The Shannara Chronicles recap: 'Paranor'/'Crimson'
Welcome to the first in a series of weeks with back-to-back episodes as The Shannara Chronicles races toward the end of its second season! Buckle up, because we’re about to cover tons of ground and say goodbye to a few characters along the way.
In and around Paranor
Outside Paranor, Wil, Allanon, and Mareth squabble about how to confront Bandon. Allanon keeps Wil in the dark about his plans since Bandon will be able to read Wil’s mind, and he benches Mareth because she can’t control her magic. Disgusted, she gallops away, leaving Willanon to seek out Bandon and Flick in a ruined cavern.
Flick tells Wil he shouldn’t have come, while Bandon negs Allanon with, “You look tired.” (He’s one to talk, though; evil is no excuse for skipping a good deep conditioner, bro.) To convince Wil to cooperate, Bandon slices Flick’s face with his poisoned sword, promising the cure once he has the Warlock Lord’s skull.
Allanon reluctantly leads Bandon to the skull, which is resting on a dais, while Mareth creeps around the periphery. Yep, the skull is one of her illusions, and she generates a druidic spell that traps both Bandon and Allanon inside a cell where violence and magic are both inhibited.
Wil’s incensed that Allanon and Mareth cooked up this plan behind his back and accuses Allanon of never intending to save Flick, which Allanon denies. When Wil tries to heal Flick with the Elfstones, it just makes things worse, so Wil decides to turn over the skull. Locating it requires the blood of a Shannara and a Druid, and since Allanon’s locked up, this means Mareth’s about to take one heck of a paternity test.
They use the Elfstones to retrace the steps that Allanon and Shea took 30 years ago, plus Mareth’s best guess based on the little Allanon told her about the magic of Paranor. (It involves touching a series of runes that light up like a Simon Says.)
This leads them to a concrete chamber containing a podium with slots for both their hands. From his cell, Allanon warns that if Mareth’s not his daughter, they’ll both die. But she trusts Wil and sticks her hand in anyway. It’s painful, and Flick is spitting black-looking blood as a bright light blots everything out.
Mareth and Wil wake near Shady Vale, Wil’s childhood home, where Allanon presumably hid the skull. The last time they saw it, it was in flames thanks to the mord wraiths, but now it’s green, bucolic, and bustling with cheerful people playing in the river, strolling, flirting, and giving Wil the eye.
Wil finds it odd that he doesn’t recognize a single person, although he still intercedes when they find a pack of men bullying a “filthy half-breed” for bothering one of their sisters. The bully pulls a dagger, but Wil brandishes his sword and (of course) says, “I think mine’s bigger.”
The young man they saved introduces himself as Shea. Shea Ohmsford. *surprised spit take*
Yeah, okay, most of us probably guessed we were dealing with time travel by this point, but that doesn’t make this whole sequence any less enjoyable as it unfolds. (Although if Shea’s a “half-breed,” doesn’t that make Wil only a quarter elf? I swear, I thought he was introduced as a half elf last season.)
Shea, unaware of the shock bomb he just delivered, says he was adopted by humans, but some villagers still don’t trust him. Mareth badly lies that they’re from out of town, so Shea offers to feed them. Aww, he’s a nice guy! I agree with Mareth’s comment that this must be where Wil gets niceness.
Wil and Mareth quietly freak out about traveling back to a time before everything hit the fan. Wil’s tempted to tell Shea to run away and avoid his fate, but Mareth points out that this might let the Warlock Lord win in their past/Shea’s future. Yeah, I don’t think sweet, simple Wil has given much thought to the ramifications of time travel before this moment.
After the meal, they split up. Mareth keeps Shea busy by confessing her big ol’ crush on Wil, which Shea picked up on immediately, while Wil searches the barn for the skull. He’s caught red-handed by a blonde who was eyeing him earlier. She thanks Wil for rescuing Shea from her brother, which makes this Heady, Wil’s mother.
She immediately unloads all of her relationship woes onto this complete stranger, and when Shea overhears her complaining about him hiding things, he ends their relationship while Wil stands by all, “Ummm, can you not?”
Gotta say, this is all super rushed — Mareth’s feelings for Wil, Wil’s youthful parents confiding big secrets literally seconds after meeting him, their breaking up — but whatever. If you’ve got a show featuring time travel in pursuit of a demon skull, you just have to roll with it. (Next page: Brace yourself for scarecrows)
Mareth warns Wil that he’s in danger of not being born if he doesn’t fix this, so Wil heads to the waterfall cave from episode 2. Shea’s surprised Wil found him there, but Wil says it reminds him of a place his dad showed him when he was young. My heart! I can’t handle it!
