- "I'll never let it go!"
- —Zira's last stand
- "She's always got an angle. There's a certain angularity to the way she's designed. Sharp points tell you something about her."
- —Darrell Rooney about Zira
As skinny as she is sleek, Zira appears to be lanky and slight. Despite her thin frame, small shoulders, and sunken face, she is able to hold her own against Simba, able to knock the larger lion off his paws with a single swipe. Her claws and teeth are especially long, and a notch in her left ear marks the event of a past conflict. According to Darrell Rooney, she was designed to have a certain angularity about her that made her appear all the more dangerous and deadly.
As far as coloring goes, Zira is paler in color, being a dark tan with a brown dorsal stripe running down her face and stopping in-between her eyes. Her muzzle, paws, and underbelly are all lighter in color, though her ears are marked with darker fur and brown stripes on the insides. Her tail tuft is a bit scruffy and matches the browns of her ears, and her eyebrows are especially thick and dark. Like most Outsiders, she sports the distinctive Outsider nose, which curls downward on either end. Her eyes are sharp and blood-red, framed by dark upper eye rims and light lower eye rims.
- "Go for the eyes! Break his jaw! Hit him low! Get them! Do what you must!"
- —Zira commands the Outsiders
From her first appearance to her final fall, Zira proves herself to be inseparable from her own evil intentions. If she has ever had a doubt about her own ruthless nature, it's never shown, as she is so determined to bring Simba down that she's willing to sacrifice her own children to the cause. Such a violent attitude manifests itself in the way Zira goes about her daily life, with her claws constantly unsheathed, and how she treats her children, teaching them to hate and kill as she knows so well how to do. Even when her entire pride abandons her, Zira has such faith in herself that she makes a final desperate stand against Simba.
Her many years in the Outlands have made her sensitive to Simba's mention and considerably short-tempered. Even when dealing with her young children, barely more than cubs, she is prone to bouts of spastic anger and raving, which reveals that even years of separation from Simba can do nothing to soften her grudges. If wrong is done to Zira, she will not rest until it's made right, making a lifelong enemy of Simba and an enemy of her own son when he accidentally lets Nuka die. With a grudge in mind, Zira can become obsessed, refusing to rest until justice is served, even if the time to strike takes many years of long waiting.
As a leader, Zira is charismatic and manipulative, able to rally an entire pride to her side. She is also able to raise three brainwashed children who see no wrong in the constant death that surrounds them. Even when around her children, Zira does nothing to show them love, only softening once, when her son Nuka lies dying in her paw. As for Kovu and Vitani, her other children, Zira cares nothing for them, driving Kovu out of the pride and threatening to kill Vitani herself.
- "I now see the path to our glorious return to power!"
- —Zira before "My Lullaby"
As suggested in the film, Zira was once a Pridelander who lived during the reign of Scar. During this time, she bore three cubs. While Scar was still alive, she raised Kovu to be Scar's successor, but after Scar's death, the Outsiders were exiled by Simba for their remaining loyalty to Scar, and Zira was left to raise her cubs in the Outlands.
- "Oh! Haven't you met my son, Kovu? He was hand chosen by Scar to follow in his paw prints and become king!"
- —Zira explains Kovu's destiny to Simba
Zira is first seen trespassing into the Pride Lands and closely examining Kovu's interactions with Kiara, the daughter of Simba. When the king himself appears, ready to defend his cub, Zira quickly intervenes, roaring at Simba in the defense of her own son. The two lions converse bitterly, Simba reminding her that she has brokem the law of the land and thus must suffer the consequences. She offers up Kovu to Simba, who hesitates to kill the cub, something Zira had predicted from the start.
Simba orders the Outsiders to get out, ending their business, but Zira corrects him and smirks dangerously and knowingly at Kiara. She then grabs Kovu, more forcefully than Simba picked up Kiara, and leaves, returning to her home in the Outlands.Once home, Zira strides by Nuka, ignoring him with a less-than-pleased expression on her face and a helpless Kovu in her mouth. She then drops the cub none-too-gently in the sand and turns her fury about the cub's disobedience on Nuka, screaming that he was supposed to be overseeing his actions. Kovu steps in on his brother's behalf, and Zira redirects her wrath. Zira then questions Kovu into oblivion about acting friendly toward a Pridelander rather than repelling them like he should have done.
