8:00 am EDT, August 10, 2018

Exclusive: ‘Voltron’ EPs on loss, reunions, respect, and the importance of family

Voltron season 7 saw the Paladins finally return to Earth. But what awaited them was unlike anything the show has done before.

Prior to the season, I had the opportunity to talk about the journey that executive producers Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos took to get LGBT+ representation in Voltron on screen. With the season released in its entirety, part two of that interview breaks down the devastation that met them on their return, the continuation of Shiro’s arc, and what that cliffhanger means heading into Voltron’s final season.

Warning: There will be significant spoilers for Voltron: Legendary Defender season 7 below.

Hypable’s exclusive interview with Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery

One of the things you said of the Shiro reveal at San Diego was that you were willing to adjust the story, when you originally planned for him to die, so you wouldn’t add to the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope. In season 7, Adam does die in the first wave attack against the Galra. While that resonates deeply through the rest of Shiro’s story, how did you come to that decision?

Joaquim Dos Santos: We knew that there needed to be massive stakes in that first invasion. There was a little bit of internal discussion from the [executives] when we were initially pitching the story, and especially when they saw the visuals of no parachutes coming out of any of these ships when they were being blown up by the Galra. We wanted people to know that there would be a legitimate sense of loss with this invasion. It’s not just explosions for the sake of explosions. Giving characters that we are familiar with that arc helps the gravity of the situation come across.

Lauren Montgomery: And it’s very unfortunate for Adam that he happened to be their best pilot after Shiro was gone. So he just ended up in this shitty situation, where yeah, you’re our best pilot, you have to go out. And it really just ended up fitting the story appropriately. In that a) it was an incredibly emotional thing for Shiro, but b) you have this situation with this person, Admiral Sanda, who doesn’t fully understand what they’re up against. And she immediately just throws bodies at it, in this very Earth sort of way. And the repercussions of that is that someone we cared about lost their life. Whereas, if she’d listened to someone who knew what they were talking about, like Sam [Holt], and not sent them out, and instead sent out the updated fighters, that potentially could have been averted.

JDS: Again, along with us pitching this Earth campaign, there was a lot of excitement about going to Earth internally at the studio. But also with what just happened, they were like, “uh, guys? There’s a lot of inner Garrison political stuff going on.” And we were like, yeah, that’s part of the deal. Earth is not in a perfect scenario.

LM: They didn’t quite realize how dark that story was going to be. If you actually have Earth invaded, it’s not going to be a good situation, for anyone. There are going to be casualties, and Adam just happened to be one of the people that we can recognize that loses his life in the invasion.

Shiro also gets a new Altean inspired arm in this season. Was it purposefully designed to mirror Sendak’s, as their paths converged once again? Particularly with that visually stunning showdown between the two of them in the final episodes.

JDS: It was, yes. But we also took a giant point of inspiration, just visually, from a game that is near and dear to my heart. It’s a lesser known fighting game from Capcom, from the late ‘90s, called Star Gladiator. We gave Sendak that cool floating arm, but again that concept we got to pull back from Star Gladiator.

LM: We pull all of that from things that we like. And there was just one specific guy who had this– I’m just glad that Joaquim said the name, because I don’t even know the game. I just know that one guy from the Art of Capcom book that I looked at a billion times. But there’s this one creepy guy who has this thing on his shoulder, and then this hovering arm that we always thought was super cool looking, and was like, “what if Shiro can do that?” And they were like, “how will they make toys of it?” I don’t know.

JDS: We were like, “magnets.” Magnets, or something.

LM: And we just want to throw a challenge out there for the cosplayers. We’re sorry, but we know you can do it.

JDS: Yeah. floating arm!

You also had Shiro step into a hugely pivotal role as Captain of the Atlas. Was this a path that you’d always envisaged for him, or was it something that developed as the show progressed?

LM: A little bit of both. There was definitely a version of this show where Shiro was not around at this point.

JDS: There was also a version where Shiro was going to be back to piloting the Black Lion.

LM: Yeah, it’s been through every possible version of the story. Ultimately, when we finally got to where we knew we were going to be able to move forward with Keith as the Black Lion pilot, and still have Shiro in the show, we wanted to pay as much respect to Shiro as we could because he was such an important character. And in a weird way we kind of keep the team together a little bit. Shiro moves on to this other ship, and he has a whole new crew, but he’s fighting alongside his team, these Paladins that he’s basically taught how to be Paladins. And so I think it was just rewarding for us on a happy, warm, fuzzy feeling level. Where he’s there, and he’s got kind of the most bitchin’ ship of all of them.

JDS: You know, that was our big pitch internally, when the executives were saying, “well, how is this going to play out?” They were asking us questions, and we got to have this big meeting where we said, guys, Shiro is going to be Captain of the Atlas. They were like, “okaaaay,” still thinking that it was very much just the Atlas battleship. And we were like, “and the Atlas does something really cool.” They were all in at that point.

LM: And, of course, we’re huge fans of Macross and the SDF-1, the most giant battleship of all. So, in a way, it’s our little homage. We had an original design of Shiro with the coat, the hat, like [Bruno J.] Global, but then it looked a little funky.

