For anyone hoping that the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina holiday special would be a festive romp through the most terrifying delights of the season, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that we do get some great holiday frights, mostly centered around an Icelandic Christmas witch—and yes, dear old Krampus, too. The bad news is that we could’ve used a hell of a lot more.
Sabrina might be rocking a new hairdo—as well as a more demonic outlook on life—but the new special for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina shows that the magic of the holiday season, no matter who is being worshipped around the Yule Log, can’t make her problems go away.
A majority of “A Midwinter’s Tale” is focused on dealing with all the shit that happened at the end of last season. Aunt Hilda has a secret baby, Ambrose is becoming more estranged, and Sabrina decided to sign her name in the Dark Lord’s book, which has separated her from the people and things she cares about. In some ways this is frustrating, as I was hoping for a scary holiday special I could share with non-Sabrina fans. But on the other hand, it’s better for the overall story. It’s giving the characters space to grow, and acting as a gateway between Sabrina’s first journey and the next one.
And boy, Sabrina’s in a rough place right now. Her friendship with Roz and with Susie are fraught with tension—Roz seems especially uncomfortable with having a devil worshiper for a friend. Then there’s Harvey, whose face is frozen in a permanent expression of “not having it.” After all, he’s no longer with Sabrina, he murdered his brother, and LL Bean no longer sells his favorite dark green flannel. Sabrina tries a couple of times to ease his pain, but it all involves magic. Harvey (who let’s not forget harbors witch hunter genes) eventually has to tell her to stop. The awkward vibes can be felt from space. It’s hard to say who is right or who is wrong here, as I feel both of them are doing their best in a bad situation. Plus, they’re teenagers, so it’s natural that they’ll both do something to screw things up.
Hurting over the loss of Harvey, all Sabrina wants is to talk to her mom, who we recently found out was stuck in Limbo and therefore could be contacted. So, she enlists the help of her new BFFs, the Weird Sisters, to conduct a séance. I won’t say what happens or how, but given how it’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, it’s safe to assume things don’t go according to plan.
This is where the story gets good. Most of the holiday special is relatively on par for the series—intriguing but sometimes lackluster—but we do get a good chunk of holiday fright right in the middle of it. Much of it centers around the legend of Gryla, an ogress from Icelandic folklore who gives Krampus a run for his money. Dating back to the 13th century, Gryla was the so-called Christmas Witch, who came down every Yuletide to steal naughty children away so she could cut open their stomachs and turn their bodies into a stew.
Here, the story of Gryla has been changed, in that she’s now a witch protector of lost children. And her “Yule Lads,” which in the original story are Gryla’s 13 mischievous sons who are like a creepier version of the Seven Dwarves, are basically impish bed bugs. Don’t get me wrong, she still kills and eats people. But it’s now part of her mission to atone for the misdeeds of her past, instead of just being a terrible ogre person. I actually enjoyed how the episode interpreted Gryla’s legend, as well as how it incorporated Krampus—who in this version is called Bartel, a name that originated in southern Austria. I just wanted to see more of it. The really good scares only lasted for about a third of the episode, and it wasn’t enough.
I still feel the holiday special is worth a watch, mainly for those who are fans of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and want to see the groundwork being laid for next season. A lot of things happen in the episode that will have ramifications later, and folks who go into the next season without watching this may end up feeling a little lost. However, if you haven’t signed the Dark Lord’s book yet, this holiday special may not be the right place to start. This isn’t Charlie Brown learning the meaning of Christmas. This is...kind of a bummer.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s “A Midwinter’s Tale” comes out December 14.