[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 1×10: “Ellcrys”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Heed that spoiler warning. Seriously. What we open with is a pretty major one.

Ready?

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Okay then.

So one of the big twists of the novel is that Amberle’s quest to awaken the seed ends with her learning she herself is the seed. Meaning the only way she can save everyone from the horde of bloodthirsty demons who are all set to watch the world burn is to become one with the tree and renew it with life, which also means sacrificing herself and leaving everyone she cares about behind. Now, one could argue that much of the series has actually been a bit meaningless, that she’s run so far only to find something she could have been told about from the start. But I like that, no, this is the type of thing you can’t just hit someone with. They have to take the journey to prepare themselves for an awful choice they need to make. Amberle being the seed isn’t what caused her to run in the first episode, but given that she’s someone who often goes the wrong direction before she finds the right one, can you say she wouldn’t have bolted over something like this, too, had it been revealed to her up front? Even then, it’s still something she’s uncertain about. After stuff I’ll get to in a bit, and after she and Wil flee Safehold and the trolls, she tries to tell him, but she can’t. All she can do is enjoy one night of warmth in the arms of someone she loves. It’s a beautiful scene of them coming together, and the series has done a fantastic job of showing that building bond between her and Wil, and you really do understand why this is something she doesn’t want to let go of but knows she might be ready to.

Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of Eretria. Which I don’t say as a criticism, because Eretria goes out in this episode in exactly the hero moment they were aiming for with Cephelo without realizing he was a shitty character to go for it with. As the episode opens, with Amberle gone and Eretria dead, you really feel what these characters have come to mean to one another. All Wil can think to do is use the Elfstones, but while they manage to save Eretria, now she’s just suffering alongside him over the loss of their third. I love that, despite the wounds which haven’t even begun to heal, and having suffered such a major loss of blood that only a magical resurrection could bring her back, Eretria is instantly on her feet and slamming her hand onto the juicer, reactivating the Bloodfire and opening the door to where Amberle is learning her fate from…she says mother, but it’s she herself. Does she look a lot like her mother or are they just going all abstract here? Anyway, she comes back, and I love how she, Wil, and Eretria all pull together into this massive, equally endeared poly guild hug. Seriously, this trio. I love them.

This all leads up to them being chased by trolls and finding a security gate between themselves and the exit. Just like Cephelo (I hate to compare, but it’s there), a big choice comes down to cutting a line. He went a coward’s route, throwing others in danger so he could get away. Eretria will always be his better as she throws herself into danger so her loved ones can get away and play their parts in this finale just as she’ll now play hers. See, I’ve never been a fan of destiny in stories. Even some of the bits elsewhere in this episode ring a little hollow to me. What I believe in are opportunities and choices. She saw an opportunity to save the other two and made a choice. Was it a hugely necessary choice? No. The cumbersome trolls can’t exactly scurry under that gate all that fast. But by severing the line, that’ll definitely hold them up for a while. And I should have maybe phrased it better when I said she goes out. She doesn’t die, she’s just left behind, fighting like hell and hacking trolls to bloody pulps as the other two run.

Back at Arborlon, I’m still loving Aaron Jakubenko as Ander continues to struggle with his role as king, especially as it’s cut into to his plans to marry his beloved Tilton, but they have a war to fight and she his armies to command. Everything is set aside for this. They strategize with the gnomes. Allanon gets a great speech. Ander gets a great speech. And then the war begins. You can see the budget showing on some of these battle sequences as they’re trying to make a dozen people look like hundreds, and they fall back on some stock armors and static masks, but it’s still good stuff, appropriately gritty and epic with some sweeping moments as everything plays out. The big kicker is Tilton getting cut down on the battlefield (saw that coming), as well as the reveal that her killer is the king’s believed-to-be-dead brother, Arion. (Didn’t see that coming!) It’s such a sudden scene, but a powerful one as the demon-corrupted Arion begs his brother to give him peace, even as his lack of control and poor choices have again robbed Ander of happiness. Good riddance, Arion.

My one big complaint about this episode is that Wil and Amberle make it to the front lines where they have to take shelter from the demons, ducking into a cave to make love until nightfall…and then their strategy is to just run through demon-infested woods in the dark? I’m sorry, but what was the entire point then of the episode introducing Perk and his dragon in which he gave our heroes a special whistle and the parting line, “Call if you need me,” if you’re not going to actually bring him back? Seriously, what the fuck? I kept waiting and waiting for Perk to come swooping in to help, and it never happens. No, instead Allanon and all the gnomes suddenly just appear and escort them back to the sanctuary. Why, in the midst of all the war goings on, would Allanon and the head group of gnomes, including Slanter, straight up abandon the front lines? Seriously, this is some bad writing. Could they just suddenly not get back the actor who played Perk or something? Did they run out of budget for a giant dragon? I really want to know what happened here.

Anyway, they get to the front line, Allanon gets to have his big showdown with the Dagda Mor, and Wil and Amberle reach the Ellcrys. Even then, she still doesn’t know what to do, needing Wil to understand the choice she’s about to make and why she has to make it. He can’t and he never gets to fully settle things with her when the Dada Mor bursts in (literally sweeping Allanon aside in a striking shot), and she’s in the tree and it’s too late to stop. Wil gets to keep breaking out the Elfstones (I’ve noticed they’ve stopped having negative side effects), Allanon gets his hero moment as his sword unfurls and he beheads the big bad, and then it’s all over and all of the demons crumble to dust as the Ellcrys once again blooms with life. Amberle’s life. She’s gone.

Even as we cut to the next day, Wil’s still at the tree, hoping for a word, hoping for a sign, but he gets none. All he gets is anger and frustration as he learns Allanon knew this is what needed to happen. Allanon, it’s his gift and his curse. We’ve commented on how different in appearance he is from the book in his tight leathers and crewcut hair, but it’s only here it fully clicked for me that he’s a soldier. He’s dedicated to one thing: protecting the world. It’s a cause he believes in, even as he constantly loses everything to it and causes others to lose what they love. It’s his duty, one he takes on so others won’t have to. I love it.

The big surprise about this episode is that they don’t entirely wrap things up. The way the original trilogy of books were written is that each picks up with the descendants of the one prior, meaning Wishsong followed Wil’s children just as this story picked up with him, the son (grandson in the novels) of the hero of Sword. I wasn’t sure if they were going to preserve that aspect or not, and they don’t, as the ending is left open on the hanging thread of Wil heading back to Safehold to see if he can rescue Eretria. Does this mean the plan for next season is to push forward with an original story? Or alter a novel so that it now follows Wil and his generation? Or would we still have the jump, filling in the gap of what happened along the way? I don’t know. I’m curious to find out, but I’m still doubtful that will happen.

And then there’s Bandon. Bandon went off the rails for me in the last episode, and I just plain hate him here. Yes, it’s interesting to have him go bad, but it’s still done in a very stupid way as Catania nuzzles up to him again only to become a hostage as he escapes, leading to him beating a guard to death with chains in a sequence that was ridiculously, needlessly brutal and gross, all over how “he shouldn’t have touched you.” And he somehow gets his hands on the Dagda Mor’s sword for a big cliffhanger shot, but I don’t care.

Still, a really solid episode and a damn good finale in my book. Brought all the threads and characters to a head, had some great emotional conflicts, strong action, a few nice twists. Most importantly, it does leave me wanting to see more. I’m still doubtful, but we’ll see.

The Shannara Chronicles aired Tuesday nights on MTV at 9 pm Central and can also be viewed online at http://www.mtv.com/shows/shannara.

Noel can be found on Twitter as @NoelCT.

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