Review: The Shannara Chronicles 1-5

This year’s cable fare has been kind to fantasy fans. Hot on the heels of AMC’s Into the Badlands and FX’s The Bastard Executioner, and running simultaneously with Freeform’s new Shadowhunters series, MTV has recently unleashed its own contender in the genre: The Shannara Chronicles. What sets The Shannara Chronicles apart from its immediate competition, however, is that it is neither high Medieval fantasy nor futuristic fantasy. Rather, the series cleverly hedges the divide by solidly staking out territory in both camps.

Based on the book series by legendary fantasy author Terry Brooks, The Shannara Chronicles takes place thousands of years after the downfall of mankind. Its characters are divided up amongst the standard races typical of the fantasy genre: elves, half-elves, trolls, demons, and, of course, humans. With magic believed to be long-dead and the War of the Races decades in the past, the elves hold dominion over the Four Lands, disliked and feared by the rest of the world’s population. A series of chosen guardians from among their ranks protect the Ellcrys Tree, a twist on the mythological Tree of Life, which guards the gateway between realms and keeps the Four Lands safe from demonic invasion. However, at the start of the series, the Ellcrys is dying. One of the Chosen must purify its seedling and plant it in its forbearer’s place before the demonic army of the corrupted, exiled druid Dagda Mor can conquer the Four Lands and destroy all who live there.

The Ellcrys Tree standing sentinel over the Four Lands, safe-guarded by the elven Chosen
The Ellcrys Tree standing sentinel over the Four Lands, safe-guarded by the elven Chosen.

The plot which follows is easily recognizable to any D&D campaigner worth their salt. Elven Princess Amberle, a member of the Chosen, must team up with half-elf mage-in-training Wil (who also happens to be a member of the ancient Shannara dynasty) and the roguish human rover Eretria to carry the Ellcrys’ seedling to its purification site and save the day. Along the way, they must battle the evil forces of the Dagda Mor and hon their skills, learning how to function as a team and growing steadily stronger in their own abilities. The fact that all three members of this unlikely trio have their own agendas, and that they wind up forming an inevitable love triangle, hardly gives this standard fantasy plot an air of mystery. Long-time fan favorites to the genre (John Rhys Davies, Manu Bennet) are joined by a cast of up-and-coming Hollywood stars (Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero), and the acting is predictably uneven across the board. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the show as a whole tends to get a bit carried away with the ‘epicness’ of its own storyline. One hardly needs the sweeping fanfare of its over-the-top musical score as a reminder.

However, the series earns back points for its gorgeous execution. While the CGI graphics are on the better side of typical for made-for-TV entertainment, the show’s costuming, set design, and prop construction are truly noteworthy. Nature has reclaimed most of what the ‘ancient humans’ built in the legendary past, but some signs of their forgotten crafts still linger. The landscape of The Shannara Chronicles is littered with a host of mysterious, abandoned vehicles and the concrete and iron skeletons of once-impressive buildings.

The futuristic fantasy landscape of the Four Lands.
The futuristic fantasy landscape of the Four Lands.

This post-apocalyptic fantasy conceit works well on the macro level, but it is even more impressive on the micro level. Trolls wearing gas masks, rovers with tribal-esque braids in their hair; The Shannara Chronicles does an excellent job of blending the supple, flowing fashion usually associated with high fantasy with the darker, more primitive grunge designs often favored by futuristic epics. The Four Lands may have been shattered and remade in the aftermath of the War of the Races, but audiences can still take their expected cues from the social markers found in each character’s wardrobe: Princess Amberle is resplendent in her intricate jewelry and flowing robes; Eretria’s earth-toned clothes and motley assortment of leather make it clear that, despite her beauty, she has not had an easy life. And Wil, half-human, half-elf, appropriately wears the more subdued clothes of a character caught safely in between the other two.

Princess Amberle and her unique, lovely elvish ear cuffs
Princess Amberle and her unique, lovely elvish ear cuffs.

That does not mean, however, that the costuming is without its eye-pleasing subtleties. The neon cords braided into Eretria’s hair bear the faintest reminder that The Shannara Chronicles is not an epic straight out of Ye Olden Days. Amberle earns her right to be a member of the Chosen by running a gauntlet in what looks suspiciously like a long-sleeved, silk-screened t-shirt (and then celebrates the evening after in a gorgeous gown that any modern-day fashionista would be proud to wear.) The Elven king displays his official rank with the slim silver crown one would expect, but he also wears a sash much more reminiscent of a modern day statesman. When Amberle journeys to visit her aunt, a self-exiled elf living on the outskirts of the kingdom, she finds her dressed in a fascinating blend of homespun and well-worn regal garments. A good deal of thought has very obviously gone into each character’s unique wardrobe, as well as into the environments from whence they came, and it pays off. Their personalities, and the story as a whole, are richer, more vibrant, and more readily believable for it.

