Twilight: (reading a book) Mm-hm.
Spike: And, as you are aware, I adhere to my Dragon Code, and this means I must serve her for the rest of my natural-born days. I'm sure you understand.
Twilight: (still reading) Mm-hm.
Spike: It's been an honor being your faithful assistant.
Twilight: (still reading) Sounds good.
Written by Merriwether Williams
Twilight Sparkle is busy cramming for Princess Celestia over the weekend, giving her faithful assistant Spike plenty of free time to do whatever he wants... if only Spike had anything better to do. A nearby Twinkling Balloon ride seems promising, but Spike accidentally sets the balloon loose and sends it floating away. By the time Spike catches it, he finds himself deep in the Everfree Forest and chased by timberwolves. Just as the wolves close in to gobble up the baby dragon, Applejack (who's there to investigate the balloon) heroically steps in and smashes the wooden wolves to pieces.
Because Applejack saved his life, Spike insists on helping Applejack around Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack's okay with letting him help for the day — though being a farmhand isn't Spike's strong point, which he quickly proves by clumsily causing more trouble than good. Still, Spike sticks around the farm to fulfill his "Dragon Code" in which dragons must prove their nobility by serving their savior to the end of their days. Spike is reminded that he's still Twilight's assistant, but Twilight's so caught up in her studies that she absentmindedly gives Spike her blessing to stay with Applejack, meaning he's free to "help" the Apple family forever!
Applejack can't stand the messes Spike keeps making of things, but doesn't have the heart to make him think he's not a noble dragon. She and the other ponies do everything they can to keep Spike preoccupied but they all backfire spectacularly—Spike easily tackles Rainbow Dash's "impossible" task of building a tower of rocks for her to smash through and Fluttershy's suggestion to tell him Applejack doesn't need help makes him find other ways to help her, from scratching her back to breathing. Finally at the end of her rope, Applejack snaps Twilight out of her study-induced trance for help. Twilight comes up with the solution: make Spike truly feel even by saving Applejack's life.
The plan is to set up a fake timberwolf attack where Applejack pretends to get her leg stuck between some rocks so Spike can free her. Unfortunately, Spike sees right through their makeshift timberwolf puppet... until a pack of real timberwolves show up. Applejack easily smashes these wolves, only to get truly stuck under a rock as the wolves reform into one giant monster. Spike springs into action and chucks a rock down the timberwolf's throat, buying him enough time to save Applejack and finally end his life debt. Life returns to normal for the two after they promise not to owe each other anything if they ever have to save each other from certain doom in the future.
Note: This is the tenth episode of the third season, but was the ninth released and aired.
- 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The timberwolves are rendered in CG. This might have been intentional to emphasize their strangeness, but nevertheless is jarring. They are also rendered in the blander black-line art style that clashes with their surroudings even more than their CG-ness does.
- A Day in the Limelight: For Spike.
- An Aesop: You don't have to do anything big or grand to thank someone.
- Anthropomorphic Zig-Zag: The timberwolves are mostly animalistic in nature but have a few quirks for Rule of Funny, such as one giving an Aside Glance before it falls and crashes after losing its legs, or when the King Timberwolf starts choking, it pauses and holds up a "claw" in a classic "one moment, please..." fashion.
- Aside Glance: One of the timberwolves looks at the camera◊ when its front legs come off, right before smashing into the ground.
- Bad "Bad Acting":
- Applejack's acting is so bad that Rarity herself tries to give her acting lessons. She runs out of time so Applejack has to perform in her basic manner. Later on when Rarity pretends to be scared, she hams up her screaming.
- Pinkie Pie is wearing a big grin on her face while running away "scared" from a "timberwolf attack".
- Badass in Distress: Applejack plans to stage this to end Spike's perceived debt to her. Then it happens for real...
- Big Damn Heroes: Applejack's rescue of Spike.
- Big "WHAT?!": Twilight when Applejack tells her what's been going on, including how she said she was cool with Spike not being her assistant anymore.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The creature made out of sticks and twigs needs to breathe through its throat? For that matter, why do they need to hunt ponies made of meat?
