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The Accessible Horrors Of Over The Garden Wall

Over The Garden Wall, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:12

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started writing this article at the beginning of July when I had first seen the show. Unfortunately, it had to go on the backburner due to time constraints from film festivals. The reason I wanted to get back to this piece and finish it so quickly is due to reports that Over The Garden Wall was going to be removed from streaming services. On top of that, outlets like Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, and other online retailers have completely sold out of DVDs. This has capitalistically led to copies of the DVD to run from $300 to $500 on eBay. It’s sad to see that streaming services, and a lack of physical media, could possibly lead to a show being lost. A show like Over The Garden Wall is a very special show that a lot of people can get so much out of. Hopefully, Cartoon Network fast-tracks more physical copies and even possibly a collector’s edition of the show. But I don’t foresee that happening, unfortunately. One of the reasons I wanted to focus so hard on episode recaps is that in the event the show would ever become lost someone can read through this with younger audiences to try and give them the full picture of this incredible show. (Thank you.)

One of my favorite things about horror is finding new hidden gems. There’s a special feeling when you find a new show or film you had never heard of that just so happens to be spectacular. My knowledge of Cartoon Network post-2012 is pretty much non-existent. With shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog and The Misadventures of Flapjack, Cartoon Network has always seemed somewhat curious about the idea of accessible horror projects for youth. I could maybe even wager to say Courage might have had as much of an impact on my love for horror as Goosebumps did. Just two weeks ago a friend showed me a strangely titled Cartoon Network show from 2014 called Over the Garden Wall. Never once has a show thrust me into a set of so many emotions at once. With just 10 episodes at 11 minutes a piece, Over the Garden Wall does what so many shows try to accomplish: creating a compelling show from the opening piano key to the very last second of the end credits crawl.

Creator Patrick McHale leads us through the mist by the milk-light of moon, thrusting us into The Unknown and left to fend for ourselves. We follow Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Gregory (Collin Dean), two young stepbrothers, as they wander through a forest full of strange creatures and obscure occurrences. As with the majority of youth-aimed cartoons that appeal to older audiences, Over the Garden Wall is perfectly nuanced. The show makes sense and is beyond enjoyable with a surface view, but upon further viewing, you will find the intricacies, the references, the deep lore, and the true horror of The Unknown. Someone much smarter than me has probably figured out what the show means, and I’ll look for those after writing this. Why cover a random Cartoon Network miniseries nearly 10 years after it aired? What I plan to do here is a few things; discuss the accessible horror aspect of the show and how this is the perfect show to use to introduce a younger person to horror, talk about how this show is even more unsettling for adults, and finally put my theory out there into the world in hopes to start a discussion. I don’t know if my theory on the show is correct, so let’s call it a working theory.

Wirt stands in front of a mirror wearing his Halloween outfit
Over The Garden Wall, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:20

Episode 1 “The Old Grist Mill”

Episode 1 starts with Gregory’s Frog (Jack Jones) crooning the opening melody with the ominously inviting line “led through the mist, by the milk-light of the moon.” The melancholically jaunty piano sets the tone for the entire series. It’s slightly spooky, with a dash of sorrow, but there is a feeling of optimism behind it. While Gregory’s Frog, whose name changes every single episode, sings us a tune we get a sort of visual overture for basically the entire show. We see the dog that turns into a wolf, two turkeys pulling a cat on a cart of pumpkins, a juggling gorilla in a circus, a set of figurines representing the patrons of a tavern, Quincy Endicott (John Cleese) looking at a portrait, Adelaide of the Pasture (John Cleese) snipping string with scissors, two brothers setting a windup toy in the water (this is one of the few historical references I caught and we’ll come back to that), a hooded figure standing in front of a wall of bones, a fish that is fishing (would they call it fishing?), the rock that Gregory steals, and finally a lady looking towards a well while an old man chops wood in the background. Everything seen in the opening chronologically tells us the story we will be shown.

