Twilight Sparkle: I can't believe that Princess Celestia chose us to put on the most important play of the season! Do you guys know what an honor this is? For all of us?
Written by Merriwether Williams
The episode begins with the main characters taking the Friendship Express Train to Canterlot, where they are performing in this year's Hearth's Warming Eve pageant. Despite some backstage bickering over an open window, the mane six quickly start the show...Once Upon a Time, the Pegasi, Unicorns, and Earth Ponies hated each other. The Pegasi, led by Commander Hurricane (played by Rainbow Dash), believed themselves superior because they could control the weather. The Unicorns, ruled by a king who is represented by his daughter Princess Platinum (played by Rarity), believed themselves superior because they had magic, which they used to move the sun and moon. Both tribes demanded food from the Earth Ponies, led by Chancellor Puddinghead (played by Pinkie Pie).One year, an inexplicable blizzard came to their land, and the ground was frozen so hard that the Earth Ponies could not cultivate. Neither the Pegasi nor the Unicorns could banish the storm, so the three clans held a summit, trying to figure out a solution. But with the storm raging outside reflecting the ponies' conflict inside, it didn't take long for the leaders to angrily give up and return home. The second-in-commands of each group — Pegasus Private Pansy (Fluttershy), Unicorn vizier and student of Star Swirl the Bearded Clover the Clever (Twilight Sparkle), and Earth Pony secretary Smart Cookie (Applejack) — were disappointed at the news.Individually, each leader decided to leave their desolate wasteland and find a new realm to live. The parties soon found a beautiful paradise with a diverse landscape, beautifully thick clouds, and fertile soil. Unfortunately, they had all chosen the same land, and soon the fighting between the three leaders resumed with increased fervor. As their bickering increased, the blizzard they had left behind started up once again, forcing the six ponies to seek shelter in a cave.Even the plight of their situation didn't deter the hostilities; as the blizzard grew worse, the leaders' petty bickering continued, until the ice encroached so far into the cave that the commander, the princess, and the chancellor were frozen over in mid-rant. Unfettered by their bosses, the seconds admitted that they had hoped for peace and friendship. Clover the Clever realized that the blizzard was created by windigos, supernatural creatures that thrive on hate and fighting, and that the coldness of their hearts had brought the disaster on themselves. Just as the ice was about to completely imprison the seconds, the spark of their friendship suddenly ignited, saving them and driving back the windigos.Seizing the opportunity, the three nurtured the warmth of their friendship with stories and laughter and singing, eventually thawing out their leaders. With everypony realizing that friendship and cooperation succeeded where arguing and fighting had not, the three tribes agreed to come together in harmony, thus forming Equestria on the principle that all ponies are equal. Cue a closing song, the curtain call, and enthusiastic applause from the audience.Afterwards, the backstage happiness of the mane six is soured when the still-open window leads them to start bickering over who's at fault. The wind suddenly howls, reminiscent of the windigos. Rainbow Dash quickly closes the window as everyone share a laugh, as the Hearth's Warming magic floats over Canterlot.Note:This is the thirteenth episode of the second season, but was the eleventh aired.
Tropes present in this episode (YMMV tropes can be found here):
Ambiguous Gender: Of the characters played by the mane six, only Princess Platinum has a clearly stated gender. Commander Hurricane is particularly unclear—Fluttershy as Private Pansy refers to him/her both as "sir" and "her". He is identified as a stallion in The Journal of the Two Sisters.
Big Bad: The Windigoes of the Equestrian Creation Myth. They are rather unique examples as well; rather than causing the conflict, they decide to manipulate and exacerbate the conflict to get what they want.
Blood Knight: Commander Hurricane seems a bit too eager to conquer their new homeland.
The Caligula: Chancellor Puddinghead is/was a downplayed version of this trope; authority figure that is scatter brained and pompous but not at all dangerous and more nutsy to the point of ineffectiveness than disturbingly crazy.
Call Back: Clover the Clever was the student of Star Swirl the Bearded, who was first mentioned in "Luna Eclipsed."
Jet Set and Upper Crust make an appearance, looking as stuck-up as ever.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders appear on the train platform and in the front row of the audience, and Scootaloo freezes her tongue onto a giant candy-cane pole.
Derpy Hooves gets scolded for appearing out from nowhere. She appears twice more: once in the top window of the Friendship Express Train's Ice Cream Train Car (like in the second season theme song), and then at the very end after the pageant.
