The fifth season of The Dragon Prince dropped early during San Diego Comic-Con this year, giving fans the next chapter of the seven-part saga. This season sees heroes and antagonists alike racing to find the prison holding Aaravos, a Startouch Elf who threw the world into chaos ages ago.
There were adventures, new alliances, and nightmares in store for these characters over the course of Season Five. We met a pirate who needed a lesson in compassion, learned about the Ocean Arcanum, and witnessed a very Lynch-ian dream sequence…
I was excited to sit down with the show’s creators, Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond, and have a chat about the current season. Our conversation veered from topics of environmentalism and disability to creative influences and the process of constructing a character like Terrestrius with authenticity. There was a lot to dig into—take a peek at the full discussion below!
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
I thought I’d start with a fun question, which was that I was noticing that this season in particular contains a lot of explicit references to other television shows and films like Twin Peaks, Jurassic Park, and there’s a really explicit Deep Space Nine reference dropped in there. Is there a natural build that’s occurring here, or a reason why this season in particular contains so many fun little shout-outs?
Aaron Ehasz: It’s funny, you might slightly be revealing your demo[graphic] because we had another interviewer who had no idea—we were talking about how Finnegrin was sort of based on [Al] Swearengen and he was like “who?” and I was like, have you seen Deadwood? And he was like, “…oh.”
I think those things, at least from my perspective, are references to really great stories and wonderful, powerful things that influenced us, that meant a lot to us. You always think through—is it distracting to put it in here? It’s meant to be an homage, and to be like “thank you so much for influencing and making an impact on us” to those shows. But also, to some degree to be completely invisible to, like, the person we just interviewed with, who had no idea.
There’s a really clear difference in the way that the two primary generations on the show handle strife and difficulty within their groups. I noticed that the younger generation places a lot of emphasis on trust, on unconditional love, on acceptance, on having good boundaries and supporting each other in a manner that their forebears clearly struggled with a lot. Was this juxtaposition created intentionally to mirror the changes we’re seeing and how we talk about mental health now?
Justin Richmond: I mean, hopefully. I think we spend a lot of time talking about it, right? And it wasn’t so much generational, I think, as it was character driven, right? And that just happens to fall a little bit more on generational lines. But I think it was always going to be something that was part of this season, coming out of Season Four, what had happened to Viren, and having an excuse to sort of dig into some of that psychological stuff that’s going on with him, and get a little deeper with why, and sort of open up the door behind some of the stuff that has happened to Viren.
He’s such a tragic guy, you know, there’s a lot of stuff there. And then there’s more modern relationship stuff: With Rayla and Callum, and Terry and Claudia, and what does it mean to be in love with somebody and disagree with their choices? So I think this season ended up being an opportunity to really dig deeper into those discussions. And hopefully they come across as authentic and people can take something away from that for their own lives.
I’m glad you brought up Viren because I have so many questions—but I was wondering if you could possibly shed some light on his propensity for developing difficult dynamics with the powerful men in his life, if that’s going to be addressed going forward, especially now that he and Aaravos have a “child” together?
AE: I’m trying to think of how conscious that is. I mean, I think he definitely has some awareness over his own sense of power vs powerlessness, and what he’s willing to do to be powerful, and who he needs to associate with and work with, you know, to achieve the things he wants to achieve. Sometimes these patterns occur, I think, that are maybe not intentional, but are subconscious or under-conscious themes. I think you’re onto something where like, probably if we looked at his relationships to—and we’re starting to reveal more, obviously [with] Harrow, and Aaravos for that matter—yeah.
Obviously this season is really, for Viren, a lot about grappling with some things that are buried much deeper. We’ve talked about how, as adults, whatever those early traumas or defining moments, things that twist and distort your point of view—you start to pile things on and build those walls a little higher and push those things a little deeper, so that you just kind of have comfortable patterns. And one of the interesting things I think about dying and being resurrected is [that] it’s brought Viren access to those deeper, soft-tissue things inside him, things that he probably hadn’t thought about in years, that he had put away and buried in scar tissue. And now they’re more open wounds and he’s grappling with them and, in a sense, it’s an opportunity for him to change and heal. Maybe. So that’s the question of the season for him, to some degree.
This season, more than any of the others, has a lot of horror-heavy aspects to it. Is this something that you’d planned from go, or is this a facet of the show growing up as the audience grows up?
JR: I mean, it’s a little of both.
AE: A lot of it is just being able to—we knew we were going not necessarily darker, but more mature with some of the stuff we were doing, so that allows you to dig deeper, and then also it’s just a fun change. Being able to push in slightly different genre directions, I think is really interesting, and getting to dig into this fun, swash-buckling seedy town is interesting. But also we’d always talked about Lux Aurea, even in season three, as what happened there as being the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off—what was left behind and what were the horrors there. Can you go back there and see that and interact with it in a more horror way? Then also, just psychologically, everybody’s getting beat up. So it fits thematically as well.
The show has done such an excellent job of not only indicating that disability doesn’t have bearing on a person’s worth or their abilities, but also showing that disability is a facet of life that everyone has to deal with. And because of that, obviously, a lot of characters with all different moral alignments have been shown with disabilities on the show, and I was curious about what prompted what I would call that manner of radial inclusion.