Upon the end of Frog’s song, we finally meet Wirt and Gregory as they walk through the woods. This first intro to the stepbrothers shows us everything we really need to know about them. Wirt, the elder, waxes poetically whenever he feels emotion even if what he says isn’t really that deep, while Gregory, who is significantly younger, finds the light in everything. It’s a classic optimist/nihilist pairing that will obviously be used to create some sort of strife or tension later on. Gregory shows his innocence and childlike wonder through this first episode by constantly getting distracted and chasing a metaphorical shiny object; when something piques his interest, it’s game over.

There are a few ideas brought up in this episode, but the main point comes from The Woodsman (Christopher Lloyd). The Woodsman tells the brothers “[e]veryone has a torch to burn.” In the sense of The Woodsman, this is the literal torch he is tasked by The Beast (Samuel Ramey) to carry, a torch that carries the soul of his daughter, or so we think. While in the grand scheme of life, everyone does have a torch to burn. Whether a certain group of people thinks the “everyone is unique” idea is ridiculous, it is true. Everyone has a purpose in life, big or small. Even when you think you may be treading water, just remember your head is still above the water.

Horror-wise, we get a few moments scattered throughout. The Woodsman is a hulking figure who carries an axe and a torch (we’ll cover the torch later), the boys think they’re trapped in The Woodsman’s cabin, and they all get chased by a dire wolf. Not every episode involves horror elements, but all contain an element of high strangeness. This is kind of the perfect horror gauge for a younger viewer; the dire wolf could seem scary, and the menacing idea of The Woodsman really sets the tone. If that would be too scary for a younger viewer then they might not like Episode 2 “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” because that is downright chilling.

Episode 2 “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee”

After my initial watch, I was awestruck that this episode even made it into the show, let alone Episode 2. “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” is one of the most nihilistically chilling pieces of PG genre I have ever seen. The boys took The Woodsman’s advice to head north to find a village in hopes of being able to get out of the woods. On their way, they run into Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) the bluebird for a second time, who is “stuck” in bramble. After helping her out, she tells them it’s bluebird law that she must return the favor for them, and offers to help them get to Adelaide of the Pasture’s for assistance getting out of the woods. Rather than finding Adelaide’s the three find themselves in Pottsfield. Then things go downhill.

The empty town sits silent, surrounded by pumpkin patches. After a while, they all hear some noise and go to examine it. Inside a barn, we join the townspeople who all just so happen to be decked out head to toe in pumpkins. It is truly eerie. Once you know the twist, looking back to when one of the townspeople tells Wirt, “[S]ay, aren’t you a little too early. . . I mean it doesn’t look like you’re ready to join us yet.”—chills. Wirt finally gets the attention of the townspeople when he says they want to leave, that’s when the giant pumpkin maypole, Enoch (Chris Isaak) in the center of the barn comes to life. In a deep booming voice, they are told they will be going on trial for trespassing, destruction of property, disturbing the peace, and murder. Though Enoch does backtrack on the whole murder charge. Assigned to a few hours of manual labor, Gregory, Wirt, and Beatrice find themselves doing small tasks around the corn and pumpkin fields. Their final task is to dig two holes, and the horror comes back. There is a skeleton in Gregory’s hole, leading Beatrice to say they are probably going to be their graves. The townspeople come back and ominously ask if the holes have been dug. Wirt tries to buy them some time with random excuses while Beatrice breaks the chains on their leg shackles. Gregory and Beatrice make their escape just as one of the skeletons comes to life, crawls out of the grave…and puts a pumpkin on their head. Everyone in this town is a skeleton. LIKE. WHAT! As Wirt leaves the town, Enoch leaves him with one last thought: “[y]ou’ll join us someday.”

