A Deep Character Dive into the Madness of Emperor Belos from The Owl House
In my years, I have seen a lot of truly awful villains in various forms of media. Darth Sidious, the Joker, Fire Lord Ozai, Frieza, and Bill Cipher, to name a few. One thing many of these guys have in common is the fact that most of them know they’re evil and don’t care. However, one villain in my pantheon of fictional villains doesn’t even realize that he’s the bad guy. One person who’s so convinced that he’s the hero is willing to resort to things that would make most people’s stomachs lurch, and he’ll think he’s in the right to do so. I am, of course, talking about the big bad of The Owl House, Emperor Belos.
Played to menacing perfection by Matthew Rhys, Emperor Belos stands apart from many villains created by the House of Mouse. He thinks he’s the great hero of mankind, doing God’s work to save the world from the evils of Witches and Demons forever. In truth, though, he’s a cold-blooded serial monster, a manipulative liar, and someone willing to bring out the worst in people to help him achieve his goal of wiping out Witchkind. In other words, he’s religious fanaticism and intolerance personified, which is why I consider him so dangerous.
I’m RJ Writing Ink, and I’m here to continue my deep dive into the characters of The Owl House, including Emperor Belos. However, while the rest of my examples involve characters who have undergone significant change during the show’s run, this one is different. I want to dunk on him and talk about what makes him one of the most despicable villains Disney’s created in recent years.
Exhibit A: The Coven System
While we don’t meet him in person until its penultimate episode, the first season of The Owl House helps paint a pretty clear picture about him. Beginning in the episode “Covention,” we learn how the Boiling Isles is divided into groups of Witches, called Covens, all practicing a specific type of magic. This is ostensibly done to keep Witches from destroying themselves through magic and to foster a sense of camaraderie, but much like Eda, we are given reasons to question this from the get-go.
Firstly, there’s the fact once someone joins a Coven, they’re branded with a sigil that seals away all other forms of magic, ensuring they can’t use any other types of magic. In addition, at the top stands the Emperor’s Coven, his army meant to carry out his will across the Boiling Isles. Initially led by Eda’s sister, Lilith, they’re the only ones who can use all forms of magic. That alone is a red flag. Restricting the masses in what magic they can do while ensuring your most loyal followers can use all magic? That sounds like something a dictator would do to stay in power.
As we also learn, under the reign of the Emperor, every Witch that comes of age must join a Coven or be branded a Wild Witch. Being called such can mark someone for imprisonment or, in Eda’s case, execution. And he can get away with all of this because he claims he can talk to the Titan that makes up the Boiling Isles.
A rigid system meant to oppress the public, a personal army of loyal followers that wield powers others don’t, and justifying his actions by claiming they’re the will of a higher power. The writing’s on the wall: Belos is a tyrant, full of it, and Luz, Eda, and King are among the few who see through his BS.
Exhibit B: He Lies to Lilith and Eats Palismen!
We finally get to see Emperor Belos in person in the first part of the season one finale, “Agony of a Witch,” and what we see is enough to make a person’s stomach churn. As Luz uses a field trip to the Emperor’s Castle to find a cure for Eda, she sees Belos himself. To her horror, she watches Belos take a Palisman belonging to some Witch and destroy it before devouring its soul. This man eats Palismen, living beings like the Skeksis do with the Gelflings in The Dark Crystal. That is so messed up!
Eventually, Emperor Belos finally manages to capture Eda the Owl Lady through Lilith, who thinks he’ll cure her curse and let her join the Emperor’s Coven as he promised. However, Belos reveals he had no intention of keeping his promise. He played Lilith for years just so she could get his sister because she had something he wanted: the portal to Earth. Once he gets that, he’s going to execute Eda in front of the Boiling Isles.
All this does is anger everyone who cares about Eda, with her family banding together to mount a rescue. Lilith turns her back on the Emperor’s Coven while Luz not only destroys the portal to Earth right in front of him, but she manages to hold her own and score a hit on him. And the glares they give each other say it all: this isn’t over! From then on, Emperor Belos becomes Luz’s greatest enemy. But despite this loss, Belos saves face by saying the Titan says Eda suffered enough by not having magic. Man is again lying to everyone!
