A By-The-Numbers Look At The Disaster That Was ‘Voltron’ Season 8

Voltron Season 8 courtesy of DreamworksWhat happened to Voltron Season 8? How did the final release become something barely recognizable to longtime fans? What was the deal with those leaks? Read on for a warts-and-all review of the whole situation from our Special Guest Contributor, Taylor Hardman. Fair warning- there are spoilers for Voltron: Legendary Defender ahead.

The eighth and final season of Voltron: Legendary Defender was released on December 14, 2018. Like many other fans, I stayed up with friends to binge the whole season at midnight as soon as it came out. Also, like many in the fandom, I came away from Voltron Season 8 stunned & sad, rather than enjoying a satisfactory conclusion to what had so far been a truly wonderful series.

Rather than the epic final season I had hoped to see, I watched a season full of odd pacing and characterization culminating in a finale that left me in a state of shock – and not the good kind. Voltron Season 8 didn’t feel like the show that I fell in love with. I felt an emptiness in my heart at seeing it conclude so unsatisfactorily. I watched it again, thinking there was something I must have missed. But the more I watched, the more it felt like things really weren’t adding up.

I will admit I was wary of Voltron when I first heard of it. Mech shows have never been my thing, but I gave it a chance. I was so glad I did. Truly, this show did some remarkable and groundbreaking things with characterization and representation. I (like many fans) fell in love with these characters so quickly that I surprised myself.

Shiro in particular was such an incredible, stand out character to me. A gay Japanese amputee whose struggle with PTSD was portrayed as realistically as his doubts about leadership- that kind of well written and nuanced character in fiction is few and far between. He was complimented with a diverse cast that was each amazing in their own right.

  • Keith: an orphan looking for somewhere to belong, who struggles on a path of self acceptance while dealing with species-based racism after finding out half of his heritage is the same aliens who have been committing mass genocide across the universe for over ten thousand years, and goes from being a sharp-edged juvenile delinquent to a caring and brave leader over the course of 7 seasons.
  • Lance, a child of a large family, whom we meet as a immature jokester more likely to spout a pick up line than a plan, wholeheartedly dedicated to a lifetime rivalry with Keith, has a really great journey of self-realization and becomes a huge part of the team’s heart. He keeps his humor without being over the top, loyally willing to put himself in between any of the other paladins and danger, the first to offer up comfort in hard times.
  • Pidge, the resident tech genius, portrayed as female for the first time in Voltron’s history (while also being heavily non-binary coded, which I could write an entire separate 12k word analysis about, but for the purposes of this will use they/them pronouns), who pretends to be someone else in order to join the Garrison and find out the truth behind the disappearance of their brother and is constantly lauded as the voice of logic and reason on the team.
  • Hunk, whose character could have easily boiled down to “the big guy that’s always making food jokes”, you find out is so much more than that. Truly, the man could bring together the universe with his kindness and soft heart that makes you fall in love with him immediately.
  • Allura, a super powerful woman of color who deals with the weight of a ten thousand year old war in spite of the grief of losing her father, her home planet, and the rest of her species, who overcomes her own prejudices, becomes one with her team, and truly becomes one of the most powerful characters in the show while maintaining kindness and good sense of leadership.

This is an incredible, diverse, relatable group of characters who until now have been shining examples of good writing for both kids and adults. Voltron Season 8 seems bent on changing that.

A Short Recent History of the Voltron Fandom

In order to understand factors that are believed to have influenced the final season, there’s two major events in Voltron’s recent fandom history I’d like to touch on.

In July at San Diego Comic Con 2018, shortly before the release of Voltron’s penultimate seventh season, the character of Shiro was confirmed to be gay. Congoers saw the first episode of the season which featured a flashback breakup scene between Shiro and his then-boyfriend Adam, long before the events of the show began.

Later in that same season, Adam dies in battle along with the rest of his squadron while defending Earth from the invading Galra. His death sparked fan outrage. Some of the fandom accused the show of abusing the “Bury Your Gays” trope. There was enough backlash that showrunner Joaquim Dos Santos publicly apologized via Twitter and said that it was not their intention to do so.

In their defense, TV Tropes defines “Bury Your Gays” as LGBT characters being killed because they are viewed as more expendable than their heteronormative counterparts. Adam dies alongside his entire squadron of elite pilots. It’s presented as a casualty of war and not because of his orientation.

Voltron Season 8 leaks

The leaked images of Shiro’s wedding which sent the fandom into an uproar

Near the end of October, leaked images purporting to be from Voltron Season 8 started to make their way onto the internet from multiple sources: an individual claiming to be a part of a Malay subtitling company and dubbing companies BTI and Vivid Studios, Inc (VSI).

The leaks depicted Shiro getting married to a random man who resembled Roy from the Macross franchise; the paladins posing in front of a statue of a (presumably deceased) Allura, both at their current ages and older versions of themselves; Lance and Allura sharing a tender moment where both are crying (presumably right before her death); Keith helping the Blade of Marmora become a humanitarian relief organization.

Fans immediately began to attempt to debunk the leaks. They had solid logic for believing these leaks were fake. Some of the most compelling reasons:

  • Watermarks were different on different leaks, meaning there were multiple leaking sources of an incredibly important franchise nearly two months before its release. One leaker is rare- several is almost unheard of.
  • The leaks were full of grammatical errors.
  • The individual who posted the Malay leaks was reportedly only a freelance translator. Such an important job rarely goes to freelancers.
  • There were multiple artistic errors.
  • The story put forward by the leaks went against everything the showrunners had been saying about how the show would end. For example, they swore they wouldn’t stick in a romance randomly, that it would instead be built up over time.
  • In this interview, Kimberly Brooks (Allura’s voice actor) speaks excitedly about Allura appearing in a post-show spin-off- something that wouldn’t be possible if her character died.

