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This episode apparently used up most of the extras budget, and the battle scenes are certainly quite epic. The episode opens deceptively playfully as Xena and Gabrielle are fishing together and tease and banter as usual. However, the chilling scenes of many axed bodies floating downstream soon shatter the idyll, and after a brief canoe chase, Xena and Gabrielle arrive at the garrison, where most of the action takes place. Here they find a bunch of deeply demoralized soldiers, who believe their deaths are inevitable in the face of the relentless Horde. That Xena should take charge is inevitable as her leadership skills are all that could save them, but I did feel that Xena switched from motivator to fierce commander a bit too quickly. I mean, one minute she`s telling a soldier to pull himself together, the next she`s yelling `We`re gonna kill then all!` and waving her sword around. Xena`s switch from playful friend to ruthless commander and back again just can`t be fitted in completely believably in 40 minutes or so. I think they should have stretched this one to two parts as the story is certainly strong enough. It is Xena`s dark side that facinates many fans, and to see her in action as the Warrior Princess is something we have waited a long time to see. However, to have her change so quickly and to be so hard on her best friend Gabrielle - who she doesn`t need to be the fierce warrior with - is a slight quibble.
This is one of the darkest episode we have seen so far I think. The light hearted fishing scene at the start doesn`t prepare us for the bloodiest adventure for ages. What is also interesting is Xena`s attitude in this episode. For once, she is inflexible. Normally, Xena`s improvisations and quick thinking are a hallmark of her success. Here she is set on her course of action as soon as she hears who her enemies are. Even before they arrive at the garrison she warns Gabrielle that it is going to get ugly. Also, Xena is basically wrong in this episode - again something I didn`t expect to see. Her plan would not have worked as her scout didn`t make it for help. It was only Gabrielle`s intervention that enabled her to take part in her one-on-one with the Horde`s leader. The final acknowledgement that a permanent solution will not be reached by the sword, but by talking, is a very forward thinking approach by Xena, who generally sticks to the sword for her solutions.
Once again Lucy Lawless does wonderfully well, becoming quite fearsome as the old Xena. That the changes in Xena are rather abrupt is down to the script rather than her. We will see more of Xena`s dark side in the future.
One thing that confused me for a minute was when Xena and Gabrielle see the soldiers tied to those X crosses near the start and they *really* sound like they are calling out "Xena", when it is supposed to be "Athena". I often wondered whether the character Xena was infulenced by the Goddess of wisdom and warfare...traits Xena has in abundance. Of course, Athena`s appearance in season 5 proves how alike in some ways they are.
This episode is a very dark and enthralling one, but I just wish it had been longer.
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