- The Cameo: Winona is being walked by Fluttershy as Spike reads his list in the Cold Open.
- Chase Scene: In the beginning where the timberwolves chase Spike in the Everfree Forest.
- Chekhov's Gun
- The timberwolves' bad breath is the main thing that tips Spike off to the Mane Six's act, as well as what indicates the arrival of the real deal.
- The rock tower. Applejack and Spike use its rocks to fight the timberwolves during their second attack, and Applejack's leg is trapped under one of the rocks.
- Clipped-Wing Angel: Shortly after the timberwolves merge together into one giant entity, Spike tosses a small pebble down its throat, and it promptly "chokes" to death and falls apart.
- Code of Honour: According to Spike, and with Twilight to back him up, it is the sworn duty of every dragon to follow the Dragon Code and serve the one who saves their life until the end of their days. Seeing how dragons tend to have a long lifespan...
- Combat Pragmatist: Rather than facing the timberwolves in a direct fight, Applejack uses the terrain to her advantage by hitting them with whatever she can put her hooves on. Chasing after her can be much more dangerous than facing her one-on-one.
- Continuity Nod:
- AJ shows her skill at launching projectiles with her hind legs, as from "Dragonshy", to shatter the timberwolves.
- Applejack uses a tree branch the same way Rainbow Dash used one on her.
- The timberwolves appear again.
- Applejack had previously expressed mild exasperation at Spike's gratitude in "Secret of My Excess". This time she gets an extra dosage.
- Twilight's pitiful crafting skills are brought up again as she makes a fake timberwolf that couldn't fool anyone.
- Spike's penchant for imagining himself knightly is also seen during his "A Dog and Pony Show" daydream.
- In "Applebuck Season" Spike finds the baked bads downright tasty. Maybe there's a reason he expects Rarity to enjoy his strangely gray, unappetizing pie.
- Rainbow Dash's love of reading is further expanded upon from "Read It and Weep"; she has decided to try her hoof at penning a book of her own. Said book is about an awesome flier who becomes captain of the Wonderbolts.
- The move Rainbow Dash uses to knock down the rock tower is reminiscent of the "karate kick" she used to chop down a row of trees in "Sleepless in Ponyville".
- Damsel in Distress: Discussed when Rarity tries showing Applejack how to act like one; Invoked with Applejack's plan to be one in order for Spike to fulfill his perceived debt to Applejack; and Played Straight when Applejack becomes one once the King Timberwolf shows up.
- Dastardly Whiplash: Pinkie Pie channels her inner evil side complete with Hoof Rubbing and a fake mustache.
- David Versus Goliath: The way Spike defeats the King Timberwolf is a literal version of this trope.; all it takes is one rock in the right place.
- Determinator: Spike is this when it comes to fulfilling his Dragon Code. Applejack told him to count every blade of grass on Sweet Apple Acres and he counted all 24,567,837 of them.
- Disproportionate Reward: Spike goes overboard in fulfilling his Dragon Code; a life debt is serious but eternal servitude is extreme and especially when the savior doesn't want a reward.
- Distressed Dude: The main pivot of the plot is Spike acting as one when the timberwolves first appear at the start of the episode.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Spike doesn't notice that Twilight's too absorbed in her studies to listen to how he plans to stop being her assistant and serve Applejack, and takes her absentminded "mm-hm's" to mean she's cool with it.
- Elemental Embodiment: The timberwolves are animated sticks and branches; they can be shattered, but they'll recover very quickly. Get them very far from the Everfree Forest and they go to pieces at the slightest provocation.
- Enchanted Forest: Everfree Forest, as usual, is a mysterious and fearful location full of dangerous creatures.
- Epic Fail:
- Spike literally walks three feet into Applejack's house and messes up the entire room.
- Spike destroys Rarity's pipes while trying to wash her plate.
- Eye Take: When Rainbow Dash brings up Applejack's unfinished novel, Applejack's eyes are clearly saying, "How does she know about that?"
