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Series / The Waltons

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A popular Family Drama that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1981, The Waltons is about the life and trials of the eponymous family in The '30s and The '40s.

The Waltons are a large family who run a saw mill on Walton's Mountain in rural Virginia, and the series depicts their grinding struggle to make ends meet during The Great Depression, and later World War II. As initial lead character (and adult narrator) John-Boy Walton noted, they didn't have much money, but they had a lot of love and fortitude to keep the whole brood going through thick and thin.

The remarkable thing is that this series debuted on CBS right in the middle of that network's notorious Rural Purge, the period from 1968 through 1973 in which shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres were cancelled en masse for not appealing to desirable audience demographics. Instead of dying a quick death against The Mod Squad and The Flip Wilson Show as it was expected to do, The Waltons soon killed them and went on for a successful nine-year run. Some have called it the lone survivor of the Rural Purge although the show began during it. The show and its cast also picked up several Emmy Awards and a Peabody.


Series creator Earl Hamner Jr. based the show on his own childhood experiences, which he had previously mined for the 1961 novel Spencer's Mountain (itself adapted as a 1963 film starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara). Prior to the actual series, CBS aired a Made-for-TV Movie in 1971 called The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which featured Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton, Andrew Duggan as John Walton Sr., and Edgar Bergen as Grandpa; these roles would be re-cast for the series (and the movie hadn't been intended as a pilot; a series was only proposed after the favorable critical and audience reaction to the movie). A few Made-for-TV Movie reunions brought the cast back together after the series ended and followed the characters into the postwar years, such as the 1993 Thanksgiving movie which centers around the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


This was the first series to come from Lorimar Productions, which went on to produce such popular shows as Eight is Enough, Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, and half of ABC's TGIF lineup.

The Waltons includes examples of the following tropes:

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  • The '30s: The first few seasons of the show covered the Depression era and the years the Walton family was forced to pinch pennies to make a living.
  • The '40s: The later seasons took place during this period, as the Walton children transitioned to adulthood and World War II became a reality.
  • Aborted Arc:
    • When Jenny Pendleton appears in "The Thanksgiving Story," she mentions that she'll be going to the same college as John-Boy next year, which suggests she was probably planned to appear in Season 3 (when John-Boy starts college) but she's never seen again. Probably just another case of a crush that didn't work out in the long term for John-Boy.note 
    • The third-season episode "The First Day" introduces an aborted setting in the form of Boatwright College. Although John-Boy still continues to go to this college, none of the myriad characters introduced in this episode (which include potential friends, enemies, and favorite professors) ever appear again.
  • Absentee Actor: Grandma, after coming home from her stroke, was not seen or mentioned in some episodes.
  • Adaptation Expansion: There is a lot more that happens in The Waltons than in the novel Spencer's Mountain.
  • Adult Fear: Because of the realistic nature of the show, the parents and grandparents naturally go through a fair bit of this whenever anything happens to any of the children.
    • A good example is the early-season episode "The Thanksgiving Story," in which John-Boy has to have surgery to remove a blood clot pressing on his eyes; the risk of him going blind or dying as a result of both the condition and the surgery is very real. John's anguish in particular is palpable.
    • Two of John and Olivia's children died at birth prior to the beginning of the show, and she miscarries another one during the course of the series.
    • Zebulon and Esther lost their other son in World War One.
    • Mary Ellen's infant son John Curtis gets kidnapped in the two-part episode "The Grandchild."
    • Ben's daughter Virginia accidentally drowns.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Zig-zagged in "The Secret." Jim-Bob goes through a fair bit of angst, because a few of his siblings have put it into his head that he's adopted. As the episode progresses, his angst increases because he keeps stumbling across hints that this might be true. Finally, John-Boy takes him to the county courthouse to read his birth record, which proves that Jim-Bob really is a Walton... and that he had a twin brother, Joseph, who died at birth. Learning that he's the surviving twin actually quells his angst rather than creates it, since now he knows the truth.
  • Animated Adaptation: Not officially, but in 1974 Hanna-Barbera created an Expy called These Are the Days, about the early-20th-century Day family (who might as well have been called Walton).
  • Anyone Can Die: After the war starts, this sort of happens. One main and two recurring are killed.
    • Four seasons after his first heart attack and running himself ragged waiting for his wife Esther to come home from the hospital, Zebulon Walton has a second heart attack climbing up the mountain to plant flowers. He is implied to have died instantly and by himself, and was found keeled over dead up there. Even though he and Esther had plans to be buried together, rather than go to the difficult and heartwrenching task of carting him down to the burial plot, the family found it more fitting to bury him up on the mountain, because he loved it so much.
    • G. W. Haines proposes to Erin, but she turns him down, so he ends up joining the Army to cope with the rejection. In a cruel twist of fate, when Erin begins to reciprocate his feelings, World War II has completely sucked him into the Army, and he ends up taking part in a routine training exercise where the men practice throwing dummy grenades. Unfortunately, it just so happened that someone decided they were ready for live ammo, and a wayward bunny bounded too close to the testing site as G. W. wound up to throw an active grenade. His kindness toward the bunny caused him to redirect his grenade, but cost him the time he should have used to chuck it far enough away that it wouldn't blow up in his face, which it did, and G. W. became Walton's Mountain's first casualty of World War II. Instead of seeing their son off to the army with high hopes, they would see his casket off to the grave. Worst of all, he wrote a posthumous letter to Erin telling her that he really loved her, which was enough to make her run out into the field outside his grieving parents' house and bawl her eyes out in the arms of her father.
    • Widow Flossie Brimmer dies under similar circumstances as Zebulon around the same time, joining her late husband in paradise. Her boarding house was boarded up until another recurring character, Zulieka Dunbar, took it over.
    • Virginia, Ben and Cindy's young daughter, suffers a terrible death by drowning. One of the subplots of the Thanksgiving reunion movie is about whether or not they might adopt a child, since they found themselves unable to conceive again.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Elizabeth says in one episode that she does not believe in ghosts, even though she attracted a poltergeist in the previous season.
  • Author Appeal: This is based on Earl Hamner's real life childhood.
  • Author Existence Failure: An In-Universe example with the woman who wrote Jessica, Girl Spy, Elizabeth's favorite book. She passed away while working on the sequel. John-Boy meets her mother while in New York, and the mother gives him a page from the unfinished sequel in her daughter's own handwriting as a gift for Elizabeth.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Ike and Corabeth have several scenes like this. She gives him a hard time about some things, and he gets frustrated with her high-minded ideas, but theirs really is a happy marriage and it shows.
