It took the crew of MLP five years to expand upon griffon culture beyond Gilda.
Five years during which little ol' me was left wondering just what griffon culture was actually supposed to be like.
And as one who loves some good world building, five years is an awful long time to wait and get answers for.
Thus I, like the rest of the fanbase, was left to spent the last five years just having to guess what griffon culture is like in MLP, with nothing to go off of but Gilda, who for all we knew, was a poor representation of her species and that the average griffon was nothing like that.
And that was really the best we had on the subject of griffons for five years.
Before finally, after five years, they release this episode, answering those questions.
It was worth waiting five years for.
The best kind.
And because I hadn't really been keeping too close an eye on the episode listings and their titles for this season either, I wasn't even aware of this episode's title until I pulled it up for viewing on the web, having forgotten that "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone" was next in the line up.
All I really knew was, again, the rumor that Gilda would be making a comeback after such a lengthy absence. Which I certainly wasn't against; as many fans had already explored in their various fan works, there was definitely potential to do more with Gilda. My big concern though, was that the show would treat Gilda much like they treated Trixie in season 3, who I feel was brought back more by popular demand than because the writers actually had something to work with and really wanted to. And while they still pulled it off in the end with Trixie, I couldn't help but walk away from her return episode feeling like something was missing, and that the whole thing was...muddled. To say nothing of the fact that the ending was kinda cheesy (though Trixie faceplanting it in the closing shot certainly helped, if for all the wrong reasons). My fear, then, was that a "Gilda returns" episode would end the same way, and result in a really unsatisfying episode.
But not so.
Though the show approaches Gilda in a similar manner as they did Trixie, they ultimately pull it off much better with Gilda, and it probably helped that they had the past friendship between her and Rainbow Dash to explore, deducing that both would still be bitter with the fallout from that. With that as a nice setting, this helps give a more emotional and personal dynamic to Gilda's return, something Trixie's return had sorely lacked.
And it pays off, because when it came down to the wire and Gilda was put in the position of choosing between her friend(s) or a short-term gain (the lost goblet), you feel the tension of that choice and are inwardly rooting for Gilda to make the one you know is right, even if you also suspect there might be a price behind it. In fact, I found that scene rather moving...even though it was totally parodying Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (I can almost hear Sean Connery's voice now). You can visually see Gilda making that choice in her head, and its that choice that makes all the difference, paving the way for a significant and needed change in her character, and as a result, makes it all the more believable.
Additionally, we also learn more about Gilda as a character, and though it's not explicitly stated on screen rather more implied, we can walk away from this episode with a far better understanding of her character. Best of all, one can make deductions on why she is the way she is. In that all-so-telling flashback where Gilda and RD are first shown meeting, it's worth noting that Gilda there was rather shy and submissive...more of a follower than a leader. This is in stark contrast to how she is now, so we're left with the question; what caused that to change?
Answer: Rainbow Dash. Because note what RD's personality was like at that age. Brash, upfront, unrepentant, and if she had a bone to pick a pony, she was very outspoken about it. When you think about it, Gilda's like that now, which tells me that her friendship with RD resulted in RD's personality rubbing off on her, helped by Gilda probably deliberately trying to emulate it herself in an attempt to insure that friendship kept going. What went wrong with all of that was that Gilda latched onto the brash, outspoken upfrontness in spades, but not the friendly loyalty that Rainbow tends to have that balances that brashness. Compound this with the griffon culture's decay into selfish bitterness that is implied to have been taking place at the same time, and you get the bully attitude we know Gilda for sporting. Thus, now I have a much better understanding of how Gilda ticks, and as a result, can actually sympathize with her. I don't think she ever actually meant to be a bully. She had just permitted herself to become one because she had mistakenly let herself believe that was what was expected of her. Thus, when it came time for "Griffon The Brush Off," she comes to Ponyville expecting this from Rainbow Dash only to find Rainbow Dash and those around her not wanting that at all. Confused and feeling betrayed, she lashes back, and the rest is history.
But now at least Rainbow and Gilda have managed to make peace, recognizing that it was time to let bygones be bygones and not dwell on what had happened in the past, for whatever reason. It's better to forgive and forget, and both make excellent steps towards repairing the damage and moving on as better griffons/ponies, Gilda especially. To be sure, they aren't in the clear yet, and the road ahead looks to be bumpy still, but that's perhaps the best part of all, because MLP has had a bad habit in the past of just overlooking all of that and going straight for the end conclusion, which is very unrealistic. So by doing it this way instead, we are shown that these reparations are no overnight thing and take time, and it gives the repentance process Gilda is sent upon a very realistic and relatable feel to it, and that's excellent. This is precisely what MLP strives to do as a show.
But the episode's not just about Gilda, Rainbow, and Pinkie Pie (who proves to be the smart one in this episode, as she's the one who sees what's really happening here and why, and pieces together what needs to be done to correct it (with friendship and baking soda!), while Rainbow recklessly pursues the symbolically most obvious plan of action, wanting to act than think as is usually her character, and Gilda goes around moping and being bitter, hiding it with her tendency to bully), but rather griffon culture on a whole. The show has spent the past five years giving us pretty much nothing on the griffons, so almost as if to make up for the lost time, it breaks that trend all at once and gives us a crash course on MLP griffons to the point that it's almost a moment of information overload. Indeed, I suspect some fans are just going to be overwhelmed by that sudden flood of data and will criticize the episode for being "talky," and this is probably not an unfair assessment.