The best evidence that the Voltron Season 8 leaks were fake came directly from Keith’s voice actor, Steven Yeun. A fan showed him the leaks and he said that they were fake. As a voice actor, he should be trusted to know about his character’s end.

Reassured, fans began to relax.

The Release of Voltron Season 8

The morning of December 14th came, and we were all stunned to find out the leaks were real.

Well, mostly – the Roy Macross cameo Shiro had been marrying in the leaks was replaced with Curtis, a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” bridge technician on the Atlas. He was a character whose name you only know if you watch with subtitles.

I went into the season “spoiled”. A friend uninvolved in Voltron and unconcerned with spoiling themselves looked at the end for me before I watched, with instructions to tell me only if the leaks were true or false. I wholeheartedly believed the leaks to be fake, but I wanted to set my mind at ease before watching so it wouldn’t be on my mind the whole season.

The surprise I felt at seeing that text message pop up “True”… I can’t describe it. Nevertheless, I resolved to give the season a chance. Maybe there was a reasonable way that the showrunners arrived at the future depicted in the leaks.

But the more I watched Voltron Season 8, the more wrong things felt, the more “off” things I noticed. I started to get suspicious- then outright convinced – that something had happened to this story. This wasn’t Voltron Season 8 in its original form. It became more and more obvious as the season went on that there had been major edits in post-production.

There were three main categories of of issues that I’m going to talk about:

  • Weird pacing issues, editing mistakes, and mischaracterizations all over the place
  • A complete scrub of anything resembling a friendship between the characters of Shiro and Keith. A friendship that had been heavily featured in previous seasons hardly even appeared in this season. Keith and Shiro were like strangers to each other. It felt like there were scenes missing where they should have interacted in several episodes.
  • The awkward and suspicious addition of Curtis, Shiro’s “husband”. It was almost like he’d been intentionally dropped in so that showrunners could say, “See, he isn’t a COMPLETE stranger!”

Pacing, Editing, and Mischaracterizations

The first episode of Voltron Season 8, “Launch Date”, starts by setting off a stick of dynamite on the Fourth Wall. The very first shot is of Pidge watching – and critiquing – an episode of 80’s Voltron. It’s explained away in the episode that 80’s Voltron is “based off” the Legendary Defender paladins. It crops up again later in the season and every time it’s brought up, it just feels so incredibly meta that it prevents the suspension of disbelief.

One of the best things about Voltron was that it understood the audience of young boys it aimed for was not the audience it ended up attracting. After Season 2, each season got progressively darker and more mature to reflect its older fanbase. “Launch Date” felt like a return to the slapstick comedy of early seasons.

Voltron Season 8 also deals with Lance’s feelings for Allura, which have been maturing and changing over the course of several seasons. It was obvious at the end of Season 7 that “Allurance” was going to happen, but it was expected to come at the very end of the series.

Instead, writers surprised audiences by pairing up the couple in the first episode. It feels like too sudden of a jump after such a long “will they/ won’t they” build-up. As sweet as the moment tries to feel, its suddenness also makes the moment feel foreboding. If the writers are having the characters get together now, what lies ahead for Allura? (Death. The answer is death). Knowing that Allura dies in the end, it makes this moment that should be sweet feel like it’s only used to heighten the emotional stakes for Allura’s upcoming death.

The second episode, “Shadows”, feels like the missing B-plot from Season 7. It’s essentially a retelling of what Honerva has been up to since disappearing in the Season 6 episode “Black Paladins”. Honerva was suspiciously absent from Season 7. Only her Altean mech makes an appearance in the very last episode of the season.

“Shadows” mixes catch-up of Honerva’s plans with flashbacks to her past in a way that’s honestly difficult to follow the timeline of because the jumps back and forth in time feel so random. This feels like a plotline that we should have been following for most of season 7, condensed into one episode of Voltron Season 8 in order to allow the latter half of Season 7 to focus solely on the Galra occupation of Earth.

The episode also gives some insight into the memories of a young Lotor, painting the power-crazed genocidal heir to the Galra empire as a sympathetic victim of his father’s abuse – promoting the unsettling theme that victims of abuse are predestined to repeat the cycle. Lotor’s presence in this season is… strange, to put it lightly. “Shadows” makes it seem like the show is preparing us for Lotor’s return from the Quintessence field, that he might be a major player in Voltron Season 8. Later the season takes a sharp left turn and an adult Lotor only shows up as a corpse and as a hallucination. It’s an odd feeling that lead fans to believe Lotor might have had a more pivotal role in the season (not just in flashbacks, but in person) which was later removed to focus on Honerva’s storyline.

The third episode, “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”, does a good job of wrapping up some plot threads I didn’t think would be touched on again, like the “superweapon” Krolia released in the end of season 5 so that she and Keith could escape a base unharmed. It brings back a character from “Omega Shield” in season 6.

However, it feels like a regression for some characters. Lance gets painted again as “the dumb one” by misunderstanding Voltron’s funky words for time, despite showing multiple times that he’s had them down since season 2.

This also feels like the beginning of a season-long regression for Shiro’s character. Shiro, throughout the last 7 seasons, has always been someone who leads from the front lines, always the first to jump into action or volunteer for a mission. The Shiro we see in Voltron Season 8 feels much more like a “Boss”. It seems like he’s been sidelined from the action, reduced to shouting orders at others rather than jumping into the fray himself despite the awesome combat capabilities of his new arm we saw in Season 7. Seeing Shiro go from volunteering to single-handedly sabotage Sendak’s cruiser in the end of the seventh season (proving Atlas is completely able to function without him, though possibly not transform), to not doing much more than shouting orders this season definitely felt like a huge regression for his character.

