FromSoftware recently announced an expansion to its lauded open world game, which means the Elden Ring theorists have kicked into gear. Speculation has been running rampant ever since, and while we don’t 100% know who’s on the key art the developer released for Shadow of the Erdtree, the general consensus is that we’re looking at Miquella. Based on that assumption, everyone is taking a much closer look at the angelic Empyrian, and realizing that perhaps there were things we missed along the way while playing through Elden Ring our first time around.
There are some basics most people will agree on when it comes to Miquella, the demigod known for having an unnatural ability to make people love him. One, in-game item descriptions make it seem like Miquella either is or may be connected to Saint Trina, a sleep deity. While we never see Miquella in-game (aside from a dangling giant arm), we know he’s alive, though perhaps not 100% with us in this realm. And of course, we know that Miquella was incredibly close to his sister Malenia, and he wanted to save her from the rot that is eating her up. The Haligtree, which you visit late in-game, is a direct consequence of that bond: Miquella wanted to start a new order for the undesirables of society, ultimately giving up the Golden Order that heralds the Erdtree.
OK, cool! You may have missed much of this if you weren’t reading various item descriptions closely, but again, these are just the basics. How people interpret these pieces of evidence are another matter entirely. Theorists have long wondered if, given Miquella’s noted ability to influence people around him, it might be possible that he’s somehow orchestrating your entire mission. After all, one of his items is literally something that can bewitch enemies into doing his bidding and all those mega rare Trina lilies just happen to line the path you need to take to complete the game. I could also point you to cut content that might suggest as much, but that’s just the first layer of galaxy brain we can reach. Now everyone is wondering if the rabbit hole goes deeper. Here’s where it gets fun.
Ranni and Miquella are both the offspring of Radagon; this much you already know. But did you notice that the very first time Ranni shows up, she puts Kalé to sleep with purple fog–the same fog that comes up when you use Saint Trina’s items?
It’s not outlandish to imagine that the half-siblings interacted with one another at some point given their relationship, but it’s never a connection that is explicitly stated by Elden Ring. Ranni simply mentions that Miquella is one of three empyrians, but he’s not the point of the story that she goes on to tell.
So at first, there’s never a reason to believe Miquella has anything to do with what Ranni is doing. In many ways, Ranni and Miquella’s interests seem vastly opposed to one another: Ranni killed Godwyn and cursed him to have a horrific, never-ending spread via death root. Only Godwyn’s soul dies, but his godly body continues to live in a messed-up way. While there’s reason to believe Miquella and Godwyn might’ve had a complicated relationship given that Godwyn was the Order’s golden boy, Miquella still loved him enough to want to give him a proper death. It’s possible that Ranni and Miquella grew apart (there’s a theory that the two became enemies), but didn’t start out that way.
Ranni does tell you that the spirit bell that she gives you belonged to Torrent’s former master, though it’s not obvious what this means at the time. But now that we have this artwork, if that’s Torrent in the picture, then it could mean that the ghost horse used to belong to Miquella. Actually, Ranni’s entire storyline has a surprising number of ties to sleep–which Saint Trina governs. There’s the fact that Queen Rennala, Ranni’s mother, is suspended in perpetual slumber. I’m sure you know this in the sense that the little blue witch intervenes mid boss fight and literally tells you, “Mother’s rich slumber shall not be disturbed by thee.” But without the Saint Trina context, there’s no reason to think twice about her dialogue there. Sure, it’s kinda weird, but no weirder than anything else that happens in Elden Ring.
It’s an especially notable state for Rennala to normally be in some kind of slumber when you consider what we learn about sleep, both in-game and via cut content. This will be quite a detour, but stay with me, as I want to present as much evidence as possible for my argument about why Rennala might be sleeping.
According to cut content, Kale, a character you meet at the start of the game, is a part of a race of merchants who have been cursed to eternal madness. Saint Trina, who may or may not be related to a demi-god that has an incurable disease, loves a good underdog. So she takes it upon herself to soothe the merchants from madness via a special lullaby, thus allowing them to sleep soundly.
Cut content also tells us of a concoction called Dream Brew, which allows people to enter the dreams of others. This is all subtext, but based on how Dream Brew is introduced to you, it comes across as something that the quest giver wants because it’s like an opioid. The horrors of this world are plenty, but the land of dreams, she is sweet. Rico, the dude who tells you all about it, calls The Lands Between unkind, says it’s a “crumbling” world that, should you ever have enough Dream Brew, you’ll eventually feel is “futile”. This might explain why, in the actual game, one Saint Trina item description says, “The sweet oblivion of sleep can become quite the habit.”