Okay. There’s a lot to break down here. First, we should talk about the message of this episode. I don’t know what it means. Maybe that death is inevitable, so don’t be scared of it because it is something no one can control? That’s probably an oversimplification of it though. What I do know is the strange final shot that is lingered on far too long to just be a creative choice means something. After they leave Pottsfield an autumn leaf is blown around by the wind, landing on a part of the fence and getting stuck in the post. Two things come to mind for this shot, which I didn’t really put together until my fifth viewing. The opening song starts with, “How the gentle wind, beckons through the leaves, as autumn colors fall.” So this could possibly be just a visual reference to Into the Unknown. Secondly, in Episode 8 “Babes in the Wood” Wirt drops another one of his deep thoughts by saying, “We are but wayward leaves, scattered to the air by an indifferent wind.” My overall thought of this shot is that it’s a visual accompaniment to themes and ideas scattered throughout via song and poetry.

Where this episode really hits hard is the reference to Pottsfield. Pottsfield is a reference to a potter’s field. This is a field where the “lesser” people were buried, like homeless and unidentified people. Does that imply that Wirt and Gregory are already dead? This is something we’ll get into later, but it’s such a strange and horrific addition to the show that, like the leaf at the end of the episode, seems way too purposeful to be included.

Wirt and Gregory celebrate with the patrons of a tavern
Over The Garden Wall, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:25

Episode 3 “Schooltown Follies”

There are only a few things to touch on in this episode as it’s one of the least genre-heavy episodes of the bunch. Wirt, Gregory, and Beatrice stumble upon a schoolhouse in the woods, where Miss Langtree (Janet Klein) devotes her time to teaching animals how to read and write. The idea of this episode is about how Wirt is a pushover and does whatever he is told, but the truth of the episode is because he was listening to people he and Gregory were able to make everyone’s life better. It’s okay to listen to people, being a pushover isn’t as demeaning as it sounds, but also you have to learn when to take initiative. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it just means you know your limits. Unless you’re Jonah Hill.

“Schooltown Follies” introduces us to Gregory’s in-development song ‘Adelaide Parade’, which Gregory even acknowledges needs some work. We also get the hysterical song ‘Ms. Langtree’s Lamentwhich chronicles all of her issues with her boyfriend Jimmy Brown (Thomas Lennon). And finally, song-wise, we get the absolute banger ‘Potatoes and Molasses’. The funniest bit in this episode is when it turns out the gorilla that’s been on the loose—yes, there’s a gorilla—is Jimmy Brown who was stuck in the suit. Jimmy joined the circus in order to get enough money to help the school be profitable. It’s just a wholesome episode inside and out.

Episode 4 “Songs of the Dark Lantern”

Our journeyers stumble across a tavern and decide to enter to get some food. Inside they are told Beatrice isn’t allowed, as bluebirds are apparently a bad omen. Beatrice concedes and tells the boys to get directions to Adelaide’s while she waits outside. Inside the tavern is a strange group of characters who sing even stranger songs. The most notable is the darkly entertaining song from The Highwayman (Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton). He sings about how he “works with his hands,” and will do “anything to make ends meet,” as he crosses his finger across his throat. On top of this strange song, the animation of The Highwayman changes form slightly to create a creepier atmosphere.

After describing their goal of getting to Adelaide’s, the people in the tavern tell Wirt that The Woodsman is actually The Beast. They tell him, “He’ll turn you to a tree of oil,” and “he who carries the lantern, must be the beast.” Wirt and Gregory leave the tavern and take Fred the Horse (Fred Stoller) when they hear Beatrice scream in the woods. Soon, they come across Beatrice who is knocked out on the ground with The Woodsman nearby. There is a bit of a scuffle and Wirt kicks his lantern over, burning down an Edelwood tree. The tree has strange and deformed faces etched into it. The episode ends with The Beast reminding The Woodsman that his daughter’s flame will go out without Edelwood oil.