The whole point of going back to Earth in season 7 is to get a replacement for the Castle of Lions which was destroyed in the Season 6 finale. However, 3 episodes into having a new “space base”, Voltron and Atlas decide to split ways, with Atlas continuing on its mission of assembling the Voltron Coalition and Voltron pursuing Honerva. It feels like an odd choice in-universe. It would be much more prudent to defeat the imminent danger of Honerva before traveling around for galactic diplomacy. The story in this episode is by no means a bad one- it just seems like more filler than plot, which is weird for a final season with only 13 episodes..

The fourth episode, “Battle Scars” is when I really started to become confused by Voltron Season 8’s pacing. It’s another episode that feels like it should be connected to the main season arc but is really filler that reiterates things we already knew. The basic takeaway of the episode is “Pidge figures out how to track robeasts”, which could have been explained as part of a different episode to make room for the overpacked second half of this season. Pidge develops an ability to see into Olkarion’s past which is barely explained and never used again. The paladins figure out that Honerva is using wormholes to move the mechs around, but since they’ve known about her ability to create them since “Black Paladins” this felt like an incredibly confusing revelation. I enjoyed seeing the Olkarions again but felt like this wasn’t the best use of them.

“The Grudge” was where it really becomes obvious how big the cast had become- and also how much trouble the writers are having balancing everyone. The episode doesn’t use the opportunities it has to teach us about these newer characters. They talk to each other, but it doesn’t feel like we actually learn much about them. It also casts some doubt on the closeness of the paladins and the rest of the “old team” like Shiro and Coran. An alien sends fake messages sounding like the paladins to the Atlas, and neither of them recognize that there’s anything odd about very stilted sounding transmissions from friends they’ve known for years, while newcomers Veronica and Axca do.

Keith also magically has his mother’s blade back in only this episode with no explanation, despite giving it back to her at the end of Season 7. It seems like a scene of her giving it to him was omitted from Voltron Season 8, or maybe the showrunners forgot he wasn’t supposed to have it.

It’s also not well explained why Zethrid targets and blames Keith specifically for the loss of Ezor. The argument she has with Axca at the volcano feels choppy, like we’re not hearing the full conversation. Keith and Zethrid are also beautifully well rendered in this scene, as well as Griffin. When Axca removes her helmet, though, she appears to be much less rendered. Her parts of the scene might have been quickly redone later.

The audio description at this point says Zethrid points her gun at Shiro, despite the fact that he hasn’t said a word and she’s been arguing with Axca only. Some fans have hypothesized that Shiro might have originally been part of the discussion but had his lines removed for an unknown reason. Zethrid is then shot in the left arm. Editing leads the viewer to believe that this was done by Veronica, but her position way off to the right prevents her from having this angle of attack at all. However, Shiro’s gun is partly raised, like he might have possibly been the one to shoot Zethrid originally but it was changed to Veronica in a later edit.

To be honest, seeing Shiro holding a gun at all is pretty baffling. I believe this is one of the first times in the whole show we ever see it, as he’s only used direct hand-to-hand combat for the past 7 seasons. Melee combat been his forte since fighting in the arena.

The sixth episode, “Genesis”, kickstarts Voltron Season 8’s big plot arc. That’s pretty late, and it really makes the latter half of the season feel cluttered with a convoluted story that could have invoked the same emotions with a much simpler explanation.

While part of the plot concerning Honerva’s plan suffers from over-complication, there are aspects which could actually use much more explanation. What was up with the Alteans’ unwavering and almost god-like worship of Honerva just because she’s Lotor’s mother?

There were some sloppy moments this episode. Ezor’s only line this episode was discovered by fans to be just a pitched-up copy of one of Kimberly Brooks’ (Allura’s voice actor) lines from another season, instead of Ezor’s actual voice actor. Also, when the bridge is tracking the movements of Zethrid, Ezor, and the Olkari hacker after they escape the prison cell, only Zethrid and the Olkari show up in the security footage on the screen.

The showrunners have talked at length about the care and precision they put into their ship’s user interfaces to make them look as wonderful as they do, so these mistakes (on top of other characters never actually acknowledging Ezor) leads fans to believe Ezor was originally written as dead in Voltron Season 8. The theory is that she was brought back in an attempt to counteract the “bury your gays” accusations the show suffered back when Zethrid and Ezor were revealed to be in a lesbian relationship.

Shiro again pulls a gun this episode when Zethrid is attempting to break into the bridge, and it feels no more in character this episode than it did the episode before.

Lotor’s Sincline mech is returned with very little explanation as to how and in possibly the most confusing manner. Is Lotor in there? Is he not? Why does he suddenly start attacking the Altean mechs? Why does Honerva have control over him? This is another place where it feels like significant chunks of story are missing. The gap leads fans to believe Lotor might have been originally slated to return as himself.

While “Day Forty-Seven” is a really cool exploration into a different method of storytelling, it brings the huge plot arc started in the last episode to a screeching halt. The episode feels like it belongs earlier in the season. It’s another filler episode that could have kept its format but still helped to move the plot forward. It gives us more time with the supporting cast, but like “The Grudge”, it doesn’t feel like their dialogue helps us to learn about their characters as much as it should.

Additionally, it continues the trend of Shiro only referring to the paladins in battle as “paladins” or “Voltron”, and not by their individual names as he always used to. It could be an attempt to be more official now that they have the Atlas. If that was the intent, it failed. It just contributes to the widening gap between Shiro and the other paladins this season that feels entirely out of character. While he may no longer pilot a lion Shiro will always be a paladin, and this season he really feels cut off from the rest of his team.

The episode finally picks up a bit of the main season plot arc towards the very end of the episode. Allura and Romelle attempt to communicate with the Alteans they’ve captured, but it feels like they make very little effort to communicate or even attempt to explain that Lotor was siphoning off the Quintessence of their friends and family. Allura states in this episode that Lotor is back when he’s really not. That seems like it might be another sign pointing to a deleted presence of Lotor in Voltron Season 8.