Rover leader Cephalo and his daughter, Eretria
Rover leader Cephalo and his daughter, Eretria.

The conceit behind The Shannara Chronicles is not original, but it is atypical enough to leave its audience pleasantly in the dark as to what happens next. The show’s impressive attention to detail enables viewers to look past its occasionally heavy-handed attempts at ‘epic fantasy’ and see into a well-crafted world of subtle detail and intriguing personalities. And while the men and women laboring behind the scenes on costume and set design may be the real unsung heroes of the saga, the main characters remain interesting and diverse enough to carry home the series’ central storyline. Medieval fantasy and futuristic fantasy fans alike can find something worth grabbing on to, here; the show is five episodes into the first season as of the writing of this article, and it is already clear that MTV has found a rich world capable of appealing to both sides.

The Shannara Chronicles airs on Tuesdays, 10/9c, on MTV.


CHenBioCrescenda Long is an amateur Medievalist, aspiring novelist, and part-time book reviewer for High Voltage Magazine.  When not working or frittering her life away on Neko Atsume, she can most often be found reading, writing, or gesticulating wildly about Japanese rock music.  She doesn’t bite (unless provoked); feel free to say hello via her twitter  or on tumblr.


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Review: One World Symphony’s Hannibal Opera

Last summer I wrote about the Game of Thrones opera that was premiering in New York City to much delight. Of course there needed to be a Khaleesi opera in the world, why hadn’t someone done this sooner? The sheer idea of it delighted me beyond explanation, and when I saw there was a Hannibal teaser released as well, I knew the word had to be spread. There are a great many Hannibal fans amongst my friends, and it’s not hard to understand why. So when I received a lovely invitation to see the Hannibal opera in NYC, I knew it was a chance to spread the fantastic and creative event One Symphony was putting on with more people. Sadly, I couldn’t go, but I knew someone who could. This is a guest post by Chelsea Moquin

If you had simply asked me what kind of adaptation I would’ve liked to see created from one of my favorite shows, an opera would certainly be the last item on my list. Not necessarily for distaste of the form, but with general ignorance toward its many splendours. Yet Sung Jin Hong of One World Symphony had me convinced within a few moments of his Hannibal opera that it fit the exquisite television series perfectly.

The event on Sunday night at the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City began with four introductory pieces, all classical in form and bearing some close resemblance or connection to Hannibal. I considered them something like warm-ups, preparing our ears (and eyes, in some cases) for the journey we were soon to undertake. Each piece worked to lull me into the contemplative attitude I often adopt when actively trying to pay attention to music. They were haunting, beautiful, and at times, quite loud and jarring; each worked to build suspense on almost an unconscious level – much like the show.

Composer-conductor Sung Jin Hong interacting with his guests from the sold-out world premiere of “Hannibal.”

Sung Jin Hong, the composer and director of the Hannibal opera, stood to introduce himself to the crowd once the first four pieces were complete. He asked a few questions, including one to the affect of how many of us were first timers. I raised my hands immediately, noting I was among maybe ten or twenty others. He then asked who among us were Fannibals, and I was delighted to see more than half of the crowd raise their hands. As he went on to play selected sections of his opera and explain their composition, I realize I felt more comfortable from the acknowledgement alone than I had the entire night. Much less like a fish out of water, and more like a welcomed fan in a new fandom.

The main event consisted of three parts and essentially five scenes. I was delighted to find that the characters of Hannibal, Will, Abigail, and Mischa (Hannibal’s sister) were all present and even resembled their characters from the show. The opera followed the events of season one, delving into the depths of Hannibal’s mind and taking Will, as well as the audience, along with him. Part one focused on what exactly turned Hannibal into a cannibal. Mischa stood in the pulpit of the church, calling Hannibal’s name while the woodwinds in the orchestra, a tribute to Hannibal’s victims, cried out in what seemed to be despair and sadness. Hannibal drifted through the crowd (and I bounced excitedly in my seat) as the music continued, carrying us through his nightmares.

Countertenor Nicholas Tamagna performing the title role of Hannibal.
Countertenor Nicholas Tamagna performing the title role of Hannibal.

