I believe that a misconception many people hold when judging the hero of a story is how often they win or how well they fight is a big factor in measuring the heros worth. We dont like to see a hero who loses all the time, and it can make us question why this character has been designated as the hero. Shouldnt the stronger character who wins a lot be the hero? Dont they deserve to be the team leader more than the guy who can barely edge out a win? And theres the problem. Lion-O is often judged to be too weak and unworthy to lead when compared to his brother Tygra, who is seen by the Cats at the start of the series to be the ideal heir to the throne. But this is wrong, and the reason is because the right to rule isnt and shouldnt be a reward earned for proving ones might. Lion-O's character is, in some ways, a deconstruction of What Measure Is a Non-Badass?
The reason Lion-O deserves to be king more than Tygra is because Lion-O wants to help other people, including the other races. If Tygra had become king, he would have ruled as Claudus and generations before him did, and the problems plaguing Thunderas society would have never been remedied; there would still be classism and racism, and their kingdom would still be enemies with almost every other race because Thundera would have never changed its warrior like ways. Lion-O is, apparently, one of the only princes of Thundera to have ever wanted to make peace with the other races and not oppress them but treat them as equals. Lion-O does not see the Lizards, Rats or the Dogs as enemies, just as people, and he does not make sweeping generalizations about them.Both characters and viewers sometimes complain that Lion-O shouldnt be king because he never earned the position; he was simply given the title when his father died, and didnt take his duties as prince as seriously as Tygra did. Lion-O was simply lucky, and we shouldnt consider him worthy. Why should Lion-O have this important designation? The question is how does one earn the right to rule, much less leadership? Some leaders are elected, but I dont believe anyone can agree that every elected leader deserved their position, since there have been many corrupt politicians. While Lion-O may have stumbled a bit early on as a leader, he does mature and become more capable as he learns and develops. And while he does sometimes fail, it is all in his attempts to do what is right.
Lion-O is sometimes accused by viewers for being spoiled, but I find this to be highly flawed. Lion-O grew up with Tygra, someone constantly trying to steal the spotlight from him and usually succeeding. Lion-O learned a great deal of humility from dealing with his brother, and constant reminders of how he didnt measure up dont usually help ones ego. Fortunately, this humility ultimately led to Lion-O becoming a better person, as he sympathized with those who were bullied or oppressed. Lion-O isnt without some pride though, and if there are times when he acts entitled, it could be seen as him reaching his limit when dealing with people who dont listen to him, and considering how others used to think of him, he was listened to very little, save for Jaga and later Cheetara. And remember, he had Claudus for a father, who does not appear to be the pampering type. No, all things considered, being crown prince wasnt all that great for Lion-O, always feeling the pressure of his inevitable kinghood whilst always doubting himself. Its likely that Lion-O sought some sort of escape, and he may have started running away to the slums for this reason. His fascination with technology could be seen as an escapist fantasy, if he felt his real life was so unpleasant.
It is Lion-Os good nature and humility which earns him the right to wield the Sword of Omens. The sword did not choose Lion-O because he was a great warrior, but because he has a good heart. Incredible intelligence or supreme power alone does not make a great leader, especially if that leader turns out to be evil or misguided. This has happened in real life plenty of times. Great leaders are those who want to do everything they can for the good of others, and they are those who have a vision of a future where everyone can be happy and free. This is the vision that Lion-O has, a future where all races and people can live in harmony. Tygra tried to prove he was worthy by being stronger than Lion-O, but he would never be worthy as long as he holds to the old prejudice ways of the past.
As a good example, consider the Trials. Lion-O does not solve them directly, but indirectly, not through force but through cunning. His trial against Panthro clearly states that his greatest strength is as a leader, not his might. The trial he does not pass is against Tygra. Tygra represents all the misconceptions of what a leader should be. Lion-O doubts himself because, to an extent, he still believed he needed to be a strong warrior to be a good leader. But this was a secret test; Lion-O was never meant to beat Tygra, because ultimately beating Tygra would not make him anymore worthy to be king. Lion-O proved himself worthy to be king when he offered up his soul to save his friends, not because he was able to beat someone else. He put the good of others before himself.
