Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 5) – Gauntlet of Fire
Throughout the numerous seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, we’ve been introduced to all sorts of different creatures, outside of the standard pony-type.
One of the most prominently seen has been griffons, but another has often caused many to wonder, and that is in regards to dragons.
We’ve seen a number of dragons in several episodes, but even though they are a part of this world, the pony-folk have little knowledge about them, as explained in the Season 2 episode, Dragon Quest.
Since the early seasons, Spike has been a window into the ways of “nature vs nurture” regarding dragons. Raised by Twilight Sparkle since he was little, his primary function has been to be her assistant, a trait that has slowed in recent seasons, as Twilight has gone from a student of Princess Celestia’s to an important figure in her own right. Though he has some dragon-like traits, he is rather unique in regards to his viewpoints.
When it came to archetypes, I often thought of Spike like an adopted little brother, but one whose big sister was fine with letting him hang out with her and her friends.
Online, there are some that find him quite annoying, and others that wondered if we’d see him move beyond being a comedic doormat, as most of the show’s writers seemed to have made him into in the last few seasons.
After his whole body starts glowing, Spike is summoned to the Dragon Kingdom, where he and a number of other dragons are expected to compete to try and become the new Dragon Lord.
Spike runs into the teenage dragon Garble whom he encountered in the episode Dragon Quest, as well as the current Dragon Lord’s daughter, named Ember. Both seem to want to prove themselves for different reasons, but soon, circumstances push Spike to also enter the dangerous tournament.
From the first few minutes of the episode, it becomes pretty obvious we’re in for one that bucks the standard.
This is a world-building episode almost on par with The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone from Season 5. However, the map in Twilight’s castle doesn’t figure into this story, as it is largely a problem that has to be solved regarding Spike.
We get quite a few callbacks to the Season 2 episode Dragon Quest (including Twilight and Rarity in multiple disguises). In fact, this episode feels like a direct descendant of Quest.
Probably the most prominent dragon callback, is the teenage dragon named Garble, who hasn’t changed at all from the last time we saw him (and seems to harbor a deeper grudge towards our ponies). Garble once again, serves as the “Diamond Tiara” to Spike, belittling him for his compassion, and associating with ponies.
Character-wise, the episode’s introduction of Dragon Lord Torch and Princess Ember, are two of the big stand-outs so far this season.
The immense and grandiose Dragon Lord Torch, delivers his lines with the kind of bombastic tone one would find from the likes of Brian Blessed, or Gerard Butler. Though he doesn’t get a lot of screen-time, his overall design is still rather impressive, and he had a few lines that gave me a chuckle.
Torch’s daughter Ember, becomes our head-strong Princess figure for the episode (though fortunately, she never reaches the stubborn levels of Merida in Brave). Probably one of her greatest strengths as a character here, is how she is willing to be open-minded, and at times, consider different opinions or ideas, even if she does try to lay on some attitude.
For all the world-building the episode attempts to do, it also feels like it gets too flimsy at times in trying to have its cake, and eat it too.
Torch’s test for the dragons gives us plenty of visual standouts (notably in regards to a few new creature designs and environments), but the structure of the episode oftentimes feels like we’re so quickly shuffled onto a new set piece, that we’re left wanting to know more about the last one.
In a way, this episode feels like it could have just been Spike off on his own, though it might have made some question why a show called My Little Pony, had an episode that was largely without ponies.
Speaking of ponies, Twilight Sparkle and Rarity return to their old ways of camouflaging themselves around other dragons, as Spike makes his way through the gauntlet.
Fortunately, Twilight and Rarity don’t pull any “cheats” and help Spike as he goes on his quest, but the plot thread revolving around them being in the Dragon Kingdom, feels as flimsy as the sub-story in The Gift of the Maud Pie. In that episode, Rarity’s journey to Manehattan to find a new boutique location, is pushed way to the back of the overall storyline, feeling like a time-filling afterthought.
Twilight also grows excited in getting to study dragon culture, and while it mainly just holds to a few lines of dialogue in the overall story, one almost hopes that we may get even more information on the world of these creatures in the future.
Gauntlet of Fire also acts as the second episode this season, where Rarity seems to have picked up the comedic torch in both her actions, as well as what voice-actress Tabitha St Germain brings to the mic.
The writing duo of Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco return for their fourth go-round of episode writing, after handling three episodes in Season 5. One of their most entertaining was Season 5’s Rarity Investigates, and this episode seems to show they love having some fun with her character (though in one scene, Rarity seems rather unfazed to be caked in dirt and mud…but then again, maybe she’s matured from her more prissy Season 1 days?).
Overall, definitely one of the more entertaining Spike episodes, but just needed a little extra “oomph” to have propelled it to greatness.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Gauntlet of Fire” gives Spike the Dragon a starring role, that brings out his better qualities, without turning him into a joke like on some previous occasions. More information on the Dragon Kingdom, as well as its rulers and inhabitants, helps in opening the world of Equestria up to new story possibilities down the line. Bringing back the bullying Garble the dragon feels a little flimsy, and the subplot of Twilight Sparkle and Rarity tagging along with Spike to keep an eye on him, could have been excised to make a dragons-only episode of the show.)