It never stops at one — Why Voltron: Legendary Defender’s tragic ending wasn’t a surprise and why more DreamWorks’ series will follow suit
Voltron: Legendary Defender ended its run with immensely disappointing storylines in Seasons 7 and 8, culminating in deeply unsatisfying endings for its beloved characters.
Allura, a genocide survivor who had to watch her entire world burn, sacrificed absolutely everything she had, piece by piece, until she finally had nothing left to give but her life, which she sacrificed too. She never got to say goodbye to her “second father” Coran, and then her supposed family, the Paladins, take selfies at her memorial like tourists.
Notably, VLD Allura is the only version of the character who is a black woman and the only version of the character who does not get a happy ending. On top of that, a major part of her arc characterizes her as racist for being hostile towards her teammate Keith after finding out he is half-Galra. Neither Coran not Romelle ever express similar sentiments, meaning the black Altean was specifically picked to play the reverse-racist trope.
Lance dreamed of becoming a pilot and finding love, and hid his insecurities behind a facade of jokes and bravado. Yet he had to watch helplessly as the woman he loved marched to her death, his insecurities are never resolved, he spends the rest of his life as a depressed farmer, and gets a permanent reminder of his failure on his face.
Lotor was raised in an abusive environment. His desperate attempts to become a good person are mercilessly crushed by his own parents, and he becomes lost in the obsession to revive Altea, which he romanticised as an ideal of peace and safety. He never gets the chance for redemption, goes insane, and ends up melted alive. Then he is made to spend eternity with his abusers, who DO get to be redeemed, despite being objectively much worse.
Hunk gets a pretty good ending, but he dodged a bullet. In the AfterBuzz interview on February 25 2019, the showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery revealed that they had planned to kill him off. Thankfully, Dreamworks executives vetoed that. But Hunk was an executive’s permission away from the chopping block.
Shiro… I’d need to write an entire new article to illustrate all the many, many, many ways Shiro was screwed over, and his status as multi-minority rep (gay, disabled, PTSD-afflicted, man of color) was utterly wrecked. Let’s just say it started way before S8.
But how could this happen? Easily, and it was foreshadowed by the narrative’s treatment of one character — Shiro’s clone.
Kuron, and specifically the treatment he was subjected to, was the canary in the coal mine.
That is to say, the ending of the much beloved Season 6 foreshadowed what would come to pass. For the purpose of this article -
Note #1: “Kuron” is the name I’m going to use to refer to Shiro’s Clone, from Operation Kuron, while the original Shiro will just be “Shiro.”
Note #2: A clone is not the same person as the original. Clones actually do exist in real life: they are called twins. Different people with the same DNA. Kuron was never Shiro: rather, he was Shiro’s twin brother who had been tricked into thinking he was Shiro.
Kuron did have Shiro’s memories, on top of having Shiro’s DNA. Despite that, he still had his own personality and consciousness. And he started to realize that the way he felt and acted in his life was different than the way he felt and acted in his memories. As he tells Lance in “The White Lion,” “I feel like I’m not myself.” He knew he was supposed to be a certain way, yet he wasn’t. This terrified him. He could feel that something was very wrong, but he couldn’t figure out what, and he confided in Lance for advice and reassurance. Even Josh Keaton, the voice actor, made it a point to use different voices for Kuron and Shiro, signifying their differences.
Note #3: I want to make one thing absolutely clear: I’m not blaming the characters. They are fictional. They don’t do these things because they want to, but because they are written to. Many of the characters think and act in ways that don’t make any sense for Team Voltron, Defenders of the Universe, and massively contradict their own characterizations. Yet they did these things, because the script made them.
While reading this article, you may feel defensive about the characters you love. But it’s precisely because they are good characters, that the nonsensical OOC characterization needs to be exposed, not excused. The Paladins are as much victims of the writing as Kuron is.
The dehumanization of Kuron
We have this character, Kuron, who repeatedly showed that he truly loved his family. To the point that a mind-reading entity, the Black Lion, probed his mind twice, and both times found him sincere. While about to suffocate to death after spending seven days with no food and no water in the freezing silent dark void of space after setting his leg on fire, all he could focus on were the moments he (believed he) spent with them.