Lion-O is a good leader, and he has earned his position through the strength of his character. He has learned to value others as equals and put their needs before his own. Lion-O is able to see the big picture; he knows that the tensions between the Cats and the other races stem from generations of oppression. By being able to see and understand this, Lion-O is able to mend these relations and work towards a better future. He is willing to give his enemies a chance, which is a major step in the right direction. More than that, Lion-O is willing to listen to his enemies, to see when his own people are wrong, and come to understand others instead of dismissing them. Another great example is when he talks to beaten lizard soldiers like they were real people, and convinces them to give up fighting. Then later he risks his own life to save them from being executed for deserting. How many other fictional protagonists have done something like that?
Lion-O can put his people on the right path. This is why the Sword of Omens and the Spirit Stone have chosen to let him wield their full power when he has little mastery of magic or combat. Lion-O does not use his strength to master these artifacts, he does not force their power through sheer determination, and he does not spend days training secret techniques to unlock their power. Lion-O is granted power when he shows the courage to try something new and different, when he is able to see things clearly and come to understand the bigger picture. Lion-O is not a mighty warrior. He is not a chosen one because he holds the most power, as many chosen ones do. Lion-O is the chosen one because of his heart and his vision, and this is what earns him his power. The stones of power choose to let Lion-O use them because they know he will use them for good and he needs that power succeed. It is essentially Right Makes Might taken literally.
We see Lion-O really come into his role as king in the second half of the season, especially when dealing with Pumyra. He makes her his responsibility, and actively tries to work towards his long term goals. Lion-O displays his determination to stick to his ideals, and while he does suffer setbacks, his kindness saves him in the long run. Despite the losses, he has already sown the seeds for the alliance which will eventually defeat Mumm-Ra.
Its not about being strong. As a great animated character once said, power and perfection are overrated. Iroh of Avatar was very wise. He knew that the ways of the Fire Nation were wrong, and while Zuko may not have been the strongest bender in the world, he was by far the most qualified person to be Fire Lord, much more than his sister or father. Lion-O and Zuko both understand this. You cannot lead through might, it will only end badly. Striving for power and to prove your worth is sometimes just a product of shame. It can lead to too much pride and a loss of humility, as it did with Tygra and Azula, and despite all their strength and power they can never be truly happy as long as they cling to their desire to be better than their sibling.
Tygra mellows out once he and Cheetara get together. It could be that what Tygra really wanted most of all was just some affection, and not the kind that Claudus could give. The kind of affection his mother gave him. It is ironic that for someone who turns invisible, Tygra desperately seeks attention, but it seems that Cheetaras attention was all he really needed, or at the least hes happy knowing that one person loves him and always will. It would be interesting if Cheetara ever voiced disapproval over something Tygra said or did.
As far as personality goes, Tygra serves as a foil to Lion-O. He is level headed and realistic, but also cynical and rigid. Despite his role on the team, Tygra seems to have a harder time thinking of plans on the fly and being as flexible as Lion-O, as shown when he failed to get the Sword of Omens back from Mumm-Ra while leading the team in Lion-Os absence. While growing up, Tygra seemed to idolize Grune, who in turn seemed to influence Tygra. Grune told him that what cant be earned can be taken, and Tygra could very well have turned out as traitorous as Grune did, possibly usurping Lion-O if things had turned out differently.
Pride is of course Tygra's greatest flaw, and it comes from the shame he feels from what he feels is losing his place in the sun to Lion-O. If Lion-O, the heir to the throne, is lazy and irresponsible, what would that say about him, the second in line? Tygra is compulsed to act aggressive and always be showing off against Lion-O to alleviate his shame and fuel his pride, but it really only keeps making it worse. He feels like he's lost everything, but he can't see the things he should be grateful for. Tygra wants to believe his life is unfair, but really, he had the luck of being adopted by a king, and on top of that, he lives without the pressure of one day taking up the responsibility of being king. He has wealth, luxury, power, and on top of that the freedom to do what he wants, but his envy of Lion-O blinds him to all this. Tygra feels like it just isn't enough if he can't have that one thing. In the end, Tygra doesn't lives for anything but himself, he has no cause other than his desire to be seen as the best. It's really quite sad. The only other thing Tygra really lives for is Cheetara.
Tygra never bothered to question Thunderas society like Lion-O did. He stuck to all the social norms and never deviated, because he needed to feel loved and needed approval. In order to get that, Tygra devoted himself to becoming the prince everyone wanted, but not the prince that Thundera really needed, which turned out to be Lion-O. As such, Tygra is still shows prejudice against lizards and dogs despite everything Lion-O has done to mend the race relations. Hopefully Tygras attitude will change in time.
