Header Ads

The Dragon Prince [Seasons 1-5] (2018-2023)

The Dragon Prince
is the first show in a long time to capture my imagination the way stories did when I was a kid. The sweeping fantasy of the show is held up with its deep and textured world-building, diligent return to themes, and human-feeling characters. From the magic system to the political intrigue, to the interpersonal drama, The Dragon Prince executes traditional fantasy tropes with power and freshness.

The show follows the young princes of Katolis, one of five human kingdoms, journeying to the magic lands of Xadia with their elven companion to end millennia of war and hostility between all things magic and all things human. Callum (Jack DeSena), the oldest of the half-brothers, is dorkily charming, intelligent, and inept at all things athletic. He is not in line for the throne and has no wish to be, though he fears having no place in the future of the kingdom’s infrastructure. He has overwhelming love and affection for his little brother Ezran (Sasha Rojen), the precocious and stubbornly kind-hearted heir to the throne and a friend to all living things. Ezran and Callum are easily one of the healthiest brother-brother relationships I’ve seen in animation, each offering the other faithful encouragement and emotional vulnerability. By contrast, their Moonshadow elf friend Rayla is emotionally constipated and relentlessly self-critical: a result of her upbringing in a martial culture with little space made for feelings of doubt, imperfections, or even familial love. She has a rough-edged sort of kindness: her strong sense of duty to use her skills in the service of others and for a greater cause never falter, even in the face of monumental self-sacrifice.

Showrunner Aaron Ehasz has become popular among the more subversive sects of the Avatar: The Last Airbender fandom, with many claiming that the best of A:TLA’s characterization and drama came from Ehasz rather than Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko. The Dragon Prince seems to substantiate this claim, though we don’t know enough about co-writer Justin Richmond to discount his work. As a writer of animated pieces, I am very excited about the rising representation of writer-run animated shows; the best stories that animation has to offer will always take the work of writers and artists working together.

A particular quirk of the magic system that I was thrilled to see was the extrapolated logic that the arcane can be learned: not just inherited. It’s always been a pet-peeve of mine when the wisest scholars of magic in fantasy worlds explain that magic powers symbolize numinous, ethereal knowledge about  profound truths… but it’s passed down in chromosomes. 

While magic in The Dragon Prince comes quicker to ‘superior’ species, such as elves, magic is treated as more of a language one can learn than a super power. Some elves don’t have any intellectual curiosity about magic, as some native English speakers seem to have an elementary understanding of the language, but a human who pursues magic must work and study hard to gain it. To be a human is to be underestimated, even denigrated, and achieve greatness anyway with effort and determination.

This element of the world also subtly ties in to one of the main sources of tension underlying the aggression: humans are not inferior to elves and dragons, but they are made to feel as though they are through the base assumptions of magic-users. The profound fear and anger of humanity, the overarching antagonistic force throughout the first half of the show, is understandable and possibly justifiable. These humans are swayed, tempted, and threatened by the same forces that we are, but they are trapped in a world where they are at the mercy of far more powerful beings.

I find the complexity of The Dragon Prince’s antagonists to be its greatest asset. They drive the central themes of the story forward with clear-eyed determination. At all times, they represent the twisted yet reasonable thinking that the danger of a higher power can be overcome with violence, even while knowing this violence will inevitably lead to an even more severe blowback.

I mentioned in my review of Vinland Saga that real pacifism is not an easy thing to sell in stories. But when the storytellers commit, pacifism can be exciting and badass. It’s engaging and often more emotionally resonant than action scenes, and there is an inherent tension to watching a beloved character leave themselves vulnerable to stay true to their principles. The Dragon Prince has no dearth of action scenes, but notably fewer than you’d expect from a story about violence. More importantly, the lack of violence does not feel lazy or unearned. While I’ve never seen a show earn its pacifism quite as thoroughly as Vinland Saga, The Dragon Prince puts its story where its themes are, and closes down avenues of plot when appropriate for characterization.

