The Klingons of Star Trek: Discovery are clearly a new take on the classic Trek race. One thread running through everything that’s been revealed so far about them is the use of fire, which appears to be a significant part of Klingon symbolism in Discovery.
Light the fire
Fire was mentioned as early as December 2016 when Chris Obi (T’Kuvma) and Marry Chieffo (L’Rell) were announced as new cast members. The press release featured a few phrases in Klingon, and then the text teased us to “discover what it really means.”
This ‘light the fire’ phrase wasn’t just buried in the press release; the Klingon version of it was teased out on the official Discovery Instagram and on the official website.
And “light the fire” came back again when the first image of Chris Obi as the Klingon T’Kuvma was revealed during the upfronts in May.
— Star Trek: Discovery (@startrekcbs) May 17, 2017
Fire on the sarcophagus ship
When you look at the trailer released in May, you can see multiple sources of open flames on the Klingon sarcophagus ship, including a particularly prominent one next to the sarcophagus itself. The Klingons here seem less like bloodthirsty warriors and more like a religious cult.
We’ve rarely, if ever, seen fire on a Klingon ship before, and in general open flames are not generally a good thing on any spaceship.
Then, as we reported last week, the Entertainment Weekly Comic-Con 2017 preview issue featured an image of T’Kuvma and L’Rell that showed T’Kuvma holding a torch. He may be preparing to “light the fire,” as the 2016 press release hints.
We learned a little bit more about T’Kumva this week thanks to the exhibit at Comic-Con. He seeks to unite the 24 great Klingon houses, and his house honors the ancient Klingon ways and Kahless.
The latest piece of evidence came from Comic-Con this week where a 3D printed scale model of the Klingon suit seen in the trailer was labeled as the “Torchbearer suit.” We saw the suit in even more detail yesterday at the Discovery SDCC gallery.
Putting it all together
It’s a reasonable guess that T’Kuvma could be the “Torchbearer,” given what we see from the EW image. It also appears that fire holds an important part of these Klingons’ lore, as opposed to, say, TNG-era Klingons. Fire is an old symbol; it’s important to most cultures and it symbolizes power, survival, warmth, and so forth. So this seems to lend more support to the rumored idea that these are ancient Klingons.
In the non-canon video game universe of Klingon Honor Guard, the Hand of Flame was an ancient honor guard who fought against Molor. When word of their deeds reached Kahless, he recruited them into his own army to fight Molor. Established Klingon lore is that Kahless defeated Molor, united the Klingons, and formed the Empire. It seems T’Kuvma may be trying to do something similar in the present day of Discovery, to “sound the call to unite the houses” as the plaque says above.
All of this raises some interesting questions about Klingons in the new series:
- Is there a fractured leadership in the Klingon Empire during the time of Discovery?
- Does T’Kuvma see himself as the rightful leader of the Empire? Perhaps he has a direct bloodline to Kahless?
- While the fire is literal, it may also be symbolic; could it represent the beginning of a drastic shift that fundamentally affects the Klingon Empire and the changes we see in later series, especially The Original Series?
Thanks to Laurie Ulster and John Duchak for their assistance with this analysis.