  • Bar Brawl: John-Boy and John get into one in one episode. Ben and Jason also end up caught up in a lot of these, because Ben has a Hair-Trigger Temper that detonates when his pride gets insulted, and Jason actually works at a bar to make ends meet and is witness and bouncer to many drunken disputes.
    • Jason got into a brawl personally when he got flak for signing up to be a conscientious objector in front of a very loose-lipped recruiter who didn't have the sense to talk to him in private about how people got blasted as cowards for this, thinking it would have been enough to talk him out of it right from the front desk.
    • He also gets into a personal fight, and gets badly hurt, in "The Career Girl." He arrives to pick up Erin from her new job as a truck stop waitress, only to find a trucker attempting to grab his sister, who is terrified by the encounter. Jason doesn't hesitate to throw the first punch, but he comes out the worse for it, with a broken wrist and a swollen black eye.
  • Barefoot Loon: Cassie, who appears in "The Grandchild", is a shoeless hill person and a mother-to-be who takes the stillbirth of her child very badly. She begins acting really off, believes a curse has fallen on her and expectant Mary Ellen, chants a Madness Mantra so potent that Mary Ellen freaks out and runs off into a raging thunderstorm in hysterics, stalks Mary Ellen until she gives birth, then snatches her baby without warning and finally holes herself up in a rotting cabin in the woods, having 'borrowed' newborn John Curtis Willard to play pretend mother. Bizarrely, there is absolutely zero malice behind her actions.
  • Barefoot Poverty: A few of the hill folk went around barefoot in the later seasons, including a recurring patient of Mary Ellen's who lost some her children to sickness. The Walton children seem like this in the earlier seasons, but it's actually a case of Does Not Like Shoes.
    • Mary Ellen dumbfounds a snooty rich girl, who comes to the mountain in "The Spoilers," by tromping into her house barefoot straight from school. The girl grabs a pair of spare dress shoes from her own collection and eagerly slams them on her dresser as if pitying the fact she had no shoes, and then gifts them to her along with a fancy ballroom dress and turban. When Mary Ellen gets home that day, she turns some heads, both in good ways and bad.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: After Bob is given a shivaree in "The Shivaree", he's so angry about being kidnapped against his will (which the locals think is all in good fun) that he shouts, "I WANNA KILL!" Come next season in "The Loss," we learn he got killed instead when he hurried out onto an open road in the pitch dark back home to his wife after getting off work and a passing car ran him down.
  • Beach Episode: In "The Seashore," the Waltons have to look after the Baldwins' beach house for a while. It even resurrects their old tendency to go barefoot for a while, given that the setting is appropriate for such.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Olivia and her mother-in-law Esther have a relationship like this. While John and his father occasionally butt heads, it's much rarer for the two women to be at all combative; they share tasks and confide in each other. Grandma usually addresses her daughter-in-law by the Affectionate Nickname of "Livvy."
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • John Walton may be the iconic loving father, but do not think you can take advantage of him. One drifter makes this mistake when bunking with the family and tries to steal some money before making his escape; the next thing he knows, he's staring down a shotgun wielded by John, who is quite adamant that the thief put back the money and explain himself.
    • Zeb is even scarier than his son in this respect. As soon as he hears that his kinfolk are being threatened off their property by a highway developer, he takes up a gun and is ready to fight to death if need be!
    • John-Boy is no pushover when facing bad guys, either. He once forces a young girl con artist to confess her crimes in front of the family, and later single-handedly beats up both of the boys who had jumped him earlier in the episode. In another episode, he gets into a fight which almost turns deadly when the son of Olivia's cousin Cora comes onto Mary Ellen way too forcefully; the boy grabs a pitchfork and seems ready to stab John-Boy, who nevertheless does not back down.
      • In an early episode, John takes John-Boy out on his first real father-son hunt to christen him, but John-Boy gets cold feet at the idea of killing creatures for sport. As for self-defense, that line is crossed between fight or flight, and John-Boy makes a stand when a wounded bear on its last legs stumbles upon John during a later outing. It was desperate to survive to the point that it was attacking anything in its way, and had been foreshadowed the whole episode. As soon as John encounters it, the bear gets the drop on him. It nearly kills him, but John-Boy empties his shotgun into the bear and fells it, and he later brags about his first kill for years to come because he saved his father's life!
    • This is especially the case with Jason, who goes into World War II as a conscientious objector, but ended up having to deal with actual combat. That said, he still keeps enough kindness to spare a German soldier after the war officially ends. There's also Ben, who is taken prisoner of war and raises hell at the Japanese POW camp.
  • Big Brother Instinct: In "The Big Brother," John-Boy talks about how he feels this for everybody. Many episodes prove it, as he has several opportunities to help, protect, and defend his younger brothers and sisters.
  • Big Brother Worship:
    • Jason towards John-Boy in the early seasons. Jason often idolizes John-Boy, wanting to be just like him.
    • Elizabeth also shows elements of this toward John-Boy, particularly after he moves to New York City; she attempts to become a writer just like him, and even wears his old glasses whenever she's writing.
    • When Ben asks John about his brother Ben (for whom son Ben is named), John recalls that this was his feeling toward his older brother.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Used thematically with Calico in "The Loss." Calico is a very pregnant stray cat that Elizabeth discovered wandering onto the property, but is far too old to give birth without killing herself in the process. This is not helped by the fact that Walton cousin Olivia, previously introduced in "The Shivaree," has just lost her husband to a tragic accident and has gone temporarily mad as a result.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Several episodes end this way. Most of the time it's because the Waltons can't get involved with people - either because those characters have to move on while they have to stay put, or the Waltons themselves have to move on while those people want them to stay put at their own expense.
    • In "The Achievement," John-Boy leaves to become a writer, fulfilling his dream, but leaving his family.
    • "Grandma Comes Home" is this in hindsight, since it was the final appearance of Will Geer as Zebulon; both in real life and within the show, he died shortly afterward.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Jim-Bob. Seriously, he'd be a renowned genius if he tried. His achievements include being able to repair virtually any mechanical item, building his own car from pieces he finds, building his own shortwave radio which he uses to talk to people in the UK, and building his own airplane!
  • Call-Back: In the very first episode Mary Ellen has a bird's nest for the Christmas tree, and that same nest is seen again in "Day of Infamy."
