Hammer and Bolter 4


settings scifi warhammer

I've been watching the Hammer and Bolter animated series on Warhammer+, and I'm reviewing each episode as I watch it. There may be very minor spoilers, but ideally no more than you'd get from the episode description.


Three high-ranking space marines sit around a gaming table deep within a fortress on a frozen planet. They're playing some game that uses the fangs of animals as player pieces. They each have three pieces, and as they start to lose pieces to one another's strategies, they start mentioning that with luck they'll get reinforcement tokens soon.

Cut to three strapping young men, each alone in the frozen wasteland, as they hunt for something. We follow each one as they hunt down a different fanged animal. One hunts a giant bat. One hunts a polar bear. And the third hunts a wolf.

I get the feeling of early Conan or Thundarr. The hunts are basically impossible, as you might expect, but accordingly exciting. The bat hunt especially makes no physical sense.

The important thing is, though, that not all the hunts succeed. This story is, refreshingly, not just about the exception. In this episode, we get to see the ones that fail. And there are more that fail than the one that succeeds.

For that alone, this is a great episode. Most of our myths are necessarily about the one exception. They have to be, or otherwise they wouldn't be myths. The reason we enjoy stories is because they tell us about the one wondrous thing that happened that one time. You missed it because it's really really rare, but you get to share in the experience through storytelling.

The problem is, the more myths there are and the more often they're told, the less rare they appear. We hear about so many exceptional heroes in science fiction and fantasy worlds that after a while, you start to assume that everybody is heroic. Heck, in many fictional universes, the same hero literally saves the world multiple times. This is why normal humans are so important to fictional universes. You need the plain and ordinary and mundane to balance out the magical.

This is the episode that tells the complete story.

You get to see more failure than success. And the success you do see? That's the one who follows in the path of Leman Russ, becoming a marine in the Space Wolves in an honestly rousing final scene. The sense of accomplishment you feel is real, and there's a real sense of inheritance and tradition. In-world, this must be Imperial propaganda, and it's effective. Even if you don't play Space Marines on the tabletop or enjoy Space Marines in your books, this episode manages to convert you for at least the duration of the final shot.


Good sci fi

This episode is OK sci fi. It's arguably not science fiction, and most of it could happen anywhere. It's a good story, and the idea of a board game that relies on life-and-death trials to acquire reinforcement game tokens is pretty wild.

Good Warhammer

This episode is great Warhammer 40,000. I'll admit I wasn't paying attention to the veterans' uniforms, so I missed that they were Space Wolves until one of them mentioned that they were "sons of Russ". Looking back, I realise there were plenty of clues (probably including the world itself, but I had no context for that because I've not read whatever book there probably is that introduces the planet). But that final shot is exhilarating, and not in the sense of real life propaganda. If this weren't fiction, I'd be appalled by the senseless life and death "test" of machismo only to find new killing drones. But this is Warhammer 40,000. Exclusively on the tabletop, in a make-believe grimdark universe that thankfully doesn't yet exist, this is exactly what mankind needs.

All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.

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