Don’t think, Become: Trollhunters & Saying Goodbye

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Trollhunters

In 2016, Guillermo del Toro’s television show Trollhunters came to Netflix. Produced Dreamworks, the modern-day Arthurian legend quickly won my heart. In the world of retellings, Trollhunters’ was a world of trolls, changelings, wizards, and adventure. Set in the town of Arcadia the voice cast includes Lexi Medrano (Claire Nuñez), Charlie Saxton (Toby Domzalski), Kelsey Grammer (Blinky) and even some appearances by Steven Yeun (Steve Palchuk). But the most important character of this story is Jim Lake Jr., voiced by late Anton Yelchin. Jim is a teenager who finds the amulet of Merlin that grants the wearer the power and responsibility of the Trollhunter – a hero to trollkind sent to protect them from the dark troll warlord Gunmar and his army.

This isn’t an article about the story of Trollhunters, the highs, the morals, or even the amazing world-building by Guillermo del Toro and crew. This is a piece about saying goodbye. 

Anton Yelchin died before Trollhunters premiered, on June 19, 2016, from a freak accident. Having only recorded his parts for the first season and half of the second, Guillermo del Toro and company had a choice to make: continue and recast or end the story early. It was a hard question to answer for the team given del Toro’s paternalistic relationship with Yelchin and the difficulty of matching a voice of a character that Yelchin himself took multiple sessions to perfect.

Speaking with IndieWire, del Toro explained “The thing about Jim that has been a battle for me, from the beginning of this year, is to explain to everyone — to the studio, to the writers room, to the actors — that what I wanted was to have Jim be a good guy. That is not terribly complicated. He’s a guy that is really a very good boy. He was a good kid that I could identify or aspire to, as opposed to having a character that has a lot of darkness and then has to either purge it or confront it.”

On Yelchin’s voice acting,  “The first couple of sessions with Anton, he really wanted to find the character,” Del Toro said. “I think it took three sessions, three full sessions, of him recording Jim. Then he found it and never again was he off-key. He was so in love with the character.” Although they would eventually recast the character of Jim for its last 13-episodes in season three, for the second season of the same length, Anton’s character, story, and voice were all preserved.

Upon the announcement of the second season, del Toro explained EW how they would continue the story: “We’ve been working on a second season for a while now because we knew that if everything went right, we could proceed. We’re going to go ahead and now continue, rather than start, because we’ve been doing it for more than a year. The reality and the beauty of this is that we can continue not only the storyline and the characters, but we have a huge swath of work from Anton that allows us to continue Anton through more than half the season.” It was this preservation of his character that made this last season so hard to watch at times.

Emile Hirsch took over the role of Jim for season three, and as I said above, it made some moments of that season hard to watch. Not because dialogue was bad, and definitely not because Hirsch was bad, but because Yelchin’s voice was so distinctive and kind and in the tough moments I wanted to hear him. Hirsch’s version of Jim is one who must confront darkness and do whatever he has to, to overcome it. Not that Jim of the last 2 seasons didn’t have to do that, but in season three, the darkness is something Jim attempts to harvest in himself instead of denying its existence. Ultimately, Jim must make the choice on how to fight Gunmar: remain human or leave his human life behind and become part troll.

In the climax of the season, Jim makes the choice to transform into a half-troll/half-human hybrid, which is where Hirsch’s voice really shines. His deeper voice without quirks works for this Jim, but this only happens in the last three episodes. However, it is Yelchin’s who voices Jim’s last words as a human, the “Become” speech that Blinky gave him. While season three completes Jim’s story, some fans still want a season four.

This isn’t the case for me, season 3 ends with Jim and Claire walking into the forest, leaving behind Arcadia, and the last lines are spoken by Yelchin are again, the most potent lines of the entire show:

Destiny is a gift. Never forget that fear is but the precursor to valour, that to strive and triumph in the face of fear, is what is means to be a hero. Don’t think. Become!

Ending with a title card reading “This series is dedicated to Anton Yelchin,” Trollhunters says goodbye in one of the most heartfelt ways I have seen of any show. By incorporating some of Yelchin’s voice to deliver the important emotional hits of the season, the showrunners show that they have never lost sight of honoring Yelchin, and that ultimately Jim remained his character – even when voiced by Hirsch. By only allowing enough episodes to be made to finish out the story, they highlight the importance and life that he brought to the character.

When shows end, good shows, we feel them. I felt this ending, not just as a show but as a goodbye. Any more and the show’s Campbellian narrative would have been forced and any less and we wouldn’t have seen the completion of Jim’s heroic journey. As del Toro prepares to spin out the rest of the world of Arcadia in his two spin-off shows, currently titled 3 Below and Wizards to complete the Tales of Arcadia trilogy, we can all remember Anton Yelchin’s Jim as the foundation of this universe.