Exhibit C: Manipulating His Nephew Hunter
Now, I plan to discuss this in greater detail in my deep dive into Hunter. However, let it be said here that out of the many horrible things he does, it’s manipulating Hunter that I count as among the worst. That poor boy is a precious cinnamon bun and needs to be kept far away from Belos!
Bringing in his “nephew,” Hunter, to serve as his right-hand man and the new leader of the Emperor’s Coven, it’s clear from the get-go that what Belos is doing isn’t right. He’s using him to do these terrible things on his behalf, constantly telling him about the dangers of wild magic and how it wiped out their family and doing everything in his power to keep him subservient to him. And as we find out in “Hunting Palismen” and “Eclipse Lake,” he’s not above resorting to physical and psychological threats. Remember how Hunter dug his own grave at Eclipse Lake? He wasn’t joking! Belos might have killed him for coming back empty-handed!
Exhibit D: Philip Wittebane and Lying about the Savage Ages
In the first half of season two, Luz learns from Eda’s mom that she’s not the first human to live on the Boiling Isles. Someone named Philip was once there many years ago, only to eventually disappear. So she and Amity track down Philip’s diary to the Bonesborough Library, they find this magic mouse that can play it back after eating it, and Luz starts learning more about how Philip attempted to find his way home.
In the second half of the season, though, Luz gets the chance to meet Philip. In the episode “Elsewhere and Elsewhen,” she and Lilith travel back to Philip’s era and get to speak with him. At first, Luz is over the moon about meeting another human who lives in the Boiling Isles. However, her respect soon turns to disgust when she realizes what Philip’s truly like. Instead of this wise, heroic man she could look up to, she finds someone who’s deceitful, manipulative, and sinister. Worse, she also finds out that so many people don’t trust him because anyone who goes with him on his quests doesn’t come back. He’s either killing these Demons and Witches or leaving them to die! So, he gets a punch to the face.
However, this isn’t the last we see of Philip. As the episode ends, we see him in a cave, ranting about “those Witches” like some racist would before consuming the soul of another Palismen. We also see a very familiar mask hanging around, and the scar Lilith gives him matches the one on Belos’ face. That’s when we start putting the pieces together.
In addition to learning how awful a person Philip is, Lilith and Luz witness first-hand that everything that Belos said about the pre-Coven age is a lie. Far from being the savage and barbaric time he makes it out to be, the Boiling Isles of the past are peaceful, with everyone freely using all types of magic without any prejudice or negative effects, which brings me to my next example of why Belos sucks.
Exhibit E: Corrupting the Boiling Isles Itself
It’s never overtly said in the series, but actions can speak louder than words, and the actions of Belos say a lot about him. Before he took power, the Boiling Isles was a far nicer place to live, with everyone being friendlier. Even the sky of the Demon Realm was a different color! After he came to power, though, things changed for the worse.
Despite claiming that it was meant to bring the people of the Boiling Isles closer together, the Coven System does anything but that. If anything, it encourages people to look down on each other, constantly compete to see who is the best, and for all of them to look down on those who won’t conform to their rigid system. Worse still, it also encourages people like Lilith, a genuinely good person, to resort to underhanded tactics to get ahead. Case in point, she cursed her sister to earn her spot in the Emperor’s Coven, only to tragically learn that Eda was planning to forfeit from the start. She subjected her sister to a permanent curse for nothing.
And then there’s the Coven Heads. While some are decent people like Eberwolf, Darius, and Raine, others like Terra and Adrian Graye. Those two are either verbally abusive to their underlings or flat-out psychos that belong in prison. And judging by Hunter’s comments on how everyone in the Emperor’s Castle lies and backstabs each other, this is normal. They’re all bending over backward, trying to curry favor with the Emperor. That’s a tactic that real-life dictators like Stalin would use to remain in power for so long, yet another example of why Belos is bad news.
Exhibit F: Hollow Mind and Final Solution.
Now, we get to the big moment. The episode that every fan of The Owl House knows about shows the true extent of how evil Emperor Belos truly is. I’m talking, of course, about “Hollow Mind.”
