There’s no denying that San Diego Comic-Con changed the landscape for Voltron: Legendary Defender in a considerable way. I spoke to executive producers Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos, to really dig into the journey to telling this part of Shiro’s story, how much the fan response meant to them, the dynamics of Shiro and Adam’s relationship, and how that was juxtaposed against his later friendship with Keith.
Warning: While there are no plot specific spoilers for season 7 in this interview, it discusses information from the Voltron panel and premiere episode screening at San Diego Comic-Con 2018. If you’d prefer to go into the season without that information, we recommend reading this article after watching the premiere.
Hypable’s exclusive interview with Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery
You mentioned at San Diego Comic-Con that Shiro identifying somewhere on the LGBT+ spectrum was part of your plan early on. Was that part of your pitch for ‘Voltron’? And did it pan out the way you’d always envisioned?
Joaquim Dos Santos: It wasn’t part of the opening pitch. It’s obviously relevant from a social standpoint, but I think purely from a character standpoint the more important thing to take away is that he was in the position of being the person on the crew that was in a relationship, and had to deal with a lot of these very adult circumstances before even beginning the Voltron adventure. Choosing his job, or the mission, over his relationship.
Lauren Montgomery: We didn’t really specify any relationship upfront when we were pitching the show. We had the first season pretty worked out, and we knew generally where we wanted to go with the show. But when it came to pitching [Voltron] we weren’t like, “oh, and these two are going to end up together.”
JDS: It was none of that.
LM: It was stuff that we felt strongly about bringing into the show later, and crossing that bridge when we came to it. But it wasn’t super necessary to how the characters were going to act in that [first season] because they had so much to face. Their sexualities didn’t change that.
JDS: Even the possibility of romantic relationships within the crew, or outside, that just didn’t play a part in the pitch process.
LM: The only thing that you’ll see in season 1 is just Lance being Lance towards Allura. But even that wasn’t really a technical romance. That was just Lance being Lance.
JDS: Yeah, we pitched Lance early on as the guy that just thought he was cooler than everybody else thought he was.
LM: But it did [pan out] in that we were able to have Shiro be part of that representation. It was something that had popped into our heads early on, but we didn’t necessarily include it in the pitch. I don’t want to speak for Joaquim, but I personally have these weird fears where I’ll just put stuff off because I don’t want to– I have this fear of being told no if I bring it up too early. I was scared to death that we weren’t going to be able to make Pidge a girl. And so I think if we’d come into this and been like, “hey, Shiro’s our lead character, and he’s gay,” we might have just gotten a no immediately, and we didn’t want to do that. So, we were like, you know what? We can sit on this, it’s not important right now. So we just went with it, and we were super thrilled that ultimately it did turn out we were able to do it, and everything worked out. It was a huge win for us, and we were super excited.
JDS: It probably exceeded our expectations in terms of what the reaction has been so far. And this is from an episode that hasn’t even officially aired yet. So fan reaction to the news has been above and beyond what we could have expected. We’re just through the roof on it.
Not only did you reveal that Shiro was queer, and in a relationship, but also that he had a degenerative muscle condition that would eventually leave him unable to continue to pursue space travel at the Garrison. How important was that, equally, for you to showcase him as a competent and respected leader across the universe, knowing that you were going to reveal that?
JDS: I think again, with Shiro, his arc is sort of been that he overcomes adversity. That’s been his big through line. So, this was another thing that proves that all our preconceptions of what we think of as the traditional, stereotypical soldier, that’s perfect in every way, he’s had to overcome a lot. Whether it be personal relationships leading into the adventure that we pick up with him on, or what they would consider physical disabilities. Shiro just perseveres and sees through with it. It adds layers to his character.
LM: Yeah, that’s the biggest thing. He could have so easily just been that hero guy. He could have been the most boring character on the show. But the writers, and ourselves, managed to find a way to give him that depth. And so when you know that he’s had this stuff that he’s been persevering through, that none of us knew about, the audience didn’t know about, and probably the other characters didn’t know about, except for maybe Keith, it makes you appreciate all the things that he did in those seasons that we’ve already watched so much more. Because now they have this added level to them.
