Primal creator talks shocking finale and how season 3 could transform the show

·9 min read
Primal creator talks shocking finale and how season 3 could transform the show

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Primal's season 2 finale.

After a nearly two-year hiatus, Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal returned this summer with an astounding second season. Previously, wandering Spear (Aaron LaPlante) and his trusty Tyrannosaur friend Fang pinballed between creature-feature assaults, barely surviving mutated ape-men, plague-riddled sauropods, and the occasional sorrowful witch. This year, the Adult Swim series embarked on a true serialized saga, as the caveman-dino duo sailed between prehistoric continents to rescue captured Mira (Laëtitia Eïdo) and escape from a vengeful Chieftan (Fred Tatasciore). Then there was the small matter of the biggest warship ever, ruled by a villainous Queen (Amina Koroma). Also, maybe, the devil? (The whole season is currently streaming on HBO Max.)

Even viewers used to Primal's twists were probably shocked by this week's finale, which doesn't merely end the season, but also definitively ends Spear's story. "Echoes of Eternity" begins with a rare triumph. Mira successfully returns to her village, a somewhat advanced civilization with no clear place for barbaric Spear. Peace is short-lived. The resurrected Chieftan, now a vengeful fire giant, tracks his prey down. And then Spear vanquishes the Chieftan by tackling him down a mountain. It's an awesome act of self-sacrifice. Burnt to a crisp, Spear can barely mutter Mira's name one last time. But — in what may be the most unusual payoff to a will-they-or-won't-they relationship in TV history — Mira has sex with the dying man. An epilogue presents a major time jump, introducing the teenaged daughter (Lilah Tartakovsky) of Spear and Mira, who's riding one of Fang's now-grown dino-babies.

Call them all a blended family, with an older Fang still going strong alongside her two children. "I think if I killed Fang, I would be hunted," laughs Primal creator Genndy Tartakovsky. The legendary animator has a busy schedule, with the upcoming series Unicorn: Warriors Eternal and the raunchy feature Fixed in various stages of production. While not yet officially renewed for season 3, it seems likely the Emmy-winning Primal will return — though, as Tartakovsky reveals, it will look very different. He spoke to EW about the bold finale and what it means for the show's future.

Primal Season 2 finale
Primal Season 2 finale

Courtesy Adult Swim

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Talk about the decision to kill off your main character. What needed to happen in the finale for this battle to feel truly climactic, given all the monstrous things Spear has survived before?

GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: After Samurai Jack and the way we ended the last season, I got a lot of flack for not giving Jack a happy ending. In my mind, he's a samurai, that's his lot in life. We can't just all be happy. For this, going into it, I had an idea of where I wanted it to go. The whole scope of the series is about [Spear's] evolution. He's kind of like the last caveman, the last Neanderthal. So his evolution, in a way, is continuing his family.

He's facing this villain that's supernatural powered. It's not just a creature. It's something that's beyond man. I felt like if they beat them, it's not right. So why not go out in a blaze of glory? He's doing everything to protect his family, like usual, but it's too much. You want it to be realistic, even though this is the most unrealistic show ever made. You want it to be believable character-wise. To continue on with his daughter felt like the right thing.

So is the show specifically about Spear's daughter going forward? Or do you see Primal as becoming more about Spear's family?

I see it ending. [laughs] I don't want to do this story further. I feel like this season we've done it all, in a way. I want it to almost become an anthology show, where season 3 would still be called Primal, but with a different subheading. Low-dialogue, high-emotion, survival, rawness, visual storytelling: All that stuff, but with different characters. There's more things I want to do with Primal, not necessarily Spear and Fang. Maybe if there's a giant outcry, we'll continue the story with his daughter and Mira and the dinosaurs. I'd have to really think about it.

I was really moved to see Spear paint his entire life story on the wall. At what point did you decide that would be part of his final act?

