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Recap / My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic S4 E3 "Castle Mane-ia"

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"What is a man?" "I don't know. Keep researching."

Applejack: Do you think there's a single room in this castle that isn't filled with terrifying things?

Written by Josh Haber

Twilight Sparkle has combed through every last book in Ponyville, looking for any information she can find on the mysterious chest from the Tree of Harmony and the keys to unlock it. Before she runs out of ideas, Spike belches up a letter from Princess Celestia directing her to the ancient ruins of her and Luna's former castle in the Everfree Forest to look for a book that could help with her research. Spike would much rather stay out of the creepy castle, but Twilight is so excited to be reading in the princesses' old library that she pays no heed to the spooky surroundings.

Meanwhile, Applejack and Rainbow Dash's latest dare competition has come down to a tie. After their scorekeeper Pinkie Pie leaves to test Ponyville's new school bell for the week, Applejack comes up with a tiebreaker challenge — in the ancient castle. Applejack tells Rainbow Dash an old pony's tale: before Nightmare Moon was banished, a bit of her dark magic was left behind to haunt the castle halls at night as... the Pony of Shadows! The two decide that the one who can stay in the castle the longest without being scared away by the dark presence will be the winner.

As this goes down, Rarity brings Fluttershy and Angel to help her collect and restore some old tapestries from — you guessed it — the ancient castle. While fidgeting behind a giant drape, Fluttershy stumbles upon a rotating wall and winds up in front of Applejack and Rainbow Dash just as a long, cloaked shadow looms over the pair, scaring them deep into the castle halls with her muffled cries. The wall spins back around and Fluttershy and Rarity reunite, only to fall straight down a trapdoor accidentally tripped by Angel.

As the two frightened pairs continue stumbling into secret doors and hallways, Angel finds Twilight and Spike reading in the library, startling Spike into activating another hidden passage. They find a room housing the book from Celestia's letter: her old journal. Twilight dives nosefirst into the book, eager to know what secrets it may hold. One of these secrets is a trick pipe organ, which the ponies begin to hear being played by a mysterious cloaked figure. With each key pressed, the figure activates even more traps that Applejack and Rarity fall into, separating the girls.

Scared out of their wits, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash all back into each other while trying to get out of the castle, which sends them into a panic. Their clamoring alerts a nearby Twilight, who manages to calm them down by freezing them in place with a spell. Suddenly, the girls hear the ominous sound of the pipe organ and follow it to find what they think is the Pony of Shadows. Since Twilight has read up on all the castle's secrets from Celestia's journal, however, she is unafraid of the hooded figure and uncloaks it to reveal...Pinkie Pie?!

It turns out that after Pinkie finished ringing the school bell (with her head), she went into the Everfree Forest to pick some flowers for a party, only to spot her friends going into the ancient castle for a "party" of their own, so she decided to help by playing some music. Twilight admits that while she couldn't find anything about the chest, she's glad to have helped her friends. Inspired by Celestia's journal, the girls decide to keep a journal of their own so they can keep track of what they've learned. They then laugh off the tale of the Pony of Shadows into the night, never once noticing the eerie, glowing-eyed shadow looming outside the room...