Part two found Will and Hannibal together, Will studying the murder scene and using his empathy to drift further into Hannibal’s mind. Luckily, that night I was accompanied by my friend Finn, who not only understands and appreciates music, but appreciates an undying passion and strange enthusiasm for television shows. She explained to me after the show that Hannibal, played by Nicholas Tamagna, was a countertenor, while Will Graham, played by Ransom G. Bruce, was a tenor. To a simple peasant like myself, it sounded like Hannibal had a higher voice, while Will’s was lower. Finn (after a hearty chuckle) granted that this was… mostly correct. She mentioned that the instruments accompanying each singer complimented the tenor of their voices, and during the Empathy scene, blended quite nicely. That fact alone fit with the show’s premise perfectly: in the show, Will’s mind is manipulated by Hannibal to the point where, by the end of season one, his actions and decisions are nearly completely under Hannibal’s influence. For the second scene, Abigail joins Will, and together they express what they have undergone together. Abigail has lost her father, but gained two more; Will has lost his innocence, but gained both Hannibal and Abigail. They created a family together, but as the darkness of the music portrays they are “deeply entrenched in [Hannibal’s] escapable force.”

A chorus of voices joined at the end of the scene to whisper an accompanying poem that Sung Jin Hong included. The voices felt vindictive and accusatory, as though they were watching the deep trap Abigail and Will were falling into with judgemental glares. Yet we know, whether fans of the show or not, that they will continue to remain at Hannibal’s mercy. Scene three showed Abigail’s distress over confessing her transgressions to Will, expressing her worry and despair to Hannibal. This section included a highly anticipated moment for me, in which the “symphonic image of Hannibal’s Ravenstag” would appear. Alas, my ears were not equipped to pick up such nuance, and I was upset that I missed the allusion. From my seat at the side of the church, I could not see the display on the screen, so much of the words and dialogue were beyond me as well. Thankfully, these are the only problems I had with the production as a whole.

Debut of its 16-member vocal ensemble, One World Concertus, Chorusmaster Sung Jin Hong, performing Faure’s Requiem and as a Greek chorus in “Hannibal
Debut of its 16-member vocal ensemble, One World Concertus, Chorusmaster Sung Jin Hong, performing Faure’s Requiem and as a Greek chorus in “Hannibal”

Part three found all of the characters in the main space to interact for the final scene. The music comes to a crashing conclusion and the story reaches its climax, depicted excellently through what I learned were “piano clusters” (props again to the brilliant program). Will rushes to Hannibal’s house and finds Abigail alive, and is barely able to overcome his surprise before Hannibal stabs him dramatically in the stomach. He asks for Will’s forgiveness as he slashes Abigail’s throat and she dies before them. It may seem like a strange, ridiculous scene to an outsider – but as a Hannibal fan, I was ecstatic. Each of the singers fully committed to portraying the interaction perfectly, miming the violent acts as well as the tender gazes between each character. My favorite part of the night was Sung Jin Hong capturing the essence of Will and Hannibal’s relationship and true connection: Hannibal, the perfectly crafted and composed killer, allows Will Graham to truly “see” him. A piano solo drifts through as Hannibal speaks these words, and I was completely entranced. I realized in that moment that not only did I want to see the rest of the show enacted in this exact fashion, but I missed the show terribly. I was incredibly sad, but for the best reason.

Sung Jin Hong expresses his gratitude towards One World Symphony and its concertmaster Michael Mandrin
Sung Jin Hong expresses his gratitude towards One World Symphony and its concertmaster Michael Mandrin

Throughout the evening, I found what the program described as the “dichotomy of traits” of humans illustrated perfectly. The music followed what seems to be the contradicting nature of Hannibal: his supreme elegance, high-brow character, and devotion to the profound. Everything about his character is calculated and presented carefully, from his pristine suits to his perfectly arranged meals. The music played for us displayed the kind of beauty that can often accompany supreme and even violent madness. It led us through Will’s descent into Hannibal’s mind, through the depths and darkness as it captured Abigail, and back to the surface once more. From a removed perspective of a viewer (or in this case, a listener), the workings of Hannibal’s twisted mind is an amazing thing to witness, and Sung Jin Hong’s Hannibal Opera made it an incredible thing to experience in musical form, as well.

More information on One World Symphony can be found on their website. Many thanks to One World Symphony for the photographs of the event taken by Jaka Vinsek.

chelseaChelsea Moquin is an aspiring screen and television writer living in Brooklyn. During the weekdays, she works at a production company in Manhattan, though in her off-hours she is a full-time fangirl and fanfiction enthusiast. She is a member of the Three Patch Podcast and devotes the rest of her free time and energy to all things Sherlock Holmes and/or Benedict Cumberbatch related. You can reach her on twitter, tumblr, or explore her website at

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