The Shannara Chronicles S01E05 “Reaper” REVIEW

The Shannara Chronicles S01E05 “Reaper” REVIEW

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stars 4

Airing in the UK on 5Star on Thursdays at 9pm

Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Directors: Brad Turner

 

Essential Plot Points:

  • We begin with a flashback to the death of Amberle’s father Aine. When gnomes stormed Arbolon 10 years ago, he tried to help defend the King, but was slaughtered in the process. The gnome responsible was locked away, and has been for the past 10 years.
  • Meanwhile in the present, Amberele and co are making progress through the woods. They make camp to give both Eretria and the horses a rest, but almost immediately get ambushed by a large group of Rovers lead by Cephalo, who’s been tailing them.
  • The Dagda Mor isn’t at all impressed with the changeling failing to kill the Princess, and so sends a new demon after her. The changeling promises that she has not outlived her usefulness – that she can turn Allanon against the royal family and leave Arbolon defenceless.
  • Prince Arion discovers a village that’s been completely destroyed by demons. Ander suggests that more might be gathering near the Breakline, a mountain range stretching a thousand miles long. Arion wants to strike at them with the Elven army, but the King doesn’t agree. He wants to put all efforts into protecting the Ellcrys.
  • Bandon is preparing for battle, putting himself amongst the soldiers. He wants vengeance for his parent’s death, but as Allanon points out, he isn’t a soldier. He has a gift that should be used – and Allanon needs to make use of it. He wants Bandon to contact Amberle through the Ellcrys with his powers. It seems like a stretch of his powers, but Allanon believes in him.
  • Cephalo moves out, leaving everyone but Amberle for dead. Having delivered all that he asked, namely the Elf Stones and the Princess, he agrees to keep his word and free Eretria. Before she can leave, Amberle tries to sway her into freeing her with the incentive of a far greater monetary award. Eretria leaves anyway, but not before seeing Cephalo make extremely unwanted advances on Amberle.

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  • Later that evening, as Cephalo attempts to rape the Princess, Eretria dives back in to rescue her and they leave the Rover camp. They take Cephalo with them as insurance that he won’t be able to hunt them if he’s already with them.
  • Prince Ander has an idea that infuriates Arion – use the gnome who killed their brother as a guide through the Breakline to scout out the demon’s location. With Amberle out in the wilderness and in danger, he’s desperate for help, and the gnome, Slanter, knows it. Still, he goes along with the plan as it means his freedom.
  • Amberle’s guard Crispin is not happy with Cephalo for leaving him for dead earlier, but reluctantly allows him to join their group after orders from Amberle. As they travel, the troupe come across a wasteland filled with deadly gases, and are forced to make a detour.
  • Bandon tries making contact with the Ellcrys, but it doesn’t go all that well. He sees visions of Amberle lying dead and the Dagda Mor, who locks him away. In reality, Bandon’s eyes turn black and he collapses, to Allanon’s horror.
  • When Amberle’s troupe reaches its first destination – the hideout of an elf named Ren Katzen – they’re greeted instead by three severed heads and an extremely ominous-looking demon, who’s out for Amberle’s blood. Knowing it’s going after her, Cephalo has a plan to distract it and get Wil to destroy it with the stones, but they aren’t cooperating. Instead, they lure the demon to the deadly gases they came upon earlier and use fire to blow it and the demon up.
  • Arion goes to talk to his father, saying that he’s unhappy with the rift that’s forming between them. The King assures his son that he needs him by his side, though he still needs to keep his place on the throne. Hearing that, Arion viciously stabs Eventine in the stomach – and then shapeshifts to his form. The changeling has taken the throne.

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Review:

This is certainly an improvement! With this episode, Shannara has perhaps come the closest so far to its goal of being MTV’s very own Game Of Thrones, with more violence, betrayal and death taking priority ahead of the love triangle the show was trying to push so hard last episode. It’s a welcome change, and a sign that maybe Shannara is really starting to find itself.

The plot is racing ahead this episode, with pacing to match. Whilst we’re covering ground that we’ve seen before (Amberle’s in the Rover’s hands again?) there’s enough happening in and around those scenes to make them feel fresh. Every character has their moment; Amberle in particular really earns her title of Princess this week, standing up to her guards to make sure her status as royalty, and therefore the one with the last word, is known. Even the Princes are stepping it up this week, whereas before they’d been confined to exposition scenes, particularly Arion. Allanon and Bandon aren’t forgotten either. Now that they’ve been left in Arbolon away from all the action they’re focusing on honing Bandon’s increasing roster of powers to include communication across space and time, so that’s pretty cool.

