Return of the Gladiator is the third episode of Season One.
Calm Before the Storm
The Witch and The Emperor
At the Galra Empire's Central Command, Zarkon is absorbing a blast of powerful refined Quintessence with the assistance of the Druids. Haggar notifies him that the Galactic Gladiator they launched has almost reached Arus, and Zarkon remarks how the Quintessence grants him enough power to fight the Paladins of Voltron with his own hands. Haggar thinks there is no need for the emperor to involve himself, as she is confident the Robeast will destroy them and claim the Voltron Lions on their behalf.
A Paladin Lunch
Meanwhile, the Paladins return to the Castle of Lions after training to pilot Voltron. Lance gloats about kicking a broken Galra ship into the horizon and tries to provoke Keith, but Keith ignores the bait and reprimands Lance for showing off and causing Voltron to fall. Lance blames Hunk for the fall, and Shiro ends the argument before it continues by telling the team to save their energy for fighting Zarkon. They all sit at the dining table as Coran arrives with a covered platter of food.
Coran asks about the Paladins' progress and Shiro confirms it is going well, but questions when they will be able to leave Arus as he feels the team is vulnerable by staying in place. The Castleship is not ready to launch, so Coran has chosen to assist the Paladins by creating an "authentic ancient Paladin lunch": the reveal of a yellow, slimy substance spewing out of a green core with a horrendous odor is rejected by all the Paladins - even Hunk, who just learned to accept the food goo. Coran insists it is full of nutrients and the stench means the food is healthy; Hunk insists that the planet has herbs, spices, and other plants to use to make a real lunch, so he heads to the Castle's kitchen himself.
Coran attempts to coax Shiro into eating the strange creation, but Shiro refuses and leaves for the Sleep Chamber where Pidge is visibly anxious while waiting for the freed Galra prisoners to awaken from the sleep pods; Shiro admits he is also anxious. Pidge believes the aliens might hold clues about the missing Holt family members because they recognized Shiro, but wonders why one called Shiro "Champion". With the loss of his memory, Shiro has no answer to give, and considers that may not want that answer based on the fearful looks the alien prisoners gave him. Just then, the sleep pod containing Xi, who recognized "the Champion", opens.
In the dinning hall, Hunk presents Keith and Lance with more visually appealing and tastier food from the ingredients available. The two wolf down the elegant creations and Allura comments on their enjoyment of the "Paladin lunch"; Coran, offended, refuses to talk about it. Allura is happy to announce that the Castleship will be ready to leave Arus tomorrow but the mood is ruined by the sudden blare of the Castle alarms. On screen, Klaizap is seen approaching the Castle of Lions.
Allura does not recognize the alien, but believes it is an Arusian native to Arus. Seeing the small alien act fierce as he hides behind rocks incites Hunk and Lance to drop their guard and find Klaizap adorable. Keith remains wary as he is unwilling to trust appearances, so he readies his Bayard. Allura insists that Alteans believe in peace first and leaves to welcome the Arusian with Coran. Lance follows with Hunk, thinking he can knit the Arusian a sweater; Keith, unsatisfied with the Altean method, states he will not take any chances that the Arusian could be dangerous, and follows after them.
Bravest of Warriors
As the Castle doors open, Klaizap hides in the foliage nearby. Allura and the team approach him and the princess guarantees he will not be harmed. Klaizap jumps out and brandishes his sword; Hunk coos over the adorable display, but Keith stands between the Arusian and Allura with his Bayard ready and orders Klaizap to drop his weapon.
Klaizap refuses the order and it appears violence will ensue. Allura intervenes and reprimands Keith, who relents, and then apologizes to Klaizap in a soothing voice. With the conflict avoided, Klaizap explains he is the bravest of the Arusian warriors from the nearby village and has come seeking answers as to why the "Lion Goddess" is angry with her followers. This confuses the team, so Klaizap shows them a carving of Arusians praying to a Lion-headed deity outside the Castle's courtyard and explains the Goddess is one "the ancients" spoke of.
