The dragon battle in ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ is fantasy perfection

Every so often you watch a fight scene that is so awesome, so face-meltingly epic, that you have no choice but to freak out and cheer. 

That was my reaction to the climactic battle of The Legend of Vox Machina‘s second episode, “The Terror of Tal’Dorei — Part 2.” I laughed, leapt out of my seat, and vigorously punched the air as (spoilers) the band of mercenaries known as Vox Machina took down the dragon Brimscythe (David Tennant).

Based on Critical Role’s first Dungeons and Dragons campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina is full of spectacular combat sequences. The Brimscythe fight, essentially the show’s first boss battle, is no exception. From illusions and conjured vines to daggers and guns, it showcases Vox Machina’s versatility as warriors.

This fight also marks a huge turning point for the series, especially in terms of how we view the characters. Throughout the first episode, the members of Vox Machina see their fair share of failure. They get in each other’s way during a chaotic bar brawl, nearly die in their first encounter with Brimscythe, and are unable to protect the civilians of the Shale Steps. Here, in their Brimscythe rematch, we see them finally click as a party.

“We wanted to show that the team was not just a bunch of drunks and buffoons,” Brandon Auman, The Legend of Vox Machina‘s showrunner and executive producer, told Mashable in a phone interview. “They really are not just a team, either, but a family who can figure things out and make things happen. We wanted to make sure that the audience knew that these guys were heroes.”

A smiling giant holding an axe.
He got to rage! Credit: Amazon Studios

Despite cementing their hero status in this fight, part of Vox Machina’s strategy against Brimscythe involves convincing him that they aren’t heroes. The battle kicks off with a distraction courtesy of bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), who conjures an illusion of Vox Machina fighting amongst themselves like they have for the past episode.

“We pull a fast one on the audience, make them think, ‘[Vox Machina is] back to their loser ways, they’re arguing again, they’re doomed,'” said Auman. “But then you realize they are organized. They do know what they’re doing. It’s all a ruse.”

Auman also pointed out that the ruse pays off Scanlan’s illusion magic, as seen in the show’s very first episode. There, he sings a song about Vox Machina’s competence and makes them look much more put-together than they are — the song ends with a reveal of the team still in shambles from their tavern fight. Here, he does the reverse: sells the team short to Brimscythe so the rest of Vox Machina can get in position to take him down.

From there, we’re launched into non-stop action, where everyone on the team gets a chance to shine, whether it’s Vax (Liam O’Brien) slashing Brimscythe’s throat open or Vex (Laura Bailey) shooting an arrow with pinpoint precision. Watching it is like watching everyone in your Dungeons and Dragons party roll natural 20s during high-stakes combat. The whole sequence is an adrenaline rush in the best possible way.

It’s also an excellent opportunity for some Critical Role fan service. Neal Acree’s rousing score interpolates Critical Role theme “Your Turn to Roll.” Percy de Rolo (Taliesin Jaffe) gets his anime protagonist moment with a Naruto run. And of course Grog the barbarian (Travis Willingham) gets to rage. Not only that, but Willingham gets to deliver his and Grog’s memorable catchphrase, “I would like to rage” before demolishing Brimscythe with one stroke of his axe. 

“it’s such an iconic line from the campaign, it just made perfect sense to put it here,” Auman said. “And the animation really complemented the way they powered him up — it’s one of our favorite moments in the episode.”

“We wanted to make sure that the audience knew that these guys were heroes.”

– Brandon Auman

Alongside these big, bold, show-stopping attacks are character moments that let you know more about the members of Vox Machina. Take Keyleth (Marisha Ray), who conjures a host of vines that restrain one of Brimscythe’s wings. As she prepares to attack, she tells herself, “Come on, you got this!” 

It’s a moment of vulnerability when contrasted with other team members’ self-assured attacks, but it’s in there for a reason. Keyleth’s pep talk calls back to her reaction to Vox Machina’s first fight with Brimscythe. “In the first episode, you see how Keyleth loses her confidence. She freezes, and all the sound drops out,” explained Auman. “That’s a great moment to highlight Keyleth’s character. She doesn’t necessarily trust her own abilities, so she needs to hype herself up.”

Just as this small moment pays off something from Keyleth’s past, it also sets up something for her future. “She unleashes this amazing array of vines that was able to partially hold down Brimscythe, because she’s an incredibly powerful character,” Auman said. “We’re going to see how powerful Keyleth is as things progress, so that was a little nod to many things, including her power set.”

This fight also allows us to explore other facets of characters’ power sets, like when cleric Pike (Ashley Johnson) uses the Everlight to power up Vex’s arrow. “Pike gives Vex this fantastic assist, which is very much a part of RPGs,” said Auman. “She’s more of a defensive-type character early on and uses her shield a lot. She heals, but we wanted to show that she could also power up other weapons and become a more active force in the fight.”

A half-elf summons a ball of light.
Keyleth’s more powerful than she thinks. Credit: Amazon Studios

The Brimscythe battle occurred in-game before Critical Role began live streaming, which meant fans of Critical Role wouldn’t necessarily have preconceived notions about it the way they would for other fights. This gave Auman and his The Legend of Vox Machina team a bit more freedom for figuring out how this fight could best serve the rest of the season’s story.

“We didn’t feel like we had to be so beholden to the campaign, so we made it work in our favor and set things up that are going to come into play down the line. We were able to look at the battle, figure out what we needed emotionally, how we’re going to pay everything off, and really make this fight character-driven,” said Auman.

Still, the process of bringing a massive dragon showdown to life proved to be a daunting one.

“Big epic fight scenes are one of the hardest things that you can write, mainly because it’s all about staging,” said Auman. “It’s all about getting the fight to build. It needs to peak, it needs to reach a crescendo. You want to make sure that you’re giving everyone on the team a moment.”

The fight scene is a staggering set piece that packs heaps of character, storytelling, and epic action into two minutes.

The creation of the fight scene, like the whole show, was a team effort. The Critical Role cast, who are also executive producers, gave notes to make sure the fight was as strong as it could be, while the storyboard artists and animators from Titmouse and Production Reve brought the script to life.

“After writing, it’s the board artists who really make it sing,” said Auman. “A lot of times they’ll even rework the action and make it better, make it even more exciting than you could have imagined. That’s the amazing thing about working with super talented board artists and animators who can pull it off. It’s really just a big collaborative process.”

The result of all this collaboration is a staggering set piece that packs heaps of character, storytelling, and epic action into two minutes. The Brimscythe fight is already one of 2022’s strongest fight scenes, and considering that it’s only in The Legend of Vox Machina‘s second episode, it’s safe to expect more sequences like it as the season progresses.

For Auman, nailing this battle and the rest of the show felt like something out of the series itself.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s like a miracle. Like, ‘wow, we pulled it off.’ It really felt like Vox Machina,” he said. “In the beginning, you may doubt your abilities. Then when it comes together, it mirrors what happened in the battle itself, and it’s all about teamwork. Like Keyleth says at the end of the fight, ‘We did that.'”

The Legend of Vox Machina is now streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes every week.

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