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The Queen is Mono from Shadow of the Colossus

After the events of Shadow of the Colossus, Mono is revived, and (knowing its power firsthand) begins to use the "shadow energy" inherently found in the lineage of horned boys as a means to bring Wander back to her. Like Wander before her, her physical form is distorted after handling so much evil energy. During the events in Ico, she may still be trying to revive Wander, or she may have long since abandoned that goal.

The beach Ico and Yorda wash up on in the ending is part of the Forbidden Land.

Besides the fact that the beach can be found and explored in Shadow of the Colossus, if the select screen from the Updated Re-release compilation is anything to go by, the Forbidden Land and the Castle in the Mist aren't far off from each other... Also notably, the silhouette of the person on Agro on the Shadow of the Colossus portion of the select screen has horns, something Wander wouldn't gain until near the end game. How Agro is still alive after all those years... Maybe Dormin's magic kept her alive like in the 'Mono is the Shadow Queen' theory. After all, she did survive a massive fall with her only injury being a sprained leg...

The Vibration in The Controller When Holding Yorda's Hand

I've seen at least one review interpret it as Yorda struggling to keep up, but this troper likes to think of it as Ico's heart beating faster when he holds her hand.

Yorda freed Ico from his Sarcophagus

Bruno de Figueiredo, in his classic Some Birds Aren't Meant to Be Caged essay on ICO, comments that the one piece of Ico's escape that's out of his control is the opening of his sarcophagus. From that initial break, all else follows.

Presuming that event was random fortune is possible, but a weak cliche in a game that's all about well-done cliches. (Just as falling back on AIIsACrapshoot is a weak way to explain GLaDOS' mental state in Portal. See my WMG entry for that game. It includes links to The Clone, The Cube, and the Construct.)

There is one character who demonstrates power over the Castle in the Mist who has the motivation to give Ico his initial liberation. Giving that character freedom in turn is nearly Ico's next act. This cannot be coincidence, not in a minimalist game like ICO.

Freeing Ico is a leap of faith that he will then rescue her from her fate to be her mother's new body. Yorda makes many similar physical leaps of faith, attempting impossible jumps with childlike faith that Ico will catch her hand and pull her up.

Note, too, that the lyrics to the closing theme You Were There can apply equally to both main characters. Yorda rescued Ico just as much as Ico rescued Yorda.

  • This does, however, seem at odds with Yorda's arc, which seems to portray her as sheltered to the point of helplessness and, over the course of the game, growing into independence. If we really need an explanation for the initial tremors leading to Ico's escape, then it would be thematically cleaner and just as likely that the Queen's waning power (which may well be holding the castle together, given the ending) is starting to show. That gives us the inciting difference that makes this particular iteration of events important; a metaphorical chink appears in the Queen's armour. It also fits the environmental story told in the obvious slow decay of the castle, which mirrors the Queen's ailing life.

Yorda was the Queen all along

Yorda was created/raised by the Queen as a new vessel for her spirit. Her scatterbrained activity with Ico trains him to care for her. His investment of time and effort when she's necessary to solve the puzzles and gates of the Castle in the Mists end up building a strong bond. A bond strong enough that Ico spurns the freedom of the boat when he reaches it and instead returns to rescue Yorda.

Ico was being trained and tested by the Queen for her protector in Yorda's body.Going by the dream sequence after Ico's incarceration, Yorda wasn't even created until Ico was placed in the sarcophagus.

This Yorda was the air-head led around by the hand by Ico. The gate openings were performed by the Queen, not Yorda. Ditto the creation of the bridges in the air.

The Queen stated Yorda couldn't survive outside the Castle, and that Yorda's destiny was to be the Queen's new body.

The Castle's immense physical plant is on the verge of ruin. There are no servants or occupants to be served. In its current state it's merely a self-imposed prison of isolation for the Queen. If her long-planned transference to a physical body involves any weakness whatsoever, however temporary, the Castle will fall to its own structural failures, or outside predators.

Note that Ico's sarcophagus was the sole remaining unoccupied. The current phase of the Castle's existence is coming to an end. Not a random one, but a long-planned and long-foreseen end.

