The Antagonists of The Dragon Prince

Claudia, tragic irony, and systemic generational violence

Shain Slepian
5 min readMay 15, 2024
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In the last video, we talked about Viren’s selfish use of his children to prove his own value to the world. Viren doesn’t know his kids because he thinks of them as expressions of his own will. His stated goal is to protect his children by doing violence, but it becomes clear that he does violence in order to justify his use of his children. By choosing to die, he frees them. He allows them to finally be who they are rather than extensions of himself.

So, who are his children, with and without him?

I find Claudia to be a particularly upsetting character: one who I can’t think about for too long without getting a knot in my stomach. She provides a startling example of how children come to authentically integrate their parents’ beliefs into their own. Claudia is not her father in most ways, yet he is so clearly present in all of her actions.

Young people grow up to be different from their parents on so many levels, and yet, in the areas that really matter, they seem to take up the torch of their parent’s projects. This opens up all sorts of difficult moral questions about free-will and destiny. How culpable can we hold children for taking on their parents’ beliefs? Can we even call these beliefs those of their parents? Or are they complicit in whatever horrible acts follow from those beliefs?

On some level, Claudia embraces her father’s vision for her. Being a weapon in Viren’s arsenal is a point of pride for her. She fits herself right in with his activities, even the particularly unsavory ones. She interacts with his prisoners, she can intuit his commands without being told, she provides for him in every way possible.

But, she isn’t a computer: she wasn’t given a set of commands to live by and she didn’t pick up her father’s goals and ideas just because he wanted her to. Rather, she has grown into the person she is as a result of the life she’s lived and the thoughts and feelings she’s experienced. The impact of her parents’ separation and her mother’s abandonment, the experience of having a really emotionally difficult father, her observations of the struggle and adversity that “humanity” as a collective has faced over the course of centuries… all these things, plus her own unique personality somehow bring her in line with her father’s wishes.

Kids are smart; they have a way of developing their own thought patterns and ideas all while integrating the worldviews of their parents or societies. Have you ever been in charge of a child who is a total monster to adults, but is secretly really nice to other kids? That’s them unconsciously coming to the conclusions adults want them to come to.

Take the scene where Viren tells Claudia to save the dragon egg, at all costs. We see in Claudia’s eyes that she has understood the gravity of what Viren is telling her. She angles her face down and shadow spills over her features. And then half a second later, her face literally brightens up and she seems to be her ridiculous, perky self again. But this is a guise: she is using her silly reputation to pose an awkward question that she needs to ask but can’t ask openly. When Viren seems too struck to answer, she assumes that it never even occurred to him that Claudia would ever let her brother, his son, die to get an egg. This satisfies her, and she plays off her question as a joke. But, Viren understands the subtext, because he’s taught her how to discuss the grizzlier aspects of their work together: Claudia is actually trying to understand her orders. And he clarifies. “Choose the egg.”

Claudia spends the earliest part of her life processing Viren’s ideas in the background of her mind, while developing into her individual self. And since Claudia seems so ethically normal and well-adjusted, it took a while for me to accept that Claudia was really going to follow her father’s path long-term. Retrospectively, it seems pretty obvious, but the trend in shows like this tends to be that the antagonist’s morally ambiguous teammates start off well-intentioned but needlessly cruel, then get worse, and then get better.

Claudia’s downward trajectory is quite disturbing — I almost want to compare her to Oedipus in terms of tragedy. Over 5 seasons, you’re waiting for a big change, and it just doesn’t really happen. Her entirely predictable behavior, well-intentioned though it is, just gets worse. Soren is a much more common villain variant, at least in the past decade and a half. He’s a silly lil’ Zuko boy! And while he doesn’t really express remorse for what he’s done, and he’s given the narrative agency of season 1 Bolin, we get the idea that he’s “a good guy.”

But Claudia is almost like an Elphaba figure, getting ushered down a path of more violence and bitterness for being too well-meaning. That’s book Elphaba, not musical Elphaba. Big difference.

And this uneasiness I feel around Claudia is compounded by the fact that she is presented to us as a free-thinker. She certainly doesn’t seem concerned about her dad’s approval. She’s very self-possessed: she’s idiosyncratic, quirky, unapologetically herself. (I could be wrong about this, but I feel like she’s the one 3-dimensional character in kid’s animation that is actually confident enough to flirt with her crush.) She has an offbeat sense of humor, she’s an eccentric genius obsessed with both the adorable and the morbid, and she’s pretty nice and empathetic even though she’s also kinda creepy. And Viren’s a bureaucratic, humorless asshole. If Soren is the Zuko to Viren’s Ozai, Claudia is a very strange interpretation of Azula. How tragically ironic that this nonconforming, freethinking, confident kid is also the one that is most unable to break out of her harmful, assigned role.

As in the past two videos I’ve made on this show, I’m not just interested in these questions of individual tragic irony. I’m focused on how this characterization furthers the theme of systematic generational violence. The Dragon Prince is about perpetuating cycles of fear that lead to death and loss. I have argued that love is that catalyst that turns fear into violence. And no single character embodies this linchpin in the show’s theme as completely as Claudia.

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Shain Slepian

Shain is a screenwriter and screenplay editor. For more content, follow their blog and check out their YouTube channel, TimeCapsule.