- Face Plant: Spike runs face-first into a post that the hot air balloon is tied to, causing the mooring line to come undone.
- Failed Attempt at Drama: Rarity and Pinkie Pie when the Mane Six fake a timberwolf attack. Rarity hams up her screaming while Pinkie screams just for fun.
- Failed a Spot Check: When Spike scratched Applejack's back, it was clear that Applejack enjoyed it. Due to Spike's scattershot approach at trying to find ways to help Applejack, they both failed to realize that this could have been a perfectly reasonable - if creepy - way for him to serve her.
- Fake Danger Gambit: After Applejack saves Spike's life, Spike swears to help her out due to his Dragon Code. However, his help is a lot more troublesome, so to put a stop to his less-than-helpful service, Applejack and the others stage an "attack" by fake timberwolves for Spike to save her so he can stop. Unfortunately, the staged attack turns into a real attack by real timberwolves, but Spike does save Applejack all the same.
- Fear Is the Appropriate Response: Despite being a group of Action Girls and a fire breathing dragon with Nigh-Invulnerable scales, the Mane Six and Spike's first reaction when facing the timberwolves is trying to escape rather than fighting them.
- Flanderization: We previously saw that Spike likes working and can be sometimes clumsy, but one may argue that these aspects grew out of proportion in this episode.
- Foreshadowing: One can see Fluttershy walking Winona in the background during the cold open, presumably as a favor for Applejack...
- Forgot About His Powers: Spike is a fire-breathing dragon. The timberwolves are made of wood and many animals are scared of fire. Even if the former aspect wouldn't work because they're not dry wood, the latter should have at least been considered. Oh well.
- Funny Background Event: In the scene after Spike and Apple Bloom have washed the pig to a sparkling shine, while Spike is talking to Applejack, the pig is back and rolling around in the mud.
- Fusion Dance: Three shattered timberwolves combine into a single one, with material drawn in from the Everfree Forest for additional mass.
- Girls with Moustaches
- Apple Bloom briefly gets a bubble beard when Spike spills a bucket of soapy water on her.
- Pinkie insists on sporting a fake one during the plan for Spike to "save" Applejack's life from a fake timberwolf. She looks downright disappointed when she's told to get rid of it.
- Glass Cannon: The timberwolves are implied to be dangerous but they're little more than a collection of random tree junk magically formed into a wolf shape. One good hit will shatter them. That said, it doesn't stop them for very long.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: The real timberwolves' eyes glow when stalking prey.
- Gone Horribly Right: The Plan is to for a timeberwolf to attack Applejack so Spike could save her and nullify his debt. What happens is a real timberwolf showed up and Applejack is in real danger.
- Good News, Bad News: Of the "bad news, not good news" variety:
- Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: Of the dramatic kind. One of the running timberwolves, after losing its front legs to an AJ projectile, turns to look at the camera before falling and collapsing.
- Handshake Substitute: Spike agrees with AJ to let rescuing friends be its own reward, and when goes to shake her hoof, pauses a moment before balling his claw into a fist and then bumps fist to hoof.
- Help, I'm Stuck!: In the third act, Applejack pretends (badly) to get her hoof stuck in some rocks just as a (wholly unconvincing) fake timber wolf emerges from the woods to menace her, so that Spike can "rescue" her and thereby clear his life debt. The deception falls apart almost immediately, but the scenario ends up playing out for real a couple of minutes later.
- Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Rainbow Dash is penning a novel about a totally awesome pegasus who is the best flier ever and becomes captain of the Wonderbolts.
- Hidden Depths:
- Rainbow Dash demonstrates a previously unmentioned skill at timberwolf impressions. They're realistic enough to frighten Fluttershy, and attract actual timberwolves.
- It's also suggested that Rainbow Dash and Applejack are both attempting to write novels.
- The "impossible" tasks that Spike does count as this. That tower of rocks looks impressive and many of them are even bigger than Spike himself is yet he was able to stack them regardless or counting every blade of grass on the Apple family farm in less than a day when it normally takes days to count that high. Looks like someone is tougher and smarter than they were letting on.