This was gonna be the biggest challenge: Can we make the audience feel that he's got this existential thinking about his life? He knows he doesn't fit in, and then he starts to ponder: Well, what is my place? He feels like the outsider. It all still goes back to that very first episode, where he loses his family and erases himself from the wall.

There was an episode this season, "The Primal Theory," which introduced an entirely new time and setting. I'm curious: As viewers, should we interpret that 1890s England adventure as a complete breakaway, or is it meant to connect to the Spear-Fang story?

It's for sure connected. They're discussing the savagery inside of yourself, and we just came off the most savage episode that we've ever done, with the brutality and how far [Spear and Fang] were pushed to kill all these innocent people. It was a little bit of a reset. I loved the feeling of giving the show a little verbal context, slightly, in this horrific episode.

Some viewers think "Primal Theory" proves the rest of the show is actually set in the far future. Can you comment on that?

Absolutely not in the future.

Okay, I won't even bother you with my theory that the guy Aaron LaPlante voices in "Primal Theory" is Spear's great-great-great-great-grandson.

Aaron is really funny, and I wanted to give him something because I love his voice. He's done some voices for me for Unicorn, he's doing a voice for me for Fixed. I'm trying to use him as much as I can besides just grunting. He's actually a really good actor.

We saw the Chieftan get taken down to a hellish place, where some kind of entity remade him as a fiery monster. I'm curious: Do you have a name for who that entity is, or where that place is?

The name of the episode before was "Vidarr," which is actually the old Nordic name for revenge. People kind of associated it with the demon guy. Whether it's the Devil or Satan, it's the demi-god of Hell. I like when the audience make it their own. Some people were saying that it's the god of revenge, and that works too. It's definitive in the story, but you can classify it the way you want to. The show, I've always said, it's pulp. There's man and dinosaurs, so you know you're historically not accurate. Then we've got witches, magic, vampire man-bats. Getting dragged to the underworld to empower yourself for revenge is all part of it.

Primal Season 2
Primal Season 2

Adult Swim

This is a simplification, but I you've talked a lot about your love of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories, and I've always thought of Primal as Conan for parents, especially with all the endangered children this season. And then your daughter voiced Spear's daughter! Was parenting a key theme for you?

She's about the right age. It felt poetic to me. I usually don't do that. My wife always yells at me, "Why aren't the kids more in the shows?" It's about the sincerity and the honesty, not just about getting my kids an extra buck. But my daughter kind of was into it. It's just one yell. It felt nice. And the familial part of it, it's just about character building. Conan, that was the one thing, he never grew. He's still the same old dude. Which is great for reading the short stories! But doing this more episodic tale, we wanted more. And of course I didn't want to just rip it off. You want the feeling of it, the coolness of it. [Spear's daughter] is the future. She's the next step of evolution. Spear had a really strong intellect and so his daughter has that, plus all of Mira's knowledge and language.

What's next for you? Is there a release date for Unicorn yet?

We're looking at maybe sometime next year, maybe at the end of this year. And then I'm working full-on on Fixed, that Rated-R feature for New Line. And then starting development on season 3. I have an idea that I'm really excited about, one idea that's rising to the top. After doing five seasons of Samurai Jack, two seasons of Primal, all the Clone Wars that we did, I've done so much battles and action. If I was going to do it again, what would I do? How can I make it interesting to me and the audience, so it's not just a repeat of what I've done? That's why I was so excited about Primal. I haven't done caveman style fighting. He's got no skills, it's just rawness. To choreograph fights like that was really fun. Pushing it into a season 3 of Primal, if it gets there, what's different? What can I do that I haven't done?

If you're tired of battles, you could always spend more time in the dinosaur maternity ward!

Storyboarding the birth of the eggs was some of the most fun I've had. I know some people were shocked by it, "I don't know if we need to see that." You do need to see it! That's what makes it new! When can you actually find something that really hasn't been done, especially in animation? That's when storytelling gets exciting.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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