Prior to the actual episode
King Sombra first appeared on Hasbro's Pony Wedding microsite, which has been accessible since July 2012, before any information about the character was released publically. The quiz does not refer to him by name. In the microsite's Wedding Quiz section, the quiz "Your dream wedding location!" includes the question "Who should be the MC?", with Sombra as the choice that steers the quiz's result to the Crystal Empire.
Writer M.A. Larson wrote on Twitter regarding the quiz's image of King Sombra that was presented to him: "Interesting. I read about that in a script but never seen it before.
King Sombra is mentioned by one of the crystal ponies and Twilight Sparkle in the promotional clip for The Crystal Empire shown at Hasbro's My Little Pony panel at the New York Comic Con 2012 and later uploaded to Hasbro's My Little Pony Facebook page. His distinct eyes briefly flash over the crystal pony who mentions his name.
Depiction in the series
King Sombra is a unicorn whose heart is said to be as black as night. He took over the Crystal Empire and enslaved the crystal ponies, before Celestia and Luna overthrew him, turning him to shadow and banishing him to the Arctic North, disappearing into a crevice of ice which closed up, but not before he put a curse on the Crystal Kingdom that caused it to disappear for a thousand years.
Eventually the Crystal Empire reappeared, but the crystal ponies had no memory of their kingdom before Sombra took over, and the mere memory of him causes them pain. Sombra returned along with the Crystal Empire, and tried to attack it again. Princess Cadance cast a protection spell around the Crystal Empire.
When Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Spike came to the Crystal Empire to protect it, Sombra chased after them in shadow form, but they got through the barrier, although he attacked Shining Armor he survived, but his horn was cursed so that he could not use magic.
When Cadance began to run out of power to perform the spell, the barrier briefly deactivated. Sombra's horn was broken off as the barrier reactivated, and he transformed it into a dark crystal which began to create more dark crystals in the Crystal Empire.
Twilight and Spike searched for the Crystal Heart, the key to protecting the empire, inside the castle, where nopony would dare to look. They ran into a door enchanted by Sombra to confront them with their worst fears. In Twilight's case, she thought Celestia told her that she failed her test and wouldn't continue her studies. After snapping her out of this, Spike thought Twilight was sending him away, but Twilight realized what Sombra was doing.
Eventually they reached the Crystal Heart, but Sombra, able to invade once Cadance was no longer able to perform her spell, trapped Twilight in a wall of dark crystals, keeping her from the Crystal Heart. Twilight told Spike to take the Crystal Heart to Cadance. Returning to his physical form, Sombra tried to spear Spike with a dark crystal, but Cadance saved him from the attack. She then returned the Crystal Heart, and together with the crystal ponies used its power to unleash a wave of magic that restored the Crystal Empire and destroyed Sombra, shattering him to pieces.
King Sombra was briefly refrenced in the episode, "Games Ponies Play". Twilight also uses his magic in "Princess Twilight Sparkle Part 1".
Depiction in the comics
King Sombra of a parallel world will appear in the seventh arc (Issues 17-20) comics. He is the polar opposite of the Sombra from the show, as he is a good ruler of the parallel world where Celestia and Luna are evil. He is in love with Celestia of Equestria.
This version of Sombra however would suffer a terrible fate in allowing himself to be taken by evil to protect his beloved Celestia and both their worlds from destruction, becoming just like the King Sombra from Celestia's world. But even after being taken by evil, this Sombra mourns his beloved Celestia, now lost to him, possibly forever.
In Friends Forever #4, it is shown how King Sombra captured a Crystal Bard and enslaved him, making him read books for him, after the Crystal Bard escaped King Sombra with his royal guards trying to recapture him but the Crystal Bard became smarter than him.
Compared to other villains on the show, King Sombra's personality is not too elaborated on. Instead, he is little more than a dark, looming menace for most of the episode. He has very few speaking lines, some of then half-incoherent, and is a very mysterious character, whose backstory is limited to the fact that he enslaved the crystal ponies. The source of his dark powers and his motivations remain an enigma. He is however shown to be extremely cruel, fierce and sadistic, viewing crystal ponies as nothing more than his slaves, using fear on them and other characters, and licking his lips as the prospect of possibly kill Spike (although he may have primarily been after the Crystal Heart).
