Nightmare Night has come to Ponyville, and Twilight Sparkle and Spike are enjoying the spooky festivities (even if nopony recognizes Twilight's costume as the famous unicorn wizard "Star Swirl the Bearded"). They join Pinkie Pie, Zecora, and a group of young ponies (including Pipsqueak, a young colt whose family had just recently moved from Trottingham) for a walk in the woods to a statue of Nightmare Moon, where tradition indicates that they leave some of their candy to appease the evil goddess so she doesn't gobble them up. But what's that swooping in on a chariot pulled by bat-winged pegasi guards? Is it the real Nightmare Moon, returned to seek revenge on the Elements of Harmony?No, it's just Princess Luna, who's come to enjoy the festival, bask in the accolades of her subjects, and turn the night of terror into a night of delight. But her grandiose entrance, booming voice, and archaic way of speaking gives the wrong impression, scaring nearly everypony in the town square. Twilight, who recognizes social awkwardness when she sees it, decides to help. She convinces Luna that she needs to tone it down a bit, so the two go to see the expert in being soft-spoken: Fluttershy.Unfortunately, Fluttershy is not the sort of pony who enjoys Nightmare Night, and Twilight has to literally force her to give Princess Luna a quick speech lesson. After a few false starts, Luna finally understands and joyously hugs Fluttershy... who, alas, is limp and speechless with fear. Of course, this is just as Pinkie Pie and the kids show up for a place to hide from Nightmare Moon; they immediately get the wrong impression and run away screaming.Undeterred, Twilight has Applejack teach Luna about getting along with the citizens of Ponyville. To get Luna to loosen up and have some fun (a phrase Princess Luna is apparently unfamiliar with), Applejack teachers her a simple target-throwing game with rubber spiders and a fake web. Quickly getting the hang of the game, Luna briefly basks in the admiration of her subjects before rushing over to save Pipsqueak from drowning in the apple-bobbing tub. Unfortunately, both Pip and Pinkie Pie misinterpret this act as another fright from Nightmare Moon, and the ponies freak out yet again. In a fit of pique, Luna turns the fake spiders into real ones; when this drives the ponies into a terrified riot, she decrees the end of Nightmare Night forever, then leaves in a huff.With ponies young and old upset about the ban, Twilight tries to get Luna to change her mind by getting her to make amends with Pinkie Pie, the cause of all the trouble. Unfortunately, their touching reconciliation is spoiled completely when an ill-timed prank from Rainbow Dash causes Pinkie to panic. Twilight intercepts Pinkie before she can run away again and starts to lecture her about Luna's benevolent nature, whereupon Pinkie reveals that she knows Luna is good...
Twilight Sparkle: She's not evil or scary any more! And she definitely doesn't want to gobble you up! [beat] Pinkie Pie: Well, duh! Twilight Sparkle: Huh? Pinkie Pie: Sheesh, Twilight! I'm almost as big as her! How's she gonna gobble me up?
Pinkie was just pretending to freak out because sometimes it's fun to be scared. This gives Twilight an idea...Back in town, Zecora proposes that, despite the holiday being cancelled, they can still finish tonight's celebration. So, the zebra leads the young ponies back to the forest to make one last offering of candy for Nightmare Moon... But then, Nightmare Moon shows up in person to thank them for their gift! As the little ponies run off screaming, she is revealed to be a transformed Luna, who wonders what good Twilight's plan will do... until Pipsqueak comes back to ask if she can do it again next year.Finally understanding that the ponies don't really hate her, Luna rescinds her ban and finally begins to enjoy the festival in earnest, especially when she playfully gives Rainbow Dash a much-deserved taste of her own medicine. Meanwhile, Twilight composes a report to Celestia about the importance of helping others make friends, no matter how intimidating they may first appear.As of February 11th, 2012, this episode is recognized by The Hub as the best Friendship is Magic episode out of the first 38 to airnote the 37 from "Friendship is Magic, part 1" to "Family Appreciation Day" plus "Hearth's Warming Eve".
Tropes present in this episode (YMMV tropes can be found here):
0% Approval Rating: Princess Luna discovers this problem after she appears, and Twilight and her friends try to help repair her image.
Absentee Actor: The Cutie Mark Crusaders appear in several scenes, but they never speak.
Unlike most of the other ponies who dressed up in common costume tropes, Twilight opts to dress up like a historical wizard that she admires, down to the bells, hoof-stitched hems, and beard. And yes, she looks cute in it.
This effectively serves as a bonding moment between the two, when Luna not only recognizes who Twilight's supposed to be dressed as, but compliments her on how well she pulled it off.
Derpy's paper bag costume.
Art Evolution: Luna now has a mane and tail that flow like Celestia's, instead of the fixed bangs she's seen with in the ending of "Elements of Harmony". Her fur is also a darker shade of purple. Overall, she looks a lot closer to her Nightmare Moon persona, but without the evil. This could, however, just represent her becoming older, or regaining her power.
