Netflix’s Castlevania is the rare video game adaptation that’s actually worth watching. Executive produced by Adi Shankar and written by prolific comics author Warren Ellis, it remixes the classic gothic series into a bloody anime-influenced adventure featuring some of the games’ biggest characters. Yesterday, Netflix released a third season that’s longer, weirder, and more ambitious than its predecessors.
I spoke to Ellis and Castlevania executive producer Kevin Kolde about how the show has evolved while still drawing inspiration from Konami’s games. I also got to ask about some of my favorite pieces of season 3. So while there aren’t major plot points revealed in the interview, it references specific characters and events — and anything ahead could be considered a spoiler.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
I just watched the third season, and it seemed a lot harsher and maybe crueler than last season. I’m wondering if that’s something I brought to it or if that was intentional.
Warren Ellis, creator / writer / co-showrunner: In some senses, I think you’re probably not wrong. Due to the events of season 2, we now have a power vacuum in that region of the world — and also a degree of chaos. A lot of people are not very organized. And if you don’t have a plan, you become part of someone else’s plan, and it’s never comfortable for you. So in a sense, while I’m not sure I would go with the word “cruel,” I think possibly the situation is a lot scarier and less stable than maybe people would have expected after the end of season 2.
What was interesting about the Infinite Corridor and Saint Germain, two of the big things this season pulled from the games?
WE: Famously, I never played the games, so I have no real knowledge of the series except what’s on Wikipedia or a fan page. But as I had the opportunity to broaden the cast and introduce new characters, Saint Germain leapt out to me because I’ve always been fascinated by that period of itinerant magicians and astrologists touring the great courts of Europe and doing people’s charts for coins.
And the Infinite Corridor was just such a weird thing to find in the material. “Oh by the way, there’s a channel to alternate worlds in the games somewhere!” That was just so random that I couldn’t leave it alone.
Have you been at all tempted to play the games at any point?
WE: I’ve got nothing I can play the games on! I’m sitting here in front of an old ThinkPad. I’ve never actually owned a games console apart from the Atari my granddad gave us for Christmas in like 1982 or something. So I wouldn’t even know how.
Kevin Kolde, executive producer / co-showrunner: There’s also a bunch of people on the team that have played the games and played them sort of voraciously. Our director Sam Deats and assistant director and brother Adam Deats are huge Castlevania game nerds, and you’ll find a lot of elements from the game that they bring in.
In a lot of ways, Dracula felt like he had the most human response to events in the show and a fairly sympathetic story arc. I’m curious what you think of as the driving forces of the new antagonists this season.
WE: Dracula was the oldest and had been through many many life changes, and you have to work really hard not to develop a degree of self-reflection if you’re going to live that long and go through that many experiences. So some of his responses played as more human than the human characters.
In season 3, all of the characters are a lot younger, and they’re a lot more turned inward. Dracula was not necessarily about thirst as a vampire. Most of the other characters are all about their thirst. So that kind of gives them a sharper edge as antagonists. They are more human in that they’re a lot more focused on what they want, which, in a lot of ways, makes them more immediately dangerous.
I like the implication that it takes a hundred years or more to gain any level of maturity and self-reflection.
WE: Well, as I enter close to my second half-century of life, I’m possibly flattering myself. But you know, I’ve read interviews with people who are a hundred years old, and they do have a level of self-awareness and self-reflection that I find fascinating. So I kind of moved that over into Dracula a bit.
One of the things I found myself scouring the wikis for was Carmilla’s... crew? Squad? I’m curious how they came together.
WE: The squad from Styria! No, I think I made them all up. It just made sense to me that she would have a crew. She would be co-ruling with other people because she’s been spending time away from Styria and she wouldn’t just leave that to anybody. So as soon as I landed on the idea that she would be ruling with other people, it was clear that it would be with other women. So then I started inventing all the other three characters.
What was the reasoning behind making them, especially Lenore, more prominent and letting Carmilla fade into the background a little?
WE: It almost mirrors season 2 where Dracula fades into the background a little bit. He’s away with his plans and his misery and the other characters kind of come to the fore. So it’s kind of mirroring that and suggesting she’s entering a Dracula-like role. Also, I had the space! I could introduce new characters I found interesting see how they strike off each other.
I liked Lenore explaining the principles of the invisible hand of the free market.
WE: Oh, you caught that! Oh, god. Okay. Thank you.
Is Hector ever going to catch a break?
WE: Not on my watch! Sorry, I didn’t say that. It’s terrible, because [voice actor] Theo James, he’s got that big resonant heroic voice that immediately makes me hate him. But also, he does this thing where he can let little cracks of insecurity and vulnerability into his voice, which fascinated me. The confluence of these two things meant that I had immense fun just torturing the poor guy.
At this point in your career, how much of your work is specifically responding to things happening right this minute, and how much have you removed yourself from day-to-day politics?
WE: It’s interesting because some of this is cyclical. The situation in Wallachia, you could relate to relatively current events. But you know, 50 percent of the time, a dictator is removed from any region, there’s a power vacuum and a civil war. This is just how these things happen, sadly. So some of it could come from my reading of history, some could come from my responses to current events. I try not to interrogate it too closely when I’m doing it, not least because nobody needs an opportunity for me to get up on my soapbox and start waving my arms. I try to do less of that these days.
Do you keep up with the Castlevania fan community?
WE: I try to stay out of it, not least because you only have to have one bad day and then you’re that writer who shows up to tell everyone they’re watching it or reading it wrong. Once a year, I kind of wave to the kids on Tumblr and say thank you very much. Once the show’s done and streaming, it’s theirs to do whatever they want with.
How much does that extend to social media in general? I know you’ve sort of weaned yourself off it.
WE: I have, by and large, retired from the internet. I just have to wake all the channels up in order to do the show launch. But yeah, I like to stay the hell away from it. People are going to say and do whatever they’re going to say and do, and they should be left alone by the writer.
Do you feel like that’s a change in how the internet works or a change in your relationship with it?
WE: That’s largely a change in my relationship with it.
Could you talk about the tower scene near the end? I’m curious how it showed up in the script and how you developed a lot of the imagery, which is very striking.
WE: Are we talking about the giant globe of bodies and so on?
WE: There are two ways in which I write the big action scenes in the show. Sometimes they’re scripted right down to the beat. And then sometimes, I’ll lead up to a scene, describe what the scene needs to be and how it’ll end and any dialog and beats I need, and then I’ll just say “Sam, I figure you’ve got about two minutes for this. Go nuts.” The tower scene is one of those scenes.
KK: The Legion character, the giant ball of bodies, was actually something Sam and Adam came back to us with once they had received the script and started working sort of a classic Castlevania scenario into the scene, and it just kind of made sense. They’re probably super happy with it, but they probably regretted it at the time because I think, technically, from an animation standpoint, it was a pretty monumental task.
WE: I think I got blamed for their misery, even though I just let them do it, and it was all their fault.
You mentioned you had gone “a bit mad” when you were writing this. Were you referring to something specific or just a general feeling?
WE: The general rapture of mad power of having 10 episodes. So sure, let’s have little philosophical conversations in the bowels of sailing ships! Let’s do a full psychedelic 2001: A Space Odyssey Infinite Corridor! If I wanted to stop the show dead so Isaac could talk to a mad magician woman in the desert foothills of Italy, I could do it. I wanted to try to change the way the show was paced, to change the nature of some of the things we’ve talked about. They’d already ordered the season. What were they going to do? Fire me?
I killed any chance of season 4 right there. Sorry, everybody.