Sombra appears to be very intelligent, as he seemingly thought ahead of his enemies and placed a curse upon the empire to disappear if he gets defeated, and he cleverly booby-trapped the way to the Crystal Heart. He ended up outsmarting Twilight as she fell for every one of the traps, more than one of which would have defeated Twilight Sparkle if not for the presence of Spike.
King Sombra appears in the show as a being of pure darkness. Due to this, he appears to be virtually impossible to damage via targeted magic, easily dodging Shining Armor's magic beam. However, he cannot penetrate some magical barriers, as he was unable to touch the Princess Cadance's field of love magic without getting harmed. His dark form can spread to immense distances, to the point that he can surround the Crystal Empire all by himself. He can also sink the ground and travel this way, leaving a trail of sharp crystals in his path.
Celestia states that she and Luna were the ones responsible for turning Sombra into shadow. This may imply that, albeit formidable in his present state, he could be even more powerful in his true pony form.
King Sombra's main power seems to be creating dark, jagged crystals. Those can serve as sharp weapons or imprison his enemies. If he engulfs a unicorn pony in his darkness, he can cover their horn with crystal, blocking off their magical abilities.
King Sombra's unicorn magic is unlike any other previously seen on the show. It is inferred by Celestia to be dark magic, powered by hatred and fear. The glow associated with it is a toxic purple bubbling. Though it can be cast by others, Sombra seems to be the main practitioner of it. It is affiliated with corruption, able to taint the Crystal Empire in a matter of minutes. In addition to creating dark crystals, this magic can also be used to show one an illusion of one's greatest fear, or even counter teleportation magic.
As a villain affiliated with hatred, fear, and despair, his greatest weakness appears to be the power of love, joy, and other such positive emotions. He is thus unable to penetrate Princess Cadance's magical love barrier without getting harmed by it, and is destroyed by the Crystal Heart, an artifact powered by positive emotions.
Similarities and possible inspirations
- Sombra is similar to Sauron from Lord of the Rings. Both have a similar appearance, neither has a lot of screentime or dialogue, both lost their physical form in the past (though Sombra is able to regain his form), and both are pure evil.
- Sombra's theme sounds similar to that of Sauron and Mordor in Lord of the Rings.
- The Crystal Empire under Sombra's control also looks similar to Mordor.
- The way he dies looks similar to Sauron's first defeat, and the way the dark crystal that he is standing on shatters looks similar to Barad-dûr's destruction during Sauron's actual death scene.
- His horn looks similar to Sauron's spikes in Legendary Frog's parody One Ring to Rule Them All. Both it and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic were made with flash animation.
- Meghan McCarthy confirmed in an interview that Sombra was inspired by Sauron, and was only meant to be a dark presence that brings fear to the crystal ponies.
- Interestingly enough, Sauron in Desolation of Smaug, which came out after The Crystal Empire, has more similarities to Sombra: His shadowy form is similar, Gandalf uses a similar light barrier to Cadance to fight him off (which he is only temporarily able to maintain), and there is a similar shaft and staircase in their base.
- Sombra resembles many other shadowy villains as well. His first defeat leaving him as a disembodied shadow also gives him a similarity to Myotismon, who also uses fear while in his Omega form. His shadow form also looks similar to that of Makuta. When he appears before the crystal ponies after the barrier disappears, he looks slightly similar to Shendu's ghost on Jackie Chan Adventures. He also looks similar to Aku, and his curse, which essentially sends the Crystal Empire further in time, has been compared to what Aku does to Samurai Jack.
- Elements of darkness and shadow have occured in several other previous MLP villains - most notably Nightmare Moon and Tirek. Interestingly enough, both Tirek and Sombra (though the former comes from a different generation of My Little Pony) have tried to kill Spike and are the darkest antagonists in their respective generations. Both are also ultimately destroyed. It also shares the untimely death of another G1 antagonist named Lavan, though that specific villain had a motif of fire and hatrid rather than darkness.
- Sombra also shares some similarities to the Shadow Queen from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Both are one of the darkest antagonists in their respective series, are reduced to an invincible shadowy spirit form and then imprisoned, but not before casting an evil curse, and return a thousand years later before they are destroyed the second time around. The Crystal Heart, which was used to defeat Sombra, could act as a counterpart to the Crystal Stars, which negated the Shadow Queen's invincibility. Interestingly enough, the Pure Hearts in Super Paper Mario play a similar role during the final battle.
