[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×09: “Wilderun”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Even though Bandon has earned a place at the Warlock Lord’s side, the sorcerer has another test for him: to be honest about why he wants to be there. After dodging the question, Bandon finally admits that it’s about power and wanting to rise above those who kept kicking sand in his face. Which the Warlock Lord gets, and he hands Bandon the Druid Codex with another of these wide-eyed, quiet gasps that Manu Bennett keeps doing in this role. They’re both terrifying and adorable. I love them. Flipping to a random page, Bandon learns that power must be taken, and in a big twist, suddenly attacks the Warlock Lord with magic. This caught me by surprise, but I liked it, as even the Warlock Lord totally understands that he’s just a faux big bad this season, and it’s all been about the continued rise of Bandon to being the next scourge of the Four Lands.

Except, psych, they got me. The Warlock Lord just takes it for a minute before driving his blade through Bandon and tossing him aside. I’m a bit disappointed, actually. Not that keeping the Warlock Lord and his adorable gasps as the big bad is a poor choice; I just don’t find him as a character to be as interesting as his performance and design. He’s fine, he’s just typical, whereas Bandon would have made for the stronger connective arc across the two seasons.

Later, Allanon and Mareth arrive at Graymark along with Garet and Slanter, who saved the two druids from burning at the stake. They gather around General Riga’s head, which they fully intend to take advantage of as a tool, and there’s a touching sequence where Allanon kneels before Bandon’s lifeless body. He doesn’t express anger or joy that this enemy has fallen, but instead sinks into regret that he failed to protect and guide yet another young charge. It’s a good moment to end Bandon’s story on, as he was an emo asshole who unquestionably went bad, but it is at least partly the result of the path on which others put him.

Which brings up the interesting and conflicting themes of destiny which run throughout the episode, bringing to a head many which have carried across the season. Wil has finally accepted his destiny and no longer wants to run from those lost to the past or the pressure of those looking to him for a future. The same goes for Allanon and Mareth, who both accept that he’s losing his magic and is reaching the end of his life, and it’s time for her to build the strength and knowledge she’ll need to assume the mantle of the next Druid. On the fence is Lyria, who bristles at the idea of staying hidden, but doesn’t know if she’s ready to ascend to the throne. She does know she’s finally ready to marry as she proposes to Eretria to be her queen, but Eretria is the one still terrified of her destiny. She hasn’t opened up to anyone yet about killing that member of the Chosen, but she knows the dark force of a Mord Wraith is in her, allowing the Warlock Lord the access needed to slowly take over her mind. She wants to fight it, wants to escape this destined path before anyone else gets hurt, but she doesn’t know if she can. And Mareth freaks out when she finds out she’s now inherited the throne of Arborlon. She just settled her lineage and accepted the training to achieve her destined path as a Druid, but now she has the added title of queen heaped on top, and that’s a damned significant amount of pressure for anyone to have to face.

It does send a mixed message that some people are told avoiding their destinies leads to misery, while others are told their destiny needs to be escaped. I don’t dislike this, because life is complex, and doesn’t always take us through the doors we expect or even want. Sometimes we want something we’re not ready for or are just never going to be a right fit to pull off. Sometimes something we don’t want leads us to discover something new that we never expected we would want. Sometimes everything we plan for comes true and it’s amazing. Sometimes we’re endlessly stuck on a road we can’t escape and everything’s awful. It would be nice if there could be more focus in the writing on choices and opportunities than the old fantasy tropes of lineages and destinies (especially with the Ohmsfords), but I appreciate that it’s not a clear-cut issue.

That said, completely dodging the promise he made over not one, but two subsequent episodes, Garet doesn’t find and protect Lyria at a time when oh holy hell could she use it. Rather, he heads to Leah where he uses Riga’s head to show the Crimson that their leader is dead and their war is over. He then promises that all of their crimes will be forgiven if they join the fight against the Warlock Lord. I get the need for numbers, but I have a couple of issues to bring up. 1) By what authority does Garet promise this? Did he get that charge from Lyria or Mareth? Is it just an empty promise, with a full intent to turn on the Crimson when this is over? I hope so, because 2) these thugs are a brutal hate group who have slaughtered women, men, and children throughout the Four Lands, staking their remains to trees or roasting them on stakes, simply for having any mere affiliation with magic. If you need their muscle, use it, but what the Crimson have done is unpardonable. You don’t just get an easy “enemy of my enemy” out for their acts of genocide.

Also, Slanter has now pretty much become Garet’s sidekick.

