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The Shannara Chronicles - Chosen Part 1 & Part 2 - Review: "The Legend Begins"



Fantasy is one of my favourite genres - Game of Thrones is obviously, the heavy hitter in both screen and prose, but in prose, there's a lot of great stuff out there beyond just HBO's epic series. Joe Abercrombie, Daniel Abraham, Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson and Mark Lawrence are all just some of the excellent fantasy authors that you should be checking out if you like the genre, however, Terry Brooks (the author of the work that this series takes inspiration from) is someone whose work I've sadly, not read as much of as I would have liked aside from two series openers, Bearers of the Black Staff and The High Druid, both novels that are part of the Shannara World. But also, not directly linked to the storyline that the show, at least what from I've seen in the first two episodes, is based on, so I'm almost in the dark as much as those who have not read any of the books. Whatever the case, MTV's epic new series seems to be establishing itself as a new fantasy juggernaut to possibly, be a contender to current King of fantasy on the small screen, Game of Thrones. But is it there yet? Not quite. There's still plenty of things to overcome before it gets there, but from what I've seen in the first two episodes of The Shannara Chronicles, things are off to a solid start as we are plunged into a post apocalyptic world with a twist, introducing us to a world that's home to the likes of Elves, Trolls, Humans and Magic. There's plenty of potential as it heralds a return to high fantasy for television, not quite falling into the trap of being too dark and gritty. But will we get to see the potentially fully realised?

The Shannara Chronicles Season 1 Episode Guide
1.01. Chosen - Part One - Review
1.02. Chosen - Part Two - Review

1.01 & 1.02: Chosen
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman & Written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar

Split into two parts for the opening episode, Chosen introduces us to the world that we will find ourselves in for the length of the series. We get glorious jungle landscapes amongst the ruins of the old world, and some excellent, diverse terrain that really provides a fantastic backdrop for the show. We are thrust right into the action the morning before a race that will determine which of seven young elves will be trained to become a Chosen, guardians of a sacred tree called the Ellcrys. No woman has ever become a guardian of the Ellcrys before, but Princess Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) is determined to be the first to do, spending the night before the race practising. However, she can't get one jump right, and keeps struggling. It's a challenge that makes things even harder for her when the race begins begin, as Amberle is pitted against not only a possible love interest who wants to take her hand in marriage, Lorin (Mattias Inwood), but also people who aren't afraid to play dirty in order to win the race, which participants must run blindfolded with their hounds bound. Amberle suffers a disadvantage at the start of the race when she's quickly tripped up, but is able to recover thanks to a mysterious voice speaking in her head. The voice also warns her when the perfect time would be to jump, and as a result, she is able to make it over the gap that she was struggling manage the previous night. Disaster strikes her when she's tripped up on the home stretch, but is able to recover in time to finish seventh, much to the surprise of the onlookers when they find out that the Princess was able to win the race. Amberle and Lorin are taken to meet Amberle's grandfather, the King, (Jonathan Rhys Davis), who tells them the story that most believe is only a legend - The Ellcrys that the Chosen have been assigned to protect is the only thing that keeps out the hordes of imprisoned demons from entering the realm of the living, and a Demon will be unleashed everytime a leaf falls from the Ellcrys. The only thing protecting the Ellcrys is the Chosen that Amberle has just become a part of, and they have to guard it with their lives. However, as soon as Amberle touches the tree to earn its acceptance, she, unlike any of the other Chosen, sees a vision of a possible future, a very, Mordor-esque environment that her home has turned into, where Demons rule and all her friends are dead. It sets the endgame, the direction as to where the series will no doubt be headed, and Amberle's mission will be to stop this from happening at all costs.

We are quickly introduced to the second protagonist of the night, Will Ohmsford (Austin Butler, who Arrow fans may recognise as Chase, the annoying DJ/undercover Assassin who tried to kill Thea in Season 3), a half human, half elf, who has just returned too late to save his mother from death. Before her death however, his mother tells him of the Elfstones, three mysterious objects that are linked to magic, and gives them, saying that they used to belong to his father. She begs him to find a Druid before passing away. Acting as a spur of the moment decision, Will decides to leave his home to become a healer - which may prove difficult because he's never been more than five miles from his home in his life, and is naive and unprepared for the world outside his homestead, according to his Uncle, who also urges him to get rid of the stones and forget about them. However, Will ignores him, and heads out, taking an abandoned highway as a shortcut, but is eventually cut off and forced to journey through Troll territory where he is attacked by one, only to be rescued by the third of the three main characters, the mysterious and skilled Eretria (Ivana Baquero) who takes him back to her rooftop home, and knocks him unconscious, taking the Elfstones and leaving Will behind.

Meanwhile, Amberle is having problems of her own, haunted by the vision and drawing the demons that she saw from the future. She brushes off Lorin at the celebrations and heads to the Ellcrys where upon its touch, she experiences another vision, of her stabbing Lorin, killing him. Traumatised, she leaves, knocking out Lorin who has come to find her, and runs into the distance. Amberle in turn runs across Eretria, the Rover, but is smart enough not to fall for her lies and rejects her offers of assistance, exposing her as someone who preys on the weak and naive, not making the same mistake as Will did. Amberle however has the rest of the Elves out searching for her as we learn that a Druid, Allanon (Manu Bennett, another Arrow star), has come to meet the King, an old friend of his, after being awakened from a deep sleep, having not aged at all despite being over three hundred years old, and investigates the fate of the Ellcrys, which is dying, and has already let a leaf drop, unleashing a powerful Druid from its imprisonment who has fallen to the temptations of magic, and turned evil. The fallen Druid, Dagda Mor, has in turn, dispatched a Changeling to deal with the Chosen, hoping to wipe them all out in one go. The Changeling poses as Amberle to get the location of the rest of the Chosen out of Lorin at the Ellcrys, before slaughtering him, proving Amberle's vision of Lorin's death at her hands to be true, even if she had no way of knowing that it would be the Changeling who killed her. The Changeling promptly uses information learned from Lorin to slaughter the rest of the Chosen, leaving only Amberle, who has fled the safety of the kingdom.

