Heading into this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the first in-person SDCC in three years, the interview I was most excited for is the one I had scheduled with The Dragon Prince co-creators Justin Richmond and Aaron Ehasz. If you’ve been here long enough, you will probably know that I am a big fan of The Dragon Prince, and one of the highlights of the virtual 2020 SDCC was learning that the show had been greenlit for seven seasons. This was going to be my first time actually being present at a panel, and I couldn’t wait.
The Dragon Prince panel was Thursday, the first full day of SDCC, and my interview with the pair was scheduled about two hours before. When I sat down for the interview, a representative from Wonderstorm, the studio behind The Dragon Prince, put a laptop in front of me, and I was treated to a sneak preview of season 4. And within a few minutes, my carefully constructed questions went up in smoke… and they further crumbled at the panel, when I got to see the entire first episode of season 4.
For example, one of my questions was about whether or not we would be introduced to any more new races – specifically if there were any more types of Elves wandering around Xadia. “In the panel, you’ll meet one,” said Richmond, “but there are more in season 4. There’s definitely going to be more Elves in the show in the future.”
The new Elf – an Earthblood Elf, as season 4’s book is “Earth” – that we meet in the very first episode is in the form of Claudia’s new boyfriend, Terry. We meet at the same time the newly re-alive Viren does – and he is not a fan.
Claudia’s boyfriend was one of the quick bites I tweeted after watching the episode, because I simply didn’t have time to recap it the way I’m sure people wanted. Basically, it has been two years since the season 3 finale. Claudia succeeded in bringing Viren back from the dead with Aaravos’s help, and the caterpillar that was in Viren’s ear is now in a creepy, glowing chrysalis. However, the spell is only temporary, and in order to make it permanent, Viren and Claudia have to find and rescue Aaravos from his mirror prison within the next 30 days.
The mirror is, of course, in Callum’s possession. Now High Mage for the once again King Ezran, Callum is still feeling the absence of Rayla, who left in the graphic novel Through the Moon, which bridges the gap between seasons 3 and 4. Even the surprise party Ezran plans for Callum’s birthday can’t lift his spirits, because Callum’s birthday is forever associated with the day that Rayla left. (Rayla does not appear in the first episode, so her whereabouts are currently unknown.)
Season 4 is subtitled “The Mystery of Aaravos”, and the impression I got from the panel was that this will be the overarching plot of the remaining four seasons – who Aaravos is, where he comes from, and what he wants. Finding out that everything in the first three seasons was just leading up to this arc absolutely blew my mind. When the show was greenlit for all seven seasons, I found myself wondering how much of the story was mapped out. Surely if they knew they needed seven seasons, there must be a plan in place.
“We have had a plan,” said Ehasz. “And there are certain things we have known since the beginning. And there are some things that we have had to fill out and figure out how they happen and how we kind of wend our way to these moments and these revelations. But […] a number of sort of the key things that play into the ending we’ve known for like six years, yeah.”
Well, with a plan in place for that long, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of wiggle room. I know that some shows have made story or casting decisions based on fan reaction; there are definitely characters in some shows who were supposed to be killed off but fans loved them so much that they stuck around. Of course, it’s difficult to do that with animation, which requires so much more time in production.
“We were finishing writing season 3 when we previewed episode one at Comic-Con,” said Ehasz. “And so this was the amount that we were able to do, was that someone named the human soldier who Rayla spares, Marcos, in episode one, and we were able to write his name into the last episode of season 3.”
“You know, so it’s tricky,” Ehasz continued, “because we absolutely value the fans and The Dragon Prince community in terms of just like, everything is for them. Everything is an act of, like, kind of empathy and sort of thinking about what would people want. And what do like, you know, smart, detail-oriented, passionate, people want to see? […] We are influenced to the degree that, like, I think we know who we’re making it for, and that we want to make it right.”
“There’s definitely stuff in season 4 that I think the community will love that we knew, because now we can actually react,” said Richmond.
“We allow ourselves to follow our characters and to really listen to them,” said Ehasz. “[…] As we play their story out and let them have the experiences they have, we try to imagine, like, what are they going through? What are their choices going to be? And we allow ourselves to change the story based on what we see happening.”
Ehasz continued, “And so I think the result of that, for example, is you can kind of perceive something happening with characters at the same time as the audience is perceiving it. And so we’re responding almost as, like, circular creators and audience members. We’re like, ‘Oh, this is what the characters are doing.’ And then we’re able to follow through, if that makes sense.”
When asked about the possibility of increased queer representation in the series, Ehasz said, “Our head writer, Devon [Giehl], says everyone on The Dragon Prince is bi. […] Canon bi.”
But in all seriousness, Richmond said, “There’s new everything. The way gender and sexuality works, a lot of it is just life. Right? It’s just stuff. And so, you know, we want to make sure when we tell stories like that, that they’re respectful and they’re truthful, and they’re coming from the right place and that they’re telling the right story.”
