Captain Kirk smacking a dude in a green rubber lizard costume might be one of the most enduring images from Star Trek: The Original Series. But, this classic kitschy showdown between human and Gorn in the TOS episode “Arena,” is also just one distillation of what made the classic Trek series great. Based upon a 1944 short story of the same name by Fredric Brown, the trappings of “Arena,” and the Gorn captain in specific feel right at home in the pages of a pulpy science fiction magazine. And yet, as a Star Trek episode, the story of “Arena,” isn’t actually about a whitebread Flash Gordon-type killing an enemy alien. Spoiler alert, this episode is actually about Captain Kirk not murdering an intelligent dino-man, even though he totally could.
Ever since the bipedal lizard aliens known as the Gorn appeared in “Arena,” Trek fans have been obsessed. Tragically, our Gorn-love is somewhat unrequited, because when it comes to live-action appearances of the Gorn, within the Prime Universe canon of the series, we’re still limited that iconic rubber lizard suit, designed by Wah Chang, and played by Bobby Clark, Gary Combs and William Blackburn. Yes, we saw a Gorn in the Enterprise episode “In a Mirror Darkly, Part 2,” but there wasn’t an wobbly rubber, and it all happened in Mirror Universe. 54 years after “Arena” aired on January 19, 1967, looking for in-the-rubber-flesh Gorn in the rest of Trek inherently means you are looking for Gorn Easter eggs.
In honor of the on-screen birthday of the Gorn in “Arena,” here, in no particular order, eight of the best Easter eggs and references to the Gorn throughout the Star Trek franchise.
“Time Trap” Gorn from Star Trek: The Animated Series
After the Gorn captain (sometimes named S'slee in official Star Trek roleplaying games) fought Kirk in “Arena,” the next Gorn we saw was in the TAS episode “Time Trap.” This Gorn was an “Elysian councilor”; an ad hoc group of various species who decided how to govern within a kind of Bermuda Triangle for starships. This Gorn did not have a big part, but for fans in the ‘70s, they did briefly quench the Gorn thirst.
Although there was not one single Gorn in live action Trek after “Arena” (1967) and before “In a Mirror Darkly, Part 2” (2005) there were three references to the planet Cestus III — where the Gorn attack began in “Arena” — in Deep Space Nine. In the episodes “Family Business” and “The Way of the Warrior,” we get the sense that Cestus III is a peaceful and thriving colony in the 24th Century. Sisko also mentions Kirk “fighting the Gorn on Cestus III'' in “Trials and Tribble-ations.” DS9 also established that there is something called Pike City on Cestus III in the 24th Century, almost certainly named for Captain Christopher Pike.
Speaking of Pike, in the Discovery episode “Saints of Imperfection,” Pike says he heard Leland was “up to his ass in alligators” on Cestus III. If Pike is talking about the Gorn, then that is a Gorn Easter egg disguised as an alligator idiom.
Unseen Gorn babies — delivered by Bones!
In Star Trek Into Darkness, Bones says he has performed a C-section to help deliver Gorn babies — octuplets to be precise. Bones also says that these Gorn babies bit him, which is not shocking. Obviously, we never actually saw these Gorn babies, but we have to assume — despite what Bones says — that they were totally, and completely, adorable.
Lorca’s Gorn Skeleton in Star Trek: Discovery
An early clue that Captain Lorca had access to info that didn’t quite match-up with what he should have known about the Prime Universe was his creepy trophy room full of weapons and random mad scientist stuff. Starting with the Discovery Season 1 episode, “Context Is For Kings,” we also saw a Gorn skeleton among Lorca’s possessions. This skeleton pretty neatly matches the way the Gorn looked in “Arena,” which means it basically stands upright. This differs from the Gorn that Mirror Archer fought in Enterprise, which had a posture more like a dinosaur. In the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game’s Beta Quadrant Sourcebook, one explanation is offered for the different looking Gorn. There’s (at least) two species of Gorn: the Russth (Enterprise) and the Ssessekh (TOS). While it’s not exactly canon, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook suggests “anecdotal evidence points to as many as four others.”
