’t for Groose, Demise would have awakened much too early for the heroes to prepare. Groose may as well be just as responsible for his death.
It’s not a coincidence that Groose plays such a vital part in Skyward Sword. With his darker skin, red hair, brute strength, and red jewel on his chest (a color representing Din, the goddess most recognized with the Gerudos), it could be that Groose is the beginning of the Gerudo line. Demise’s plan is also to punish Groose’s descendants by sacrificing one in particular to be the host of his evil spawn. Ganondorf is being punished by his ancestor’s original sin, so to speak, and because of Ganondorf’s actions, the entire Gerudo tribe is eradicated.
A Power-Hungry Fool (Ocarina of Time)
The first chronological appearance of Ganondorf is in The Legend of Zelda’s first venture into 3D. Ganondorf is the king of a tribe of desert bandits known as the Gerudo. Every 100 years, a male is born into the Gerudo tribe, which consists of nothing but female bandits, and he becomes their king. After the Hyrulean Civil War, Ganondorf forms a relationship between the Hylians and the Gerudos. By gaining the trust of the King of Hyrule, he enters the Sacred Realm through the Temple of Time (previously opened by Young Link’s possession of the Sacred Stones) and takes the Triforce of Power. Using his piece of the Triforce and his army of Gerudos, Ganondorf easily usurps the King. He remains in power for seven years until Link awakens to defeat him and banish all evil from the land.
In OoT, Ganondorf has a very arrogant and intimidating disposition. He is young, strong, cunning, and manipulative, and he knows he is destined for something great. He betrays the trust of the king to find his way into the Temple of Time. He attacks the kingdom at full force, knowing that the army of Hyrule is still recuperating from the Civil War that took place a few years before. Through all this, Ganondorf still sees his successful overtaking as destiny rather than fate — a fate set in motion ages before his birth.
Demise’s resurrection is fulfilled when Ganondorf uses the power of the Triforce to transform himself into a monster of unimaginable power, Ganon. This would be the beginning of the reoccurring plague that Hyrule would have to endure for ages. However, even with his share of the Triforce, the might of Courage and Wisdom proved too much for Ganon. Thus, Ganondorf was sealed in the Sacred Realm.
Like Demise before him, Ganondorf vowed revenge on Link and Zelda’s descendants.
A Humbled King (Wind Waker)
Ages after the events of Ocarina of Time, Ganon escapes the Sacred Realm and wreaks havoc on Hyrule. Unfortunately, no hero came about this time, leaving the Sages to fend off the threat by flooding Hyrule and everything in it. The descendants of these Ancient Hylians took to the mountaintops (now islands) and began a new era. The history of the once great kingdom became nothing but a legend.
Ganondorf began to rebuild his troops in an attempt to find the other two pieces of the Triforce beneath the sea. A portal to Hyrule opened where Ganondorf held both the Triforce of Power and Zelda’s Wisdom. Link would battle Ganondorf in the sunken Hyrule Castle to prevent him from successfully completing the Triforce and gaining fearsome power.
Ganondorf in The Wind Waker appears older than he does in OoT, and also wiser. He carries himself much more regally and speaks in an eloquent and poetic manner rather than the brash way his younger self spoke. Age has certainly granted Ganondorf experience, but it also allows him to see matters more sensibly. Whereas Ganondorf during the events of OoT seemed to run on blind hatred; Ganondorf in WW is driven by a hatred that stems from deep cynicism.
Ganondorf has attempted twice to forge together the Triforce, and both times he had been met with extreme punishment from the Sages. He built a cynicism inside him not just toward the Hylians, and not just toward the Sages, but about his own fate as well. He now realizes that he has no control over his fate — it was something that had been foretold since birth. Even death and imprisonment can not wash it away.
“It can only be called fate. … That here, I would again gather the three with the crests.”
When Ganondorf turns into Puppet Ganon, it’s an obvious metaphor for the position he finds himself in. He’s nothing but a puppet controlled by the remnants of Demise to fulfill a vengeful prophecy created ages ago. The only way Ganondorf knows how to break this curse and end his fate is to fulfill it. When the Triforce becomes whole, he wishes to rule Hyrule, a forgotten and ancient land. If he was still the power-hungry fool he had once been, he would have wished to rule the entire world — to dominate over the descendants of the Hylians residing above the waves — yet he desires only to break the curse. Ganondorf even states that he has no wish to kill Link or Zelda. He just wants to take the Triforce. In this manner, he chooses to rule an empty, forgotten land in spite of his fate.
After Ganondorf has a sincere moment, speaking to Link about the state of his people and his own intentions, he headed for the Triforce to make his wish come true at last. The King of Hyrule, however, took the Triforce for himself and wished that Hyrule would be sealed away forever, along with the evil Ganondorf. He couldn’t do anything but laugh and sought instead to end his cursed brethren by his own blade. He failed to fulfill his fate for a third time. Ganondorf, in turn, laughed quietly to himself as he was freed from his fate.
An Unrealized Destiny (Twilight Princess)
After Ganon was defeated, Princess Zelda sent the Hero of Time back to relive his childhood. When Young Link met the young Zelda, he warned her of what Ganondorf had planned to do, which confirmed her own suspicions. Zelda informed the King, which led to a Hylian invasion of the Gerudo Desert and the capture of the Gerudo King. The Hylian army desecrated the Gerudo’s holy Spirit Temple and modified it into a makeshift prison to house all of the desert thieves, dubbing it the Arbiter’s Grounds.
The Sages had planned to execute Ganondorf by sword; however, the Triforce of Power awakened inside of him, allowing him to break free and kill the Water Sage. In an act of desperation, the remaining Sages imprisoned Ganondorf in the Twilight Realm.
After 100 years in the Twilight Realm, Ganondorf convinces Zant, who had been refused the Twilight throne by Midna, to take over the Light World and seize the Kingdom of Hyrule. With the castle in his possession, Ganondorf now had the means of making the Triforce whole and realizing his true fate.
It should be noted that in this timeline, Ganondorf never transformed into Ganon. He was captured before his armies even stepped foot in Hyrule. In fact, Ganondorf and his people were imprisoned merely on the words of two children. Ganondorf is just as arrogant and cunning as he was in OoT as he never had the humbling experience that his WW self had. Fueled by the pent up desire to rule Hyrule and his true power still chained inside, Ganondorf became even more disobedient and short-sighted. He planned to lie, cheat, and steal his way to the Hylian throne.
Ganondorf finally realizes the extent of his power by unleashing Ganon, but like his OoT self, he is slain by Link. Perhaps showing a little more reserve, he opts to battle Link in a sword fight in his Gerudo form. After being defeated, Ganondorf echoes the words he said in OoT and also those of his master, Demise, by saying that Link and Zelda’s descendants will be plagued with his presence. However, much like the WW version of himself, he dies instead of being imprisoned, leaving the inhabitants of Hyrule to never fear a return of the Gerudo King again — his dying words never to be realized.
From this timeline, Ganondorf is never seen again, but Ganon is reincarnated hundreds of years later during the events of Four Swords Adventures. Ganondorf died a fool with a heart full of vengeance, never to be quenched. He was perhaps blessed with the naivety of believing he was in control of his fate. He died never realizing the role he played in a legend much bigger than himself.
An Undying Evil (A Link to the Past/The Legend of Zelda/The Adventure of Link)
In a history where Ganon defeats the Hero of Time, Ganondorf fulfills the fate given to him by Demise. Transformed into Ganon, he returns time and again to wreak havoc on Hyrule. Ganondorf, the Gerudo King, would be forgotten through time, and the King of Evil, Ganon, would take his place in the winds of the declining kingdom.