She-Ra showrunner answers all our burning questions about the final season
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Now that the journey's over, it's important to reflect on where we've been.
This weekend, Netflix launched the final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, bringing the epic animated saga of magic swords, fairy princesses, and alien cyborg armies to a satisfying conclusion. EW has already broken down She-Ra's new look for the final season, as well as the romantic conclusion for Catra (A.J. Michalka) and Adora (Aimee Carrero). Now that you've had a few days to watch the entire season, we present our extended interview with showrunner Noelle Stevenson about everything from the resurrection of Micah (Daniel Dae Kim) to why He-Man never showed up.
Check that out below. She-Ra is now streaming in its entirety on Netflix.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time we talked, you mentioned that you guys knew your full episode order right from the beginning of the show. Now that the show is complete, how does it compare to your original plan? What surprises were there along the way?
NOELLE STEVENSON: It was really a blessing to have a set number of episodes and know how much time we had so we could build the show in a specific way. So while I knew this was the Horde Prime season and they were going to space, we had a lot of flexibility to track the characters’ arcs in a way that felt very organic. Specifically, the resolution of Adora and Catra’s arc is a really big thing this season. It was something that I was so passionate about being able to explore on the show, but it wasn’t always a sure bet that we’d be able to explore it to the extent that I wanted to. To be able to reach this point and finally show my hand and be like, “This is what we’ve been building to this whole time,” that was really fulfilling for me.
It's so awesome to see Adora and Catra confess their love in the finale. There is a growing number of animated series that foster same-sex relationships among their characters but don't make it explicit until the last episode. Do you ever wish you could have made their romance textual earlier on in the series?
It was not a sure bet that we would be able to end the show the way we wanted to and make that relationship canonical. It took a lot of persistence, it took a lot of laying the groundwork to the point where it couldn’t really be denied or circled back on. I did feel really lucky as soon as we showed our executives and our partners that we’re working with on the show, who have right of refusal, how integral and how necessary this textual wrapping up of that arc was. From my point of view, there is no wrapping up Catra or Adora’s stories without this.
I am of two minds about this because I see what you’re saying, and I would love to see in the future a romance story between central protagonists of the story where they do get to get together earlier on and that becomes something they can build on through the show. That is a limitation on romance stories in general because there is such a prevailing history of will-they/won’t-they climaxing at the head of story. I would say this for straight romances too. As a whole, we as writers need to figure out how to have relationships that can culminate earlier. In this case, their relationship is basically the arc of the show. It starts with them, it ends with them. Although there are high points centered on their relationship earlier in the show, we do get to see them rebuilding their relationship in the final season: Getting comfortable with each other again, learning to trust together again. This moment of confession is the climax of the show, it is everything we’ve been building to.
I really do hope that this just continues to pave the way. I think every bit of representation that’s come before us has done its part to pave the path. They made it easier for us, so I hope we make it easier for the next one, and that it becomes something where main characters can have these romances and relationships that are constant throughout the show without that being something that takes propulsion and suspense out of the arc of the show. This is just one version of that romantic arc, and having it be the climax of the show is a really big deal to me.
The show has always had a balance of fantasy and sci-fi elements, but this season feels like a harder pivot to sci-fi, what with the organic hivemind and the spaceships. How did you conceive of the genre balance?
The first few seasons definitely do lean more to fantasy overall. Fantasy and sci-fi hold a pretty equal place in my heart. The increase in sci-fi elements does come because they’re being exposed to this very high-tech universe, where magic is a natural resource that is being mined by these technologically advanced races like the First Ones and Horde Prime. Horde Prime has no point of context for what’s happening on Etheria. I always liked this because it felt like the way Hordak viewed Etheria: “I really don’t know what’s going on here. There are glowing jewels, and princesses who spin around and then stuff happens. I know robots, I know laser guns, and nothing here makes sense to me.” Getting to play a little more into the sci-fi sphere was exciting because where the Horde was out of their element on the magical fairy planet, now we can have our magic fairy princesses be out of their element in this technological universe.
The characters of She-Ra have such vibrant, unique personalities. What is the unique horror of a hivemind like Horde Prime to these characters?
Etheria is so much about individuality. Our approach to it is that anyone who comes to Etheria who isn’t from there originally just gets broken. You see all these moments where like, robots learn to love. Hordak has a connection to Etheria; he gets invested and realizes he wants to be an individual. You see Lighthope, who is literally just a computer, learn to love and develop a sense of individuality that she’s not supposed to have. We see this happen so many times in so many ways.