I don’t think there are any filler episodes in this miniseries, but this episode kind of feels like it’s used more as a transition piece rather than something deeper. Again, maybe I’m wrong with that. The Highwayman is a good piece of visual horror, as well as the terrifying looking Edelwood tree. Nothing in this episode really takes the horror over the top, it’s more of a nice ramp back into it after Episode 3.

Episode 5 “Mad Love”

“Mad Love” is pretty heavy-handed on commentary, and has a few solid moments of existential horror. Wirt, Gregory, Beatrice, and Fred find themselves in the mansion of the eccentric millionaire Quincy Endicott, who runs the incredibly successful Endicott’s Health Tea. Endicott spends the episode constantly going over his obscene wealth, but still is unhappy. One of his first lines is, “Money takes my mind off the troubles, the deep soul-crushing loneliness,” and, “The more money I make the bigger my mansion gets, the more lost I feel.” The point of them being here is that they need two cents to get on the ferry, and they figure they could steal a few things from the mansion in order to get some money. Also, Fred just likes to steal things.

Endicott swears there is a beautiful ghost that haunts his “extremely large and labyrinthine manor,” which just so happens to be getting bigger and bigger every day. Gregory, Fred, and Endicott walk around the manor, while Wirt and Beatrice are tasked with finding the two cents they need to get to the ferry. Eventually, they stumble upon the ghost, and Endicott is more than happy to realize Sara (Emily Brundige) is real. AND their mansions actually connect with each other. DOUBLE AND she runs his main tea competitor! Endicott and Sara end up falling in love, and Fred decides to stay with them and have an actual job. Quincy Endicott gives Wirt and Gregory a penny each to start their fortune and send them on their way. This leads Gregory into throwing the pennies into a fishpond because, “I’ve got no cents, no cents at all.”

Before getting into the meaning of Endicott’s character, I want to talk about why Gregory would throw the coins away. I have a few ideas. One, which is a rock fact, is that he just has no sense—okay, that one is a joke. Two, I think Gregory feels bad knowing they went there just to steal from someone, and throwing the coins in the water is his way of dealing with his guilt. And thirdly, it might have something to do with the ferry in Episode 6 “Lullaby in Frogland.” Reading between the lines, you can make connections between the episodes and Dante’s layers of Hell (we don’t have time to go into that deeply). They know they must take the ferry to get to Adelaide’s, so one coin per person could possibly indicate the idea of paying the ferryman to cross the river Styx. This kind of goes hand in hand with the theory I prescribe to this show and spoiler alert: the boys are in a coma. Could the throwing of the coins into the fountain indicate that they still have fight left in them? They are refusing to pay the toll because they aren’t ready to die yet.

On a lighter note, the characters of Endicott and Sara represent large corporations and the 1%. Endicott has so much money, yet he’s still lonely. There really is no competition in our “fair market,” and this is shown by how Endicott and Sara eventually get together and merge their “rival” tea companies into one singular one. Unfortunately, Endicott and Sara seemingly have a happy ending. Hopefully, Fred’s turn to a good guy was just a farce so he could rob them blind.

A wild gorilla appears behind a bush, frightening a possum
Over The Garden Wall, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:51

Episode 6 “Lullaby in Frogland”

So, there’s straight-up infanticide in this episode. The three make it onto the ferry, and since Gregory threw away the coins, they had to sneak on. Gregory gives us an updated version of Adelaide’s song, and fret not, this is not the last song in this episode. The strange thing about the boat is how it is filled with frog people. They inevitably get chased around by cops, which leads to Wirt knocking a school of tadpoles from the arms of their mother, THEN GREGORY AND THE FROG COPS TRAMPLE OVER THEM. Eventually, they hide from the cops long enough to put on a disguise, and that disguise happens to be the uniform of the frog band. Gregory is the legs, George Washington (the frog) is the head, and Wirt puts a bass drum on his head. They join the band on stage, leading to George Washington singing, and this happens to be enough for the cops to forgive them all for sneaking on the boat.

