Voltron: Legendary Defender returns August 10 for its penultimate seventh season on Netflix, taking everything laid out in its previous outing, and moving the show in a bold new direction.

Warning: While this review is spoiler-free, there will be some hints and teases for what you can expect from Voltron season 7.

When the last handful of seconds of Voltron’s extended seventh season trickled by, I sat frozen in stunned silence. What Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, and the rest of the creative team and cast have achieved over 13 episodes is nothing short of incredible, with a depth of emotional storytelling that six-seasons of build up has allowed them to take advantage of. On Twitter, I called season 7 a masterclass of storytelling, and that is a statement that I will continue to stand by. There was something almost cinematic about the entire experience, especially in the back half of the season.

So much has already been said about the seventh season premiere, particularly the conversation surrounding Shiro, and the insight we gained not only into the beginnings of his universe-spanning friendship with Keith, but also the intimacies of his life pre-Kerberos. However, it cannot be overstated just how much this episode echoes throughout the remainder of the season, even in the smallest of ways.

I’d even go so far as to say that “A Little Adventure” is the emotional foundation upon which season 7 is built. Without it, the payoff of later scenes would not resonate nearly as much as they did – and, once again, I’ll give you forewarning to keep a box of tissues close to hand. Equally, where episode 1 took some bold choices in its narrative — particularly diverting some of the focus away from Voltron and the Lions, and instead on expanding the interpersonal relationships of the show — that choice is further capitalized on in later episodes with resounding success.

Which isn’t to say that Voltron, and the Paladins, are not a central and important part of the narrative, but rather that the fall out of season 6, and the decisive battle with Lotor, necessitated a change in gears — especially with the show’s ultimate return to Earth. That precarious balance, bringing together the various facets of the story, was handled with a care that has been evident in each and every moment of this show. Returning to Earth, coming home, changes Voltron in ways that I couldn’t even begin to fathom prior to hitting play on the first episode.

And, further still, that theme of coming home, of family, runs the gamut of emotions across the entire season. The simple fact of the matter is that the Paladins are no longer the same people who left Earth, all those years ago, but equally, the Earth they left behind is fundamentally changed in ways that they could never have imagined. Dealing with that, and everything that it entails, encompasses over half the season, and is perhaps the strongest story arc that Voltron has ever told.

Because, at its core, Voltron has always been about family. Family by blood, found family, and everything in between, and it all comes to a hugely emotional climax in season 7. The seeds were sown, either through central character arcs, or offhand, smaller comments, but how they come to fruition are so very different, yet all equally as satisfying. If you have been waiting to meet the families of certain Paladins, or get further insight into how those units worked, let me just say that you will not be disappointed.

And it is here that I’ll add that how one of the Paladins deals with the reality of their homecoming is perhaps one of the most emotional moments of the season, particularly with some of the events leading up to it. They have always, in my eyes, been one of the most selfless members of Team Voltron, and that was never more evident than in season 7. But, equally, they were able to share several truly beautiful moments with the whole team — before, and on, Earth. Though there is one moment in particular that stands out above the rest, highlighting a connection and friendship that I’ve always found myself fond and wanting more of.

In fact, if there is one thing that the Paladins’ return to Earth showcases more than anything, it is how much they have grown. Both individually, and as a team. That isn’t something that is solely acknowledged by the audience, but is also evident in how they are treated by other characters. They all have moments to shine, to lead, and to display how far they have come in such a relatively short amount of time. As an audience we have taken this journey with them, every step of the way, and seen that growth in increments. Season 7 puts an undeniable spotlight on it.

And, for anyone that might be concerned about Shiro’s role, now that he is no longer the Black Paladin: don’t be. I’m not certain if the reveal of the first episode gave the show the liberty to be at its most free with him as a character, but I’d argue that he is the most active and effective as he has ever been in this penultimate season. It is almost as if, in returning his soul from the Astral Plane, he has been reborn. Shiro’s influence radiates in every moment, through every character, and it is one of the most genuinely beautiful things I’ve had the joy of experiencing.

The groundwork for season 7 can be traced back as far as the first episode of the first season. As we near its confirmed end point, those stories are slowly wrapping up. Of those stories, a relationship that I suspected would alter course following season 6, now seems all but inevitable by the time Voltron ends, and it has arguably been on that path all along. Similarly, another, more antagonistic connection, culminates here in a battle that gave the one from “The Black Paladins” a real run for its money.

Equally, the opposing force to our heroes throughout season 7 puts them in a peril that I can’t say that I’ve felt before. At times, it was difficult to see how they might come out on top. That sense of threat, of real danger, highlighted exactly how the Galra Empire managed to keep the universe under their control for 10,000 years. It is unmistakable here that they are formidable, calculating, and far, far more ruthless than we’ve ever been witness to before.

And while, yes, there are also several new characters introduced in this season, they never take away from the ones that we already know and love. Each character managed to fit into the story in a way that felt natural, and in such a short amount of time, I found myself feeling deeply connected to them in a way that surprised me, but wasn’t unwelcome.

All in all, Voltron season 7 was a triumph. And while there is one point in particular that may conflict fans, it ultimately worked for me within the context of the specific story that it was trying to tell. As for the ending? It sets up the final season in a very interesting way, and one that I am eager to learn more about. But, as we have all come to discover since this show began, nothing is ever as it first appears.

‘Voltron: Legendary Defender’ season 7 airs in its entirety on Netflix, August 10

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