Continued from "Shadow Play Part 1".
Written by Josh Haber & Nicole Dubuc
The Pony of Shadows cackles with glee at his freedom and Star Swirl the Bearded is too weakened to repel him. Sunburst frantically tries to find a solution in Star Swirl's journal but the Pony of Shadows destroys the journal along with the rest of the Temple of Ponehenge. With Star Swirl weakened from the sealing (as for him no time has passed) the Pony of Shadows attempts to destroy him but Twilight Sparkle pushes back his dark magic with her own. He remarks in surprise that Twilight is almost as powerful as Star Swirl. He tries again but this time Starlight Glimmer also fights back by adding her magic to the beam war. Finding that he is at a stalemate and still weakened from the sealing, the Pony of Shadows decides to retreat and teleports away.
Everypony reconvenes in the map room of Twilight's castle. Star Swirl says he recognizes the magic that powers the map (and the castle itself) and casts a spell on it, causing a projection of the Tree of Harmony to appear in place of the map. The magic that spawned the map and castle is a result of the seed of hope that the Pillars of Equestria had planted over a millennium before, prior to sealing the Pony of Shadows. This in turn means that the Elements of Harmony were originally spawned from the Pillars of Equestria's own elemental alignments; hope, strength, beauty, bravery, healing, and sorcery and over time these elements became the spirit of the land itself.
Star Swirl surmises that, despite the loss of Ponehenge, the Tree of Harmony has enough magical potential to re-seal the Pony of Shadows with the original spell, though at the cost of losing the Elements of Harmony. Star Swirl rallies the ponies to seek out the Pony of Shadows in the dark corners of Equestria but Twilight wants to find a solution that won't re-seal the Pillars of Equestria along with the Pony of Shadows. However, Starlight wishes to go one step further where they won't have to seal anyone at all, including the Pony of Shadows, but Twilight believes her method is the only way forward and works to craft an improved sealing spell.
Meanwhile, the remaining ponies travel to Manehattan only to find that the land is not nearly as dark as it once was, thanks to the advancements and spread of civilization. Returning to Twilight's castle, Star Swirl concedes that the Pony of Shadows isn't as likely to find a place to recharge as he would if he were living in his own time. Fluttershy asks Meadowbrook if they can find a solution that won't involve sealing the Pillars of Equestria, but she doesn't believe so until Twilight arrives with her own sealing spell.
Star Swirl blows off Twilight's spell, due to his lack of confidence in Twilight, following her recklessness that resulted in the release of the Pony of Shadows, but her friends come to her aid and back her up, insisting Star Swirl at least read the spell before disregarding it. Star Swirl concedes the point, but Sunburst points out that they still don't know where the Pony of Shadows is. However, he speaks too soon as the map calls all of the Mane Six to a region known as the "Hollow Shades". Once more, Starlight raises her concern that there must be a less harsh way to deal with the Pony of Shadows, but Star Swirl says that talk will not be the solution to their predicament and works with Twilight and Sunburst to improve Twilight's initial work while the rest ready themselves to battle the Pony of Shadows.
Starlight approaches the other Pillars of Equestria and asks what drove the Pony of Shadows to become as he is. Rockhoof recounts that they were first brought together by a unicorn, more a scholar than a hero, by the name of "Stygian" to combat a great evil that was blighting the land. However, jealousy drove him to steal sacred objects from the Pillars of Equestria in order to imbue himself with the powers of the Pillars, the action of which drove a rift between the Pillars and Stygian. Though they expected to mend things with Stygian, the next time they saw him he had been consumed by a shadowy presence.
Star Swirl continues to insist that the darkness that consumed Stygian has no rational mind and must be banished for the good of Equestria. Starlight counters that the map wouldn't summon the six to resolve anything except a friendship problem, questioning how this instance is any different. Star Swirl refutes the claim, causing Starlight to lose her respect for Star Swirl. As part of the improved sealing spell, the ponies visit the Tree of Harmony in order to reclaim the elements they surrendered to it.
The team travels to the Hollow Shades to confront the Pony of Shadows, who traps them inside his underground lair, the "Well of Shade", which is where Stygian originally found the power that would transform him into the Pony of Shadows via a deal he made with said power. Star Swirl accuses the Pony of Shadows of jealousy and greed, but he counters by saying the same of Star Swirl, which prompts Starlight to once again question the Pony of Shadows' motives. Star Swirl, with the help of the Elements of Harmony and their corresponding Pillars of Equestria, open the portal to Limbo to push the Pony of Shadows back inside.
Star Swirl orders Twilight (who is hesitating) to finish the job but just then, a pony emerges from inside the Pony of Shadows' black body. Twilight pursues the pony inside and finds Stygian within. Stygian explains that he only sought the Pillars' respect. Despite being the founder of the group and the tactician behind the Pillars' strategies, his lack of magical ability or physical strength caused him to be overlooked. He did not intend to steal their artifacts but rather copy them, drawing strength from his duplication and becoming able to assist them on the battlefield. But when the Pillars threw him out of the group, he came to believe that they only cared about keeping the glory all to themselves. This misunderstanding was what drove Stygian away and, in his despair, a mysterious evil force spoke to him, offering him power, and it came at the cost of corrupting his mind. Starlight, Sunburst and the rest of the Mane Six hear and listen to everything Stygian is saying, as do Star Swirl and the Pillars, who soon realize their mistake — Stygian was trying be one of them and they should've listened before he was corrupted.