- Hoist by Their Own Petard: Rainbow Dash tells Spike to build a tower of rocks for her to knock down, convinced he'd give up well before finishing.
- Honor Before Reason: Spike throughout the entire episode; he's doing all this because of his Dragon Code.
- The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: The timberwolves' attempts to hunt Spike and Applejack end very badly for the predators when their prey decides to fight back.
- Impossible Task: Rainbow suggests using one of these to get Spike to quit. Unfortunately, he's tenacious enough to complete them. He even counted all the blades of grass in Sweet Apple Acres.*
- Imposter Forgot One Detail: Spike can tell that the timberwolf that Applejack and her friends set up is fake because it doesn't have bad breath like a real timberwolf.
- Inflating Body Gag: Spike tries to help Applejack breathe, by sticking a fireplace bellows in her mouth and pumping so hard she blows up like a balloon.
- Insane Troll Logic: Spike's leap of logic to asserting that maybe he needs to help Applejack think of things that Applejack needs help doing, like breathing for instance.
- I Owe You My Life: This episode is all about this trope because it's in Spike's Dragon Code.
- Jerkass Realization: Twilight has a brief guilt-ridden expression when she finds out she became so absorbed in her studies that she blew off her most faithful assistant.
- Killed Off for Real: The timberwolves appear to choke to death at the end, despite previously turning out to be Not Quite Dead when smashed with a boulder.
- The Klutz: Spike, despite him usually being reliable and not nearly this clumsy in any other episode. He regains his normal level of competence once they want him to be a klutz, of course.
- Large Ham: Rarity, when giving Applejack lessons on how to sound like a damsel in distress.
- Long List: Parodied with Spike's to-do list, which is written on a long sheet...but only has three entries.
- Mama Bear: Applejack is recognized as the Mane Six's Team Mom, so it's no surprise she's ready to do whatever it takes to protect Spike. Judging from her surprised expression when she sees them forming the King Timberwolf, she didn't know they could regenerate, and yet she willingly used potentially lethal attacks on them.
- Mobstacle Course: When Spike is chasing after the balloon he has to avoid townsponies.
- Nerds Love Tough Schoolwork: Twilight looks forward to spend a weekend reading the (twelve) books Princess Celestia assigned for her to study.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Spike's magical fire and its "message teleporting" properties; for the first time Spike uses it to retrieve a card from wherever he's keeping it, and to send it back there after showing it to Applejack. Before this episode, whenever Spike's fire summoned a message, it was always something sent by Princess Celestia.
- Non-Standard Character Design: The King Timberwolf is Flash-animated, unlike the normal timberwolves in this episode, but is visibly made of multiple individual components joined together, rather than appearing to be a single seamless object. Like the CG, this might have been intentional because of how strange it is and how it was created.
- Noodle Incident: Applejack is writing a novel that's been unfinished for some time. The look on her face when it's mentioned indicates it's probably going to stay that way...
- Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Twilight while reading her books.
- Not Quite Dead: After her first encounter with the timberwolves, it seems Applejack had killed them (on-screen, no less) until she and Spike leave, and we can see the twigs and leaves start to move and get back together.
- Object Ceiling Cling: Spike accidentally throws a broom made sticky by dough, and it clings to a ceiling beam.
- Obsessed Are the Listmakers: Spike takes a scroll from Twilight's stash and makes his own checklist for what to do on a free day. It isn't nearly as long as one of Twilight's.
- Out-of-Character Moment: The parts where Spike becomes The Klutz. In prior episodes, he is portrayed as very proficient at various household tasks, including baking as "Just for Sidekicks" indicates. Further more, in later parts of this very episode, he builds a massive tower of rocks without messing up and counts every single blade of grass at Sweet Apple Acres in only a few hours.
- Poor Communication Kills: Twilight could have tried talking Spike out of following his Dragon Code if she wasn't so absorbed in her studies. When she finally figures it out later, she's guilt-ridden by it.
