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It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of Xena, and looking back, our Warrior Princess has had quite a run. Starting in 1995 and airing until 2001, this show was an instant hit. It began the same year as its predecessor Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, yet managed to outlast the show it was born from by two years. It quickly rose to be the top-rated syndicated drama on American TV, and while ratings faltered after six seasons on the air, it still managed to inspire endless tomes of fanfiction and kick-off dozens of conventions around the world.
When people look back on Xena, it’s important to note that very few TV shows focusing on women had ever existed up to that point. The ones that had, like The Bionic Woman, had only been mild successes that were seldom syndicated after the series ended. Xena, on the other hand, inspired a whole new way of looking at television, and it wasn’t long before countless other action shows with female protagonists followed. For this reason and many more, we say, “Here’s to you, Warrior Princess!” with this list of our favorite episodes.
Season 1, Episode 8: "Prometheus"
When Xena and Gabrielle discover that the god Prometheus has been bound, they realize that they will have to do something about it lest humanity loses his gifts of fire and healing. Xena chooses to go this route alone and puts her life on the line in the process but ultimately meets up with Hercules and Iolaus, who pledge their assistance. Hercules and Xena work to free Prometheus while Gabrielle lingers behind and tends to a wounded Iolaus, now dying due to Prometheus’ imprisonment. Xena and Hercules ultimately save the day, and Xena and Gabrielle ride off together into the sunset.
TV crossovers are usually delightful, and this one is no different. Seeing how the dynamic between these characters has changed since Xena’s first appearance as a villain on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys tells us a lot about how far she’s come in just a little time. Gabrielle and Iolaus make a great team, and the buddy vibes are strong as they crack jokes with each other even as Iolaus is at death’s door. Despite the kind of baffling and wedged-in attraction between Xena and Hercules and Gabrielle and Iolaus that no one brings up ever again except in passing, there’s no denying that this is a fun group, and the tender, genuinely-felt friendship between them is beyond heartwarming.
Season 1, Episode 22: "Callisto"
Xena and Gabrielle find that there is a brutal warlord calling herself Xena terrorizing the countryside. When they meet up with this foe, they realize that this was once a young girl who lost her family when a villainous Xena destroyed her village. Xena is forced to face the crimes of her own past as Callisto proves herself to be vindictive, hateful, and every bit a match for the Warrior Princess.
Without question, Callisto is one of the very greatest villains this show ever gave us, and her debut is truly stunning. Though we’d seen Xena face many challenges, only Callisto stands out as being a one-for-one match to Xena, and her methodical reasoning behind her seemingly chaotic cruelty is genuinely chilling. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Callisto is her crimes are for nothing so much as to get Xena to notice her. In her own words, “You let me go, and I will dedicate my life to hunting down and killing everything that you love. Your family, your friends, your reputation, even your horse. The reason I am being so honest with you is because the very idea of your pity is worse than death for me. You see, you created a monster with integrity, Xena. Scary, isn't it?” Yes, girl, it is!
Xena Season 2, Episode 13: "The Quest"
Xena has perished in the episode prior, and Gabrielle is left with the task of protecting her body from thieves and carrying it to the Amazons for a traditional Amazonian burial. However, Xena’s spirit still lingers at the edge of the waking world, so she possesses Autolycus in order to force him to help save her. Gabrielle is reeling from grief, and she understandably does not believe him when he proclaims to be sharing a body with Xena — that is until Xena pulls her into the astral plane to make a plea for Gabrielle to help save her. While all this is going on, the angry and jealous Amazon Velasca is desperately trying to prevent Xena’s resurrection.
What’s not to love about this episode? Bruce Campbell as the dashing thief Autolycus is an absolute joy, and watching him pull out all the stops on the physical comedy that is such a trademark of his career right in the middle of a Xena episode is nothing short of delightful. Gabrielle’s devotion to Xena is more clear here than ever, and she and Xena even share a highly romantic kiss on the astral plane. Velasca is a great villain, and she soon returns. All around, five stars.
Season 2, Episode 14: "A Necessary Evil"
Remember Velasca, the embittered, sadistic Amazon who hated Gabrielle for refusing to defer leadership to her, oh, an episode or so ago? When Gabrielle attempts to pass on her status as Queen of the Amazons to longtime friend Ephiny, Velasca staggers in half-dead and screaming at the top of her lungs about revenge. If this reminds you of another cherished Xena villain, you’re in for a treat — Callisto makes her return in this episode when Xena is forced to free her in exchange for her help.
This is about as high-octane as an episode of Xena can get, and it truly pulls out all of the stops. Callisto is freed, she teams up with Velasca, they immediately realize that they hate each other and fight to the death. Xena ignores her guilt and rises to the challenge, compromising with those she hates the most. The Amazons throw down against a woman who was once one of them, now gone mad with power. Perhaps most importantly, Gabrielle finally finds forgiveness for Callisto, letting go of the pain Callisto caused her by murdering her husband Perdicas and making the decision to move on with her life.
Season 2, Episode 15: "A Day in the Life"
Xena is torn between saving two different villages in immediate peril, and even after she simplifies and chooses which one she will save, new complications arise that lead her to think on her feet to find a way to spare them both. A comical love triangle in which Xena has no interest but is unfortunately intertwined makes everything even more difficult as she races against the clock to save lives.
