If tonight’s season finale of The Shannara Chronicles proves anything, it’s that the show works best when it sticks closely to its source material. This has nothing to do with me being an adaptation purist or thinking Terry Brooks is some kind of sacred wordsmith whose text should never be messed with. It’s much simpler than that: The Elfstones Of Shannara knows what it is and the TV series doesn’t. Across 10 episodes, it’s frantically hopped from era-clashing sci-fi to trashy YA romance to high fantasy, only truly figuring out how to navigate that last category. And even then, it’s faltered whenever heaping on a new plot element or character—see Cephelo’s penchant for rape, the false death of several villains, Bandon, Catania, Commander Tilton, the list goes on.
So tonight’s finale, while no means perfect, caters to the most primal section of my troll brain, not because it abides by the novel (although it mostly does), but because it focuses almost exclusively on the long-awaited epic battle to save The Four Lands. There’s little dialogue (and no negotiating!), two armies with a singular objective (kill the enemy), and, most importantly, lots of badass fighting. And that’s all I want, really. The characters in Brooks’ pages aren’t especially complex. Even as they sometimes subvert fantasy archetypes, it’s usually clear to the reader what their objectives are, and once that’s apparent, the hero or villain never stops until they achieve their goal or die trying. The entertainment comes from the coherently laid-out combat, imaginative monsters, and expansive world-building.
“Ellcrys” delivers on all three of those elements from the get-go. After Amberle realizes the only way to save the magical tree of the title is to sacrifice herself and become the magical tree of the title, she, Wil, and Eretria (revived by the Elstones) hightail it back to Arborlon to complete their mission. They get cornered by the trolls on their way out, forcing Eretria to ward them off so her two companions can escape. After she gets captured and Amberle and Wil enjoy an interlude of moodily lit cave sex, the two of them arrive at the elvin kingdom to join Ander, Allanon, and everyone else in the war against the Dagda Mor and his demon horde. With the Ellcrys shedding its last leaf, their legion has broken into the surrounding woods, a perfectly dark, misty, and rustic setting for what lies ahead. Finally, The Shannara Chronicles feels like an unapologetic work of sword and sorcery.
And that more or less describes the bulk of the episode. For once, you don’t need a goddamn fantasy compendium to dissect the plot synopsis. Okay, maybe you do, but only a pocket-sized one that describes a few of the characters. Regardless, “Ellcrys” devotes most of its running time to a visually diverse battle, and is all the better for it. The elvin and demonic forces move from an initial collision in a muddy ditch to the brightened palace, where they skewer each other and toss their opponents into stained glass windows. There’s swordplay, immolation, and hand-to-hand combat, all of it shot with little fuss and straightforward violence design. Even when Allanon dispatches the Dagda himself—who’s distracted by an energy-beam duel with Wil reminiscent of Harry Potter’s first standoff with Voldemort—it’s done with good old-fashioned decapitation.
Does the slash-and-burn mindset of “Ellcrys” absolve itself from its handful of flaws? Not quite. There’s still the Bandon storyline, ineffective as ever as he once again shows his dark side by killing a guard who gets rough with Catania during an escape attempt. But at least his chain-bludgeoning of the elf sentry aligns nicely with the brutality of the episode. And if the series is grooming him to be a possessed, one-note baddie for the still up-in-the-air second season, I’m all for it. The less complicated The Shannara Chronicles tries to be, the better.
- If The Shannara Chronicles does indeed get a second season, who do you think Eretria sees at the end of the episode? Dear God, I hope it’s not a somehow resurrected Cephelo.
- Emilia Burns is always a welcome presence, but Commander Tilton really was a waste of a character, huh? The same goes for Brooke Williams’ turn as Catania.
- “That mind-reading thing? Still really annoying.” Hey, a funny quote for once!
- I have to admit, I’m surprised the writers kept the book’s ending of Amberle becoming the Ellcrys. Prior to last week, I thought it was going to be Eretria.
- Do you all think they’re setting up Arion to be a Shadowen or something similar? His death(?) at the hands of Ander reminds me a lot of the fight between Coll and Par Ohmsford at the end of The Scions Of Shannara.
- Likewise, I’m wondering if Bandon will transform into a Mord Wraith or some other evil being who doesn’t talk much. No disrespect to Marcus Vanco, who’s been consistently good in the role—it’s just that his story feels clumsy whenever it’s saddled with a superfluously meaty conflict.
- I’m a little miffed that Perk didn’t make another appearance to save the day. As cool as Allanon’s decapitation of the Dagda Mor is, I still would have preferred the bird/bat sky battle from the novel.