Starlight joins them inside the Pony of Shadows in order to reason with Stygian that she too had corrupt magic and was vengeful towards Twilight and her friends before she changed, but he rejects it (or rather the shadows possessing him do) as the darkness will not give in. Not willing to give up, Twilight attempts to forcibly separate Stygian from the Pony of Shadows in order to save them. Together with Starlight, they try to drag Stygian out by his hooves but require more magic energy to do so. Star Swirl, finally seeing his error and now wanting to save Stygian instead of banish him, has everypony redirect their magical energy to forcing Stygian and the Pony of Shadows apart instead of pushing them both through the portal. They succeed and the shadowy energy creature gets sucked into the portal without Stygian.
The team climb out of the large hole leading to the Well of Shade and are surprised to find that they still have the Elements of Harmony, with Fluttershy suggesting that their use of the elements to save Stygian instead of doom him was the reason they didn't disappear.
Star Swirl pulls Stygian out of the hole, reconciles with him and expresses his regret for believing Stygian betrayed him and the Pillars. He also gives an apology to Twilight for not seeing the magic potential of friendship, which goes a long way toward repairing the damage Star Swirl did by treating Twilight so brusquely and angrily putting her down over the course of the adventure.
Star Swirl also is called out for dismissing and disrespecting Starlight's suggestions that there was a solution other than banishment and the map only ever calls for solving friendship problems. Star Swirl admits he owes many apologies and has the good grace to look abashed for dismissing Twilight and Starlight, insisting only on his "my way or the highway" approach.
The Mane Six's cutie marks glow, signifying a successful friendship problem solved and everypony returns to Canterlot, where Star Swirl reunites with Celestia and Luna. Princess Celestia invites Star Swirl to stay in Canterlot and resume teaching, but Star Swirl declines, wanting to explore the vastly changed Equestria before deciding where to settle down; Stygian and the Pillars also feel this way. Before they go, the rest of the ponies all join in a group hug.
Twilight herself thanks Starlight for reminding her of the Magic of Friendship when her idolization of Star Swirl blinded her to all else, and the two happily hug.
- An Aesop:
- Never assume the worst about your friends at the first sign of trouble. Listen to what they have to say and help them through their problems.
- An additional aesop is put into place here as Twilight learns not to brush off the Magic of Friendship just because somepony she looks up to sees no potential in it.
- It is commendable to have a brilliant and remarkable person as a role model, especially if it actually drives you to do great things as well. However, you should not be completely uncritical towards that person nor blindly follow everything he thinks and does. Always remember your own value and don't be afraid to trust your own judgement.
- Air Quotes: Spike makes quote marks with his claws as he comments on Starlight's misgivings.Spike: Maybe so, but the Pony of Shadows doesn't really seem like the "friendship" type.
- Amplifier Artifact: The banishment spell was cast at Ponehenge because it amplified the spell enough for it to overcome the Pony of Shadow's power. When the Pony of Shadows destroys it, the Pillars and Elements are forced to find another way.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Star Swirl is very skeptical of the Mane Six's claims to have saved Equestria from so many threats. Flash Magnus, on the other hand, believes them right away.
- The Archmage: Star Swirl is confirmed once again to be an extremely powerful wizard, indeed the greatest in pony history. Over the episode, he is seen creating a Deflector Shield (a spell that only alicorns or specially gifted unicorns like Shining Armor are known to master) and, in a flashback, open a portal to another world (something that only Discord or Tirek where ever seen doing). The Pony of Shadows thinks that Twilight, an alicorn princess with a special talent for magic, is almost as powerful as Star Swirl is. Let that sink in for a moment...
- Ask a Stupid Question...: While trying to find the Pony of Shadows:Starlight Glimmer: Twilight, are you okay?
Twilight Sparkle: I just unleashed ultimate evil and doomed Equestria because I was obsessed with meeting my idol. Why wouldn't I be okay?!
- Badass Boast: Rainbow Dash brags that the Mane Six are "used to banishing evil before breakfast."
- Beam-O-War: Twilight and The Pony of Shadows engage in one near the start of the episode when Star Swirl proves to be too drained to fight. She wins the first exchange, and the Pony of Shadows is surprised at how powerful Twilight is (stating she is almost as strong as Star Swirl), but she isn't strong enough when he tries again. Luckily Starlight adds her own beam to support Twilight and the two overpower him.
- Beyond Redemption: Star Swirl believes that the Pony of Shadows is so corrupted by evil ambitions that he can no longer be reasoned with, and that villains are beyond redemption (which hits Starlight where it hurts). He finds out the situation is more complicated than that.
- Big Bad: The Pony of Shadows continues as the big villain of the two parter, and this episode focuses on the effort of returning him to Limbo before he regains enough strength to crush Equestria's light and hope.
- Black-and-White Insanity: Star Swirl's black and white worldview is shown to be the root cause of the entire mess: he wrote off Stygian as a lost cause too early and all of Equestria nearly paid the price for it. He grows out of it.
- Black-and-White Morality: Star Swirl firmly believes in "once a villain, always a villain". He scoffs at Starlight's suggestion that Stygian could be reasoned with, stating that Stygian has gone down a path "from which there is no return".
- Break the Haughty: Star Swirl's ego takes a major hit when Starlight turns out to be right about Stygian and that this whole mess was because he and the other Pillars acted too rashly and harshly towards him, and he's notably humbler in his interactions afterwards.
- Breath Weapon: In the flashback, the Sirens at their full power are shown to use an offensive breath weapon of red energy that can vaporize rocks. Flash Magnus needs his artifact shield, Netitus, to protect himself from Aria's blast.
