Viren is a fictional character in the American–Canadian fantasy computer-animated web television series The Dragon Prince, which has been aired on Netflix since 2018. The character was created by the show's co-creators Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond, and is voiced by Jason Simpson.

Viren
The Dragon Prince character
Viren (The Dragon Prince).png
Promotional still of Viren
First appearance"Echoes of Thunder" (2018)
Created byAaron Ehasz
Justin Richmond
Voiced byJason Simpson
In-universe information
SpeciesHuman
TitleLord
PositionHigh Mage of Katolis[1]
AffiliationKingdom of Katolis
WeaponRelic Staff[2]
SpouseLissa (ex-wife)
ChildrenSoren (son)
Claudia (daughter)
NationalityKatolian

Viren is introduced as the High Mage of Katolis, the best friend and closest advisor of King Harrow, and the father of Soren and Claudia. A practitioner of dark magic, he often uses his abilities to help Harrow and the kingdom of Katolis. Following Harrow's assassination and the princes' disappearances, Viren assumes rulership of Katolis. In the second season, he fails to unite the other four human kingdoms against the elves and dragons, and allies with Aaravos, a mysterious Startouch elf who lives inside a magic mirror, and their relationship continues in the show's third season, in which they align with most of the human kingdoms to invade Xadia.

Viren was one of the first two characters to be created for The Dragon Prince alongside his son Soren, who early in development was split into Soren and Claudia. Despite making Viren the story's villain, Ehasz and Richmond wrote him as a "flawed [and] complicated" pragmatist because they felt this moral ambiguity made the character rounder and more interesting, providing better storytelling opportunities.

Critics gave Viren positive reviews and many praised the character as one of the show's best, and his ambiguous morality has often been the subject of attention. Many critics said it makes him a compelling character and villain, and praised the show for encouraging its viewers to ask whether Viren's actions are justified. His relationships with other characters, such as Harrow and his children, have also been praised for humanizing him. From the second season onward, Viren's interactions and relationship with Aaravos have also been commended.

StorylinesEdit

BackgroundEdit

Viren was born on April 11.[3] He is a member of the kingdom of Katolis' court, a master of dark magic and the best friend of King Harrow. His wife is named Lissa; they have a son named Soren, and a daughter named Claudia. Viren and Lissa often argue over the former's use of dark magic and eventually they divorce. Soren chooses to stay with Viren and Claudia follows.[4]

At least nine years before the show's start, Queens Annika and Neha of Duren ask Katolis for help with a famine. Knowing Katolis does not have enough food to feed both nations, Viren plans to go to Xadia, kill the last Magma Titan, and use its heart for a ritual to boost both Katolis' and Duren's crop yields.[5] The expedition succeeds but on the way back, the Dragon King Avizandum attacks them and kills the queens of Duren and Queen Sarai of Katolis.[6]

Four months before Harrow's assassination, Viren gathers materials for a spell powerful enough to kill the Dragon King and persuades Harrow to accompany him to the border. They find the Dragon King at his lair and kill him by turning him to stone. Realizing his mate Zubeia has laid an egg, Viren sets out to find and destroy it.[7] Most of the Dragonguard abandon their posts, leaving only Rayla's parents Tiadrin and Lain. Viren traps them in ice and Tiadrin persuades him to spare the egg by appealing to his need for powerful ingredients for dark magic spells. As a token of "gratitude," Viren traps both inside coins, and takes the egg and a magic mirror from the lair.[8]

Book 1: Moon (2018)Edit

Alerted by a scout, Viren tells Harrow Moonshadow elf assassins are planning to kill him to avenge the Dragon King and the supposed destruction of the Dragon Prince's egg.[9] Viren presents a two-headed Soulfang Serpent, a cobra-like snake that can drain people's souls, which he proposes to use to switch Harrow's soul with that of another person and save Harrow's life. Harrow refuses; when Viren says any of his subjects would be willing to die for him, Harrow asks Viren if he'd be willing to sacrifice himself.[10] Shaken by Harrow's words, Viren decides to sacrifice himself, but before he can explain himself, Harrow misunderstands. Harrow demands Viren kneel and "learns his place"; Viren grudgingly complies.[11] With Harrow dead and the princes missing, Viren prepares to take the throne but news of the princes' survival interrupts the coronation.[12] After a confrontation with the princes' aunt General Amaya, Viren imprisons her sign-language interpreter Commander Gren[13] and sends his own children to find the princes.[14] Viren tells Soren to come back with news that the princes have perished, hinting he should kill them. He gives Claudia a secret mission to retrieve the egg at all costs, even Soren's life.[14] Later, Viren visits Runaan, the last assassin, whom he offers to free in exchange for information about the mirror that was found in the Dragon King's lair and threatens a fate worse than death if Runaan yields nothing useful. Runaan recognizes the mirror, but refuses to reveal its nature. As punishment, Viren uses dark magic to trap Runaan inside a coin.[15]

