‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Analysis: Everything We Know About T’Kuvma and the Klingons

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.

Mary Chieffo as L’Rell and Chris Obi as T’Kuvma; we are going to learn a lot about these Klingons in Star Trek: Discovery

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.

Sarek discussing the state of the Klingon Empire with Michael Burnham

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.

Is this the aftermath of the Klingon attack on Vulcan that orphaned young Michael Burnham?

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.

Chris Obi as T’Kuvma

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.

A young T’Kuvma is beaten

From the Comic-Con exhibit we learned that T’Kuvma “…seeks to unite the 24 great Klingon houses to halt the encroachment of others.”

T’Kuvma conferencing with holograms of leaders of other Klingon houses

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.

T’Kuvma’s ship and an armada of other Klingon ships confront the USS Shenzhou

T’Kuvma has been waiting for his chance to unite the houses; did Burnham and Georgiou give him the spark he needed?

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.”

Mary Chieffo as L’Rell

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.”

Kenneth Mitchell as Kol

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.

Clare McConnell as 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.

Damon Runyan plays Ujilli

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.

Voq

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.

Klingon Torchbearer armor from Star Trek: Discovery exhibit at SDCC

The Torchbearer armor/EVA suit

Burnham meets The Torchbearer

The Obelisk

The Obelisk unfurls

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.

T’Kuvma with a torch, lighting a ceremonial lamp

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.

Klingon Death Ritual

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?

T’Kuvma walks up to the body in the open sarcophagus

He opens the dead Klingon’s eyes

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.

The closed sarcophagus floats away

The closed sarcophagus floats up

T’Kuvma starts the yell to warn Sto-Vo-Kor a Klingon warrior is arriving

The rest of the crowd joins in the howl

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.

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Fantastic speculation and a great article! I love all of this. Can’t wait.

Ditto!!!

Sarek’s quote “…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,” is an interesting Trek take on an element of what we would call “populism” in our time: the creation of “the enemy” as a cause to rally the people and justify unifying it for a cause (which is drummed up and promoted for just that purpose). Whether it’s an enemy country, ‘illegal ‘immigrants, or perceived moral deviation, leaders often beat the drum to rally the people together and motivate them to action (usually the desired ends are known only by the leaders and the elite caste themselves, and usually end up being linked to self-preservation). Here, war with the Federation, which threatens the Klingon “identity” (racial purity, moral degradation, territorial incursion) is the potential rallying cry which will be attempted to rally the houses and fulfill whatever end the High Council and/or a certain group(s) have in mind for the Empire. Good way for Trek to hit on a contemporary theme.

Yes, more articles about Klingons!

Question for TrekMovie Staff:

Regarding the “Everything you need to know about Discovery” synopsis, the bit about the show being a sort of journey of self-discovery as seen through the eyes of one crew member (I’m assuming it’s Burnham)… Where does that statement of the show’s premise come from? I’m wondering if I’ve missed some of the promo materials.

Just came back from Fan Expo here in Toronto. At the ‘Discovery’ panel Ted Sullivan, who btw looks and even sounds like Barclay, said that there will be some episodes that focus on a particular crew member such as EP 8 that will focus on Saru.

Given your skepticism about this show so far, did you see or hear anything today that you liked?

@Michael Hall,

The cast was enthusiastic for sure and the audience responded well to Anthony Rapp, Kenneth Mitchell, Doug Jones & Jason Isaacs but there was nothing new at the panel that I’ve not heard before but for something revealed by Latif. They showed the SDCC trailer and then the cast basically repeated what they said in other panels.

Shazad Latif who plays Ash Tyler gave a little tidbit when he revealed that the first time his character meet with Captain Lorca & Mudd will be at a prison cell but he didn’t elaborate on that.

Just keep an open mind man, who knows it may surprise you. I was a pretty big skeptic hearing some of the ideas at first but now fully on board. I don’t expect it to be the next DS9 but if can just be its own thing and do it well you may like it.

I just love Trek and happy to see it back on TV in any form at this point.

It looks like they are going with more an egyptian vibe with the Klingons. Is it me?

I was thinking more Gothic, and Baroque.

When laid out like this is certainly makes the Klingons interesting. Great work.

I wonder if the role offered to Michael Dorn was just a camel as the head of the house of Mogh or whatever it would be in this era and he declined, wanting a larger role.

Can’t wait for the premiere!

I wondered about that, too

A camel? You mean cameo :-) No bad blood intended. I’m the master of curious typos, but yours really made me think thrice!

Yes hahaha. The risks of posting from my phone. *cameo

I doubt very much that Dorn was going to play a camel. I’m pretty such he was going to play a Klingon.

And why would the House of Mogh have a camel as its leader? A targ maybe.

“No Camels Sallah!!”
“But Indy…”

I hope some of the Klingon houses have hair. That’s the only thing I don’t really like about the new design. Then again, Chang was bald, so it isn’t exactly unprecedented.

A klingon choir.

There was an opera record in the music library when I was in college. Something from the ’60’s,…I forget the title and I should have written down what it was, but anyway, the stage costume the male singer wore on the cover of the LP looked exactly like something from the original TOS Klingons. We taped “A Klingon Opera” on the record sleeve and renamed it in the card catalogue also.

Still waiting on seeing or hearing one thing about them that interests me.

I love so much about what we’re hearing about this show. One problem, though: “Executive producer Akiva Goldsman.” The man is an untalented, unqualified hack who has written some of the worst big-budget films of the past two decades. Hopefully, he has very little creative control.

He’s a slimy shyster.

@Arggggggh,

Other than his role as an executive producer, Goldsman co-wrote an episode and directed another one.

I rewatched the Trouble with Tribbles a day ago and it really kills me how the Klingons went from one dimensional space pirates to the Klingons who evolved into the multi layered species in the films and from TNG on. I think its safe to say no other species on Trek has evolved the way they have through the decades. And now we may get yet another layer to them we haven’t gotten before. It is weird how when you ignore those few episodes they were on TOS and just focus on everything else they really do seem night and day from their beginnings. And while I get people are upset these look too different (and uglier) the fact is they have been changed before. That just can’t be disputed. And yes maybe from TSFS on the change didn’t feel as dramatic when we saw them on TNG and DS9 but even then there were changes. And I never been a huge fan of them personally. I really hated them on TOS, liked them in the films and thanks to Worf (that took awhile for me to also like) had really become fond of them. But it probably wasn’t until their big arch on DS9 when they broke the treaty with the Federation I really loved watching them. Again I didn’t have an issue with them in the movies and TUC is probably my second favorite because of that story line but until DS9 I could take them or leave… Read more »

I sort of see it like this. TOS is revered as the beginner. But some people will hold up a small thing in tos as gospel versus the entirety of everything else.

Hopefully the disco people get it right. The intent is correct. To continue to explore a species that was incredibly one dimensional in this time.

”Who is the person in the sarcophagus?”

Maybe it’s Uncle Alan.

”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.”

Jokes aside, if it’s actually Kahless in cryosleep, all the facts do fit. The most recent clip shows T’Kuvma saying “We come in peace”. So perhaps the Klingon ship really wasn’t looking to get into a fight, but was on a religious mission heading for the star where Kahless said he’d return (the ship even has a plaque quoting this), with the intention of reviving him there. Maybe that was T’Kuvma’s *original* plan for uniting the Klingons.

Instead, the Shenzhou intercepts the ship, Burnham starts a fight with it because of her paranoia and bigotry, Kahless is accidentally killed in the crossfire, and it sets off the chain reaction for everything else.