Episode eight, “Clear Day”, is a yo yo of emotions. The A plot line is feel-good filler, and the B-plot is the more sober main season plot arc. It makes the tone swing wildly between ridiculous and very serious. By this point in the season, it’s jarring to push the imminent threat posed by Honerva into the “b-plot” place. That contributes to an overall feeling of disorganization encompassing the whole season. It lends support to the theory that there were major post-production edits, and what is left is what they were able to salvage with as little re-animation as possible.

Lotor shows up again as a dream or hallucination of Allura’s in an attempt to convince her to bond with the dark entity they extracted from an Altean. It’s not clear why Lotor specifically is chosen to try and make this argument. It doesn’t seem to be Honerva’s doing as it encourages Allura to use the entity to defeat Honerva. It casts more confusion about whether or not Lotor was supposed to be in the season originally – possibly as a secondary antagonist who is also against Honerva and as part of an Allura/Lotor/Lance love triangle.

It also begins what I truly felt like was a heartbreaking assassination of Allura’s character for the second half of Voltron Season 8. Allura has always been a beacon of light and symbol of good, and to see her so suddenly willing to take on this dark entity to defeat Honerva is jarring. To be honest, it feels like the story is attempting to sabotage Allura’s character so that it’s “easier” emotionally to kill her at the end of the arc.

I enjoyed finally seeing the lighter side of Shiro’s personality again this episode, but I disliked the whole concept of the arm wrestling contest. In the very first episode of Voltron, Shiro was captured and forced to fight for his life in a gladiator arena for several months to a year. There he lost his arm and was experimented on daily. This was incredibly traumatic for him, and the show has done a good job of depicting his PTSD concerning those events ever since. I remember saying to my friend at this part, “Did nobody in charge think that making Shiro fight a Galra in a darkened arena with thousands of people screaming at him might be slightly triggering for him?”, but the issue is never addressed.

This episode was where I also started to notice some dubbing issues that continue through the rest of Voltron Season 8, which- in a show where animation is done to the voice acting- has always been basically non-existent in the past. Now, especially while Hunk and Keith are stuck on the ride, some lines sound like they’re on fast forward. Possibly the story was rearranged, and the showrunners needed to make some scenes go by faster.

“Knights of Light, Part 1” kicks the main season plot into high gear. The paladins enter Honerva’s mind via the infinite void – also not very well explained. Again, they refer to Lotor as if he’s actually back, another piece of evidence he might once have had a bigger role. This episode gave us a good brief glimpse into how Keith has really developed as a leader, but left me wanting to see more.

Having the new paladins fight the old ones was a cool way to bring the narrative full circle, but it continued Allura’s descent into darkness in an unsettling way. There’s a moral that follows Allura through the second half of Voltron Season 8 that any power, even evil power, is good if used to defeat evil. That’s more than a little unnerving. It feels like the gap between good and evil has disappeared, and raises a serious question: if both sides are doing wrong, are the good guys still good? Should you take on some evil in order to defeat a worse one?

I did, however, enjoy the bridge’s lighthearted teasing of whether or not Shiro using his mech arm was cheating in the arm-wrestling competition from the previous episode. It creates conversation between newer characters in a way that teaches us something about their personalities and helps the audience connect with them more.

“Knights of Light, Part 2” continues the journey into Honerva’s mind. Despite her father and Lance begging her to do otherwise, Allura continues to rely on and deepen her bond with the dark entity’s power.

This episode also shows Lotor’s disfigured, melted body which had hardwired itself into the controls of the Sincline mech while stuck in the quintessence field. It’s unclear if he’s meant to still be alive or not and just creates more confusion about his role in the season. Was he meant to be in Voltron Season 8 before it was edited, and this shot was put in later to explain away his absence? It’s an incredibly unsettling shot, and not one I feel is appropriate for the “Y7” rating that Voltron has.

The paladins jump between a few locations before finally landing on ‘Altea’ within Honerva’s mind. They’re confronted by a mech that looks like Zarkon, which allows another sorely needed glimpse into Keith’s leadership growth. The moment is almost immediately overshadowed by Allura’s extremely out of character torture of Zarkon’s mind. Nobody attempts to stop her, which is also strange.

The episode concludes with the team destroying a moon they conveniently didn’t notice didn’t belong above Altea until Zarkon points it out. It’s unbelievable that Allura and Alfor wouldn’t notice a moon that doesn’t belong above their home planet.

This is where I began to notice art pieces being reused in this and other episodes of Voltron Season 8. The shot of Voltron using the sword to break out of Honerva’s mind is a direct copy of a shot of Voltron using the sword to enter the quintessence field from Season 6. In a show that’s usually so well and beautifully animated it was strange to notice mistakes like this. Possibly in light of changes to the season they needed to try and save some money?

“Uncharted Regions” gives us the first look at the mech that Honerva has been creating to pierce through realities in action. It was built incredibly quickly, given that the Sincline mech took a good part of four seasons to build.

During the Atlas strategy meeting, it’s stated that Honerva is using the Sincline mech to do what she’s doing with her own mech. That’s another clue that Lotor and Sincline might have once had a bigger role in Voltron Season 8. Honerva also ‘activates’ the sleeper protocol she’d apparently installed in the Alteans to have them siphon the energy from Atlas’ crystal. That would have been useful earlier on in the season. Everyone on the bridge weirdly just watches them do this and nobody tries to stop them.

Honerva uses this power and more from a convenient Balmera that shows up to combine her mech with the Sincline. That starts a trend of combining and making bigger and more powerful mechs for the rest of Voltron Season 8. It’s not really explained why these mechs need to be combined at all or what the purpose of bringing Sincline back from the Quintessence field was if not to bring back Lotor.

The penultimate episode, “The Zenith”, spends most of its time in battle between Voltron and Atlas against Honerva’s mech and her robeasts. The B-plot of Coran and Sam just “figuring out” how to stop the collapse of realities feels a little bit too convenient, but frankly the episode doesn’t have time to focus on more due to the importance of the main storyline. It winds up making the episode confusing and convoluted rather than helping the plot.