- Believed that he had been kidnapped by a genocidal Empire and tortured for an entire year.
- Believed that he had been kidnapped by said Empire for the second time as a direct result of being betrayed by a close friend. Did the Black Lion hand him over to the Galra? We now know that’s not the case, but what else was Kuron supposed to believe? In his memories, one moment he is in the pilot chair, the next he is in a Galra prison.
- Went through hell while trying to reunite with his family, almost died horribly many times.
- Found that his family had been doing just fine without him, once he did rejoin them. Also he was now unable to pilot his Lion, so that he was stuck on the ground and forced to watch, alone and helpless, while his team went on dangerous missions. Attempts to feel less useless by giving instructions from HQ backfired badly when he accidentally undermined his closest friend’s confidence. He tried his best to make up for it with apologies and encouragements, but couldn’t get it right.
- Suffered from constant painful headaches because an evil witch was messing with his head.
- Was starting to suspect that his memories had been tampered with and everything he knew about himself was a lie, thus lived in constant fear and confusion.
- Believed he suffered from a degenerative disease that would cripple him, and possibly kill him, within a few months.
- As shown in his vlog, he felt guilty over accidentally getting a bunch of kids involved in a war, thus was desperate to bring them home safely. And, as stated above, by Season 5 he believed that he only had a few short months left to do it, so he was starting to get bullheaded and reckless over his franticness to win the war quickly for their sake. He let his upset get the better of him one (1) time, when he yelled at Lance in “Postmortem,” but immediately looked away in shame, and by the end of the day apologized to Lance and praised his good work.
Over the course of half a year, this character suffered in silence and did his best to save as many people as possible. Even when the migraines got so bad he could barely remain conscious through the agony, he still put the needs of others above his own. His hard work resulted in the salvation of one-third of the universe. He cared, and he tried, so very hard.
Then this character gets possessed by the aforementioned evil witch, and mind-controlled against his will into trying to kill his family. She was controlling him through the Galra arm, so that he regains his senses when the arm is cut off, but by then he is too injured and passes out. As a result:
- Shiro, a man defined by his compassion, labels him “that thing.”
- The team takes Kuron out of the healing pod while he is injured but explicitly stated to be still alive. In addition, we are shown that he was still alive because he groaned when he was unconscious in the Black Lion.
- Keith refers to him as just a body. Again, this while Kuron is explicitly stated to be still alive. This is especially hurtful because Keith had been desperate to save Kuron when he thought he was Shiro, but stopped caring when the real Shiro informed him that “the thing” was an impostor.
- Lance, the kind-hearted, emotional support of the team, cries that the real Shiro tried to warn him from the Astral Plane, but doesn’t even mention the time Kuron reached out to him for help in the hallway.
- Allura never even tries to use her powers to heal him, despite the fact that just a couple of episodes before she showed the ability to heal mortally-wounded people. Instead, she forces Shiro’s soul into Kuron’s body.
- When the guy who wakes up identifies himself as the real Shiro, nobody asks what happened to Kuron. Nobody grieves, nobody mourns, nobody cares. Kuron either died during the soul transfer or immediately after being taken out of the healing pod. Both the characters and the narrative treat it as a happy ending.
This is appalling.
It would have been kinder to Kuron if he had suffocated in the Galra ship in “The Journey.” At least he would have died believing that he had a family that loved him and would miss him, and he wouldn’t have had to spend his final waking moments in horrified terror that he unwillingly doomed Voltron and the Universe, nor would he have been treated as a convenient meat puppet both by the villain and the heroes.
Found (biological) family
All the listed canon facts indicate that our heroes let their teammate die by withholding medical care, so they could use his corpse as a vessel to save somebody else. The Paladins fought Lotor because they claimed that harvesting people is the worst possible crime, then turned around and did the exact same thing to one of their own. And it’s supposed to be okay because we are apparently not meant to think of a clone as a person but rather as a “thing,” despite the fact that he was sentient and compassionate.
