At least they aren’t going to Sauron it. Willow, the Disney+ series that’s the long-awaited follow-up to the 1988 George Lucas/Ron Howard film, is finally here and during the first episode, a mystery emerged. One fans have been thinking about for decades. What happened to Elora Danan?
Elora Danan, of course, is the baby from the first Willow: a young girl prophecized to defeat the evil Queen and who Willow and his friends swear to protect. A baby who, at the end of the movie, is still a baby with a very mysterious, wide-open future. So when the show picks up 900 moons later, we don’t know who Elora grew up to and the first episode leans into that, offering up multiple options as to Elora’s identity.
Showrunner Jon Kasdan and his team could’ve easily kept that mystery going all season like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power did with the identity of Sauron, but they do not. Which is most welcome. Then, with the simultaneous release of the show’s second episode, a different, less serious tone emerges, one that suggests that this new version of Willow is going to similarly walk the line of the original film, with serious high fantasy alongside goofy, funny frivolity.
Which I very much enjoyed. Before we dive into the full recap of the first two episodes, that’s important to say for anyone who may be on the fence about watching the series. Willow is a perfect addition to 2022's overabundance of fantasy on television. While the others range from deeply mythological to almost grotesquely serious, Willow is completely different. It has a mythology to dive into if you want, and at times can get dark and serious, but mostly it’s an easy, breezy watch with dynamic, interesting characters both new and old.
Okay, let’s dig into the first two episodes.
As one might expect, the series begins with a recap of the first movie, this time told by now Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley, reprising the role from the original film) with a few crucial new pieces of information. Yes, Willow, Madmartigan, and Sorsha defeated Queen Bavmorda and everyone thought the realm was free of evil. But, soon after, Willow had a vision that an even greater evil would rise again and that only Elora Danan would be able to stop it. However, Elora’s true identity has remained concealed all these years.
The episode, titled “The Gales,” then begins in earnest with the reveal of... two women whose identities are also being concealed! One must be Elora, right? Both seem pretty badass as they dual on a set of rocky cliffs. But they’re revealed as Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), daughter of Sorsha and Madmartigan, and her best friend Jade (Erin Kellyman), a knight in training.
We then meet Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk), Kit’s brother, who is having a romantic Naboo moment with a young blond woman (Ellie Bamber) who goes unnamed. More unnamed women of about the same age! Is this Elora Danan? Kit, Jade, and Airk are called back to the castle for an important evening event, and there Kit jokes with her brother about this woman being another he’s likely to dispose of. Airk he swears this one is different even though he doesn’t know her name. He just calls her “Dove.”
Kit and Airk come back to their home in Tir Asleen because Kit is set to be married to Prince Graydon of Galladoorn (Tony Revolori), an arranged marriage that Sorsha believes will begin to bring all the kingdoms of the realm together. That is, of course, until Elora Danan returns. As Sorsha says that, the whole crowd cheers and chants. It’s obvious the myths from events in the film have turned into legends in these parts. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the reveal and reign of Elora.
But does Sorsha believe that? Though she continues to have visions of impending evil, she confides some of her worries to a prisoner named Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel). We don’t yet know why Boorman is imprisoned or why Sorsha is so comfortable confiding in him, but you can guess there’s something more there, which we’d learn about soon.
There’s also something more between Kit and Jade. As Kit does her best to avoid the terrifying inevitability of an arranged marriage, Jade tells Kit that Jade’s friend and caregiver Ballentine (Ralph Ineson, who first teased his work on this show talking to io9) has helped her become the first-ever woman accepted to train for knighthood and she’ll be leaving the following morning. Kit’s anger mixed with pain shows that she feels something more than friendship for Jade and, after making a mockery of the entire marriage for everyone at the party to see, she storms off, fights with her brother and mother, and disappears into her bedroom.
The next morning, Kit wakes Jade up and tells her she’s leaving. She doesn’t want to marry Graydon and wants to escape out into the world, at which point she lays a nice big kiss on a surprised Jade’s lips. Before they can have a minute to process any of that though, something arrives at the castle. It’s the Gales. Terrifying monsters sent to the castle for... something. And as Kit, Jade, Airk, Ballentine, and even Boorman—let out of his cell by Sorsha to help—fight, eventually the Gales just disappear. Graydon explains that he saw one of the creatures take Airk. They came for the prince and the blood of his grandmother.
It seems a noble adventure found her at just the right time, so Kit volunteers to go and rescue her brother. Sorsha, oddly, agrees. Jade says she’ll go too, as well as Graydon, one of the Queen’s knights and Boorman, whose attendance will help him square the debt he has with the Queen. More mystery there. Sorsha adds that they’ll need one more person on the quest. A sorcerer. And though it’s believed all the sorcerers are gone, she explains that one remains. A Nelwyn named Willow and, she believes, he’s probably expecting them.
And so our season story is set up as the Knight, Kit, Jade, Graydon, and Boorman set out to meet Willow and hopefully find Airk. To do so, first they must go beyond the barrier, a force field surrounding the kingdom most believe is there to keep evil out. But others believe it is there to protect Elora Danan, a person we still haven’t identified. Before they reach the barrier though, the group realizes they’re being followed. It’s Dove, the young kitchen maid, who is deeply in love with Airk (he proposed marriage to her the evening before he was kidnapped) and wants to help save him. As Dove doesn’t have any real fighting skills most people think she shouldn’t come, so she offers to cook for the group instead.
After an evening in which we learn Kit believes her father, Madmartigan, left her and her brother to protect Elora Danan, and is still very angry about it, the journey continues without Dove, who has set out on her own, though she quickly joins back up with everyone. However, that’s when the evil Bone Reavers attack, kill the knight, and chase the group, showing that life outside the barrier is, indeed, dangerous. During the chase we learn that the Bone Reavers know Boorman and believe him to be dead, adding even more mystery to the character, who helps everyone escape when he jumps his horse off a cliff. How did the horses survive? How do the humans? We don’t know.
The group finally reaches the village where Willow is supposed to be, only there’s no village, just a single person who pretends he’s Willow to get them to leave. When Kit pleads with him about her mother, brother, and the quest, the actual Willow (Warwick Davis) emerges. Willow explains Airk is a prisoner of the Withered Crone who dwells in the Immemorial City beyond the Shattered Sea. Boorman, the most traveled of the group, says no one goes beyond the Shattered Sea because that’s where all the maps end. Willow begins to explain when he’s stopped dead in his tracks.
He walks up to Dove, takes off her glove, and unveils that she bears a hidden mark. The mark of, you guessed it, Elora Danan. “You shouldn’t be here, but it’s so good to see you Elora.” And with Willow’s grand explanation, and Elora’s confused “What?” the first episode ends both with an answer to one of our biggest questions, and a huge piece of the puzzle for what’s to come.
Now, normally, that would be the end of our recap, but as this is the premiere date, Disney also dropped the second episode called “The High Aldwin.” So let’s continue.
Episode two began with probably the most important scene of the premiere, a crucial bridge flashback set between the events of Willow the movie and Willow the show. We see a creepily bearded Willow paying a visit to Sorsha to tell her he’s had a vision that their true enemy is out there and he wants to begin Elora’s training. He believes if he doesn’t start training her to be the leader she’s destined to be, her powers will fade. Sorsha doesn’t care about any of that. She wants the girl just to be a girl and believes there are other ways they can defeat evil. For example, we get the crucial, massively important piece of information that she sent out her husband, Madmartigan, with a squire to find something called the Kymerian Cuirass. Unfortunately, she hasn’t heard anything from him in some time. Willow is curious about this but still thinks Elora is best chance to defeat the evil—referred to as the Crone—and says he’d like to train her. Which is when Sorsha gives Willow the business, insulting and belittling him by saying he’ll never be a great sorcerer.
Later in the episode, it cuts back to this time period; we see Willow trying to get a very young Elora to come with him, and he and Sorsha swearing each other off as a result. Not the friendly relationship we’re led to believe they may have had after the events of the film and her trust in sending her daughter to find him.
If episode two was just those scenes, we’d have enough to chew on, but there was still that matter of Elora Danan. Willow takes her and the group down into the Nelwyn town, which is underground for some reason. Everyone is excited and surprised to see Elora, but none more than Willow’s daughter Mims, played by Davis’ actual daughter Annabelle Davis. Kit is on the opposite end of the spectrum, anxious to continue the quest—especially now that they have a specific destination—and uninterested in Willow, Elora, or learning about the Nelwyns.
To present Elora to his people, we see that Willow has achieved the goal he set out in the first movie: he’s the spiritual and magical leader called the High Aldwin, though with his trademark levity and humor we get the sense he might not be as powerful as everyone expects. Nevertheless, once Willow has Willow in it, it feels like a whole new show.
Back in Tir Asleen, Sorsha learns that Elora has left the kingdom and sends her head knight, Ballentine, to retrieve her. The problem here is that Ballentine was injured when the Gales attacked the castle and has been infected with some sort of evil. An evil that is now aware Elora has moved outside of the barrier and is vulnerable.
After failing the finger test (a callback to the original film), Elora isn’t quite convinced of her magical prowess and agrees with Kit that they should get moving. Willow doesn’t think it’s safe to leave (he’s right) and it takes a pep talk from Mims to get him to understand he needs to go on the quest with them and train Elora on the way. She then reveals they still have Cherlindrea’s wand, the powerful sorcerer wand from the original movie, which is destined to be Elora’s.
But is that what Elora wants? Elora scares everyone by disappearing on her own but when she’s found she and Willow reach an agreement. They’ll take off together as student and teacher. And so the journey continues, with Elora and Willow beginning to learn about the pillars and rules of magic in the back, and Kit learning some more about her father in the front.
Boorman reveals that he was the squire who set out with her father Madmartigan all those years ago. Which explains why Sorsha trusts him, had him imprisoned, and a bit of why he’s so well-known. He tells her about their quest for the Kymerian Cuirass and reveals that not only does he know where her father is, but that he found it.
Just as that mythological bombshell is dropped, the show lets it dangle to pick up with Willow and Elora still trying to learn about magic. And as he tries to get her to say spells correctly and learn about the basic principles of magic, the show really leans into the goofy. The dichotomy of Elora joking saying all these words with scenes of, say, Willow awakening on a battlefield littered with dead bodies does seem a little weird but, again, that’s what this show is. A little bit weird.
Elora can’t do it though. She’s hopeless. Frustrated. Unfocused. But after going off on her own (again), an increasingly human and kind Graydon stops by and gives her a pep talk about just how amazing she is. However, just as Elora maybe starts to believe in herself, Willow begins to lose hope. He believes Elora has in fact lost the magic like he warned Sorsha of long ago. Plus, he reveals that in his visions of the future, the only way they can defeat evil is if Elora dies. And he’s not sure he can live with that.
So just as it seems Willow might go home and Elora will give up her training, Elora wakes up and tries her seed-growing spell one final time. At which point she’s hit on the head and knocked out. Possessed Ballentine has captured her. Only he’s not bringing Elora back to Sorsha, he’s bringing her to the Crone. Finally, at the very last moment, a plant pops out of the ground. Elora did it. She does have magic in her. Too bad she’s been captured by the enemy.
Still there? I honestly would be surprised if you are but if so, thank you. The first two episodes of Willow are just so full of setup and mythology that recapping them is, obviously, a chore. Plus there’s still so much to discuss. The tension and relationship between Kit and Jade. Graydon’s family history. Sorsha and Willow’s falling out. If Willow can actually train Elora or not. Not to mention the show’s beautiful on-location filming and sure to be controversial choice to end each episode (so far) with a more modern rock song.
But I think that last choice is a key point here and a good place to wrap up. Yes, Willow is dense and exciting; it’s also funny and weird and just a little bit imbalanced. And the fact these episodes do end with rock songs is a signal that the show is supposed to be exactly that. It’s not a typical fantasy show. It’s cute, it’s frivolous, but it’s also very well done and entertaining. We’re excited to take this eight-episode journey with you.
New episodes of Willow arrive Wednesdays on Disney+.
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