So, as you discussed on the panel, the relationship between Shiro and Adam came to an end after he decided to go on the Kerberos mission. But, the feeling that I got, was that it appeared to be the latest in a long line of disagreements and differences that became irreconcilable. Did you foresee that as the last straw in their relationship, and how did they get to that point?
JDS: I mean, it feels like it was the last straw.
LM: You know, we’ve seen Shiro be such an incredible leader, and an example to all of our characters in him being a soldier, and the leader of Voltron and the Black Lion. He’s been so great at everything, and he’s been really supportive of everyone. We really liked this idea of there’s one thing he’s actually bad at and that’s his own romantic relationships. He’s so dedicated to being that leader, and that soldier, that giving that up to spend his life with this man that he loved, it was almost too much of a sacrifice for him. Of course, how is that going to make Adam feel? That he’s constantly made sacrifices for Shiro, and Shiro won’t do the same for him. He ends up feeling like he’s kind of wasting his time. So, yeah, I think they’ve had that conversation many times before, as was hinted in the conversation that we saw [at SDCC]. Ultimately, Adam had just gotten to this point where now he’s going to a) have to spend three years away from Shiro, b) those being probably the last three years that they’ll have together where Shiro can actually go out and do things. And I think Adam would have been 100% down to grow old with Shiro, and take care of him, and be there for him regardless.
JDS: But Shiro was walking away at that point.
LM: Yeah, Shiro was not willing to give him the last [years] that he has to give. So it was really just that Adam felt like he wasn’t being respected in that relationship. And I can’t blame the guy. It feels like a very real conversation that maybe is a little too adult for some of our younger fans. Maybe they wouldn’t fully understand that, I don’t know. Maybe they’re more mature than I was at that age. But it was something that I would understand later, now that I’m an old lady and I’ve been through tough relationships. It’s difficult, but it’s very real. That’s what we responded to.
JDS: And that’s the cool thing, again, about Shiro, is that he’s got perspective on the world. He’s been through tough personal situations. So he brings that to the table. We don’t explain it right off the bat, but it paints a more clear picture the more insight you get into his backstory.
You also sort of juxtaposed that against Keith’s refusal to give up on Shiro, as well as the beginnings of their friendship. Was that an intentional choice to continue to show just how far these two characters would go for each other?
JDS: Well, yeah. That was sort of the thing too. I think Shiro, on some level, saw a bit of himself in Keith. And in the way that Keith was almost pushing Shiro away, the same way, when you really break it down, Shiro was kind of doing the same thing with Adam. Also, Keith showing a high level of aptitude and skill for being an awesome pilot, an awesome Garrison cadet. But we just wanted to demonstrate that their relationship started at a certain point, and you get insight through these flashbacks as to why it’s so strong, and what it really means. We laid in some lines early on with Keith that kind of pay off now, as to why he has this connection to Shiro.
LM: But also, there’s just a really big difference in the relationship between Shiro and Adam, and then the relationship between Keith and Shiro. Shiro and Adam have a very adult relationship, that needed to be based on mutual respect. Whereas the relationship between Shiro and Keith, is a relationship that took place during Keith’s most formative years, and Shiro has a huge impact on him. And that’s something that, where Adam might be able to walk away from a relationship, because he doesn’t feel that respect, that relationship is something that Keith would hold on to his whole life, and probably never be able to walk away from.
JDS: I think you’re totally right. I’m hearing it for the first time from Lauren, right now. That’s a super good point. Keith sees Shiro in a certain light because it was at that point in his life.
LM: He’s his hero. Shiro taught Keith how to respect himself. But it’s a very different thing from Adam and Shiro finding each other when they were both full formed.
JDS: It’s a different dynamic. And we say full formed, as in Shiro was in his late teens, early 20s. It’s as fully formed as that early point in your life will allow you.
‘Voltron’ returns to Netflix for season 7 on Friday, August 10
Part two of our exclusive interview with Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos, breaking down season 7 in its entirety, will drop on August 10 alongside the episodes. Check back on Hypable on Monday, August 6 for our spoiler-free review of the season!