Ranks of the dead: Ikana and the Great War
by on March 8, 2019

Often in the Zelda series, there are events that are never witnessed in-game but nonetheless have ramifications for gameplay and the in-game world itself. Few areas throughout the series inspire the sense of mystery and dread that Ikana Canyon does, and much of this is due to the Great War. The dry and barren land of Ikana itself is imbued with the lingering sense of death that the war brought, and only a few living denizens remain. Day and night the canyon is haunted by those who died during or as a result of a war. But how did this happen, and what can we glean about this war and its place in Terminian history? There are many suggestions throughout Majora’s Mask, and, although none are conclusive, they are captivating all the same.

A land frozen in time

The Ikana Royal Family rules the disintegrated kingdom and is made up of Igos du Ikana, his two lackeys, and the Composer Brothers: Flat and Sharp. In the lower rungs of the structure lie the members of the Captain Keeta-led Ikana army of Stalchildren — the fallen foot-soldiers doomed to live out their days as undead fighters of a long-ended war. Although there are no signs of a current war being fought whatsoever in Ikana, it lives on in the hearts and minds of all it affected. Igos du Ikana is immediately ready to jump into combat with Link, as are his two lackeys. The Stalchildren all wait with bated-breath for Skull Keeta’s orders. Even in death, the general Keeta guards the Royal Family’s treasure by using his oversized skeleton as a roadblock.

It seems that the lost citizens of Ikana are still only preoccupied with war. It’s a wonderful irony that in a game so concerned with the cycle of time, the final area is static and unchanging. Ikana is a snowglobe of a combat scene: Igos du Ikana is hot-headed and wary of anyone entering his kingdom, and his right-hand men argue amongst themselves even once the battle is lost.

To die without leaving a corpse

Following the fight against Igos and his guards, the player is taught the Elegy of Emptiness, which creates a “soldier with no heart”. It is alluded to that these soulless corps were used throughout the war, telling us a little about the battle techniques of Ikana. The Garo seem to be fairly easy to fool, if only briefly. When Link dons the Garo Mask in areas they roam, they turn up almost instantly and don’t notice until a couple of seconds after the fact that Link is an impostor. It’s possible the shells the Elegy of Emptiness created were used to fool and trap the Garo, as their sly, speedy ambush style means they could easily rush into a more dangerous situation too quickly to get out.

Be that as it may, the Garo are shown to be nimble in their combat, which may have been kryptonite to the slower and more defensive battle technique of the Ikana Army. Given that we hear of and see repeatedly the demise of Ikana, it’s fair to assume that the war was lost to the Garo Tribe. This also seems to be evidenced by the Stone Tower housing the Garo Master. Whether he has hidden there or has actually taken control of the tower is debatable, but, by all accounts, it would appear more likely that the tower was won by the Garo, and it makes sense that the leader of the prevailing tribe would take up residence in the conquered land’s sacred site. The Garo Master seems comfortable on his battlefield and fights as if you are upon his turf. The Gomess in the temple, while not revealing any definitive clues, has the skull of a Stalchild on the end of its staff — perhaps the skull of one of the original dwellers of Ikana.

The Redeads found in Ikana Castle are described by a Gossip Stone in the game as the living dead members of what used to be the Ikana Royal Family’s dancing troupe, and they dance for Link when he wears the Captain’s Hat, the Gibdo Mask, or the Garo Mask. Why would the troupe dance for what they saw to be a Garo Robe? Often during wars, the leading side will colonize or enslave members of the opposite side. The members of the Ikana Royal Family and Army were doomed to oppose the Garo Robe for the rest of time, but how about those with no ability to fight against them? The dancing troupe is simply doomed to carry out their will. This contributes to the idea that the Garo Tribe won the war over Ikana, as the dancing troupe of the Royal Family now obey the entertainment whims of the Garo also.

Beyond the canyon

It also seems that Ikana was once not quite as isolated as it later became, possibly being connected to other races of Termina. The river cutting through the heart of Ikana becomes a waterfall to the Southern Swamp. This proximity between the only two monarchies in Termina, surely suggests some level of relationship, and this is alluded to through the Sonata of Awakening. Playing Captain Keeta the Sonata of Awakening, awakens him from a deep slumber; however, doing this to other sleeping characters in the game has no effect. This is also the only point in the game where the Sonata is used to advance the plot aside from when it is used to open Woodfall Temple. The fact that it works specifically on Keeta, with Ikana’s proximity to Woodfall, suggests that there may have been an alliance between the two kingdoms in times gone by, perhaps during the prosperous times referred to throughout Link’s time there.

Other mysteries of outside regions connected to the war exist in Termina. Six Stalchildren in the Great Bay Spider House have been sent to discover the place’s secrets and mention that they have not seen Captain Keeta in a long time. While there are four Stalchildren sitting at a table in the heart of the house, two are in the library. While it’s possible they were brushing up on the works of Sun Tzu, it could just as easily been a safe space for them to strategize away from the battleground. The implication remains clear that the war and its factors are much more widely known and understood about than any character in the game lets on. The Gorman Brothers even own Garo Masks, likely Termina’s version of expensive war memorabilia. When guerrillas create a group, they have army-like uniforms, and often the symbols of the past will be reappropriated for modern contexts, like the way the Gorman Brothers use the Garo Masks as their uniform in their vendetta against Cremia and Romani Ranch.

It probably will never be truly gleaned what happened during that fateful period of Ikana’s bloodstained history, but there are certainly subtle suggestions and clues we can follow to see where they take us. After all, there are thousands of soldiers to every war, and every soldier has their own individual story, as does every weapon and every battleground. Perhaps we just haven’t listened closely enough to Ikana’s yet.

Cal Berry
I've been playing Zelda for the past twenty years. You can usually find me somewhere arguing why the GameCube was the greatest console of all time.