Allura asks why the Arusians think the Goddess is angered, and Klaizap speaks of the chaos caused from the past battle with Sendak, describing it as raining fire and a dancing giant. Allura assures him that the Lion Goddess is not angry with anyone, and introduces herself as the owner of the Castle of Lions. Klaizap believes her to be the Lion Goddess herself and bows in respect. Allura asks to be taken to the Arusian village; Keith does not understand why she is delaying their mission of leaving the planet and fighting the Galra Empire, but Allura explains that part of the Paladins' mission is spreading peace and diplomacy, and they should thank the people who have hosted their Castle for 10,000 years.
Shiro the Champion
Inside the Sleep Chamber, Pidge and Shiro tend to the awakened prisoners. Xi comments on how time blurs as a prisoner of the Galra Empire, but many have been prisoners for decades. Pidge deduces they must have seen Sam and Matt along with Shiro. The former prisoner does not recognize the names, but remembers the two Earthlings who arrived with "Champion". Shiro questions him about the title.
Realizing Shiro suffers from loss of memory, the Xi recounts the tale of Shiro's rise as Champion of the Galra Empire's arena: the prisoners were offered up like cattle to be slaughtered by the reigning gladiator, Myzax. Sam was not among the group of prisoners but Matt was the first set to fight. However, Shiro was so thirsty for blood, he stole the blade offered to Matt and attacked him instead, injuring him.
Pidge is mortified by the tale and demands answers from Shiro, who is in disbelief. Xi affirms that all the prisoners were there and witnessed it, but have no idea where Pidge's brother was taken afterward. Shiro refuses to believe there is not more to the story, and thinks some information can be found on Sendak's crashed warship since he and the former prisoners have both been held on it before. Pidge desires the truth as well so the Green Paladin accompanies Shiro as he leaves the Castle to investigate the fallen warship.
The Dance of Apology
The Red Lion, Yellow Lion, and Blue Lion are used to bring Allura, Coran, Klaizap, and the three respective Paladins to the Arusian village. The team happily greets the adorable locals, although Keith appears out of place and disinterested. The Arusian King asks the "Lion Goddess", Allura, to forgive them and to accept their Dance of Apology that he commands Moontow to perform. Allura tries to tell them there is no need, but the Arusian King mistakes this for the Goddess refusing the apology, so they must burn themselves in sacrificial pyres.
Allura is horrified and commands them to stop before anyone is burned, so they proceed with the dance. Once the Dance of Apology is over, the Arusians bow to her. Allura is embarrassed and explains she is not a being worthy of worship, as she accidentally put everyone in danger and should apologize to them. She introduces herself as Princess Allura and her team as the Voltron Paladins who wish to live alongside the Arusians as friends and equals. The Arusian King is confused, as he believes the "mighty robotic angel" has come to destroy his people; Allura proclaims Voltron is there to protect them and every innocent being in the universe.
The Arusians cheer and celebrate with the team by hugging all of them. Keith tries to escape but is clung to by an Arusian. Although not one to embrace strangers, Keith admits the Arusian is cuddly and returns the hug with a pat. The Arusian thanks him in a deep voice contrasting so sharply with his endearing appearance that Keith is left speechless.
The Galactic Gladiator
Shiro and Pidge have taken their Lions to investigate Sendak's fallen warship. Inside the wreckage, the two Paladins locate the master control board. It is unable to be used since there is no power source compatible with Galra technology. Shiro studies his prosthetic arm and then activates the power within it. By simply placing his glowing prosthetic hand on the computer console, the machine powers up and enables Pidge to access it with the built-in computer system of the Green Paladin armor. This way, Pidge can download the data and decode it later once they return to the Castleship.
However, a rumbling begins and Shiro spots the massive Galra spacecraft carrying the Galactic Gladiator heading directly for them and burning menacingly like a meteor. He alerts Pidge and attempts to leave, but Pidge prevents him from removing his hand from the computer as the download is barely started. While Shiro allows a few moments for Pidge to proceed, he cannot ignore the incoming threat and grabs the protesting Green Paladin to flee out of the warship.
