Breaking Down That Incredible Klingon Flagship From ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV Star Trek
TV Star Trek

With the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Star Trek series to air in 12 years, there’s been a lot of talk about the redesigned Klingons. But that’s not the only new-look element Star Trek: Discovery brings us.

The Klingon flagship that is integral to the plot of the first two episodes is like nothing we — or the crew of the USS Shenzhou — have seen before. The series is set 10 years before the events of The Original Series and charts the unification of the 24 Klingon houses and the cold war that is sparked between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets.

With this in mind, FANDOM takes a closer look at the spectacular Klingon ship, its significance and what it can do.

Advanced Tech

The Klingon ship reveals itself -- as it's smashing into a Federation ship.

That’s right. This grand old Klingon ship is able to activate a cloaking device. The Klingons use their powers of invisibility to great effect to attack the Federation.

But the crew first encounters the Klingons’ advanced technological capabilities when Commander Burnham comes up close and personal with a craft-cum-object-cum-sculpture floating in the vicinity of the Shenzhou.

The crew can sense that something is there, and they detect photonic activity that’s playing with the Shenzhou’s optical sensors. This means they’re unable to see it. It’s emitting over 1 billion lumens per square metre, we’re told.

The ship’s First Officer and series protagonist, Burnham, volunteers to pop out in a space suit to investigate. It’s the first time she’s ever seen anything like what she finds – she can’t decide whether the structure she’s looking at was constructed or carved. She is struck by its beauty and intricacy.

She notes its facade: “Its surface has the appearance of stone with an exoskeleton of metal alloy.” She also observes that it’s centuries old.

Klingon messiah T’Kuvma refers to the object as the “sacred beacon”. It’s emitting a signal calling the Klingon houses together.

This sacred beacon is the location for the show’s pivotal moment — it’s on its surface that Burnham comes face to face with the Klingon that she accidentally kills. You know, the little incident that sparks the start of the war.

Crucially, the beacon is both connected to and has properties that are reflected in the flagship.

A Floating Graveyard

The sarcophagus of the torchbearer slots into its pod on the exterior of the Klingon flagship.

The next scene is on board that Klingon flagship. As T’Kuvma examines the body of the torchbearer Burnham killed – who has been enshrined in a sarcophagus – all around, you can see similar design elements from the space structure mirrored in the interior of the ship.

The ship’s interior, like the beacon, has a skeleton-like structure and has much in common appearance-wise with the Klingons’ physical make-up. The materials used in construction and the way they’re crafted give the ship’s innards an organic feel. We learn here that it’s external structure is in part made up of countless numbers of their dead, all enshrined in the same way as the torchbearer.

Kelpian Shenzhou Science Officer, Saru, notes that the “hull is covered in hollow, ornamental, metallic pods – thousands of them, tightly interlocked forming a kind of armour.” He also suggests that this is more symbolic than practical before revealing that these pods “contain Klingon biological material in various states of decay”. Some of it is thousands of years old, some is only hours old, he says.

Burnham spells it out for us that the whole ship is covered in coffins.

A Historic Holy Relic

A flashback to the moment T'Kuvma discovered his father's ship.

We learn in Episode 2, “Battle at the Binary Stars“, that the ship belonged to T’Kuvma’s father but that it lay abandoned after his death. T’Kuvma discovered it, he says, and for him, it’s a powerful symbol as much as it is a vessel. Hence the reason for entombing their dead within its external structure. As well as an effective cloaking device, it’s also equipped with a powerful series of tractor beams that gather up the bodies of their dead.

T’Kuvma believes that Kahless the Unforgettable, a mythical Klingon figure, is reborn in him, and this, in turn, gives the ship added significance. It stands for the unity of the Klingon houses – which T’Kuvma has made his mission to achieve. The Sarcophagus ship is a holy vessel – and is recognised as such by the rest of his house once they embrace him as their new leader.

It’s an imposing, impressive ship and an important new addition to the Star Trek universe. We’re looking forward to seeing more of it as the series unfolds.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.