  • Captain's Log: John-Boy's memoirs.
  • Cartwright Curse: Many of the guys in whom Erin shows interest end up dead not long after; or if they survive, they turn out to be of poor character. Even when she gets married, she discovers that her husband already has an infamous reputation and he ends up being unfaithful... so she has her marriage annulled, only to run into another unfaithful suitor who was already in the process of cheating on his own spouse to avoid an unhappy marriage. Sadly, she shot herself in the foot with the one person who truly loved her (G. W. Haines) by rejecting his marriage proposal because she had already gone through the pain of a previous proposal falling through the cracks, which made him join the Army when it was too much to bear and ultimately led him to get killed in a training accident - right about the time that their relationship actually took off and she realized the feelings between them were genuine.
    • Ashley Longworth Jr. consistently tried to court Erin, but he rejected religion and also pulled a Dear Joan letter on her. Ironically, it backfired on him when his lover suddenly died (perhaps as karmic punishment for spurning Erin and for the heathen lifestyle he had chosen) and he was on the receiving end of the curse instead of Erin.
    • Jim-Bob also has notoriously bad luck with girls, and is the least church-going man in the family next to John. Eventually, he just embraces his bachelorhood, lets himself go, and becomes a rotund mechanic.
  • The Cast Show Off:
    • Will Geer had a Master's Degree in Botany from the University of Chicago, and worked as a professional botanist after being blacklisted in 1950. Grandpa's knowledge of plants makes a lot more sense now...
    • Jon Walmsley's musical talents were often showcased on the series. In addition to doing all of Jason's singing and playing, he wrote some of the original songs himself.
  • Catchphrase: A few characters have some.
    • Esther often says "Good Lord!" and, in later episodes of the series, "Oh boy..." note 
    • Zebulon usually says "awomen" after grace has been said, rather than "amen".
    • Jim-Bob sometimes peppers his sentences with the word "swell", usually as a snide retort.
    • Corabeth's habit of calling Ike "Mr. Godsey", as well as breaking into Gratuitous French to sound classier (usually only making herself look prissy).
    • Nearly every episode ends with everyone saying "Good night [insert name]!"
  • Celebrity Paradox: The family were occasionally seen listening to their favorite radio shows, including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy... after Bergen appeared in the pilot movie as Grandpa!
  • Character Development: Both Olivia and Esther became much less strict and more easygoing as the series went on.
  • Characterization Marches On: The slightly snobbish, judgmental side of Corabeth is not present in her early appearances. When she first comes to Walton's Mountain, Corabeth is a very timid and withdrawn woman who has lived a sheltered life, and is forced to come out of it now that her mother has died. She even cries to Olivia that as much as she wants to marry Ike, she's terrified. After they marry, she gains a sense of confidence, and subsequently changes. Her inner desires slowly begin to emerge as she becomes constantly fed up with the unappetizing and sometimes boorish nature of country life, and she explodes into a needy trend-keeper with a love of fine culture.
  • Christmas Episode: Several, not counting the Pilot Movie.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Godseys' adopted daughter Aimee during season 7. She is last seen dealing with Corabeth's alcoholism, and then suddenly the show acted as if she never existed for the rest of the season. Most notably in the episode when her father Ike has a heart attack, she's never shown or mentioned once during the episode - even when Ike tells John who would get what in his will in case he died.
    • It was later mentioned that at some point, Corabeth enrolled Aimee in private school, so she was actually Put on a Bus; she gets mentioned in the season 9 episode in which her parents nearly split up. She does, however, come back for the Easter post-series special, having finished private school. She also makes a brief reappearance near the end of the Thanksgiving reunion movie in 1963, in which it was revealed she had eloped with a Marine and that Corabeth disapproved of the match (unlike Ike, who liked the guy), which may have somewhat accounted for her lack of mention. Aimee tended to be rebellious and follow the daring trends instead of the prim and proper ones, so naturally, it strained their relationship. However, when Aimee comes back bearing a grandchild, Corabeth's iced-up heart thaws.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Elizabeth acts a bit like one of these about Jim-Bob in "The Silver Wings," when he spends a lot of time with an older married woman with whom he's infatuated. Her objection to the fact that the woman is married is understandable, but she comes off as mostly being resentful that her brother prefers someone else's company to hers. Somewhat justified by the fact that Jim-Bob and Elizabeth are the two youngest siblings and have always been close.
  • Clip Show: A Decade of the Waltons, a movie-length 1980 special introduced by an onscreen Earl Hamner, Jr.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Miss Emily Baldwin has shades of this, putting her less nutty sister Mamie in the role of Cloud Cuckoolanders Minder. (Miss Mamie is goofy in her own right, but not as much as Emily.)
  • Composite Character: Ben was actually based on two of Earl Hamner's brothers, compressed into one person.
  • Cousin Oliver: Olivia's cousin Rose and her young grandchildren Serena and Jeffrey joined the cast in the final seasons. Rose filled in for Esther after Ellen Corby left the show and Jeffrey and Serena took on the cute kid roles now that Elizabeth and Jim-Bob were both teenagers. When they proved to be unpopular additions, their roles swiftly and quietly vanished.
  • Creator Cameo: In addition to serving as the narrator at the beginning and end of each episode, series creator Earl Hamner Jr. appears as a minor character in "The Journey."
  • Cringe Comedy: Some of the pranks played on John-Boy in "The First Day" could be called this. For example, somebody tells him he needs to deliver a goat to a specific room and he goes there very eagerly, unaware that he's taking it to the room of Professor Gote, a man who does not appreciate jokes about his name...
  • Dead Guy Junior: Ben was named after John's brother Ben, who died in World War I.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Curt Willard is one of these. Jim-Bob and Elizabeth also fall into this category when they become teenagers and develop attitudes.
  • December–December Romance: Thanks in part to John-Boy, Olivia's elderly Uncle Cody marries Cordelia, a Walton neighbor.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Both John and John-Boy smoke pipes in early episodes. John eventually kicks the habit because he stopped enjoying it. John-Boy, even though he's old enough to smoke, always does so in private - until he has a horrific experience in "The Burn-Out," when the Walton house catches fire and he believes his pipe was the cause (though it's implied Zeb's unattended space heater was the true culprit). Feeling guilty, he resolves to never smoke again.
  • Doorstop Kid: The first episode has a young deaf girl who was unable to communicate left on the Waltons' doorstep by her mother to prevent the father (who mistook her for mentally disabled) from sending her to an orphanage. One of the earliest examples of a clip show.
