What truly constitutes a “filler” episode? This is an interesting debate, and one which “The Duelist and the Drifter”, the eighth episode in the new ThunderCats series, is likely to spark.

This particular episode on paper adds nothing to the overall story arc of the series, insofar as it doesn’t feature any of the ThunderCats’ main enemies, or show the ThunderCats getting any closer to achieving the goals of uniting the animal races of Third Earth against Mumm-Ra (the mission that was set out in the previous episode, “Legacy”). And yet, the counter argument follows that any episode at this stage of the series that introduces new elements of Third Earth must surely be helping to develop the world that the ThunderCats are inhabiting, and thus bring the viewer closer to them.

In fact, there is one further aspect that one could argue leads this episode to fit right in to the overall story arc of the new series, and that is how, as with the original ThunderCats, this episode shows Lion-O growing and developing as a character, striking out on his own and learning lessons about himself and about life in general. This is one of the great triumphs of “The Duelist and the Drifter”, as it allows Lion-O to grow as a character without the involvement of any of the other ThunderCats, one of the first times we’ve seen this in this new incarnation.

Perhaps understandably given his lineage and his pedigree, Lion-O is full of pride and a degree of arrogance, and it’s this pride and arrogance that is exposed in this episode. For Lion-O to truly be able to defeat Mumm-Ra he has to grow, both as a warrior and as a person, growth that is essential for him to fulfill his potential for wisdom shown early on in this series. This episode embraces that concept, and through the events that unfold, Lion-O is able to shed some of the arrogance that would prevent him from achieving the greatness that he’s capable of.

Two things that aid this episode in telling that story so well are the superbly crafted script, perfectly paced and cleverly executed, and the excellent guest characters of the Drifter and the Duelist. The contrast between the two, and the way their characters are linked, makes for very engaging viewing, and added into this is some superb, action-packed animation.

There are other nice little touches as well, such as creating a “Wild West” style backdrop for the town in which all this action takes place, replacing the traditional guns with swords. And, it has to be said that this episode is a triumph for Snarf, who gets some of his best-ever screen time in the episode courtesy of several endearing scenes.

Whilst this episode may be construed as “filler”, in reality it is all part of a large, far-reaching picture – a picture that shows Lion-O, the series’ central character, growing and maturing before the eyes of the audience, whilst presenting an action-packed, skillfully-crafted episode in the process. An episode as sharp as the swords present throughout it, “The Duelist and the Drifter” is a great addition to this new series.
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Written by Chris (He-Fan)