Getting Under the Hood of ‘Tales of Arcadia: Wizards’ With EP’s Aaron Waltke and Chad Quandt

Oh, Tales of Arcadia: Wizards. Thou hast tugged at my heartstrings with tears, trials, tribulations, and.. what’s that? Steve is drinking ale and beatboxing with The Knights of the Round Table in Camelot? Pass another giant fried turkey leg!

There’s nothing quite like Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia saga, though there is plenty to like with each additional installment. The shiny Emmy Awards Trollhunters gobbled up figuratively speak for themselves. Each chapter has presented masterful storytelling, shepherded by a genre master on top of his game, and deliberately finely carved into a form kids and parents can enjoy alike and — more importantly — together.

The “ship just got real” for fans of this extensive serial spanning now three series with the arrival of Wizards, the final installment or ‘Endgame’, if you will. In some respects it does mark the end as several character arcs that began in Trollhunters conclude in a rousing manner sometimes predictable, other times not. But as the war for Magic on Earth has raged on for centuries, there’s definitely a McGuffin for future conflict to erupt from.

It was a daunting task for co-showrunners and Executive Producers Aaron Waltke and Chad Quandt to effectively wrap up numerous threads from Trollhunters, work in a character from 3Below to maintain that continuity, introduce Merlin’s apprentice Hisirdoux as the central antagonist, and introduce the mysterious magic-wielding Arcane Order as new protagonists. All in a mere 10 episodes.

For the most part they absolutely nailed it. Wizards is a high-octane 1980’s-fueled serial moving at a breakneck pace from beginning to end. Around every corner is beautifully animated action like the infamous Battle of Killahead spread across two episodes, strong emotion elicited from players on both sides of the conflict, the reintroduction of favorite familiar Trollhunters faces, and Steve continually shrieking in terror. I’m smiling just writing about it.

Someone unfortunately drew a slightly shorter stick with limited minutes to pass around… the creepy Arcane Order. I wanted to better understand their individual motivations to control all magic in existence and effectively destroy Earth in the process. Bad guys will be bad guys, I suppose. But these two, once three until an off-screen defection, are too evil-cool not to revisit for a magical mayhem encore.

What makes Tales of Arcadia special for me is there’s complexity and meticulous planning humming under the hood. Familial squabbles, acceptance and forgiveness. Monster love. Letting go of the past. Identity crisis. Seeds of redemption surprisingly taking root and gloriously sprouting. The feels you expect from a Gullermo del Toro project with Trollhunters alum steering the flying time-traveling castle never let up.

So who better than Chad and Aaron to blitz with meaty and sometimes whimsical Wizards questions so they can explain the creative process that ultimately makes this latest Tales of Arcadia installment another round of awesomesauce.


Do not continue if you have yet to complete watching all 10 episodes of Wizards

Tales of Arcadia: Wizards Claire

1. As much as Hisirdoux’s (Douxie) journey is at the core of Wizards, I was particularly caught up in the motivations of Claire and Morgana. How important was it for Morgana to find redemption whereas Arthur: Green Knight was unable to despite his sister’s best efforts to save his soul?

CQ (Chad): We’ve always believed that every great antagonist is one you sympathize with. The hero of their own story where you see their perspective, even if it’s the ‘wrong’ one. And while Douxie and Merlin’s broken relationship was the core relationship of Wizards, we knew early on that we wanted to see Claire learn and master her own form of magic. And what better mentor to learn shadow magic (and what NOT to do with it) from than the Eldritch Queen herself?

AW (Aaron): Guillermo challenged us to elevate Wizards into something meaningful as a series that could stand on its own.  Although the story revisits the past (literally and figuratively), we wanted it to feel relevant to today’s troubling times. Camelot’s divisions have emotional consequences — families and neighbors are torn apart by a magical war with conflicting beliefs fueling the fire. We wanted to explore the difficulty of reconciling with a loved one you profoundly disagree with — or if it’s always possible. Morgana and Arthur’s story is central to that.