Heady was right; Shea has been having visions of mord wraiths and not telling her about them. Wil says he’s seen them, too, and they’re visions of the future. Then Shea gets a vision of Heady in danger and takes off through a cornfield to find her.
Wil catches up with him just as a mord wraith appears and hisses, “Shannara.” Wil destroys it with the Elfstones, and Shea demands to know what a Shannara is. “You are,” Wil says.
Wil shows Shea the cement time travel chamber and explains the role he’ll play in a month when the Warlock Lord declares war. Shea says he’s no hero, but Wil reminds him of the time Shea released a rabbit from a snare even though the crops had failed and his family was desperate for food. Shea says he never told anybody that story. “Not yet, you haven’t,” Wil replies.
Wil stashes Shea back in the cave to hide from the mord wraiths and asks if he’s seen any creepy skulls lying around. But all Shea can focus on is the upcoming Solstice Fest; he and Heady have been working on a scarecrow for the village competition, and he doesn’t want to miss it.
Wil flashes to a memory of goofing around with a scarecrow as a child and realizes this might be significant. When Shea won’t stop stressing about the scarecrow competition, Wil snaps, “You do win, okay? You win the damn competition, and Heady tells her father that she’s in love with you.” Wil says he’s heard this story his whole life because, surprise, he’s Shea’s son! Hooray for this irritated declaration of kinship!
Wil tells Shea to stay put and heads to the Solstice Fest, which is in full swing with people dancing to music that’s best described as “close as we can get to Mumford & Sons without paying royalties.” Wil jogs through the scarecrows in the competition looking for the one with the evil demon skull, but honestly, every one of those scarecrows looks a little like an evil demon. What kind of messed-up competition is this? Wil finally asks Heady for help, and she tells him their scarecrow’s sitting in the cornfield.
Wil realizes that this scarecrow marks the spot where Allanon buried the skull. You see, in a week, a nearby dam breaks and turns this field into a permanent lake, so in the present, the skull’s underwater. They had to travel back to a time when it was accessible.
Wil and Mareth bring the skull back to the cave and find Shea gone. “Like you’d listen to two time travelers from the future rather than your heart,” Mareth says. Truly, this is advice for the ages. Wil worries that Shea doesn’t have the Elfstones yet and could run into trouble with the mord wraiths.
And okay, here’s my question: Did the mord wraiths bother Shea at this point in the original timeline, or did Wil and Mareth jumping back cause it? You’d think Wil would’ve heard about Shea fighting wraiths without the Elfstones. At one point, Wil even says, “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” which makes me think all of this changed the timeline.
So doesn’t this potentially alter the future? Does Wil telling Shea that he’s destined to be a hero affect how Shea approaches the tasks ahead? Won’t Allanon be surprised to find Shea all, “Man, those mord wraiths are jerks”? And if you go back in time and kill your grandma, doesn’t that mean you were never born, which means you can’t go back in time to kill your grandma? Okay, so I’m overthinking this, but if you bring up time travel, the audience is going to ask these questions!
At the festival, Shea finds Heady to apologize, and her forgiving smile vanishes when the mord wraiths scream into view. Wil shows up to blast them with the Stones, but not before one of them injures Shea. They carry him into the barn, where Wil does his Elfstones healing trick. (Heady calls it a miracle, but Mareth snips, “Try magic.”)
Heady tells Wil she’ll never forget what he did for them, and he warns her that she and Shea will face many challenges, but she’ll get through it. (Does she, though? Life with her broken, alcoholic husband and her subsequent early death seem pretty grim.) She calls Wil special, and he tells her it’s thanks to his amazing mom. I AM HERE FOR IT ALL, PEOPLE. Also, I have to note that both Shea and Heady are wearing chunky blue stone necklaces, which mean Wil comes by his fashion sense honestly. (Next page: Flick fulfills his destiny)
As Wil packs the skull and prepares to leave, Shea asks what kind of father he is. Wil says he’s the best ever, and Shea says that if he has a son like Wil, that must be true. They hug, and it is heartbreaking to consider how much of their grim future Wil’s keeping from them.
Mareth checks to see if Wil’s all right, and their eyes linger a bit. (Mareth’s got a crush, remember.) Then from a distance, they see Allanon, looking just as he does today, riding up and asking a youthful Flick for directions to the Ohmsford farm. “And so it begins,” Wil murmurs.