Tygra and Lion-O are essentially foils to each other, having many of the same emotions and desires but have very different outlooks on life, and I feel that was handled well. I also have this theory that a lot of Tygras behavior was influenced by Grune in his younger years, based on that flashback in Old Friends. Tygra learned from Grunes example, and tried to work hard and overcompensate in order to make himself stand above the supposed rightful heir. Tygra came very close to turning into Grune, and could have become a usurper if things were different. Tygra was fighting the system to prove that heredity shouldnt decide who should be leader. If someone is going to be king, they should have to work hard to earn it, and if that didnt work, Tygra could have taken Grunes advice by overthrowing Lion-O and taking the throne himself in some sort of violent coup.
Since I mentioned Grune, I like to believe that early on he really wasnt that evil, he just had big dreams and a lot of ambition, and may have been trying to fight the caste system of Thundera. If having a tail makes you a second class citizen, then big ol fangs probably arent much better. Grune probably wanted Panthro to share in that dream, two lower cats defying social norms and becoming Thunderas heroes. Of course, after they got sent to find the book, that dream got all twisted, and it wasnt hard for him to turn to the dark side.
Tygra resents Lion-O for not having earned his leadership, at least early on. And a big part of the series is about Lion-O having to earn his title. Lion-Os not too hard to figure out. Hes been on the receiving end of Tygras resentment for most of his life, and knows how it feels to be pushed around. This gives him great empathy and a need to help others. Because of this, Lion-O is a lot more open to the plights of the poor and persecuted. However, Lion-O often shirked his responsibilities. He never asked to be king, never wanted to be king, and never got any enjoyment from the pressure imposed on him. Because Lion-O avoided responsibilities though, he became unprepared for being king and lacked the experience required, leading him to making poor or brash decisions. Lion-O only fully accepts his responsibility as king when he realizes that its now up to him to save his people and the rest of Third Earth.
I think his original love of technology came when he met Jorma, who introduced him to it. Some have said that Lion-O is a spoiled brat, but I just dont see it. None of the things he was given for being royalty have ever really made him happy, and its not as though he constantly makes unreasonable demands. He doesnt revel in his role as king. Tygras probably a little more spoiled than Lion-O, since its clear he was a lot more popular with the people. I believe that Lion-O dreamed about technology and the old legends to cope and escape from the pressure his father and brother and the kingdom put on him his whole life. He might have become an archaeologist.
Despite that, things can still surprise Panthro, which could be a testament to just how vast n unexplored Third Earth is. I think that Grune freed Mumm-Ra and betrayed Panthro about a year before the start of the series. This would give Panthro plenty of time to figure out how the Thundertank works so thoroughly. It also let Panthro do some exploring on his own, and I think he was probably on his way back to Thundera when he saved the group from the lizards in episode 4. Its also possible that the tank came with an instruction manual to help him out.
Panthro doesnt really develop much during the main narrative, but his long history and experience means that hes already had a lot of development prior. Theres his relationship with Grune, and then theres his relationship with Dobo. We only hear it through exposition, but when Panthro thought he might have to kill his friend, he chose to run. Dobo thought he had deserted him, but it all gets resolved in The Pit when Panthro tells him otherwise. I think this episode helped show that because of Panthros experiences, he doesnt hold the same sort of prejudices as the rest of his society. Hes fought against and alongside the other races, so he shows them the respect they deserve. Even Grune to a certain extent has the same attitude, being willing to work with lizards. This is unlike Tygra or Claudus, who had never experienced this.
Panthro is basically the Mr. T/B.A. Baracus of the ThunderCats. Hes big, hes tough, and hes definitely a badass, but as we spend time with him his grumpy, rough exterior soon opens up and we really do see what a softy he is, perfectly exemplified in the Berbils episode. Panthro is the best fighter, but he cant swim, hes afraid of heights, ghosts give him the willies, and he finds himself in some fairly silly predicaments. It helps make Panthro a well rounded and very likeable character.
Kit, like Lion-O, is an optimist, and holds on to hope as long as she can despite the odds. She believed Lion-O would come back when it was apparent he had died. This episode also showed the spirituality she gained from the Elephants. When Auburn was in danger of being killed, she was the first to blow the Cats cover to save him, loudly proclaiming that no one hurts her friends. She follows her emotions, and she wont let anyone be harmed if she can help it. Besides Cheetara, Kit has shown the most faith in Lion-O and his cause. She believes in his vision to unite the people of Third Earth, and by the end of the series becomes a good friend to him. She may have a little crush on him, but shes still very young. Unlike Kat, Kit seems a little more open to new ideas, and is willing to take more unconventional approaches to problems.
