The Ellcrys is saved, but The Shannara Chronicles has more to do.
Full spoilers for The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1 continue below.
Fantasy has had a difficult time fitting onto the small screen over the years. While magical worlds have burst off the page and found success in movie theaters, they’ve still struggled to proliferate on TV, especially when they’re more based in fantasy than in reality.
Before Game of Thrones, the most widely recognized style of fantasy on TV was the likes of Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess, and the state of television has evolved far past the both of those. The hope was that in this new era of TV fantasy, The Shannara Chronicles would hew more toward the former than the latter, and MTV could come up with the fantasy genre’s version of The CW sci-fi hit The 100.
In some ways, the series did that. The Shannara Chronicles is a modernized remix on Terry Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara, and took many of the high fantasy elements from that story and updated them with a more dystopian vibe. That paid off for the series; we’ve seen our share of high fantasy productions before, many of which don’t work on TV, so it was smart to offer a look at a fantasy world we haven’t really seen on TV. It’s in these moments when The Shannara Chronicles did something new that its potential shone through.
There were other elements, though, that didn’t work quite so well. The budget of The Shannara Chronicles limited the high fantasy elements from being fully fantastical. The final episode paid off a big battle between the Dagda Mor and his demon army against the elves and their gnome allies, but before then the show did a spotty job of selling this massive confrontation. The creature design, though practical, often looked the worse for it, with the Dagda Mor, the gnomes and some of the other beings introduced sometimes looking cheesy instead of imposing.
Much of that could have been overlooked if the writing was better, but Season 1‘s storytelling was often its biggest problem. The character development was all over the place. Though core trio Wil, Amberle and Eretria did have arcs that could be charted throughout the show, stars Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton and Ivana Baquero didn’t find their characters until toward the end of the season and their development wasn’t especially convincing before then.
Big names Manu Bennett and John Rhys-Davies were underused, with Allanon often being sidelined when he was one of the more interesting and compelling characters in the story, and King Eventine’s death being undercut by a bait-and-switch twist that hugely lessened its impact. There also were issues of storylines being set up and then left hanging, like the introduction of Perk that went nowhere, and key plot elements that weren’t explained, like what the main characters had to get out of the Bloodfire. That’s all overlooking some of the season’s biggest missteps, like the Cephalo rape scene, Wil constantly losing the Elfstones and its often very derivative fantasy elements.
But looking back at its first year as a whole, The Shannara Chronicles does scrape by with a good season. Though there were some clunkier elements, they are things that can be improved upon in a Season 2. Now that The Shannara Chronicles has gotten through the heavy lifting of plowing through The Elfstones of Shannara’s plot, having that weight gone could open up an interesting new chapter of the show. It never was quite sure what it wanted to be, and with its ties to its source material gone, it will sink or swim on its own merit.
There are plenty of cliffhangers here for a potential Season 2. Bandon is out and seems to be pure evil (a cool twist on my previous expectation that he would fill in for Allanon). Wil is out to rescue Eretria, who has been taken captive by a mystery person she recognizes. Amberle has become the Ellcrys, but it’s hard to imagine The Shannara Chronicles never brings back Poppy Drayton again.
Season 2 could and should explore the fallout of Amberle’s actions (something the finale glazed over). Season 2 could and should blow out the world of the Four Lands and examine each of the various races (something the Eretria cliffhanger seems like it could be set up for). Season 2 could and should find a better balance and mix of the dystopian sci-fi elements of the show with the classic high fantasy (the former of which offered some of the best moments of the season).