That night, they decide to join the rest of the frogs by burrowing in the mud. George Washington, who is now named Jason Funderberker (a character that comes up later), gets a record contract from one of the other frogs. Beatrice tries to dissuade the boys from going to Adelaide’s and takes off when she thinks they’re not looking. It just so happened that Wirt saw the direction she flew off in, and the boys follow. There is a sweet moment here where Gregory realizes Jason Funderberker will have a better life now that he has a record contract, so they leave the crooning frog behind.

We are finally introduced to Adelaide, and we find out her kryptonite: fresh air. Beatrice tries wagering with Adelaide. It turns out that Beatrice had an ulterior motive, she was tasked with bringing two lost souls to Adelaide to act as child servants. In exchange, Adelaide promises Beatrice a pair of scissors to snip off her and her family’s wings, which would turn them back into humans. After realizing what she did, Beatrice reneges on her deal and offers to become Adelaide’s slave instead. That’s when Wirt and Gregory bust through the door, but all hope is immediately lost as they are immediately captured in Adelaide’s web of strings. Thankfully, Beatrice opens the window to let fresh air in, which nearly immediately melts Adelaide in quite a grotesque shot. When the smoke settles, Beatrice notices Wirt and Gregory have already made their escape, and have no plans to ever speak with her again. After making their escape, the boys run into Jason Funderberker, and their quest to escape The Unknown continues.

Besides the river Styx comparison, I think there is really one main point in this episode, as well as one minor point. Just because you made a mistake or the wrong choice doesn’t mean you can’t course-correct. Beatrice wanted to turn back into a human and that clouded her judgement. It’s fairly clear Beatrice was never trapped in the bramble in Episode 2 “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee.” She clearly set herself up to run back into Wirt and Gregory, preying on their childlike innocence and empathy. When Beatrice realizes her mistake, she does everything she can to try and walk back on the situation. The minor point here seems to just be stranger danger. Just because someone is nice to you, doesn’t mean you can inherently trust them.

The main horror here lies in finally meeting Adelaide. Oh, and of course THE INFANTICIDE. Adelaide is a creepy haggard old woman, impeccably voiced by John Cleese. If you think about it, how can Beatrice trust that these scissors Adelaide is going to give her would actually work? It shows how naive people (and birds) can be when their back is against the wall. What if these scissors would actually just… snip her wings off? Also, the disintegration of Adelaide is gnarly, and completely out of left field. What I appreciate about this show is how they can create these intense moments of horror, while simultaneously wrapping it up in a whimsical nature. There are stakes to the horror, but it never feels over the top or forced in any way.

Episode 7 “The Ringing of the Bell”

We have another humdinger of horror in this episode. Wirt and Gregory run into The Woodsman, after their escape from Adelaide. They are warned that The Beast knows where they are. The boys hightail it out of there. After some wandering, they stumble across a seemingly abandoned cabin. Without much forethought, Wirt and Gregory go inside. They don’t find much besides a barrel of black turtles. Soon they meet Lorna (Shannyn Sossamon), who warns them they need to escape before her aunt, Auntie Whispers (Tim Curry) gets home. Wirt and Gregory hide in the barrel of black turtles upon her arrival, but they are nearly immediately called out by Auntie Whispers. Thankfully, she mistakes the smell of the kids for the smell of the turtles and heads to bed. Before heading to bed Auntie Whispers rings a bell, which puts Lorna in a sort of trance and makes her clean the house.

Wirt and Gregory decide to help Lorna clean. Soon after, Gregory does Gregory stuff and ends up waking up Auntie Whispers who, at this point, seems to be the antagonist of the episode. She tells the boys, “You have entered a house of doom,” and, rightfully so, the boys think she is referring to herself. So Wirt, Greg, and Lorna run into a room to hide… and that’s when things go south. Lorna transforms into a grotesque creature, who is usually kept contained by the ringing of the bell. This leads to a chase that ends in Gregory using the bell, which was eaten by Jason Funderberker, to force the demon out of Lorna. Auntie Whispers thanks the boys for saving her niece, and sends them on their way with a warning: don’t trust my sister Adelaide.