  • Does Not Like Shoes:
    • Absolutely all of the Walton children preferred to go barefoot around the mountain when they were young and the weather allowed, and also go barefoot to school, as did some of their friends, like Marcia Woolery. When Olivia jokes in "The Boy From the C.C.C." about using a $50 bill to buy them all shoes for the winter so they wouldn't be running around barefooted, the kids whine and moan at the thought of wearing shoes. This was especially true of Mary Ellen, who at that point was a full-blown tomboy who loved being barefoot (and who rather thoughtlessly propped her dirty feet on the table while her mother was churning butter in "The Star," only to have Olivia push them off again), and Jim-Bob, who groaned, "Shoes?! ...SHOES...!" Their father replied, "It's mighty cold." Season 4's "The Burn-Out" seemed to be the last episode where they did this, because the house caught fire and some of the children reentered the damaged house barefooted due to fleeing at night and came to realize this was unsuitable for them anymore. Jim-Bob even has mismatched shoes with him due to throwing out some clothes at random in the dark. After remarking "I could go barefoot," Olivia tells him it's much too cold for that, and basically vetoes the idea. Come season 5, the show underwent Cerebus Syndrome, which only worsened when Esther was hospitalized, and the kids could no longer afford to enjoy barefoot and carefree lives. All of them had to pitch in with work, and all of them dropped the habit completely because their society was creeping into World War II and it marked their loss of innocence. A few of them already had dropped this habit by then, because they had taken on jobs and educational responsibilities. Each time a Walton child permanently shoes their feet, you can take it as a mark of their maturity and their shift from child to young adult.
    • Taken Up to Eleven in "The Stray" with the introduction of Josh. He preferred to be totally barefoot at all times, and for that reason, had no shoes at all. His presence in the story was revealed when because of this choice, he got his foot mangled from stepping on a fishhook and left a nasty blood trail, exposing him as a stowaway on the Walton's property. Even when Olivia donated some old shoes to him, Josh kept going barefoot, defending his reason for keeping them off as "My feet aren't free." It wasn't until he went to meet Verdie Foster (who then adopted him as Josh Foster) that he was convinced to start using his new shoes.
    • John-Boy suggests to Bob in "The Shivaree", a City Mouse who keeps obsessively shining his Nice Shoes, that he should try going barefoot because it's fun. Bob scoffs at this. True to form, he gets shivareed just before his marriage and ends up stumbling through the woods in his pajamas with bare feet.
    • Humorously in Season 7's "The Outsider", Cindy (Ben's brand new wife) turns out to be an aversion to this trope, as she notes she wants a throw rug for the floor by the bed so she doesn't have to feel the cold wood floor under her bare feet when she gets out of bed. This only serves to differentiate her from the other Waltons further.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: In "Firestorm", this is the main cause of conflict for John-Boy's story: he publishes parts of Mein Kampf in his newspaper. Everyone is outraged, mistaking him for supporting Hitler, whom they hate for burning the Bible. As he points out several times and chews into the community for at the climax, that's the exact opposite of what he wants: he just wants them to know what Hitler is thinking and thus understand how dangerous he actually is.
  • Due to the Dead: In one episode honoring members of the community who died in World War I, Ben carves a handsome bench to serve as a memorial to the four young men from the county who were killed and buried overseas, including John's older brother Ben.
  • Every Episode Ending: The family members all telling one another good night. There are a few exceptions. These include "The Marathon", where the ending takes place in the morning and Elizabeth wishes John-Boy a "good morning"; "The Long Night", where the ending extends to Zeb outside Esther's hospital window; and both "The Medal" and "The Indiscretion," where the good night takes place at the Godsey home because the plots of both center around the strength of Ike and Corabeth's marriage.
    • Most episodes will end with the Waltons turning off the lights in their house as they go to bed, but a lot of the time John-Boy will keep his light on as he stays up writing or studying. However, sometimes the lights of the house will come on instead when something stirs the family back to life - be it arguing, all getting in the mood for ice cream, a crying John Curtis, or the stunning announcement that John-Boy's love interest Janet said yes to his marriage proposal (or rather, that he accepted hers) in the Thanksgiving reunion movie.
    • It gets a Dark Reprise at the end of the season 9 opener, which features the Waltons standing outside their house in the night instead of going to sleep. They're listening to the sound of a train going over the nearby trestle... the funeral procession for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had just signed a pardon for their friend Harvey Foster - one of the last things he did before he succumbed to polio. They, along with practically everyone else in the state of Virginia, had arisen that night to pay last respects to their fallen leader as his casket crossed the nation.
    • Memetic Mutation: This ending became so iconic that as late as 2010, it was still bring parodied in commercials.
  • Expy: The addition of pretentious and gossipy cousin Corabeth as Ike's new wife seemed to serve no other purpose than to make her and Ike the Walton's Mountain versions of Harriet and Nels Oleson of Little House on the Prairie (which had premiered a year before Corabeth's introduction). The show's producers saw this and tried to avoid making her tyrannical like Harriet, and rationalized her behavior as a pained desire to enjoy the finer things in life and high society while stuck in the humdrum boonies.
    • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Thankfully, while snobbish, Corabeth is never portrayed as being spiteful; she frequently really does mean well, and is not above apologizing when she realizes that her behavior is wrong. Also, unlike Harriet Oleson, Corabeth is often shown to learn from her mistakes instead of suffering Aesop Amnesia.
  • Family Drama: One of the pioneers of the genre, portraying a big and generally warm-hearted family as the most important installment of life over possessions and notoriety, facing a lot of hardship. The Waltons as a model American family became so iconic that Norman Rockwell painted them.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Averted with John Walton; in the pilot movie, his Christmas present to John-Boy is writing material, and he says that while he might not understand his son's dream of being a writer as opposed to being a laborer, he expects his son to apply himself with real diligence to succeed. He likewise encourages his younger children to pursue their dreams, even if they don't seem necessarily realistic.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ben and Elizabeth both have their moments, as does Olivia, who was originally a redhead whose hair faded in season 2 to a straw color.
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin: In the Season 5 episode "The Achievement," there are clips of the pilot movie, and all the clips of the adult characters were refilmed with the new actors.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: The adults: John (The Realist), Olivia (The Apathetic), Zeb (The Optimist), and Esther (The Cynic).
    • Among the sons and son-in-law: John-Boy (the Realist), Jason (the Conflicted), Ben (the Optimist), Jim-Bob (the Apathetic), and Curt (the Cynic).