Nevermind the fact that it made no sense for Shiro to need a body, period.
It’s absurd that somehow Shiro’s body was incinerated, but absolutely nothing else in the cockpit was. This wave of deadly energy was so precise that the pilot was completely consumed from boots to helmet, but the very seat he had been sitting on didn’t even get a stain? No remains, no ash, smoke, no signs whatsoever? Really?
That’s ridiculous. It would have made far more sense to say that the wave of energy messed with Black’s canonical teleportation ability and caused her to accidentally teleport Shiro somewhere far way. Plus, both Zarkon and Merla survive similar deaths with intact bodies.
On top of that, Shiro is the only Paladin without a family outside of the team, which makes the Season 7 Finale incredibly depressing: all the Paladins are being cared for by their families, while Shiro is standing all alone. Letting Kuron survive, rename himself Ryou Shirogane (Takashi’s twin brother in the original GoLion cartoon), and be adopted as Shiro’s brother, would have given Shiro a family too.
In a series about “found family” and looking past the circumstances of your birth (such as Keith being half-Galra) and setting right what once went wrong (with the Original Paladins), letting Kuron become Ryou Shirogane would have been the best possible encapsulation of all those themes. Shiro gains a brother (found family) who was born as a weapon (dark beginning) but became an ally (change the future).
What about Shiro’s disease? Doesn’t Shiro need Kuron’s supposedly healthy body, since they established that Shiro’s original body was sick?
The heroes literally have access to a machine that can fix a person’s splattered insides in a single day, as well as magic that can restore the life energy of dying beings, from plants to humans to even entire planets. Curing Shiro should have been a child’s game, and it would have been a beautiful development of Shiro’s story: the dying Astronaut left his world out of love for the stars, and amongst the stars he found his salvation.
However, if the writers were that convinced that it was necessary to sacrifice Kuron to save Shiro (somehow), then they should have made it a Heroic Sacrifice. Kuron should have woken up, made amends with the team, and willingly offered his body to Shiro. His death should have had agency and dignity, and been properly mourned.
The problem is not that Kuron died. The problem is that he was abandoned. That he was dehumanized, demonized and discarded. Everything we see in canon clearly indicates that they could have saved him, but chose not to, because something as trivial as the circumstances of his birth caused them to stop seeing him as a human being, let alone a brother. And they dumped the blame of Haggar’s actions squarely on his shoulders, despite the fact that it wasn’t even the first time that a Paladin got brainwashed into trying to kill his teammates (remember Hunk in “The Depths”?).
If Kuron had been allowed a proper death, if he had been treated as a person, it would have been sad, but there would have been catharsis.
What we got instead was just an ungodly mess with no compassion and no closure. A cow got more care than the seventh Paladin.
Post Season 6, interviews clearly showed that the showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery never expected anybody to care for Kuron.
In the Entertainment Weekly interview of June 15 2018, they gleefully recounted how they planned to put the real Shiro’s “proper” essence into the “Shiro husk,” and that the purpose of the “Shiro replacement” was solely to be unlike the “stable and dependable” real Shiro that supposedly didn’t allow the other characters to grow.
Only later, realizing that people were sad for the clone and disturbed by his fate, as well as upset by the realization that the real Shiro had been written out of half the show and that four Seasons’ worth of character interactions had been thrown out of the window, did they introduce the Word Of God that Kuron and Shiro merged together.
In the Hypable interview of June 20 2018, while JDS kept calling Kuron an “it” (which is something he continues doing in subsequent interviews), LM talked about how “for me, the way I see it, I like to think that” Kuron was “kind of absorbed” into the real Shiro’s essence, which supposedly gave the real Shiro all the memories and the knowledge of Kuron. This idea, clearly expressed as her own very personal and very recent headcanon that in no way had been planned and put into actual canon, was immediately embraced by Fandom and passed around as Word Of God.
In the GeekDad interview of June 25 2018, JDS and LM claimed that Shiro’s grey hair was their way of showing that Shiro in Season 7 is the amalgamation of the original Shiro and his clone. The Shiro who comes back to life is supposedly “not exactly the same Shiro” as the one in the first two Seasons, and they needed “a physical way to show” this merge.