- Broken Pedestal: Twilight has idolized Star Swirl the Bearded for years and wanted to free him and the Pillars partly to meet him, but he is grumpy and angry with her for putting the world in danger by also freeing the Pony of Shadows. He is also distant, a bit arrogant, and dismissive of her improved spell, tossing it aside without even reading it, and doesn't seem to believe villains can be redeemed through friendship. It is reversed later as he comes to respect her knowledge and skills and is grateful for reuniting the Pillars with their friend Stygian. It is averted entirely with the rest of the Mane Six, who get along with the Pillar they represent and the legend they idolized from the start.
- The Bus Came Back: The Tree of Harmony and Elements of Harmony make their first physical appearance since "Twilight's Kingdom - Part 2"
- Call-Back: The Elements of Harmony return, and the Tree of Harmony has its origins revealed. That the Tree spawned Twilight's castle and the Cutie Map is a major plot point as well.
- The Cameo: All three Sirens appear in a flashback, using their voices to spread chaos before being defeated and banished by Star Swirl and the Pillars.
- Captain Obvious: About where to find the villain, Spike suggests "Maybe we should try there..." while pointing on the spot of the map... where all of the Mane Six cutie marks appeared and are floating. Thanks for your help, Spike.
- Children Are Innocent: This is averted during the flashback of the Sirens' attack. Foals are affected by the Dazzlings' Hate Plague just as much as the adults.
- Circling Monologue: The Pony of Shadows walks around the group of heroes under a dome of force while doing his evil rant, having done a full circle when Star Swirl responds.
- The Clan: The Apple Family, already known to be enormous and older than Ponyville, is revealed to go back even further and be more widespread than previously indicated, with a branch having set up residence in Hollow Shades and lost touch with the rest of the family over the years.
- Commonality Connection: With the exception of Twilight and Star Swirl, each of the Elements bonds pretty fast with her Pillar equivalent.
- Compelling Voice: The Sirens' singing causes an entire village to start attacking each other indiscriminately.
- Continuity Nod: A lot of dangling plot threads get tied up in this episode as well as a lot of continuity references.
- This episode indirectly confirms that Stygian is the ancestor of Shadow Lock from the comics, and The Stinger of his arc was to foreshadow the Pony of Shadows here.
- When Star Swirl concludes that the realm has been safe for all the thousand plus years that he and the other Pillars were absent, Pinkie quickly rattles off all the major battles the Mane Six fought since they came together, reading out of Twilight's friendship journal before pulling Starlight Glimmer over when referencing the Season 5 finale.
- When the Cutie Map displays all of the Mane Six's cutie marks over the Hollow Shades, they mention that it only happened once before: when they where summoned to Starlight's village.
- A more subtle nod happens in the same scene, as Rainbow Dash notes the map is like a detector of villains, before turning to Starlight and saying "No offense". This really calls back to how the Rainbooms and Princess Twilight unintentionally brought up Sunset Shimmer's evil deeds in a negative light while in presence of a reformed Sunset in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Rainbow Rocks.
- The final confrontation takes place in Hollow Shades, which has been on official maps of Equestria for years, and had only briefly been mentioned once before, in "Apple Family Reunion". Manehattan is visited and other locations — like the Ghastly Gorge — are namedropped.
- Starlight's usage of Star Swirl's time travel spell in the Season 5 finale is brought up, as is Twilight earning her wings by finishing one of Star Swirl's own spells in Season 3.
- The Sirens from the Equestria Girls series appear in a flashback that shows Star Swirl banishing them with the help of the Pillars.
- In the end, Star Swirl admits to Twilight that he never accounted for the Magic of Friendship. Princess Celestia stated that Star Swirl didn't understand friendship like Twilight does in "Magical Mystery Cure".
- Converging-Stream Weapon: The rays coming from all the Elements of Harmony converges into a single, rainbow-colored beam that first opens the portal to Limbo, and then pushes the Pony of Shadow into it.
- The Corruption:
- The shadow powers that possess Stygian appear to have some will of their own (he states the shadow called out to him and offered him power). They influence his actions toward destructive ends, and also prevent him from escaping their possession of him.
- The shadow powers' ultimate plan is apparently to spread their influence to everything and everyone in Equestria.
- And, of course, the Sirens pull this off with their Magic Music during the cameo in Star Swirl's flashback.
- Create Your Own Villain: The Pillars exile Stygian when they believe he has turned evil and is trying to steal their magic for himself. They thought he would come back one day and ask for forgiveness, but instead he turned to Dark Magic in anger/desperation and became the Pony of Shadows, possessed by a truly evil force/being.
- The Cynic: Star Swirl scoffs at the idea of saving Equestria "with a conversation", and firmly believes that there is no turning back from the path of evil. Fortunately, he starts to see things differently after Stygian is saved.
- Dark Is Evil: Fairly literally as Stygian himself isn't evil, just feeling rejected and scorned by the Pillars of Equestria — but his jealousy and rage towards them fuels the dark energy that creates the Pony of Shadows, which itself is Made of Evil. He also basically made a pact with "the shadows" that he says called out to him and offered him power.
- Deal with the Devil: Stygian bonded with the Pony of Shadows because he wanted respect. He got enough power to earn respect, but his will was completely consumed by the Shadows, and he became an agent of wanton destruction.
- Deflector Shields: Star Swirl the Bearded creates a white dome of force over the whole group when confronted with the Pony of Shadows at the start of the climax. The villain doesn't do anything about it at first, too busy gloating, but then his dark magic slams against the shield, first cracking it and then blasting it to pieces.