    • The daughters and daughter-in-law as well: Mary Ellen (the Realist), Erin (the Cynic), Elizabeth (the Optimist), and Cindy (the Conflicted).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The adults: John (phlegmatic), Olivia (melancholic), Zebulon (sanguine), and Esther (choleric).
    • The sons and son-in-law: John-Boy (choleric), Jason (phlegmatic), Ben (sanguine), and Jim-Bob (melancholic), and Curt (leukine).
    • The daughters and daughter-in-law: Mary Ellen (choleric), Erin (melancholic), Elizabeth (sanguine), and Cindy (phlegmatic).
    • The Godseys: Corabeth (melancholic/choleric) and Ike (phlegmatic/sanguine).
    • The Baldwin sisters: Emily (melancholic/phlegmatic) and Mamie (sanguine).
  • Frozen in Time: Very much averted. The series advanced from 1933 to 1945, while the last reunion movie was set in 1969.

  • Gender-Blender Name:
    • Michael Learned (Olivia) was billed in the credits as "Miss Michael Learned" for the first five seasons in order to avoid confusion.
    • There was also Sian Barbara Allen, who played John-Boy's girlfriend Jenny Pendleton. Her first name is pronounced "shawn" - she was named after her father.
  • Gentle Giant: Jason is one of the tallest characters, and probably the most gentle and tenderhearted of all.
  • Gilligan Cut: "I wouldn't marry you, Curtis Willard, if you were the last man on Earth!" Cue the wedding.
  • The Great Depression: The first three seasons of the show take place in the midst of the Great Depression, but by season 4 it begins to come to an end.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Several examples of this. Grandma, John-Boy, Mary Ellen, Ben, and Erin display it often; occasionally John, Curt, and Elizabeth do as well. Grandpa and Olivia have their moments as well.
  • Halloween Episode:
    • Season 2's "The Ghost Story" when John-Boy and Jason use the Ouija board.
    • Season 5 has two. "The Nightwalker" revolves around an unknown person wandering the mountain at night, while "The Ferris Wheel" centers around Elizabeth's recurring nightmares of being trapped on a Ferris wheel.
    • Season 7's "The Changeling" has Elizabeth harassed by a poltergeist on the cusp of her 13th birthday.
  • Happily Adopted: Aimee Godsey - well, usually. It was initially not a happy adoption, as the Godseys have a hard time helping her adjust to family life after years in the orphanage; it doesn't help when she finds out that they initially planned to adopt a baby boy. However, once she settles in, there are a number of episodes which indicate that she really does love her adoptive parents, and they really do love her.
  • Happily Married: The show is a big fan of this one: Grandma Esther and Grandpa Zeb, John Sr. and Olivia, most of the kids eventually, Rev. Fordwick and Rosemary, Ike and Corabeth, Sheriff Bridges and Sara. Even when they have arguments, they rarely erupt into anything big except for a few times in the later seasons.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Almost every episode is titled "The [X]." The first set of reunion movies all have "Walton's Mountain" in the titles, while the second set of movies are all titled "A Walton [X]."
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Large Ham:
    • The episode which introduces John Ritter as Rev. Fordwick paints him this way, especially when practicing his sermons in the Waltons' backyard. "REPAAAAAYNT, YE SINNERS!" He does get better as the show goes on, though he still retains much of his intensity.
    • Zeb is the life of the party and a perpetual joker, often annoying his wife.
    • John-Boy slips into this when he has a victory shout of "YAAAAAHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Implied in a few episodes for the Godseys. It's particularly noticeable in the second half of "The Burn-Out," when the Walton children are staying with various neighbors while the house is restored; Ike and Corabeth are taking care of Elizabeth, and they plead with Olivia to let her stay with them for a bit longer because they so enjoy having a child with them. They eventually adopt daughter Aimee from an orphanage because they're never able to have a child of their own.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In "The Threshold," Elizabeth talks to John-Boy about what he'd call a TV show he'd make about the family, and he says it'd be called The Waltons.
  • Little Miss Con Artist: Muffin Maloney, in "The Big Brother," is twelve years old and just as sweet and innocent as she can be - except that she's really a crook who swindles people. She and her grandfather are a con duo, and she spends the episode trying to rip off enough people for the money to pay his bail. By the time she's caught, she's enjoyed the Waltons' hospitality for several days and tricked Ike and the Baldwins into giving her money as well. Worse, she ends up being a Karma Houdini thanks to Jim-Bob, who has a crush on her and is easily duped into helping her escape.
  • Long-Runners: Nine seasons and six post-series specials, and this for a series not expected to last one.
  • Look Both Ways: Both Bob Hill (married to cousin Olivia) and Boone Walton (the son of Zeb's brother) make the mistake of walking onto unlit sections of highway roads in the middle of the night as shortcuts instead of taking streets like normal, reasonable people should, and both are summarily killed by oncoming cars. The former was as stubborn as they come and a thoughtless person by nature who did things his way or the highway, and the highway did him one in return. The latter is an even worse case, as the narrator tells us that he was 85 years old, and implied to be possibly drunk at the time, as he was found with two full helpings of moonshine; this was a man who once survived a flood that took away his wife and child. At least they're back together now...

  • The Main Characters Do Everything: John-Boy. You start to realize how small and under-educated the population of Walton's Mountain is when they rely on a teenage boy to take on every prestigious task you can imagine.
  • Manly Tears: Almost nothing makes John Walton cry. The only thing that evokes real tears from him is seeing his oldest son lost in a coma with very little evidence that he was recovering.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: John-Boy is the oldest of seven living children. Had all of Olivia's pregnancies been successful, he would have been the oldest of ten.
  • Meaningful Name: After Olivia's final pregnancy ends in a miscarriage ("The Cradle"), Elizabeth suggests that they posthumously name the baby Joy, because she had been so excited at the prospect of having a baby sister.
  • Mismatched Eyes: In "The Reunion," the Baldwin sisters organize a massive reunion for their family, and Miss Emily (once again) talks about distant cousin Ashley Longworth, whom she had wanted to marry. Miss Mamie recalls that he had "the most marvelous eyes - one blue, one green."
  • Missing Mom/Disappeared Dad: We never see Olivia's parents on the show. Her maiden name is given as Daly, and there's an indication in at least one episode that they disapproved of her marrying John Walton, but otherwise nothing about them is known and they are never seen or mentioned.