AE: First of all, I’ll tell you something which may say something about me which is, I kind of go like this [*grimaces*] at the word disability, even. But I say that trying to be self aware of, why do I do that? I’m not a hundred percent sure. Because there are things that are disabilities. They’re obstacles that make it harder to interact in the real world, and maybe it’s fair to call them a disability. But for whatever reason, I really strongly see them as differences. We all have something that makes it harder for us to interact with other people, or the world. And hopefully in some process of self-awareness and personal growth, we outgrow those things and we adapt and we find strength in the things that make us different.
For me personally, I know that some of that came into clearer definition when my son, who is on the autism spectrum, was growing up. He saw a lot of the things that were different about him as imperfections and flaws, and I saw them as, oh my gosh, I understand what you mean, but I also see these as beautiful differences about you that are also your strengths and specialnesses. A great example here is, as much as certain social patterns and things like that don’t come naturally to him, his empathy and self awareness are really deep.
I’ll give you a small example. He’s a teenager now, he’s older, [and] last night my toddler was freaking out because he couldn’t take his monster truck to bed. So me and his mom were fighting with him about this monster truck. And my son who is on the spectrum came in and said, “Hey are you okay? I can see in you something that’s upsetting you and sometimes when there’s a small thing, even though it’s a small thing, it’s what you wanted. And it can be so hard to get over that small thing.” So he’s taking his own experience and applying it to his younger brother. And then at the end he put this all together and he said, “How about tomorrow we go online together and we find, like, a plush or stuffed animal monster truck that you can take to bed.”
It’s absolutely thinking a little out of the box, but also emphasizing why it’s so meaningful to [his brother], and finding a solution that was just beautiful—and talking it through, the toddler calmed down and went to bed. But this is a kid who, when he was [his brother’s] age, thought of himself as different, it gave him pain. And I’ve seen him grow so much. So it’s very personal to me, and I’m so hopeful that people see their own differences as strengths and opportunities for growth in different ways. It’s part of what makes everyone beautiful. So I don’t know, I may have just ranted quite a bit, but that’s where it comes from for me.
Obviously there was a significant time jump between Season Three and Season Four. Is that the only one you’ve got planned, are we gonna get more time jumps going forward?
AE: I think we should say, there is potential for one. But not immediately. Not yet.
You’ve got this juxtaposition between Dark Magic and Primal Magic. And Dark Magic obviously requires a destruction of life, while Primal Magic is built more upon an understanding of the natural world. Was environmentalism something that was supposed to be touched on explicitly in that allegory?
JR: I mean, it’s hard not to see it. But it didn’t start with environmentalism. It started with the idea of, what if there was an easier type of magic? The hard magic is, you have to study and find these really rare ingredients and know how to use them and channel them in the right way—if you’re a human. If you’re an elf you have this hotline where you get access to one of the primals just by being born, and that allows you to do some cool stuff that comes easy to you. Or easier to you, I should say. Whereas humans, there’s this hard, rigorous path of magic.
And then, what if someone figured out there’s a shortcut? What would that mean, and how would that be used and how does that then become, “oh, the shortcut is actually, we’ve gotta eat up these valuable resources in order to do a thing,” which then naturally leads into the environmentalism side. What happens when we use so much Dark Magic that it consumes all the natural resources in this area and there’s no more magical creatures to use? And so that’s something that we are definitely playing with, and will continue to play with. It didn’t start as oh, well, what if we told this story about environmentalism? But it definitely fell out of that, for sure.
I did want to ask a little bit about Terry (Terrestrius) and the creation of that character. My partner and I, we are both trans. I’m non-binary, he’s trans masc, and as we watched Season Four, he leans over to me and he goes “real big trans boy vibes on Terry,” and then the reveal [that Terry is trans] happened and we were both like, wait what? So I was curious, is there a primary voice behind this character that led to a creation that felt this authentic?
AE: We sought a lot of help going into this character. Before we even decided that Terry would be trans, we wanted to get a sense of whether we would be able to do this authentically and bring this character across, and we kind of had two feelings here: One was, we got a lot of people saying “this is viable representation and you should try, and if you’re gonna mess up some things, that’s okay.” And GLAAD also came in and supported, and they have been great people who are able to support this, who’ve looked at kind of key scenes with us and stuff like that. But yeah, we started talking with friends and then expanded and talked to GLAAD, and then when we cast Ben[jamin Callins] in the roll, he brought a lot of his voice and point of view to the character designs—where in his transition this character was, and how some of the disclosure scenes felt and stuff like that.
The kind of disclosure scenes were important because—and we talked to GLADD quite a bit about this—you need to earn the representation by at least transmitting the character’s identity in a clear way at some point. And so this [was] an important thing. And at the same time, the sensitivity around how [to] have that scene in a way that really honors their current identity and transition, and doesn’t focus on deadnames or anything like that. So there was a lot of work around that. But we’ve had great partners and great support and a great actor who portrays Terry so, you know, each step of the way there are a lot of voices helping to make sure that he feels authentic and also funny, and strong, all the things you want a great character to be at the same time.
It absolutely worked. He’s very similar to my partner, it was kind of jarring.
JR: Oh, we called him, just to make sure.
Right, of course! Just to check in and be certain.
JR: [laughing] Yeah, exactly.