This is the second piece of our series where we try to put all the pieces together from the various trailers, images and interviews that have come out in the last couple of months to help make sense of what to expect from Star Trek: Discovery. The first article focused on main character Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). This time we turn our attention to the primary antagonists for the season, the Klingons, led by T’Kuvma (Chris Obi).
For this article we will be focusing entirely on the Klingon characters and the plot. If you want to learn more about the design of the Klingons for Star Trek: Discovery, see our report from Star Trek Las Vegas which goes into detail on that subject. SPOILER WARNING: obviously this article will delve into as many details as we can find.
More than just the bad guys
While the war with the Klingons is at forefront of the first season’s storyline, the plan is for them to be more than just Federation adversaries. Co-showrunner Aaaron Harberts has said the show will explore learning about the Klingons and he wants to make sure they “aren’t just the enemy.” Executive producer Akiva Goldsman has noted that they are striving not to vilify the Klingons and there are significant sections of the narrative that are purely from the Klingon point of view.
Mary Chieffo, who plays Klingon commander L’Rell, explained the approach:
The compassion we are giving the Klingons – who you could say in this story are bad guys – but the way the writers so beautifully crafted this story we really get a window into who we are, our humanity or Klingonanity…It is not black and white. The world is not that simple. People on both sides do things that they regret and they do things that they are proud of. Both sides have a deep, deep capacity to love and to feel.
One of the techniques the show will use for this immersion will be to have scenes with Klingons speaking in Klingon (with subtitles for the humans watching). The show has a full-time Klingon consultant (Robyn Stewart – Klingon name Qov) handling translation and coaching the actors.
An Empire of many houses in disarray
We have already learned a little bit about how the show will delve deeper into Klingon culture. It has been revealed that there are 24 different great houses, each with different leaders and each with a different look. Most of what has been released so far focuses just on a single house (The House of T’Kuvma), but expect to see some different Klingons through the first season. Not only do they have different looks, but perhaps more importantly, each house has its own ideology.
We have also seen (in the May and July trailers) Sarek talk about the Empire with Michael Burnham:
…the Klingon Empire has been in disarray for generations… Great unifiers are few and far between, but they do come. Often such leaders will need a profound cause for their followers to rally around.
And we know that even before the time of the show, there has been conflict with the Federation. As discussed in our first article in this series Michael Burnham’s parents were killed in a Klingon attack while on Vulcan.
T’Kuvma – seeks to unite the houses
T’Kuvma, played by Chris Obi, is leader of the house of T’Kuvma. He is the primary antagonist for at least the pilot episode and is likely instrumental in starting the war between the Federation and the Klingons.
Based on everything seen and heard so far T’Kuvma appears to be a fundamentalist, revering Kahless and wanting to keep the Klingon species strong and independent of outside influences. From a recent promo he can be heard giving his rationale for why the Klingons must fight the Federation:
They are coming. Atom by atom they will silence us. Cell by cell our souls shall become theirs. We must fight for one thing above all – to remain Klingon.
From the SDCC trailer we see images of what appears to be a young T’Kuvma being abused by other Klingons. This could be kids being cruel or possibly something deeper related to his house’s ideology.
From the Comic-Con exhibit we learned that T’Kuvma “…seeks to unite the 24 great Klingon houses to halt the encroachment of others.”
The “others” are likely the Federation. It may be that T’Kuvma uses the Federation, or perhaps the incident sparked by Michael Burnham (discussed in the first article in this series), as a way to unite the Klingons. In the Comic-Con trailer we see T’Kuvma saying “we have been waiting for someone worthy of our attention,” possibly speaking to Captain Georgiou of the U.S.S. Shenzhou.
L’Rell – split between houses
L’Rell, played by Mary Chieffo, is a trusted associate to T’Kuvma and a commander of Klingon forces. She is also of two different houses, T’Kuvma and Mo’Kai. The actress said of her role: “You get a great kind of interesting exploration of what it is to be of two different ideologies.”
Kol – a more familiar kind of Klingon
Kol is a member of the House of Kor. We know Kor is an important Klingon who will come into conflict with Kirk (“Errand of Mercy”) and he even shows up on DS9. The House of Kor appears to be a very different from the House of T’Kuvma. The costume of this house is more “traditionally” Klingon. They appear to be into the glory of the battle rather than the showy ritual of the T’Kuvma house. However, Kol does seem to have distaste for humans in common with T’Kuvma.
Kol actor Kenneth Mitchell spoke about his character at STLV:
He is very complicated. He leans more towards some of the Klingons we are familiar with. He is very powerful. He does have a line I can paraphrase which does explain some of these things. He says, “All I see is another attempt by humanity to rob us of our identity.”
Dennas – leader of another house
We have known that actress Clare McConnell plays Dennas, who is officially described as a leader in the Klingon Empire, but hadn’t spotted her yet. Now thanks to a recent tweet from McConnell we know she quickly appears in SDCC trailer, specifically in the shot of T’Kuvma conferencing with a holographic collection of leaders of other houses. Based on that, we have zoomed in on a couple shots from the trailer to get a rather fuzzy look at Dennas.
Ujilli – another Klingon leader
Another announced Klingon is Ujilli, played by actor Damon Runyan. The official description for Ujilli is the same for Dennas, so it is possible he leads another one of the great houses. He may also appear in that hologram image, but for now it is too hard to distinguish.
Voq – mysterious warrior
We don’t know much about Voq, except that he’s a warrior who is loyal to the house of T’Kuvma. We don’t even know the actor playing him and the role wasn’t revealed until recently, so he is a bit of a mystery.
The Torchbearer – a warrior to unite the Klingons
This isn’t a character per se, but rather an important role in an ancient Klingon ritual. Thanks to the placards at the exhibit at Comic-Con we know that: “…a warrior [is] chosen through a sacred ritual to serve as the Torchbearer, enabling him to sound the call for all the Klingon houses to unite by activating a ceremonial obelisk.” We may not be sure who’s in that suit, but it sure it looks cool.
It is possible that T’Kuvma is the Torchbearer. We actually do see him with a torch and then lighting a torch in images and in the trailer, and it fits within the description of him trying to unite the houses. But it’s also possible the Torchbearer is akin to the role of a champion, with the best warrior under T’Kuvma selected for the honor, so maybe it could be Voq or some other Klingon we haven’t seen yet.
Klingon Death Ritual
Another important thing we have seen a lot of from the released images and trailers is a much more elaborate version of the Klingon Death Ritual first seen in TNG’s “Heart of Glory.” This one involves the ornate sarcophagus first seen in the May trailer, along with lots of ritual fire. The importance of the symbolism of fire to these Klingons is something we’ve touched on before.
Who is the person in the sarcophagus? We really don’t know, perhaps it’s T’Kuvma’s father and this is how he rises to power in his family’s house?
This doesn’t seem like it would be an ancient Klingon, as he looks a little too fresh–he is not mummified as we might expect if it was an ancient Klingon. Also the death ritual is done immediately following the death of a warrior, we’ve never seen it done for a long-dead person.
More analysis to come
Keep checking TrekMovie for upcoming companion articles in this series. We will next look into other Starfleet characters and the ships and equipment of Star Trek: Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery premieres on September 24th on CBS with all subsequent episodes on CBS All Access in the US. In Canada Star Trek: Discovery will premiere on Bell Media’s CTV and the Space Channel on the same night. Netflix will launch Star Trek: Discovery on Monday, September 25 to countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.