Though the newest season of Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender might not be the longest seven episodes of television you watch this year, the new plot developments it introduces are some of the most exciting in the franchise’s history.
Legendary Defender’s sixth season is condensed to be sure, but when io9 recently spoke with the show’s executive producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, they explained how they’ve been building to these moments from the very beginning. The emotional payoffs revealed this season are very much a part of their larger plan for the series, the duo said, and there’s actually quite a bit more to one shocking moment than you might have imagined.
[This interview has been edited for clarity.]
io9: Where is Team Voltron mentally and spiritually speaking when we catch up with them as the season opens?
Joaquim Dos Santos: I think they’re in a pretty good place.
Lauren Montgomery: Yeah, they kind of fall back into their old habits a little bit now that they’ve got Shiro back at the helm and Keith is off doing his own thing. They’re fortunate enough to be working with the Galra empire, so they feel like they’ve made some genuine headway. They’re feeling like they have a lot of work to do, but they’re on the path.
How soon does this pick up after the season five finale?
JDS: We’re right in there. I’d say one month, or maybe even three weeks.
Voltron’s got a huge ensemble cast. Which of the characters has been the most interesting to develop over the course of the series so far?
LM: Allura’s definitely up there. As she’s been growing throughout the seasons, we’ve seen her tackle smaller character arcs. But now with this new development, she’s taking on a much larger responsibility and power that can kind of open her up to more options that will help the team on their missions, but also set her apart from the other Paladins a little more.
She’s not just your average teenager, she’s something so much more and she’s realizing that she has to learn how to wield this power intelligently.
JDS: It’s one of the things that we were super-excited about in adapting the character from the original series. She was the more knowledgeable one in the original series, but her growth really ended at a certain point and she fell into the stereotypical princess trope. For our show, we really wanted to evolve her and it’s been really cool to see her change over time. But that’s true of a lot of the other characters as well, Shiro and Pidge in particular.
Let’s talk about Pidge, actually. Earlier in the series, it definitely seemed as if the story was building to some kind of queer narrative about Pidge’s gender that many LGBTQ fans picked up on. But once she actually revealed that she was a girl, the show’s more or less moved on and Pidge’s subtextual queerness has sort of fallen to the wayside. Was that ever a part of her character you wanted to explore?
LM: We always had our own intentions of being a little misleading with Pidge but the reasoning was that we wanted to introduce a character who you would initially recognize as existing in a space that was masculine, but then you realize that she’s a female character. The question we always wanted this to make people ask themselves is whether anything about Pidge’s gender changed what kind of role she plays on the team and the answer was no. We wanted to make a point that gender-specific traits and roles aren’t at all necessary.
When the trans identification came about and we saw it online, it wasn’t something that we initially expected, but we appreciate it tremendously because ultimately, Pidge was there to represent anyone who didn’t fit a norm. She’s a girl who doesn’t fit a norm and so if the LGBTQ community sees any sort of representation in her, that’s a magnificent thing that we’re incredibly proud of.
JDS: I will say, there’s a line when Pidge comes out to everyone and Coran says, “We were supposed to think you were a boy?” That, to me, was a really kind of watershed moment in a sense that you’re seeing what we consider to be this big reveal and big moment and through alien eyes they’re like, “Whatever, man. Let’s just work together and get the job done.”
You mentioned how much Shiro’s grown and changed over the course of the series, but when we find him at the beginning of season six, he’s definitely in the midst of an identity crisis that’s coming to a head. More importantly, it’s revealed that the Shiro we’ve been seeing isn’t the real Shiro at all.
JDS: [laughing] It’s been clear that we’ve been setting something up for Shiro. There’s been a cloud that’s surrounding him and this season you’ll really see some of that cloud begin to lift. The questions that’ve been raging and the debates that have been happening online—we’re definitely going to answer them. All will be revealed.
I think what’s interesting about the clone Shiro that we introduce is that he does have elements of a very genuine Shiro and he feels trapped by whatever darkness is surrounding him. When you see him in the previous series with Lance, that’s from a very genuinely confused place.
LM: In our minds, clone Shiro never thought of himself as a duplicate. He wasn’t walking around with any ideas in the back of his head—he has no idea and he’s just living his life right up until the takeover happens. So up until this point, Shiro’s motives and feelings have been genuine.
JDS: And let’s not forget that it’s clone Shiro who we see playing D&D—he’s a good guy.
Even though clone Shiro and the other Paladins weren’t able to sense that he was a copy, the Lions themselves have always had a unique mental connection to their pilots. How does Shiro actually being a clone factor into his relationship with the Black Lion?
JDS: It’s interesting to think about that because we really saw the Black Lion as being between a rock and a hard place.
LM: The Lions being what they are, they can sense a Paladin’s intentions. I think the Black Lion was able to sense that clone Shiro shared his original’s intentions and that there wasn’t any overt evil to him. Had Keith been there when the Black Lion needed a pilot, the Black Lion almost certainly would have chosen him, but because the team needed a Black Paladin, the Lion was able to make the decision to accept the clone because, well, he was available.
One of the most shocking (but also satisfying) moments of the season is when Lotor makes his big reveal and turns on the Paladins with a mech of his own. What does his true plan ultimately mean about the time he spent bonding with Allura and the other Paladins?
JDS: I think Lotor’s intentions to a large degree are true because he’s a flawed character. He’s got major backstory issues that have been informed the person that he is and the ways that he thinks the job has to get done. His intentions are true, though. He really does want peace across the universe, it’s just that he’s much more willing to do any and everything to achieve his goals. He’s an “ends justify the means” kind of character and ultimately, it really makes him tragic in a way.
There are so many moving parts to Voltron as a series right now. How are you managing to balance all of these storylines with the new more condensed season structure?
JDS: As best as we can.
LM: We’ve been making this show nonstop with some arcs in mind and it was later down the line to cut seasons into smaller chunks, and so our job became figuring out which episodes made for satisfying conclusions that didn’t feel abrupt or out of place. So it’s not like our approach to writing or storytelling has really changed all that much and we really do think that once this is all done, people will be able to go back and watch it however they want, whether that be season by season or in even larger arcs.
How have your relationships to the franchise changed over the course of you working on this season?
JDS: It’s been kind of weird because we were both fans of the original and we both have a nostalgia for it. So, we take a personal ownership of what we’re making here. On some level, when you get onto the weeds on this thing, you come into work thinking about the number of scenes you’ve got to work on, but when you look back, it’s all worth it because we’re contributing to this amazing legacy.