Netflix has a habit of announcing partnerships then not doing a lot with them – just ask Magic: The Gathering fans who tuned into the recent showcase. So while we’ve known that a Tomb Raider animated series has been planned for a while, this is the most concrete confirmation we’ve gotten with the tilte reveal and trailer for Tomb Raider: The Legend of Lara Croft. The trailer acted as more of a sizzle reel than it focussed on any particular elements of the story, but it’s clear from the aesthetic and a photograph Lara holds that this is the Survivor era. Also in the photograph is Sam, who needs to be a definitive figure in the show.
The Survivor era is the most recent of Lara’s three eras. It encompasses the 2013 reboot and its two sequels, Rise and Shadow. Before that, Legend-Anniversary-Underworld were the Legend era, and the first four Tomb Raiders were the Original era. Nobody claims Angel of Darkness. The next game will reportedly try to connect Legend and Survivor, but that’s a matter for another day.
What matters here is that the series is focused on the three most recent games. It’s unclear if it’s a retelling of the era, of one game in particular, or an original story based on this version of the character. But as I said, the reason I’m interested is Sam.
Sam was a core character in 2013’s Tomb Raider, which saw Lara’s ship crash on an island of cultists. Lara had to rescue her teammates one by one, with Sam rescued in the finale as she was being used in a ritual to summon great evil. Tomb Raider’s a weird game. In any case, it was clear that there was a strong connection between Lara and Sam, but at this point the canon diverges.
In the games, which is a reference point for most people, Sam is never present again. She’s mentioned in passing, but Jonah, the ship’s cook, is the only one of the crew to remain firmly by Lara’s side. Sam is too traumatised by what happened on the island, and thus retreats from the tomb raiding life. It’s logical, but it’s not particularly satisfying, and it runs counter to the comics.
Lara Croft has a long and storied comic book history going back to the ‘90s, and has often introduced new elements to the canon, some of which have been carried over to the games themselves. The idea that Lara’s parents died in a plane crash came from the comics first – in the first Tomb Raider game Lara is a crash survivor but the death of her parents was retroactively mixed into this story by Tomb Raider: Legend, seven years after the comic book wrote it this way.
In the comic Tomb Raider: Inferno, the canon splits further. The comics spend more time with the sidekicks than the game can, and Sam gets far more character development. One storyline involving Sam processing the events that transpired on that island ends with her and Lara sharing a friendly hug. Awwww. However, in the original draft of the comic, it instead ended with a kiss, designed to mark the beginning of Lara and Sam’s relationship. Even though it didn’t happen this way, fans have still hung onto the idea.
It’s similar to the ending of Shadow of the Tomb Raider – the game that we all played ends with Lara receiving a mysterious letter. However, we know from players who managed to complete the game without the day one patch installed that this letter was supposed to be from Natla, a villain from the Legend era. Now that we know Legend and Survivor will unite, we all expect Natla to be a cause for this – it’s the same with Sam. We know she was meant to kiss Lara, so as far as the fandom is concerned, she did kiss Lara.
Putting Sam in the trailer feels deliberate. Sure, it’s a picture of a few characters and might be an easy way to show the whole cast while focusing on Lara, but Sam is a hot button issue in the community. If it is just an ‘and also these guys are here!’ moment, it shows a lack of understanding for what these characters represent and I hope the trailer was cut by Netflix rather than anyone involved in the show. Putting Sam in the show, after two games kept her on the bench and the comic was forced to change her story, is a statement of intent.
I’d be happy if Lara was confirmed to be queer and think it would be an empowering direction for a character often reduced (by perception, if not by the games themselves) to aesthetic appeal and the Nude Raider urban legend. It’s not a dealbreaker if she’s not, but the series needs to define where Sam is in Lara’s life and give her a fitting spotlight. Sam is owed her flowers, and the Netflix show better give them to her.
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