Even if the Queen in Yorda's body has immediate full power and consciousness, why remain in isolation in an empty castle falling to ruin? Instead the Queen will get out and enjoy life. The best way to do this is with a new start that loses all contact with any taint associated with the Castle in the Mists and its Queen.

If she abandons all history with the Castle and its dark minions, then the Queen will need a new protector. One that's shown determination and cunning as well as dedication to protecting Yorda.

Ico's relationship with Yorda is carefully managed. Starting with the dream of the cage, to a limited path to finding her. Freeing her is the only step he can take after finding her. Protecting and shepherding her is vital to continuing in the Castle. He shows determination and skill to bring her to the main gate, where the testing is intensified. The door to freedom is slammed in his face. He's warned off, his mettle spurred by being told he's unworthy of Yorda.

Ico's separation from Yorda on the bridge to the land is the final test. A test, moreover, with no risk for the Queen. If Ico fails, or simply departs, then the Queen stays safe in the Castle in the Mists.

The Queen's final speech reveals all: "Silence, boy. You're too late. My body has become too old and won't last much longer. But Yorda's going to grant me the power to be resurrected. To be my spiritual vessel is the fulfillment of her destiny. When next her body wakes, Yorda will be no more. Now put down your sword and leave. That is what she would want you to do."

That last statement is simple truth. If Ico departs now, Yorda will be spared her ultimate fate while the Queen finds a new champion.

Once Ico proved his determination and loyalty to the form of Yorda by returning to rescue her, the Queen permitted him to triumph. Stabbing her with his sword, the sword she provided, permitted her to withdraw all the power she had stored in the physical environs of the Castle and imbue it into her new form as Yorda.

The Queen inhabited Yorda's body after being stabbed by Ico, rescued Ico, and is the Yorda on the beach in the scene after the End Credits.

  • This is unlikely to be true, but it's actually a bit interesting. Ico would make a pretty fantastic Dragon. He's incredibly tough as a kid, so with a bit of training, odds are he'd be a formidable warrior when he grows up. And with the way that his people sacrificed him, well... let's just say the if the Queen as Yorda ever got ideas to rebuild her kingdom, it's likely that Ico would find it easy to side with what he perceives to be his one friend rather then a group that saw him as something to dispose of.

  • I had a similar thought not long ago. Except, the Queen was just a very lonely old witch trying to find a true friend. Yorda would be created when a new boy was tossed into the castle, and then used to test their willingness to think about others. However, none of them succeeded (either being selfish or failing), and their souls were made into the Smokemen to help create obstacles. Ico, however was the exception, and his compassion and loyalty to Yorda showed the Queen that there was, in fact, someone who could care for Yorda (her).

rajendra82 posted "JoveHack, I think you've been playing too much Metal Gear Solid 2. Your post game analysis of Ico being used in a champion simulator is already used in that game. If Ico was meant to strongly bond with the girl, why would she not be taught to speak in his language. Also, why send Ico off alone in a boat if the awakened form was already the queen. And why go through all this trouble with the little horned boy champion. That big strong knight who got the magic sword at the beginning of the game would be a much better champion, so the queen should have used him for the execution instead. I am sorry, but your theory is too convoluted for this game."

  • Lack of a common language aids bonding, believe it or not.
  • A big strong knight as a conquering hero would attract more attention to the Queen as Yorda than she wants. Security through obscurity.
  • It's not a case of forcing Ico to bond. It's a matter of testing whether Ico will bond. Ico must demonstrate that, along with determination and resourcefulness to earn the position of Yorda's protector.
  • The queen's in dire straits. She has nothing to offer a big strong knight. Any advance promises would turn out to be as empty as the Castle in the Mists.
    • This big strong knight would then discard Yorda as useless after escaping the Castle. Look at how many players of the game failed to bond with Yorda and regard her in that light.
  • In any case, big strong knights aren't being delivered for incarceration in the Castle in the Mists. Just Ico. The queen has to take what she can get.
  • Remember, too, that Ico's was the last empty sarcophagus. She may well have had to rig this game in Ico's favor.

The queen has one last desperate throw in this game. Ico is it.