“We want Xadia to be very inclusive and have a lot of representation,” added Ehasz.
In fact, my question was definitively answered at the panel. In the season 4 premiere, Janai stages an elaborate proposal for Amaya (which she assumes is an ambush – there are flaming whips, for crying out loud!). The audience went nuts once they realized what was happening. Fans have been shipping the two of them since Janai first appeared, and I love being in an audience when a ship goes canon.
(I remember the excitement in the room when Shiro from Voltron Legendary Defender was confirmed to be queer; even though I was ultimately disappointed in how they handled his story, you can pry that moment of joy from my cold, dead hands.)
And I can’t help but wonder if “Janaya” is one of those things Richmond was talking about.
Asking about characters is hit or miss during interviews like this, because naturally, some answers will delve too far into spoiler territory. For example, my question about Runaan could not be answered (although you can currently see him in the newest graphic novel, Bloodmoon Huntress, so check that out). However, questions about Soren and Callum could easily be answered.
“I think there’s a lot of buried stuff there that we’re gonna get into and season 4 and beyond,” said Richmond about Soren, who found himself on the opposite side of his sister and his father in season 3. Now Soren thinks his father is dead and has no idea what happened to his sister in the past two years. “I think he’s put all that stuff in a box. And he’s, like, said that he’s dealt with it, but I don’t know that he has. And so I think that’ll be interesting.”
Callum, meanwhile, has devoted himself to his role as High Mage. “He has to study a lot and read books and try to figure it out,” said Richmond. “And it’s not like he has a teacher. There’s not someone sitting there going, like, ‘Oh, just do this or do that.’ And so I think it’s been a big journey for him and something that he threw himself into after Rayla left.”
I know that some fans were disappointed that there wasn’t more about Callum’s developing magic skills in season 3, so hopefully, season 4 will spend some more time on that.
(Speaking of the graphic novels, the next one, due out in 2023, is called The Puzzle House and will center around Claudia. At the panel, they said that they will keep putting out graphic novels as long as people keep buying them, and confirmed that they do have more planned.)
In my season 3 review, I speculated that Viren had more to do with the late Queen Sarai’s death than he told Harrow. Sitting in front of the show’s co-creators, I couldn’t help but ask if my theory had any merit. Basically, no, it does not. Sarai is definitely dead and it happened the way Viren said it did. But it did spark a great conversation about Viren’s character and unreliable narrators in fiction.
“I love that thinking,” said Ehasz, “because I always think about who’s telling the story and what biases and ideas, prejudices or even mistruths they may be bringing, omissions or anything. And that plays into a lot of the storytelling of The Dragon Prince.”
“He does bad things in that story, right?” said Richmond. “Like, it results in him basically corrupting Harrow into going to kill the Dragon King. I think that you can see the story from his perspective, actually, is reasonably true because of that.”
“Now, it’s interesting in that moment, in that very vulnerable moment, where this character is dying,” said Ehasz, “Viren is a character who […] recognizes there is some power in capturing her last breath. And as awful as that is, he got out a jar and you know, captured her last breath! […] That’s something that’s interesting about Viren, and there is a story that you will learn about him that kind of connects to that part of his character. The choices he’s willing to make that might feel extremely distasteful, but, you know, he feels like he has the strength to make those decisions.”
When asked if we could expect any more crossovers, such as the boomerang moment from season 3, Richmond said, “There’s one in season 4, which you can sort of figure out by looking at the map.”
So if anyone manages to figure out what that is, please do clue me in. (Richmond also expressed surprise that more people didn’t catch the reference to “Love Amongst the Dragons”, a fictional play Zuko mentions in Avatar: The Last Airbender.)
As for their favorite part of working on the saga? “We get paid to make a TV show about elves and dragons and stuff,” said Richmond. “And we get to make video games too, like, I don’t know, it’s a ridiculous job. It’s a totally ridiculous job. No one should pay us this much money to do this. It’s great.”
“We work very hard, to be clear,” said Ehasz. “We do. This takes a lot of time to get it right and to make something that’s worthy of a community, but, you know, it’s humbling and we’re honored to be able to tell a story you care about, a story that is having a positive impact.”
When I took to Twitter to ask if anyone had questions, at least one person wanted to know what Wonderstorm’s next project was, and though I did not ask that in my interview, we got an answer anyway in the form of another panel. On the Saturday of SDCC, Richmond and Ehasz revealed Bonders, a sci-fi animated series set in the near future featuring a wheelchair user main character (voiced by Zach Anner, who also writes for the show) and animal companions that are holographic but can also meld with machinery and turn into anthropomorphic robots.
Season 4 of The Dragon Prince drops in November of this year, but no specific date was given.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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