- Demonic Possession: The shadows burrowed into Stygian and control his actions. When the Mane Six and the Pillars try to banish him again, Stygian manages to break free just a bit from the dark forces surrounding him, and Twilight then manages to pull him out.
- Deus Exit Machina: The episode ends with Star Swirl and the Pillars departing to explore the modern Equestria because heavens forbid anything happen that the greatest unicorn wizard ever and heroes of their time could help resolve otherwise.
- Diving Save: Rockhoof returns the favor from the previous episode by diving to push Applejack out of the way of the Pony of Shadows' nasty-looking spike about to hit a standing stone.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: All Stygian wanted was the same respect the Pillars got and to assist directly in their heroics. He was the one who brought them together in the first place and he helped them win their battles with his research, but he was never noticed by anyone because he couldnt fight the threats like the Pillars could. When he tried to make copies of the artifacts to fight with them, he was kicked out of the group without even being allowed to explain himself.
- The Dung Ages: In a flashback that shows one of the Pillars' first major victories, we see at least parts of ancient Equestria were very dark and dirty.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Shadow, a mysterious, malevolent entity that has a will of its own, appears to be close to or equal in power to the Elements of Harmony, and is able to tempt and possess ponies. It also has an underground shrine dedicated to it...
- The End of the World as We Know It: The Pony of Shadows' ultimate plan seems to be this, to gain enough power to convert all of Equestria into a shadow-filled and despairing abomination like itself. It claims that once it is done, no-one in the new world will even be able to remember what Equestria was like before.
- Envy: Star Swirl incorrectly assumes this to be the reason why Stygian took the Pillars' artifacts, believing that Stygian had grown jealous of them, and was going to use the artifacts to steal the Pillars' powers for himself. While Stygian did want comparable powers, it was to fight alongside them so he could help them more actively.
- Eternal English: Despite being trapped for over a thousand years, the Pillars speak perfect (if mildly accented) English. It's implied that during the era the Pillars were sealed Old Ponish had largely been replaced by the modern Ponish language, Old Ponish mostly being a dead language beyond being used for scholarly works and such (much like Latin was in real world). This explains why Celestia's ability to read Old Ponish is rusty: she only learned it during her studies as a foal and didn't use it much otherwise.
- Evil Laugh: Each time the Pony of Shadows shows up, it's preceded by a gleeful bout of sinister laughter.
- Fantastic Light Source: No surprise here, but there is no light at all inside the Pony of Shadow, and Twilight has to light up her horn in order to locate Stygian in the darkness.
- Fighting from the Inside: In the final confrontation, the combined magic of the Elements and the Pillars' artifacts weakens the Pony of Shadows enough for Stygian to momentarily break free. This gives the heroes the opportunity to save Stygian.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: The Pillars of Old Equestria react to the bustling city of Manehattan with its bright lights and tall buildings with shock. It becomes a plot point as the Pony of Shadows is equally as subject to it, finding that dark corners of Equestria have become fewer and fewer in the intervening centuries due to development and civilization reaching further into the land than when it first emerged.
- Starlight to Star Swirl. She became terrified, bitter and eventually became a fascist from fear of losing more friends, but was eventually redeemed and became better by learning real friendship. As opposed to Star Swirl who didn't understand friendship, didn't consider understanding it important to the pursuit of magic, and treated any opportunities for more friends as distractions.
- The Pillars in general can be considered this to the Mane Six: while both are world-saving groups of heroes, the Pillars were a Dream Team of legendary heroes while the Mane Six were a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits. This doesn't have much impact on things, however, as the Mane Six are quite experienced at world saving at this point as well. What does is that the Pillars fall more on the cynical side of things and the Mane Six are more on the idealistic side of things.
- Stygian can be considered one to Starlight. Like her, Stygian was a Seventh Ranger to a group of six heroes who wanted to help them defend Equestria. However, while Starlight is a magical prodigy who ended up using her powers for evil means, Stygian had no power of his own and tried to perform a ritual to gain it, and for it was cast out and turned to evil. Their similarities become a major plot point that serve to help convince Twilight that the Pony of Shadows could be redeemed instead of just banished.
- Foreshadowing: Paying close attention to the expressions of the ponies in the flashback about the Pony of Shadows/Stygian suggests that maybe the Pillars' view of events isn't 100% correct. After all, while Flash Magnus says Stygian was "jealous", he looks more upset and doesn't sport a hostile expression until he is already possessed.
- Forgiveness: After over a millennium (though to him it hasn't been near that long), Stygian forgives Star Swirl and the Pillars for misunderstanding his actions and they forgive him for stealing from them.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: The being known as the "Pony of Shadows" was once a small unicorn named "Stygian", weak in prowess but a gifted tactical planner and researcher. His attempt to emulate his friends to help them in more ways than mere support by duplicating their mystical artifacts was misconstrued, causing a rift that drove Stygian to vengefully seek power and belonging from the evil shadow powers that would make him into the monster of myth.
- Ghost Town: The Hollow Shades sports a village, but it's entirely abandoned, and rather ominous-looking, by the time the heroes visit. Mistmane hypothesizes that the place was twisted to the Pony of Shadows' purposes.
- Good Is Not Nice: Star Swirl is revealed to be this, as he is willing to banish the Pony of Shadows to Limbo rather than consider other alternatives. He's also very grumpy and not very subtle about letting his criticisms be known. When Celestia told Twilight that "he did not understand friendship like you do", she wasn't far off the mark.
