My entire childhood was full of prehistoric dinosaur adventures: movies like The Land Before Time and The Magic Treehouse books painted a vivid (and very inaccurate) picture of prehistoric Earth. While incredibly nostalgic, dinosaur tropes lost their luster over the years, becoming distant history themselves.
Flipping mindlessly through the TV guide, my dad burst into the living room with the biggest smile on his face. Grabbing the remote, he directed my attention to Adult Swim — a late-night branch of Cartoon Network — where a show neither of us had ever heard of aired. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal, released in 2019, quickly gripped us and became our new obsession.
Completely free of dialogue — besides grunts and screams — the audience follows a unique friendship between a primitive hunter and a tyrannosaur. Loss, bloodshed, and tragedy trail behind the pair like a shadow, but their wordless relationship continues to strengthen with every hardship.
I should preface that the show isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s survival of the fittest in full effect, no sugar coating or fluff involved. Bloodshed and violence drive the plot, with a major battle at the climax of every episode. Strength is the only means of survival in Tartakovsky’s world, painted with carnage in pain.
Through that pain, however, two unlikely characters find solace with each other. On a hunting trip we meet Spear, a very skilled and finely tuned hunter devoted to his family. Sadly, Spear watches as his family is hunted down themselves and murdered in front of him at the jaws of tyrannosaurs. Dismay, grief, and sadness pour out of his character, even though there are no words to articulate it.
He later comes across Fang, a tyrannosaurus mother protecting her unhatched eggs. Not long after meeting, the two engage in an intense battle, before other predators come to hunt Fang’s eggs. Unsuccessful in battle, Fang loses her family, a feeling Spear knows all too well.
Wordlessly, they bond through their separate griefs, journeying the strange world they live in as a pair of broken souls.
A Stylistic Masterpiece
Heart-wrenching plot aside, the art itself is fascinating to watch. Tartakovsky, whose portfolio boasts Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, has a distinctly unique style I can only describe as early 2000’s cartoons.
Vibrant colors, hard lines, and distinct shapes characterize each personality in the series, giving more insight into these silent characters. Spear, a boxy, barrel-chested mammoth of a man exudes strength through his proud stance. In contrast, he’s able to move silently through woods and water during hunting trips, flashing amazing agility and control during battle. His facial expressions are crucial, since there’s no way of translating his grunts or groans of expression. Instead, he conveys rage, pain, grief, overwhelming sadness, and even a spark of joy just through the wrinkles of his war-torn face.
Fang is similar, but still hard to read — she is a reptile after all. Still, when the camera angle is straight onto the dinosaur’s eyes, you can see them soften with empathy. They also express her rage, her pain, her grief — all emotions we don’t associate with massive predators. In certain instances, her growls and roars emote more feeling than words ever could.
Silence in Color
The color palette Tartakovsky utilizes is visceral — primal even — in nature. Muddled greens and browns of the forest, roaring white-water falls, barren tundra and red-soaked fields. Every aspect of a scene compliments each other, down to the hand-painted skies. The only thing that tends to stand out the most is blood. A bright, cartoonish red paints the characters in battle, no matter the setting; it’s clearly intentional, with Tartakovsky adding emphasis to the gore with a message of how it’s shaping the pair’s relationship.
Empathy plays a massive role in this saga. Without it, Spear and Fang would have died long ago, in a world that wouldn’t bat an eye otherwise. Instead, they push each other to fight every day for their lives, no matter the hardships.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s message of hope through the story of wordless partners is unlike anything I have ever seen before. He presents these complicated emotions in their most basic form — nothing extra added — for the audience to experience.
Hi! My name is Ellie and I’m a senior editor, trending editor, and print editor for The Mycenaean. I am also a second degree blackbelt at Triangle’s best karate, floral assistant, and a self-proclaimed starving artist. Just a chaotic libra whose only personality trait is how often she dyes her own hair