Arthur was deeply broken by the pain of losing Guinevere, Camelot, and his life — this is especially true when he sees the sins of his past still haunting the present, and he succumbs to a nihilistic desire to wipe the world clean of its perceived evils, regardless of who it harms in the process. The tragedy of his arc is that we can’t always save everyone if they refuse to be saved, though we can always try. As for Morgana, she realized vengeance can only get you so far, and may go against the very causes she believed in; retaliation alone can’t bring back what you’ve lost. For Claire and Douxie, they ultimately choose not to repeat history like their predecessors and find their own way — taking it one day at a time, guided by kindness and vigilance.

Tales of Arcadia: Wizards Doors

2. Is there a story behind the seemingly Monty Python-inspired sarcastic doors guarding the Lady of the Lake’s prison, and were adult beverages present when the idea was hatched?

CQ: Honestly the room was more likely inebriated on gummy rings than alcohol at the time. Merlin’s talking door guardians (who we named Lock & Latch) were the result of us creating an early obstacle — a literal threshold — for Douxie and Claire to use their growing magical skills to get past. It also felt incredibly in line with crotchety Merlin to create sentient doors that mock you for being unable to use them.

AW: Monty Python was a huge influence!  We also drew inspiration from Olmec of Legends of the Hidden Temple, Evil Ash from Army of Darkness, and the talking door knobs from Alice in Wonderland. When we first pitched that gag, the writers’ room was worried they’d be considered too weird — but if anything, the notes we got were “make them weirder!”  Part of the strange charm of Tales of Arcadia comes from whenever we smash high fantasy into low comedy.

3. Fans of Steve Palchuk had reason to cheer throughout Wizards as the affable numbskull Creepslayer saw his presence increase dramatically from Trollhunters Season 3. Can you talk a little bit about his arc, the striking physical resemblance to Sir Lancelot, and the importance of him witnessing Sir Lancelot’s demise?

CQ: Steve (and his Creepslayer partner Eli) are personal favorites of Aaron and mine. Steve has been one of our favorite series-long arcs– letting the meathead rival earn his way into becoming not just one of the Guardians of Arcadia, but more importantly becoming part of their family. While Douxie, Claire, and Jim have their own important quests to accomplish in the past, Steve deserved to have his own mini adventure– a teenage dolt considering what it is to be an honor-bound knight. And is there something more to being a knight than just drinking and going on quests (as rad as that is)?

AW: Sir Lancelot, despite his faults, represents loyalty and honor — someone that Steve could become with a little more focus (and perhaps a tad less ego).  A key aspect to the homespun wisdom Lancelot imparts to Sir Steve of Palchukia is that a true knight is someone who stands for righteousness, even when there’s no one left to stand by you or see it. When Lancelot falls, Steve must assume that mantle. As for the resemblance, I believe Guillermo pitched the joke to suggest a distant legendary lineage that over the years became… well, Steve.

4. This isn’t a question as much as a suggestion. There’s a great drinking game to be had every time Steve screams in Wizards. Steven Yeun must have had a blast with that role.

AW: Steven Yeun is an improvisational master. Anytime we gave him a line, he’d make it one hundred million times better. And I could make those yelps my ringtone.

CQ: Somewhere on the Tales of Arcadia servers is probably hours of uncut audio of Steven Yuen’s hilarious screams and efforts and crying. Steve Palchuck wouldn’t be the oaf we love without Yuen’s incredible portrayal. We owe him a drink ourselves.

5. We didn’t get to see much of the sarcastically dry-humored Merlin in Trollhunters so it was a special treat to see his role naturally expanded in Wizards. What was the biggest challenge in developing Merlin’s touchy relationship with his apprentice-turned-successor, Douxie?

CQ: We’ve had a clear picture of our version of Merlin since he appeared in Trollhunters, but what was fascinating coming back for Wizards was learning how Merlin had evoked different emotions from our story team — all calling upon their own experiences with mentors be it parents, teachers, symbols of authority. We spent a lot of time talking about and adjusting the nuance of Merlin and Douxie’s relationship specifically to tell the story of a neglected son who just wants that sign of respect from their father, and ultimately learns they don’t need that ‘stamp of approval’ to grow up and be their own hero.