Then they’re transported back to the present in Paranor, where Words Have Been Exchanged in their absence. Allanon hasn’t been able to talk Bandon out of this dark path, because even though Allanon’s the closest thing Bandon has to a father, he still prefers the Warlock Lord’s tender mercies. He also realizes that Allanon, who’s looking older and weaker and a little more silver about the beard, is, in fact, dying. Don’t you dare kill our stern Druid daddy, Shannara!
As they’re verbally sparring, Flick is on the floor slowly (and loudly) (and painfully) racing toward death. With the strength he has left, Flick tells Allanon that, from the bottom of his heart, he wishes he’d pointed Allanon in the opposite direction when he came looking for Shea because Allanon’s brought the Ohmsfords nothing but misery and heartbreak. Allanon says that was Shea’s destiny, just like Flick was destined for sacrifice.
Allanon’s bedside manner is terrible, but…is he wrong? Flick’s life in exchange for preventing the return of the Warlock Lord is a tragic but necessary price. Ditto Shea and Bandon and Amberle. They suffered under the weight of their responsibilities, but it was all for the — sing it with me now! — greater good. Wil’s anger is understandable, but I just want to hug that grumpy Druid and tell him that he’s making the difficult but correct choices.
By the time Wil and Mareth return, Flick’s barely hanging on. Wil tells Mareth to let Bandon out, but once he’s free, neither man is willing to be the first to make a move in the skull-for-antidote deal. So in the end, Flick makes the choice for them, telling Wil he loves him and then intentionally impaling himself on Bandon’s sword.
Okay, listen, I love Flick, and this was terribly sad, but if he was going to sacrifice himself anyway, could he, um, not have done it a teensy bit sooner to prevent Bandon from using him as leverage? It’s a brave and noble thing Flick did, but it also means everything Wil and Mareth did to save him was for nothing.
Furious, Wil draws the Sword of Shannara, and as he and Bandon fight, Wil’s struck with a sudden vision of bloody Mareth and evil Eretria (more on this in a bit). His distraction lets Bandon knock the skull out of Wil’s hand, and Mareth quickly manifests an illusion of hundreds of skulls because she is awesome. Bandon pulls a Kylo Ren and offers to teach her, but she’s a hard pass. Then Wil renews his attack, and the Sword of Shannara — the most powerful weapon forged, but one that’s only as strong as the person wielding it — shatters on Bandon’s blade. That is unfortunate.
Mareth frees Allanon just before Bandon knocks her out and destroys her illusions. Bandon escapes with the skull, nicking Allanon with his poisoned sword on his way out.
Welp, Flick’s dead, Allanon’s poisoned, and Bandon has what he needs to resurrect the Warlock Lord. It’s safe to say that this rescue attempt did not go well.
The trio bury Flick, and Wil’s overwhelmed with self-loathing for repaying his uncle’s kindness in this fashion. Allanon, ever the emotionless robot, reads Wil’s mind and wants to know about his visions, but Wil has had it with Allanon’s talk of the greater good. Before that fight can escalate, though, Allanon collapses from the Warlock Blade poison.
In and around Leah
Now let’s check in with the rest of the crew. Jax and Eretria split up after leaving Leah, and Jax pays a visit to the wife and child of one of his fallen Border Legion companions. But he’s just arrived when a contingent of Crimson soldiers appear and BRUTALLY MURDER THE KID. Daaaaang, Shannara!
Enraged, Jax kills the rank-and-file soldiers but saves Valcaa, Gen. Riga’s second in command, to deliver to Ander and Co. so they can extract information to end Riga once and for all. Also, his friend’s wife stops cradling the still-warm body of her child long enough to slap Jax, call him cursed, and tell him never to come back. Buh-rutal. (Next page: Arborlon loses another king)
At the same time, Eretria is being pursued by Leah’s soldiers. She fights them off quite capably, but in the end, she’s outnumbered. Thankfully the ex-Druid Cogline appears to finish the rest of them off.
He takes her back to Leah to confront Tamlin, whom he knew during the War of the Races 30 years ago. He forces Tamlin to admit that she made a deal with the Warlock Lord back then: He’d kill her husband and put her on the throne, and in exchange, she has to let him drink from Heaven’s Well, a.k.a. the source of the magical Silver River, the lifeblood of the Four Lands.