  • Multigenerational Household: There's Zeb and Esther, their son John, his children, and eventually the children's children.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: No pun intended, but in season 5's "The Firestorm," the anti-German Rev. Fordwick, in response to Hitler burning the Holy Bible (a passage in Revelation warns of punishment to all those who seek to destroy the Bible), plans on burning Mein Kampf and any other German literature he can get his hands on in protest. John-boy stands up to the group, trying to get them to see how wrong it is; he spots one black book in the pile and picks it up. Mrs. Brimmer (whose late husband was German) comes forward to read the German words and translate them into English. Rev. Fordwick and those assembled are nearly in tears as they realized she's reading the Holy Bible.note 
  • No Ending: Season 9's final episode "The Revel" was not written as a final episode for the show, nor was the final special A Walton Easter; and so, sadly, The Waltons does not have a proper ending. Keep in mind, though, that the show is based on real life, and life goes on, so we can assume it's not necessarily meant to have one.
  • Not What It Looks Like: "The Ceremony" is full of this, as various accidents and unintended incidents cause the newly-arrived German family to live in fear every day... because they're Jews who have just fled Germany in the face of the rising Nazis, and they're paranoid of having it happen again.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Series creator Earl Hamner, Jr., as the voice of the older John-Boy Walton. In the finale of Season 7, he notably gives a very touching monologue that almost seems like he's setting the stage for the show to end, but it doesn't.
  • Once an Episode: The "good night" sequence. Played with, as it wasn't always the Waltons who bid each other goodnight; occasionally it was other people, who were central to the episode in question.
  • One Steve Limit: A Truth in Television aversion, as this was a time when people often used the names of their parentage as components of their children's names.
    • John-Boy's real name is John Walton, Jr., but he affectionately goes by John-Boy to differentiate himself from his father, sometimes getting laughed at for his nickname by the snooty.
    • There are two Bens, two Esthers, and two Sarahs.
    • Mary Ellen's second name is Esther's middle name, Erin has Esther for her middle name, and John Curtis is named after his father Curtis and grandfather John.
    • Jim-Bob's twin Joseph, who died at birth, had the middle name of Zebulon.
    • Olivia has a cousin named Cora, who appears in one early episode, and later we meet Corabeth, who is John's cousin.
    • There is also a second Olivia, a cousin who comes from a very unfortunate side of the family that is pockmarked with death. (She's introduced in "The Shivaree.")
  • Opposites Attract: Several examples of this. Easygoing joker Zeb married rigid, strict Esther. Hot-headed, workaholic Ben married sweet, quiet Cindy. While not as obvious as Zeb and Esther or Ben and Cindy, John and Olivia are also different.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Zeb and Esther outlived their son Ben, who was killed in battle several years earlier.
    • John and Olivia outlive three of their ten children, though two died prior to the show.
    • Ben and Cindy outlive their daughter Virginia.
  • Paranormal Episode: Of all shows, this one had an episode about one of the kids being haunted by a poltergeist. It was The '70s, after all.
    • A Day For Thanks On Walton's Mountain provides a subplot with a downplayed example. Zeb's spirit is allegedly seen by his great-grandchildren and implied to be watching over the family.
  • Pilot Movie: As noted above, The Homecoming wasn't technically one of these, but its critical and ratings success did pave the way for the series that followed.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: "The Ferris Wheel" centers around Elizabeth's recurring nightmares of being trapped on a Ferris wheel.
  • Posthumous Character:
    • Ben Walton, John's older brother, was killed in action in France during World War I and reported buried there (likely in a mass grave). He is only mentioned in passing, but his family eventually erects a memorial for him on the mountain in lieu of having a burial site to visit.
    • Judge Baldwin, the long-dead father of the Baldwin ladies. His portrait hangs on their fireplace mantle wall, and they constantly praise their papa for being their father, but the man sounds like a terror in the flesh; he was bent on keeping his daughters single, lived 20 years after a stroke in a half-vegetated state, and Ashley Longworth was his own personal Berserk Button. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to hear about their mother, considering how little she gets talked about compared to him.
    • Jim-Bob was actually a twin; his identical brother, Joe, died at birth. This is first revealed in the Season 4 episode "The Secret" and thereafter referenced in at least one other episode. It's also revealed in the Season 2 episode "The Prize" that there was another Walton daughter, Anne, born before Jim-Bob; like Joe, she died at birth.
  • Practically Different Generations: Olivia gets pregnant and loses the baby in season 2. Had the child lived, she would have been 18 or 19 years younger than her oldest sibling John-Boy.
  • Present-Day Past: In the episode "The Silver Wings", Jim-Bob meets an attractive older woman who looks and dresses like a woman from the 1970s. From her nearly Farrah-like hair to her too-skimpy-for-the-1940s wardrobe (which seems to consist mainly of bathing suit tops), she looks like something straight out of Three's Company rather than Walton's Mountain.
  • Promoted to Opening Credits: The show's earliest seasons only credit the integral Walton elders at the beginning of episodes, but ironically, the setup flipped after John-Boy stopped being center stage midway through and the younger Walton children took over; starting with season 7, they were given opening credit billing instead of the end credits. In season 9, Joe Conley and Ronnie Claire Edwards (Ike and Corabeth Godsey) get this treatment, having become breakout characters and filling the space that the Walton adults had left behind.
  • Put on a Bus: In the second to last episode of Season 6, John-Boy literally leaves on a bus (though he had already been 'put on a bus' a season before when he moved to New York), but the season still followed his exploits in The Big Apple. The Bus Came Back in Season 8, but with a new actor until the fourth reunion movie, when Richard Thomas reprised the role.
    • Esther, in a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, was out of the story for the latter half of Season 5 all the way to the tail end of Season 6 because Ellen Corby had a very debilitating stroke. Although she came back for Season 7, she was Commuting on a Bus because Corby's health was precarious and her stroke had rendered her nearly incapable of speaking, and by Season 8, she was reduced to a single guest appearance at the end of the season and did not come back until the reunion movies, all of which feature her. This is explained, quite sensibly, as Grandma moving in with Mary Ellen - who, being a nurse, is in the best position to care for her.
    • Olivia contracts tuberculosis and has to leave for a sanatorium midway through Season 8. She comes back for the first half of Season 9 and is back for the reunion movies.
    • John follows Olivia midway through season 9 when her tuberculosis relapses and he needs to be with her in the hospital to comfort her for the long term.