  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The hallway Applejack and Rainbow Dash run through is three-dimensional.
  • An Aesop:
    • The girls learn to never let their imaginations get the better of them.
    • They also discover that if they learn from the past, they can more easily solve their problems in the present.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • As the organ triggers various secret passages, Applejack is swapped for a statue, Rarity is tossed outside by Luna's throne, and a bowl of carrots pops up in front of Angel.
    • Later, when the girls are all separated, they all scream at terrifying things: Rainbow Dash at the scary suit of armor Applejack is swapped with; Applejack at a dragon statue on an outdoor ledge; Fluttershy at suddenly being alone; and Rarity at the bit of tapestry she accidentally ripped off.
  • Big Word Shout: Twilight shouts "Stop!" as her friends are aimlessly panicking about nothing, punctuated by a spell that freezes them all in place.
  • Black Comedy Burst: In the scene where the ponies are panicking, Fluttershy sees what she thinks is Angel getting crushed by a falling pillar when it's clearly just a couple of rocks and leaves, and hastily tries lifting the pillar before Applejack jumps on top of it and flattens "Angel" some more.
  • Blatant Lies: Applejack and Rainbow Dash repeatedly deny being scared right after running away screaming from what they think is the Pony of Shadows.
  • Booby Trap: They were installed so the Princesses could play around with each other.
  • Bookcase Passage: Celestia and Luna's old castle has a lot of these. All three groups (Twilight and Spike, Fluttershy and Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash) stumble across or fall victim to them.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: Briefly, when Rarity is in the dark.
  • Call-Back:
    • This episode picks up right where the previous episode left off, kicking off with Twilight looking for information about the chest with the six locks.
    • Applejack and Rainbow Dash still have their rivalry from "Fall Weather Friends".
  • Cardboard Prison: The "cell" that Rarity and Fluttershy land in after falling through the trap, since the means to open the cell can be easily gotten at though the hoof-hole in the wall. Assuming you think to stick your leg through whatever hole in the wall you see. Judging from the hash marks scratched into the wall next to the hole, at least one previous occupant was a bit slow to catch on. Justified, as the various traps were made by the sisters as games, not as actual means of imprisoning people.
  • Carry the One: Pinkie carries the two when calculating AJ's and Dash's score. Not that the paper she scribbles on shows anything meaningful...
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: When Twilight casts a spell which freezes the other ponies, they are left with the ability to move their eyes and talk.
  • The Chew Toy: While very little happens to Twilight, Spike seems to take the brunt of the various scares around their pairing scenes, being scared by the castle's surrounding, being scared by Angel, getting hit on the head by debris, and being launched by a floor plate at the very end while no one, save AJ, bats an eye.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The old altar for the Elements of Harmony first shown in the pilot can be seen as Rarity and Fluttershy approach the castle, and again in the background when Applejack and Rainbow Dash come in.
    • And before that, they cross the bridge that Rainbow Dash raised.
    • Rarity and Fluttershy walk past the staircase leading to the Tree of Harmony.
    • When trying to scare Rainbow Dash, Applejack does the save hoof waving and scary noises as Rarity did to her from "Look Before You Sleep".
    • The portrait with the moving eye is the same one from "MMMystery on the Friendship Express".
    • The throne room is the same one shown in the previous two episodes, with the same damage that Luna/Nightmare Moon caused to it (blown-out window, crushed wall, etc).
    • Angel is still apparently on good terms with Spike, given what happened the last time they saw each other.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The ponies (either alone or in pairs) all decide to visit the old castle for different reasons at the same time. Becomes a mass of coincidences once all the ponies are in the castle, for example Rarity reaching through the hole to accidentally grab Rainbow Dash.
  • Cutaway Gag: Pinkie says she can't imagine why her testing of the school's new bell was cut short. We immediately cut to show exactly why.
  • Description Cut: Fluttershy worries than Angel might be trapped somewhere without food or water. Cut to Angel eating bowls of carrots and drinking from a fancy goblet while Twilight reads the Princesses' diary.
  • Determinator: No booby trap or scary scenery can stop Rarity from getting those tapestries.
  • Dramatic Irony: See Black Comedy Burst above; the audience knows full well Angel's fine and saw the rocks form to look like him.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A frequent occurrence once the ponies enter the ancient castle.
  • Durable Deathtrap: Despite being the site of a violent battle prior to a thousand years of neglect, all the traps and secret passages still work. Subverted with the deathtrap part though; they're not meant to hurt anyone. Presumably they're there in the first place because of Celestia's proclivity for pranks.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The Pony of Shadows seems to be Real After All.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit:
    • The viewer is shown the reason for all the spooky events that occur to the ponies, typically preceding the scare scene with a scene showing how another pony triggered it such as Fluttershy getting caught in the banner when the wall turns, resulting in Applejack and Rainbow Dash believing they are seeing a ghost). The Princesses' diary about the castle even shows how the organ played into many of the traps in the castle.
    • Even the identity of the fake Pony of Shadows is fairly obvious, not only for the complete lack of Pinkie through the bulk of the episode, but by the color of the eyes from the Portrait Painting Peephole.
  • False Reassurance: When Spike is scared by the noises coming from the castle, Twilight assures him that it's just the castle falling apart from a thousand years of neglect. Ironically, when he and Twilight hear the others screaming outside the room they're in, Spike repeats what she had told him, only for her to brush it off as sarcasm.
  • Fantastic Light Source: Rarity uses her unicorn magic to put a glow on the tip of her horn to light up a darkened room.
  • Feather Fingers: Sort of. Rainbow Dash covers her face with her wings, but spreads her pinion feathers, evoking the image of peeking through her fingers.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • When Rarity and Fluttershy are trapped in the pit, there's a series of marks in the wall like somepony else was checking off the time they were trapped in there...
