“She needs Bavmorda’s blood to… raise the… to something and enslave the world!”
This line, spoken by Kit (Ruby Cruz) to her brother Airk (Dempsey Bryk) in the opening scene of Disney+’s Willow finale, almost perfectly sums up my relationship with the show’s canon. Throughout the course of the season, keeping the motivation of our central villain (the Crone, or was it the Wyrm?) straight was not an easy task, and it’s still not perfectly clear one finale episode later. The Crone, the Wrym, whoever wants to burn the world, end of story. In a show like its prequel fantasy peers House of the Dragon or Rings of Power, a vague and generic villain would be a death sentence. But for Willow, whose season-long adventures and cast of loveable-if-mismatched adventurers filled in the edges of the world where its plot started to fade, the true campaign was the friends we made along the way—not any over-contrived plot payoff.
Throughout the season’s weekly release, it’s been a delight to watch as each of these characters—Princess Kit, knight Jade (Erin Kellyman), chosen-one Elora (Ellie Bamber), Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori), outlaw Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), and sorcerer Willow (Warwick Davis)—has come into their own, and grown together as a family. What else are fantasy adventures for if not to discover things about yourself and make a bunch of new life-long friends?
After all, the original Willow film understood that quite well. Released in 1988 and directed by Ron Howard, the film’s everlasting delight comes not from any kind of hard-hitting fantasy lore, but instead from watching the relationship between Willow, Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), and baby Elora blossom over the course of its runtime. In the film, Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh)—Kit and Airk’s grandmother in the series—was simply evil, and it was simply Willow’s job to stop her; she wanted to kill a baby because of some vague prophecy, that’s all we needed to know. Instead of spending time diving deep into the intricacies of baby-sacrificing-rituals and offering a look at the kingdom at large under Bavmorda’s rule, we instead got to watch as Willow and Madmartigan learned to love Elora, and eventually learned to love each other, teaming up and preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice in a last stand against their common enemy.
Willow the series is the same in that way. The Crone is evil, whatever that may mean, and the sparse flashes to Airk in his captivity throughout the season didn’t do much to actually illuminate nearly anything about this great evil incarnate. Instead, the joy of Willow’s weekly adventures came from the dynamic amongst this joyously diverse group. The finale smartly groups these characters into duos as well, ones that ultimately mirror each other’s season-long arcs: For Kit and Elora, who jumped off the cliff together at the end of Episode 7, they both realize their inner worth and power. For Jade and Graydon, they each understand their protection cannot be overbearing, and instead learn to fight alongside the ones they care about as they approach their destinies. And finally for Boorman and Willow, they both learn to stop running, and instead propel themselves forward by the love they have for this new family.
Enriched by those paired dynamics from the finale, the relationship between Graydon and Elora was an incredibly wholesome one, especially after Graydon’s unrequited confession in Episode 7. Watching them both come into their magic together, while gaining a special kind of love and respect for each other makes the season’s final scene as devastating as it is. Graydon, presumed dead, waking up in a pile of bodies seemingly taken down by Elora herself in an even more perverted version of Willow’s recurring and ominous vision allows for a unique sense of dread, as this cliffhanger could only mean danger in the future for both Elora and Graydon.
Similarly, after watching Kit and Jade’s dynamic change and shift throughout the season from their very first kiss in Episode 1 to their heartfelt love confession in Episode 7, seeing Jade be the one to twist the key into the magical armor was an incredibly important and weighted moment. Jade has spent the entire season feeling the need to protect Kit, both from the dangers of the world and from herself, so watching as she imbues her love with a mythical form of protection and allows Kit to run headfirst into danger is the perfect completion of her season-long arc. She can be Kit’s protector, while also allowing her to fight for herself—which is exactly what Kit learned throughout the course of the season, that she’s not so helpless after all. And of course, it cannot be overstated how important and refreshing it is to see two lesbians on screen, let alone on a Disney show, walk off into the sunset after surviving their show’s penultimate battle.
For Willow and Boorman, their choice to each take that leap and help in spite of their better instincts to run back to the comfort of either the road or their family completes their season-long arcs in similarly satisfying fashion. Boorman, who deeply regrets abandoning Madmartigan in the tomb years ago, sees his redemption come from his willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends rather than run for the hills as he would have done in the past. Willow, on the other hand, had a perfectly good reason to run back to his family, to his daughter Mims, but he stayed, honoring the mission he set out on all those years ago when he vowed to protect Elora.
So no, the Crone or the Wyrm or any other homogeneous evil-doer wanting to flatten the world into a single hellscape or whatever ultimately was not important, and the finale’s blasé attitude about the series’ own lore solidifies that. More than anything, Willow’s generic villainy and predictable outcome were simply vehicles to learn about these wonderful characters, to watch them grow and change and become better people, better friends, and better lovers over the course of these eight episodes.
Fantasy—or even more pointedly, a George Lucas fantasy—and its archetypes and genre conventions allow for epic tales to be told on screen, yes, but they also allow for familiar visions of characters to be developed into the likes of Willow, Kit, Elora, Boorman, Graydon, and Jade, a group filled with the hope and ability for change and adaptation, always for the better. Willow’s aforementioned cliffhanger ending may have spelled danger and disaster for our new favorite heroes, but the hope that was central within its first season far outshines that potentially dark future. After all, if this first (and hopefully not last) season of Willow proved anything, it’s that friendship can and will always save the world, from whoever the big bad may be.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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