The Shannara Chronicles S01E09 “Safehold” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on 5Star on Thursdays at 9pm
Writers: Evan Endicott, Josh Stoddaard
Director: Brad Turner
Essential Plot Points:
- Our intrepid heroes reach Safehold! The name of which, it turns out, is an interpretation of a very faded road sign pointing to San Francisco.
- They make their way into the old city through underground passages, even though they’re likely to be filled with trolls. Ye olde Golden Gate bridge is gone, so their only other option would be to swim.
- Bandon’s powers are growing; he’s reached the point where he can read Allanon’s mind. But it seems like there’s still a darkness in him remaining from his stint with the Dagda Mor that Allanon is all too aware of.
- Councilwoman Cael is not happy that Ander decided to take up the mantle of King rather than passing it down to her as they agreed.
- As they explore the underground passages, Amberle and co come across a group of sleeping trolls, and on the wall behind them? Eretria’s supposed slave tattoo. They reason that it must be a sign leading them to the Bloodfire.
- King Ander is training his men whilst Bandon and Catania watch on, but things take a sour turn when he asks Bandon to participate. With the Dagda Mor still worming its way into Bandon’s head, it eggs him on to kill the King – and Bandon very nearly follows through.
- As they get nearer to the Bloodfire, Eretria has a vision of the same room Amberle was shown in the Ellcrys. This causes her skin to magically etch itself with a map showing the way to the room.
- Despite Bandon telling Catania how he can still feel the Dagda Mor messing with his head, she decides to make out with him anyway. It’s a bad, bad idea, and – of course – it backfires – the demon takes over, and “Bandon” starts trying to harm her.
- Amberle and co make it to the Bloodfire’s location, but there’s no visible sign of it. When they position themselves as Amberle saw them in her vision, three self-professed Guardians of the Bloodfire appear, hovering above the ground with their faces flickering ominously between something human and something demonic.
- The Guardians start to try and turn the trio against one another, primarily using Wil’s undecided attraction for both Amberle and Eretria as fuel for the flames. Eretria falls victim when they point out how it’s Amberle getting all the spoils of their quest and starts to lash out at her companions, but stabs her hand on Wil’s outstretched sword in the process. To the amazement of all involved, her blood starts to float and drift over to an egg-shaped structure sitting on a plinth.
- Ander sends out Commander Tilton to get a letter to the gnomes, and with her gone, Cael’s going behind Ander’s back and has got the Black Watch on her side. She aims to ascend to the throne within hours, and throws Ander in jail to prevent him from stopping her. But in the meantime the gnomes have made their way to Arborlon with Tilton and free him, pledging allegiance to him as King.
- Recalling being told that her “blood is the key”, Eretria makes a drastic decision and slams her hand onto a needle protruding from the top of the egg. Immediately her blood flows down it, causing the Bloodfire to finally erupt from the ground. Amberle makes to jump in, but the Guardians refuse her, so Wil blasts them with the Elf stones.
- But by the end, he’s left alone. Eretria is unconscious, or… maybe even dead? And Amberle has disappeared into the Bloodfire.
- King Ander and his subjects watch as the final leaf falls from the Ellcrys. The demon army has arisen, and is ready to march on the Four Lands.
The penultimate episode, and everything is coming to a head. We’ve finally reached Safehold, but Amberle’s disappeared into the Bloodfire, Eretria may well be dead, Bandon’s been unable to shake the demonic mind control and the Ellcrys has shed its last leaf, releasing the demon army unto the world. Simply put, it ain’t looking great for the Four Lands.
If the last two episodes felt a bit too much like filler and less about the plot, this episode jumps right back into the action – although maybe a little too quickly. For one thing, the journey to Safehold sounded long and perilous, but come the start of the episode, there it is, right in front of our heroes’ eyes. It feels like more time could have been spent showing the journey than showing us Eretria dancing in a nightclub last week, but hey, what’s done is done. As well as that, the process of actually finding the Bloodfire seems deceptively easy. We’ve had eight episodes of the trio trying to find the damn thing, and suddenly it’s just… there. It feels somewhat anticlimactic.
