In a time before The Witcher, the possibility of a video game adaptation widely praised by diehard fans for doing justice to the source material and simultaneously adored by those with no prior knowledge of the universe seemed too good to be true. The first season of Netflix’s CASTLEVANIA nailed it in 2017 and has remained a crowd-pleaser up to its final season. Creator Warren Ellis has allowed the series to evolve in unexpected directions, such as growing from a straightforward horror/adventure genre in early seasons to make plenty of room for the slow-burning web of political intrigue that thrives at the heart of season 3. This isn’t to say that the series has forgotten its roots—Season 4 opens with Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) and Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso) hacking and slashing their way through nastier and nastier foes. It’s a callback to their arc in the previous season, where they roam the roads with relish and have fun honing their abilities to wreck men and monsters alike.
Except, the events of the season 3 finale have now jaded our battle couple. They save villages joylessly, both worn thin by the Sisyphean task of cleansing the world of evil and the added pressure of finding themselves reluctantly responsible for teaching victims how to properly rebuild in the aftermath. The mounting responsibilities seem like too much to carry after the heartbreaking disillusionment brought upon by the Judge (Jason Isaacs). Any person they rescue or fight alongside is capable of hiding children’s shoes in their closet. Is the thankless work of saving humanity worth it when you can’t trust humans not to be evil?
The other end of this philosophical thread is tied to the series’ most compelling character: Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack). Genre expectations suggest that Isaac should be a villain. He is a misanthrope filled with hatred who allied himself with Dracula’s mission to end humanity after years of suffering abuse at the hands of other humans, convinced that people are irredeemably evil. And you know what? The writing has done everything to prove him right. That is the worldview Trevor held at the start of the series and the perspective Sypha has now begun to see. The poetry in Isaac’s arc is that despite the depths of his disdain for other people, he can’t avoid connecting with them. In my favorite scene of the new season, Isaac even connects with the undead creatures under his thrall to remind them that they were once people with their own souls and desires. With gentle patience, he invites disgusting demons to challenge their nature, to do good deeds, and dare to enjoy the sweet little joys of life they had assumed were forbidden to damned creatures like them.
Isaac’s single-minded crusade for revenge culminates in facing down his rival, Hector (Theo James). It does not go how Hector, or I, expected. After a harrowing storyline in the previous season, with all agency stripped from him, I didn’t see how things could end well for poor Hector. Fortunately, when Isaac and Hector cross paths is when the final season of CASTLEVANIA’s thematic statement shines through. Systems of oppression and cycles of abuse work by convincing us that people don’t change, that the present can’t change, and that your only option is to cope with it. Isaac slips through the bars of this cage by reminding himself, his undead army, and his sworn enemy Hector, that a hammer has the power to crack a skull or build a home. Your purpose is yours to determine.
Even Styria’s Council of Sisters begins to fracture once they take a hard look at the system they’ve been fighting to establish. Carmilla’s (Jaime Murray) operatic villainy builds to a merciless apotheosis as she reveals that her thirst for power will stop at nothing less than global domination. Her sole talent of diplomacy rendered useless in Carmilla’s plan for vampiric supremacy, Lenore (Jessica Brown Findlay) grapples with a loss of purpose. Morana (Yasmine Al Massri) follows Striga (Ivana Milicevic) on a campaign of brute force conquest in Carmilla’s name and, far away from the charismatic power of Carmilla’s personality, the two lovers gain the clarity of mind to question whether they even want the future Carmilla has determined for them.
Alucard’s (James Callis) self-imposed isolation last season quickly became a moodboard for the beginning of the pandemic (the season having dropped in March 2020). He spent the past ten episodes fearing that he would become the new Dracula, but in this new season discovers that he might instead turn into the new Belmont. He even grumbles phrases from Trevor—“God shits in my dinner once again”—with full sincerity. Loneliness and a yearning for connection have been central themes in Alucard’s arc, which are tied up beautifully throughout this final season as the heartbroken dhampir becomes the center of a community built around him. And yes, the reunion we’ve all been waiting for does happen.
CASTLEVANIA comes to its end on an almost unbelievably bright note. Despite a pervasive sense of self-aware humor and impeccable comedic timing from the start, previous seasons were often compared to Game of Thrones for their bleak message and cyclical tragedy. I was convinced that certain key characters have been cornered into an inescapably dark ending by the narrative… and I’ve been proven wrong. While not everyone can survive, those who can’t have gone out with a bang worthy of the end of the times, and the finale pulls miracles to leave us with a clearly positive future in sight once the curtains close.
Season 4 of CASTLEVANIA drops on Netflix tomorrow, May 13, 2021. Prepare yourself for the end!