AW: Merlin saved Hisirdoux from a life as an orphan on the street, but left him for centuries and proved to be a secretive, distant figure.  There are plenty of young people out there who didn’t grow up with the perfect family — some had parents or guardians who were absent, or stern, or emotionally unavailable, or impossible to please, to name a few. Douxie’s journey is meant to illustrate there’s a path forward for those kids, too. In Douxie’s case, it was about finding his own family and philosophy, and learning to let go of what Merlin expected of him — and in doing so, he freed himself of that burden. He even shows tremendous compassion in choosing to offer forgiveness, whether it’s deserved or not.

6. I got a big-time Dr. Henry Jones Sr. vibe from Charlemagne the Devourer. Is that a fair assessment?

CQ: Indiana Jones is certainly baked into the bedrock of Trollhunters. And while Henry Jones is an incredible reference point I recall our initial inspiration for Charlemagne (still can’t believe we got Brian Blessed!) was to have an example of a more empathetic father figure for Douxie. We really fell in love with Charlie and could’ve written a whole other episode of Dragon Dad Adventures if we had the time.

AW: I’ve blurted out “Let my army be the trees, and the rocks, and the birds in the sky!” enough times that the writers’ room probably thought I was losing my mind.  Brian Blessed is such a wonderful actor, and we’re delighted he brought such ebullience and empathy to Archie’s pun-master dragon pop.

7. Did you decide to change Jim back into his flesh bag form while scripting Trollhunters Season 3, or was that an idea conceived exclusively while breaking the Wizards story? It was definitely a fan-friendly move either way. 

CQ: We certainly discussed every possible outcome we could imagine for the fate of human Jim in Trollhunters, and that final sacrifice he makes is a huge choice that we didn’t want to waive away the stakes of. Claire and Troll Jim’s bonding is such a fun romance to watch and it’s certainly a homage to Guillermo’s monster love stories. Changing Jim back had to be earned. A reward for his courage, but more ultimately a reward Claire earns by learning shadow magic. It also has greater ramifications in the next Tales of Arcadia story… (Editor’s Note: the next story has been formally announced).

AW: A major theme of Wizards is contending with how anyone is expected to save the world, and the eternal struggle between old and new.  Merlin, Morgana, and Arthur all failed in their own ways — often because of the sacrifices others were required to make to fulfill their visions of a better future.  In her final moments in our plane of existence, Morgana alludes to the fact that they had their chance, and perhaps it’s time to step aside and allow the next generation to forge their own path. For Claire to achieve great and wondrous things — namely, the one thing Merlin proclaimed was impossible, to turn Jim back — it meant casting off the last of Merlin and Morgana’s magical influence, and learning from their mistakes to do something new. To heal a broken world or a broken soul, sometimes love and compassion are the oldest, deepest magics we have.  As for Jim, he now has a chance to become on his own terms… but how?

Tales of Arcadia: Wizards Jim

8. The conclusion of Wizards feels like a 180-degree turn from the beginning of Trollhunters. Revived Jim is now powerless whereas Claire is more empowered than ever. Was this an intentional conclusion or a byproduct of the larger story?

CQ: Flipping the power balance wasn’t a specific goal from the start, but more a natural outcome of where their stories took us. Jim and Claire risked their lives to undo what in Merlin believed was irreversible magic. That’s big. And like that euphemism ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs’ it’s sorta ‘you can’t get a human Jim back without breaking a few amulets.’

AW: Just as life can be unexpected, but clear from the beginning, the storytelling on Tales of Arcadia is equal parts meticulous planning and hidden surprises. As a fledgling sorceress, it felt right for Claire’s arc to be learning magic so she wouldn’t feel powerless without her staff —  and be unburdened from (unfairly) blaming herself for Jim’s injury. She would learn from Douxie, an apprentice still doubting deep down if he’s ready to become a master wizard himself. As for Jim, he starts in a place of having accepted his mantle as the selfless, all-powerful Trollhunter, protector of Trollkind… but comes to embrace the truth that sometimes, even heroes need to trust others will save them.