    • Aimee is sent to private school sometime offscreen in Season 7, but comes back in the second reunion movie.
  • Rage Breaking Point:
    • Jason in season 4's "The Breakdown." After becoming irritated with being compared to his older brother John-Boy, working his job, and keeping up on schoolwork, he can't take it anymore. One afternoon when he and John-Boy are driving home from school, Jason begins shouting at his brother in the car. He soon apologizes.
    • While John-Boy is being cared for during his coma and the doctors see his son as a liability because he's just taking up space, John explodes.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: This is the reason behind Esther's stroke and Zebulon's death.
  • Reality Ensues: Jim-Bob desperately wants to be a pilot in the Air Corps and even goes as far as to get a tattoo of the Air Corps insignia (which, to this day, he regrets). Unfortunately, bad eyesight runs in the Walton family, with Esther, John, and John-Boy all needing reading glasses. To Jim-Bob's great dismay, a vision screening reveals that his eyesight is poor and he will never be able to qualify to fly for them; his dream is killed half-grown. This sort of soul-crushing thing happens to a multitude of people who try to fly in the military only to learn their vision, the single most crucial aspect of the screen, doesn't cut the mustard.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: John Walton may be the undisputed head of the household, but it's hard to find a father more understanding under such difficult circumstances. He is even shown to change his mind on unpopular decisions, and will admit when he's made an error, especially to Olivia and John-Boy. He's also wise enough to recognize when to let his wife or children handle their own problems, such as when Olivia's art teacher is attracted to her, and serves as a sounding board instead of rushing to act for them. As mentioned above, he doesn't pretend to understand his children's dreams, but he expects them to apply themselves to make them come true.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Near the end of season 2, the Waltons' prized milk cow, Chance, gets sick and dies of old age. By the next season, John has purchased a new milk cow, whom they also name Chance. (Could be regarded as an in-universe joke, as this cow is their second Chance.)
    • Somewhat the case regarding Jeffrey's relationship with the family hound Reckless. Although Reckless wasn't actually his dog, he loved her like she was his. By the time he met her, though, she was an old dog who had given birth to a single pup fathered by Tiger, Yancy Tucker's dog (which, being the only pup of the litter, he claimed for himself as owner of the sire while remarking that Reckless went for quality over quantity). Unfortunately, as Jeffrey bonded with Reckless on a walk through the woods, Reckless's time came and she went to the big doghouse in the sky, breaking Jeffrey's heart. A few episodes later, Jeffrey met a half-German war refugee/POW who gifted him with a puppy. Since it was Christmastime, Jeffrey named the puppy Nick after St. Nick. Jeffrey then forgot to let Nick out to do his business and the puppy widdled in his bed.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: Jerry Goldsmith scored The Homecoming: A Christmas Story and he returned when it became a series (he did six episodes in the first season), so you'd think the producers would have retained his quiet, rustic theme music. You'd be wrong:
    "They thought [the original] was too gentle. Today, I would have argued with them. I like the theme for The Homecoming better. It was certainly more authentic."
  • Retcon:
    • In The Homecoming, Olivia finds out about John-Boy's writing when he is fifteen years old, but in a Season 8 episode she mentions knowing about him and his writing when he was a little boy.
    • In "The Fox," Grandma reveals to Olivia and John-Boy that she was pregnant with John when Grandpa was away fighting in the Spanish-American War, but didn't tell him before he left because she didn't want him to feel trapped by fatherhood. Later episodes indicate that John is their second child, and that his brother Ben (the one killed in World War I) was older.
  • Reunion Show: Several reunion movies aired in the '80s and '90s.
  • Romancing the Widow:
    • This is how Harvey Foster (himself a widower) ends up with Verdie Grant.
    • As noted under December–December Romance, Olivia's elderly Uncle Cody romances and marries neighbor Cordelia, who has had four prior husbands.
    • One of Esther's old beaus comes to visit her after Zeb passes on, having gone through a stroke like she did and outlived his wife Betty.
    • Olivia's cousin Rose Burton outlived her husband Burt, a train conductor on the Northwestern line. However, she had a beau prior to him named Stanley Perkins, who was a traveling salesman and a dancer. Eventually, he comes back into her life and tries once more to win her heart, but she declines him. The second time, he's ready to give up if Rose turns him down again; Rose considers saying yes, but she discovers her heart is too weak for them to go traveling like he has always done. But The Power of Love conquers all, and Stanley doesn't care if he can't travel anymore, so they get married.
  • Running Gag:
    • In the early seasons, Mary Ellen was a raging tomboy who was always getting into trouble, and Olivia's go-to punishment was to make her go read ten Bible verses until she memorized them. The other children were not exempt to this punishment, either, and any backtalk would net them more verses on top of the first volley.
      • This gets a rather funny Call-Back in one Christmastime episode, where the children go to church to watch presents being distributed. Olivia forbids them to accept any gifts themselves, because she won't take charity, but allows them to watch, and the woman doling out the gifts will give one to each child who can say a Bible verse to her. Mary Ellen is able to whisper some of the many, many verses she's memorized to all of their friends so they can receive presents.
    • Olivia frequently urges her husband to come to church more often because she is a straitlaced Baptist and he is a realist who is a little skeptical of the faith. She also encourages John to get baptized, as does Elizabeth at one point, but John was stubborn enough that, according to John-Boy's narration, he went to the grave unbaptized.
    • The Baldwin ladies, being naive, shut-in spinsters who live stuck exclusively in their own little world and never leave the mountain, always refer to their family's bootleg moonshine as "the recipe". They don't even realize it's totally illegal, especially during Prohibition, and at one point they actually want to send some to the President.
      • Emily Baldwin is constantly going on about her star-crossed romance with distant cousin Ashley Longworth and how they kissed under an old oak tree amid a swirl of falling autumn leaves, and how her father effectively killed it by shooing him away for good. She even continues harping on about it long after learning he has up and died and had a son. When we first hear about him, it's 1934. The last time she brings him up, she and her sister have finally been busted and put out of the moonshine business, both of them are rickety old ladies, and it is 1963.
    • Zeb has a fixation with naming plants (Will Geer was a real-life botanist), especially trailing arbutus flowers, arguably his favorites.
    • The Waltons have to keep going to Ike Godsey's store to place phone calls and receive them because they don't have a telephone installed in the house. It isn't until John and Olivia's silver anniversary that they finally get one of their own.
    • Elizabeth is obsessed with Jessica, Girl Spy until she learns the author has died.