But Horde Prime has no space in his empire for individuality; everything needs to be a reflection of his own ego. For characters like Glimmer and Catra, who have been striving for self-individuation this whole time and proving who they are and who they can be, to now be told “you’re both cogs in this machine and you’re going to be used to flatten the universe and pave everything over and make it uniform,” I think that's the most horrifying thing they’ve been confronted with.
How did you decide to bring back Glimmer's father, Micah? The fact that he spent most of season 5 as an evil puppet of Horde Prime made a fascinating additional wrinkle.
Micah’s return was not originally planned, but now looking back, it’s impossible for me to imagine it any other way. He first appears in that dream world at the end of season 3. When it starts falling apart and he’s about to disappear, Angela assumes he’s part of the portal. But he has a line that gets cut short and covered by noise: “Angela, I’m not—”! That was written by Josie Campbell, our story editor, so I never questioned that line; I just thought it was something like, “I’m not ready to go.” So then we go to record with Daniel Dae Kim, and Josie’s like, I think you should really finish the line. I’m like, "Finish the line?" And she says, "The full line is, 'I’m not dead!'" I’m like, "Wait, what!" So he does it, and of course, that’s the best read of the line, so I’m like, “Well f--- you, I guess Micah’s alive now!” It’s one of my favorite stories because making a show is so chaotic. Even though I think I have a firm grasp on what’s gonna happen, I really do love it when something like that happens. Like okay, we all kind of assumed Micah’s not coming back, but what happens if he does? What does he bring to this narrative, what color does he bring out of other characters?
I’m hesitant to bring back dead characters, just because death has to mean something, but he was a character I feel like we really needed. He’s all that’s left of Glimmer’s family and supplies a moral compass for Shadow Weaver. It seems like maybe he was the one character whose opinion she actually did care about. Seeing him be evil is really fun because Daniel Dae Kim does an amazing evil Micah voice, but it’s also a reminder of how personal this fight is. I think that’s what makes Shadow Weaver do what she does. Micah is really instrumental in that because he’s the last remnant of this person she used to be who was still selfish and manipulative but had dreams for her life where she was on the side of good and people liked her. I think that’s what brings her to that moment where she finally makes a sacrifice for someone else.
This season introduces a new design for Adora's She-Ra form, but how did you conceive of that transformation throughout the show? It's kind of the ultimate kid fantasy of being able to change into a more heroic version of yourself, right?
At its heart, She-Ra and He-Man are about the duality of a hero. When you can literally turn into a different person who is a hero, what does that mean for your regular self that doesn’t have magical powers? For someone like Adora, she can push away her own needs and wants in order to be the hero that everyone needs and wants her to be. I think it is a power fantasy: What if I could be more than just me? Instead of just looking in the mirror at plain old me, what if I could become someone special? Something I wanted to do with the show overall was indulge that fantasy, but also question it. Why is this form what a hero looks like? Why do you need to look like this? Why can’t this come out of you in a genuine way while being honest about yourself?
The She-Ra form is a mix of good and bad in this story. Adora pursues it to unhealthy ends. She needs to be She-Ra because She-Ra is good, and that’s easier than being herself. But even after finding out that She-Ra was hijacked to become this weapon that was forced on her and Mara, there is a version of that that is positive. You can embody that hero without needing to change anything about yourself.
Speaking of He-Man, what did you guys like about being able to tell this story about She-Ra without worrying about tying it into a larger He-Man world?
It was very fulfilling because She-Ra has never existed just by herself. In the original media, He-Man pops in on She-Ra all the time, but she doesn’t ever appear in the He-Man show. His story stands on its own, but hers doesn’t. I hope that she does appear in the He-Man cartoons that are coming up, but I don’t know anything about them. We have all these alternate universes that we’ve established in our world, and this version of She-Ra is all that’s left of the First Ones and whatever family she might have had. It wasn’t a choice, to make that clear; bringing in He-Man just wasn’t something we were able to do. But it is nice to be able to give her a story that is hers in this one way, and know the rest of the He-Man lore continues to go forward. I think there was a reaction from a certain type of fan that said "I’ve lost something through this" or "you’ve taken something away." But there are going to be so many versions of the Masters of the Universe lore; this is just one of them.