Root of the Problem
- Written by Katie Cook, Art by Andy Price
The Mane 6 and Spike are about to enjoy a quiet picnic when Zecora is chased out of the Everfree Forest, followed by vines and Timberwolves. The Mane 6 work to save the zebra, who thanks them for their help and explains she was chased out of the forest, and as they watch, vines and plants from the forest quickly encroach on Ponyville. Realizing time is short, the Mane 6 and Spike race into Everfree to try to find the heart of the forest. They come across a young deer, Bramble, who offers to take them there. When the ponies uproot a tree to cross a chasm, Bramble become enraged, and then shows that he, like other deer, carry a bit potion on them that helps to bring vines to life to help repair the damage. Apologizing for their mistake, the ponies are taken to the deer village of Thicket and meet King Aspen, the king of the deer. Aspen is not happy about seeing the ponies, but Twilight Sparkle is able to calm him down enough to learn why the deer are angry.
Aspen shows them the problem - just outside the Everfree is a large construction project run by the minotaur Well-To-Do to construct a new amusement park, aided by ponies and minotaurs alike. Aspen had tried to negotiate with the minotaur with no success, and in revenge, has caused the Everfree Forest to grow and take over the rest of Equestria. Twilight and the others go to Well-To-Do to try to stall the project, but the minotaur is insistent that progress must continue, and refuses to listen even to the Princess. Regrouping with King Aspen, the Mane 6 offer to do whatever they can to help the deer and the forest. Twilight becomes curious as to why Celestia has not done anything and has Spike fire off a letter, upon which we find both Celestia and Luna have become entangled in the Everfree vines, unable to do anything themselves.
The Mane 6 attempt peaceful means to deter Well-To-Do, but he refuses to give up, and King Aspen tells the ponies they should return to Ponyville to help evacuate there, allowing them to rest that night. During the night, Rainbow and Spike follow Bramble as the deer explores the construction site, noting that the strange smoothie mixes seem to have plant growing abilities. Bramble is suddenly captured by Well-to-do's mook, and Rainbow and Spike race back to warn the others. Just as King Aspen is about to attack the site, Well-to-do shows up, and forces Aspen to sign away the rights of the forest for return of Bramble, as well as to force Aspen to become a mascot of the park. With Aspen gone, Blackthorn, Aspen's second-in-command, takes charge and begins to plan a full out assault, enlisting Fluttershy to help convince the animals of Everfree to aid in battle.
Even when faced by the army of ponies, deer, and creatures, Well-To-Do refuses to budge, insisting he is doing everything lawfully and as a well-intentioned business minotaur. The army attacks, and Bramble sees a number of barrels of the organic smoothie mix nearby, directing everyone to knock them over. With copious volumes of liquid poured on the ground, the plants of Everfree are quickly regrown, and smash through the construction site, destroying it and freeing Aspen. Most of the other ponies and minotaurs working for Well-To-Do run off, but Well-To-Do insists that he still has rights to the land and will still build the theme park. Aspen agrees that he is unable to do anything in his power to stop Well-To-Do, but that same respect doesn't extend to the creatures of Everfree, and the hydra quickly devours him.Note .
The deer quickly work to recall all the vines that they had sent out across Equestria and promise to help fix any damage. Princess Celestia arrives and she and King Aspen agree to keep Everfree for the deer and the creatures, and thanks the Mane 6 for their help. Before Celestia departs, Pinkie Pie gives her a new drawing for one of Canterlot's stained glass windows depicting the event, which Celestia quickly regrets when she finally sees it after it is made.
These issues provide examples of:
- Ambition Is Evil: Well-To-Do and his theme park project.
- Black and Grey Morality: The villainous Well-To-Do is greedy and self-interested and has no problem destroying the forest, but the deer that oppose him are Fantastic Racists who are destroying pony settlements that have nothing to do with the conflict.
- Black Screen of Death: What the hydra does to Well-To-Do is only given by a black panel, with the reaction of the Mane 6 to judge what happens... at least until the 2 page extra showing it is only partially as dark as it might have been...
- Call-Back: Whinney Land, and Rarity's fascination with the theme park, as outlined in the AJ/Rarity Friends Forever comic, comes up again.
- The Cameo
- Timber wolves are seen in the opening panels.
- Philomena and Tiberius, Celestia's and Luna's pets respectively, appear.
- The hydra from "Feeling Pinkie Keen" appears as one of the monsters attacking the group.
