On first glance, it’s hard to know exactly how to take The Shannara Chronicles. While it couldn’t wear its epic fantasy overclothes anymore blatantly, it seems an odd choice of adaptation for MTV. Then you look at the casting choices: predominantly young, photogenic leads (with the exception of John Rhys-Davies and relative veteran Manu Bennett), and then it all becomes clear: this is very much an MTV show.
Right from the start – depicting ‘the Gauntlet’, a trial in which young elves must run blindfolded through a woods – the focus is more on action and romance than it is on any kind of overbearing mythology, but there’s still enough of the latter to keep you entertained. In fact, that’s arguably the show’s biggest problem early on: too much is going on.
On one hand you have elven princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton) struggling with her apparent destiny; warrior-priest Allanon (Manu Bennett) trying to warn King Evenetine (Rhys-Davies) and his sons Arion (Daniel MacPherson) and Ander (Aaron Jakubenko) about impending dark times. On the other hand, you have young elf hybrid Wil (Austin Butler), who finds himself in charge of the mysterious elfstones, encountering bandit Eretria (Ivana Baquero) along the way. There’s a lot going on.
For this reason the show’s first half is a bit of an ordeal: it feels like you’ve entered proceedings part-way through the story, so keeping track of the different narratives is a losing battle.
However, once it starts shedding characters it starts to improve, with the core trio of Drayton, Butler and Baquero providing its main focus. They are engaging leads, and it’s easy to find yourself caring for them, despite the clunky dialogue and more questionable soundtrack choices. Elsewhere, Bennett is reliably solid as the show’s older head, and Jakubenko comes into his own as an arrogant playboy who suddenly finds himself in a position of power.
Judging by the ending and various cliffhangers that are posed, it seems that The Shannara Chronicles has studied the Game Of Thrones rulebook and drawn its own conclusions, but that’s no bad thing. It was always facing the tough task of both appeasing fans of Terry Brooks’ books and viewers of its own network, and does as good a job as could reasonably be expected.