Warning: This article contains spoilers about season 5, episode 6 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
The true measure of a hero isn't whether they get knocked down, but how many times they're willing to get back up again.
The characters of Netflix's She-Ra and the Princesses of Power really got put through the ringer in season 4. Going into the fifth and final season, which launched on the streaming platform this weekend, protagonist Adora (Aimee Carrero) is at her lowest point. After learning that her She-Ra form was designed by the ancient First Ones not as a heroic paragon but simply as a trigger to operate their planet-destroying weapon, Adora shattered her magic sword rather than be a tool for destruction. But as a result, she is now entering the final season without access to her She-Ra powers – right when the armies of galactic tyrant Horde Prime (Keston John) are rolling in.
"She starts off by thinking she's working for the good guys and then she realizes that she's not," Carrero tells EW, referring back to the beginning of the show when we first met Adora serving as Force Captain of the Horde, before she found the She-Ra sword and joined the Rebellion. "She had to pivot her sense of identity there and work towards something else. And then, once she feels like she's finally got the hang of who she is and her place in the world as She-Ra, she loses the sword. She loses her identity, the one thing she could hold onto through this whole series. So I really think that for her season 5 is this dark night of the soul where all is lost. She has no idea who she is. She has no idea how she's going to overcome this huge enemy."
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And yet, there's good news. Although Adora has convinced herself that she has to be a selfless hero who takes all the burdens of saving the world onto herself, that's not actually true. She has a lot of friends who love her and also want to save the world. It's these friends Adora is thinking about as Horde Prime's forces bear down on Etheria. After learning that her best friend Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) and longtime frenemy Catra (A.J. Michalka) have been taken prisoner aboard Horde Prime's flagship, Adora mounts a long-shot rescue mission.
Although Adora and Catra have found themselves on opposite sides of the battlefield for much of the series up until this point, it's only once they're reunited that Adora becomes capable of accessing her true power.
"I think that Catra has motivated and inspired Adora to find a boldness and independence outside of She-Ra that Adora may not even be aware of," Michalka says. "Adora has taught Catra the true meaning of friendship and that no one gets left behind."
You can watch Adora transform into her true She-Ra incarnation in the exclusive clip above. As showrunner Noelle Stevenson explains, the difference between the first She-Ra design (which you can reference below) and the final one says a lot about how far Adora has come over the course of the show, with a little help from her friends.
"Adora’s original She-Ra form was like this uncomfortable suit she has to wear. She never really feels at home in the original She-Ra form," Stevenson tells EW. "It combined the militaristic aspect of Adora’s upbringing in the Horde with the role She-Ra has with the First Ones. There's the top that’s buttoned up, the large pointy shoulder blades, and then these elements of femininity that Adora is very uncomfortable with: The skirt, the tiara, the long flowing hair. She’s really trying to fit this version of She-Ra, but it’s not her. She’s never comfortable in that form."
Stevenson continues, "When she breaks that sword, when she realizes that version of She-Ra is not who she ever wanted to be, the question is, what do you want to be? How do you want to dress? I don’t think she has ever asked this question. She never had to know what her personal style was, because it didn’t matter; she’s been in a uniform the whole show. Even when she goes to prom she’s so uncomfortable just in this basic dress she’s wearing, because it’s not her. We wanted the new She-Ra design to be Adora’s mature adult form, and then combine that with elements Adora would be more comfortable with: The ponytail, the boots. That’s more Adora’s style. This is the version of She-Ra that comes from the pure magic of Etheria. It is not a uniform, it is an actual manifestation of magic."
How did Adora learn to be herself? It took a lot of support from her friends (even Catra) to reach her full potential.
"The thing that gives her the purity of emotion to transform is love: Love for her friends, love for Catra, and the need to protect them," Stevenson says. "There are elements of her friend’s costumes in her new She-Ra look: There’s a heart on her chest for Bow, wings on her boots for Glimmer, and the shape of her crown is reminiscent of Catra’s mask. This version of She-Ra is made of love, it’s a pure reflection of Adora’s soul. Her savior complex is something she struggles with even after she transforms, but it’s a reflection of the positive side of that: 'I love my friends so much, I’d do anything to save them.' That is where that form comes from."
Season 5 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is streaming on Netflix now. Stay tuned for more coverage from EW.