When the creators of Critical Role set out to make an animated adaptation in Legend of Vox Machina, they wanted to keep the show true to its source material. The challenge wasn’t just to keep the characters the same (they mostly are) but also to keep true to their combat: to put it another way, Critical Role can get pretty dang gruesome. This week’s trio of episodes makes it clear they’ve pulled that off.
Episode four sees the Vox Machina party on house arrest, licking their wounds after their fight with the Briarwoods, Delilah (Grey Griffin) and Sylas (Matt Mercer). The villainous couple soon set an army of ghouls upon them, and things get real bloody real fast. Scrambling to survive, the party eventually resorts to just ripping the ghouls apart or curb stomping to their heart’s content to put an end to the monsters.
When io9 recently spoke to the cast, we asked about the show’s animated violence, and Grog’s voice actor Travis Willingham talked about how they didn’t feel the need to hold back. When the show’s animators would ask how “gnarly” the show should look, his reply was often: “Trust us, we’ll let you know when it’s too much.”
Though violence in animation is absolutely nothing new, the violence in Vox Machina hits harder if you’ve kept up with the source material. For creator and Critical Role DM Matt Mercer, watching his various creations take on new life has been exciting to watch. “To show more of what’s been happening in my head all these years, I now get to put that into action,” he said, “and other people get to make it look amazing!”
Mercer’s in-game descriptions can be heavy on black ichor, but they’re part of what makes the live stream so watchable, and he’s found some fun in how the adaptation has handled Vox Machina’s adversaries. In most TTRPGs, a DM doing perspective shifts to NPCs risks sidelining the actual players, but this method of storytelling is common parlance in television animation. “It’s been a lot easier to explore the Briarwoods and what they’re doing, [by] dropping in on them,” Mercer said. “Getting to spend more time with them has been a delicious exercise in fleshing them out.”
After Vox Machina dispatches the ghouls, they journey to take the fight to the Briarwoods in Whitestone, but they’re down one member: The party’s cleric, Pike Trickfoot, has opted to go on her own quest to reconnect with her god Sarenrae, after her near death experience at the hands of the Briarwoods.
Trickfoot’s departure is both a callback to the days when actor Ashley Johnson couldn’t make it on Critical Role—at the time, she was a main character on the NBC drama Blindspot, which filmed in New York—and a decision that the cast came to organically. “Now we get to see what Pike was doing during all of that,” Johnson said, “to see her find her faith again.”
When the party finally arrives in Whitestone at the end of episode five, they’re treated to the sight of several hanged bodies wearing clothing similar to their own the night they first tangled with the Briarwoods. Pike will return in time, but until then, Vox Machina will have to pull it together if they’ve got any hope of surviving a formidable vampire and his deadlier wizard wife.
Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina releases new episodes on Thursdays on Prime Video.
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