Animated series “The Dragon Prince” surprised fans last weekend with a July 22 stealth release of its fifth season, five days in advance of its initially announced release date.
Set in a high fantasy world populated by humans, elves, dragons and magic, the show first premiered in 2018 on Netflix, and is the co-creation of Aaron Ehasz (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) and Justin Richmond (“Uncharted 3”).
While initially aimed at younger audiences, since its first episode the show has tackled big themes of racial prejudice, diversity and gray morality – and while some of these plotlines are still being sorted out in the new “Mystery of Aaravos” saga, the focus is beginning to mature with its audience, as the heroes set their sights on villains who transcend the world’s racial politics and manipulate them to their advantage.
The fifth season, styled “Book 5: Ocean,” had its work cut out for it after a somewhat lacking fourth season. “Book 4: Earth” struggled with living up to the epic third season and satiating fans after a three-year hiatus – with its tonal issues (mainly the fart jokes) and the limited plot progress, it felt like one of the weakest seasons yet. But taken as the setup for the rest of the “Mystery of Aaravos” saga, it might’ve just been retroactively improved by Season 5, which turned out to be well worth the wait.
Where Season 4 spent much of its time getting the audience up to speed after the in-universe timeskip, and getting the cast on the same page about the series’ wider-scope villain Aaravos, Season 5 sees them act on all that setup. The protagonist and antagonist teams both race across the high seas to the mysterious elf’s magical prison, the former seeking to prevent his return while the latter hope to release him, already a step ahead with their possession of a map to it.
Thematically fitting for a season about the deep ocean, both sides spend time in introspection about magic and purpose. Callum contemplates ocean magic, forging his connection to it through acceptance of the unknown and uncontrollable. At the same time, resurrected villain Viren grapples with his relationship to dark magic in a trippy dream sequence, all while his daughter Claudia continues to be consumed by it.
And Callum and Rayla’s relationship – complicated by the latter’s disappearance for the two-year skip – finally sees some healing while leaving room for a resolution next season, a vital step for the emotional heart of the show.
Netflix renewed “The Dragon Prince” up to a seventh season as far back as 2020 – and with Season 5 providing this good of a follow-up to Season 4, I have high hopes for the next chapter in this saga.