The Game was a hallucination.
Think about it. Ico is locked in the sarcophagus. The plot contrivance which frees him is very thin. The adventure was actually born out of his mind, as his brain began to run out of oxygen. How could Ico know that Yorda would be at the cage? What is with those weird shadowmen, who never seem to notice you, unless you are in their way? Simple, Ico is dying of asphyxiation, and those shadowmen are part of HIS mind, HIS inner demons, after Yorda, who represents his innocence. The queen is his perception of evils, of his wrongs and those who wronged him. This evil is trying to replace his innocence (Yorda). The ending is when the coffin finally runs out of air, and Ico is breathing his last, and catches a glimpse of his angel of his dreams before leaving this world.

  • So it was All Just a Dream?

  • Lovely hypothesis, except Ico has air in the sarcophagus. There's an viewport we can see Ico looking out through. It's more than large enough to let him breathe.

    • Replace "asphyxiation" with "dehydration". That or the holes have clear covers on them we can't see reflecting for some reason.

The Queen and Yorda are Descendants or fragments of Dormin

  • It's quite obvious that Yorda and the Queen are Dormin's descendants or pieces of Dormin; just look at Dormin in Shadow of the Colossus and compare it to the Queen and Yorda in Ico.
    • I think it's more likely that Ico is just a descendant of The Wanderer (Wander/Wanda), since he ends up as a horned baby by the end of the game. The Queen, on her part, has been collecting Horned Boys all this time (other descendants of The Wanderer) and absorbing their dark power, thus why she has magic and looks like she does.

The Queen had fallen out of favor with Dormin somehow, and when Ico fell out of his sarcophagus, Dormin saw an opportunity to inhabit and empower him.

This is the only in-universe explanation for several Plot Holes involving Ico's tenacity, up to and including his ability to climb any surface, run any distance, and dash at top speed while ignoring any kind of fatigue or starvation. Furthermore, after the scene at the bridge, Ico falls directly downward, presumably to his death in the ocean. Dormin's brought others back to life before (Wander repeatedly, culminating in his reincarnation as the first horned boy, as well as Mono at the end of the game), but bringing him back to life in the middle of the ocean wouldn't help much, would it, with that gate over the basement cave opening? So instead, he moves Ico's body to the top of a cage some distance away under the castle, so that Ico could jump, climb, and scurry back in. As for why he couldn't just grab another horned boy, well, they couldn't get out of their sarcophagus before they were shadowified.

  • I wouldn't say Ico ignores fatigue and starvation. Indeed, he rests and maybe even sleeps on the (possibly magical) benches. Resting (and the time skip at the cage) aside, we're also given reason enough to believe that the game happens roughly in real-time, so starvation is hardly an issue if we assume it plays out over a day or so. At worst, Ico would be famished, not starving. Even if we were to ignore SOTC and the role of Dormin's essence, Ico's above-average abilities could be explained as a property of the horned boys—they do, after all, possess a power the Queen finds desirable. And, compared to the average video game character, Ico's running, jumping, and climbing abilities are hardly superlative in the first place.

Economic Analysis

From a thread on the GameFAQs Ico board.

onionring1988 posted at 3/2/2009 8:44 AM "Okay so I just beat this game.. btw.. Great game I loved it and it was truly a great piece of work.. I loved the art direction and style. Anyways..."

That's as much a part of the story as anything. The Castle in the Mists is portrayed as part of the Age of Legends, an Age on the verge of fading away.

Meanwhile, as the knights and their steeds show, a strong community continues elsewhere. The horses are magnificent and well trained. Such warhorses do not exist in isolation. Blacksmiths, horse farms, veterinarians, brood mares, tack, grooms, plowhorses, tack-makers, breeding stock, colts, mares, trainers, farmers to raise the grain, farmers to support the people supporting the horses, etc. The knights and their steeds can only exist as the pinnacle of a very large economic pyramid. The horses are the result of a centuries long breeding program.

[Edit: Additionally, horses require constant intensive care. All horses. Moderns do not appreciate that horse care was a 24/7 job, whether the horse was used or not. In fact, horses must be exercised or they fall ill.]

Note that even Ico's clothing is too good for a plain villager. Child of the local squire at the very least.

onionring1988 also wrote, "I am kind of confused on the whole premise of the game. I feel like nothing was really answered..."