JDS: We were like, if we go that high with the collar–

LM: It didn’t work out. We nixed that design. But he still looks pretty cool.

JDS: Still regretful we didn’t give him a big moustache.

Equally, for characters like Keith, and also Lance, who were far more underestimated at the Garrison amongst their peers, there was a lot of respect for their individual roles and everything they’d achieved by those who’d previously doubted them. How satisfying was it to see their growth recognised within the show, and not just from an outside audience perspective?

JDS: I mean, just that scene where they make it back to the Garisson and Iverson is almost reverential to them, in a sense, because he recognizes how much they’ve actually contributed at that point. But it was hugely gratifying to see. Lauren, I think you storyboarded that sequence?

LM: Yeah, I did two revisions on it, but it was just a nice thing. The fact that the people who’ve worked with them, like the Sam’s and the Iverson’s of the world, get it, and know what these guys have gone through. But then you have the others, the Sanda’s, who are like, these are just kids, what do they know? What are these stupid Lions? And so it’s always interesting to have those different opinions. But you don’t want our heroes to come back and everyone is like, “eff you.” You need to pay them their dues.” By showing these people who have true respect for what they’ve done. I think maybe a lot of that comes from the people who have respect for Sam and believe that if he’s telling them these things that are happening out in the world, like the Iverson’s, they believe it more so than the Sanda’s, and the people who are like, “who’s this old coot telling us crazy things?”

JDS: It’s funny though, with Iverson, we kind of played him like a drill sergeant. But I think we also assumed that he had had some kind of combat history. He’s probably been in the field, and seen some battles, so he has that respect. He’s willing to turn that corner, where before you might have perceived him as this guy who yells a lot, and doesn’t respect our characters. But he’s had that respect this whole time, just you have to earn it from him.

LM: But yeah, it’s cool to see him in a different light. Because if you only knew him from his previous scenes, you could almost look at him like a villain. The mean guy who always has it in for the Paladins. But now we get to see that other side of him, who’s working alongside them. We always knew in our hearts that Iverson would have a slightly bigger role. It may not feel like the hugest role, but we were excited to bring him back. We just enjoy that guy.

You introduced the families of both Lance, and Hunk, in this season, though those reunions were so drastically different. Had you always wanted to parallel those experiences between Hunk and Lance, considering their own close friendship?

JDS: We realized as we were developing it that this was a storyline that we were going to have to come up against. But it was at some point during the process that we started playing those two reunions off each other.

LM: We didn’t know the whole time. I think once we started getting into coming back to Earth, we knew we wanted to show all the sides of it. We’ve got the Resistance, we’ve got the people who were taken captive, and [we’re] showing that our Paladins have ties to each of these things. We’ve got Veronica, who was able to get her family out, but then we’ve got Hunk, who didn’t have someone to get his family out. So it’s just heartwrenching kind of stuff.

JDS: And seeing Hunk’s reaction early on, we knew that that was an important moment for this character. To show some depth, and to show that he’s got some genuine struggles to go through as well.

Speaking of Veronica, in introducing her you laid the groundwork from an outside perspective that Allura’s feelings for Lance might be evolving, much in the way Lance’s did in season 6. Do you see the culmination of that journey coming next season?

LM: Who knows.

JDS: Whoooo knows. I mean, it’ll be the culmination of many journeys.

LM: If it’ll culminate, it’ll happen in next season. But yeah, the Lance and Allura thing, it’s interesting because we got to see her kind of gaining more respect for him in previous seasons, and appreciating him on a different level. Then we had Lotor kind of come in and get in the middle of that, and Lance was no longer a thing. She had this purple, white-haired, beautiful man in the way. And now she’s been able to heal from that, she’s starting to look and realize that there are good people around her. And so we’ll see where it goes.

JDS: And as an audience we get clued in just like she does. We’re seeing sides to Lance because of this new dynamic that she is as well, so hopefully everybody is getting to that point.

There were also several new characters that played a bigger role in season 7, from the cadets, to Veronica, and Acxa. Is that just the beginning of their part in the remaining conflict? Or will the focus shift back to being more on Team Voltron?

LM: I think we try not to completely lose track of them. We do need to finish our story and include our main team for the most part, but we do try to give them their dues. Though, we hope nobody feels like they were overlooked.

JDS: Yeah, it’s tough. You know, we don’t want to say that we painted ourselves into a corner with bringing in so many characters, because we really enjoy all those dynamics. But it does get tougher and tougher the more people you bring in. And the more people gravitate toward their specific favorite character, it’s tough for everybody to feel like they’re getting their due. But we try our best. We don’t disregard them outright, if that makes sense. We’re not going out of our way.

The cliffhanger ending revealed that the Robeast that nearly devastated the team at the end of the season was powered by an Altean. Does that kick off, in your eyes, the final conflict that the team has to face before the show wraps in season 8?

LM: I think it’s safe to say that that cliffhanger is going to lead us pretty heavily into the final showdown. And we got a little bit of a clue as to where these Alteans may have come from when Kolivan says he went to find Romelle’s colony and it wasn’t there. So we know something has been happening, and we’ll find out what.

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