Book 2: Sky (2019)Edit

In a council meeting, Viren argues the kingdoms are in danger and that they must call a summit of the Pentarchy, the five human kingdoms. Opeli and the other members refuse because only a monarch has the authority to do so. Viren sends the scrolls calling for a summit by stealing the royal seal and threatening the Crow Master.[16] Viren realizes complete darkness can activate the magic mirror, which reveals an unoccupied but lavish room.[17] After some time, a cloaked elf enters. Viren realizes the elf cannot see him but the Startouch elf casts a spell allowing him to see Viren.[18] Because they cannot hear each other, the elf gestures to Viren to gather specific items. Before the last step, Viren's suspicion prompts him to stop and state he needs time to think.[19]

At the Pentarchy summit, Viren pretends to be Katolis' regent and says Xadia will attack the human kingdoms. Three of the other four leaders state they will back Viren if the decision is unanimous.[5] The last, the young Queen Aanya, who has inherited Duren from both of her mothers, chides her fellow monarchs for hedging and says while Katolis has saved thousands in Duren from starvation, she cannot repay that debt by sending millions to die. Her effective veto foils Viren's plans.[6] When Viren returns from the summit, the council exposes his treachery, and strips him of his title and power. With no other options, Viren follows the elf's instructions. From inside the mirror, the spell teleports a caterpillar that crawls onto Viren's ear and allows the two to speak.[20] The elf finally introduces himself as Aaravos. When Viren tries searching for information on Aaravos in the library, it magically disappears from the scrolls and books. Viren demands to know what is going on and why Viren should trust him; Aaravos says he should not at the moment.[21] When Viren says the leaders of the other human kingdoms refuse to listen, Aaravos agrees to help him. He makes Viren chant a spell to create spectral versions of the elven assassins to terrorize the other monarchs. When castle guards try to arrest Viren, Aaravos casts spells to help Viren fight them, but when he is surrounded and outnumbered, Viren stops on Aaravos' command. Aaravos promises to stay with Viren and the caterpillar crawls into his ear.[22]

Book 3: Sun (2019)Edit

Viren, who is languishing in a dungeon, heeds Aaravos' counsel not to give up.[23] When his children visit him, he learns the egg has hatched. When they ask about their secret missions, Viren tries to save face in front of Claudia by gaslighting Soren. To Soren's displeasure, Claudia believes Viren's assertion he did not order Soren to kill the princes. Two monarchs are dead and King Ahling is seriously injured. Ahling's son Prince Kasef works with Viren to wage war on Xadia.[24] The caterpillar weaves silk over Viren's right eye, allowing him to see an apparition of Aaravos just as Ezran abdicates in favor of Viren.[25] That evening, Viren tells his subjects they will march on Xadia. Respecting Ezran's last wish as king, Viren allows those who do not want to fight to leave and brands them cowards.[26]

On the way to Xadia, Aaravos asks Viren how he slew the Dragon King; Viren tells the tale.[7] As part of the plan to conquer Xadia, Viren enters Lux Aurea, the home of the Sunfire elves. Queen Khessa's attempts to purify Viren of his dark magic give him and Aaravos access to the Sun Forge, the source of their power, and they corrupt and seize it. Using it, Viren transforms Kasef and the soldiers into aggressive, strong beings.[27] They clash with the elf-human alliance at the base of Storm Spire Mountain and Viren climbs to the peak, where he attempts to harvest the Dragon Prince's power for himself, but before the spell can be completed, Rayla tackles Viren over the cliff edge. Callum rescues Rayla, but Viren falls to his death. Claudia finds Viren and revives him with dark magic, and together they watch Aaravos' caterpillar pupate inside its cocoon.[28]