Throughout all of this, Cogline still plays a role that’s tough to pin down. There’s great stuff, like him and Allanon finally coming together, these old brothers from the Druid order, one of whom walked away and now obsesses with restoring the old sciences, the other of whom is trying to get the next generation in place before he dies. They don’t get into their relationship or perspectives much, but just having the two looking quietly happy to see each other again is really nice. As is the bit where Cogline gets to see the restored Sword of Shannara, which he originally forged in another nice callback to First King of Shannara. The issues again come from his treatment of Lyria and Eretria. He still wants to keep Lyria safely hidden away from danger and doesn’t seem open to listening to her choices, even though she’s still working on figuring those out, and she’s pissed to learn he was fully aware of her lineage when she was first in hiding. With Eretria, we’ve had an arc throughout the season where he’s told her where she’s from and what she’s capable of, and how she’ll need to train to overcome the Warlock Lord’s power. Which he follows up on by running off and not actually helping her achieve any of that training. To his complete and utter surprise, she hasn’t pulled off that training without his support, and now she’s being overwhelmed and he might have to put her down to save everyone else. That lack of follow-through is on you, dude, and on the showrunners for yet more inconsistent episodic structuring.

This all leads to the massive and wonderful climax, intercutting between two main sections when the Warlock Lord uses Eretria to learn the Wilderun’s location and arrives with his head Mord Wraith in tow. Wil and Lyria flee to an old shipping container, which Cogline wired to throw up an electric field to keep the Mord Wraith from getting in. Unfortunately, Wil and Lyria brought Eretria in there with them, and she’s fully taken over by the Warlock Lord’s magic, attacking her friends and slamming them into the walls and ceiling of the unit in a brutal and well-staged sequence. Wil is her friend and former lover, whom she’s reunited with on this second adventure to save the Four Lands, and she beats him unconscious. Lyria is her current love, the Queen of Leah, the fiancĂ©e who just asked the former Rover to rule alongside her. These two have been through so much – parting, reuniting, losing family and friends – and Eretria can’t stop the beast inside from forcing her to inflict so much violence on Lyria. Thankfully, Lyria isn’t killed in this attack. That would be a shitty move, given the huge stride they just took in their cementing of an LGBT relationship. But Eretria still can’t stop herself, even after a moment where she seems to regain control. It ends with her dark side fully taking over as she knocks Lyria out, takes the key to Heaven’s Well, shuts off the electricity, and throws open the doors, absorbing the red Wraith into her and gaining the demon eyes of the visions. The Armageddon’s Child has been born. Somewhere in a distant reality, a visored man named Scott shouts “JEEEEEEAN!”

Elsewhere, we finally get our standoff between Manu Bennett as Allanon and Ghost Of Mars Manu Bennett as the Warlock Lord, with Cogline also joining in. Every time they push the Warlock Lord back, he rises again and downs each with magic bolts, even after Cogline reveals his steampunk scepter is a plasma rifle connected to a battery unit on his waist. That was awesome. With the old Druids down, Mareth enters the fray, double-swording her way into the Warlock Lord’s defenses but hesitating due to him wearing her father’s face. An adorably, quietly gasping Ghost Of Mars version of her father, but her father nonetheless.

And that’s where our cliffhangers leave us as I wait another week for the finale. I really enjoyed this one. Yes, we get our inconsistent plotting in relation to other episodes, and Garet Jax recruiting the Crimson doesn’t sit right with me. But otherwise, it’s a powerful setup for all of our character and plot threads finally coming to a head. Wil has finally accepted the hero’s mantle, only to be locked away with a villain he didn’t expect in the form of his closest friend. Lyria and Eretria cement their bond, only for the worst possible threat to come between them. Cogline leads everyone to the safety of his hidden city only for it to become the stage for the major battle. Bandon makes his play for ultimate power only for someone more powerful to strike him down. Allanon, Cogline, and Mareth – three generations of Druids – finally face off against the Warlock Lord, himself a corrupt Druid who’s already cheated death, only to find their combined powers at a loss to take him on.

This is the first episode in the series written by Matt Lambert, another veteran from Gough & Millar’s Into the Badlands, and he does a nice job pulling everything together and pushing all of the characters to the peaks of their emotional arcs. Lambert is ably backed by the crisp scenery and dramatic stagings of Toa Fraser, a local Maori director with a list of film credits I’d love to explore, who’s only recently begun transitioning into television. This is a good team to give everything a fresh, cinematic weight and scale as we’re heading into the climax. I just wish they were making the actual climax instead of some of the regulars. Things have been so inconsistent this year that it’s hard to build up too much excitement for the finale, even as I am curious to see how it ultimately plays out.

The Shannara Chronicles airs Wednesday nights on Spike at 9 pm Central and can also be viewed online at http://www.spike.com/shows/the-shannara-chronicles. Noel can be reached on Twitter @NoelCT and his other projects can be found at The Noel Network.

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