In a deus ex machina move, a bunch of Balmera show up and give Voltron and Atlas the ability to merge into a new mech, “Voltatlas”. To be honest it seems more concerned with looking cool and selling toys than any concept of practicality.

Though I enjoyed seeing Shiro as a paladin again even if only for a couple episodes, he appears alone in whatever space the new mech has created for him. What happened to the rest of the crew? Are they still on the Atlas? Voltatlas chases Honerva through multiple realities, before seemingly getting caught in a reality that ends before they can leave.

Honerva finds her “perfect reality”- but fittingly, after all she’s sacrificed and the universes she’s destroyed to get there, the child version of Lotor won’t accept her. Voltatlas appears again with no explanation as to how it got out of the destroyed reality where we saw it last.

“The End is the Beginning” is the series’ final episode. Sadly, it’s also one of the most fraught with issues. Voltron’s strength has always been its ability to humanize giant mech battles, and this episode doesn’t accomplish that as well as the show usually does. It feels like a robot toy commercial.

The characters end up in a place where all realities converge with no explanation as to how they got there. Honerva attempts to destroy all realities, which seems like incredibly high stakes with bare explanation.

Voltatlas grows some wings fifty times its size we’ve never seen before- and that’s about where I threw up my hands in defeat. There’s just no sense of rules or dramatic tension or anything for this battle because new abilities get pulled out of nowhere every few seconds.

The six heroes and Honerva end up inside “the connected consciousness of all of existence”. Honerva, with surprisingly little persuasion from the paladins considering all the bad she’s done, decides to sacrifice her life along with Allura to save all realities. It tries to be a heartwrenching scene, but due to the way the rest of the episode and the battle immediately preceding it come across, it falls flat. When you don’t stop to explain what’s going on, your audience loses their connection to the story because there’s no sense of stakes, or of accomplishment.

The sacrifice scene feels meaningless and unconnected to the entire rest of Voltron Season 8, which is incredibly sad because it depicts the death of a major character. A scene that’s so important and has such a big loss should mean a lot, but the writing leans too heavily on the audience’s existing love for the characters to generate that sadness rather than supporting it with plot.

None of the other paladins make more than a perfunctory attempt to stop Allura from giving her life. Because the audience doesn’t really understand the situation, it feels like they just give up when they could have tried to figure out another way. Allura kisses Lance, and suddenly he just gets Altean markings. Then she and Honerva walk into the light where the old paladins and Lotor are waiting.

It seems like Honerva has a happy reunion with Lotor there. At this point it kind of feels like she won, because the paladins lost Allura but Honerva still got to be happy.

There’s a serious question here: was Allura always meant to die? All signs point to “no”. Kimberly Brooks was incredibly excited about Allura appearing in a post-show spin off. Plus, Allura’s dialogue only infers that there’s danger, not that she will outright die like is depicted in the show. She says “I know the risks”, not “I know the cost” or anything insinuating she knows she will die. Neither Allura nor Kimberly seem to know Allura was going to die. That’s weird for a self-sacrifice ending.

Is it possible that in an earlier edit the scene was much more ambiguous? The lions leaving in the last shot of of Voltron Season 8 to find her would have felt much more hopeful because she might actually be alive. That makes more sense than the sloppy ending we got.

The restoration of realities brings back Altea and Daibazaal, which comes as a huge slap in the face. Allura lost her home and her entire race. Now it’s back and she doesn’t even get to appreciate it.

The episode jumps to one year later, with Keith speaking at the Kral Zera, obviously in a position of high power within the Galra Empire. That was one of the few things I liked about the episode (also Kosmo is HUGE now and giving me definite Mononoke vibes). It really shows how much Keith has matured and become an incredible leader.

Hunk is the first chef/diplomat I’ve ever seen, but the role suits him and he’s clearly still working on the Atlas, which suits his character.

Shiro looks like he’s gained a rank and become Admiral of Earth’s forces, while still remaining Atlas’ captain. That suits his character as well; he’s always looking to do better for the universe.

Pidge and Matt are working on a sentient AI robot named Chip, which is apparently a reference to 80’s Voltron. The loss of Matt’s long hair is truly a tragedy deserving of its own episode, but seeing the two of them work together on something is heartwarming.

Coran seems to be in charge on this new version of Altea. It’s a heartbreaking reminder that he’s the only of the original characters who didn’t get to say goodbye to Allura before she died despite being like a second father figure to her.

Lance gives a sweet speech about Allura to what looks like a class field trip, before revealing he works on a farm now. It honestly feels like it should be accompanied by a record scratch and film tearing animation. Lance went to the garrison because he wanted to be a pilot. While the show is obviously trying to give him a happy “simple life” end, it feels like a disservice to his character. Did someone in charge go, “Hey, Lance is Cuban, right? They work on farms there? Go make him work on a farm!” It would have been better to come up with a way forward for the character that deals with his grief without counteracting who he’s been for eight seasons. It truly makes you realize that Lance’s character in Voltron Season 8 was “the guy who’s worried about Allura”. He doesn’t get much development outside of that, and it stings to see that happen to such a great character.

The show ends with the lions leaving Altea. It’s inferred that they’re off to join Allura, wherever she may be.

Honestly, you’ll get a much better experience if you stop the episode there- but there’s more. Even after giving us the first epilogue, the series tacks on end cards that tell us what the paladins do for the rest of their lives:

  • The Holts go on to establish the next generation of Legendary Defenders, which I’m fine with.
  • Hunk creates a culinary empire? This is a man who was so happy to be an Aeronautical Engineer. Cooking was his de-stress hobby. Serving as chef on the Atlas in a diplomacy role suited him, but giving up adventuring entirely? Not so much.
  • I spoke a bit about my unhappiness with Lance’s end already, and his end card just continues that.
  • Keith helps transition the Blade of Marmora into a humanitarian relief organization. That’s like saying an Elite Navy Seals Squadron have decided to just make cookies now. It’s such an absurd change to the mission of the organization that it shouldn’t even carry the same name.
  • Shiro gets married to a random Atlas crewmember whose name isn’t even mentioned in the show. In an effort to score points for LGBT representation by showing the first male/male wedding in western animation, the show manages to do so as poorly as possible. It’s tacked on to the very end of the show, with no explanation and without any romantic tension built up between the two characters. What should be a happy historical moment ends up being an incredibly sour and bitter note to end the entire show on.