Bait and Switch: Luna asks in a rather rough voice whether the others are having enough fun yet and makes the spiders come to life. The viewer is led to believe that she has turned evil again... but then it turns out that she just made them hop into the nets by themselves, upon which she asks smiling how many points she has scored.
Bathos: In-universe, the Mayor's attempts to spook the children are, as Spike points out, ruined by the fact that she's in a goofy clown costume.
Spike: The rainbow wig just kills it for me.
Bear Hug: Luna gives Fluttershy a hug for showing her how to use an indoor voice. However, it backfires when timid Fluttershy faints during the process, and is mistaken for dead when Pinkie and the foals come upon them immediately afterwards.
Big Entrance: Luna arriving in the middle of a windy storm at night, pulled on a evil-looking chariot by two menacing guard Pegasi, all clouded in shadows, while Twilight, Pinkie, Zecora, Spike, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Pipsqueak, and four more fillies cower near a statue of Nightmare Moon at the Everfree Forest.
Big "Shut Up!": Luna has a particularly loud one when Nightmare Night is thrown into chaos.
Luna: BE STILL!
Black Cloak: Luna is introduced wearing one. It dissolves into living bats as she exits her chariot!
Twilight Sparkle's pose when her costume is introduced is very similar to her pose in the fashion show in "Suited For Success".
Rainbow Dash is dressed as one of the Shadowbolts, the illusory pegasus stunt team that Nightmare Moon took the form of to try and tempt her away from her friends in the "Elements of Harmony".
Rainbow Dash is shown pranking Pinkie with the same prank the two set up in "Griffin the Brush Off". Speaking of which, Pinkie's forelegs are still exposed (while humans in chicken suits normally have their arms in the "wings"), turning her into a winged quadruped much like Gilda herself, with a pretend beak to boot.
In the pilot, a triumphant Nightmare Moon dramatically declares "The night will last forever!" In this episode, an angry Princess Luna dramatically declares "Nightmare Night shall be canceled forever!"
Luna being the only one to recognize Twilight's costume is a reference to Twilight being the only one to recognize Nightmare Moon.
Continuity Nod: The whole premise of this episode mirrors "Bridle Gossip" — Luna's debut even has her in a cloak and hood like Zecora, whose costume could be described as an evil enchantress. The fact that Zecora is considered part of Ponyville society now foreshadows the ending.
Twilight says that Pipsqueak moved from Trottingham, a place previously mentioned in "Stare Master".
At first it seems odd that Pinkie Pie, who in "Elements of Harmony" sang "Giggle at the Ghostly" about not needing to be scared and had Ocular Gushers at Luna's redemption, should suddenly scream in terror every time Luna shows up. But it makes sense when we learn Pinkie Pie is just pretending to be scared because it's fun.
Cool Car: Luna's chariot, drawn by bat-winged pegasi. the vehicle itself would be at home in Brütal Legend.
Cowardly Lion: Fluttershy refuses to even answer the door on Nightmare Night.
Dark Is Not Evil: Already was true in Luna's case, but she seems to not comprehend the fact that making an entrance that would make a Final Fantasy villain green with envy is not a good first impression for a good guy. It is, however, a good way to look awesome.
Twilight Sparkle: …but you have to understand that Nightmare Night is one of the most popular celebrations we have! Luna: Yes, I can tell from the adoring shrieks of the children as they run away! [later] Twilight Sparkle: Princess Luna! I've finally figured out why you're having so much trouble being liked! Luna: Forgive me if I withhold my enthusiasm.
Death Glare: Twilight gives Applejack one when she asks Applejack to help Luna fit in.
Defanged Horrors: In universe, Pipsqueak describes Nightmare Night as "scary, but fun".
Twilight: Fluttershy, it's me, Twilight. Fluttershy: It is you. Oh, and Nightmare Moon. [beat]*gasp!*Nightmare Moon!?
Diminishing Villain Threat: Nightmare Moon is a Mad God who tried twice to plunge the world into eternal night, and almost succeeded at least once. In this episode we've found that she's been reduced in the public image to scaring young ponies into giving her some of their candy.
Dramatic Thunder: Underscores Luna's grand entrances and more dramatic pronouncements. Also invoked by Rainbow Dash when she uses a small thundercloud of her own to prank other ponies... not always with the best of timing as far as Luna is concerned. She gets a taste of her own medicine at the end of the episode.
Flowery Elizabethan English: Luna insists that using "thee" and "thou" is her "normal" way of speaking — and it makes sense that it would be, given that she was on the moon for the last thousand years.
Luna: TWILIGHT SPARKLE HAS SPOKEN OF THE SWEETNESS OF THY VOICE! WE ASK THOU TEACHEST US TO SPEAK AS THOU SPEAKEST!
Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Pinkie gets scared by Rainbow's thundercloud just before shaking hooves with Luna, she lays an egg.
