This Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers.
The Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episodes 9 & 10
Shannara! Why are you walking away? Where are you going? Was it something I said? Was it multiple things I said – on more than one occasion? Come back!
Fine, Shannara. Be that way.
The Shannara Chronicles is over. For now, at least. Its second year has been a bumpy ride with potholes (and plotholes) of varying size and quality. But, here we are. It’s done now – and sooner than we expected.
We’ve learned a lot about life in the Four Lands this year. We’ve learned that being the illegitimate child of a Druid warrior isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be. We’ve learned that time paradoxes don’t necessarily have to be a thing if you’re not feeling it. And, most importantly, we’ve discovered that Amberle isn’t ever coming back – ever – so stop being salty about it or she will block you. Real talk.
Shannara has been one big all-you-can-eat buffet of genre conventions this year. Some of it I could stomach, some of it I had to spit into a napkin to throw away later on when nobody was looking. All in all, whatever cliches I managed to force down my throat satiated my appetite for post-apocalyptic fantasy fun. And that’s what really matters.
If you asked me if it was an improvement over the first season, I…well, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Both seasons have their perks and flaws. Both can be insufferable for different reasons, just as they can be entertaining for others.
But the question remains: is Shannara addictive? The jury’s out on that, too. If I weren’t writing reviews for this show, would I go out of my way to keep up with what’s going on?
But I’m picky. I get the appeal of the show, I admire it for what it is, I think it has an incredible visual style, and the production is better than it should be. At this point in the series, I don’t feel the need to see what happens next. Eretria and Lyria can have their almost-happy ending. Mareth can become the new Daisy Ridley. Jax can be a sassy badass and maybe get metal arms somewhere down the road. Cogline can…be Cogline. And that one sloth man thing with the goggles…whatever his name is. He’s in a good place, too. My interest isn’t piqued. I’m not curious to see what’s going to happen next because I can easily picture it myself. Why? Because it’s formulaic – an assembly line in a trope factory. It’s designed to be the dollar menu of fantasy TV. But I like the dollar menu, sometimes. Especially those little ice cream sundaes. Mmm. Those are tasty.
AKA “The One With Lingering Shots Of General Riga’s Severed Head”
Now this is an episode I can sink my teeth into. Not because of Riga’s severed head prop, although production obviously wanted that to be the focal point here. Rather, because it hasjust the right amount of twists and turns to keep my attention. If Shannara was like this every single week, we’d have a much more engaging show on our hands.
The thing about this season is, although it seems like the stakes have been consistently high, this is the first time when they’ve we’ve been so invested into what happens. True, Wil and Mareth’s time travel trip to find the evil skull and get his parents back together came close, but now that the Warlock Lord is resurrected and we know who he is, and we’re well aware that this is the penultimate episode of the season, we’re aware that big stuff is happening.
“Wilderun” disposes of a character whom we have always had a complicated relationship with: Bandon. When he suddenly rises up against the Warlock Lord, the Cenobite wannabe runs him through with his dark sword. (He likes doing that.) But before he does, he asks the evil dark lord of ‘90s grunge what he wants, a question we have always kind of wondered in the back of our heads. What is Bandon’s motivation, anyway? Why did he go to such great lengths to summon the special Hellraiser edition of Allanon to come chew the scenery with him?
“To be as strong as you,” Bandon answers, “so no one can hurt me ever again.” Exploring the tortured nature of Bandon that is only sometimes eluded to in moments when it’s absolutely necessary to let the audience know where he stands would have made him a more interesting character. But no. No, we’re not allowed more than ten seconds of time to feel empathy for someone who had grown up physically and psychologically abused because he was different. To ask for more would be to wish The Shannara Chronicles had a soul. It has a heart, sure, and a brain, maybe a reproductive organ or two. But look past all that and you’ll find a show that would rather play a song off of a sad music playlist they found on Spotify to inspire emotion than tell a story about characters we care about, characters who have time to live and breathe and digest what they’re going through instead of being bossed around by the plot, having their agency and autonomy stripped away.
“Wilderun” also bids farewell to our Allanon – our dear, sweet, beefy Allanon. Manu Bennett has been a good sport through all of this, and we could feel his departure coming on now for the past five episodes. It’s sad that a hypothetical Season 3 of Shannara would be virtually Allanon-less, save for a couple Obi-Wan cameos here and there just for the feels, but I’m pretty sure the kids will be okay without him. That one girl from The Vampire Diaries took over for him as active Druid, so we’re in good hands. Right? Of course we are.
Eretria finally goes full on evil in “Wilderun”, and it’s about damn time. She beats the crap out of Wil and her blow-up doll Lyria when she is stuck inside an electrical chamber that is meant to keep the mord wraiths away. But this doesn’t happen easily; she fights her possession by the Walock Lord and his forces as much as she possibly can. This makes Eretria one of the stronger characters on the series, as if she wasn’t already. Her backstory is the most interesting of the main cast members at this point, simply because it’s a hotbed for mystery and we’ve known her longer. Mareth is mysterious, yes, but she is rapidly becoming a Mary Sue character for no good reason. I mean, she’s a Druid and the Queen of Arborlon? Go home, Shannara. You’re drunk.
Another thing that works about this episode is its atmosphere. Returning the characters to the backdrop of San Francisco was a nice way to let the show indulge in its post-apocalyptic influences once more, something that it hasn’t spent much time doing this season. It would have been nice to have the characters visit other cities that had fallen into ruin during whatever happened to their world long ago. But no.
If I were ever to compile a list of my Top 5 Favorite Episodes of The Shannara Chronicles – which I never plan to – “Wilderun” would definitely in be in it.
Guess what wouldn’t be?
AKA “The One Where We Think We Lose At First And Wind Up Winning In The End – But We’re Still Sad Anyway”
It’s not that “Blood” is a bad season finale, or that it’s disappointing. No, “Blood” delivers on all of the drama that Season 2 built up and then some. It’s a strong note to go out on, and an emotional one at that, since we witness a character “death” that feels sadder than Amberle’s big exit.
It’s just that, hot on the heels of a complex episode that brought events to a boil, we have a resolution that doesn’t have a lot of time to tell a big story, so it makes things as simple as possible, even if it doesn’t make sense or slows down the momentum.
It’s also that, as a final set piece, Heaven’s Well isn’t nearly as grand nor as ominous as I had pictured. It’s just another temple set, with vines, and reflecting pool. Even the final battle between the Warlock Lord, Mareth, and Wil isn’t as desperate or quite as epic as I hoped it would be.
Nevertheless, “Blood” does reward us for sitting through Season 2 by giving us a warped sense of emotional closure. Wil’s death was much more impactful than I expected, so much so that I was distracted during the ten minutes of the aftermath that followed. I knew then and there that if this show does get renewed for a third season, I’d be that much less interested in watching it if I knew that Wil wasn’t going to be in it. Eretria could handle things on her own, but she’s not enough to carry supporting characters she has no chemistry with.
Like her relationship with the newly appointed Queen Lyria: I don’t care. I like Lyria. Really. She’s awesome. But I don’t want to see a third season where they pine after each other because their performances wouldn’t be able to sell it.
I will say this: I am more willing to tune in now that I know Wil is still alive somewhere. Shannara an’t stand to lose any more major characters from Season 1 without losing some of its footing. I’m down to see Shannara Trek III: The Search for Wil Ohmsford. You could go to fun places with that. Just don’t kill him off again when you bring him back, please.
“Blood” serves as a nice ending point for Shannara, whether that be for now or forever. I’m content. Ish.