In the Let’s Voltron interview of June 29 2018, lead writer and story editor Josh Hamilton said that it was “Allura’s energy going into Shiro that has caused his hair to turn white.”
They never explain why the heroes didn’t wake Kuron up with the pod or with magic, to ask for his consent before violating his mind and body. Nor do they explain whether the heroes intentionally merged the two men together to save them both, or if saving Kuron was just an unintended side-effect of saving the real Shiro. Finally, whether this merge involves an actual soul merge or just Shiro getting the clone’s memories, is left vague.
To be clear: if it’s the latter, it’s worthless. Kuron had Shiro’s memories as well as his DNA: neither made Shiro any less dead. Alfor’s AI had Alfor’s memories, but was clearly not Alfor. At one point the heroes extract Sendak’s memories, and presumably could put them into anybody. Memories are not substitutes for the soul, and keeping somebody’s memories doesn’t mean that the person did not die, so they should still be mourned. Only by preserving somebody’s soul do you truly preserve their existence, and therefore justify the lack of mourning.
Unfortunately, this Word Of God is never, ever even hinted at in canon. No indication whatsoever. The team freaks out when “Shiro’s consciousness is being rejected by the clone’s body” in “A Little Adventure,” but they never acknowledge the clone’s consciousness at all. Grey-haired Shiro only ever talks about stuff the original Shiro did, and doesn’t show any recognition when people talk about stuff the clone did, like the Voltron Show. The official books by Simon and Schuster describe the process of reviving Shiro as simply putting his soul into the clone body, no mention of any merge anywhere.
After Season 6, Kuron is brought up once in the entire rest of the series: in Season 7, when Shiro talks about “the dead body of an evil clone of myself.” Kuron’s family has written him off as evil, and his preventable death as a joke, because they victim-blame him for the things he was forced to do against his will while under mind-control. It’s supposed to be a happy ending when it’s anything but.
Thus I can only conclude that the showrunners, who have a long and extensive history of contradicting themselves in interviews, can’t be relied upon to provide WOGs that are compatible with canon.
The “healthy” body
Speaking of unreliable Word Of God, there is no canon indication that Shiro is cured of the disease.
It’s never brought up even once in the show, they only say he is cured in interviews. The show states that Shiro has a genetic disease that is going to destroy his muscles, then never addresses the topic again. Shiro in Seasons 7 and 8 is noticeably weaker than in Seasons 1 and 2: losing a fight against Sendak, an opponent Shiro had been able to fight to a draw in the past, and even getting defeated by a handful of Alteans. And at the end of the show, Shiro retires at the ripe old age of 27.
As far as canon is concerned, the clone body was as sick as the original body, and Shiro “left the battle behind” because his disease finally caught up with him.
Certainly, it should be easy to cure Shiro with magic or with Altean technology. But neither the writing nor the interviews ever acknowledge those options.
To summarize. Shiro was written out of half the show. Gained neither Kuron’s soul nor Kuron’s memories. Never got to use his bayard. Lost his bond with the Black Lion, and the show never even acknowledges that loss. Lost Adam, and never gets to properly mourn Adam’s death. His arm was amputated twice (first time up to the biceps, second time up to his shoulder). He lost his cherished status as Paladin of Voltron (which proves the villain right, as Sendak mocked Shiro by telling him that he was too broken to be a Paladin in “Crystal Venom”), and is told that Voltron is stronger than ever now that he is not a part of it anymore. Is the only one of the heroes who does not have a family outside of the Paladins, and then is isolated from the Paladins too. His PTSD is flat out forgotten. He never gets to keep a single victory (Zarkon was defeated by Lotor, Sendak by Keith, the robot in the Season 7 Finale would have destroyed the Atlas if Voltron had not intervened to rescue it, even the gladiator Myzax comes back in Season 8 to be dealt with by somebody else). Never gets a vlog. Gives up his dream and retires in his twenties. And is given a horrible disease that never gets cured.