Through her scolding, she suddenly gets an idea: Kovu can be used to get to Kiara so he can kill Simba. Zira turns gentle, praising her son for possessing a mind of ill will (situational irony, considering how Kovu had no evil in his innocent mind). Nuka expresses disgust at his mother's praise, but she turns and snarls at him dangerously. Her anger makes Nuka back down in fear, and Zira grabs Kovu, leading him into the termite mound where his bed is set. Zira softly coos a lullaby to her son, stating that he will be a king someday. Before Kovu falls asleep, she informs him that his training is going to intensify. In a heavy song, Zira outlines her dreams about the blood-soaked payback that she will levy on Simba.
When Kovu is a young adult and has completed his training, Zira circles her son, very much approving of the manipulated monster which she has created in Scar's image. She comments that he has the same darkness in his soul that Scar had and reaffirms her teachings by questioning Kovu himself about his destiny. After stating that he is ready, she prepares a plan that will involve Kovu infiltrating the Pride Lands by rescuing Kiara, integrating himself into the pride, and then killing Simba once he has gained the king's trust.
Meanwhile, Nuka and Vitani ignite the Pride Lands during Kiara's first solo hunt, and Zira watches the flare with Kovu by her side. She commands him into action and then leaves herself.After the fire rescue, Zira and Nuka sit a little ways from Pride Rock and observe Kovu's actions. Nuka is disapproving of his brother for not harming Kiara, but Zira rebukes him, stating that Kovu is following the plan as he was supposed to and that the fire rescue worked perfectly. She expresses her approval and anticipation by snapping a branch in half.
Vitani later reports to Zira that Kovu is no longer on board with the plan because of a love affair between him and Kiara. Zira is angered by this apparent betrayal and quickly devises a plan to get Kovu back on their side. The next morning, Simba takes Kovu out on a walk, and while he is making his speech, Zira cackles evilly and emerges from the dust with her pride, preparing an ambush. She subtly taunts Simba and then credits Kovu for leading him into the ambush (again, ironic, considering Simba chose the spot to visit). As Simba loses his trust in Kovu, Zira and her pride attack. They pursue him through the clogged gorge and eventually trap him at a dam.
Simba climbs up the wall of logs, and upon seeing Kovu at the top, Zira commands him to kill Simba. Kovu instead does nothing, so Nuka climbs up the dam, seeing his chance to prove to everyone that he is the lion Kovu cannot be. However, he is pinned under the logs and dies in the process. When Kovu tries to dig up Nuka, Zira frantically pushes him out of the way and clears the logs herself. Near tears, she comforts her son until he dies. Zira mourns her son's death and sends a desperate prayer to Scar to watch over Nuka in heaven. Her sorrowful mood quickly turns angry as she blames Kovu for Nuka's death and then proceeds to hit him, scratching at his face and making a scar identical to Scar's. Zira then blames Kovu for Nuka's death, coughing out angry invective at her remaining son about how he has betrayed his pride, his mother, and even Scar, causing Kovu to run away in outrage.With her son dead and the chosen one "corrupted," Zira has had enough and announces to her pride that Simba has taken away her children in one way or another. She decides to take advantage of Simba's injury and prepares a full-scale war on the Pride Lands to the unanimous acceptance of her whole pride. The Pridelanders meet the Outsiders head-on as Zira triumphantly mocks Simba, saying this battle is the moment that she has dreamed of for years. After Simba commands her to return home, Zira says that she is home and orders her troops to attack. Zira stays on an elevated knoll for the beginning of the fight, commanding her lionesses, but upon seeing Simba swarmed by Outsiders, she attacks.
The two are dangerously close to having a blood-soaked battle, but Kiara and Kovu intervene, to Zira's annoyance. Kiara tells her father that they are all one and that the fighting is pointless. Taking advantage of a tender moment between Simba and Kiara, Zira orders Vitani to attack, but the younger lioness is moved by Kiara's words and disobeys her mother. Blinded by fury and sadness, Zira threatens her own daughter impulsively. Disgusted by their leader, the Outsiders cross over to the Pridelanders' side and stand against a shocked but unrelenting Zira, leaving the lioness unwilling to let go of the past.
