Warning: this post contains spoilers from the season one finale of The Shannara Chronicles. Read at your own risk!
Everyone was surprised by the time the credits rolled on The Shannara Chronicles season one finale.
While book readers had an idea of where the story would end, MTV’s adaptation of Terry Brooks’ Elfstones of Shannara decided to flip the script and change up the ending. Sure, elf princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton) sacrificed herself to become the new Ellcrys, saving all of the Four Lands from the demons trying to destroy everyone and everything, just like in the book. But human Rover girl Eretria (Ivana Baquero) also sacrificed herself earlier in the episode to allow half-human/half-elf Wil (Austin Butler) and Amberle escape Safehold, allowing the pair to get back to the Ellcrys in Arborlon before it was too late.
Fans of the book were expecting Eretria to make it back to Arborlon with Wil and Amberle, since (minor spoiler alert) Eretria and Wil end up together, having children who go on to become the heroes of the third book in the Shannara series. But now, Eretria is stuck deep within the tunnels of Safehold (aka the ruins of San Francisco’s subway system), held captive by the trolls who call it home. One of them had just removed its mask, and while the audience didn’t see who (or what) was underneath it, Eretria seemed to recognize who it was. And Wil, not knowing whether Eretria was alive or dead, rode away from Arborlon to return to Safehold for a rescue attempt.
Meanwhile, back in Arborlon, newly-crowned King Ander (Aaron Jakubenko) just reached a tentative truce with the former elf enemy, the trolls, after losing everyone he loved in the demon attack. And Bandon (Marcus Vanco) had just given in to the dark side of his magic, after Allanon (Manu Bennett) tried to keep his dark side at bay all season long. Bandon killed a guard in Arborlon to make his escape to where the Dagda Mor used to rally his demon armies before they all got sucked back into the Forbidding prison when Amberle became the new Ellcrys. Whew. With Bandon’s eyes completely black, it’s safe to say he’s no longer fighting on the side of good, despite all of Allanon’s efforts.
So what does this mean for season two of The Shannara Chronicles?
“We actually had a mini writers room at the end of last year to discuss the future and where the story would go after the season one finale,” executive producer Alfred Gough tells Nerdist. “The books are generational, so that doesn’t make it easy when you’re adapting for a TV show. It’s funny because Terry even told us he would start with the second book [for season one]. We all agreed it was the better story than book one. So for next season, we’d use a little of book three with aspects of book one as well. It’s a trickier proposition for sure because you’re adapting stories with all new characters.”
But just because books one and three are about an entirely new group of characters than book two, that doesn’t mean we won’t get to see Wil, Eretria, Ander and Bandon’s stories continue in season two.
“Terry created this world with so many, many characters in so many different situations,” executive producer Miles Millar tells Nerdist. “So when we sat down with the writers and figured out what season two would be, what would it look like, we had so much material to choose from and cherry pick. We were so excited. The characters that the audience has come to love from season one will continue into season two. It’s going to be a darker season, believe it or not. There will be more soul searching, because the events of season one were devastating for many of them.”
He’s not kidding. Watching Eretria sacrifice herself for the greater good was like a punch to the gut. As a book reader myself, I honestly didn’t see that twist coming! I was confident Eretria and Wil would make it to the end, happy and together. Why did the writers choose to change up the ending for Eretria?
“It’s a really devastating end to the final episode,” Millar says. “People who have been watching the series knew we were keeping the spirit of the book. We wanted the finale to have the same emotional power as the book, but at the same time, we wanted to keep things fresh. There’s no question that everything has changed by the end of the first season. Not everyone has made it out alive. Sacrifices had to be made for the good of the world. That’s true of the book and now it’s true of the series.”
While the twist was unexpected, it was a welcome surprise. There’s nothing more boring than watching a completely predictable finale. If the events had played out exactly as they had in the books, there would be nothing new for book readers to see. This kept all viewers on the edge of their seats, and evened the playing field for book readers and non-book readers alike. And according to Millar and Gough, the book’s author (who also serves as an executive producer on the show) had no issue with them changing up his iconic ending.
“Terry has been so great in that he knows this is an adaptation of his series,” Gough says. “When we want to change things he’s always so supportive and gives his blessing. He knows that TV is a different medium than books, and that this is a different time. The books are 30 years old. We are transforming them to make them relevant to this age.”
Something that all the showrunners agreed on is that they can step things up in season two, both creatively and visually.
“In the first season of a show you learn a lot about what worked and what didn’t,” Millar says. “The visual effects on our show were incredible but I think we can do better. We need to make sure the show continues to grow and never settle.”
When it comes to the main trio’s love triangle, Wil may have traded “I love you’s” with Amberle before she sacrificed herself to the Ellcrys, but that doesn’t mean that given the choice, he would have chosen the elf princess over Eretria.
“There are a lot of emotions going on inside Wil by the end of the finale,” Butler tells Nerdist. “It’s all heightened by the fact that the fate of the world was in his hands. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface. And at this point, Eretria went from being this selfish Rover to being completely selfless and saving Wil and Amberle. Wil saw that evolution so it’s not so cut and dry when it comes to his feelings for who he chooses.”
So where does this leave Wil now that he’s riding off on his own to find Eretria again? Along with his new quest, expect to learn more about Wil’s past.
“We saw that Wil learned a little bit about who his father was and how he has this magic in him all throughout season one,” Gough says. “So I think for season two, we’d like to explore that more and learn more about who he is and where he comes from, what he can do and what he wants to do with his life.”
And things in Arborlon won’t get any easier now that there’s a new, inexperienced king on the throne.
“When you become the king, you carry the burden,” Jakubenko tells Nerdist. “Ander now has his entire race to look after. He’s got so much pain from the deaths and loss of his brothers, his father, his love. He’s got a long way to go even now.”
Season two will also explore the politics of uniting the elf race with the gnomes after decades of war.
“Ander still has to navigate the politics of his kingdom,” Gough says. “We’ve already seen how some people don’t agree with his way of ruling and were working against him. The way he wants to run his kingdom is different from his father, and we’ve already seen that with his interactions with the gnomes. It’s a new, integrated world with him as a new king, but when you want to integrate a previously-segregated society, that has a lot of problems. There are a lot of people who don’t want to see that happen. So how far is Ander willing to go to bring forth a better world than the one he inherited?”
What did you think of the season one finale? What are you most excited to see from season two? Tweet me your thoughts at @SydneyBucksbaum!