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The Dragon Prince’s second season eclipses the first

The show’s second season triumphs by focusing on emotional arcs

The Dragon Prince - A Sunfire elf prepares for battle. Wonderstorm Inc.

The Dragon Prince season 1 built a massive world, explaining the system of schools of magic, human and magical kingdoms, politics, assassinations, and a brewing war. The second season of the Netflix fantasy series has the task of following up a fantastic execution of the world-building, and it does not disappoint. The show’s new episodes are slower, more thoughtful, and uses the lore of its predecessor to tell a phenomenal series of stories.

[Ed. note: This post contains very light spoilers for the second season of The Dragon Prince, including characters and moments from the promotional trailers.]

The Dragon Prince left off with a major cliffhanger of the titular character hatching, and Soren and Claudia finding our trio using Dark Magic. Claudia is instructed to bring the egg home to her father Viren, while Soren has been instructed to ensure the princes don’t return home. Before the second season even starts, we have a powderkeg conflict ready to explode.

The second season picks up right after the cliffhanger. “Our main characters grew up together, and [while] they have come into more conflict, they do have different priorities and ideas,” Aaron Ehasz, co-creator of the show, tells Polygon. “I think what’s interesting is they do have these pre-existing relationships that are being tested and scratched.”

The Dragon Prince - Callum, Ezran, Bait, and Zym. Wonderstorm Inc.

The show’s second season tackles the idea of multi-generational conflict in an organic way that ends up being far more impactful than a flashy fight scene or tense Western standoff might have been. Justin Richmond, the show’s other creator, mentions how the writing team handled certain combinations of characters. “We didn’t want to set it up intentionally, like, Oh, we’re going to have these characters meet because it would be fun to see them fight. It was more like, What’s the natural outcome here?”

The Dragon Prince dodges cheap conflict at every turn. Soren and Claudia do catch up with Ezran and Callum quickly, but instead of an immediate, explosive encounter, both sides approach each other in good faith, unaware of the various hidden agendas. It’s a trend in The Dragon Prince; even though characters butt heads, you get the sense that they all fundamentally like each other. When things sour, when arguments erupt, that cemented friendship hits harder.

This season continues to follow Soren and Claudia, as well as the core group of Callum, Rayla, Ezran, and the Dragon Prince Azymondias, but it also frequently returns back to Katolis, where we see Viren fighting his own conflicts with the rest of the late king’s advisers and colleagues.

Throughout their stories, we get lots of long looks at the past of the human kingdoms. Whereas the first season was damning of the humans and their ways, they get a much more sympathetic look in season two. By choosing to focus on individual stories from the past — a letter from King Harrow, an expedition into Xadia, a sacrifice — The Dragon Prince is able to add depth to the wide list of proper nouns and facts they’ve given us to wonder about before.

“We had always considered that part of this story of these characters and their journey, is understanding what happened in the past and what’s happening now. How these ripples are in the present and affecting decisions that Rayla and Ezran and Callum are going to make,” says Ehasz on the deliberate pacing of the season. “We think it’s a really important part of the story to get into. A lot of this season was following through on these characters and some of the things that happened in season one, and understanding the impact it’s going to have on them as young people who are growing up.”

The Dragon Prince - Lord Viren in his chambers. Wonderstorm Inc.

The visual design of the show is gorgeous right from the start, and it’s clear that with a more solidified world, the team is pushing the visuals further. One major change is that the animation style is smoother. While the action is largely unaffected, the smaller emotional scenes of characters talking and reacting, plotting politics, or coping with developments are far improved. The characters express better and have a wider range of emotions they can effectively display — which is useful, because the second season doesn’t pull back the emotional punches.

Season 2 also teases out more of the fantastical elements of the universe. Dark magic, which stood out in the first season as alien and harsh — and a little overly computer generated — is a major part of the new story, and the effects have been improved to be less jarring. Dark magic, as a system, makes more sense as a temptation in the second season of the show.

There’s also the visual design of Aaravos, a mysterious elf who ends up consulting Viren through the mysterious, magical mirror. Aaravos looks a little like the moonshadow elves we’ve seen before, but he’s cranked to 11, with an alien, feminine, star-fallen look to him. He looks like a midnight sky, but the more time we spend with Aaravos, the more his charisma and personality steals the show.

“We have long planned this character,” says Ehasz. “We’re so happy with this beautiful character design. The concept and the execution that went into realizing this character. He’s a beautiful elf man. He’s really compelling to look at.”

Richmond and Ehasz explain that this is a story that they worked on several years in advance of the production, “because we’re crazy,” Ehasz jokes. The second season is where this rich layering and work really starts to pay off, as the show builds future threats while reinforcing them by drawing on the past. “We’ve been lucky to build a visionary team who comes right into that and is excited to build it.”

The first season of The Dragon Prince was an ambitious sprint, laying down a fantasy foundation so quickly that the characters and their journey felt like pawns moving around a game board. The second season of the show reverses that, filling out the details of the world by exploring the journeys of the people who live in it.

From here, I’m even more invested in the show and its future. I cried three times during the second season, even though my eyes remained dry throughout the premiere episodes. With even more character building and a tension heading into the third season, I can’t wait to see what happens next — and how our heroes adapt.

The Dragon Prince’s nine-episode second season drops on Netflix on Feb. 15, 2019.

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