That leads me to my next point- and it’s a big one.

What happened to Keith & Shiro’s friendship?

The friendship between Keith and Shiro, explored at length in multiple episodes preceding this season, is practically absent in season 8. The characters behave like they barely know each other, and there are moments in the season where the lack of interaction between the two stops feeling unsettling and starts becoming outright suspicious.

These two characters have sacrificed everything to try and save the other. They put each other in front of saving the entire universe. Let’s take a look at how much the show built this up before Voltron Season 8 :

  • Shiro nearly sabotages an important alliance with the Blade of Marmora in season 2 because Keith is in danger.
  • When Shiro dies in the episode “Blackout”, the show makes effort at length to show how much more affected that Keith is by Shiro’s death than the other paladins. His grief is a driving force for him to attempt to defeat Lotor in the beginning of Season 3.
  • When Shiro returns, the show comments that Keith has been the only person allowed into Shiro’s room while he recovers.
  • Honerva utilizes Keith’s feelings for Shiro against him when Shiro is possessed in the Season 6 episode “Black Paladins”. When the clone factory is destroyed at the end of the episode and Keith and Shiro are at risk of falling to their deaths, Keith has to make a choice: let the clone of Shiro that tried to kill him fall and save himself or try to save Shiro and die with him. Keith chooses the latter. Moments before this he confessed that he loves Shiro, so this action makes sense.
  • While Keith waits for Shiro to wake from the healing pod in the beginning of Season 7, he’s again painted as the most affected of the entire team. He’s unable to stop touching the pod for the entire episode, and nearly loses it and breaks down into tears when it seems like Shiro may not survive.
  • Shiro dreams about past memories of his and Keith’s friendship while he’s on the brink of death.
  • Season 7 ends with Keith descending out of the sky like an avenging angel to cut down Sendak, who is about to kill Shiro.

These are only a few times the show firmly and consistently established that one of Keith’s main character motivations is his dedication to Shiro. If executives wanted Shiro to marry an already established character, Keith would be the natural choice based on the nature of their friendship.

Now the warmth they shared is gone. A few points where this removal of their friendship is glaringly obvious:

  • Launch Date – Shiro tells everyone to spend the afternoon before the launch with the people they love. Everyone else goes home to their families. It feels like the scene should lead to the two of them spending time together, as Shiro has no family we know of. However, Keith is shown sitting on the Black Lion alone with only Kosmo, watching the sun set. The music that begins playing underneath this scene is a well known ‘cue’ from the soundtrack song “Catch Up” that has underlied emotional scenes between Shiro and Keith in the past, and sunsets had become something of a trope for them- but Shiro doesn’t show. If this scene was not originally slated to include Shiro, Keith would have spent the afternoon with his mom, but he doesn’t. It’s strange.
  • The Prisoner’s Dilemma – Keith is called a ‘half-breed’ by Lahn with Shiro standing right there. There’s an awkward silence and Shiro says nothing. The same Shiro who was first to support Keith’s Galra lineage says nothing about species-based racism against his best friend happening right in front of him. What?
  • The Grudge – Shiro doesn’t notice that the incredibly stilted and formal conversation coming from “fake Keith” is not really Keith. When the pirate they capture says that Zethrid is hunting “the paladin you call Keith”, it’s a pointed comment towards Shiro that should garner a reaction from him given his overprotectiveness of Keith. Shiro’s reaction is not even shown.
    • Shiro lands on the volcano and has zero reaction to his best friend being held at gunpoint about to die. In fact, he’s suspiciously silent the entire conversation despite his purpose of being there to mirror Keith, as Axca is there to mirror Zethrid.
    • During Zethrid’s argument with Axca, Zethrid screams “Now you will feel what I felt”, in reference to loving Ezor and losing her. It makes no sense for her to say this line to Axca. However, if Shiro had been a part of the argument in an earlier edit of this scene, it would make more sense directed at him. As it stands it feels oddly out of place.
  • Clear Day – Shiro and Keith’s discussion at the carnival feels like a precursor to them spending the carnival together- and then they each awkwardly go their separate ways.
  • The End is the Beginning – When Shiro and Keith run out to see the lions leaving Altea there’s a pan from Shiro to Keith. Where the right half of Shiro’s body should be is missing entirely. Fans have speculated the show originally had an implied or ambiguous ending between the two characters and that his missing hand was originally on Keith’s shoulder since Keith is standing right in front of him. Now his entire shoulder and hand is just missing. In the next shot, it’s shown everyone is in their “paladin pajamas” except Keith and Shiro. They’re also the only ones not standing in line with the colors of their original lions, like their positions were edited after the fact.
    • During Shiro’s wedding, Keith is hidden behind Shiro out of sight while the entire rest of the team is in full view, almost like they knew they couldn’t convincingly draw him being happy to see someone he canonically confessed to love marry a random person.
  • Overall there’s a general feeling of separation between Keith and Shiro throughout Voltron Season 8. They refer to each other very formally on comms when they never have in the past. A constant trope of Shiro putting his hand on Keith’s shoulder during discussions is also absent.

The past closeness of Keith and Shiro, combined with the suspicious absence of conversation between them in Voltron Season 8, fuels the prevailing theory that the season was “scrubbed” of their friendship when the showrunners decided to have Shiro marry Curtis instead. It would normally seem weird to have Shiro marry a stranger with his best friend right there, but if they try to push Keith and Shiro apart in the last season, then possibly it might not come off as jarring.