Allanon arrives back in the Kingdom after managing to link up with Will, who in turn learnt that there might be a way to save the Ellcrys even if it is fallen after a quick stop at the now abandoned Druid's Keep, in the desert. They learn that only the Chosen can save the Tree, but she must return willingly, and as things stand, there's no way that Amberle is doing that, and even once she sets about doing that, she has to take it to a safe haven that not even Allanon has ever found before. However, Allanon and Will set out to find her anyway, with Allanon warning the King that his people are in danger from a demonic attack. The King's son, Arion (Daniel MacPherson) who has been raised to believe that the Demons are only myth and legend, tells him that they should be focusing on their real enemies instead, and not be chasing after stories. Arion suggests that Eventine resign ahead of schedule, not wanting him to be viewed as the Mad King who believed in Demons after all the great things that he did for his people, but Eventine remains steadfast, determined that experience should prevail over youth in times of battle.

Back with Amberle, she, much like Will, is apparently attacked by another Troll after entering their territory but we later learn that she is in Wing Hove with Eventine's sister, who is at first suspicious that Amberle is running away because she is pregnant, but eventually believes her. It isn't long however before Amberle is found by both parties interested in her however, and not even Allanon can stop Eventine's sister from being slaughtered by a Fury sent by the Evil Dagda Mor, which then turns its attention on both Amberle and Will, who are pressed into a corner with seemingly little chance of escape.

And that's where the double episode premiere wraps up. It's a fairly interesting story, even if it treads through mostly familiar territory when it comes to the characters and their roles, both Amberle & Will so far look like your typical fantasy protagonists, (developing so far a similar dynamic that reminded me of Rey and Finn from The Force Awakens) Will perhaps more so than Amberle, but both are sort of Chosen Ones in a sense. Allanon also seems to fit the role of the wizened old mentor that fantasy seems to be so so full of, and I'm almost ready to start placing bets on the fact that he won't make it to the end of the series alive (Like oh, so many elderly mentors to younger characters - Obi-Wan Kenobi & Albus Dumbledore to name just two), which is a shame if it does happen, because Manu Bennett is a fantastic, and easily the best, addition to this series in the casting department, so far, offering some great energy to the role as Allanon. He's basically playing the same role that he played as Slade in Arrow when he was helping Oliver in the flashbacks on the Island, tutoring him in the same way that he's going to tutor Will (and maybe Amberle as well?), but I'm okay with this, because the more Manu Bennett gets involved with things, the better. I wasn't following the casting announcements concerning this series and didn't have an idea of his involvement in it at all as far as I can remember, so it was a welcome surprise to see him there. You'll also recgonise Bennett of course from The Hobbit movies, where he voiced Azog, so he has plenty of experience in the fantasy genre as well.

I can see the characters developing over the course of the series and hopefully they will follow the route of The CW's The 100 series, which at first adopted a similar route, introducing them as little more than basic stereotypes before tearing those stereotypes down so that they're pretty much unrecognisable by the end of the season, which would be a great route for the show to follow. There's a lot of promise and potential with The Shannara Chronicles, with one area that I hope the writers to explore being the world before it turned to ruin in some capacity as at this point, we've already had hints such as the highway that Will used as a shortcut before its collapse, and a decaying boat in the desert. There's too much mystery to leave this area unexplored, and I'm really tempted now to read more of Terry Brooks' novels and find out what happens for myself.

The clichés on display here were not just limited to the characters, and The Shannara Chronicles as it turns out, is actually a lot closer to The Lord of the Rings than Game of Thrones, making a nice return to the epic, high fantasy feel. It almost stands alone in a genre full of grimdark stories nowadays (the majority of the authors that I mentioned above all write grimdark fantasy), and it'll be interesting to see what happens as the series goes forward as it doesn't shy away from the darker moments that we get to see here. I'll admit that I didn't see them actually killing off Lorin this early, expecting him to stick around more, even though it was fairly obvious that it was never going to be Amberle who killed him when she was shown the vision. The portrayal of the humans and the Rovers was also interesting and it looks like we're going to be getting a bigger variety of enemies going forward to attempt to thwart Amberle and Will on their quest, not just monsters conjured up by Dagda Mor, who looks pretty intimidating from what we've seen so far even though he may be taking the hands-off approach, preferring to let his minions do the work for now. The prospect of a heist in the future looks exciting as well, as it could be fun to see if the show decides to go down that route.

Now that's my recap and review out of the way, what did you think of Chosen, the first two parts of The Shannara Chronicles? Will you be watching more of MTV's newest fantasy series, or were you put off by the pilot's and won't be returning? Either way, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Overall Episode Verdict (For both Parts of Chosen): B-
Positives:
+Manu Bennett!
+Killing off Lorin so early on!
+Nice twist on the usual post apocalyptic stories.
Negatives:
-Most of the characters don't have enough development yet!
-Too clichéd?

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The 100, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Black Sails, Hell on Wheels, The Knick, Manhattan, Murder in the First, Narcos, The Shannara Chronicles and Veep for Spoiler TV as well as books, films and games for his own blog The Fictional Hangout and contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic.
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