Kat, on the other hand, is a lot more like Tygra. He tries to be practical and is highly opportunistic. Kat is the one who decided they needed to runaway to make things easier for their widowed mother, and he comes up with the plan to find El Dara. While this shows that he is still a little kid with fantasies and hopes, he has a goal to achieve. This is different from Kit, who doesnt care about El Dara as much as having a family and being with loved ones. But Kat looks out for his sister and those close to him as well, and though they are twins, Kat acts more like an older brother at times. He is more realistic than her, believing Lion-O to be dead and accepting it. He also shows pragmatism when he went into the battle during the attack on the Elephant village and used the rocket launcher. That same episode showed how brave he was when he stuck by Cheetara to defend the hut.
The different tools Kit and Kat use also fit their personalities. Kat uses a flink, a grappling claw on a wire that can be used for a wide variety of tasks. Its simple but very practical. Kit, meanwhile, uses a flupe (flute loop), and can play an enchanting melody to lull people to sleep. I can only assume that the flupe is magic in some way, and that fits. Kit is spiritual and can use magic to defeat her enemies in a non-conventional way. Kat is pragmatic as uses a fairly simple mechanical device to get the job done.
The Wily siblings parallel Lion-O and Tygra in a few ways. Kit is like Lion-O, and they develop a bond. Kat is like Tygra, and I would like to see Kat look up to Tygra as a role model of sorts. But unlike Tygra, Kit and Kat dont hold the prejudices imposed by Cat society. They have tails, and have lived both in the country and the slums. They have lived around dogs and get along with them, much like Lion-O and Panthro. The Thunderkittens are very cute, but also as wily as their name suggests, using their cuteness to their advantage at every opportunity. They can survive on their own, but wont do it if they can get someone else to do it. I hope if we have a second season that they will be able to reunite with their mother and siblings, and bring back plenty of treasure.
However, this had its downside as well. Because showing affection was such a big deal for Cheetara, this causes her to do it more than the usual person might. She showed Lion-O a lot of support when he needed it, pushing the boundaries of his personal space to display it. Cheetara even acts a bit like this when she goes hunting with Kit, when she holds her to smear the plant sap on her. Cheetara wants to be close to everyone she cares about, but this ends up sending the wrong message to Lion-O, and he misinterprets it as Cheetara having romantic affection. Cheetara's main character flaw goes with her strength; while she shows support and affection, she can show too much without realizing that she's communicating something else.
This causes a lot of misunderstanding and hurt for Lion-O when he finds out she really felt love for Tygra. While he shares some blame for assuming, Cheetara does share some blame as well, since Lion-O might not have been so sure she liked him in that way if she hadn't done things like kiss his cheek, which would have reminded him of the affection Panthera showed Leo. Cheetara doesn't deserve to be hated, and neither does Lion-O, as it was just a misunderstanding born out of poor communication and social skills from the both of them.
It should be made clear that Lion-O's initial anger over this is not really born from jealousy, but anger at himself for feeling like a blind fool, as well as suddenly feeling alone again. He felt that he knew Cheetara, that she was his closest ally and he was her closest friend, but finding out that he wasn't was painful, and now she is distant from him. On top of that, Lion-O becomes frustrated when Cheetara does not support his plan to free the lizards that have been captured and will be executed, making him feel even more alienated from his friends and allies. He never takes his anger out on Tygra and mostly keeps it a secret. Him not backing down when Kaynar threatened to kill Tygra could be seen as selling his brother out, but it's likely he knew that backing down would lead to them getting killed anyway, and believed that would have a better chance of all coming out alive if they kept fighting with the hope of freeing Tygra.
Cheetara choosing to disobey Lion-O to save Tygra shows Cheetra's first real act of character development. Up to this point, she has focused on her duties as a Cleric to serve, guide, and support Lion-O, but in this instance she puts her own personal feelings first. It may not be a change for the better, but it does show Cheetara has a life outside of her duty and can be independent from Lion-O, and for the rest of the season never acts as close or affectionate towards him before, because that level of intimacy will likely never happen again between the two of them. Cheetara has realized the trouble it caused and that the only person she should be that intimate with is Tygra, or else she'll send more mixed signals.
