In the final episode of Season 3 of The Dragon Prince, the show’s main antagonist Viren (Jason Simpson) fell to his death, defeated by the heroes at the end of an epic battle. And then, in the episode’s final moments he’s brought back from the dead by his daughter Claudia (Racquel Belmonte). This narrative choice undermined the stakes of the whole season, but there was always the possibility that Season 4 would make Viren’s continued survival worthwhile. But now that the fourth season (subtitled Mystery of Aaravos) has come and gone, it’s clear that bringing Viren back was an unnecessary storytelling choice and instead causes the show to drag its feet, refusing to let go of the character in favor of more interesting options that would drive the story forward. The Dragon Prince would’ve been better served letting Claudia step up as the primary villain in the place of her father, and its failure to do so made for a weaker season of television.
Claudia Would’ve Been a More Compelling Villain on Her Own
In the wake of the events of Season 3, Claudia is cut off from her home and determined to free Aaravos (Erik Todd Dellums) from his prison. She does some compellingly villainous things throughout Season 4, such as her surprisingly brutal magic-duel-turned-knockdown-brawl with the Skywing Elf mage Ibis (Ian James Corlett) in “Breathtaking,” or her villainous entrance when she puts all the heroes to sleep at the end of “Rex Igneous.” These moments of pure, well-executed villainy contrast well with the more naïve and innocent version of Claudia from the earlier seasons and also contrast with her new relationship with her Earthblood Elf boyfriend Terry (Benjamin Callins). But these moments are few and far between, because of how much time needs to be spent on Viren now that he’s dealing with being back from the dead.
That lack of focus is a massive shame because Claudia would be an excellent choice to be the main villain for the Mystery of Aaravos saga of The Dragon Prince (or at least until Aavaros himself escapes his prison). Letting her take up her father’s role as the primary dark mage being manipulated by Aavaros perfectly mirrors the way that the heroes have been give new responsibilities over the course of the show’s two-year time skip. Callum (Jack De Sena), Rayla (Paula Burrows), and Ezran (Sasha Rojen) have all stepped up into more adult rolls as High Mage, Dragon Guard, and as the King of Katolis. If Claudia were to follow in her father’s footsteps it would strengthen this theme of growing up that permeates the first few episodes of the season. And given Claudia’s past relationships with Callum and her brother Soren (Jesse Inocalla), her villainy would be far more personal for the heroes and make their race to Aaravos’ prison more emotionally charged and interesting to watch.
Viren Adds Nothing to the Season
But that dynamic never comes to pass, because after his return Viren spends the entire season eating up runtime without adding anything meaningful to the story. He spends most of this time tired and recovering from his resurrection, which means that every scene centered on him is pulling to focus away from his, Terry, and Claudia’s quest. He can’t make it up the side of Storm Spire to recover his staff, he waits in the Drakewood for Claudia to return from scavenging supplies, and he contributes nothing to the final confrontation in Rex Igneous’ (Ben Cotton) lair. If the show was dedicated to exploring the implications of Viren dying and being resurrected two years later maybe this could work. But The Dragon Prince refuses to commit to any specific narrative about Viren.
At the beginning of the season, Viren seems to be reluctant to go along with Claudia’s plan to free Aaravos, but then he suddenly decides to grab his staff while Rex Igneous’ lair is collapsing. At the same time, he starts the season disappointed and disgusted with Terry, but the Elf begins to grow on him over the course of their travels. By the end of the season, he seems to be embracing his dark magic yet again, but there’s no real build-up because his time is split between occasionally looking longingly at his staff while coming to appreciate what Terry brings to his and Claudia’s life at the same time. These arcs are completely disconnected from one another and don’t add up to a cohesive whole.
Worse yet, Viren’s presence actively detracts from the arcs of the other characters. In “Breathtaking,” Terry kills Ibis to save Claudia’s life. This clearly shakes Terry to the point where he feels the need to talk to someone about it, and for some reason he picks Viren. Viren tells him to “get a grip,” ending the conversation until Terry brings it up later to outright reject the advice. At no point does Terry have a serious discussion with Claudia about how he’s feeling about what he’s done, and it doesn’t seem to impact their relationship at all. Instead, their brief conflict in “Escape from Umber Tor” comes out of the blue, not exacerbated by Terry’s guilt or Claudia’s increasingly casual use of dark magic because Terry expressed his feelings to Viren and not Claudia. What could’ve been a compelling arc is wasted because Viren’s there playing the third wheel.
On the heroes’ side, the discovery that Viren’s been dead since the Sean 3 finale would’ve added some much-needed teeth to Rayla and Callum’s conflict. While we know that Rayla ran off to search for Viren, but because he’s back by the time they bump into Claudia again they never learn that Rayla ran away for two years searching for a dead man. But if Viren had remained dead, the moment they’d learned this would’ve added to Callum’s feelings of hurt and betrayal and could’ve caused Rayla to realize she spent two years searching for something she would never find. This would’ve added a more dynamic tension to a plot arc that amounted to “Callum doesn’t want to talk to Rayla” and dragged on through the whole season (and wasn’t even properly resolved by the end).
They Wouldn’t Have Needed to Change Much Remove Viren
To be fair to The Dragon Prince, having the 30-day countdown to free Aavaros before Viren dies for good is an excellent motivation for Claudia. Her attachment to her father in the face of his atrocities is one of her most fascinating character traits, and turning that devotion into a central motivation for her character as she slips further into villainy is compelling. But given how little Claudia and Viren interact this season, his presence is completely irrelevant to this motivation. The same effect could have been achieved by putting a deadline on how long Claudia has to find and free Aavaros before they can bring Viren back from the dead. This would keep the threat of Viren’s return hanging over the show without compromising the end of Season 3 and allow both Claudia and Terry to be the focus of their respective stories rather than accessories to Viren’s. It would also lead to much richer conflict across the board, with the increased tension between Callum and Rayla, as well as between the heroes and Claudia as their paths began to cross toward the end of the season.
It’s hard to let go of a good villain. Compelling villains are crucially important to the success of stories like The Dragon Prince. They need to be someone the audience enjoys watching be bad, either because of their compelling flaws or because their brand of evil is fun. So when the time comes to move on, it often feels safer to stick with the villain that the audience is familiar with rather than shift to something new that may not work as well. But keeping a villain around past their prime is almost certain to undercut the effectiveness of that villain and by extension the whole story. Viren has worn out his welcome on The Dragon Prince, and he would have better served the show with his death rather than with his half-baked resurrection.