When Luz’s interference with a spell transports herself and Hunter inside Belos’ means, we witness first-hand the extent of the lies he’s told. He lied about being able to talk to the Titan, and it’s wanting the Coven System. He lied about how bad things were before he came to power when, in truth, they were better. He even lied about being a Witch.
As many of us had already suspected after learning of the existence of Philip Wittebane, he and Belos are the same. He’s kept himself alive for hundreds of years by draining the essence of Palismen like a Skeksis. He can do magic no one else can because he carved glyphs directly onto his body, forgoing the need to draw them like Luz. And we learn that Belos’ whole reason for doing all of this is to wipe out all of Witchkind, genocide on a scale that few can comprehend.
Why do all of this, though? Because in his mind, Belos thinks that he’s the hero of this story.
What Made Belos the Way He is?
We don’t get the full story until the Halloween special “Thanks to Them.” So, for practicality, we will jump between “Hollow Mind” and what we learn in that episode to get the full picture of how Philip Wittebane become the monster known as Belos.
In “Thanks to Them,” we learn about Belos’ backstory, which corroborates what we see in “Hollow Mind” in Belos’ true memories. According to Gravesfield lore, he and his older brother, Caleb, were orphans who settled in the town after they lost their parents. As the older brother, Caleb was the one who looked after Philip, and so Philip adored his big brother, seeing him as his hero. Unfortunately, to fit in with the locals, Caleb made the mistake of exposing themselves to Gravesfield’s darker beliefs. In this case, the practice of Witch Hunting.
If you don’t know history, you should know what life was like in 17th Century New England. In those days, most New England settlers were Puritans, devoutly religious to the point that they made others uncomfortable. Moreover, it was in New England that the infamous Salem Witch Trials took place. Between 1692 and 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, it was a wave of fear and paranoia that saw hundreds of people accused of being Witches. Dozens were found guilty, and many were executed for their “crimes.”
Looking back on it, most people rightfully regard this period with disgust. They see it for the intolerant, fanatical zealotry it was, and given what he later did, it’s likely Caleb never bought into it. He only acted as he did to give himself and his brother as good a life as possible. Although a young, impressionable child, Philip bought all into their zealotry. He genuinely believed that he was on the side of God and that all Witches were evil and must be eradicated.
What happened next was inevitable.
Betrayal and Becoming Belos
When Caleb eventually met the Witch Evelyn, who’s heavily implied to be the ancestor of Eda and Lilith, the two of them fell in love despite being from different worlds. The two of them eloped back to the Demon Realm, where, like Luz would centuries later, Caleb found himself more at home than he ever did on Earth. Philip, though, did not see things that way. He became convinced that his brother was seduced and stolen away from him by an “Evil Witch”, and set off to rescue him. As a result of the years of indoctrination into Witch Hunting, when Belos arrived on the Boiling Isles, he didn’t see the beauty and wonder that Luz and Caleb would. All he saw was a place of evil and home to mankind’s greatest threat.
All of this came to a head when Philip found his brother and discovered that, to his horror, he didn’t want to go back. He liked living on the Boiling Isles better than ever on Earth. Unfortunately, Philip proved unable or unwilling to understand this decision. While we don’t know the full details of what happened, what we learn in “Hollow Mind” and “Thanks to Them” tells us enough: the two brothers clashed, with Philip ultimately murdering Caleb. Rather than feeling horrified by this action, though, Philip rationalized it. He deluded himself into believing that Caleb left him no choice, that he betrayed him and all of Humanity, and that he was a hero for killing his treacherous brother. So rather than go back home empty-handed, Philip chose to create a plan that, in his broken mind, would ensure he would be seen as the great hero of mankind. And thus, disguising himself as a Witch and claiming to be a prophet of the Titan, he discarded his old identity of Philip, and became Emperor Belos.
In other words, think of Belos as being like the Disney version of Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He thinks he’s doing God’s work by ridding the world of evil. In reality, he’s just using his beliefs to be a horrible person. The worst part, though, isn’t even the planned genocide but what he does to Caleb after he dies. He keeps making clones, or Grimwalkers, of Caleb over the centuries, but they all eventually turned on him, so he murdered them all. And he still sees them all as the ones who betray him, not the other way around.