This tactic fails. It’s still incredibly jarring. Who even is that guy?

It’s a mystery why the showrunners would go this direction with Voltron Season 8. If Keith and Shiro were possibly intended to be ambiguous, at least, why was this plotline scrapped for the more explicit Shiro/Curtis wedding?

The prevailing theory is that Dreamworks executives panicked after the accusations from fandom following Adam’s death but still wanted the ‘brownie points’ of having LGBT representation. Adventure Time’s “Bubbline” and Steven Universe’s “Rupphire” were lauded for their LGBT rep, and those shows got a lot of favorable press from the storylines.

Following this line of thought, fans theorize that showrunners decided one gay character in the show would probably fly with more conservative higher ups as long as he wasn’t too outwardly flamboyant. Two of the main characters being gay and in a relationship with each other is a lot more for them to swallow. Scrapping a hypothetical Shiro/Keith ending for Shiro/Curtis could give them the LGBT representation to get good reviews for their final season without having to “sacrifice” two of their main characters to being LGBT.

Unfortunately for them, LGBT fans were not satisfied to see a character they cared so deeply about marry a random character with zero buildup. Given the strangely large amount of filler this season for a final season, it feels like introducing the character of Curtis to the audience at all was less of a priority than simply scoring representation points, which brings me to my next point.

Curtis Who?

If you didn’t recognize the random dude Shiro marries in the final shot of Voltron Season 8, you can easily be forgiven. While Curtis has been hanging around in the background since Season 7, he’s never introduced like the entire rest of the supporting cast was in Season 7’s “The Last Stand, Parts 1 and 2”. The only reason the fandom even knows the character’s name is that it’s written once or twice in the subtitles. It’s never once spoken in the show.

Voltron Season 8

We put as much effort into this edit as Dreamworks put into adding Curtis. Maybe more.

Curtis shows up for the first time in the Season 7 episode “The Last Stand”. He’s shown to be the communications officer responsible for attempting to contact the Paladins and Matt. Matt later on says that it’s this uncloaked signal that draws the Galra’s attention to Earth. This brings up a rather troubling implication. Indirectly, by his incompetence in cloaking messages, Curtis is responsible for the Galra invasion of Earth, which causes the death of Shiro’s ex-boyfriend, Adam. Talk about an awkward conversation starter.

Curtis appears to have a much bigger role in Voltron Season 8 – maybe more than originally intended. There are multiple instances where he appears or has lines that feel like possibly they were dropped in after these hypothesized edits to Season 8 took place in order to make it seem like his appearance at the wedding wasn’t entirely random. These include:

  • Launch Date – Curtis doesn’t appear in the Atlas-wide meeting before launch. He does appear in later, more important meetings where he’s the only person who’s not a well established named character.
  • The Prisoner’s Dilemma – There’s a different officer in Curtis’ seat in the beginning of the battle during the first part of the episode, who suddenly switches to Curtis once we get a better vantage point on the seat. During another important discussion later in the episode about Honerva’s plans, there’s nobody sitting in the seat in one shot. Curtis is magically sitting there a few seconds later.
  • The Grudge – Curtis abruptly appears in a scene with Veronica, Iverson, and Axca without being introduced. He’s the only unnamed character with lines in the scene and it leaves the audience wondering who this guy is supposed to be. He’s also the one who later discovers he didn’t notice they’ve been getting false transmissions from the paladins. Between this and leading the Galra to Earth he’s got a stellar track record as a communications officer.
  • Genesis – Curtis is the only unnamed character in the very important strategy meeting.
  • Day Forty Seven – Lines that were supposed to be said by Coran according to the subtitles are instead said by Curtis. This also happens later on in Voltron Season 8 with Keith, like they were possibly trying to find more lines for Curtis.
  • Clear Day – Audio description describes Curtis only as “young brown haired man” instead of by name. Curtis was clearly spending the Clear Day Festival with the MFE pilots. Somehow he’s mysteriously also cheering on Shiro at the arm wrestling competition at the same time, but only in close up shots. He doesn’t appear in any overhead shots, like he was edited in during post-production. Audio description does not acknowledge he is there like it does the Paladins.
  • Uncharted Regions – Curtis is given a line that the audio description says should have been Keith. Curtis is again the only unnamed person in an incredibly important strategy meeting. There’s also a point where it cuts to Curtis about halfway through the episode and the change in music cue was so abrupt I thought my stream was lagging the first time I watched the episode.
  • The End is The Beginning – Audio description during the wedding shot misidentifies Curtis as Adam, Shiro’s dead ex-boyfriend.

All in all, it’s pretty obvious that Curtis’ presence was beefed up at some point, and not very neatly at that.

Implications of the Leaks Being Real

So, what can we infer about production from finding out that the Voltron Season 8 leaks were, in fact, real? Quite a bit, actually.

Voltron Season 8 was originally scheduled to be released in November. It was later pushed back to a December 14 release. On September 12th, Kihyun Ryu, a supervising producer, episode director, and animator for the show posted a photo of an in-progress Shiro piece he was working on, stating it was the last work he was doing for Voltron. This work ends up being Shiro’s wedding scene.

In the wedding scene that leaked, it should be noted that Shiro’s husband is different (a man resembling Roy from Macross), and Curtis is a guest at the wedding. Otherwise, the animation is nearly identical to what ends up in the final draft.

On the leaked images of the wedding, the file name says LOCKED_UPDATED 2018-10-01. Picture lock is the point of editing where no more changes will be done to the video editing of the show. This is so timing and effects can be locked down. Picture lock was obviously completed at some point before this date (given normal television show timelines, likely long before this). But the picture lock was updated on October 1st, which is incredibly rare so close to release.