- Group Hug: The episode ends with a massive group hug between the Pillars of Equestria, joined by the Mane Six (sans Twilight, who is hugging Starlight), Stygian and Spike.
- Hate Plague: We see in a flashback the Sirens using their modus operandi of causing strife through their singing to gain power from the negative energy. It also illustrates how much their exile to another world has weakened them: in Rainbow Rocks, they cause humans to bicker and argue; in Equestria, they caused ponies to violently fight among themselves.
- Head Desk: Twilight smacks her face (rather hard) on her study table after this tirade:Twilight Sparkle: I just unleashed ultimate evil and doomed Equestria because I was obsessed with meeting my idol! Why wouldn't I be okay?! [BUMP]
- Heroic Sacrifice: Star Swirl thinks sacrifice is necessary to deal with the Pony of Shadows, given that he and the others committed one initially. Twilight manages to get a way around it (seal the Pony of Shadows but not the Pillars of Old Equestria) while Starlight thinks they can Take a Third Option.
- History Repeats: The Pillars banished the Pony of Shadows to Limbo because he turned evil and tried to take over Equestria... and after their return, they find out that somepony turning evil and trying to take over Equestria happens a lot, thanks to Pinkie Pie's Motor Mouth recap of villains the Mane Six have faced over just a few years.
- Hope Springs Eternal: Invoked and combined with Hope Sprouts Eternal by the Pillars when they infused a crystal seed (which would grow into the Tree of Harmony) with reflections of their virtues to protect Equestria in their absence.Mage Meadowbrook: We had no idea our small seed would bloom into the living spirit of the land! I am glad our mantle has passed to such capable ponies.
- During their stories in "Campfire Tales", Rockhoof, Mistmane and Flash Magnus all showed Undying Loyalty to those they cared about, but they showed none of that toward Stygian, immediately assuming the worst when he was caught with ther artifacts.
- Mistmane's actions are even moreso, considering her own story showed her helping her old friend Sable Spirit. In spite of the wicked deeds Sable had committed, Mistmane sacrificed her beauty to help her. This act of deep compassion convinced Sable to change her ways. In the present, Mistmane shows none of that compassion to Stygian, going along with Star Swirl's belief that he is irredeemable.
- Both of the above are mitigated though given that they did consider Stygian to still be their friend and believed he would return to reconcile once he had time to think on things.
- Somnambula personifies hope itself, yet even she lost hope in Stygian, believing there was no chance of redeeming him after he transformed into the Pony of Shadows.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Stygian wanted to make copies of the Pillar's artifacts so he could have the power to stand by their side in battle, and help to protect Equestia.
- Insult Friendly Fire: When Rainbow enthuses that the map summoning all of the Mane Six is like a supervillain tracker — the last time it did so being to oppose Starlight Glimmer — she says "No offense." to Starlight, who raises an eyebrow with an unamused expression.
- Intergenerational Friendship: The Mane Six befriend their respective counterparts in the Pillars of Old Equestria, all of whom are from a thousand years prior, even if Star Swirl takes time to warm up to Twilight.
- Irony: Stygian has some similarities to Spike, especially when Spike got stuck with the role of Humdrum, the unfortunate sidekick who didn't have any superpowers and could hardly do anything to help the Power Ponies. Just like Spike, Stygian didn't want to sit on the sidelines and be useless just like Humdrum was.
- I Warned You: Star Swirl disagrees with Starlight's thoughts that the Pony of Shadows can be reasoned with, claiming he was driven by envy and is beyond reasoning. When they learn that Stygian never wanted to steal the Pillars' magic, Star Swirl is shocked and Starlight just silently glances at him with an unamused look.
- Jerkass Realization: Star Swirl and the other Pillars realize that their pride was what drove Stygian to become the Pony of Shadows. Star Swirl in particular has this for his dismissive attitude towards Twilight and Starlight when it turns out they were absolutely right.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Star Swirl.
- He does not ever thank Twilight for coming up with a spell on her own to retrieve him and the Pillars from over a thousand years of exile.
- While understandably upset, he treats Twilight awfully for releasing the Pony of Shadows, and spends the majority of both episodes dismissing and berating her, despite even the Pony of Shadows saying how powerful she is. He treats her like her single mistake means she's too inexperienced and reckless to really be of help.
- He doesn't seem to even recognize she's a princess until Twilight's friends point it out.
- He has friends, but dismisses the idea that friendship can strengthen and change magic until he sees it with his own eyes.
- But, despite how rudely and disrespectfully he behaves, it is because he is genuinely afraid that the world is in grave danger, and preventing the Pony of Shadows from accomplishing his goal is his primary focus. He wants to protect Equestria and everypony in it.
- Knight Templar: Star Swirl. He genuinely wants to protect Equestria, but his gung-ho willingness to Shoot the Dog rather than attempt another, more peaceful solution is quite concerning. In fact, this is revealed to have caused the Poor Communication Kills moment that led to Stygian's Start of Darkness in the first place which finally forces Star Swirl to eat some Humble Pie and reconsider his outlook.
- Kubrick Stare: Stygian delivers one to Pillars in the flashback, standing in the castle's doorway after coming back from banishment. Then his eyes turn black...
- Light Is Good: Unlike other unicorns who have Color-Coded Wizardry with their magical auras, Star Swirl's magic manifests in pure, white light.