Gale-Force Sound: Luna using the Royal Canterlot Voice can have this effect, as seen when Twilight has to adjust her costume after being exposed to it point-blank.
Giant Spiders: Luna's unorthodox method of playing the spiderweb-beanbag-toss game involves turning the stuffed spiders into actual enormous arachnids and making them crawl onto the web.
Medieval Stasis: A mild version, but if you've seen even excerpts from the original texts of Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales, it's still odd that apparently the only way language has changed over the past millennium is dropping the T-V distinction. (Arguably, it's more noticeable than the lack of any difference in Nightmare Moon's speech in "Friendship is Magic.")
Twilight: I'm going to do what I do best — lecture her!
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Pinkie Pie's behavior towards Luna. She knew that Luna wasn't evil anymore and was trying to fit in with everyone else, yet pretended to be scared of her because "sometimes it's fun to be scared", which only served to rile up the younger ponies who were genuinely terrified of Luna and needlessly upsetting her in the process.
Also inverted. At first blush, Rainbow Dash's lightning when Pinkie and Luna are trying to make amends seems to ruin Twilight's current plan. However, given that Pinkie already knew this was all in fun, Twilight may not have come up with a plan if Pinkie hadn't run off scared.
The Prankster: Rainbow Dash's prankster tendencies go Up to Eleven for Nightmare Night, and she spends the entire night running around pranking everyone with Dramatic Thunder. Even though it's supposed to be all in good fun, it has some unpleasant consequences.
Pinkie and Luna reaching to touch hooves borrows from the scene in ET The Extra Terrestrial. Bonus points for this happening on Halloween/Nightmare Night. Twilight luring Pinkie using candy, Twilight's lines asking Pinkie not to scream before this shot, and the backing music cues during this sequence also are a tip of the hat to the film.
One of the popular pastimes of Nightmare Night is apparently Punkin Chunkin'. Naturally, Luna proves to be an ace chunker.
The banner above the stage has the modern Batman logo on it, plus Nightmare Moon's face in the center a la the 60s Batman logo.
Derpy empties Carrot Top's apple-bobbing tub. Thanks to a particular fan comic, Derpy emptying Carrot Top's fridge is considered a defining trait of their friendship.
Smoke Out: Zecora does a Smoke "In" to make a dramatic entrance before telling her spooky tale.
Spiders Are Scary: Princess Luna somehow thinks bringing several hoof-sized beanbag spiders to life will help her score more points in the "throw the spiders on the web" game, thus making her subjects less fearful of her. She thought incorrectly.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Zigzagged, then played straight again. Everything Twilight suggests on-screen works for a while, but gets sabotaged a few minutes later. Everything she promises to explain "on the way", however…
Visual Pun: Pinkie Pie enjoys being scared, and spends the whole episode in a state of utter panic. So what is she dressed as?
Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted. Luna uses "thou", "thee", and "thy" only when addressing single ponies, and "you" and "your" when speaking to multiple ponies. Also when speaking to single ponies, she attaches the "-est" suffix only to verbs where the listener is the subject.
She does slip up at least once, when she awkwardly changes subjects mid-sentence.
Luna: Child. Art thou saying that thou... likest me to scare you?note "Thou likest me to scare you" means that Pipsqueak wants Luna to scare everyone including him (possibly against the others' wishes), but it is more likely was only asking to have himself scared, in which case the correct statement would be "Thou likest me to scare thee." On the other hoof, if Luna was implying that Pipsqueak was speaking for the entire crowd, that everyone wanted to be scared, then the correct statement would be "You likest me to scare you." Although none of this really means anything if her grammar just slipped from puzzlement.
Luna also seems to be confused about the appropriate use of the Royal "We", using it to refer to herself rather than the throne or the nation. She does occasionally refer to herself in the third person as "thy Princess", which is appropriate when the Royal "We" is used correctly.
You Mean Xmas: Basically, "Nightmare Night" is Halloween in all but name. It even holds an "X-Mas" version of the full "Trick-Or-Treat" jingle.
Your Costume Needs Work: Averted; Luna compliments Twilight's Starswirl the Bearded costume for being obsessively accurate.
The art team had some fun on this episode when designing costumes for everypony. Even the background ponies get some nifty outfits.
Early-Bird Cameo: Berry Punch is dressed in a costume very much resembling that of Daring Do. As in, exactly the same except for very small details (the shirt being different colors and the hat being the type that Twilight Sparkle wore in "Feeling Pinkie Keen" rather than the type that Daring Do wears). As it turns out, the costume was added in last minute because they actually ran out of unique costumes for crowd scenes and the team was facing a deadline. It was slightly edited in an attempt to avoid spoiling Daring Do.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Likely very unintentional, but a yet-identified white pony wearing a distinctive pair of glasses, hair/mane in a bun, and costumed as a devil has not gone unnoticed by the fandom to her resemblance to Sarah Palin (or, in some cases, Bayonetta).