It’s time to get excited about Discovery’s Klingons


A prequel series allows you to expand upon things you thought you knew everything about, and Star Trek: Discovery’s approach to Klingons is a great example.

The Klingon race has undergone makeovers in the past throughout history, but perhaps never have they been explored so thoroughly as Star Trek: Discovery is poised to.

They went from a sneaky, conniving race in the original series, made alien by little more than bronze makeup and facial hair. When the original cast movies began, the Klingons received prosthetics and a more sinister appearance and attitude. Honor mattered to this blossoming race, and conquest through war was more important than anything.

The Klingons were further explored in both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. In TNG, their diversity of opinion and the enmity of houses came to the fore as the Klingon race descended into civil war. In this future, the Federation was an ally of Chancellor Gowron and the Klingon Empire, while brother fought against brother in the field and in space.

TNG also introduced a deep reverence for Kahless the Unforgettable. He was a messianic figure first mentioned (and seen) in TOS, but TNG took this to another level, showing us clerics and monasteries dedicated to his service. Suddenly, a one-dimensional warrior race became one that looked to the stars not just in conquest, but in fascination and search of a deity, and more depth was brought to the race as a result.

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Star Trek: Discovery is about to add volumes to the depth of knowledge we have on the Klingon Empire, and that’s a good thing. While the physical differences between both what we remember from the original series (which occurs 10 years after the events which are about to begin on September 24th) and TNG are remarkable, there appear to be good reasons for this. And they may be less stark than you think.

First off, as apex predators first on Qo’nos (home planet of the Klingon Empire) and then in space, Klingon ridges are more than mere affectations.

According to Mary Chieffo, who will play L’Rell on Discovery:

"Obviously the hair was the biggest thing people noticed, or the lack thereof. And I will attest to the fact there is a reason my ridge goes back the way it does. There are sensors and pheromones…There is a whole reasoning behind it that is adhering to what has always been true in Klingon canon…So I deeply believe we are in line with what has come before but is also adding a new kind of nuance."

This lends credence to the idea that the Klingons had an evolutionary advantage on their home planet which led them to be master hunters and warriors. While in space these built-in biological sensors serve less of an advantage, in planet-side battles (or those aboard ships) these can certainly provide an edge.

Additionally, Discovery will reveal that there will be 24 Klingon houses which we explore, a high level of diversity for a race which largely looks fairly homogenous. This could also provide an explanation for the variation in the Klingons we see on screen in TOS and what we see in Discovery (although there has so far been no mention of the Augment virus addressed in Star Trek: Enterprise).

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Among the houses we’ll see addressed appears House Mokai. This is one of the two houses Chieffo’s L’Rell hails from, along with House T’Kumva. The house of Mokai was mentioned in Star Trek: Voyager’s fourth season and 18th episode, “The Killing Game”.

This also introduces the idea that because the Klingon Empire is expansive, not every Klingon grew up on Qo’nos. Along with this comes minor visual differences between the Klingons we’ve seen images of so far. For example, in the show poster below on Redshirts Always Die’s Twitter account, Voq has lighter-colored than either L’Rell or Kol (played by Kenneth Mitchell).

Worth noting, the actor playing the role of Voq is yet unknown.

As we look at the differences in forehead ridges between the Klingons we see here and in other iterations of Star Trek, it’s notable that the main differences in appearance comes from the fact that these Klingons we’ve seen here so far are all bald. Forehead ridges vary from Klingon to Klingon even within episodes of the same series (compare Worf with Kahless, for example), and a Klingon’s ridges can change as he ages (see Worf in season one of TNG versus season seven of DS9). If these Klingons had hair like we’re accustomed to on-screen, the differences would be significantly less stark.

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Perhaps the most fascinating element of these Klingons is that they will speak Klingon on-screen with subtitles. Whether they will speak English while interacting with humans or Federation personnel isn’t clear, but in the (likely many) scenes where Klingons speak with each other, there will be no dumbing down of the dialogue for viewers.

Klingon is a particularly difficult language to master, not only because it is challenging to speak but because it is essentially an understood language and die-hards will pick linguistic and dialectic errors to shreds. It’s an ambitious undertaking that can be unforgiving if done poorly, but it’s a fantastic idea if they can pull it off right.

Kenneth Mitchell spoke about his experience with the language:

"It’s an incredibly complex language. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with [Klingon language inventor] Marc [Okrand]. But it is complicated for a reason so it feels alien. Because it is incredibly difficult and I don’t speak the language it takes a lot of muscle memory to memorized each separate syllable over and over and over. My kids think I am crazy walking around my house reading out these lines. But at the end of the day it is worth it. It adds such an amazing texture to the show and a real essence to help the audience learn about the culture."

They are able to implement such accurate linguistics thanks to the services of Klingonist Robyn Stewart, who may be the leading expert in the Klingon language. According to Chieffo, the Klingon actors also have the services of a dialect coach on set.

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These aren’t your grandfather’s Klingons. They share an origin and a lineage, but they’re a fleshed out, unique and interesting reimagining. Much of what you thought you knew about the Klingons may have to be discarded as you watch Star Trek: Discovery, and that’s a very excited prospect indeed.