- Pulling Themselves Together: Timberwolves have this ability after they have been blown apart. They can even combine into an aggregate form.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: Spike does this a lot in this episode, although it's not as intentional as the trope usually is.
- Pursued Protagonist: Spike in the beginning by timberwolves. While Twilight's cram session lead to this scene, it was this that started the plot.
- Rule of Perception: After Rainbow Dash knocks down the rock pile, Spike seems to be crushed by a falling boulder. It actually landed in front of him.
- Savage Wolves: Savage Timberwolves attack Spike.
- Shout-Out: As he fulfills Applejack's every request, Spike takes to saying one of the most memorable catchphrases from The Princess Bride; 'as you wish'.
- Sickly Green Glow: The timberwolves' eyes and aura.
- Smash Cut:Applejack: Oh, alright, you can help Granny Smith and me bake some—
(cut to AJ's kitchen)
Spike: Pies! Pies! I'm helping Applejack make some pies!
- Springtime for Hitler: Rainbow Dash convinces Spike to build a rock tower for her to crash into, thinking he will give up soon after just starting. Needless to say, she underestimated how determined the dragon can be.
- Stealth Pun:
- Spike stops the cart by holding the wheels. In other words, he pulled a handbrake.
- Knowing how easily the timberwolves can be defeated, they're all bark and no bite.
- Stylistic Suck: From Spike's drawing on his Dragon Code card, to Applejack and Pinkie's crude drawings to show how their plans work, to the Mane Six's timberwolf puppet.
- Super OCD: Twilight is so focused on getting her reading done that Spike's announcement that he's leaving her service bounces right off. Later, Applejack instantly gets her attention by moving an ink well ever so slightly out of place.
- Super-Persistent Predator: Despite them failing at hunting Applejack and Spike the first time, the timberwolves are still willing to go after their prey when finding them again. Plus, their regenerative abilities allow them to get back to hunting over and over again.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: After Spike bakes his "pies", Applejack suggests they take them to...Spike: (eagerly) "Rarity?"Applejack: "...Sure, why not?"
- Tempting Fate:
- "Come on, Spike. Just because this forest is full of... wild dangerous animals doesn't mean you're going to see one." Cue timberwolves...
- Also Rainbow Dash: "Puh-lease, he'll quit way before there's even a chance of getting hurt!" cue off-screen crash.
- That Poor Cat: Spike kicks a mushroom, which hits a cat off-frame.
- Think Nothing of It: Applejack's general attitude to saving Spike's life. It takes her the whole episode to get this across to Spike.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Rainbow Dash's reaction to Spike completing the rock tower... meaning she has to smash through it.
- Unwanted Assistance: Applejack is too nice to outright tell Spike to stop helping, but it's there. Even if Spike weren't making a mess of things, she's uncomfortable with the servitude and doesn't like friends feeling like they owe her for something.
- Visual Pun: Timberwolves.
- Wasn't That Fun?: Spike doesn't notice Rainbow Dash's state after taking down the tower; instead, he's excited, and asking for an encore.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Spike defeats the King Timberwolf by tossing a pebble down its throat. It chokes and falls apart.
- When Trees Attack: Timberwolves are wolves made of timber.
- Why Didn't I Think of That?: Uttered by Applejack after Fluttershy notes that if she was in AJ's situation with Spike, she would have simply told Spike in the beginning that she didn't have anything for him to do. It didn't work anyway; once told there isn't anything left for him to do, Spike starts coming up with ways to help on his own.
- Wounded Gazelle Warcry: Applejack plays the role of the Damsel in Distress in a rouse to try to release Spike of his Life Debt. As Rarity Lampshaded, her cries of distress need serious work... at least until she actually gets a hoof stuck when real timberwolves are attacking.
- You Need a Breath Mint: How Spike can tell a fake timberwolf from a real one.
- Your Size May Vary: Re-watch the scene where Spike clings to Applejack's foreleg. Normally Spike is about eye-level with a pony's cutie mark, but in this scene either Applejack is big enough or Spike is small enough for the latter to walk underneath the former.