I was going to wait for the end of this to go into my thoughts on the black turtles, but I think now is as good of a time as any. We see the turtles a few times throughout this series. First is when Gregory puts a piece of candy on one in Episode 1 “The Old Grist Mill” and the dog that swallows the turtle turns into the dire wolf, Episode 3 “Schooltown Follies” shows the raccoon throwing a black turtle into some water, and here we have Auntie Whispers eating from the barrel of turtles. There are a few things they could represent, and the most basic is they are a physical representation of evil. But where do they come from? Are they created by The Beast? Whenever something “evil” happens in The Unknown are they created? My thought is just that. Every time something negative happens here a turtle is manifested from the presence of The Beast. Since we find out Auntie Whispers is actually a protagonist, the act of her eating the turtles could be to save others from the evil they bring with them. The good in her outweighs the evil in the turtles.

The message of Episode 7 is more or less to not judge a book by its cover, in both senses. Just because someone may seem good doesn’t mean that they are, and vice versa. Unfortunately for Wirt and Gregory, they have to learn this the hard way. And I will admit it was a lesson for me too. Obviously, when I looked at Auntie Whispers I thought she was going to be the villain. From her long, drawn-out, terrifying voice to the overall design of her character, everything screams villain. But I was genuinely surprised when the switch happened, and knowing this show as I do now, I should have seen it coming. The design of Lorna, when she transforms, is really solid horror, almost reminding me of the spirit of Sarah McKnight from Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost.

Episode 8 “Babes in the Wood”

“Babes in the Wood” is probably the strangest, and saddest, episode of the series. The first thing we see is a fish in a boat fishing—again, would it still be called fishing? Wirt and Gregory are boating down the river, and that’s when Wirt gives up. They make it to shore and Wirt lays down under a tree, he even tells Gregory he doesn’t care who is in charge at this point. Gregory, being the pure soul he is, gets a ton of leaves and covers Wirt in them so the incoming snowstorm doesn’t make him too cold. Wirt, Gregory, and Jason Funderberker lay under the tree, as Gregory falls asleep he wishes upon a star. That’s when, basically, Gregory’s spirit ascends from his body and into the heavens.

Gregory enters Cloud City, which is really just Heaven. Everything in Cloud City is exceptionally cheery and over the top, with the exception of the sad dog that is welcome committee number four. Soon, the North Wind enters Cloud City, spreading cold and harsh air. Eventually, Gregory defeats the North Wind and gets granted one wish by The Queen of the Clouds (Deborah Voigt). We don’t specifically know what his wish is, but we see Gregory, back in the woods, being escorted away by The Beast. Wirt wakes up covered in Edelwood vines and immediately starts looking for Gregory. This leads to Wirt falling through the ice on the lake. Remember when I talked about that fish that was fishing in the opening credits? It’s back, as it saves Wirt from an icy cold demise.

In “Babes in the Wood” we find Gregory being forced to grow up significantly. Gregory has been the childish comedic relief of the series to this point, so when he gets thrust into a Lynchian Heaven realm it turns ominous very quickly. The fact that Gregory is given the chance to make a wish, even after Wirt gets into an argument with him, is immense pressure on a child. When Gregory puts himself on the chopping block to save his brother it really shows just how much he has grown as a character. But we are also led to believe that The Queen of the Clouds is a protagonist, so when Gregory (presumably) wishes to save Wirt his thought is most likely that they would both be getting saved. This plot point leads to a very important lesson that can be shared with younger viewers, that even though someone seems inherently good in their intentions you still MUST be cognisant and thoughtful with your actions around them.