Nonetheless, where there was once nothing, there is now plenty, and it shows that at least the past five years seem to have been spent developing these griffons, resulting in a well-formed and lush culture that is actually a joy to behold, even with them not currently being at their height. During those five years where we knew nothing on griffons, the fans have taken the time to develop their own backgrounds for the griffons, and some have put some considerable thought into them. But while I certainly don't want to downplay those efforts nor to suggest they aren't great in their own right...none of the fan headcanons on griffons can quite compare to what is now presented as official canon. Visually, the griffon land is actually fairly imaginative and my new favorite, with Griffonstone being a network of tree perches and almost birdhouse-like cottages and nests with a bit of a northeastern, Russian/Ukrainian, approach in design...especially with the hats, yet the griffons themselves don't match with the stereotypes you would expect to come with that, which I have to give the show praise for resisting that temptation (unlike the fans with some of their own portrayals of the griffons). Culturally, the griffons are shown to all be like Gilda as would be expected from a first glance at present time, but it's revealed that they weren't always like that, and that at the height of their culture, they were once an proud and honorable race that was to be respected. Furthermore, we have indications that they were once both wise, intelligent, and courteous if not friendly, much like their Equestrian neighbors, if a bit more robust and rough around the edges.
I almost want to liken them to that of the Roman Empire, which at its own height was many of the same things (well...maybe not so much on friendly, at least when it came to anyone who wasn't Roman themselves, but you get the point) before it too simply gave out and gradually crumbled until one day, somebody looked around and realized it was all gone, replaced with something that seemed to be a far cry from what they had before. Gilda at one point asks "do we look sad to you?" while her grandfather (speaking of, I loved her grandfather; he was delightfully kooky, and while he too fell into the same entrapments as the rest of the griffons, he at least understood they had lost something important, and needed to get it back) scrabbles through literal ruins, to which you want to respond, without hesitation, "yes, yes you do."
It's not so much that the griffons look physically sad; they largely seem to have accepted their lots in life and thus more or less content. But they are in a sad state, and what makes it worse is the fact that they've accepted it. It's like they had lost the ambition to do anything else, and can't even be bothered to lift a talon to keep their own capital from decaying into rubble. They even seem to have shunned development or changing for the better and have backpedaled into a much less, at the risk of sounding degrading, educated. That library of theirs, for example. It's implied to have at one point been one of the greatest in the land (perhaps part of a "trifecta" with the impressive libraries of the Crystal Empire and Canterlot both are known to have) but now lies as rubble with indication it was brought about by more than mere decay; the ruins of that library suggest it was vandalized into that state. In other words, the griffons have fallen into this pitiful state, a mere shadow of their once proud kingdom and culture, but just don't care enough to get it back, and seem to even shun it. I would even go so far as to say that they've suffered a complete societal and governmental collapse and it's become every griffon for themselves in near anarchy.
Then you've got Gilda who's been put into the position of encouraging change. It's a daunting task for one griffon and just like the collapse of griffon culture was gradual, it's restoration will inevitably be gradual as well...but I think that's what I like the most about it. It's not something that's going to be instantly fixed with one way of some magical artifact like what's normally done. It's something that going to take some hard work and a lot of time and effort to pull off. You wouldn't be able to just stand idle and let it happen for you, because that would only result in nothing happening, and nothing changing. Like Gilda's restoration of her friendship with Rainbow, the restoration of the griffon society will be a lengthy and wearying one. But I think Gilda's going to be up to the challenge, and she's really not so on her own anyway. Not only will she have her pony pals to back her up, but being a friend to another is catchy; other griffons are eventually going to follow her example, and then she'll have plenty of other griffons helping to further her cause as well, whether they realize it or not.
All in all, this was a wonderfully in depth, down to earth, and realistic episode, at least as much as it could be given the medium and time constraints, and continues to show still that MLP's very blessed with a very capable team of writers working on it. It's also blessed with a drew that cares very much about the world it's set in, and has gone out of their way to put some thought into it, for which I am utmost thankful for. Though overdue by five years, they've pulled through finally and done a great job with the griffons, and hope we'll continue to see more in the future (hopefully before another five years has gone by).
I almost half-expected Pinkie to have come home to find that cake of hers was indeed inexplicably all made and ready by the time she got back, to the point I was a little disappointed when that wasn't the case.
Twilight's reaction to not being able to go to Griffonstone too is a familiar one to me. People give me that same sort of look when they realize I've been to England (as well as Ireland and technically Wales too) sightseeing and they haven't.
Anyway, I suppose this sudden review is probably a bit out of the blue, as I just sort of stopped part way through season 4 without warning and never did another until now. Basically what happened is that I came to find the reviews too much effort with too little reward, and that I found I had little important to truly to say with most episode and I was being redundant. Eventually, I just burned myself out. So this season I'm changing my approach, by only writing reviews for episodes where I feel I actually have something worthwhile to say. Today's episode proved to be one of those episodes. That said, though, I have been enjoying season 5 thus far. This is probably my favorite episode of the group that have aired at this time, but I can't say there's been any I really didn't like, with the only lackluster episode for season 5 thus far being "Appleloosa's Most Wanted," which I get what they were trying to do with that one, but they didn't quite succeed.
At the moment, though, I'm looking forward the most for the season's end. Speaking of, I'm going to take a gamble and jot down one last thing before I go, so I can have it on the record that I said it: I'm calling it now; the Cutie Mark Crusaders will have their cutie marks by season's end; emphasis on season's end. I could even guess what their cutie marks will be, or at least what their special talents will be, but really, I think this is all so obvious I'm actually kind of shocked the rest of you lot seem so oblivious to it...but let's see how things go for the rest of the season before I elaborate much more on that first, shall we?