This article contains She-Ra spoilers. We have a spoiler free review right here.
For most of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’s run, references to the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) series it rebooted are quiet jokes or re-used names. Adora shouts “For the honor of Grayskull!” when she transforms into the super-powered She-Ra, but what exactly Grayskull is remained a mystery. Perhaps, it was one that never really needed to be solved, but as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’s storyline began to include some science fiction world-building, especially in season four, that begged the question of whether an explanation would fold nicely into the character’s new backstory. She-Ra Season 5 does indeed explain it, tying “Grayskull” into the story of the rebel She-Ra named Mara and what exactly happened on Adora’s planet long ago.
Let’s take a look at the reference and how it ties in to the world-building …
She-Ra has winked at the wider He-Man universe before, beyond featuring different versions of many of the same characters. Both are ostensibly space fantasy with generally similar cosmologies, as magical forces battle between planets. The planet most of She-Ra takes place on is Etheria, the domain of the Horde in the original. In She-Ra Adora unlocks a device using the code-word “Eternia,” the main location in He-Man. So both planets exist, but Etheria is locked away in the dimension of Despodos for most of the show.
In the episode “Roll With It” in season two, the cast dons their classic costumes for a playful episode in which characters’ plans are acted out in dramatically different tones and art styles. This doesn’t so much add to the canon as show the creators having fun with the franchise’s various iterations. It does introduce another reference that paid off later: Catra’s original series ability to transform into a feline “beast.”
The Honor of Grayskull
“For the honor of Grayskull!” has been part of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power from the beginning, with no one really commenting on what a very specific phrase it is that seemingly has nothing to the characters. In season five, Adora finally finds a reference to it, with the help of Bow’s dads. Grayskull was a rebel group, which a former She-Ra named Mara worked with in order to overthrow the people trying to harness Etheria’s magic. Season five has a rough environmentalist message, with the First Ones revealed not as all-powerful sages but people grabbing for resources. But magic is a resource Etheria would have in abundance, if only the First Ones’ tendency toward tech and weapons hadn’t gotten in the way. Mara sacrificed herself to make sure their greatest weapon couldn’t fire, and now, with the introduction of the Grayskull group, we know she didn’t work alone.
Their existence complicates the space operatics of the First Ones even further. We now know there were three groups involved: the First Ones who settled Etheria and created the network of magic-users (including She-Ra) as a weapon of mass destruction, the rebels, and the evil Horde.
In the toy line and shows that formed the previous He-Man franchise, Grayskull was a castle that held powerful magical secrets. Different iterations of the story added more or less detail to this, with the 2002 reboot adding a King Grayskull who was the first to use He-Man’s magic sword (the tagline / transformation spell “By the power of Grayskull!” therefore referred to him).
Mara’s rebels turn Grayskull from a spell into a military designation. The Star Wars-style story of a rebellion pushes She-Ra a little further toward the science fiction side of the science-fantasy spectrum, as Mara’s story had before. For example, Mara’s friend Light Hope, formerly a magical spirit, is rebooted as an artificial intelligence.
Season five has another big nod to the franchise: Catra’s new animal companion, Melog. The last remnants of magic from a destroyed planet, Melog can take numerous shapes by changing its translucent, ghostly form. The one it settles on, a catlike form, goes along with Catra’s theming and might reference the original series Catra’s ability to change into a panther by using a magical mask stolen from the Magicat people. Cat-people have been seen here and there in the background of The Princesses of Power, so presumably Catra is one of them. In general, Catra’s blood family is outside the scope of the show, though.
The name Melog and the creature’s shape-shifting abilities are a further blend of ideas from throughout the franchise. The original Melog was a shape-shifting person made of mud (note the name is “Golem” backwards).
Grayskull could have been a spell without explanation. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is just one more iteration in a long-running franchise that doesn’t tend to take world-building very seriously. But this version decided to inject some inspiration from ancient aliens and science fiction’s scrappy rebel fighters. Mara and Grayskull form some of the most compelling parts of the new She-Ra’s worldbuilding, and now we know who they actually were.