The show wasted entire episodes on OCs, on worthless filler, even on tertiary characters’ hobbies, but wouldn’t spend ten seconds for even a throwaway line to establish whether Shiro is going to die shortly after the end of the series or not. Priorities!
It never stops at one
When people ask “how could Season 7 and Season 8 be so cruel and heartless to Allura? How could they treat Lance so badly? How could they mess with Shiro’s character like that? How could they be so brutal to Lotor? How could they seriously plan to kill off Hunk, and only spared him at the last second when the execs vetoed killing more than one Paladin? How could Keith and Shiro go from close friends to strangers? What happened to the theme of Found Family?
Kuron was the canary in the coal mine. Season 6 took this well-meaning victimized character and had the family he loved throw him away like a piece of garbage, while acting like everything was fine and dandy. Having shown that much lack of empathy, it was just a matter of time before the series did the other characters dirty.
It never stops at one.
The whole mess is so disturbing that some fans have been trying to come up with ways to make it a bit more humane. A popular fan theory is that Keith knew that the “Shiro” in “The Black Paladins” was a clone, but wanted to rescue him anyway, so that Kuron was loved by at least one person in his short life, and wasn’t completely and utterly alone.
While optimistic, it’s not factually accurate to the storyline. As stated earlier, it’s not the first time that a Paladin was brainwashed into trying to kill the others (hi Hunk!), and if you count the comics, it’s not even the first time Shiro was brainwashed into trying to kill the others.
In fact, it’s also not the first time the team has fought a copy of Shiro, nor multiple copies of the same person. Sure, last time in Season 1 they were illusions, not clones. But while the bodies are locked up inside of pods, how can you tell if they are real or not?
Then, Keith is not observant. He knew his mother was a Blade and a Galra, yet he had no idea that the Galra Blade who looked like a female version of himself was his mother. After the fight in “The Black Paladins,” while in the Astral Plane, he sees a Shiro with two arms and different hairdo, and assumes he is the same guy whose arm he just cut off.
During the fight, Keith keeps telling “Shiro” about the things Shiro did for him, like how Shiro helped Keith get into the Garrison, even though Kuron wasn’t even born back then. At no point does Keith say anything remotely like, “even if you are not the original Shiro, you are still a Shiro!” For the entirety of the fight, Keith just talks to Kuron as if he were the original.
When Keith wakes up, he thanks the Black Lion for saving him and Shiro, but is shocked to hear Kuron groan behind him. Keith had not realized that Black had saved Kuron too.
Finally, when Keith finds out that he never found Shiro, that Shiro is still missing, that Shiro may be dead or being tortured that very moment… Do you really think it makes sense for Keith not to ask the question that Lance asks 0.2 seconds after learning of the clone: “Where is Shiro?” Do you really think it’s even remotely in character for Keith to keep fighting with Kuron for half an hour, constantly trying to talk with him, constantly telling him things and asking him questions, without even once asking him if he knows what happened to the real Shiro?
It’s far from the only time fans have superimposed their own meaningful headcanons over broken canon. For instance, fans were so sure that Kuron’s desire to be a Paladin in “Monsters & Mana” had to be a hint of something deeper. Did the showrunners mean to tell us that Kuron wanted to be a Paladin so badly because it was all he ever knew? Was it supposed to show that he wasn’t a willing spy, because he sincerely wished to be a hero?
As it turned out, the showrunners just didn’t put any thought into it. From the AfterBuzz interview of 16 lug 2018:
Host: What I love is that people keep pulling back from that and taking the one line “I wanna be a Paladin again” and putting it on the saddest fanarts I’ve ever seen.
JDS: I don’t even think we really, like, looked that deep into it.
LM: No, it was just us making pure fun of Shiro. Like, you are boring and this is what you wanna do!
JDS: He doesn’t have enough creativity to think of anything else!
This is just one of the many examples of fans putting a lot more thought into the story than the showrunners ever did.
Fans have been trying, with theories and a lot of comforting fanworks. But ultimately, this is Dreamworks’ mess to fix.