Gregory’s actions also impact Wirt’s character in a few ways, most importantly with the thought of free will. At this point in the story, Wirt has completely given up and has put the onus on Gregory to save himself, which he does. When Wirt wakes up to find Gregory gone he can either continue on his journey, give up and die, or try to find his brother. Thankfully Wirt does decide to try and save his brother, but it could have gone either way. Wirt has gone from the driving force of salvation to surrendering to the elements. There is also a really great lesson that lies within Wirt’s choice that, basically, when the going gets tough you can take the easy way out or you can fight for what you know is right.

Wirt and Gregory sit below a rotting Edelwood tree
Over The Garden Wall, Official Trailer, YouTube, 01:05

Episode 9 “Into the Unknown”

“Into the Unknown” finally brings us our origin story of how Wirt and Gregory got stuck in this tumultuous situation. Wirt starts the episode by making a tape for his crush Sarah (Emily Brundige). He runs into Gregory on the way, who had recently stolen a rock from Mrs. Daniels. Gregory shows his childlike wonder as he personifies the rock by reciting rock facts. This correlates very well with the frog they befriend during their trip, and Gregory’s constant need to create characters from inanimate/silent objects/animals. Gregory takes the tape from Wirt and puts it in Sarah’s jacket pocket. After Wirt finds out Jason Funderberker (Cole Sanchez) is planning on asking Sarah out, Wirt decides they’re going to go to a party she is going to in hopes of snatching the tape before she can listen to it. One of my favorite bits from this episode is a cop who is messing around with the kids on Halloween night. He keeps getting over the loudspeaker to tell the kids, “Hey don’t do [x],” and then ends his comments with, “Just kidding, Happy Halloween.”

Wirt and Gregory finally make it to the party, and to Wirt’s surprise, everyone is really excited to see him! This comes as a shock to not just Wirt, but the audience as well. Sometimes your perspective of how you are perceived by others is shrouded in self-doubt and hatred. A group of people decide they’re going to go hang out at the graveyard before Wirt is able to get the tape from Sarah’s jacket. Wirt and Gregory tail behind them stealthily. Once at the graveyard, Wirt tries to stay hidden, but we know Gregory too well at this point so they get noticed pretty quickly. We get a little easter egg here as the name on the gravestone Wirt is hiding behind is the gravestone of… Quincy Endicott!

The episode comes to an end with the police officer from earlier telling the kids, over his loudspeaker, to leave the graveyard. Wirt and Gregory scale the wall of the graveyard, which leads to the cop telling them to get down from the wall. They do, but on the wrong side, prompting the cop to tell them “Not that side!” The brothers roll down the hill and narrowly (?) get hit by a train. Wirt wakes up inside a tree with a nest of bluebirds; Beatrice’s family.

As stated earlier, one of the heavy pieces of commentary through this episode is about self-confidence and social perceptions. Just because you may think people feel a certain way about you, doesn’t mean it’s true. In 2014 this is a good message, but I think it’s even more important now more than ever. In a world where kids have cell phones and social media before they even turn ten years old, their ideas of self-worth and self-importance are put in peril. The idea of likes and retweets clouds their judgment and perception from such a young age. That’s enough of my “get off my lawn” statement. Up until this point in the series, I was on the fence about the meaning of the show. The near-train strike left me wondering about something that comes into play in the finale, so we will wait to cover it when we get to that point.

Episode 10 “The Unknown”

We’ve finally made it, friends. The final episode. We start with Gregory doing a fetch quest for The Beast by bringing it thread, a golden comb, and a spool of silver. The final task Gregory must complete is to put the sun in a cup. Gregory’s childish, and wickedly smart, brain leads him to realize he can get the sun in the cup through forced perspective, thus impressing The Beast. At this point, The Beast starts transforming Gregory into an Edelwood tree. Thankfully Wirt finds Gregory soon after.