- Living Legend: Each of the Pillars was a legend by themselves and were remembered to this day, and now they are once again free to live their lives however they choose, free from Limbo after over a thousand years.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: This is probably the biggest pony team ever assembled in Friendship Is Magic. The Mane Six and the Pillars of Equestria — combined with Starlight, Sunburst, and Spike — make a total of fifteen characters fighting for the side of good. Then these characters are joined by Stygian, Celestia, and Luna in the final scene, making eighteen main characters together in the same scene.
- Loyal Phlebotinum: Star Swirl reminds us that the Elements of Harmony are attuned to the Mane Six (something that Celestia had already stated before). It doesn't change a thing that he and the Pillars were the ones to plant the seed that grew into the Tree of Harmony. Even if Star Swirl's sorcery can affect the Tree itself thanks to his familiarity with the magic it contains, the Elements still need to be worn by the Mane Six for their power to be called upon.
- Magic A Is Magic A: The Cutie Map calls the Mane Six to Hollow Shades, which everyone presumes is directing them to the Pony of Shadows to protect Equestria. However, Starlight makes the point to Spike that the map has only ever called on the group for "friendship problems", not just villains to be defeated. This makes her suspect there's more going on than is apparent, prompting her to learn the Pony of Shadow's origins and revealing that yes, this does indeed count as a "friendship problem".
- Meaningful Name: Stygian. Aside from being a reference to the mythical River Styx, "stygian" is also used metaphorically to mean "very, very dark."
- Mind-Control Eyes: During the Pillars' flashback, the eyes of the Sirens' victims turn a sickly green when affected by their Mind-Control Music.
- Morton's Fork: Either the Pillars and Mane Six try to find a way to stop the Pony of Shadows but risk being too late and dooming the land to darkness, or seal him away again by sacrificing their most powerful weapon in the Elements of Harmony. Luckily, they Take a Third Option by using the Elements to heal Stygian and free him from the darkness, sealing just the Shadow away, all while retaining the Elements.
- My God, What Have I Done?: All the Pillars when they realize they were wrong about Stygian. He didnt want to steal their magic; he wanted to make copies of their artifacts so he could fight alongside them and share the glory. They exiled him without listening to him, and when he returned possessed by shadow he seemed beyond reasoning with.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
- Star Swirl and the other Pillars all assumed Stygian stole their artifacts to steal their powers for himself and banished him without listening to him. He really just wanted to make himself strong to stand by his friends and be noticed like them, and feeling betrayed he turned evil for real (or rather was possessed by something evil).
- Further, Star Swirl, in his arrogance, seems to have Banishment as his go-to spell when he encounters overwhelming, malevolent evil. All this does is make the evil somepony else's problem. Because of this, the Sirens ended up on the Equestria Girls world and tried to take over there (admittedly only because of something he could not have foreseen, Sunset Shimmer bringing an Element of Harmony to that world).
- No-Nonsense Nemesis: When he escapes from Limbo, the Pony of Shadows wastes no time making sure a new banishment isn't possible, by destroying Star Swirl's journal as well as the standing stones of Ponehenge. Then he attacks Star Swirl with clear intent to kill. It's only because of his weakened state that he's thwarted by Twilight and Starlight, and opts to flee to regain power first before a new confrontation.
- Not Helping Your Case: While the Pillars were wrong to jump to conclusions about Stygian's motives, the fact that he stole their artifacts of power and planned to use them for an ominous-looking spell without explaining why he's doing it did him no favors when they confronted him.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: For Star Swirl and the other Pillars at least; now that they are back, they have to deal with the fact that the Equestria that they knew is gone.
- "Not So Different" Remark: Starlight Glimmer invokes this with Stygian, pointing out that she was once a villain, and Twilight helped her, encouraging him to let Twilight do the same for him.
- Oh, Crap!: All the Pillars are shocked when they realize they were wrong about Stygian. He didn't want to steal their magic; he wanted to make copies of their artifacts so he could fight alongside them and share the glory. But they exiled him without listening to him, and when he returned possessed by shadow he seemed beyond reasoning with.
- Only Sane Man: As in the previous episode, Starlight is the only one who doubts the course of action her friends are taking, believing that simply banishing Stygian isn't the way to go. It takes until the final clash for Twilight to realize that Starlight is right in there being a better way. In short, she's the only one still advocating for friendship.
- Pillar of Light: A rainbow-colored pillar of light rises from the Well of Shade when the Pony of Shadows is defeated, piercing the clouds above.
- Poor Communication Kills: Star Swirl, the other Pillars, and Stygian were all sealed in Limbo for over a thousand years—all because Stygian didn't tell the others that he was feeling excluded, and Star Swirl didn't bother hearing Stygian's side of the story before assuming he'd gone evil. Of course, the shadow force that possessed Stygian being truly evil muddled things, as before this the Pillars hoped Stygian would return to reconcile, but before this they also still apparently refused to listen to his reasons for the theft (or he refused to give them). Also, Stygian stealing their artifacts instead of him simply explaining what he was planning and asking if he could borrow them for his spell did not help his case.
- Power Floats: Activating the magic of the Elements of Harmony, as usual, makes everypony involved float.
- The Power of Friendship: At first Star Swirl does not believe it can apply to the situation they are in, thinking that the only solution is to banish the Pony of Shadows. However, upon learning that the Pony of Shadows only exists because of the rejection felt by Stygian, he has a change of heart and comes to understand its magical potential.
- Powers via Possession: Stygian's deal with the dark forces that empowered him has apparently amounted to letting them enter him and surround him, giving him power but influencing his actions to dark ends.
- Pride: Star Swirl's (and by extension the rest of the Pillars') Fatal Flaw, as it was pride that clouded their judgement on Stygian's actions.