In the Arusian village, Allura plays with the locals while Keith watches; Shiro contacts her through her communication earrings and notifies the princess that they need backup. She and Keith are confused, but the intense rumbling reaches the peaceful Arusian village and alerts them to the massive spacecraft in the sky. Keith stares wide-eyed in alarm at the sight and tells everyone to get to their Lions while Allura instructs all the Arusians to hide. Hunk tries to flee with the Arusians, but Keith grabs the massive Yellow Paladin and drags him back towards their Lions to fight.
Back at the fallen warship, Pidge continues to protest leaving the download unfinished, unable to accept possibly losing clues to the whereabouts of the missing Holts, and thrashes against Shiro's hold. With the Robeast's spacecraft on a collision course for the fallen Galra warship, Pidge realizes the situation and both Paladins fly their jetpacks at full speed to flee before they are killed by the intensity of the impact. They barely escape, as the Black Lion and Green Lion move to shelter the two Paladins with their robotic bodies.
A Galactic Threat
There is no time to wonder at the Lions moving on their own, as the the Galactic Gladiator emerges from its transport ship, powers up, and notices Shiro. The two Paladins enter their Lions just in time to dodge the attacks from the Robeast's powerful energy orb that it can charge up and remotely control. Pidge attempts to stop the orb using the Green Lion's mouth cannon, but the Lion's weapon is not powerful enough so the orb strikes the Lion, sending it crashing to the planet's surface. As the Galactic Gladiator charges at the Green Lion, Shiro tries to stop it with the Black Lion but fails; he at least manages to stall the Robeast long enough for the other Paladins to arrive in their Lions. Keith and Lance provide cover fire to pin down the massive Robeast. Hunk headbutts the Robeast from behind, sending it barely flying forward.
The Lions regroup and form Voltron and stand before the Galactic Gladiator ready to face off. As Voltron charges in to attack, the Robeast fires another energy orb. Voltron dodges and then swings a punch with the Red Lion, but the punch is caught in the Robeast's gauntlet. The Paladins adapt by striking another punch using the Green Lion and knocking the Robeast back. Voltron leaps into the air and slams both Lion fists down, but the Galactic Gladiator blocks the strike and calls its energy orb to return, slamming Voltron into the ground with the powerful orb from behind. A second hit is narrowly avoided and the Paladins are on the run from the dangerous attacks, unable to understand why the "most powerful weapon in the universe" is not living up to its monicker.
Distracted by the energy orb for a brief moment, Voltron is body slammed by the Galactic Gladiator and lands near the Arusian village where Allura and Coran huddle with the villagers in nearby caves. Shiro is worried the village will be caught in the battle or destroyed by the Robeast. The Paladins have no choice but to take the brunt of an attack to avoid risking the energy orb hitting the village, and they narrowly avoid flattening the entire village with Voltron itself as the attack sends the massive robot flying. Voltron fires its jetpack to skirt over the village and launches into the air to lure away the Galactic Gladiator.
Clues in Memories
The Paladins try to plan their next move. Lance wants to power-kick the orb, but Keith warns him they fell last time he attempted a kick. Lance ignores the warning and attempts a cool flying kick as the Galactic Gladiator fires another energy orb. The kick misses the orb entirely and Voltron is hit in the face and knocked clear out of the air. Shiro orders Pidge to fire lasers, but the Green Paladin summons Voltron's shield from its wings on accident. As they scramble to fix the mistake, Voltron is hit by the monster, and then by the energy orb.
Hunk points out that when they are distracted by one, the other hits, and vice-versa. Just as he does, the Paladins are hit by another energy orb. Keith calls out to Shiro, who does not respond; Shiro is lost in his returning memories of fighting Myzax in the Galra Empire's arena and realizes that the Robeast and Myzax are one in the same from the sound and attack patterns. He remembers how to defeat him. As the Galactic Gladiator swings a strike, Shiro recognizes the attack and easily dodges Voltron aside.
