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Synopsis:

During a visit of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to Princess Twilight Sparkle, Rarity suddenly brings Spike in, whose scales have inexplicably begun to glow and burn. The princesses explain that he’s being summoned, along with all other dragons, by the Dragonlord to the Dragonlands, and he has to answer to get it to stop. Reluctantly, but with Twilight and Rarity accompanying him (disguised, of course), Spike answers the summons along with the other younger dragons. Once there, Dragonlord Torch announces it’s time to pick a new Dragonlord, which will be decided by the first dragon who can successfully complete a deadly obstacle course called the “Gauntlet of Fire” and claim the Bloodstone Scepter at the end. When Spike overhears how the other competitors intend to attack and/or pillage Equestria if they become Dragonlord, he realizes the only way to protect Equestria is to win the Gauntlet of Fire himself and joins in, with Twilight and Rarity continuing to follow him and cheer him on. Early in the competition, during a swim to the island volcano where the scepter is located, an armored dragon gets knocked out and nearly drowns. Spike ends up saving the dragon and discovers it’s Princess Ember, the daughter of the Dragonlord who was forbidden from competing by her father but secretly joined the competition anyway to prove she could be Dragonlord in spite of not being “a big, strong dragon”. She discovers Twilight and Rarity but ends up covering for them when the bully dragon from “Dragon Quest” (revealed to be named Garble) nearly sniffs them out, leading Spike to believe she can be trusted. He ends up teaming with Ember to help pass the bulk of the remaining challenges in the gauntlet, which ends up demonstrating to her his friendship with the ponies of Equestria. On reaching the chamber with the Bloodstone Scepter, Garble arrives as well and attempts to knock Spike out of the race permanently, but Ember, deciding that she does consider herself and Spike to be “friends”, ends up occupying him long enough for Spike to get the scepter and win the competition. After ordering Garble to perform a humiliating task, however, Spike passes the scepter off to Ember instead to make her the new Dragonlord. On seeing Ember is victorious, Torch ends up apologizing for doubting her, and Spike, Twilight, and Rarity head home, hopeful that not only is the future safety of Equestia assured but happy that they now have a friend in the Dragonlands.

Review:

Spike episodes have a history of being subpar. Most would think that Season Five’s “Princess Spike” was the worst episode of that season. As a result, when this episode came out, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was actually a good one or if the bar had been so lowered that I just thought it was good.

There are a couple things about it that get me. The new character of Princess Ember is a bit like a milder version of Gilda Griffon as she was portrayed in “The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone”. And while there’s a lot of plot and dialogue in this episode to compress into 22 minutes, the bit where Ember ditches Spike near the end only to appear again a couple minutes later seems to mostly be padding to lengthen the episode another minute or so. And I’m sure at least a few fans were irked by how the ideas of dragon culture seemed to undergo another change. Whereas in “Dragon Quest” the younger dragons were portrayed as being more like normal characters, the older ones were still portrayed as being Tolkeinesque greedy brutes. In this one, even Dragonlord Torch is just made out as a “bigger version” of the younger ones.

But all those things aside, on a more in-depth analysis, I’ll go ahead and declare this another “good” Spike episode. It does portray Spike in an overall positive light, something that usually doesn’t happen in episodes highlighting him. I kind of liked the character of Ember and the interactions between Spike and her, and even Garble for that matter, had some nice bits of dialog. There was some imaginative action sequences and settings mixed in with the episode too.

Yet best of all, at least to me, is we got a brief throwback to the “early series Twilight Sparkle”. Twilight Sparkle is very much in her old Season 1-3 mode in this episode, not only not able to use her alicorn power for much, but tagging along on a more “normal” adventure as her old nerdy self constantly obsessed with study and learning.

And in the end, the main point of the series got across…teaching someone new about friendship. So, all in all, I rate this episode a bit above average. Entertaining and fun.

Fun Facts:

Although “Gauntlet of Fire” can refer to any dangerous challenge to prove oneself, there’s a good chance in this particular case the title is a knockoff of “Goblet of Fire” as in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, as this episode also features a challenge through a dangerous course to try to be the first to get to a magic object, and involves two competitors befriending each other.

Dragons were originally depicted in “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” as being fairly “Tolkien-esque” and at times even nearly subsentient. This episode retcons that a bit, although it flushes pretty well with how they were depicted in “Dragon Quest”.

This episode is somewhat of a continuation of Season Two’s “Dragon Quest”.

One of the few episodes where Princess Luna and Princess Celestia appear “casually” together.

The Dragonlord has some resemblance to the Bewilderbeast from “How to Train Your Dragon 2”. In a similar vein, this episode seems to push the idea that most dragons are relatively small and few are actually “dragon-sized”.

Spike uses the old gag of making up a name on the fly for Princess Ember by looking around at the first thing he can see…but being on a barren volcanic beach, all he can come up with is “Sandy Rockbeach”. 😛

Wilhelm Scream when the Slingtails hit a dragon.

The layered lava pools near the end of the Flamecano resemble Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. (Those ones aren’t filled with lava, of course.)

Princess Ember asks Rarity and Twilight Sparkle how they got through the tunnel at one point, at which point the writers conveniently have a lava eruption so that the question is never answered. 😛

No normal ending theme again.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

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