DevelopmentEdit

Concept and creationEdit

According to series co-creator Aaron Ehasz, Viren was one of the first two characters to be created for The Dragon Prince, alongside his son Soren.[29] In the first scene set in The Dragon Prince universe Ehasz wrote, a mage explains the differences between primal and dark magic to his child; the mage later became Viren[30][29] and the child—Soren—was split into two characters; Claudia and Soren.[31] According to co-creator Justin Richmond, Viren is named after a friend of Ehasz who asked whether the character was "practical"; when told is was, he agreed to lend his name to the character.[32] During development, the crew changed the color of Viren's eyes from purple to gray because they had also given Rayla, an elf, purple eyes and wanted to avoid the implication Viren has elf ancestors.[33]

Richmond said of Viren's morality and role as a villain; "the most interesting villains don’t think they're villains".[34] He also stated the writers wrote Viren to have "shades of gray" because they wanted the characters, including the villains, to be complex, rounded, and fleshed out, allowing more complex and layered storytelling.[34]

Viren was one of the three roles for which Jason Simpson auditioned; the others were Runaan and Aaravos.[35] Simpson had initially wanted to play Runaan; he was disappointed to be cast as Viren but quickly realized Viren was a "once in a lifetime" role and liked the character's complexity.[35]

Characterization and progressionEdit

Ehasz described Viren as a character who is "flawed [and] complicated", and stated his ambiguous morality made him fun to write.[36] Regarding Viren's unscrupulous actions, methods, and use of dark magic, Ehasz stated, "people can do bad things for good reasons, or for what they think are good reasons".[37] The website Polygon called Viren a pragmatist.[38] Simpson stated Viren's pragmatism and "cross[ing] the line" come from being someone who "sees the end result, [and] knows he can [achieve it]", even through immoral actions.[39] Simpson also described him as being driven to do what is right.[39]

According to Ehasz, Viren wants to become a champion for humanity out of a desire to protect his kingdom and "do the right thing" but he also wants to "be great and recognized".[32] Ehasz also said Viren believes only his role as a father, especially to Claudia, can challenge his desire to be a "great figure".[32] In the show's third season, according to Ehasz, Viren becomes a more typical villain. Simpson also noted the change from the first two seasons, during which Viren "could always believe there was a reason [for his actions]".[40] Despite this change, Ehasz thought Viren's character retained its layers, and attributes this to Simpson's performance. Ehasz stated Simpson became more receptive to Viren's role in the third season after they discussed the direction the character would take in the following two seasons, which would reveal "some of [Viren's] complexities".[40]

Powers and abilitiesEdit

In the world of The Dragon Prince, only magical creatures can use magic because they have magical energy within them.[34] All magic originates from one of six Primal Sources; the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Earth, the Sky, and the Ocean.[41] As a human, Viren lacks a connection to a Primal Source but can use dark magic to cast spells. Dark magic is performed by siphoning magical energy from magical creatures.[34] Viren recites the spell he wishes to perform in reverse.[42]

Overuse of dark magic has a negative impact on Viren's body. After performing a powerful spell that traps Runaan inside a coin, Viren's face becomes "cracked, dead-seeming, [and] ice-like".[43] At one point, he performs a spell that involves the killing of a butterfly, which appears to reinvigorate him.[43] According to Ehasz, Viren's appearance after using dark magic is his true appearance and the spell involving butterflies is similar to a "daily cosmetic ritual" he performs to appear normal.[44]

ReceptionEdit

 
Viren's relationships have received praise: with Claudia (front) for humanizing him and with Aaravos (back) for its impact on his character arc.

Critics often praise Viren's character and role, describing him as complex and sympathetic. Heather Alexander of Kotaku described him as a far better villain than Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender.[45][a] Michal Schick of Hypable praised Viren's role in the first season as an antagonist with "nuanced and real" morality and motives rather than as an "unambiguous villain".[47] Reviewing the second season, Caroline Cao of Slashfilm praised Viren and the show's other humanized villains; she called Viren "tragic", and acknowledged season two expands on his moral ambiguities and "swerve[s] with the audience's expectations".[48] Polygon's Samantha Nelson described him as a nuanced antagonist throughout the series[49] and in a separate review, Petrana Radulovic and Cass Marshall described him as a "compelling villain".[32] Forbes's Erik Kain also said Viren is a complicated and sympathetic character despite his "myriad of flaws".[50]