Casting Gag: In-universe. The roles that the mane cast play are identical to their real life personalities (if less pleasant, in the case of the leaders):
While riding the Friendship Express Train to Canterlot, Fluttershy says she's so excited she feels like shouting and gave a small, barely audible "woo hoo!", similar to "Sonic Rainboom" and "Green Isn't Your Color" when her attempts were equally as meek.
Pinkie Pie lifts up Twilight, who is trying to pull Fluttershy out of a box with the use of magic, by her face. Clearly upset, Twilight yells "PINKIE!" in the exact same manner as in "The Ticket Master", where Pinkie's antics had also been unhelpful to Twilight.
The stained glass windows depicting the Mane cast defeating Nightmare Moon and Discord, seen in bothparts of "The Return of Harmony", are shown in the hall where the pageant is being held.
Creation Myth: A variant; while the story enacted in the play does not detail the creation of the world, real-life scholarship would recognise in it all the elements of a creation myth, much like it does in the ancient Roman myth about the founding of the city of Rome, to which the same observations apply. The play starts with an initial state of chaos and details how what is currently understood as the cosmos was created to replace it, at the same time giving mythological justification to current values and why they must be preserved to maintain the order of things. It's even (re-)enacted ritually, which is an important complement to mythological thinking in Real Life.
Spike:[narrating] It was a strange and dark time, a time when ponies were torn apart... by hatred. Audience: GASP! Spike:[aside, to the CMC] I know, can you believe it?
Puddinghead: I mean, how would we survive if I just suddenly shut up? Smart Cookie: Heaven forbid that should happen, your Chancellorship.
Clover the Clever also has shades of this.
Deep Immersion Stage Play: To the viewer, the characters appear to be in a large open landscape or high in the air. Occasionally, it is shown they are still on a relatively small stage, with more conventional stage fixtures.
Diabolus Ex Nihilo: The Windigos come out of nowhere with little explanation for what they're doing, and force the three races to band together.
Drill Sergeant Nasty: Commander Hurricane behaves this way towards Private Pansy, and is the only pony Pansy admits to hating — or rather, really really really really really really really really really disliking.
Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: The Earth Ponies had a bad case of them (combined with sickly bags under their eyes), as did the Unicorns, but at a lesser grade. Life wasn't easy, oh no.
Emotion Eater: The windigos are able to become stronger the more negative emotion there is around them.
Empathic Environment: Due to the Windigos' presence, the blizzard grows worse as the three tribes' fighting grows worse.
Endless Winter: The episode revolves around this. Evil Windigoes are the cause, attracted by the different species' distrust and discontent toward each other. It causes famines so awful that the leaders of each tribe, with their respective assistants, migrate to a new land - but the Windigoes just follow them there, too. It's finally stopped when the bossy, hateful leaders become encased in ice, and their three assistants amicably make amends.
A three-way one as the three rulers all get through their speeches declaring the future Equestria to be their new home, before each realizes the other two are nearby. Could be due to the events happening in a simplified way in a play.
They also don't realize that the blizzard is catching up to them as they argue. Chancellor Puddinghead doesn't notice the land is being covered in snow until after she's already made a small pile of snowballs and thrown some at the other leaders.
Inside the cave, the leaders don't notice are being gradually frozen when they argue.
Family-Unfriendly Death: The windigos are burned to death. Sure, it's not that graphic, but it's still a bit unsettling.
Fanfare: Princess Platinum and Commander Hurricane have theirs blown on trumpets as they enter; Chancellor Puddinghead's has hers blown on kazoos.
Fantastic Racism: Prior to the events dramatized in the pageant, the three races had no appreciation for one another.
Unicorns saw the earth ponies as 'dirty peasants' and the Pegasi as 'ruffians'.
Pegasi saw the unicorns as freaky and Squishy Wizards and the earth ponies as servants.
Earth Ponies saw both unicorns and Pegasi in a Beware the Superman light with unicorns as snobs as well.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Pegasi, as usual, have a Greek bent to their architecture and garb. Their leader is also a commander, suggesting a militaristic culture reminiscent of ancient Sparta. Unicorns and earth ponies both borrow from medieval European cultures, although unsubtle class discrepancies can be seen between them (Earth ponies look like stereotypical Dung Ages peasants, while the unicorns can be described as a more romanticized High Middle Ages sort). The unicorn society may also be based off Athens, and Ithaca for the earth ponies.