On Scar's behalf, Zira leaps out to kill Simba, but Kiara intercepts, and the two roll over the side of a cliff. During this time, logs off to the side of the gorge burst, opening a massive river underneath the two struggling lionesses. Zira hits multiple rocks and is left dangling off a ledge while an addled Kiara offers to help Zira, who is seen torn between choosing life or death. However, unable to let go of her hate and seeing that her dreams are lost, Zira refuses Kiara's help and proceeds to fall to her death into the river. She is presumed to be swept away by the tide.
- "You're not a king!"
- —Zira taunts Simba during their battle
Zira appears in the 2000 video game The Lion King: Simba's Mighty Adventure as one of two bosses (the other being Scar). She battles Simba, roaring and causing logs to fall on Simba, who has to dodge the falling objects before finally defeating Zira.
Of all the lions who were conceptualized, Zira doesn't seem to change in the slightest. The only thing she seems to be missing on her ref sheets and concept art are her ear stripes. In the videos, Proud of Simba's Pride (part 1) and Proud of Simba's Pride (part 2), a lioness in a rough storyboard appears. It is unknown if this is Zira, but it seems to be taking place around or during "My Lullaby," so it is heavily speculated to be her. This suspected Zira concept is more heavily built than the finalized Zira and has no visible Outsider traits except her nose and lean build.
- Daughter: Vitani
Zira's inspirations are most likely Lady Montague from Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" (as she is the mother of Romeo, who is presented in the film as Kovu) and Eleanor Iselin in "The Manchurian Candidate." Lady Montague and Zira are similar in their role in the story, as they are both mothers of one of the protagonists, but in very bad relationship with the family of the another protagonist. The deleted scene in which Zira commits suicide has its roots in "Romeo & Juliet" as well, as the main protagonists of the play take their own lives away at the end of the story, too.
In the "Proud of Simba's Pride" documentary, Darrell Rooney mentions "Simba's Pride" taking inspiration from Manchrian Candidate. In relation to Zira, Mrs. Iselin is a ruthless power-hungry mother of a brainwashed son sent to kill a presidential candidate. 
- The notch in Zira's ear occasionally changes sides during the film.
- Interestingly, in a brief scene during "My Lullaby," Zira is seen with blue eyes as opposed to red.
- Certain sources and speculation claim that Zira was Scar's mate, including a storybook and a Disney website. However, director Darrell Rooney confirmed in a statement on Facebook that Zira's relationship with Scar was purposely obscured in the middle of production to make her "just a follower" due to the incestuous undertones Kovu's romance with Kiara would have had. Rooney later made another statement on Facebook about Kovu, describing him as an orphan, in which case, Zira would only be his adopted mother.
- Zira's line "If you need your pound of flesh..." is a reference to the Shakespearean play "The Merchant of Venice," even though Simba's Pride is based on "Romeo and Juliet."
- According to her concepts, Zira's eyes were once to be green like her son's.
- In an alternate scene that survived to the rough animation stage, Kiara offers Zira help, but Zira, with a twisted grin, replies, "No... never," and releases her claws from the cliff, falling into the swollen river below, thus committing suicide. This was considered too dark and morbid for a Disney film, so it was cut.
- Originally, Zira was going to be accompanied by the hyenas, who served as her minions.
- "These lands belonged to Scar!"
- —Zira confronts Simba
- "Oh, no, Simba! We have barely begun!"
- —Zira to Simba during their first encounter
- "You were supposed to be watching him!"
- —Zira scolds Nuka for not watching Kovu
- Zira: "It's over, Simba! I have dreamed of nothing else for years!"
Timon: "Boy, does she need a hobby."
Simba: "Last chance, Zira. Go home."
Zira: "I am home!"
- —Zira before the final battle
- "If you will not fight, then you will die as well."
- —Zira to Vitani when she refuses to kill Simba
- "This is for you, Scar!"
- —Zira's last words