The hero always wins, right? Link defeats Ganon time and time again, and good will always triumph over evil: that’s the bread and butter of the Zelda series. So, it’s difficult to digest the thought of losing your quest in a Zelda game — of Link being defeated. Seeing anything, whether it’s fan art or fan fiction, that suggests the hero has fallen is hard on a Zelda fan’s palate. Even Breath of the Wild knew not to completely sever its ties with the series’ overarching theme of hope and heroism, even if it took Link and Zelda over a century to save Hyrule.

This is why Nintendo’s revelation of the “downfall timeline” — where Link is defeated by Ganon — was a smack of reality that came right out of left field. It uncomfortably informed us that sometimes the hero doesn’t win.

Yuga’s Art Gallery is a series in which we highlight our favorite artwork from The Legend of Zelda community, as well as some official artwork from the franchise from time to time. Zelda is a series that is constantly changing its style, and after over 30 years of evolving and shifting its visuals, it continues to inspire endless ways for artists to interpret their favorite characters and moments.

When I spotted this sinister fan art of Saria, simply titled ‘Death’ by ninanai, it immediately reminded me of this message — of the downfall timeline. It depicts a solemn-looking Saria rooted to a tree stump, entangled by vines and surrounded by an overgrown wood. Most notably a skeleton lies next to her, with the Master Sword embedded in its chest and the Ocarina of Time discarded nearby. I don’t know about you, but my immediate thought was that the skeleton is none other than our Hero of Time, perhaps from the downfall timeline.

The Downfall Woods by ninanai

Despite not being the biggest fan of the downfall timeline, as it strongly clashes with the series’ established theme without feeling earned, I found myself thinking about how this fan art could fit into it. I think that, rather than just being macabre for the sake of it, this piece contains a story that simultaneously intrigues yet withers your heart.

To me, it looks as if she’s simultaneously guarding and mourning our fallen hero and his relic.

First of all, the bleak tone of this piece is immediate and striking. The overgrown and crumbling ruins of what appears to be the Forest Temple perfectly tie in with the idea of a downfall, as there’s no other scenario where such a sacred place would be left unkempt for years. Additionally, Link’s skeleton demonstrates just how much time has passed since his demise. It all shows that Hyrule really is in trouble without its hero.

Interestingly, the Master Sword being embedded in Link’s chest suggests that’s what took his life. The more I consider it, though, the more I think maybe that wasn’t the case — maybe it was placed there after his passing to identify and honor him. The fact that it hasn’t been taken to a new sacred resting place to await its next hero, and has instead been left to rust, further alludes to a timeline where Link has been defeated and all hope is lost.

Regardless of whatever way it happened, it’s clear that Saria has bound herself to it with those unwieldy vines, which have all but consumed her body. But why? Well, to me it looks as if she’s simultaneously guarding and mourning our fallen hero and his relic. The way she is rooted emotionlessly and motionlessly to the tree stump suggests that she has become part of the overgrown foliage over time after resigning herself to this duty. Meanwhile, her shadowed, expressionless face seems unable to bear looking at Link’s skeleton, which I think suggests numb grief. It’s heart-wrenching to think that she’s stood there for years, maybe even decades, protecting and mourning the loss of Link. After all, she is an ageless Kokiri. How long will she remain?

In fact, while analyzing this piece I decided to read the DeviantArt comments to see what others thought, and not only have others interpreted it this way too, but the artist also confirmed this is what they intended: “that’s kinda what i had in mind, like she lingers there in timeless grief or something, bound to protect him. while new heroes and sages arise. man thats sad, haha.”

So there you have it: a heart-breaking moment, and a low point in Hyrule’s history, imagined in an incredible piece of fan art. What do you think, though? Do you have a darker interpretation? (Maybe Saria did this to Link?!) Do share!