Editor’s Note: This is a full review of the third season of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince and will include massive spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Netflix’s the Dragon Prince certainly wants to be this generation’s Avatar the Last Airbender with Aaron Ehasz taking the helm as the series’ director but with a twist. The Dragon Prince wants to be a massive fantasy epic on the lines of The Lord of the Rings and the insanely-popular Game of Thrones but geared towards families. So for an animated show, don’t expect a Castlevania with gore and intense violence or even slight sexual tension to be similar to Game of Thrones in that aspect.
Instead the show wants to focus on the storytelling strengths of these epics while cutting away the more adult oriented content. A pure plot focused show devoid of any filler. Sounds nice, right? That is until you realize that some filler is needed in order to make a great story.
While the third season is a huge step up from the lackluster second season it suffers from generic plot elements that restrain the series’ potential. Part of this issue also comes from the seasons always being 9 episodes in length, there is no reason for there them to be so short especially when they want to tell a massive scale story. In the third season we see Callum and Rayla continue their journey to deliver the Dragon Prince to his mother. Their point of view in the story is reminiscent of classic fantasy adventures as they travel across Rayla’s homeland, Xadia to deliver the infant dragon.
At the end of the last season we see Ezran mature quickly to take up his father’s throne and become the country’s child king with the intention to bring peace between humans and elves. This season we see his reign quickly end only to be replaced by Viren. If that sounds jarring considering what happened the last season, it is.
This season has many fantastic ideas but shirks them away by cutting out that filler. We don’t get to see character development aside from Callum and Rayla becoming a couple. We knew that was bound to happen but even then felt forced with the season’s pacing. We don’t get to see the conspiring going on to place Viren back in power. This is something Game of Thrones did a lot of, maybe a bit too much, but nonetheless it serves as a crucial element to create a strong structure for the story. When that is cut away we just feel like these random characters are created just to serve plot advancement and aren’t really a character of substance that has a reason behind their actions.
It felt like there were too many characters like that this season with Callum and Rayla meeting an elf named Nyx that helps them cross this vicious desert but betrays them in order to gain a reward for delivering the Dragon Prince, Zym to his mother. It’s that shallow of a reasoning and once that little conflict is resolved, Nyx is no longer seen for the rest of the season. It felt like her character existed just for a single plot-related purpose rather than an actual character being introduced into the series.
The same applies to the Sunfire elf Janai and her sister that is the queen of their people. Their sister plays no role in the story before being written off without so much as a name drop. We are also to believe that Janai and Amaya become great friends despite Amaya being her prisoner. This would all be a great transition from friend to foe if these characters received more screen time than others. Instead, it feels like the entire plot is rushed to get our characters from one place to the other. The story is not going at its natural slow pace.
This is strongly apparent when the end of the season brings us to a massive battle with Viren’s soldiers to defend the Dragon Prince. The remnants of the Sunfire Elves, the Human Resistance and Callum and everyone all fight off Viren’s army that is 10,000 strong. An absolutely massive battle on the scale of Game of Thrones. This would be an amazing battle if it wasn’t so blatantly rushed that they wanted this season to incorporate a massive battle.
During this finale it also felt like they were checking items of a checklist of what to include rather than writing a truly entertaining story. Does the episode have tension? Does it have personal conflict? What about plot twists and an army coming to save the day? Check, check, check. In this episode we see Callum and everyone do their best to fight off Viren’s soldiers but are easily overpowered until the Human Resistance army appears literally out of nowhere. It was just a slap in the face with the terrible young adult writing style that they wanted that moment of “Yay, reinforcements to the rescue! Now applaud as our heroes are saved!” When we last see some of these characters they are fleeing the capital because it isn’t long until Viren will hunt down the traitors. This plot point is mentioned but we never see Viren actually hunt traitors down, almost as if this idea was totally forgotten.
Now all of a sudden they assembled a massive army and knew just where Viren would be to stop him. It would only be believable if we got to see their point of view and see their army develop. It is never apparent how much time passes over this season because it doesn’t seem like they really care about having a realistic timeline. Callum and Rayla journeyed all season to reach their destination only to see Soren and Ezran catch up to them in a single episode each, both at different times in their story. The plot feels forced with rushing each character to a certain destination constantly. The world feels insignificant and so does the tension when it takes one character to get to a destination so long but another character who was much farther away gets there in what feels like less time.
The season could have easily been twice the length of just been better focused to highlight on all this plot building rather than just creating it out of nowhere. There are so many elements to this story that I think are absolutely amazing but are held back by the poor pacing, world building and development. We are led to believe that Viren marched an army of 10,000 across the entire country of Xadia, enemy territory, without any confrontation. Even during Callum and Rayla’s journey through the country we are to believe that Xadia is a very populated country. Everything in this season says others. It might as well just be a barren land because the only elf races we are introduced to are Rayla’s Moonshadow tribe and the Sunfire elves. Nowhere along the story do the Moonshadow elves join in the fight against Viren, almost as if their enemies absolutely do not care about Viren attempting to conquer them.
It is absolutely terrible at the lack of world building in this season, the world feels absolutely hollow and that the plot alone should make for a good show. That’s not how it works.
The plot may be very interesting but there is more to storytelling than that. But if the plot is the main focus then it should be extremely entertaining, but even then there are some cringe-worthy moments and sloppy execution. The humor of the show wants to be like Avatar the Last Airbender and for having the same director/writer, it should be like that. Instead, The Dragon Prince lacks the charm that The Last Airbender had. The humor feels like it overstays its welcome at times and feels inappropriately placed at others. There is a time and place for the young adult humor but when they decide to crack horrendous jokes at serious moments, it does the series no justice.
The other issue the plot suffers from is that it contradicts itself and ruins otherwise fantastic moments with terrible cliches and tropes. In the final battle we see Soren taking up the mantle as the Royal Guard for the King and fighting to protect Ezran at all cost. At this moment we see Soren have a conflict with himself to protect Ezran and strike down his father or allow Viren to kill the King. With how the plot had played out to this point, I wanted to praise the Dragon prince for doing the best move possible, having Soren kill his father. In that instant we see Soren strike down Viren and his sister Claudia break down over it.
It was an amazing moment of development for both characters. Soren chose his path and now Claudia would take up her father’s mantle as the series has led us to believe she would. It would make for a great foundation for the next season. But that single moment of greatness was tarnished with the story pulling a “plot twist” by psyching us out that Viren was dead. Instead, it was just an illusion and he was already at the top of the mountain ready to kill Zym.
I couldn’t help but let out the most disappointed sigh of my life so far. They pulled the most cliche of tropes here and ruined what would have otherwise been a phenomenal moment. To top if off it became even more apparent of how many tropes they were trying to stuff into the story as possible with Rayla sacrificing herself to push Viren off the mountain. Callum then learning the one magic he was trying to for the past couple of episodes just in the nick of time to save her. But then, finally, Viren is dead and now Claudia can become the main villianess…
Psyche, again! Claudia then resurrects her father and that is where the season ends. The series has a lot of potential but this absurdly fast pacing, horrendous story structuring, and trope stuffing just weighs it down more than the terrible magical girl transformation scene jokes. It’s a shame to see what could be a great series constantly weigh itself down with terrible writers and lack of episodes. If The Dragon Prince wants to truly be the next Avatar the Last Airbender then it needs to take the time to flesh out its story and characters to make each action they take feel rewarding and have an impact on the audience.