Shiro tells the Paladins of the monster's weak point: a loud sound occurs every time the orb returns to the Robeast's gauntlet, and every third instance of this, the orb must charge up, leaving the Robeast vulnerable. In the meantime, Voltron is purely on defense. The Galactic Gladiator swings its orb, and Pidge draws the shield to shakily defend against the blow. The battle mirrors Shiro's past memories fighting Myzax as he hid in the arena ring. A second strike lands against the shield, mirroring Shiro's timing of the attacks in the arena and taking the hit. The third strike blasts the shield apart, but Voltron is unscathed, mirroring how Shiro survived Myzax's final attack. The loud sound resounds and Shiro orders the Paladins to counter.
Keith fires the Red Lion's mouth cannon to blast the Galactic Gladiator but the attack barely harms the Robeast and it strikes with a new energy orb. This also mirrors Shiro's past where he was thrown back after trying to end the fight; he recounts that he had a sword when he fought Myzax. A second orb strike hits Voltron severely. While Pidge panics that they will not survive another direct hit, the Red Lion communicates with Keith on what they must do and displays the keyhole console for his Bayard. Before he can act, a third hit from the energy orb shakes Voltron.
With the energy orb returned to its gauntlet, the Galactic Gladiator rushes at Voltron and jumps into the air to deliver a final blow. Keith yells in rage and slams his Bayard into the Red Lion's keyhole console, activating its special ability: summoning a saber for Voltron to wield. As the Robeast lands, Voltron dodges the attack and slices through the monster, causing it to massively explode all at once. The Paladins cheer at their victory, amazed with Keith, but Keith himself is left nigh speechless yet happily proud at this new-found ability. He thanks the Red Lion for its guidance.
Sunset on Arus
The Galra Plot
At the Galra Empire's Central Command, Haggar is able to witness the failure in her own eyes through a Galra drone. Enraged, she claims she will make another Robeast more powerful than the last. Zarkon is unfazed and assures her another Robeast is not necessary as Sendak still lives and remains on Arus with instructions on how to proceed. Haggar questions Sendak's loyalty and worth, to which Zarkon replies that as a soldier of the Empire trained by the emperor himself, only victory or death will stop Sendak.
On Arus, Galra Sentries gather supplies for Sendak and Haxus as they overlook the Arusian village. Haxus is uncertain they can successfully redeem themselves for the emperor if they only have five damaged Sentries to aid them. Sendak is confident they will succeed by exploiting the Voltron Team's largest weakness: their value of other people's lives.
Sunset approaches on Arus and now that the threat has ended, Xi and the other former Galra prisoners are ready to leave for their home planets and see their families again. Xi speaks on the prisoners' behalf and thanks the Voltron Team for giving them and the universe hope. As the aliens leave in a flight pod, Shiro and Pidge are the only ones not present. Pidge sits with the Altean Mice outside the Castle of Lions lamenting about the missing Holt family members and the lack of information obtained on their health and whereabouts.
Shiro approaches Pidge, having been searching for the Green Paladin. Pidge questions why Shiro would attack Matt and Shiro explains he only did it to save Matt from having to fight. Their battle with the Galactic Gladiator drew forth some of his memories and there was indeed more to the tale they had been told:
Sam had been sent to a work camp with weaker prisoners while Shiro and Matt were intended to fight in the Galra Empire's arena. Matt was utterly terrified and did not think he stood any chance of surviving. Realizing the boy was likely right, Shiro stole the blade being offered by the Galra Sentry and attacked Matt with it, claiming the battle with Myzax was his alone. The minor injury Shiro inflicted meant Matt would not be able to fight and therefore would not provide desirable entertainment. Shiro then declared a thirst for blood and tackled his fellow Earthling, but this was only to quietly ask Matt to look after Sam before being dragged away to the arena.
Pidge, overcome to tears with emotions of gratitude and relief, hugs Shiro, thanks him, and apologizes for ever doubting him. Shiro admits he is aware of how much the Holts are missed, and tells "Katie" that her brother and father would be proud of her for coming so far. Pidge is shocked to hear her real name, but Shiro assures her that he will keep her true identity a secret. They both remain outside the Castle and watch the sunset together.