Belos is the Devil
Emperor Belos might be one of the worst kinds of evil: the kind that doesn’t even realize he’s evil. He’s the personification of what religious fanaticism can do to people and why it should be frowned upon. And once Luz and Hunter learn the truth about who he is and spread the word to their allies, everyone’s horrified, especially Luz. She sees him for the monster he’s turned himself into, throwing away his very Humanity in the name of a misguided crusade. The irony is that in this day and age, Humanity either thinks magic and Witches can only be found in stories, or if it does exist, most of us would react like Luz and think it’s the coolest thing ever. Even if they believed everything, though, most of Humanity would be horrified and disgusted with Belos’ actions.
Despite the heroes’ best efforts, Belos nearly succeeds with the Day of Unity, with everyone realizing too late that their prophet lied to them. Belos loses what little semblance of Humanity he has left, thanks to Luz outsmarting him again. As a result, he transforms into this hideous, disgusting blob of ooze and decay, symbolizing how corruptive his ideals truly are. In the end, though, the Day of Unity fails thanks to the Collector, who one-shots him as payback for leaving him trapped. Despite it appearing to all that he is dead, Belos survives. He’s like a Disney version of Lord Voldemort!
Regaining His Power and Returning to the Boiling Isles
Throughout the events of “Thanks to Them,” we get glimpses of what Belos is up to now that he’s returned to Earth and seen how much it’s changed. The former Emperor’s reduced to a parasite, forced to possess the bodies of other living beings to survive, an act that will inevitably kill the hosts. As time passes, he regains more of his power while keeping an eye on Luz and the others. And when he learns they’ve found a stash of Titan’s Blood hidden away, he sees his chance by possessing Hunter.
Despite the kid’s best efforts, Belos manages to get ahold of Titan’s Blood, nearly killing Hunter and forcing Flapjack to sacrifice himself to save the boy’s life. Belos, on the other hand, slips away to the Boiling Isles, ready to finish what he started.
When we see him next in “For the Future,” it’s clear he’s on his last legs. He’s not only unable to maintain his physical form, but his mental state deteriorates even further as he sees visions of not only his brother but of all the Grimwalkers he’s murdered. Despite losing most of his power, though, Belos’ mind remains as cunning and manipulative as ever. Using the puppet body of Raine Whispers, Belos deceives the Collector into thinking King plans to betray him alongside Luz, getting him to do the work of killing his greatest enemies. And while we don’t know what his endgame is, the teaser for the finale gives us some hints. Judging by the way he’s headed to his former throne room and the heart of the Titan, fans like Awestruck Vox have speculated that he plans to possess the Titan itself to wipe out everyone in one fell swoop. That’s terrifying!
Belos is a Monster, Plain and Simple
I hope you guys understand why I am so disgusted by the monster Emperor Belos. To me, he represents one of the worst aspects of mankind: the part of us that’s willing to justify acts of evil by thinking they’re doing the right thing. I especially have a low opinion of those who use religion, something meant to help and bring people together, to justify hatred and intolerance. I cannot understand it, and I hate seeing people ruined because of it, so I hate Belos.
Belos is the kind of villain that doesn’t even realize what he’s doing is wrong, which makes him all the more dangerous. He will lie, kill, and manipulate everyone around him without guilt because he thinks he’s the hero. Because when you’re the hero, you think everything you do is the right and only thing to do. In truth, though, Emperor Belos is little more than a sad, angry little boy who refuses to accept responsibility for killing his brother and instead lashes out at those he thinks are responsible. I would pity him were it not for how monstrous his actions truly are.
I don’t know how The Owl House will end, but the only way I want to see Belos story end is with him dead. He’s a relic of a time in human history that’s best left in the past and someone Earth and the Boiling Isles will be better off without.
What do you guys think, though? Do you agree with my opinions on Belos? Know anyone else in fiction like him? Let me know in the comments below as we continue my deep dive into The Owl House.
Click here to see my other animation stuff.