Let’s start at the very beginning. Which, in this week’s case, finds the Queen of Leah in a very deadly predicament, and a world about to change for everyone.
A very good place to start.
As we open in the middle of the battle cliffhanging from last week’s episodes The Shannara Chronicles, we are immediately faced with the painful truth of a loss the Four Lands won’t return from. Eretria and Lyria are rushed from Leah’s castle into the wilds, fleeing from the Crimson’s invasion. The Queen stands before General Riga himself, and in her eyes, we see a woman who has just realized how deep a grave she has dug for herself. She knows, as does the audience watching, that the choices of her past may finally be coming to meet her. In her own words, “the end has come, and it’s too late to right any wrongs.”
This week’s second double feature of The Shannara Chronicles brings us closer to the finale, and things are definitely moving along quickly. So often series like these can bring ‘filler’ episodes in the middle of the season, but for me, episodes 7 and 8 were nothing like filler. They were essentials. Each character faces a powerful challenge in this week’s stories. Each test they must confront brings them further to their individual fates. And at the heart, lies Wil Omsford, that peasant boy turned reluctant hero. More and more he is shown that he is the key to the survival of the Four Lands. And it terrifies him.
But certainly, each of his companions plays such a vital role in the greater story. Eretria, with her dark powers discovered, must learn to control them, lest her fate be overwhelmed by that darkness. Lyria’s place in the plot has her confused, unsure. But neither retreat from their destiny and one must commend the hearts in each of them. And the confident and delightful Mareth, a favorite of mine since her first scene this season, will do what she knows must be done, as well. She fights her father’s refusal to accept her with a simple air of her own refusal not to be accepted. Stubbornness is a family trait in that bloodline, for sure. For me, as a critic, it always warms my heart when I find myself rooting for a character. I think its a nod to the actor’s strengths, that they are making me feel strongly for them. Seeing Eretria and Lyria together gives me butterflies in my stomach that I can’t deny, nor would I want to. And watching Mareth face Allanon with the open heart of a daughter longing to connect with the father she barely knows actually brings to mind my own battles with estranged family. I consider that a strong testament to Malese Jow’s acting chops.
Last week, I asked the Nerdiverse Gods to bring a little compassion and warmth to our druid anger-ball, Allanon. And tonight, by coincidence, I was rewarded with just that. We get to see more emotions than just basic anger, and frustration. We see a little heart. And while I admit that I still find Manu Bennett a stiff actor, I will say that his eyes showed more emotion this week than I have yet to see. Even though his face is so often stony and set in a permanent scowl, there are several moments in these episodes that I saw deeper meaning portrayed in his gaze, and it made me proud. His own particular path, facing the truth of a daughter standing before him, finally gives us what we need to see in the druid, which is that he’s still simply a man. And love is one of the greatest tests a person can face, but it is a struggle worth fighting for, at any cost.
I also had been feeling a slight lacking in the incredible scenic art that had captured me with literal awe, in the early episodes of The Shannara Chronicles. And while this week didn’t quite live up to the expectations the opening of the season gave me, I will say that we saw more of the Kingdom of Leah, and it was quite a view. A gorgeous scene played out, looking out over the castle, where to giant statues stood guard before a city of islands, covered in delightful huts, and interconnected with things, perhaps bridges, in between. It was stunning, and I hope we see more. The season is coming to an end soon, and more’s the pity, in my opinion, but I hope that it will end with a visual bang, just like it began.
If there were an MVP moment tonight on The Shannara Chronicles, that goes to Carolyn Chikezie, the fabulous woman playing our indomitable Queen Tamlin. As mentioned, the Queen had some seriously hard truths to face herself tonight. She’s made a lot of hard decisions in her life, and up until this week, has been a sword, piercing through any wall obscuring her path. But now the path itself seems to be nearing its end, and Tamlin must accept her fate. In all the episodes of Shannara, this season and the last, the portrayal of Tamlin in this week’s story has probably been my most favorite. She doesn’t say much, but her face screams an endless monologue of emotions, a true talent from Chikezie. She shows that, no matter the fate set in front of her, she cannot be subdued, nor subjugated, and she will always, ultimately, be the Queen of her own destiny. Brava, great lady. Brava, indeed.
And we can’t forget our Wil. There was no end of battles of emotion fought by the boy, throughout the entire season. He has the hardest fate to accept, that of the Ultimate Hero. He’s been told for so long that he’s the only one who can truly save the world, and at every step, he finds loss, betrayal, and heartbreak. Austin Butler was given a gift of a role like this. He gets a wide range of expression that any actor would feel blessed to sink their proverbial teeth into, and he’s done very well, in my opinion. Wil has had to face the death of so many, and even the return of those thought dead, at least from a certain point of view. Time travel is quite a trip, isn’t it? Does he truly have what it takes to win in the end, or will his doubt in his ability to be the hero he continues to be told he is, be his downfall?
After all, how do you solve a problem like Will Omsford?
Even Bandon, our deliciously psychotic villain, is confronted with his fate. He has all he needs to fulfill his goal, the return of the Warlock Lord, and we see the lengths he has gone through to achieve his plan. But once done, he is put to the true test. Which is greater, his love for one person, a surprise twist, or his dedication to his Dark Master? In a cruel betrayal, the Warlock Lord reminds Bandon of his place, which is either beneath his Lord’s feet or at his side, obeying every command placed forward by the Warlock.
This week was about truth, and facing that truth. One could call it a cliché, its true, but ultimately it is a time-honored tradition in fiction. And the why is simple. It’s because humanity is based on facing the truth, at every step of our lives. It always has been, and always will be. You can’t have a good story without learning a few truths from it. And episodes 7 and 8 of The Shannara Chronicles were hell-bent on thrusting that in our faces. But not in a way I found too overly-obvious. More so in a way that felt like a parent, speaking to an adolescent, taking that next step to their own adulthood. The mother giving her child advice that they must hear, and knowing that the child will do what they need to walk their path forward. It was familiar, and comforting, and it felt, at its heart, relatable.
And, after all, these are a few of my favorite things.