Given that animation for the wedding scene was done so late in production, it is hypothesized that the leaked photos spoiling the last episode are at least some of the content added when the picture lock was updated on October 1st. This would imply that all of the end cards and the scene containing Allura’s death included in the leaked scenes were added or changed for an unknown reason very close to release. Then picture lock would have needed to be updated yet again even closer to release to substitute the Roy Macross cameo in for Curtis and erase Curtis as a guest at his own wedding. But why? Why all these changes to the picture lock at the last minute? Why the musical chairs for Shiro’s husband?

Also, in the context of the rest of the episode and the other end cards, the wedding doesn’t make a lot of visual sense. At the dinner for Allura’s memorial Shiro is still happily working on the Atlas. In the end cards, his “look” is updated as all the paladins get older. Then at the wedding, all the other paladins keep their older look except Shiro. He looks like he did when he was younger, but it says he’s retired. The timeline of when all this is supposed to occur is exceptionally confusing and it’s not clear when the wedding took place. Did Shiro take a break from aging to fall in love with an incompetent background character?

The current theory is that, before the edits we now know took place late in production, that Shiro and Keith may have possibly been ambiguously, if not implied, a couple. Dreamworks even ordered a shirt that appears to be romantic in nature to be produced by Hot Topic which immediately sold out although it wasn’t promoted – possibly because the story had since changed since it was ordered.

Then, after the backlash the show faced concerning the death of Adam and the successes of other “kids” shows depicting LGBT couples like Steven Universe and Adventure Time, executives at Dreamworks asked for the season to be changed in order to achieve those same positive headlines. However, those shows succeeded where Voltron failed because they dedicated screen time and storylines to their LGBT relationships rather than having them show up last second.

The irony of all of this is that if the original ending had been implied to be Shiro and Keith, Voltron Season 8 probably would have achieved those headlines even without a wedding.

What was the original Voltron Season 8 like before these last minute edits? We have a few breadcrumbs found in the episode by episode analysis near the beginning. We also have two main voice actors, Steven Yeun and Kimberly Brooks, making statements prior to release that directly contradict what ends up happening. Steven was shown the photos of the leaks directly by a fan and stated that they were fake, that the show would be much “safer” with its ending than the ending depicted by the leaks. We also had Kimberly Brooks excited about the prospect of Allura appearing specifically in a post-show spin off, which wouldn’t be possible if her character is dead.

And, interestingly enough, we have the reactions of crew who worked on Voltron (I will not be linking to any of their tweets directly to protect their identities). Voltron Season 8 was screened for staff over the summer, before the updates were made. There are multiple instances of happy and excited tweets from members of the animation team and crew who couldn’t wait for us to see the final season.

December 14th changed that. Those excited tweets became confused, upset, and sad, with multiple people outright saying this was not what they had seen in screenings. Multiple members of the animation team that had worked so hard on this final season made posts absolving themselves of having worked on or knowing at all about the edits. The utter devastation witnessed from multiple staff members begs the question of how different the season they saw was, and how the show was able to be changed so drastically without them knowing.

Most of the cast has been pretty quiet so far, but Tyler Labine – Hunk’s Voice Actor – has already come out and said there were aspects of Voltron Season 8 he was unhappy with. Showrunner Lauren Montgomery made comments in an interview about hers and Joaquim’s vision not being able to be the only vision that went into the season, implying that Dreamworks had a heavy hand in how this season played out.

If everyone was happy with the ending, there should be celebration abound right now. Instead a normally exuberant cast and crew is eerily quiet and it feels like a funeral. I would have rather seen the season that everyone was so excited to share with us.

What Does it All Mean?

With Voltron Season 8 as it stands, what does Voltron as a whole amount to? An amazing show with a rough last season? It used to have such great lessons about unity and friendship helping us to achieve impossible odds, overcoming adversity, about believing and achieving your dreams. The importance of learning to trust others and of family, both found and blood. We had a cautionary tale about how easily power can corrupt.

And then we come to season 8. The morals it tries to leave with us are grim, which is sad as it was originally intended to be a kids show. Victims of abuse are doomed to repeat the cycle forever. It’s ok to use dark power if in the end you defeat a worse power. If you’re a woman of color, you’re expected to give everything of yourself to save everyone else, up to and including your life and your happiness. If you come out as LGBT like Shiro, you’ll lose your close friends and your dreams, and you don’t even get a well thought out love story because queer love stories aren’t important. And the end of the show, after all the messages about found family, finds all of the paladins separated, barely speaking except once a year at Allura’s memorial.

They don’t feel like a family anymore, and that’s the heartbreaking note that the show ends on.

I loved Voltron. I loved it a lot and I still do, and Voltron Season 8 doesn’t change that. But this final season has left an emptiness and sadness in my heart. This is the last content we’ll ever get for this iteration of these characters, until a reboot comes along. This wasn’t the way any of us wanted to say goodbye to these characters. There’s always fandom content to help try and heal those wounds, but it would have been better to have ended the show in a more happy place.

It feels like the people in charge were so concerned with making sure nobody could continue their story that they forgot to give the characters satisfactory, well written endings. If anything, we should have all learned from Harry Potter that epilogues are never a good idea.

Fandom is attempting to make a stand to find out what the original vision for Voltron Season 8 was. Whether that’s a release of the season pre-picture lock update, or just any kind of explanation from the showrunners as to what happened and why things went so disastrously wrong, remains to be see. A petition to find out the original vision of the season was created and has has approximately 25,000 signatures as of time of writing and is counting quickly.

There’s hope that there might be something out there to ease the pain of a rough ending of what was truly an incredible show.

What did you think of Voltron Season 8? Has it changed how you as a fan feel about the show? Share your thoughts with us!

Author: Taylor

Taylor is a multimedia designer, photographer, video editor, and writer. She has been involved in fandom and producing fan content since she was old enough to read and write.
Twitter: @IAmSizzlebutt


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