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It’s nice to see that Eretria’s finally picked a side, even if it was only a matter of seeing who could bid the highest. Still, that’s likely not the only reason she’s chosen to stick with Amberle, not after seeing how uncomfortable she looks leaving her in Cephalo’s hands. Despite their differences and shared history, it seems like the Princess and the Rover girl may finally be bonding, which can only mean good things for the “girl power” quota per episode. Speaking of which, Eretria had a definite moment of awesome during this episode when it’s revealed that she single-handedly knocked out all of Cephalo’s men to get to Amberle. The girl’s got her resources, that’s for sure.

On the subject of Cephalo, he really shows his true colours this episode. He happily calls himself a “bastard”, and the shoe definitely fits as he shows absolutely no remorse in attempting to rape Amberle. It makes his heroics later in the episode difficult to swallow; are we supposed to be rooting for him after his actions earlier? Sure, he showed he can handle himself in the wilderness and even used himself as bait for the demon, which is pretty commendable for someone who only ever seems to look out for his own skin, but he’s still a bastard. A “love to hate” character for sure.

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The world of Shannara has grown ever larger this episode, particularly as we’re finally seeing a race that’s so far only been mentioned by name: gnomes. It’s been hinted at, but these aren’t your typical, bearded fantasy gnomes of restricted height. They’re vicious, ugly as hell and aren’t afraid to fight. Their motivation seems to be freedom, but we don’t know much more about that yet; there’s bound to be more on the cards now that Prince Ander’s using one for his own gain.

The introduction of a new race really brings into light the dynamics of all the races in the Four Lands. So far we’ve seen elves, humans and now gnomes, and none of them seem to get along particularly well with the other. It’s clear that elves rule the roost, and that the remaining humans are still suffering from… whatever it happened to them. (Whatever it was, it was over 3,000 years ago according to Crispin. Nice to have a figure on it, finally.) Whatever their dynamics have been, if they want to stand a chance of winning against the Dagda Mor, they’re going to have to learn to work together.

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As well as gnomes, there is of course the titular “Reaper” – a fierce, armoured demon who wouldn’t look all that out of place as a World Of Warcraft boss character. We’ve seen already that the demons are a (seemingly overpowered) force to be reckoned with, and this new Reaper only steps that up a notch. Pity that Wil couldn’t perform on cue to take it out!

Overall, this episode is one of the most impressive so far, seeing great character and plot development, plus a hefty amount of action that’s fast-paced enough to avoid growing stale. Hopefully Shannara will keep things going in this vein.

One final note – the death of King Eventine is a real shame. He’s been a strong character with great acting throughout the series, but if anything it plays up the GoT parallels. Can we be sure any of our favourites are safe? Time will tell.

 

The Good:

  • There’s been a definite step-up in quality this week, from pacing and scripting to character developments. Everyone’s started to feel more well-rounded out, with motivations becoming clearer. Eretria feels less like a plot tag-along now, for example.
  • The quality of the visuals and the CGI are still one of Shannara’s best features.

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  • The demons are really pretty scary. In a series that does occasionally pander to its YA demographic , having a race that can easily destroy entire villages and leave heads on poles for all to see really makes a difference in showing the audience that Shannara isn’t just playing at this epic fantasy lark.
  • Although a great loss, the death of King Eventine is shocking, and hones in to the fact that the previous point that demons are forces to be reckoned with. It’s a great plot twist.
  • The world-building in the form of inter-race interaction is well-handled.

 

The Bad:

  • Unfortunately Wil doesn’t really get a chance to shine this episode, and so gets left behind whilst everyone else gets their time in the spotlight.
  • Modern music cues raise their heads a few times this episode, and it continues to feel awkward.
  • Although it fits in with his skeevy character, it was difficult watching Cephalo’s attempted rape of Amberle.

 

And the Random:

  • When Amberle and co make camp, Amberle is seen getting water from a battered and rusted satellite dish.
  • Similarly, Cephalo uses a modern-day lighter as part of his plan to defeat the Reaper.

Review by Jessica Anson


Read our other reviews of The Shannara Chronicles

 

 

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