- He shares some similarities to Mephiles the Dark: Both are one of the darkest villains of their respective series, have a shadow form, were sealed away many years ago, are killed by a princess, and appeared in the part of their series that was disliked by many (Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Season 3).
- King Sombra's death scene is nearly identical to that of Agent Smith from The Matrix and Hektore from Spyro. Hektore also bears similarity by his low amount of lines. Himiko's death in the 2013 video game Tomb Raider, which came after, is also extremely similar, as is the death of Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy. It also looks similar to Vaati's supposed death in Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (though Vaati either survived or was revived).
- King Sombra has also been compared to Ganondorf.
- Sombra has a few distinctions as being the first major antagonist in the fourth generation who is.
- A male character associated with darkness (Discord is more associated with chaos and based off Q.)
- A pony who isn't an alicorn (Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon, Trixie, and the Flim Flam brothers were minor antagonists.)
- Inspired by a Lord of the Rings villain (The Diamond Dogs were minor antagonists.)
- The first character in My little Pony: Friendship is Magic to die. (not counting the Windigoes, and although there are theories about Nightmare Moon (as a separate entity) and Queen Chrysalis, Sombra is the first who is actually confirmed).
- Sombra appears to be a blank flank, as he has no visible cutie mark during the scene when he is turned to shadow.
- Prior to the episode "Magic Duel", many fans believed Trixie's Alicorn Amulet to have a connection to him. One common theory is that Sombra was corrupted by it and was so far gone that he gained its power and malevolence permanently, another states he was the creator of it. The Amulet also shares the King's color scheme.
- "Sombra" is a Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician word for "shadow", which comes from the Latin umbra.
- A differently-shaded version of the armor around King Sombra's neck is used for the 2012 Design a My Little Pony Finalists poster, as part of Steel Masquerade's armor.
- When he is destroyed, his horn is shown flying past the screen, giving some the impression that he survived and will regenerate from his horn. However, at Unicon 2013 Meghan McCarthy confirmed that Sombra is dead.
- He has similar evil traits with Darth Sidious.
- He shares traits with the G1 antagonist Tirek, as both are creatures who work in shadow, have a looming, threatening presence, and end up destroyed. His death also almost mirrors that of Lavan, another G1 villain.
- Since he has no known motivation for acts of unspeakable cruelty, he is, along with Tirek, the darkest and most evil villain in Friendship is Magic.
- Sombra is one of two major villains to not be defeated by Twilight Sparkle (and, in all cases except the Plunderseeds, the other Mane 5, pony or human) by means of a rainbow, other being his predecessor, Queen Chrysalis. Both are defeated by Princess Cadance.
- It is possible that King Sombra killed Princess Amore, the Crystal Empire's previous ruler, when he took it over, since she is never seen in the Crystal Empire, which Princess Cadance and Shining Armor take over after Sombra's death.
- King Sombra will become an enemy of Tino Tonitini, Littlefoot, Shido Itsuka, and their friends in Weekenders Adventures of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - The Crystal Empire.
- King Sombra along with Queen Chrysalis are sometimes best friends with Diesel 10.
- King Sombra was brought back & is now a member of the Thirteen Seekers Of Darkness with Master Xehanort.
- In Cherry's Adventures, it is revealed that Sombra was present at Atticus's birth, but Atticus was born premature and was likely to die after only being a few hours old. Sombra then comes to Atticus's parents and offers to use his magic to cure Atticus, but this gave Atticus dark crystal powers and Sombra often teams up with villains to make Atticus become his heir to the Crystal Empire. He soon reforms in Akito and Estelle Meet Anastasia when teamed up with Rasputin after they kidnap Akito.
- Also in Cherry's Adventures, Sombra is usually called 'Uncle Sombra', and we are shown in Akito and the Spell of the Unknown, that Akito and Estelle meet him for the first time when they are their way to see Ash, Emi, and Pikachu, revealing their Wiccan powers they inherited from Atticus's side of the family. They soon find out that he is actually evil in Akito and Estelle's Adventures of Little Miss Christmas.