- Can't Argue with Elves: Twilight even has a quite out of character moment where she eagerly rips down a tree, just so the deer can lecture her.
- Chekhov's Gun: The heart-shaped potion flask on King Aspen's neck. He isn't called "The heart of the forest" for nothing.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Well-To-Do is willing to tear down forests and make room for theme parks all so he can make a profit and clearly has no empathy for the animals whose homes he has to destroy in the process.
- Deus ex Machina: After it being explained that Well-To-Do's construction has made the area intolerant to plant life and the deer can't make the forest grow back even if he left, the solution is found when the organic smoothie mix Well-To-Do is planning to sell at the park turns out to rejuvenate the soil.
- Expy: The deer are clearly taking the roles of Tolkien's elves; even their village Thicket looks like something out of the films.
- The Fair Folk: While the deer are certainly close with nature and aren't explicitly violent, they certainly can be aggressive when they don't get their way.
- Fantastic Racism: The deer hate ponies and want nothing to do with them, even frowning on them coming into the forest.
- Gaia's Vengeance: In retaliation for having parts of it cut down, the Everfree Forest expands into Ponyville. Subverted later as it's revealed the Deer are making the vines grow for the same reason.
- Greed: Well-To-Do's defining trait.
- Green Aesop: About the dangers of deforestation.
- Hidden Elf Village: Thicket, the hidden kingdom where the deer live.
- Hypocrite: In response to the construction project destroying the homes of forest creatures, the deer have the forest spread into numerous pony towns across Equestria to replace what has been lost, destroying those towns in the process. King Aspen directly says to Twilight "tit for tat" when confronted with this.
- Idiot Ball: There's several being juggled around to the point of Idiot Plot. The ponies are completely ineffectual and useless (their best suggestions to stop Well-To-Do is a protest and a boycott), Celestia and Luna never investigate what's going on in person, and the deer act like racists who never try to meet Celestia in person, explain what's going on to anypony, or look for any alternatives beyond their ecoterrorism.
- Karma Houdini: Invoked and averted. When Well-To-Do's henchpony, Jargon, is about to escape, Pinkie calls out that he hadn't received any comeuppance. Karma happily obliges by having a gorilla send him hurtling through the air.
- Large and in Charge: Well-To-Do, especially since most of the construction workers are ponies.
- Loyal Animal Companion: Calvin, the little bird that's on good terms with the deer and informs them on what's going on in the forest.
- Magic A Is Magic A: Deer magic is noted to be similar to zebra magic, relying more on potions and salves instead of spells like unicorns do.
- The Magic Goes Away: King Aspen notes that when the trees are cut down, the soil beneath loses its magic, and they can't get things to grow again.
- The Marvelous Deer: King Aspen.
- Nature Is Not Nice: In the "Good Is Not Nice" and "Blue and Orange Morality" context.
- Our Elves Are Better: They're deer, but otherwise they fit the post-Tolkien mold to a T, being highly magical and holding themselves as superior to the setting's human equivalents. On the whole, they seem to be a combination of High Elves and Wood Elves.
- Rhymes on a Dime: Lampshaded, when Zecora flees Everfree, she shouts out "Help!" from the Mane 6. Rainbow notes that that isn't a very good rhyme, and then later, when Zecora does drop back into her rhyming scheme, considers "that's better".
- Skewed Priorities:
- Rainbow Dash is worried that Zecora's lost her rhyming schemes when she's fleeing the forest while the other Mane 6 run to help. Later when AJ drops the phrase "cow tipping" as they are about to fight off Timberwolves, Fluttershy worried about the cows.
- When the Timberwolves attack, Pinkie Pie's first reaction is ask Spike to save the cake they had for their picnic.
- Stealth Pun: The Heart of the Forest turns out to be King Aspen, ruler of the deer... a hart.
- The Syndicate: Well-To-Do is in the fledgling stages of this. He uses clearly criminal means (extortion, mail theft, assault) to further the progress of his construction business, and he plans to spread his theme parks and parking garages across as much of Equestria as he can get away with. His right-hand pony is clearly a mafia-styled mobster.
- The Theme Park Version: The upcoming theme park's attractions include "The Cloudsdale Experience" and a roller coaster shaped like Canterlot Castle.
- Worf Effect: Celestia and Luna are defeated by the Everfree's vines (though Luna's demeanor implies she wasn't taking the conflict seriously). Subverted on the first page of part 2, which shows Celestia and Luna untangling themselves from the vines.