- Redemption Rejection: Stygian attempts one but Twilight won't let it end that easily. Albeit it seems it is the shadow powers possessing Stygian that are rejecting her, Twilight knows Stygian himself wants to be freed but he isn't able to do it on his own.
- My Little Pony: FIENDship Is Magic said that the Sirens were defeated by Star Swirl alone, after he challenged them to a Battle of the Bands. Here, the Pillars of Old Equestria defeat them as a unit by fighting and distracting them to trick them into entering the portal Star Swirl created.
- The Journal of the Two Sisters had the Tree of Harmony present along with Star Swirl. Here, the Tree had not yet grown when Star Swirl was sealed away.
- Sealed Evil in a Can:
- There's some implication that the entity Stygian fused with was in some way contained in the Well of Shade, as it seemed to require him finding it and becoming its host to cause trouble.
- After Stygian is removed from it, the Pony of Shadows is sealed back into Limbo.
- Secret Legacy: The Tree of Harmony was planted by the Pillars of Equestria pooling their magic in the virtues they championed to protect Equestria. The Elements of Harmony are direct reflections of the virtues they contributed, now attuned to the Mane Six; Hope, Beauty, Healing, Strength, Bravery and Sorcery respectively became Laughter, Generosity, Kindness, Honesty, Loyalty and Magic. What the Pillars planted grew to become the spirit of Equestria itself, and more powerful than they ever expected.
- Series Continuity Error:
- The reveal that Star Swirl and the Pillars planted what they learn grew into the Tree of Harmony before their disappearance creates one with "Princess Twilight Sparkle", where Celestia and Luna knew about the Tree and its properties despite the only ones who would even knew about its existence disappearing before they had a chance to tell anyone.
- It's stated this is the first time the Cutie Map has summoned all the Mane Six for a friendship problem since Starlight's village. But the Equestria Girls special "Mirror Magic" had all the Mane Six "called away to solve a friendship problem" when Starlight was referred to as "Twilight's student", implying it's before she graduated prior to this episode. This could be Starlight's studenthood being past tense or someone other than the Map sending them off, but it lacks the context to verify and no-one but the Map had sent them to solve friendship problems. Unlike other contradictions with the Expanded Universe where where the show overwrites it, Equestria Girls was confirmed this episode by Continuity Nod and Word of God to be of equal canon status.
- Shipping Fuel: While all the Pillars get along fine with their corresponding Element bearer (Star Swirl and Twilight being the exception), Rainbow and Flash Magnus become particularly friendly; he repeatedly compliments her bravery and heroism, the two share mugs of cider, and have a smug hoofbump as Rainbow Dash boasts about how good they are at beating villains.
- Shoot the Dog: Star Swirl's assumption of Stygian doing something evil ended up leading the Pony of Shadows to take control of him and turn him evil, and he is all too willing to simply banish Stygian rather than try to reason with him. Once Star Swirl finds out what Stygian was really doing, he realizes he went right into this trope without thinking.
- Stygian refers to the river Styx in Greek mythology, fitting with the theme of mythological ponies in the episode.
- One of the ponies in the village attacked by the Sirens is a hunchback, and slams a bell around another smaller pony, making him a nod to Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the book, not the Disney film).
- Star Swirl's viewpoint of "once a villain, always a villain" mirrors Agent Olympia's Arc Words from Odd Squad, word for word.
- Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: The cynical perspective on Stygian and the Pony of Shadows by the Pillars is a large reason for the crisis happening to begin with. Ultimately, it's the more idealistic perspective the modern Bearers have that saves the day without anyone having to be sacrificed.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Star Swirl has a very black-and-white view of the world, believing Stygian to be a lost cause once he became the Pony of Shadows. Twilight, normally more idealistic in approach, starts to adopt some of Star Swirl's thinking due to her guilt over freeing the Pony of Shadows, and Starlight has to try to convince her that Stygian is worth trying to save. Twilight is conflicted about what to do, but what clinches it is when Twilight sees that Stygian still exists inside the Pony of Shadows.
- Start of Darkness: Stygian was never noticed by anyone despite his contributions to the Pillars, and his friends cast him out of the group when they misunderstood his actions and didn't let him explain himself. So he turned to Dark Magic in anger/desperation for revenge.Stygian: The darkness welcomed me when nopony would! And I will do what I must to protect it!
- Stone Wall: Compared to villains of mass destructive power like Tirek, The Pony of Shadows' offensive powers aren't anything to write home about (at least while weakened by his long imprisonment). However, he's still such a tough nut to crack that even the Elements of Harmony take a while to finish him off.
- The Strategist: Stygian was the one who brought the Pillars together because he knew the world needed heroes like them, and he did research on all their enemies and came up with tactics to beat them.
- Suddenly Voiced: Rockhoof and Somnambula didn't have any dialogue in their debut episodes, but do here.
- Superior Successor:
- The Pillars of Old Equestria are revealed to be the Precursor Heroes to the Mane Six. Twilight manages to figure out a spell capable of locking away the Pony of Shadows without sacrificing the Pillars to do so, something Star Swirl couldn't accomplish, and it's shown the Mane Six do not give up as easily on anypony as the Pillars did, which is a pivotal reason that Stygian is saved rather than banished back to Limbo this time around.
- Celestia can be viewed as this to them as well: unlike them, she never gave up on Luna after she fell to darkness while they instantly gave up on Stygian once he became the Pony of Shadows.