Viren's relationship with King Harrow and especially with his children Claudia and Soren have also been praised for helping humanize the character. Alex Barasch of Slate described Viren's "fraught relationship" with Harrow as one of the most compelling aspects of the first season.[51] Nelson, writing for The Verge, appreciated the way the second season uses flashbacks and his intention to prevent further tragedy to juxtapose Viren's genuine love for Harrow with "terrible things [he does] with his dark magic".[52] IGN's David Griffin also said the season's flashbacks effectively display the complexity of Viren's character and make the audience question his morality.[53] Radulovic and Marshall said one of Viren's most compelling traits is his relatability, noting while his relationship with his children—especially Claudia—does not absolve him, his desire to "leave a legacy behind for his children [is] an empathetic motivation to his drastic deeds" helps humanize him.[32][b]

Starting with the second season, attention has been paid to Viren's interactions and relationship with the Startouch elf Aaravos.[55] The Daily Dot's Gavia Baker-Whitelaw described Viren's storyline as one of the best in the second season and called his relationship with Aaravos "intriguing".[56] Praise continued into the third season; Hypable praised the relationship and the contrast between the goals and actions of these two characters and those of Callum, Rayla, and Ezran.[57] Nelson also reacted positively to the relationship between the two characters and the way Aaravos "preys on Viren's ambition and desperation to fulfill his own mysterious, malevolent goals".[49] Erik Kain also took note of his relationship with Aaravos and its contribution to Viren's descent into villainy.[50]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Aaron Ehasz had previously worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender as the head writer and co-executive producer.[46]
  2. ^ Polygon staff would also list Viren as one of their top 69 fictional crushes of the 2010s, singling out his relatability as one of his best elements.[54]

ReferencesEdit

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  2. ^ "Item Reveal: Viren's Relic Staff". Wonderstorm. October 26, 2018. Archived from the original on June 16, 2019. Retrieved June 16, 2019.
  3. ^ "Character Lineup". Wonderstorm. September 26, 2018. Archived from the original on June 27, 2019. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  4. ^ Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond. Director: Villads Spangsberg (February 15, 2019). "Breathe". The Dragon Prince. Season 2. Episode 9. Netflix.
  5. ^ a b Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (February 15, 2019). "Breaking the Seal". The Dragon Prince. Season 2. Episode 5. Netflix.
  6. ^ a b Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (February 15, 2019). "Heart of a Titan". The Dragon Prince. Season 2. Episode 6. Netflix.
  7. ^ a b Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (November 22, 2019). "Thunderfall". The Dragon Prince. Season 3. Episode 6. Netflix.
  8. ^ Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Devon Giehl & Iain Hendry (November 22, 2019). "Dragonguard". The Dragon Prince. Season 3. Episode 8. Netflix.
  9. ^ Director: Giancarlo Volpe; Writers: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (September 14, 2018). "Echoes of Thunder". The Dragon Prince. Season 1. Episode 1. Netflix.
  10. ^ Director: Giancarlo Volpe; Writers: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (September 14, 2018). "What Is Done". The Dragon Prince. Season 1. Episode 2. Netflix.
  11. ^ Director: Giancarlo Volpe; Writers: Devon Giehl & Iain Hendry (September 14, 2018). "Moonrise". The Dragon Prince. Season 1. Episode 3. Netflix.
  12. ^ Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writers: Devon Giehl & Iain Hendry (September 14, 2018). "Bloodthirsty". The Dragon Prince. Season 1. Episode 4. Netflix.
  13. ^ Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writers: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (September 14, 2018). "An Empty Throne". The Dragon Prince. Season 1. Episode 5. Netflix.
  14. ^ a b Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writers: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (September 14, 2018). "Through the Ice". The Dragon Prince. Season 1. Episode 6. Netflix.
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  25. ^ Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (November 22, 2019). "The Midnight Desert". The Dragon Prince. Season 3. Episode 4. Netflix.
  26. ^ Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (November 22, 2019). "Heroes and Masterminds". The Dragon Prince. Season 3. Episode 5. Netflix.
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  28. ^ Director: Villads Spangsberg; Writer: Aaron Ehasz & Justin Richmond (November 22, 2019). "The Final Battle". The Dragon Prince. Season 3. Episode 9. Netflix.
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  31. ^ Ehasz & Richmond 2020, pp. 12.
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BibliographyEdit