After Pumyra is introduced, he begins to act more responsible, because he is responsible. His number one priority as a ruler should be to protect his people, and he feels guilt when he sees the pain and anger in Pumyra. It's this guilt that seems to finally give Lion-O a real purpose, since it's a reminder that there are still people who are counting on him. Pumyra brings with her a new set of trials which Lion-O must pass. He must learn to stand by his people even when they hate him. He must learn to stick to his principles of kindness and mercy even when his people are looking for blood and revenge on their oppressors. He learns that he must put the well being of his people before gaining power or a tactical advantage over his enemies. As Lion-O passes this impromptu tests, he begins to earn Pumyra's respect. She sees that he's not the man she thought he was, and that he truly can rise to the expectations she once held for him. While she makes Lion-O more responsible and man up, Lion-O softens Pumyra's heart, easing away her anger and bringing some balance and hope back into her life.
When Lion-O had a crush on Cheetara, he never felt the need to really do anything since Cheetara seemed to be attracted to him already. If he had, he might have found out sooner what Cheetara really felt. While Lion-O likely does admire Cheetara, his attitude in regards to his crush more or less objectified her. In a way, the love triangle could be seen as a commentary on shipping within fandom. Often times characters are shipped together for arbitrary reasons, such as two people being main characters, or showing even a little affection, or even for just being the two best looking. In a way, this objectifies those characters, turning them into things to be shipped. Lion-O may not have realized this, but that was how he saw himself and Cheetara at first. He was the king, she was (probably) the prettiest girl he had ever met and the one to show him the most affection. He expected to end up with her eventually, but that was not the reality.
Pumyra changes this. Now with past experience, Lion-O feels real attraction to Pumyra. In his own words, he likes her passion. Despite her temper and anger and terrible treatment by her, he's still attracted to that one aspect she has. Once she cools down, Lion-O becomes very awkward around her, because he's aware of his feelings, and unlike with Cheetara he knows he's very unsure of what Pumyra's feelings are for him. Lion-O wants to be able to become close to her, but his lack of success with girls has made him doubt himself, and he's afraid she will shoot him down, as Tygra said. He doesn't know the right way to go about charming her, until the end of that episode where he shows her his strength and courage by saving her yet again. Even in previous episodes, Pumyra only warms up to Lion-O when he shows conviction, bravery, and a willingness to sacrifice for her. Pumyra rewards Lion-O with a kiss, which seems to make them the new official couple.
Or so we thought. Big spoilers from here on.
Pumyra is revealed to have been a mole, planted by Mumm-Ra. She allowed him to track the Thundercats, leading him to the Sword of Plundarr as well as the Tech stone. In the end, Pumyra mocks Lion-O for being a lovestruck fool, tries to kill him once more, and leaves with Mumm-Ra. In the end, we are left to question just who the real Pumyra is. Is she acting freely, or under Mumm-Ra's control since she was really dead and resurrected by him? Was everything she did an act, meant to fool and manipulate Lion-O to secretly aid Mumm-Ra? Or were some of the things she did truly genuine, Mumm-Ra control being only subliminal at times and only taking full control by the end?
These questions may never be answered, due to the lack of another season. Mumm-Ra supposedly used Pumyra's anger to bring her back, as if she were a restless spirit that couldn't find peace. Her last thought as she died were anger at Lion-O as she watched him walk away from her. The most logical explanation is that Pumyra is not fully in control, for if she were, she would be just as vengeful against Mumm-Ra for being the one actually responsible for her home being destroyed and her pain and suffering. And if Pumyra were reasonable, she would have truly forgiven Lion-O, for it's clear that had he known she was there, he would have saved her. While Pumyra may have been meant to be a mole, it's not impossible to believe that many of her actions are what she would have done had she not been under control.
There are far too many variables for Pumyra to have been completely in the know that she was a mole, such as when Mumm-Ra attacked the Cats in "Recipe for Disaster." There were many times when it would have been easier for Pumyra to make things difficult for the Cats, and if she was truly under control the whole time, she likely would not have urged Lion-O to take the Tech Stone for himself, as that would have meant a gain for the cats and a loss for Mumm-Ra. It is most likely that Pumyra was always being subconsciously manipulated, driving her to do certain things, such as a need to get the Tech stone, but without her realizing it, and otherwise being mostly herself. It would be an elaborate Xanatos Gambit and/or Batman Gambit if she was completely evil the entire time. That gives some hope for redemption.