ReDeads are one of the creepier creatures in the Zelda series. They, as their name suggests, might be the closest thing that the Zelda universe has to a zombie. However, this explanation may be slightly too simple. Sure, the ReDeads are clearly reanimated corpses that generally give off a soul-piercing scream, freezing Link into place so that they can hold their prey down and begin biting him to death. But, unlike with the zombies we see so often in popular culture, Link is never turned into a ReDead himself despite being chomped on pretty good. What exactly are ReDeads, and what role do they play in the world of Zelda?
So, what do various Zelda entries have to say about this creature that so easily induces nightmare fuel? Well, Ocarina of Time, where the monsters first appeared, says, “Its gaze will paralyze you. If it bites you, tap any button to escape!” Other than this, the player has to go off of the physical appearance of the ReDead to gather any more information about it. The ReDead appears to be wearing a Wooden Mask (or its face has been distorted to look like one), which may seem like an odd choice of character design. However, it could be that the designer intended the mask to be a symbol of some kind of ritual Hylians perform to honor or bury their dead.
We can’t know for sure, so let’s turn to the Redead’s next appearance for more information.
In Majora’s Mask, the ReDeads have the same appearance and behavior to their Ocarina of Time counterparts. For example, Tatl mentions the ReDead’s paralyzing gaze much like Navi did. But, instead of mentioning biting like her predecessor, Tatl simply says to “shake it off if you get caught.” This difference could indicate that the ReDeads of Majora’s Mask are less inclined to bite their victims, choosing to squeeze them into submission instead.
We see another difference from Ocarina of Time in how Link has the power to affect the ReDeads’ behavior. If Link wears certain masks around the monsters, they will begin to dance. While players can shrug this off as an Easter Egg, I believe the dancing can indicate something more significant about the ReDead’s nature. Even though they are reanimated creatures, the ReDead could still have a need to carry out a service that was ingrained in them before their death. Dancing, specifically in the presence of colorful masks, could have been their role in life. The ReDeads, perhaps as entertainers to a royal court before death, still feel themselves, deep down in their soul, under the service of the King of Ikana. Masks of certain ceremonies may just spark those inert feelings and force the ReDead to re-live past traditions.
Perhaps we can find more information about what makes a ReDead a ReDead by looking at their appearance in The Wind Waker. Unlike the brown, almost featureless ReDeads of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the ghoulish corpses of the Great Seas are blue with pointy ears and glowing, red eyes. And instead of moaning in agony, this kind of ReDead waits silently for Link to approach before its eyes light up and it screams.
If the player has a Tingle Tuner handy, Tingle will scream and say that the ReDead is scary, closing his eyes in fear. And the figurine for the ReDead says:
Habitat: Earth Temple
Least Favorite Thing: Mirror Shield
These undead creatures live only in the darkest depths of the earth. Their icy cold gazes paralyze their victims with fear. Try to attack them from behind.
Despite some common traits, it’s almost as if the ReDead’s behavior varies depending on its environment. Throughout the three Zelda titles, ReDeads do share some commonalities in regard to where they are found. The creatures inhabit dark, dingy places that seem to be associated in some way with death. While a likely explanation for their existence could be that the evil inhabiting such places somehow resurrected the dead bodies back to life, perhaps there is a more metaphorical explanation to what a ReDead is.
It could be that ReDeads have inhabited these dark places for so long because of a desire to become keenly aware of the feeling of death. Perhaps they have learned how much Hylians fear the end of life, so they make sure to hone their gaze such that it conveys what it’s like to be bathed in that feeling day in and day out. They draw their appearance and behavior from the deathly fears of the worlds they exist in, whether it be in the form of a wooden burial mask, a dance of death, or the blue-tinted image of a drowned corpse. They then, like the mythical Cockatrice, weaponize that gaze, paralyze their victims with the fear of death, and thus render the victims lifeless like stone.
However, this is all speculation. What do you think ReDeads are? Mere zombies or something more? Let us know down in the comments!