  • Same Character, but Different: Curtis was originally a loving, loyal husband and father who died an honorable death at Pearl Harbor; they brought him back as a broken drunk who faked his death and left Mary Ellen out of pure selfishness.
  • Series Finale: "The Revel" was retooled into this when it became clear the show would not be picked up for a tenth season. It features the Baldwins reflecting back on the past, and as most last episodes do, this can be a corollary to looking back at the long journey the characters have gone through up to this point. It also features a closing narration with older John-Boy. However, breaking pattern from all the other episodes, instead of his words reflecting on just the events of the episode and the characters of the show telling each other good night, old John-Boy directly addresses the audience. He essentially thanks the viewers for watching the show and tells them that he hopes that they will remember the peaceful image of the Walton household just as he does, with a light in the window and the blue-ridged mountains surrounding it. He tells us "good night." Fortunately, the show netted six reunion specials and this just closes out the syndicated run.
  • Shirtless Scene: John, John-Boy, Ben, Ike, and even Zebulon have had them. Curt also gets one in his final appearance after getting ripped from chopping wood (played by a different actor, however).
  • Shopkeeper: Ike Godsey, who runs his store also as the local post office, auto garage, fuel station, and pool hall, so everyone has a reason to visit. In later seasons, it's also the office for Corabeth's real estate venture.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool:
    • One episode has Ben sneaking around rolling up his own cigarettes and lighting up in the barn trying not to get caught. Inevitably, this task proves impossible in a big family and the cat gets out of the bag sooner rather than later. Zeb has a veteran tactic for this kind of thing and has it down-pat by now, to make his grandkids smoke 'em all if they got caught huffing and puffing. When he catches wind of Ben's little hobby, he decides to pull the old reverse psychology tactic on him by making him think Of Course I Smoke and brings him out to Drusilla's Pond to go out and smoke a whole pack together. Ben promptly gets too sick to ever think about smoking cigarettes again, while seasoned Zeb masterfully and dominantly takes his smokes without batting an eyelash. Jason even warns Ben about what would happen, because he was subjected to this torture himself.
    • A later episode, "The Furlough," note  reveals that this was the bog standard punishment Zeb used to wean every one of the boys off smoking at one point or another. Ironically, when this conversation comes up, all of the boys are drinking beer in the house in private, a thing which would certainly have gotten their female elders up in arms had any of them been at the house to scold them and Zeb still been alive. The only one who isn't drinking is underage Jim-Bob, who is given a root beer.
  • Strictly Formula: To the detriment of the series in later seasons, most episodes of the show follow three predictable beats where romance is involved. 1: A character of the week graces the mountain. 2: One of the Walton kids gets attached to the newcomer, who isn't tied down by anything, and wants to be alongside them. 3: The child in question is reminded that their family is plagued by hardship and they have a duty to them foremost, forcing them to let go of this person; if that doesn't break them up, a freak stroke of misfortune will. This caused the Walton kids to go through dozens of false starts to their true loves, and some to never find the right one at all. John-Boy's list of ill-fated girlfriends in particular could fill a sleeve.

  • Thanksgiving Episode: Season 2's "The Thanksgiving Story", as well as two reunion movies centered around the holiday. Well, it is a holiday all about family gatherings!
  • Title Drop: In one episode John-Boy mentions that, if he made a TV show, it'd be called The Waltons. This is right after televisions have started to become commercial products in their time.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: A Downplayed version of this was the reason John-Boy published parts of Mein Kampf in his newspaper in "The Firestorm": he wants people to understand how Hitler actually thinks and what he plans to do so they'll understand how dangerous he and the Nazis actually are and what they're truly up against. At this point most of the neighborhood only knows he's burned the Bible, which they consider horrible, but which is nowhere near the worst of it. John-Boy also points out that while nothing has happened yet, Hitler could easily start a way and it will become their problem. He was right.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Mary Ellen is a complete tomboy to Erin's totally girly-girl. This causes many, many arguments for the girls when they are young.
  • Too Good to Be True: How Grandpa views Muffin in "The Big Brother." Everyone else completely buys into her sweet and innocent act, but he insists that there's something more to the girl than just 'nice.' Sure enough, she's a kiddie con artist.
  • Two First Names: Mary Ellen's husband, Curtis Willard. Their son, John Curtis Willard, has three first names.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Corabeth and her less sophisticated sister Orma Lee. (Of course, the resemblance is explained by the fact that Ronnie Claire Edwards plays both.)
  • Uncertain Doom: The Baldwin sisters' cousin Hilary and her husband may or may not have been killed by Nazis.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Not an intentional trope, in this case, but he does contradict himself. For example, in one episode the narrator states that Zebulon outlived Esther, when the opposite was true; in this case, it was because of the untimely death of Will Geer, which forced the written-in, unplanned death of his character. In another, he says that A.J. Covington never returned to the mountain (he was back a few years later). However, in the case of A.J., it was technically true because two actors played him, the first being David Huddleston, and the second being the much younger-looking George Dzundza; so in a way, the A.J. we knew didn't come back.
  • The Unseen: Zeb and Esther's third child is only mentioned in passing, and never even named. Many fans might not even realize they had a third child, the mentions are so seldom.
  • Vague Age: Jim-Bob's age was never consistently kept straight on the series, as seen in the note under Writers Cannot Do Math.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Bullet the calf? Elizabeth and Jim-Bob try so hard to save him, but then he's never seen again. The only logical explanations are that the calf died, it ran away, or the children gave it away to someone who would care for it without slaughtering it.
    • For that matter, Rover the peacock disappears after season 7.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Jason and his squad are pinned down by a German soldier... a short while after the war has ended, and the soldier doesn't know it's over. While they could kill him in self-defense and likely be okay, they ultimately decide to risk themselves to spare him.
  • Will They or Won't They?: The B-plot of the season 9 episode "The Indiscretion" has Elizabeth and Drew considering spending the night together. They don't.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math:
    • The 1990s reunion films depict the family at least ten to fifteen years younger than they should be. For example, one of them has the family celebrating John and Olivia's fortieth anniversary in 1969, which would make the year they were married 1929... which results in the kids being too young to have had the experiences they did on the show during the Depression and World War II.
    • Jim-Bob's Vague Age becomes another issue. When attempting to enlist following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jim-Bob is told he is too young. Where this becomes an issue is depending on which birth date is correct.note 

Good night, John-Boy, wherever you are.


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