In the 1968 prose adaptation of “Arena” by James Blish (found in Star Trek 2, from Bantam Books) the author describes the Gorn with a tail! Before VHS recordings, Blish based his book versions of TOS episodes on early scripts, and his own sci-fi novelist imagination. As of now, a Gorn with a tail has not made it onto on screen canon.
Captain Freeman’s Gorn Doll in Lower Decks
In the Lower Decks episode “Veritas,” Rutherford inexplicably finds himself at a Gorn wedding. But, because those Gorn are actually part of the plot, it’s hard to call this a true Gorn “Easter egg.” But, if you want a slightly less-obvious Gorn shout-out in Lower Decks, it's right there in Captain Freeman’s Ready Room. Starting with the episode “Much Ado About Boimler,” we learn that Captain Freeman has a small Gorn model (action figure) among her prized possessions.
The Vasquez Rocks
In real life, the place where Kirk and the Gorn fought in “Arena” was filmed at the Vasquez Rocks in California. However, this was not the only time a Star Trek production used the Vasquez Rocks to depict an alien planet. In addition to “Arena,” the Vasquez Rocks appear in the TOS episodes "Shore Leave,” “The Alternative Factor,” and “Friday’s Child.” The TNG episode “Who Watches the Watchers'' filmed there, as did the Voyager episodes “Initiations" and “Gravity.” In Enterprise, the Vasquez Rocks appeared in the episode “Unexpected.” In the films, the Vasquez Rocks was the planet Vulcan in The Voyage Home and Star Trek 2009.
To date, Star Trek: Picard is the only in-canon appearance of the Vasquez Rocks where this spot is just called “The Vasquez Rocks.” And yet, this place is still most famous for being the place where Kirk fought the Gorn in “Arena.” Is every appearance of the Vasquez Rocks a Gorn Easter egg? Maybe not. But in the case of Picard, it sure feels like it!
The Gorn did what?
In the Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 debut, “That Hope Is You Part 1,” Book tells Michael Bunrham that the Gorn destroyed “two light years of subspace,” Michael responds by saying, “Wait, the Gorn did what?” This single reaction pretty much describes every single Gorn Easter egg on this list. You can use “the Gorn did what?” to react to anything. Try it!
“Gorn Egg” in Star Trek: Picard
According to self-professed Gorn lovers Akiva Goldsman and Michael Chabon, an alternate version of Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard could have featured even more Gorn references than what we saw on screen. In a video interview with Wired, Chabon and Goldsman joked that they attempted to jam way more Gorn Easter eggs into Picard than ended-up being possible. As Goldsman said in the interview: “No episode passed through our greedy Trekkie fingers...without Michael and I trying and failing to get a wink or a nod to the Gorn into text or on the screen.”
Chabon goes on to say that in Picard episode 4, “Absolute Candor,” that behind Soji and Narek, in one scene, was meant to be a painting of a Gorn on black velvet. Chabon says two of these paintings were done by John Eaves, though in post-production, the painting was replaced by a Romulan control panel.
That said, in the Picard episode “The End is the Beginning,” there is, perhaps, the most perfect Gorn Easter egg of all time, which is literally called “Gorn Egg.” When Raffi finds a secret piece of evidence located on Freecloud, we briefly see the words “Gorn Egg” flash on her screen. Chabon claims in the same interview that the idea that someone would use “Gorn Egg” as a computer code could prove that in Trek canon, Gorn eggs are “hard to crack.”
But do Gorn actually lay eggs? Because Bones performed that off-screen C-section in Into Darkness, the answer feels like a no. Then again, that was the Kelvin Universe and Bones likes to exaggerate, too. Also, like we said, there are a lot of species of Gorn out there, so maybe some lay eggs and some don’t. It’s really tough to say until we see more live-action Gorn on screen.
Then again, perhaps the scarcity of the Gorn is what makes us continue to love them so much. Because if we had more Gorn than we already do, wouldn’t that make the Easter eggs less fun?
Ryan Britt's (he/him) essays and journalism have appeared in Tor.com, Inverse, Den of Geek!, SyFy Wire, and elsewhere. He is the author of the 2015 essay collection Luke Skywalker Can't Read. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and daughter.
Star Trek: Picard streams on CBS All Access in the United States, in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave, and on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.