This is one of the more purely entertaining episodes of the series, and though the story is a high-stakes sprint to save two villages from utter destruction, Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship is what matters here. Gabrielle tries her very hardest to create a sense of domestic normalcy while Xena tears through belongings without concern. She uses Gabrielle’s scroll for toilet paper and costs them their only cooking knife by throwing it into the leg of a warlord. Even at that, their moments together are still surprisingly tender, and the scene where they successfully fly a self-made kite is enough to warm even the most jaded heart.
Season 3, Episode 11: "Maternal Instincts"
Once again, Callisto returns from the dead, with her desire to cause Xena and Gabrielle pain back in full force. Teaming up with Gabrielle’s daughter, the malicious entity known as Hope, they orchestrate the death of Xena’s son, Solan. This is all bad enough, but they utilize Gabrielle’s misguided “maternal instinct” to protect Hope as their primary tool, and when Solan dies, Xena feels profoundly betrayed by Gabrielle, and the two of them part ways on incredibly bad terms.
As we’ve mentioned, Xena is a lot of fun, but there are some episodes that are surprisingly bleak. The ability to balance the good moments with the bad is a rarity even today. This episode certainly rates fairly high on the morbidity, and it causes a rift between Xena and Gabrielle that takes a long time to fully heal. The story packs a devastating punch, and by the end, it’s unclear if Xena and Gabrielle will be able to mend their friendship at all.
Season 3, Episode 12: "The Bitter Suite"
The rift between Xena and Gabrielle caused by Callisto’s machinations and the death of Xena’s son has only grown, and Xena actually attempts to kill Gabrielle at the beginning of the episode. However, the two are transported to the mysterious realm of Illusia, a dream world in which the main players in their drama show up and attempt to misdirect them and pit them against each other. Though their feelings of betrayal and remorse are strong, their love remains much stronger. In the end, Xena and Gabrielle tearfully reunite and forgive one another.
Managing to be both fun and incredibly emotionally tense, this episode tells us a lot about the secret fears and desires of Xena and Gabrielle, and how both of them are afraid of being hurt again. On the other hand, it emphasizes their mutual decision to choose one another above all, and after several episodes of bleakness, it’s a huge relief to see them reunited. Comical and bizarre appearances from Callisto and Ares are icing on the cake, as are the set designs and costume choices that bring the strange land of Illusia to life.
Season 4, Episode 21: "The Ides of March"
Gabrielle spent a lot of the fifth season centering herself with the peaceful teachings of the guru Eli, while Xena grew increasingly troubled by recurring visions of her and Gabrielle being crucified together in Rome. In trying to prevent these catastrophic events, Xena sadly plays right into the hands of fate, and all the things she has feared come to pass. The episode ends with Xena and Gabrielle being crucified and left to die.
Several ongoing plot threads come together to make this episode one of the most truly incredible entries of the series. Gabrielle’s desire to find peace is disrupted as she gives it all up to fight for Xena. Xena’s fear of her and Gabrielle’s pending deaths is overcome by her desire to keep Gabrielle safe. Callisto escapes Hell and paralyzes Xena with her own Chakram while Caesar attempts to control Rome and is, of course, stabbed to death. Yet, as always, the greatest thing about this episode is the tender moments between Xena and Gabrielle. When Xena begs Gabrielle’s forgiveness for ruining her life, Gabrielle brushes the apology away, and says, “Before I met you, no one saw me for who I was. I felt invisible. You saw all the things that I could be. You saved me, Xena.” OK, now we're crying.
Season 5, Episode 14: "Amphipolis Under Siege"
Of all of the truly wild plot lines of Xena, the birth of Eve rates fairly high. When Xena discovers herself to be pregnant, she notes that it’s impossible, citing that she hasn’t “met the requirements” that would allow for that to be the case. We find out that Callisto impregnated Xena to give her something good after everything they had taken from each other. The child is prophesied to destroy the rule of the Greek gods, and so Athena attempts to destroy her.
The god Ares spent most of the series as Xena’s sexy-but-toxic ex, constantly attempting to seduce her back into evil so that he could use her to cause great wars. Here, he attempts to utilize his power against her once more but finds that Xena’s devotion to him has waned to disinterest as she and Gabrielle flip the tables and use him to protect Eve against the other gods. Gabrielle steps into the spotlight as she rallies the villagers to fight for their freedom from the gods and knowingly assures Ares that Xena will never truly love him. In the end, he angrily departs, and Xena and Gabrielle walk off together once more.
Season 6, Episode 18: "When Fates Collide"
For Xena and Gabrielle shippers (us), there is truly no greater episode than Season 6’s When Fates Collide. The deceased Caesar continues to attempt to exert control over the world when he finds the looms of the Fates and forces them to move things around so that he has a chance at life again. Deciding that he will unite with Xena instead of betraying her, Caesar returns to life and he and Xena take over Rome with no challengers to speak of.
Yet, it turns out that there is one major challenge — Xena’s love for Gabrielle. Though the two of them have not met in this reality, the moment they see each other at an after-party for one of Gabrielle’s plays, the sparks fly. They immediately gravitate towards each other, and Gabrielle manages to seed doubt in Xena’s mind concerning her rule of Rome in just a few short sentences. In the end, Gabrielle torches the looms, deciding that she and Xena will find one another no matter what universe they find themselves in, during what time, under what circumstances. There's no greater love story than that, folks.