Faux Horrific: Everypony reacts in shock to the fact that the ponies once all hated each other. Sure, it's not a nice thing at all, but the way it's shown as a completely foreign thought lampshades the Sugar Bowl aspects of modern-day Equestria.
Foil: Each of the leaders' assistants acts as a foil to the leader themselves:
Private Pansy backs down from conflict whenever possible compared to the aggressive Commander Hurricane.
Smart Cookie is down-to-earth and reasonable compared to Chancellor Puddinghead's off-the-wall loopieness.
Clover the Clever is calm and collected compared to the often-hysterical Princess Platinum.
Forced Perspective: As Platinum and Clover are seeking new lands, Platinum gasps and points out a raging river that they have to cross, with the camera providing a close-up of these dangerous waters. The next shot pulls back enough to show that this "river" is merely a small, narrow creek.
Those monster horses you saw near the beginning? They're windigos, creatures who feed on hatred.
Also foreshadowed by the fact the Pegasi still control the weather and yet a blizzard occurs without warning.
The open window blowing in the chilly air while the ponies were arguing among themselves alludes to the entire history described in the pageant.
Framing Device: The play serves as one to the story itself, with the mane six playing the founding ponies of Equestria.
From a Certain Point of View: Interestingly, the insults the three leaders yell at each other before being frozen would actually be accurate—if they restricted the insults to each other rather than to the races as a whole. Commander Hurricane calls earth ponies "numbskulls", and this is a pretty good description of Chancellor Puddinghead. Princess Platinum calls pegasi "brutes", and Commander Hurricane is a brute. Finally, Chancellor Puddinghead calls unicorns "snobs", which fits Princess Platinum rather well.
Glad I Thought of It: Chancellor Puddinghead's response to her secretary suggesting "Earth" instead of "Dirtville".
Go Out with a Smile: When the three assistants realize there's no escaping their fate, they decide to become friends before their end so they can at least die as friends instead of meaningless enemies. This was avery wise move.
Rarity: Fluttershy, darling, there's nothing to be all nervous about. Fluttershy: No? Rarity: Of course not! All across Equestria, ponies are preparing their own pageants for Hearth's Warming Eve in their own towns. It's tradition. Fluttershy: So you're saying they'll be too busy to come to our play? Rarity: Well, no. We're in the Canterlot pageant, the biggest, most important production in all of Equestria. A lot of ponies will be coming to watch us! Fluttershy: A lot? Rarity: Hundreds! Fluttershy:Hundreds? Rarity: Maybe even thousands! Fluttershy:[runs and hides in a box of decorations and props]
Harmless Freezing: Even though all six ponies are imprisoned in ice by the windigos (just a few moments for the assistants, but implicitly several hours for the leaders), none of them are damaged after they break free.
Heel Realization: The three assistants realize their own hatred and Fantastic Racism for each other is wrong, once they see just what it's caused in the form of the windigos.
Hellish Horse: The windigos, malevolent winter spirits that appear as spectral horses.
Hoof Popping: Pinkie's back right pops when she hugs Rainbow Dash on stage.
Hypercompetent Sidekick: Private Pansy, Clover the Clever, and Smart Cookie are all far more rational and intelligent than their "brute" of a Commander Hurricane, their "snob" of a Princess Platinum, and their "numbskull" of a Chancellor Puddinghead. They also are the ones who end up saving the day when their leaders get temporarily taken out of commission.
Literal-Minded: Chancellor Puddinghead as played by Pinkie Pie, such as her "thinking inside the chimney" bit. Difficult to tell if that's just Pinkie or part of the role itself.
The Load: During the search for a new land: Princess Platinum to Clover the Clever, Chancellor Puddinghead to Smart Cookie and Private Pansy to Commander Hurricane (quite literally in Platinum and Pansy's cases).
Losing Horns: Play after "thinking inside the chimney" line.
Made of Good: The heart-shaped beacon of the Fire of Friendship, which still burns to the present.
Mean Boss: All three rulers abuse, belittle, and ignore the advice of their assistants.