Part of me wants to think that Miquella has been gone this entire time because he’s out there, scheming something we could never imagine. But there’s also the possibility that, after his entire family goes mad or dies, maybe he’s just sick of this shit. In Rennala’s case, if you consider her wider story, it’s pretty damn tragic. First she does Radagon a solid and welcomes him into the Carian line, which was his fastpass into learning sorcery. He needed to know both sorcery and incantations to ascend to something closer to godhood. And what does he do? Just up and leaves her with some weird egg, to marry…himself. It’s never outright said, but item descriptions give the sense that something was amiss all along–why would he need preceptors swear to keep everything a secret? Sounds like an abusive relationship to me.
After suffering this great loss, rather than support or comfort her, the assholes at the academy lock her up. I can’t imagine seeing my mom go through all this, so if Ranni has the ability to help her not feel that pain anymore, wouldn’t she take it? It stands out to me that when we go into the boss room, Rennala isn’t singing a lullaby to her students, they’re singing to her. The entire room is dark when you first enter. I don’t know that the Carian queen is sleeping all the time, otherwise she couldn’t have rebirthed all those kids, but if this theory is true, it could explain why the boss fight is weirdly easy. This world, the one that has taken everything from her, is unkind. She has little to live for, and possibly a more enticing place to go.
While I see the Rennala stuff as arguable, Ranni herself has a more direct connection to sleep. There’s the whole doll thing, where Ranni has to enter her slumber which she can’t awake from for some time. Most of us probably experienced this and thought, “this is just how the developers gate new dialogue.” This way, you won’t feel robbed when Ranni has nothing new to say, she’s asleep, bro!
But what if it was signaling something else entirely? Ranni goes elsewhere, that much is obvious, but what if it’s the same dream world that’s governed by Saint Trina? Miquella is alive, but he’s sleeping in such a way that no mortal being can wake him, no matter what twisted things Mohg might try. So we know these characters can enter some other realm that we can’t fully see or interact with.
We may have already gotten a taste of this in-between place–and it very well might hold some clues for what’s to come in the expansion. Those of you who have traversed the Mountaintop of the Giants likely came across Castle Sol, home of some of the most devastating challenges in the game. You know those spectral knights you fight? They clearly don’t seem to be fully…here, right? Then, when you get to the end of the dungeon, not only does it give you the second half of the key to the Haligtree, but you also meet a specter who just happens to mention that the sun has not been “swallowed,” and because of that, they’ve failed in their larger mission. “Your comrade remains soulless,” he cries, noting that he’ll never see the Haligtree now. This poor dude is talking about notoriously soulless Godwyn, of course, and the implication is that they were trying to revive him or give him a proper death somehow.
The sun swallowing is important, though. It stands to reason that this specter guy is talking about inducing an eclipse. You pick up eclipse items around this area and there’s a dang eclipse church around the corner, so yeah, ‘sun swallowing’ probably has a very specific meaning here. It’s also worth noting that the Mending Rune of Death that Fia gives you resembles an eclipse itself. I know what you’re thinking. No it doesn’t. Those are just circles on a squiggly line, it could be anything. But if you compare the rune to the eclipse weapons, you’ll find they’re almost identical in construction.
The circumstantial evidence in the key art supports the notion everything I just mentioned will come to a head very soon. We don’t see a sun anywhere in the horizon. The title: Shadow of the Erdtree. What’s causing it? And perhaps the smoking gun here: What if the dark, inky debris that seems to be overtaking the Erdtree…is Death Root? One of the things we notice as we go through Elden Ring is that Death Root’s spread has been nearly unstoppable. While I played, I wondered if Godwyn couldn’t overtake the entire world at some point, and if so, what effect that would have on The Lands Between.
Now we arrive at the expansion: perhaps we’re about to find out. If theoretically Miquella or his associates are finally able to make an eclipse happen, then not only would Godwyn possibly come back or be laid to rest, but Death Root might find the perfect conditions to spread exponentially. Not to mention, beyond the number of cut missions data miners like Sekiro Dubi have found that all have to do with Saint Trina and the dream world, they’ve also found an unused location called Saint Trina’s hideaway. Incidentally, it’s also the location where players will find a statue of Miquella with Malenia in the retail version of the game. I can’t be the only one who, upon finding this area, scoured every pixel and attacked everything in sight in the hopes of maybe activating a hidden door or something. It already looks like an important place that should lead somewhere. And that was before I knew any of this Saint Trina stuff!
Then again, it could all be one big fakeout. Maybe that’s Marika. Maybe it’s someone else entirely. But I love that with a single picture, the Japanese developer has made me question everything I thought I knew about a game that I’ve spent hundreds of hours in already.
Update 3/14 12:31 p.m.: Clarified what Ranni actually said about Torrent.