The most upsetting thing is that it would be so easy to fix.
DreamWorks should most definitely fix the endings of all the characters. But salvaging Allura, Shiro, Lotor, Lance and Keith would require either a sequel or a Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood-style reboot that keeps the beginning but changes the ending.
Fixing the Kuron issue in the best possible way would require letting him become Ryou Shirogane in such a reboot. And, given that the show established the existence of countless alternate realities, it could even go hand-in-hand with previous VLD canon. Just say that the previous VLD took place on Universe #1, and the new VLD takes place in Universe #2. Both Marvel and DC make extensive use of the Multiverse, DreamWorks could too.
However, fixing the Kuron issue in an adequate way would only take a vlog or a comic. It would be fast, cheap and easy. All it would take is a short scene where either:
a) The team holds a funeral for Kuron, regretting that they were not able to save him because of magic and superscience or any number of reasons that neither the pod nor Allura’s powers could do anything about. They make it clear that they don’t blame him for what Haggar forced him to do, and that they never stopped caring for him. “You were strong, you were brave, you mattered.”
b) Grey-haired Shiro confirms that he really IS the amalgamation of the real Shiro and Kuron, a fusion of both their souls. That the team really did want to save both lives, because Found Family means leaving nobody behind, and the merge was the only way to do so. That both Shiro and Kuron consented. And that grey-haired Shiro still has a cruel attitude towards Kuron because he feels self-hatred over the attempted murder of the team, but the team is helping him coming to terms with that and understand that it was all Haggar’s fault, so that eventually he can find peace and accepts both parts of his new self.
Fast. Cheap. Easy. It could fit in just a couple of pages of a single comic.
Yet Dreamworks refuses to do it, because they apparently see nothing wrong with having Our Heroes murder their brother in his sleep to steal his body and calling it a happy ending.
They see nothing wrong in the message that “if you are born wrong, give up all hope because no matter how good your intentions, no matter how hard you try, you will fail. The best thing you can do for your family is to die. Nobody will care, and they’ll only remember you to say that they hated you.”
In a TV-Y7/FV show, no less. Kuron’s story devastated me, and I’m an adult. How many children internalized that message?
To top it off, Kuron was almost certainly gay. According to a number of twin studies, same-sex attraction is strongly correlated to genetic factors. And, since Haggar specifically made Kuron to be as similar as possible to Shiro to make him believe he was Shiro, sexuality was most likely part of the package.
Meaning that this is yet another case of Bury Your Gays in VLD.
Season 8 was not an outlier. It was the natural conclusion of the obliteration of the Found Family theme that started with Season 6. After Season 6 established that bonds mean nothing, that the Paladins can stop caring for each other at the drop of a hat, there was no way the series could deliver a decent conclusion.
And so, the bond between Shiro and the Black Lion is gone as if it never existed. Adam gets mourned for 5 seconds or so and then completely forgotten. Shiro just watches passively as Pidge gets tortured, because his arm is tied to his belt (you know, the article of clothing that unbuckles). Lotor’s Generals never really cared for Narti, and Lotor’s fear of his abusive father and rejection of his abusive mother are played for laughs. The Paladins gang up on Lance, instead of defending him, while Bob is stepping all over his insecurities. Shiro is isolated from all the other Paladins except for Keith, then he is isolated from Keith too. The Paladins just watch Allura march to her death, doing nothing to find another way, and Coran is excluded from the goodbye scene.
And this is why I can’t trust Dreamworks anymore. Why I am not watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power nor 3Below: Tales of Arcadia, and why I’m not going to watch Fast & Furious: Spy Racers nor Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts nor any other DW show. Why I didn’t watch the final How To Train Your Dragon movie after I greatly enjoyed the previous two movies, and why I am not going to watch any other DW movie.
If I am to ever trust Dreamworks again, they have to fix that mess first. Otherwise, I would just keep expecting them to stab me in the heart again. Why would I risk that, when there are so many other Companies whose movies and TV shows celebrate their characters and provide satisfying, coherent stories?
After all, it never stops at one.