In the second season of The Dragon Prince, the big bad Viren finds himself bogged down by the most pedantic of problems: inefficient bureaucracy. Seriously: How’s a guy supposed to enact his world-changing vision when he has to wait for slow crow delivery service, council approval, and other mundane administrative matters? What’s the use of dark magic if you have to wait three-to-five business days for your crow to make its delivery?
Viren became the series’ villain very early on in the show, but he’s not bent on total world domination like some animated villains tend to be. Instead, his motivations are two-fold, as co-creator Aaron Ehasz told Polygon, though neither ambition is immune to the failures of being roadblocked by the higher-ups.
“Part of him really wants to be a champion for humanity and protect the kingdom and do the right thing, and part of what’s in his heart is he wants to be great and recognized and to have a moment of history that’s important,” said Ehasz. “I think real villains in the world can be people who have very compelling visions for certain positive, potential outcomes. Villains are often ends justify the means type of people.”
Viren has a grand vision for what he wants to play out and how he wants to fit himself within it. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the human world can’t — or don’t want to — see the big picture of what’s at stake.
It’s reminiscent of a classic page from X-Factor #87, that deals with Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff. Quicksilver is a mutant who has the gift of super speed, and his therapist is asking him why he’s so angry. Quicksilver replies:
Have you ever stood in line at a banking machine behind a person who didn’t know how to use it? Or wanted to buy stamps at the post office, and the fellow in front of you wants to know every single way he can ship his package to Istanbul? [...] Your life is being slowed to a crawl by the inabilities or the inconvenient behavior of others. Now, imagine that everywhere you go, your entire world is filled with people who can’t work cash machines.
Viren is in a very similar situation, and that is part of why he comes across as relatable even while he’s doing unethical — even monstrous — things. He sees a kingdom slipping away and a war coming, and yet everyone around him refuses to listen to reason.
While Viren’s quest for greatness is being undermined by the slow turnings of councils and crow masters, there could be another factor that puts his ambitions to the test.
“What’s also interesting about Viren to me is that maybe the one piece of his identity that could compete with his identity as wanting to be a great figure in history is his identity as a father and, in particular, as Claudia’s father,” Ehasz said. “That’s something that may be tested at some point.”
Though Viren assigns his children pretty despicable missions in order to fulfill his grand plan for humanity, it’s very clear that he shares a special relationship with them. Viren and his son’s relationship is more difficult than his bond with Claudia, who shares his affinity for dark magic. His role as a father isn’t a trait that absolves him of his crimes — let’s not forget that he orders his children to murder two kids and kidnap a baby dragon — but he wants to leave a legacy behind for his children, an empathetic motivation to his drastic deeds.
Overall, there is a grounding to Viren’s villainy which makes him believable, and almost relatable at times. Not only is this evident in the way his character unfolds on screen, but it also takes root in how he’s voiced behind the scenes.
“[Viren’s] actor, Jason Simpson, is very layered and one of the wonderful things about Jason is he’s like, ‘What! No! Viren’s not a villain!’” Ehasz said. “It’s perfect because he brings out the hopefully the most self-confident, self-believing version of Viren. I change day to day [as to] whether I’m on Team Viren or whether that guy needs to get his comeuppance.”
It even goes beyond just the character and voice actor, apparently. Viren’s utilitarian disposition was a small concern for his real-life namesake, as head writer Justin Richmond gleefully recounted.
“Aaron has a friend from school named Viren, and we asked him if it was okay to name this character that is legitimately going to do some bad stuff after him,” Richmond shared with a laugh. “But he’s like, ‘Well, is he practical?’ And we’re like, ‘Yes, he’s very, very practical.’ He was like, ‘OK.’”