Meaningful Name: Most of the names of the characters in the play. Rarity's character is Princess Platinum, which is a very rare metal. A true Rarity, as it were. Rainbow Dash as Commander Hurricane (powerful and dangerous), Chancellor Puddinghead (a dessert like pie, as well as implying a lack of smarts), Fluttershy as Pansy (which is a word used for a weak or shy person), while Twilight as Clover the Clever and Applejack as Smart Cookie (doubling as Theme Naming with Puddinghead) are self-explanatory.
My God, What Have I Done?: The three assistants have this reaction when they realize the tribes' hatred and Fantastic Racism is what brought the windigos' winter on both their original homeland and the new one they sought to replace it.
National Anthem: Looking at the lyrics and its placement within the play, it sounds likely that "A Circle of Friends" is in fact the Equestrian national anthem.
Never My Fault: A personality trait of every leader. After the meeting to try and find a way to stop the blizzard, each leader returns home blaming the others for its failure, despite the fact that they're just as much to blame as they are. They continue this when they're driven into the cave at the episode's climax, blaming each other for their current situation and making no mention of their own actions.
On the ride to the pageant, Rarity's basically wearing a full-blown Christmas tree on her head. She isn't certain if it's festive enough.
Almost everypony involved gets one as part of her costume: crown (Rarity), Roman-style military helmet (Rainbow Dash), another one also heavily inspired by both ancient Macedonian and Renaissance-style helmets (Fluttershy), Tyrolean hat (Applejack), pudding bowl (Pinkie Pie). Twilight Sparkle, who has to make do with a ragged hood, is the only one left out.
No Sense of Direction: The Chancellor thinks she's supposed to wear the map in order to know where to go. She also thinks she can wear the map upside-down since the Earth is round. After she passes off the map, she manages to fall off a cliff, something she narrowly avoided while still wearing it.
Oh, Crap: The assistants have this reaction to the windigos. Clover the Clever gets a double dose when she realizes what they are.
Punny Name: "Hearth's Warming Eve" is the story of the conflicting pony factions joining together in friendship; when the windigos' ice melts, the three leaders have warmed hearts. In addition, the fact that the ponies lit a fire that first night, was a literal hearth warming — or the closest thing to one that could be managed in the middle of a cave in a blizzard.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: See Casting Gag and Foil entries above: In the play, each leader is a red oni to their underlings' blue, but in terms of the Mane cast participating these roles, this highlights the normal characters' red-blue pairings: Pinkie to Applejack, Rarity to Twilight, and Rainbow to Fluttershy.
Snowball Fight: The three leaders briefly get into one until they realize that there's a snowstorm coming.
Space Whale Aesop: Love thy neighbor, or else a trio of malevolent ice spirits will cover the world in an apocalyptic ice age.
Split-Screen Reaction: Used both times in association with Finish Dialogue in Unison above to show the three leaders coming to the same conclusion. Played With on its second use when the three, announcing the new land as their own, discover they are all claiming the same piece of land less than twenty feet from one another.
Stealth Pun: Rainbow Dash got (at least) 20% cooler in 10 seconds flat. Just not the type of "cool" she'd likely want.
Sugar Apocalypse: Hatred, fights and disharmony brought an ice age that destroyed the old world and forced the three Pony races to work together and accept each other to survive. The final scenes of the episode strongly hinted that this could happen again if ponies start fighting again.
Surprise Creepy: Considering this was an episode centering around a normal play, it's kind of a shock when the windigos show up. Made creepier by the fact the first few times we see them there's no explanation at all and we don't get one until the climax.
There Was a Door: When the leaders return home to report the results of the failed summit, Chancellor Puddinghead chooses to enter through the chimney rather than the front door. She never noticed that the door was snowed in anyway and justified her entrance with more Insane Troll Logic.
This Is My Side: The ponies fight for territory within the cave. Princess Platinum even asserts that an invisible line already exists to mark off their territory. Then they even fight over a small rock that sits on one of the lines.
Wendigo: The creatures that freeze over everything by the Fantastic Racism and hatred found by the three pony races are called windigos, a spelling variant of "Wendigo", but they have little to do with the original cannibalistic spirit. The closest they can make it to that is being Emotion Eaters. They have more in common with Ithaqua, also known as the Wind-Walker and the Wendigo, who is associated with snow and ice.
You Mean Xmas: Hearth's Warming Eve instead of Christmas Eve, obviously, but the background instead celebrates the founding of Equestria rather than the birth of a savior like our Christmas. The "peace on earth" and "goodwill" parts are definitely part of the story and lesson.