Cogline warns that with the Well’s power, the Warlock Lord will be unstoppable, and his pollution of the Silver River will corrupt every living thing. Tamlin doesn’t apologize for making that deal to protect her people, even though it sounds like they’ll all be hosed in the end. (She also refuses to apologize for her guards attempting to kill Eretria despite her promise to Lyria that Eretria wouldn’t be harmed. Tamlin suuuuuucks.)
Once they’re alone, Cogline fills in some big gaps in Eretria’s history. Her shoulder tattoo marks her as one of Armageddon’s Children, a sect of human/demon hybrids that can be corrupted and controlled by anyone with powerful dark magic.
Her mother was hunted down and killed for this reason, and Eretria’s potential as a force for good or for evil will make her the Warlock Lord’s target. (It’s also why the Ellcrys chose her to open the Bloodfire in season 1.) Eretria’s frustrated to find herself once again controlled by outside forces after trying to live independently all her life.
To condition her to resist the darkness, Cogline takes Eretria to a jail cell from our time where he’s trapped a mord wraith behind bars using a combination of magic and electrical current. She willingly steps into the cell with the wraith, which speaks volumes about her bravery, and fights it for control when it tries to get inside her head. In the end, she forces it to bow to her and remarks that this wasn’t terribly challenging. Cogline warns her that this was a black wraith; the red wraiths are the ones with the real power.
When Eretria finds herself along in the prison bunker, she tests her limits and uses her newfound power to destroy the wraith, which causes her eyes to go black and shows her a not-so-nice vision of herself with snake eyes. Yep, Eretria kissed the dark side, and she liked it. I’m sure that won’t at all become a problem for her in future episodes.
Meanwhile, in Leah, Ander presides over a memorial service for his dead lover Catania with Lyria by his side, which seems awkward. Despite Lyria’s love for Eretria, she and Ander have agreed to a marriage of convenience in order to defeat The Crimson and avert civil war. (Allanon would totes approve of this self-sacrificing commitment to the greater good.) They vow to trust and respect each other, to put their people first, and to lie their faces off to Tamlin, if necessary. These are good monarchs, in other words.
Then Jax arrives with Valcaa in tow, but they barely have time to torture any information out of him before The Crimson break him out of his cell. Tamlin decides she’s had enough and quietly sends Jax to kill Riga, who’s outlived his usefulness to her now that Lyria’s about to become Ander’s queen.
Jax ambushes Riga in the woods with the news that Tamlin’s done with him. Unfortunately, Valcaa ambushes Jax right back. Riga leaves to make Tamlin pay for her betrayal, allowing his right-hand man to finish off Jax.
But Jax doesn’t die easily, and even with his hands bound, he manages to break Valcaa’s arm LITERALLY IN HALF, then maneuvers so he can cut his bonds on Valcaa’s knife. It’s a fantastic fight, and Valcaa more than deserves the killin’ that Jax delivers.
Later, Ander and Lyria’s wedding is barely underway when the cloaked officiant reveals himself to be Riga, and the whole gathering devolves into a huge fight, including Lyria in her wedding regalia. Say yes to that dress, lady!
In the heat of the battle, Riga stabs Ander and knocks the crown off his head (symbolic!), but Ander’s still able to drag himself across the room as Riga’s about to kill Lyria. Riga positions his blade over Ander’s heart, and Ander grips it with his bare hands as Riga slides the blade home.
NOOOOO, NOT ANDER!! He was a good guy doing his best under atrocious circumstances, and this outcome is most distressing! Is Shannara trying to out-Game of Thrones Game of Thrones? I mean, check out that body count in this episode alone, to say nothing of the past season and a half that took out multiple children and every last member of the Elessedil family.
- Again, I have to compliment the show for its new characters this season. They’re layered, interesting, and fierce. Oh, that every show were as successful in expanding its cast in its second season.
- I finally realized what Tamlin’s palace reminds me of: The Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz. It’s all gorgeous green Art Deco styling, and even though terrible happen inside its walls, I love it.
- Book readers: Armageddon’s Children! Did you grin in delight?
- Ander made a point of saying that Catania’s body was never found, which is a weird detail to highlight. If TV’s taught us one thing, it’s to never believe someone’s dead until you see the body. But that doesn’t seem likely here, does it?
- This is one of those episodes that’s so fun (Time travel! Meeting your young parents!) and so full of emotional heft (Knowing the sad fate awaiting your young parents! Dead Prince Ander!) that I’m happy to forgive its shaky time travel logic. Are you willing to embrace emotion over logic, or do these inconsistencies drive you up the Ellcrys? Let me know in the comments!