Written by: Kelsey Hlavaty
Episodes 1-3: Chosen [1-2] & Fury 
If you’re like me, then any part of geek culture really tickles your fancy. I enjoy superheroes, wizards, Dorthraki and of course, I enjoy elves. Like most people, my love for elves did not start with Santa Clause but rather, The Lord of the Rings. It put me in a world that I didn’t understand; a world that was so far away from reality that the magic seemed more mystical.
I have yet to find a movie involving elves that didn’t also include Saint Nicholas, which were up against the high expectations I have placed of The Lord of the Rings. Due to this need to fill my fantasy hunger with some elfish folklore, I was on the constant search – and stumbled upon The Shannara Chronicles, which premiered January 5th, 2016 on MTV. I’ll be honest – I was wary. I am a little distrustful of fantasy media – because it can go so so right but also horribly wrong. Playing safe, I decided to watch the premiere before I committed myself to it. Needless to say, good or bad, whatever critic you choose to listen to, I was hooked. Bear with me, this recap is a bit lengthy as I am covering three episodes which are all roughly an hour each. A lot of stuff happens!
Warning: Spoilers ahead! Within the first 10 minutes of the series premiere, I was entranced. It opens with a young woman training for the Gauntlet, a race to choose the Chosen, members of the society who take care of the Ellcrys, a race no woman, let alone the princess, has ever entered or won. Enter Princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton), precious baby gem and feminist elf, who not only enters but becomes one of the seven Chosen. She must now defend the Ellcrys, which, in the elven folklore, is a sacred tree that holds the evil demons at bay. In this episode, Amberle learns that she holds a secret: when she touches her palm onto the bark of the Ellcrys, it shows her a bleak future of disfigured bodies of fallen elves and her city of Arborlon destroyed. Frightened by her visions and power, she runs away in search of finding answers.
While Princess Amberle comes to terms with her power, the audience is introduced to Wil (Austin Butler), a half-elf half-human boy that receives Elfstones from his mother who, right before she dies, reveals that all the drunken stories his father told him about magic and war were real. Determined to leave this life behind him, Wil sets out on a journey to work as a healer, fair warned by his human uncle that not everyone in the world likes elves. He is obviously attacked by a troll a little way into his journey and is saved by another badass babe, Eretria (Ivana Baquero), who turns out to be a rover (wanderer, robber – whatever synonym you wish to call her). She robs naive Wil’s Elfstones and leaves him in the bathtub (it’s MTV, ab and chest muscles are very present throughout, of course). Wil finds his Obi-Wan Kenobi in Druid Alllanon (Manu Bennett), the last Druid of Paranor. He’s been asleep for 30 years rebuilding his magic – so that’s why he’s so young and attractive. Allanon rightly predicts the rise of the demon, Dagda Mor who becomes stronger each time a leaf falls from the Elcrys. Dagda Mor sends a Changeling to the castle to kill the Chosen thereby killing the Elcrys quicker and it manages to kill six of them – but Princess Amberle is still nowhere to be found.
Allanon reveals to Wil that he is the last son of Shannara and that it is up to them to find Princess Amberle -which they do. As soon as they find her living with her aunt, a Fury (flying demon) comes to kill them. Allanon is able to kill the fury but is injured in the process. Hearing of the Chosen’s deaths, Amberle runs away; Wil catches up to her and explains that he understands how she is feeling. Amberle begins to trust Wil because they share a similar experience but are interrupted because Allanon’s injuries are worse than they had originally thought and they must bring him to the Temple of the Druids where Allanon instructs they leave him and return to the castle. Being around the age of young adults, they obviously do not listen to him and try to find a way to help him. In true MTV fashion, Wil takes off his clothes as he must swim to the bottom of the Silver River to retrieve mud that will help Allanon. Here, both Amberle and Wil are captured by Eretria and her goons. When they are taken to the camp, we see that the dynamic between Eretria and her father, Cephelo is a toxic one. Eretria has to constantly prove herself in order to guarantee freedom from being sold off into marriage (“more beauty than brains” as Cephelo says, constantly). Cephelo promises Wil a nice life within his camp if Wil gives up the secrets of the Elfstones – which he refuses but Cephelo allows him to roam the camp with that endgame in mind. Eretria shows that she is not as evil as originally perceived. She gives Amberle a chance to escape but Amberle doesn’t trust her. The camp is all around the fire waiting for a fight between Eretria and Amberle (as Cephelo promised) but rather, Amberle comes out with Eretria in a chokehold. If you thought perhaps Cephelo had some sort of love for Eretria it is proven in this scene that he doesn’t – he laughs at Amberle’s attempt at Eretria’s life. As this is unfolding, a second Fury comes to the camp and attacks. Wil, with the Elfstones in hand, fights off the demon.
Allanon, who has cured himself of his injury (what is in that temple, man?), find the two heroes with whom he escorts to the elven city. Along the way back, they see a house whose sheep have been killed and two bodies are hanging upside down in the yard. Wil proceeds to run to the barn in order to throw up (because he’s not a warrior okay? Get it??), to which Amberle follows. In the barn they discover a boy named Bandon, who was tied to a chain and wearing a face mask given to him by his parents – but Amberle decides he’s alright and that they must bring him to the castle with them. At the castle, King Eventine announces that since Amberle is the last of the Chosen, she must carry the seed of the Elcrys to the safehold. Thanks to Wil and Allanon, the court of Elves decides to allow Amberle into the Elcrys to complete a test. If she passes this test, the tree will give her its seed and send her on her journey.
Problems? Because it is an MTV exclusive show, there are going to be some problems. The main problem that I have seen so far is the excess of heteronormativity which is shoved down our throats. Most of the male characters (the “hot” ones anyway) either have a part of their chest showing or have their shirts off all together and Amberle has a scene where she is bathing in a lake. The women, although mostly portrayed as strong, still need to rely on the men around them to help them (so far). As well, in the first three episodes, I saw only four characters of color: the demon woman the Dadga Mor rises, Eretria, Commander Tilton (Emilia Burns) and Allanon (actor Manu Bennett is of the Māori people). Both main heroes of the story, Amberle and Wil are white. Wil also portrays a sort of comedic relief character, and this, at times, get’s a bit annoying. As well, this story is very influenced by the “hero’s journey” trope – that hero being a white actor (Austin Butler). This trope is severely emphasized in these first three episodes.
Verdict? The Shannara Chronicles contains a lot of fantasy elements that I appreciate, as well as different actors from fantasy media I’ve watched (Manu Bennett and John Rhys-Davies). Even though the female characters rely on their male counterparts in some scenes, I still find the female characters to be very strong in others. I love that Amberle is a princess and a warrior. I love that Eretria doesn’t want to rely on her father and wants to fend for herself. I love that the lead Commander is a woman of color. I am also intrigued by the timeline of this show. I noticed in the background there were little nods at items we currently use (cars and planes) which were covered in moss and leaves. This hints at a post apocalyptic future rather than a medieval past that we are accustomed to in the normal fantasy genre. So far, I am really enjoying this show and looking forward to the season to come. Hopefully it won’t disappoint!