Season 4 began with a contentious two-year time leap, a daring creative move that didn’t exactly work in the series’ favor, especially after a three-year wait since the Season 3 debut. Season 4 failed to gather traction, as did most of the previous seasons of The Dragon Prince, with the exception of Season 3, which looked to finally strike the balance of exposition and payout.
With such a vast magical universe, there appears to be an infinite amount of world-building possibilities in The Dragon Prince series. With just nine episodes, each lasting 30 minutes, the worldbuilding frequently takes precedence over the primary plot. Season 4 was once again a victim of this issue, leaving fans with a lackluster season that rarely investigated the mystery of Aaravos, despite the fact that it was the new title of the series’ current arc.
The notion that all of that exposition was setting up a dramatic Season 5 that would finally give the enigma of Aaravos the meticulous attention and time it deserves and provide answers to the numerous unresolved issues that Season 4 left behind was Season 4’s saving grace. This, unfortunately, is not the case.
Following the events of the Season 4 finale, everything is in position for Aaravos’ tale to come to fulfillment. Claudia and Terry have the map to the Starelf’s jail, which holds the secret to Viren’s permanent revival, and Team Ezran is hard on their tail, forced to reverse direction after failing to locate the elf first. In short, Aaravos’ spotlight is set to shine. Season 5 of The Dragon Prince, on the other hand, continues to follow its tiresome trend.
Unfortunately, Season 5 is largely meandering, devoting more time to side quests and worldbuilding than to the mystery of Aaravos, beginning with the continuation of the Sunelf storyline from Season 4 — a side plot that took up an inordinate amount of time without adding much to the story. Season 5 attempts to make the storyline between Karim (Luc Roderique) and Sunfire Elf Queen Janai (Rena Anakwe) more engaging — but while the political significance of a human and elf settlement is undeniably important, there isn’t enough time dedicated to this storyline for it to feel significant.
It doesn’t help that it still doesn’t relate to the main plot, and although it’s evident that the series aims to bridge the gap between these two storylines, two seasons is too long to spend so much time with the Sunfire elves without knowing why they’re so essential. At the very least, Amaya is one of The Dragon Prince’s greatest side characters, and her connection with Janai is one of the most touching in the book. They’re not nearly interesting on their own, and you can’t help but wish they were with the main group, racing to beat Claudia to Aaravos’ jail before she unleashes an unfathomable evil on the globe.
Rayla, Callum, Ezran, Soren, Bait, and Zym, our primary characters, are on their way to meet up with Claudia, but they keep being drawn into side missions. While there have been instances in previous seasons when side missions have been enjoyable, that isn’t the case now, especially when the group spends a few of episodes with a new villain who ultimately serves little purpose other than delaying their trek to Aaravos’ jail.
A typical season of The Dragon Prince frequently meanders until concluding with a bang in the final two or three episodes, but even the Season 5 conclusion seems curiously disappointing. Aaravos’ plot is hurried once more in favor of new characters and worldbuilding that may be intriguing if there was time for it. It’s also uncommon that in a season titled “Book 5 – Ocean,” our first encounter with the Tidebound elves spends time on a one-off enemy. It ultimately boils down to the same issue: if The Dragon Prince wants to stick to its nine-episode format, it simply needs to make better use of its time.
Regardless, The Dragon Prince has one of the most interesting casts of characters in a fantasy novel. That comes as no surprise given that Aaron Ehasz, the main writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender, is a co-creator. Although not as frequently as one would want, the core cast of characters has its moments this season that remind us why The Dragon Prince is a worthy tale, despite its chronic pace concerns.
Rayla and Callum are a heartwarming duo who are thankfully no longer estranged (a valid criticism from Season 4), but making their way back to each other gradually with a few sweet, subtle moments sprinkled throughout the season. Soren, in particular, has a moment that reminds us how much more of him we need. Each season, a short reminder that Soren is much more than a cute fool is thrown in — and although these additions are always nice, they need to be more than just a reminder.
Soren’s plot has a lot of promise, given his isolation from his family and his delicate connection with his father and now his sister. Season 5 relies heavily on his humorous skills to lighten the atmosphere, but those few times when we glimpse his depth are a nice addition to the season.
Claudia and her friendship with Viren, as usual, are one of the most compelling features of The Dragon Prince. This season’s standout character is Viren, and it’s no surprise – he’s always had the most potential for a fascinating plot, especially given how little we know about his history. This season makes up for it by providing us with brief but crucial insights about Viren’s past. The time we spend with Viren this season reminds us that one of The Dragon Prince’s greatest virtues is its reluctance to make its characters one-dimensional.
Finally, the magical animals and beasts are one of the greatest — and frequently prettiest — elements of The Dragon Prince, and Season 5 is no exception. This season sets the stage for an incredibly interesting plot with the Dragon Queen, Zubeia (Nicole Oliver), to which future seasons of The Dragon Prince should spend adequate attention.
Season 5 also includes a few new animals while keeping emphasizing those that are essential to the main group. (Of course, Bait and Zym continue to reign supreme, thanks to their adorableness, fearlessness, and love of jelly tarts.) Season 5 of The Dragon Prince offers a lot of promise, but it doesn’t fully deliver. Even so, it’s worth the voyage – the world is still a visual marvel, the people and relationships are deep, and the charming creatures will tug at even the most irritated fans’ emotions.