The premise of the game is "Small boy. Big castle." Ico triumphed over the Castle in the Mists and its Queen, with Yorda's help.

onionring1988 continued, "maybe I did not pay enough attention but what do you think. Who is Yorda? What is her significance? How did she become human after being transformed to a shadow demon?"

You've asked the key question. Who is Yorda? The Queen calls Yorda her one and only beloved daughter. What kind of child could the Queen bear? Could a human girl grow to Yorda's age hanging in a cage? There's no hint of food, drink, or servants to bring them to Yorda.

Yet Yorda has enough physical presence to slow Ico when holding his hand. Enough real mass to weigh down pressure plates to hold open doors for Ico. Enough independence to defy the Queen. Enough humanity to be turned to stone, just as the Queen tried to do to Ico. Yorda was also a mistress of the Castle in the Mists, opening sealed gateways, destroying shadow demons, creating bridges from the air, opening the main gates, and finally drawing on the Castle to recreate herself and rescue Ico.

onionring1988 continued, "In the beginning when Ico got out of that statue thing... do you think everyone in his tribe or something got stuck in them and thus they are the shadow demons?"

The other sarcophagi contain horned boys imprisoned one by one over the years as they came of age. Only the last set of shadow demons had horns such as Ico's, the shadow demons Ico destroyed in the room with the sarcophagi.

onionring1988 finished, "and lastly. What did you think of the ending?"

The best possible outcome, given the rest of the game.

Ico and Yorda rescued each other and brought down the Castle in the Mists. No more horned boys will be imprisoned there. The Queen no longer exists as Queen.

Ico's sound. Yorda's alive in the outside world. They have each other, their freedom, Ico's resourcefulness, Yorda's faith, mutual determination, a good boat, and the wide sea. It's an ending full of triumph and hope.

While Ico's village may not welcome him back, he has enough fortitude that that won't matter.

  • ICO turns players into Anthropologists. - Chibi-Kibou

  • Quick comment... the other Smokemen do have horns. I think the only type that don't are the spiders. On the other hand, the burly ones also have snouts, whatever that might imply.

Saving means that failure is All Just a Dream

You save by sleeping on the couch with Yorda. When you load a save, it shows them waking up. So if you save and then die, or quit the game without saving, everything past the point where you last saved was All Just a Dream.

How it ties to Shadow of the Colossus

This is more or less an one big elaboration on theories already posted, and I posted this in the SOTC WMG page.

When Wander killed the colossi and broke the seals, Dormin's power took Wander as his new host, but because of Dormin's deal with Wander, the feminine part of Their power went to Mono to revive her. The spell Emon casts at the end of the game not only resealed Dormin's power within Wander, but severely diminished it, with the side effect being that Wander was reborn as a baby with a piece of Dormin's power within him, giving him horns. Mono then raised baby Wander, and eventually he had children who would start the lineage of horned people.

It is possible that because of Dormin's power, Mono became immortal, but more corrupted as time passed. It's possible that she did have children with Wander, and the horned children are her descendants as well. But her immortality caused her loneliness as she watched her husband and children and grandchildren all die through the ages. She also learned how to begin harnessing the power of Dormin. When a horned descendant of hers died, it released a part of Dormin's power which she could absorb, and it was this that was prolonging her life and slowly made her more powerful.

It is possible that Wander and Mono had founded their own kingdom, or Mono used her power to take control of a kingdom, one which she would rule for centuries. This could explain the statues of the horned people seen in the castle in ICO. Mono would become the Queen, and as time passed she began to demand the horned children as sacrifices so she could continue living. Another possibility is that, rather than being an actual queen of a forgotten kingdom, Mono/the Queen simply terrorized the land kidnapping any horned children she found in some deranged attempt to be reunited with Wander who had died long ago, until it became tradition for people to willingly sacrifice the horned children so that they would be spared her wrath. Either way, it became a tradition, and the horned children were seen as a curse. Mono made her home in the abandoned castle, and waited for each sacrifice to strengthen her and prolong her life. This was the cursed fate for which Emon sacrificed Mono, which would be a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

But the Queen's body, Mono's body, would eventually begin to deteriorate as the time between each sacrifice became longer and longer, due to the horned children being sacrificed before they could have any children and pass down Dormin's power. The Queen had absorbed much of the masculine part of Dormin, which was another factor to her madness. She thought of a plan and created a new being, her daughter Yorda. It is possible that the Queen had Yorda with one of the horned children sacrificed. The Queen instilled in Yorda much of the feminine part of Dormin, which would cause the Queen to die quicker, so she needed to take over Yorda's body quickly, until Ico got free.