- The Symbiote: The entity Stygian merged with is one because it bonds with its host and gives them incredible power, but also seems to influence them negatively. At least the first time around it seemed to require someone to find and merge with it to cause any trouble, though the second time it is sealed in Limbo before what happens when it lacks a host can be seen.
- Temple of Doom: The "Well of Shade" is an ancient temple buried beneath the ghost town of Hollow Shades, and is where Stygian made a pact with a dark entity to become the Pony of Shadows.
- That Man Is Dead: The Pony of Shadows was once a regular unicorn named Stygian, who was friends with the Pillars. Star Swirl says that he gave up that name once he became the Pony of Shadows. Stygian himself states that "he once was" the pony named Stygian. Luckily the Pillars and Mane Six are able to save Stygian and banish the shadow that was controlling him.
- Then Let Me Be Evil: The Pillars of Equestria assumed Stygian had gone power-hungry and evil, and drove him away. So Stygian turned to Dark Magic for real, because the powers of darkness at least accepted him and offered him what he sought, though he likely didn't realize the other effects taking the offer would have.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The Pony of Shadows takes refuge in the forgotten town of Hollow Shades which is connected to his history and existence in some way.
- Unexplained Recovery: The banishment spell, without Ponehenge, would apparently have depleted the Elements of Harmony to the point that even they would be permanently drained. Then after Twilight rescues Stygian and the darkness is banished, the Elements are fine, which is even lampshaded. The best guess in the episode is Fluttershy positing that they used the spell for healing rather than banishment which would not have upheld the tenets of friendship on which the Elements are built.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Stygian was the one who brought the Pillars together, and served as The Strategist and researcher for the team. This didn't stop them from immediately presuming the worst when they discovered him with their artifacts, and casting him out. They even came to believe the whole reason he brought them together in the first place was just so he could steal their power.
- The Un-Smile: Twilight gives one when bemoaning the fact that she messed up, just before the Head Desk.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: None of the citizens of Manehattan even seem to notice that several legends are walking down the street in plain view. This could be considered a running gag: after all, they did not seem to notice Princess Twilight on her first visit there, either. Alternatively, they might just think that the Pillars are wearing costumes of some kind.
- Vocal Evolution: Mistmane's voice has become old and scratchy unlike her young and pleasant tone to match her new, very aged form after sacrificing her beauty.
- Weakened by the Light: It's implied the Pony of Shadows is at least stronger in the shadows, since he takes refuge in the "dark places" of Equestria and uses them to regain his strength.
- "What Now?" Ending: How will Star Swirl and the Pillars of Old Equestria be able to live now with the knowledge that the world they used to be a part of more than 1,000 years ago is simply gone and replaced by many things that are completely unfamiliar to them? For Star Swirl at least it means going on a long journey to learn about the Equestria of the present. The others express they want to see what has become of their homes.
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Starlight calls Twilight out for listening to Star Swirl rather than her, and more to the point going against the principles Twilight taught her about seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when possible. Twilight is visibly conflicted about this.Starlight Glimmer: I guess I'm lucky your "idol" wasn't around when you decided to be my friend. I might've been banished to Limbo, too.
- The Mane Six call out Star Swirl on being too stuck in his ways to listen to Twilight and being too harsh on her. This prompts the other Pillars to encourage him to listen.
- Starlight calls Twilight out for listening to Star Swirl rather than her, and more to the point going against the principles Twilight taught her about seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when possible. Twilight is visibly conflicted about this.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The insensitivity and ignorance of the Pillars towards Stygian played a crucial role in creating the Pony of Shadows since he felt betrayed and unwanted by those who he wanted to believe were his friends, causing him to easily become tempted by the darkness and fall into it. Stygian's already present low self esteem didn't help either, as it presumably is what kept him from explaining himself and what convinced him the Pillars no longer cared about him.
- Worf Had the Flu: The Pony of Shadows is implied to be severely weakened by his long imprisonment just like the Pillars, hence why he loses the Beam-O-War. It's unclear whether or not he'd regained his full strength by the end of the episode, though he does manage to resist the Elements surprisingly well.
- Worldbuilding: Hollow Shades, a remote town that was abandoned for reasons unknown, and has an altar to an evil shadow creature, is introduced.
- Would Hurt a Child: In their appearance via flashback, the Sirens have zero qualms about putting foals under their Hate Plague along with adults, resulting in both hurting one another.
- Wrong Genre Savvy:
- Star Swirl states that the Pony of Shadows cannot be reasoned with or convinced to stop and that Stygian turned evil simply because he was jealous of the Pillars, going so far as to say "once a villain, always a villain". Note that he says this to Starlight Glimmer, a reformed villain, and the Mane Six have reformed many previous villains. If that wasn't enough, Pinkie actually told him about Starlight's previous attempt to re-write the timeline and saw how close she is with the Mane Six, yet he still kept believing villains couldn't reform.
- When the Cutie Map calls the Mane Six to Hollow Shades, they all correctly assume that's where The Pony of Shadows is, but because the only other time the map ever called them all together was to Starlight's village, when she was still a villain, they assume it is calling them to stop the Pony of Shadows. Starlight points out the map only ever calls on others to solve friendship problems, which included her village.
- Wronski Feint: Somnanbula pulls this on the Dazzlings in the flashback. By circling around the Sirens, she annoys them enough that all three give chase to her. Thus Somnanbula leads them toward the interdimensional portal that Star Swirl just opened, and swerves at the last moment by flying up. The Sirens, bigger and less agile than a pegasus, can't stop in time and fly straight through the portal.