Eretria being the key to finding it was a nice touch, but it’s a shame there wasn’t more build up to show her importance. Maybe there’s some foreshadowing we missed, but a brief mention of her tattoo two episodes ago and a prophetic speech about her body being “the vessel” and her blood “the key” is all we really got before the Big Reveal, besides the obvious of her being in Amberle’s vision. We’re going to assume there’s more to Eretria’s part in all this though, given that only the “blood” half of the prophecy has been revealed so far. And it has to be said that her dedication to her cause is impressive: she impaled her hand with no hesitation at all, and let her blood be drained for as long as Amberle needed her to. If there were any doubts as to her loyalty, it’s safe to say they’re probably assuaged after that.
We could have done without those Guardians of the Bloodfire, to be honest. Their only purpose seemed to be to add some peril, and God knows there’s been enough of that. If you’re going to have Guardians to a powerful entity, at least have them do something interesting – something that’s not just mocking Wil about his indecisiveness regarding his romantic inclinations. It should have felt like the characters were struggling to reach their goal, maybe with trials or an epic fight, making the act of reaching it all the more rewarding, but again, the episode falls short. (Ironically, whilst Amberle fighting “Wil” in the Ellcrys felt like a bad choice at the time, given she hardly knew him then, it would make far more of an impression now, as an example.)
On the Arborlon side of things, while it’s great seeing Ander fit into his role of King this episode, it’s difficult not to get a sense of hopelessness. We’ve seen the size of the demon hordes; hell, we know what sort of damage just one demon alone can do. Even with the gnome army behind them, any outcome other than “complete slaughter” seems unlikely. It’s nice that he’s holding his head high through all this, but really, he should just leave it to Amberle. As long as she’s not gone for good.
It’s a shame – this episode had the potential to be good. Really good. For Amberle, Wil and Eretria it’s a culmination of everything they’ve been journeying for: they finally reach Safehold, they finally gain access to the Bloodfire. It’s their equivalent of reaching Mordor, and it has all the makings of a pretty epic episode. It’s a shame, then, that almost everything seems… anticlimactic. But it’s the finale next week, so here’s hoping gets it together and provides what this episode just falls short of giving.
- After episodes of perilous travelling, we finally reach Safehold!
- The VFX this episode are beautiful, from Eretria’s body being turned into a map to the Bloodfire to the Bloodfire itself.
- The alliance between the Gnomes and the Elves, showing unity in the Four Lands for the first time in what must be a long time.
- Eretria’s part in unleashing the Bloodfire. Her dedication to her cause shows just how far she’s come in terms of character progression; she’ll give up her life if it means helping her friends and saving the world. True proof that whatever she says, she isn’t just in it for the coin.
- Whilst this episode has so much potential, it’s badly rushed and makes moments that should feel epic and emotionally powerful seem disappointingly anticlimactic. More time could have been spent fleshing this out in previous episodes.
- Whilst Shannara is usually top notch for visuals, Safehold as a location is a disappointment. We only see the ancient San Francisco ruins from afar, and the underground sets aren’t much to look at either. Even the ruined church housing the Bloodfire is pretty boring to look at.
- The Guardians of the Bloodfire would be improved instantly if you could actually understand them. Their reverberating and overlapping speech makes it difficult to make out what they’re saying at times.
- Plus, they didn’t actually do much for being Guardians of a powerful force like the Bloodfire. They came across more like schoolyard bullies with their “taunting the Halfling and the human” shtick. Put up more of a fight!
- Catania, you seem like a smart girl. Why would you snog Bandon even after he admitted to feeling like he’s still under the Dagda Mor’s control from time to time? Surely that should have been a big neon warning sign!
And the Random:
- So the demons were gone when Ander and Tilton went to the Breakline, but suddenly they’re back? Where did they go, anyway?
- And for that matter, what happened to Perk and his dragon?
- Speaking of things disappearing, it looks like the Golden Gate bridge fell victim to demon attacks, since it’s not around anymore.
- There’s a shot of Amberle looking bemused at a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus – looks like Christianity isn’t a thing anymore either.
Review by Jessica Anson