Episode 4: Shadows at the Gate
Holy hells did the show really dial up to a 10 in this episode. There were whispers about just how graphic and dark the series would go in this episode and yet I was still blown away while watching the first time.
I though I was prepared for the intensity of animated action sequences after the Brimscythe battle. That was nothing compared to the body ripping, curb stomping, ichor vomiting horrors in the wraiths’ attack on Emon. Beyond the stomach churningly graphic depictions of nameless NPC’s getting ripped apart and completely eviscerated, we saw many members of Vox Machina suffer gruesome possession by the wraiths.
Now, I’m no eager consumer of horror and gore media usually, so my stomach and senses are not quite up to par. So, these wraith scenes were especially disgusting and terrifying to me. I did not expect to have such a squeamish reaction to an animated series.
The show is hitting its’ stride and characters are beginning to feel more three dimensional and less like fantasy tropes. Pike’s character growth and eventual badass return were smoothly laid out. I do like that they at least kept Ashley’s absence at the table in the animated series. I don’t think the series would have felt the same had Pike’s character gone through all the spiritual growth while sticking with the party. Plus, we get the added benefit of seeing just how attached an emotionally reliant Grog is to his little Pikey.
Tensions are heating up between Vox Machina! Vax and Keyleth are definitely exploring their new feelings, and Vex is not handling it well. Meanwhile, Vex has a rather frightening new side of Percy to figure out before he goes completely dark and murders some more innocents in cold blood. Scanlan’s over the top persona was slightly more reigned in for this three episode run. Which tonally, was the right choice to make.
While the 30 minute episodes do move at quite a fast pace, the story remains clear and cohesive without losing too much from the original stream. We’re officially halfway through season one! And there’s still so much ground to cover. It’s no wonder these episodes have to move at such a breakneck speed. It’ll all be worth it in the end when we can binge watch the entire series and see the Briarwood arc as a whole.
Episode 5: Fate’s Journey
What a scene for this episode to end on! We finally get to see one of the most talked about moments from the Campaign animated! The sun tree hangings definitely didn’t hold back on the darkness and violence. If you thought the series couldn’t get any darker or violent than episode 4, then this episode blew that out of the water.
We got to see some interesting new undead wolf creatures that Delilah Briarwood chimera-ed into existence. It’s fun to see Mercer’s monster creations morphing onto the animated screen. In case you missed it, The Vox Machina Watch Parties hosted by Mica Burton go into some fascinating behind the scenes details about character creation, world building and monster mash ups. It’s well worth the watch if you’ve got the time for even more Critical Role content.
One of my favorite moments in this episode had to be the little throwbacks we got to fights and encounters that happened before the animated series begins. The infamous Rakshasa made the briefest appearance with a wink to a possible future appearance. Grog’s fight with the Bulette where he rips the monster’s tongue out in a glorious ‘how do you want to do this’ moment. And of course Kiki’s cringeworthy kill as she slowly suffocated a man in burning lava.
The series is really able to balance fan favorite moments and easter eggs while also not alienating new fans who may be unfamiliar with the vast history of Campaign 1 encounters. There’s just the right amount of background easter eggs without being distracting, and the throw backs to campaign 1 lore are subtle enough to not disrupt the flow of an episode while also thrilling long time fans with a fun little nod.
Episode 6: Spark of Rebellion
We meet a new major character in this episode! Cassandra De Rolo makes her first appearance in the last few moments of this action packed episode. I can’t wait to see more from her and watch her become the confident and sassy leader we’ve come to love through campaign 1.
Archie, the leader of the Whitestone Rebellion is also fleshed out quite a bit more. It’s not surprising that his character pulls such an emotion response from the audience. It is hard for me to get too terribly attached to some of these brilliant NPC’s popping up in the series, knowing just how dark the Briarwood arc can get. I do love the reimagining that some original NPC’s get for the animated series. It can be weird to see familiar names on unfamiliar faces, or change in the original campaign story lines. But it’s hard to argue that the animated series doesn’t create engaging, well crafted and action packed episodes that carry the heroic feel at the heart of campaign 1.
After the trauma of Vox Machina discovering the hanged townsfolk in the Sun Tree, then meeting the haggard Whitestone rebellion, we got some more terrifying fight scenes. The undead army patrolling the streets feels like a scene right out of Attack on Titan. Right down to the zombie giant ripping a roof off to devour a resistance fighter whole. This series is definitely not for the faint of heart. My overly sensitive gut was nearly boiling over at some of the scenes in these three episodes.
The details dropped in throughout the show are absolutely incredible. It can sometimes take several watch through to really appreciate all the finery laced in the breakneck speed of the series. Some of the more heartbreaking details from these three episode would be the zoom in on Cassandra and Percy’s hands as they’re escaping the Briarwoods and you’ll notice they’re both missing fingernails from the torture they endured. Each of the Sun Tree victims was laced with intricate little details to hone in on their Vox Machina counterparts, but I think the ones that really hit people in the gut were of course another round of dead children and Keyleth’s stand in with the antlers nailed to her head. Brutal.
We set up an interesting heist and rescue mission to take place in the next three episodes. We’ll most likely get to see another raved about moment from the stream when Scanlan goes solo and ends up facing off an entire squadron of Briarwood cronies on his own. Here we go Scanbo!