In some sense, Ico killing the Queen and escaping with Yorda can be seen in some way as redeeming the acts of Wander and Mono's life as the Queen. Much like Wander, Ico is determined to save a girl he likes, but whereas Wander's deal with Dormin could be seen as selfish, someone unwilling to let go of the dead and going to great extremes, Ico saves Yorda out of pure kindness and selflessness. At the same time, at the end of ICO, we see that Yorda is willing to part with ICO so that he can live, if you believe that Mono is the Queen longing for Wander.

Alternatively, the Queen could also be a descendant of Mono and Wander, rather than Mono herself. The Queen learned of her own lineage and found a way to harness Dormin's power; while the masculine part of Dormin is manifested as horned boys, the feminine part manifests as women with magical power.

Miyuki Miyabe's novelization is an Alternate Universe resulting from a different ending to Shadow of the Colossus.
ICO: Castle in the Mist was written before Shadow of the Colossus was made (one possible reason beyond Ueda wanting to maintain a vague storyline that it's non-canon), but it's surprisingly easy to retcon it in if we suppose that Colossus ended a little differently in the book's universe. Suppose the ritual completed successfully, with no interference from Emon, and suppose then that Dormin are if not good at least not malevolent - They return Wander's body to him once They extract the last bit of Their soul from his body, leaving horns as a sign of one who has carried the soul of a god inside his mortal body and survived. Naturally, They hold up the bargain about reviving Mono, as well, and send the lovers on their way. Everything that's different about the book - Ico's magic tabard, the castle's layout, Yorda being older, the little changes in the ultimate ending, and so on - are all cascading ripple effects from this one change.

Sir Ozuma, then, is a descendant of and quite possibly a reincarnation of Wander. Ozuma tells Yorda that all his people have horns, which they gained from the blood of their ancestor: an unnamed man who "carried in his veins the blood of a fierce wild ox, protector of the earth. He was our guardian deity, rescuing the weak and punishing our enemies, with eternal life granted him directly by Sol Raveh, the Sun God. Thus the horns are a sign of our divine gift and a symbol of our holy contract." A little garbling of the story over the ages and Dormin's influence might have become misattributed to the more popular Sol Raveh, and the blood of the Colossi to the wild ox. Or maybe Dormin was an aspect of the Sun God all along, or even the other way around.

Ozuma goes on to say that his people don't have a home country: as protectors of earth, they are perpetual wanderers who walk among the people of all nations. Wanderers, huh?

Ico is Ozuma's descendant in the novel, and if Ozuma is Wander's descendant, that keeps the 'Wander started the lineage of horned boys' plot point that Ueda confirmed.

The two gods mentioned in the novel are one and the same.
The Dark God and Sol Raveh are, in truth, different aspects of the same god, who embodies light and darkness equally, with one aspect sometimes showing more strongly than the other. In certain other countries, They are known by the name Dormin and worshiped as one.

  • From now on, this is my personal canon.- Creaturemaster

The alternating male and female characters in the "city escape" narrative in Braid are reincarnations of Ico and Yorda

The male thinks himself as a heroic defender; the female thinks that the male is hurting her.

The graves you see around the castle are the Queen's previous bodies.
The only people ever seen in the castle are the Queen and Yorda

The Team ICO trilogy of games are set in the Nier universe
Mainly due to the very similar visual aesthetic and style the two franchises share, but it could work. The games could be set in a part of the Nier world we don't see in those games; Ico is a member of a tribe of Replicants similar to Facade, the shadow creatures and Shadow Queen are Shades/Gestalts, and Yorda is the replicant of the Shadow Queen, whom she plans to possess, with the castle actually being some sort of "lost technology" facility of the past associated with Project Gestalt.
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