9. Jim glances at Excalibur after failing to draw it from the stone, and the camera briefly shifts focus from Jim to the Sword. Douxie and Archie take Nari to the big city — New York? — to escape the Arcane Order, but Bellroc already has them in her sights. Leaving the story open-ended seems quite deliberate despite Tales of Arcadia formally coming to a close with this chapter. But the story isn’t in Arcadia anymore when the credits roll, is it?

CQ: Really can’t say much about the next story in this series. But it’s safe to say that while we tease our heroes in new cities and locations, the roots of this story still lie in Arcadia. There’s a reason why all of this takes place in a relatively small west coast town.

AW: Indeed! Stay tuned for more updates on that matter, but suffice it to say — you have correctly observed that Wizards ends on a cliffhanger with the promise of more adventures to come… and the Tales of Arcadia wouldn’t be complete until everyone returns home.

10. “Always hated those twits”. That was a great callback to Trollhunters Season 3 echoed verbatim by Douxie at Killahead in Wizards. I totally missed him basically telling the audience during the short-lived Eternal Night that he’s encountered Gumm-Gumms before. Is there another neat Easter Egg or hint of an Easter Egg buried in Wizards that you’d like to share? 

CQ: A few folks have caught it already, but when you see Merlin building the Amulet for the first time in Trollhunters, there is a second set of hands assisting him– Douxie’s. We knew even then that Hisirdoux was moving quietly in the background of Arcadia. It was so fun to share his perspective on the past and the future.

AW: In Wizards, you’ll notice Douxie works at “GdT’s Arcane Books” — and there’s a portrait of Guillermo on the wall.  It’s also fun revisiting Merlin’s behavior in the pilot of Wizards. As we’ve seen throughout Tales of Arcadia, Merlin makes elaborate plans based on possible futures he’s glimpsed bits and pieces of. In the pilot, Merlin clearly has a plan ready for the arrival of the Arcane Order, and proclaims their only hope is to jump into the past… which means he likely saw a possible future where time travel was involved — and somehow, the only way for them to survive was to go back to ancient Camelot!  In a way, that future comes true — Douxie emerges from the past strong enough to save his friends in the present, Claire becomes a wizard in her own right to save Jim, and Morgana is finally redeemed. And Steve gets a cool tooth-axe!

11. Looking ahead for a moment, you both boldly went where no Star Trek writers have gone before in joining the Star Trek Prodigy writer’s room under Dan and Kevin Hageman — whom you also worked with on Trollhunters. We won’t get a glimpse of this series until next year, but you do think Tales of Arcadia fans will find a lot to like in this first-ever Star Trek series aimed at kids and kids at heart?

AW: There’s not much we can say, but I think fans of Tales of Arcadia will find a lot of shared storytelling DNA in Star Trek Prodigy. A balance of action and high-concept adventure, thrills, humor, and emotional truth are all things we hold near and dear to us as writers.  Our instinct is always to tell stories that hearken to hope against impossible odds, compelling explorations of what if… all things both young and old can both enjoy, just as I did with my dad watching Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

CQ: It is an unbelievable honor to get to work on Trek. Both of us grew up with TNG as this bastion of fantastic sci-fi writing to aspire to. A lot of our character and story sensibilities transferred into Star Trek Prodigy: lovable outcasts, diverse characters having to work through their personal problems for a greater goal, and a balance of humor and drama that you’ll hopefully enjoy regardless of age. And heart applies to both Trollhunters and Trek — the setting can be fantastical as possible, but if you don’t care about these kids and their greater goals that story’s not going to mean much. It was also a sweet Tales of Arcadia reunion to work with The Hageman Brothers again.

12. You may or may not know this one off the top of your head, but what the heck does Senor Uhl grumble in German when denied entry to the hidden lair within the Hex Tech store? I’m guessing it’s not ” fuzzbuckets”.

CQ: I’d have to ask our fantastic script coordinators. But I’d have to wager it’s something PG-13 Uhl chose to keep Germanic for maximum cursing power.

AW: Fred Tatasciore is a master of Anglo-Saxon glossolalia… so perhaps we’ll never know. (Editor’s Note: is that you, Blinkous Galadrigal?)

Special thanks to the great folks at DreamWorks Animation, Chad and Aaron for the amazing Wizards insight.

Tales of Arcadia: Wizards Interview

TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.