    • While Rarity is appreciating the sun and moon banners you can see that the moon banner is mostly intact whereas the sun one is clearly damaged. Luna tried to make a point, perhaps? Or foreshadowing that the Pony of Shadows is more than just an old mare's tale?
  • Furry Reminder: A very subtle one. Equines triggered into a state of fear and panic become uncontrollably filled with adrenaline, and hardly cognizant of anything they're about to run into. This behavior gets exploited for comedic effect especially with Applejack and Rainbow Dash crashing around the old castle and/or each other.
  • Haunted Castle:
    • The ponies believe Celestia and Luna's old castle to be haunted by the Pony of Shadows. It's not... or is it?
    • Gong by the excerpt that Twilight read from the Journal of the Two Sisters, most of the castle was deliberately built as a carnival funhouse, with all the trappings of a typical Haunted House.
    Princess Celestia (recited by Twilight Sparkle): Though the Hall of Hooves still gives her a bit of a fright, the trap door slide is Luna's favorite!"
  • The Heartless: The Pony of Shadows is supposedly born of a small fraction of Nightmare Moon's dark essence.
  • Here We Go Again!: Applejack and Rainbow Dash come to the castle as a tiebreaker for their dare challenge. After the whole Shadow Pony fiasco, Pinkie points out they're still tied, and their competitive spark returns.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Spike dismissing shadow ponies as being ridiculous when he was nearly killed by King Sombra last season.
    • Twilight chastises Spike for his perceived sarcasm, even though she is often quite sarcastic herself.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Rarity near the episode's end. It starts as the large tapestry she and Fluttershy tried to move earlier falls from the wall and onto her, and when Twilight, Spike, and Angel come into the main hall to see the others panicking she's sitting underneath it, bawling.
  • Instant Expert: Pinkie Pie and the organ. Because... Pinkie.
    Pinkie Pie: Hey you guys, did you know I could totally play the organ? Because I didn't!
  • Literary Allusion Title: To the video game series, Castlevania, in that the oft-repeating antagonist was Dracula, the Lord of Shadows. Also, Twilight's Freeze spell is almost similar to St. Germain's Time Stop magic from Castlevania: Curse of Darkness or the abilities of Chronomage from Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Zephyr from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, but without time actually stopping.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only the mane six, Spike, Angel, a beekeeper pony and the Pony of Shadow appear in this episode.
  • Missed Him by That Much: The ponies nearly run into each other at various points. It's only near the end of the episode that they find each other.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Celestia and Luna (mostly Luna) designed their castle with disembodied pony legs holding torches, scary pony armor, trap doors every which way, and an Ominous Pipe Organ for no apparent reason other than they thought it was fun.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Pony of Shadows apparently is Real After All, but we don't see much of it save for a shadow with glowing yellow eyes.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The Pony of Shadows is shown to be playing one. Certain keys on the pipe organ appear to control the openings of the secret passage ways. After Pinkie is revealed to have been the Pony of Shadows, she starts playing a more cheerful tune, and the organ itself curiously changes tone to a decidedly-less-ominous electric organ.
  • The Paralyzer: Twilight Sparkle uses her telekinesis to this effect, freezing all her panicking friends in place while allowing their eyes and mouths to move.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: The eye of a painting follows Rainbow Dash and Applejack as they run through the hallway.
  • Real After All: The Pony of Shadows does seem to exist, not that the girls ever get to know that...
  • Red Herring: Star Spider Season. The spiders just add to the spooky environment of the castle. Their prominence and the mention of it being their season have nothing to do with the plot of the episode, and they're never mentioned again after the opening scenes.
  • The Reveal: The cloaked pony following everypony else and trapping them is actually Pinkie. At least, they think it is...
  • Scare Dare: The whole reason Applejack and Rainbow Dash are in the castle is so they can prove which one of them is the most daring pony.
  • Scenery Gorn: This episode gives the first good look at the ruined Castle of the Two Sisters since the premiere, and it lends to some pretty incredible set pieces.
  • Scooby Stack: The ponies peering at Pinkie Pie the Pony of Shadows playing the organ.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Applejack and Rainbow Dash let out high-pitched shrieks when they first lay eyes on the Pony of Shadows, distinct from their usual deep and raspy screams, respectively.
  • Security Cling: Everypony clings to Twilight when they hear the Ominous Pipe Organ after regrouping.
    • Also occurs earlier when A.J and Rainbow hear the organ and cling to each other before running off. At another point, Rainbow assumes A.J is doing this to her only to be terrified to realise it's a ghostly white hoof...that's actually Rarity's...
  • Shaped Like Itself: "Retro-ancient classical will be all the rage next season."
  • Shout-Out:
  • Snarky Inanimate Object: The castle apparently has feelings as it drops a piece of stone on Rarity when she badmouths it.
  • Spiders Are Scary: While the star spiders found crawling all over the ruined castle don't do any harm to anyone, Spike finds them intimidating and is very unnerved at the thought of having to be close to them.
  • Staring Contest: Rainbow Dash and Applejack are seen having one. While covered in bees.
  • Stock Sound Effects: When Rainbow Dash flees in panic when the four bump back into each other, she ricochets around the main hall with sounds of a pinball machine in the background.
  • Synchronized Swarming: No geometric shapes nor letters, but, when the beekeeper retrieves his bees, they follow him as a single airborne blob instead of scattering.
  • Take That, Scrappy!: In-Universe Example: When Fluttershy worries that Angel has been crushed by a pile of rocks, Applejack starts jumping on said pile.
  • Tempting Fate: Rarity says "we must use the utmost care—" and then she and Fluttershy fall into a hole.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Twilight and Spike get the short end in this episode, just hanging out in one room while the others get up to fun antics.
  • The Unreveal: The episode ends with no information found on the crystal chest.
  • Vertigo Effect: Done on Applejack and Rainbow Dash when they think they see a ghost in the tapestry.


Video Example(s):


The Bee Stare

Rainbow Dash and Applejack stare down each other while covered in bees.

How well does it match the trope?

4.1 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / StaringContest

Media sources: