Willow episode 4 review: “The Whispers of Nockmaar”

We’re halfway through the first season of Willow, as the fourth episode was released today, entitled “The Whispers of Nockmaar.”

The title is appropriate, and as viewers familiar with the 1988 film will no doubt catch, it takes place around Nockmaar: the fortress of Bavmorda, the evil queen who was defeated by Willow all those years ago while she tried to get rid of Elora Danan. This episode has plenty of connective tissue to that movie, which is fun, but its real magic comes with a deeper look at our band of heroes.

Let’s dive in to our review, and as always, full spoilers are ahead!

SUMMARY:

The gang, reunited once again, takes shelter in the castle of Nockmaar, the old fortress of the evil queen Bavmorda. They do so because Graydon has been infected, and they seek a cure. While Willow and Elora Danan seek to use the magic of the castle to cure him, Kit – and the others – assume they will have to kill Graydon to save themselves.

The castle plays tricks on the heroes, tempting and trying them at areas of particular struggle. Jade struggles with the mental toll of having killed her mentor, Ballantine. Kit deals with her continued self-centeredness and her family legacy. Boorman is tempted by a mysterious voice behind a door alluring him with treasure. And Elora sees what happened to her as a baby, coming to learn more of the truth. The dark mysteries of the castle continue to mess with the heroes, both their minds and their bodies, leading to several interactions with one another.

But then Elora returns to find Graydon all alone, seemingly cured. He tells her that Willow cured him but has been infected instead, and the two of them head to the tower in search of him – the very place Willow ordered everyone not to go. There, Elora discovers Graydon isn’t cured but has lured her to the tower to complete what Bavmorda began all those years ago. Willow arrives, but Graydon shows Elora how the great sorcerer really defeated the Queen – not with magic, but with tricks. The reveal doesn’t deter Willow, however, who says he’ll win the same way as before: “together.” Jade, Kit, and Boorman arrive at that moment, and the heroes subdue Graydon.

Kit convinces Elora that her magic really can save him, and Elora finally cures Graydon of his ailment. As the heroes leave the castle, they set off to rescue Arik from the Immemorial City before it’s too late – while the Gales look on and prepare to attack. Meanwhile, Arik awakes in a city, walking out all alone into massive ruins.

REVIEW:

Thus far in the series, Willow has been pretty conservative when it comes to leaning into the previous film, doing so regularly yet declining to go overboard and rely on it too heavily. Instead, it chose to establish new characters for a new generation while respectfully and appropriately including characters, themes, and events from the movie. Instead of jumping right into the past the series waited until now, at the midseason point, to do so – and it’s a decision that works very well. This episode seems to appear at just the right time, pulling plenty of nostalgia and moments from the movie while serving to further the story of this particular series in some interesting ways.

This episode is the most confined of the season so far, both for better and for worse. It takes place almost exclusively within the castle of Nockmaar, and it takes place almost exclusively with the main cast of heroes. This allows us to really explore their state of mind, processing everything that’s happened so far this season while setting up enough teases about threads that will surely continue to play a role. At the same time, this episode being far narrower in scope led to some curious narrative devices that were needed to spur stuff along.

For instance, in this huge castle, the heroes just so happen to keep running into each other. Now that, in itself, is something that is easily explainable (after all, there’s much magic at play), but it adds to the sense of smallness in this episode. The bigger questions are less easily answered. Like where’d Willow go at that crucial moment where an infected Graydon lies to Elora? Did he just need a bathroom break? He’s working on Graydon (who is in chains), then he’s gone, then he shows up again in the high tower. It all seems a little too convenient, raising a good question for another time. There’s no indication of where he went, and it’s hard to overlook what happened.

There are other questions raised by this episode, but I think they’re setting up threads that will pay off later on. The biggest one is what the deal is with Graydon; there was an event from his childhood where, dealing with some infection, he killed his brother in a moment that he’s been told not to discuss – and there are strange markings on his body from it. What’s the deal here? We don’t get any answers, but Elora has seen what happened, and she seems to look distrustingly at him as they’re leaving the castle. I think this could be a significant point moving forward, particularly now that Graydon’s affections for Elora have been made obvious. Another thread that will surely be expanded on is the fact that now Jade and Kit know Boorman has the Lux Arcana, so it will be interesting what they do with that info.

The biggest developments in this episode, however, happened with Willow, Kit, and Elora, in descending order. First up is Willow. He’s a man whose reputation has grown far beyond reality (like last week, I can’t help but think of parallels to Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, when he says “I became a legend”). He is a sorcerer who can perform magic, as we see again in this episode, but there’s part myth in these legends. While the reveal of how he actually defeated Bavmorda isn’t new to those who saw the film, it’s a significant reveal for the characters in this show, and that’s what matters (plus it serves as an effective way at informing new viewers). This is a character who still is filled with hesitation and doubt, a hero who can use magic yet who feels the burden of trying to live up to a legend he’s never really been. In the end, though, Willow still proves to be enough to match up against the powers of darkness because he’s still surrounded by friends. I loved that moment where those friends burst into the tower, following ghosts of Sorsha and Raziel. We’ve already seen in this series that part of the “magic” of Elora is being able to rally and inspire others, and the same could be said of Willow – when he really believes it.

But like Willow is plagued by self-doubts and fears, so too is Elora. She doesn’t think she has it in her to do magic or live up to the legend that’s gone before her either, and it’s Kit who provides the moment of confidence in this episode. It’s a great moment that represents a significant development for her, because so far Kit has been the entitled and selfish one who refuses to believe Elora is really who everyone seems to think she is. It’s Kit, though, that stumbles upon the evidence of Elora’s magic with the tree, but she sits on that information until now. Here, at the beginning of the episode, Kit is the one who wants Graydon killed so they can just move on to save Arik – but at the end of the episode she’s the one who stops the others from killing him, imploring Elora to save him and telling her about the tree. In-between, she was confronted with the reality that she was becoming much like her grandmother, Bavmorda, and it seems to serve as a reality check (Boorman even gets in a sweet burn about how her grandmother would be so proud of her. When that’s the evil queen, that’s not a good thing).

It’s a great progression for Kit’s character, for sure, but it’s really Elora who gets the biggest moments in this episode, because we see her truly becoming and embracing the person everyone else seems to believe she really is. It all culminates with Elora saving Graydon’s life with a strange magic ritual, and it inspires a fresh hope in everyone. With Elora Danan on their side, maybe they really will win, saving Arik and defeating the Crone.

It won’t be easy, however, for it looks like another confrontation with the Gales is up next week. And Arik is in a ruined city – is this the Immemorial City? If so, what does that mean for our heroes’ journey? And what does it mean for Arik? We’re halfway through this season, and it’s been enjoyable so far. It’s not exactly reaching new heights, but it’s fun and engaging in the ways that a fantasy series like this should be. This episode contained some real high points as we learned secrets, got tons of callbacks to the original film (the pig gag as Boorman was eating was my favorite), and saw our characters grow in some important ways – all the while setting up some other questions for the series to answer in the coming weeks.

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