The dominant antagonist of the first three seasons is Viren, the High Mage under King Harrow, whose assassination at the hands of Moonshadow elves kickstarts the plot. Viren’s stated goal is to conquer and suppress the magical land of Xadia in order to keep his family safe. Yet, he makes it clear up front that he would willingly sacrifice family to retain ownership of the dragon egg, his ace in the hole against the threat of Xadia. In his most private and unguarded moments, his allegiance to family seems steadfast, and his desperate need for power is revealed to be unified with his love of his family; fear is the main motivator behind the drive to power. Our antagonist isn’t a cackling villain spitting fire and smiling at the success of dastardly plans. He’s a shivering coward, whose tenuous grip on security occupies every waking moment of his life.

Viren is an addictive presence on screen: he is a walking contradiction, and his true goals are as much a mystery to him as they are to us. He’s a straight-laced bureaucrat who managed to raise two deeply unserious children, who inherit his confused moral code and abstract goals. But they love him, and their (mostly) free-spirited natures suggest a healthy childhood being raised by a caring and warm parent. Nowadays, it’s difficult to even imagine what a loving, parental Viren would look like: the way he speaks to and treats other young people in the show indicates a complete lack of empathy for those whom human adults are usually hard-wired to protect. 

The relationship between Viren and his children drive the main action behind season 4 and beyond, called The Dragon Prince: The Mystery of Aaravos. His daughter Claudia, a brilliant, eccentric mage and the inheritor of Viren’s skills and motivations, is contrasted with his son Soren, whose simple himbo personality allows him to bombastically meet danger head on. Soren’s emotional openness, courage, and immaturity innoculate him to the violence fear inspires in his sister and father.

While Claudia and Soren have questionable chemistry in their many scenes together (the fluidity you would expect in a tight-knit sibling bond isn’t quite there at times) their love for each other comes through in the dramatic moments centering them. However, Soren and Viren are yet to have the cathartic moments of honesty we would expect at this point in the story, and there have now been numerous chances for such a confrontation. Similarly, Claudia’s relationship to her father needed more groundwork before “Mystery of Aaravos.” Her compulsive attachment to family pulls her much closer to her father than her brother: this doesn’t quite square with the fact that she knows the lengths to which her father would go for his goals (specifically, how this affects Soren) and Claudia’s trauma is far more tied to her relationship with Soren than her father. Overall, her commitment to Soren is far more grounded in the text we have seen so far in comparison to her commitment to Viren. I’m hoping season 6 opens up avenues for reflecting on Viren’s relationships with each of his children, whether he is there in person or not.

There is one more apprehension I have going into the next two and final seasons of the show, and it’s a whopper. In the fourth season, we learn that, according to the dragon queen, Aaravos orchestrated every crisis that has ever occurred. I’m sorry?

The humanity of evil – the tragic fear and despair that drives the most loving among us to slip into monsters – is retconned as a magical bishonen seducing powerful people to the dark side? I don’t exaggerate: it is stated explicitly that Aaravos whispered in the ear of everyone responsible for all bad things ever.

I hope I am interpreting this reveal uncharitably and the show will find some way to backtrack the severity of this claim in seasons 6 and 7. The real magic of The Dragon Prince is its lack of a Big Bad. Evil cannot be killed in a single battle: it must be fought every day when we are confronted by that which we fear or desire. 

So far, season 5 has used the evil of Aaravos to challenge our main cast. Will Ezran choose to kill him if Callum can offer him the right tools? Will Viren continue outrunning danger at the expense of connecting with his family? These are good uses of this new information, creating conflicts for our heroes and villains. But unless humans, elves, dragons, and other complex beings are held fully responsible for the turmoil their world has faced, all the hard work done to drag the powerful thematic statement to the front of the story will be made diluted and toothless. If “history is a book we write ourselves” (arc words throughout the series), we cannot take agency over the present without owning up to our mistakes in the past.

Overall, The Dragon Prince is visually gorgeous, exciting, and powerful. Barring a few missteps following the season 3 finale, the show has managed to demonstrate a clear understanding of its characters, world, and themes. I’m overwhelmingly optimistic about season 6, which is set to air sometime this year.




The Dragon Prince has offered up 5 seasons of excellent television,but some odd choices in its second half may spell trouble for the final seasons of the show.



Shain Slepian is a screenwriter, script consultant, and content creator with a life-long love of animation and media analysis. Their work can be found on Medium, and on their YouTube channel, TimeCapsule. Shain's book, Reframing The Screenwriting Process, is available on Amazon.