Note: In this writeup, I am concerned only with the contextual treatment of the Goa'uld from within the Stargate SG-1 television series, not from the Stargate movie.

In order to create a successful science fiction series, whether in print, on television, or on film, it is often necessary to invent a universe to serve as a framework for the story. This Universe may be much like our own, save for a few imaginary characters, as-yet-undiscovered technologies, or extrasolar planets teeming with sentient life. Stargate SG-1 is a good example of this principle; it presents a largely normal Earth of the late 1990s, which just happens to be under attack by aliens.

The "alien attack" scenario has become a science fiction cliche, but SG-1 distinguishes itself by the uniqueness of its aliens. The primary adversaries of the humans are a race known as the Goa'uld, which are parasitic, highly intelligent, and technologically advanced. It almost seems bizarre that such a species could rise to power given their physical limitations -- the Goa'uld require a host in order to survive and to use the technology they have acquired. Nevertheless, the Goa'uld have been around much longer than humans, and in their years of evolution have become a formidable adversary. The Goa'uld think very highly of themselves, and have a habit of enslaving entire populations under the guise of divinity. They like to keep their subjects in the dark as far as science is concerned; their technology is kept highly classified and known as "magic" to those enslaved by the Goa'uld. The benefits to the Goa'uld from this deception are obvious; by keeping people ignorant, they will assure a fearful, devoted populace.

Goa'uld biology is explored rather extensively in the SG-1 series. Their method of reproduction is somewhat strange in that they require a host species even for the process of making more of their own kind. A humanoid female inhabited by a mature Goa'uld serves as the Queen; if this queen mates with a humanoid male, she will give birth to a large number of Goa'uld larvae. In order to enslave the population of a given planet, a sample of DNA from a denizen of that planet is required; hence the necessity of the Queen mating with a male. The Queen posesses the technology to almost instantly create stomach pouches in humans; these pouches are meant to nurture a baby Goa'uld to maturity. On planets where Goa'uld rule is long established, the creation of the pouch is generally performed by a priest on a young child when he reaches a certain age, during a ceremony known as the Primta.

Goa'uld do not have a physical "gender", per se, but they do tend to pick a host gender and stick with it. Perhaps over time some "male" or "female" aspects creep into the symbiote from the host.

A person incubating a Goa'uld larva is called a Jaffa. The Goa'uld use the Jaffa not only as incubators for their young, but as soldiers and guards of powerful Goa'uld system lords such as Apophis and Haru-ur. Though the larva does not control the Jaffa's mind, the vast majority of Jaffa remain loyal to their system lord because of years of indoctrination and intimidation. The larval Goa'uld takes from 7-10 years to mature; during this time, it grants near-perfect health and slowing of the aging process to the Jaffa. The symbiote becomes the Jaffa's immune system; soon after the Primta ceremony (when a young Jaffa receives his first larval Goa'uld), the Jaffa becomes unable to live without the symbiote. If it is removed, death of the Jaffa will occur within a matter of hours. When the Goa'uld reaches maturity, it is transferred to a specific host, which it will take over completely. If a suitable host is not found, the Goa'uld will generally emerge from the Jaffa on its own and seek a host. The Jaffa will die; Jaffa are not capable of serving as a host.

The physical appearance of a Goa'uld changes drastically three times over the course of its life cycle. As newborns, they resemble elongated shrimp, or pink worms with teeth. Near the end of the incubation period, their color darkens, and they grow to approximately two feet long; they look a bit like tiny, legless dragons. Once this dragon-like form enters what is to be its permanent host, it wraps itself around the spinal column and attaches to the brain stem. Soon, it sheds its skin (which is absorbed by the host's body) and fully integrates itself with the host's nervous system. The adult Goa'uld is somewhat smaller than the mature larva, and though it depends on a host to survive, it can move from one host to another when necessary (such as when the host body is dying, or when the Goa'uld wishes to travel in disguise.) Mature Goa'uld generally enter a host through the back of the neck, leaving a characteristic scar.

The Goa'uld are described as scavengers, at least where technology is concerned. They have, however, adapted much of what they have stolen for their own purposes. The Goa'uld did not invent nor build the system of Stargates, though they would like us to think they did. Nevertheless, the technology used by the Goa'uld is, on the whole, far more advanced than anything humans have, and includes:

  • Faster than light travel
  • Teleportation (like Star Trek transporters)
  • Sarcophagi which can bring people back from the dead and extend the lifespan indefinitely
  • Energy-based weapons with small, light power sources

Despite, or perhaps because of, the highly advanced nature of Goa'uld technology, there are some vulnerabilities to be found. If an infiltration team can find its way inside a Goa'uld stronghold, good old-fashioned explosives (such as grenades and C4) can do quite a bit of damage.

Though the SG-1 series diligently continues to clarify numerous Goa'uld mysteries, many questions remain. Where did the species originally come from? Where is their "home world", or do they have one in the first place? Why, if the Jaffa does not communicate with his symbiote, do the little worm things seem to poke their little heads out on demand? Why are the Goa'uld so obsessed with being considered gods? (perhaps they are compensating for something?)

On the whole, it seems that the writers of SG-1 have created the Goa'uld with two principles in mind:

(1. The creatures must be well thought out enough to allow for some suspension of disbelief while watching the series; we don't want to insult the intelligence of our target audience.

(2. The creatures' abilities must be such that they continue to be an interesting and dynamic enemy throughout the (hopefully long) life of the series.

Certainly, someone went to a great deal of effort to dream up a species with a distinctive life cycle and biological makeup. This helps add to the believability within the context of SG-1's local reality. It is also apparent that such technological marvels as the sarcophagus are mainly to assist with plot, specifically, making it so dead characters (both good and bad) can return.


References:

http://www.gateworld.net/faq.shtml#4.2
The Stargate SG-1 Series

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