Gregory, who is near death, begs Wirt to return the rock to Mrs. Daniels. Wirt says he will. Then Gregory starts coughing up leaves, though that is not related to him turning into a tree, it’s just because he was eating leaves. Wirt also decides on what they will name the frog: Jason Funderberker. The Beast tells Wirt he will put Gregory’s soul into the lantern and that Wirt can spend his days keeping the flame lit, taking over for The Woodsman. At first, Wirt thinks it might be a good idea before he has the realization that, no… that’s dumb. Wirt points out that The Beast has a weird obsession with the lamp. This is the big moment for Wirt when he reveals to everyone the soul of The Woodsman’s daughter isn’t in the lamp, rather, it’s the soul of The Beast.

A struggle ensues and we finally see the true form of The Beast, and it’s horrific. Its bark is a pale wood covered in tree hollows and, what looks like, the faces of those he has killed before. Realizing the lamp won’t save his daughter’s soul, The Woodsman blows it out. Thus ends the tyrannical reign of The Beast. Wirt and Gregory are finally found by first responders and taken to a hospital. They wake up in hospital beds, while Gregory regales those around with tales of their adventures. With The Beast gone, everything goes back to the way it was in The Unknown; most importantly, Beatrice and her family are turned back to humans and The Woodsman’s daughter is alive.

The horror of this episode comes from the almost nihilistic trap Wirt finds himself in. He can spend the rest of his days caring for his brother and furthering the rule of The Beast over The Unknown. And what if Wirt was wrong? What if it wasn’t The Beast’s soul in the lantern? The Woodsman takes Wirt at his word, though his actions were also probably spawned by him being ready to move on with his life. When he blows out the lantern, it’s very symbolic of overcoming and triumphing over grief. That’s not to say the show is saying to just stop grieving entirely, but that it’s okay and healthy to move on when it’s time. Oh yeah, and the true form of The Beast was a jumpscare I wasn’t expecting, so watching this with a younger audience could be very hit or miss.

Wirt, Gregory, and The Woodsman stand in front of a burning Edelwood tree
Over The Garden Wall, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:35

My Theory

There are probably way too many ways to interpret Over The Garden Wall. What this show does well is let you extrapolate your own themes and ideas, while still being wholly entertaining. The horror is sprinkled throughout in a way that doesn’t feel like a straight-up horror show, rather it uses horror to help tell its story and create atmosphere. When it comes to accessible horror for younger audiences, you have to ride a fine line of what works and what is over the top. Too scary, and young audiences will lose the message; not scary enough, and younger audiences won’t associate it with the genre.

So what is my theory? What was the point of all of this? I did very little research regarding any theories on the show as I wanted my thoughts to be explicitly mine. And I’m probably very off-base with my theory, but it’s mine and I’m going with it. Wirt and Gregory got hit by the train. The idea of shared/mutual dreams was a concept I stumbled upon a few years ago. There’s not a ton of data on it so it’s unclear how prominent it is, but it’s a fascinating concept. Now it seems pretty clear Wirt and Gregory are found on the same Halloween we see in Episode 9 “Into the Unknown,” but is it really? If memory serves, they don’t ever say it was the same day. We can interpret the timeframe by how some of the people are wearing the same costumes, though the costumes could have been recycled from the previous year (or years).

My running theory is the brothers were hit by the train, and put into a coma. Their time in The Unknown was a shared coma dream. Due to their already rocky relationship, they both created a shared dream sequence that put them into situations of dire circumstances; leaving them to fill in the blanks of how they think the other would react. It’s not inherently clear as to whether or not their experiences line up, as the narrator wraps the story up in about five seconds after they wake up. Gregory going into Cloud City could even possibly be indicative of a near-death experience during his coma.

Am I wrong? Who knows. I’m happy with my theory and I think further watches will help fully realize this theory. What do you think? Do you have any running theories? How do you feel about this show as an accessible horror show for younger audiences? All I know is sometimes life really is as sweet as potatoes and molasses.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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