Gundyr

Gundyr wears “very” old cast-iron armor, with the helmet being made to resemble the face of a king wearing his crown. Although this look is an obvious reference to Old King Doran from Demon’s Souls, it nevertheless implies that Gundyr himself is a king — any warrior of lesser status would be dangerously disrespecting the lord he actually served. Indeed, his name “Gunda” (グンダ) possibly derives from Gundahar, (グンダハール) whose life inspired legends of the warrior king Gunther. With that in mind, the man is most likely a king of Lothric. His armor bears some resemblance to the melted iron armor of Lothric’s old dragonslayers, from its plain silvery metal to its tassets without crotch protection to its boots shaped like feet to its ankle-length waist cape, making it feasible for Gundyr to have been Lothric’s founding king. In fact, establishing a northern kingdom to combat wyverns plaguing the land perfectly mirrors the foundation of Boletaria by Doran in Demon’s Souls. The two characters were definitely both heroes of their own stories.

Gundyr is described as a champion, or “hero”, (英雄) the same as those who commit to linking the fire. This is especially relevant considering that the warrior is late to arriving at Firelink Shrine, resulting in him being met with neither a fire-lit shrine nor a ringing bell. It would seem that the would-be firelinker’s timespace intersected with the Dark dimension for Firelink Shrine, where he encounters us whilst exploring the Untended Graves and suffers defeat. Similar to the Giant Lord in Dark Souls II, we apparently don’t take all of his soul during our foray through spacetime, as what is left of Gundyr was made into a scabbard for the spiral sword to the Firelink Shrine bonfire. This was because the king was to serve as the “Judge of Ash”, (灰の審判者) which the localization renders as the Latin iudex. It is the man’s duty to be hostile when we attempt to retrieve the spiral sword, the first trial for unkindled in Lothric’s emergency firelinking system.

These developments beg two questions: who set him up as the judge, and why has he remained alive for so long? Considering that he is made the centerpiece in the ruined chamber of Lothric’s old ritual place, the local church had been managing the living scabbard, making the kingdom he once ruled likely responsible for making him a sheath to begin with — probably with Irithyll’s blessing if not cooperation. Cut content reinforces this notion, originally placing Gundyr in the ruined temple where we ultimately find the Consumed King Oceiros. Similar to the ruins in the Cemetery of Ash, there would have been a chamber to battle the judge and then one for enshrining the Lordvessel, with the spectral swords surrounding Gundyr possibly denoting warriors who have previously failed the trial and been subsequently buried there. Placing him in the earliest iteration of this firelinking facility lines up with him being Lothric’s founding king and further deepens his ties with the local church revering the ancient ruins. As to his immortality, the pus of man he bears — befitting his initial placement in the garden where it runs rampant — might reveal the answer.

For the most part, Undead perform the firelinking ritual, and the pus of man typically manifests in such cursed individuals. Gundyr is therefore likely to have died and manifested the Darksign prior to becoming the judge, potentially explaining his current immortality. However, while his skin’s corpse-like pallor resembles that of a Hollow, it doesn’t seem to be decayed; neither is he affected by the Hollowslayer Greatsword. In that case, Gundyr may have instead been bound similar to the staff at Firelink Shrine. Indeed, Andre is also an Undead, but he will revive unhollowed no matter how many times we kill him at the shrine. Defeating Iudex Gundyr likewise doesn’t reward a boss soul, meaning that the bulk of his essence may be linked to another source so that his body can be revived and the process repeat. The judge would thus be able to weather the generations without fear of hollowing. At the same time, the presence of the pus of man within Gundyr makes it possible for judge’s boss soul to have already been consumed by his own humanity mid-battle, leaving nothing for us to acquire.

Regardless of the exact cause of his longevity, Gundyr has remained at the shrine for centuries to fulfill his new duty after falling to an anonymous warrior. But was it really new? The halberd the king wields was given to him along with his mission, and the description affirms that it doesn’t “decay”, hence its absurd durability compared to most weapons. From this, the description infers that the length of his mission was decided from the start. But the firelinking mission doesn’t require that much time to perform, the trials for our journeys in each game taking maybe a few months at most. Rather, such durability is more befitting the warrior’s subsequent role as the immortal judge. In other words, Gundyr and his benefactor’s understanding of what his mission entailed might have been entirely different. Was it all a setup?

Halberd of Hero Gunda. Thing given to him along with a mission.

It is said that the old cast-iron halberd excels in its power to whittle away at tenacity and doesn’t decay. The length of the mission was probably decided on from the start.

The Prisoner’s Chain is a broken chain link repurposed as a ring, granting the wearer strength for their life, stamina, and body in exchange for taking more damage from enemies. The underlying implication is clear. One who is chained in place can be safer than those free to take risks but is left more vulnerable to those there with them, such as the shackler. Gundyr was once bound by this chain, but it is derived from the hero we face in the Untended Graves and so is unlikely to be related to him becoming the judge. In other words, he had been chained prior to his battle with us. The description additionally defines a prisoner as someone who accepts “everything” at the cost of “liberty”, especially when “everything” is a heroic destiny. This is an obvious jab at Gundyr letting his future be decided by his blind obedience to his supposed fate as a hero, presumably out of piety and honor. But it comes with much darker implications for the future judge.

Fragment of an iron chain that once bound Gunda. Boosts life power, stamina power, and body power, but also increases enemy damage.

A prisoner is one who accepts everything at the price of liberty. If it is the fate of a hero, probably all the more.

What if Gundyr was only late because he had been restrained as part of some ploy to guarantee he failed his ostensible mission? His true mission was always becoming a sheath for the coiled sword and a trial judging unkindled ash, and he was armed with that in mind. But this party had tricked the king into believing he was to become the next Lord of Cinder, manipulating his sense of duty to bind him to the mission. But when the time came to actually embark on that mission, he was captured and imprisoned until it was too late to complete it. And after we happened to subdue the warrior at the darkened shrine, he was condemned for his failure by becoming a judge for those who might link the fire in his place. Gundyr accepted this punishment despite the obvious foul play involved presumably because the king believed himself at fault for getting captured in the first place, not realizing that this outcome was the intention of those who gave him his weapon from the start. As far as he may have been aware, he was destined to be a hero and failed to fulfill it due to his own carelessness.

If so, then Gundyr’s failed firelinking is likely the fool’s tragedy referenced in the description of the Estus Ring. This ring crafted from the fragments of an Estus Flask was entrusted to a certain Fire Keeper who ultimately never met her hero. Because it improves the power of Estus, it was probably intended to be passed along to a particular Undead she was supposed to meet and help this person become a Lord of Cinder. And since the ring is found off one among a pile of Fire Keepers’ skeletal remains in their tomb at Firelink Shrine, we can surmise that she had died by the time her intended partner had arrived. Gundyr embarking on a firelinking mission requires that he have corresponding Fire Keeper assisting him, one who was absent from the shrine when he finally arrived if its unlit bonfire is any indication. Moreover, his belated arrival gave plenty of opportunity for this Fire Keeper to die before they could meet, making her the most likely candidate for the tragic fool.

Green ring made from fragments. Boosts HP recovery amount of Est Bottle.

It is said that it was entrusted to a certain Fire Keeper, but she ultimately never met the hero. Eventually, the tragedy of the fool became a legend of the general public’s liking.