All that was lost is revealed
Our long bygone burdens, mere echoes of the spring
But where have we come, and where shall we end?
If dreams can't come true, then why not pretend?"
Over the Garden Wall is a ten-part animated mystery/comedy Mini Series created by Patrick McHale, best known for his work on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time. The story follows two half-brothers, Wirt and Gregory, who find themselves lost in a dark and mysterious forest called The Unknown, where "long forgotten stories are revealed to those who travel through the wood". In their quest to return home, they are helped by a talking bluebird named Beatrice and are stalked by a shadowy creature known only as "The Beast".
The series also has a number of tie-in comics by KaBOOM! Comics:
- A one-shot comic set between episodes two and three, published November 5, 2014.
- A four-issue miniseries filling gaps between episodes debuted Aug 26, 2015. This included a story set between 3 and 4 and backstories for some supporting characters. Collected in the trade paperback Tome of the Unknown, along with the 2014 one-shot.
- An ongoing comic series debuted April 20, 2016. This series is both a sequel and a prequel to the animated series, showing Greg and Wirt's further adventures in the Unknown after the show's end and the story of how the Woodsman's daughter became trapped by The Beast.
- Hollow Town, a five-issue series debuting September 2018.
- A graphic novel, Distillatoria, will be published November 2018; it will be set after the show's end.
You can stream it from Cartoon Network or Hulu or get it on iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon. A DVD featuring creator commentary, a music-only track, and the pilot was released on September 8th, 2015. And, rarely, you can catch it on television every year around Halloween.
In 2015, the series won both a Reuben Award and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
Be aware of spoilers on this page or subpages.
Over the Garden Wall provides examples of:
- Adult Fear:
- The reveal of the two nearly drowning in a river bank in the modern world after leaping out of the way of an oncoming train.
- Not exactly an "adult" fear, but anyone with younger siblings - half-siblings in particular - whom they have felt responsible for at any time, or with whom they may have had a complicated relationship, will probably feel particularly horrified when Greg goes with the Beast in a misguided attempt to save Wirt right after Wirt had been pushing the blame for their situation onto him.
- Quincy Endicott wondering if he was losing his mind is reminiscent of Alzheimer's or Dementia.
- Aerith and Bob: The main threesome are Gregory, Beatrice, and Wirt.
- An Aesop: Fear not the unknown, because nothing is as it seems; sometimes what you fear may turn out to be much more benign than you think, and the easy way out may be the worst choice.
- Also, don't judge by appearances, or jump to conclusions. It may very well get you in trouble, or at the very worst, doom you.
- It's better to take responsibility for your own actions than shove it onto someone else. Blaming other people can blind one to the truth.
- Anachronism Stew: The Unknown's inspirations range from the Colonial era to the early 20th century, and take from both American and European cultures; the fact that the places visited are mostly rural helps to blend the elements together. As it turns out, it's not so much anachronism as the setting being decidedly not confined in one (pre-1940s) time period, allowing all of time to coexist together. That's how Wirt and Greg are from the (near) present. The music also freely switches between styles from everywhere in that timespan. Below are examples from the different eras:
- The tavern and its people seem to be from the Colonial or Revolutionary era.
- As Wirt mentions, Marguerrite's half of the manor is in the French Rococo style, while the other is in the English Georgian, both roughly from the 18th century.
- Beatrice and family are dressed in Regency era clothing. The frogs on the paddle steamer ferry are all dressed in clothing that seem to range from the Victorian era to the Edwardian era.
- In the pilot, John Crops sings the (real) song "Can't You See I'm Lonely", which dates back to around 1905. His image also seems to be inspired by the classic image of late 19th century/early 20th century bluesmen.
- The episode "Babes in the Woods" is an homage to cartoons from the '20s and '30s. The overall style of the show is also strongly influenced by pre-1950s cartoons.
- Wirt and Greg also make a few minor anachronistic comments during the course of the series, such as Wirt claiming to be looking for a phone, saying he's in high school, and Greg calling for his frog by saying "paging Dr. Cucumber, you're needed in the operating room". This is a more conspicuous jump in time than the other examples, and for good reason: Wirt and Greg are revealed to be kids living in the 1980s and not "native" to the setting.
- ...And That Little Girl Was Me: Around the middle of the show, it's revealed that the pianist frog from the intro, The Narrator, and Greg's would-be pet are all the same being. At the end, he implies that he might've made the entire story up.
- Animated Musical: Downplayed. Several episodes have short music segments, but all of them are either diegetic songs done In-Universe with actual backing musicians and instruments, or clearly supernatural in nature (like the songs in Greg's dream or the Beast's Villain Song.)
- Bigger on the Inside: The single-room schoolhouse in "Schoolhouse Follies" somehow also includes a small cafeteria and a lengthy bedroom.
- Body Horror: The Beast's true form is covered in the faces of people whose souls he's absorbed.
- Book-Ends: The epilogue has several:
- Marguerrite is seen gazing lovingly at a portrait of Quincy Endicott, just as he was doing with her portrait in the very beginning.
- Beatrice and her dog are shown alone together in the opening while in the epilogue they're shown reunited with Beatrice's family.
- A brief glimpse of a circus performance is shown in the intro, and in the epilogue that same performance is shown now with Miss Langtree, her father, Jimmy Brown and Langtree's students in the audience.
- The intro shows Lorna alone in a chamber of bones while the ending shows her happily drinking tea with Auntie Whispers.
- Greg's frog is the first thing to appear when the show begins, playing a small piano and singing the opening number. He later reprises the very same song, as the last character to appear before the show ends.
- The rock picked up in the opening is put back where it was found because Greg realized he shouldn't have taken it.
- Call-Back: Greg teaches some kids in Schooltown Follies to play Two Old Cat as a scavenger hunt for two old cats. In the episode Into the Unknown, Greg and Wirt pass two kids talking. One mentions "Two Old Cat" as a stick and ball game without explaining the rules.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Corresponding, in classic faction, with the appearances of the Beast.
- Character Development: Most of the main characters, but Wirt in particular.
- Chiaroscuro: The show gets a lot out of scenes with a single light source in the dark, particularly anytime someone is in the woods.
- Coming-of-Age Story: The series has a lot of elements of this for Wirt, especially when it comes to him confronting his problems instead of running from them or giving up.
- Creepy Children Singing: In the final episode, while Greg begins to turn into an Edelwood tree, a Dark Reprise of Greg's earlier song "Potatoes and Molasses" can be heard, with Greg singing in Latin, and a line from The Beast's song thrown in at the end for good measure.
- Creepy Jazz Music:
- Crossover Punchline: A subtle example. A skyview of Wirt and Greg's hometown show it to be identical to the town of Aberdale from Clarence.
- Dark Is Evil: Darkness is a rather large motif in the series, used in both good and bad ways. In regards to The Beast, it's associated with despair, callousness and cruelty.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Several characters that the protagonists come across are rather dark beings that are outrightly benevolent, and darkness itself also has protective qualities, such as being toxic to evil witches. Also, ultimately the secret to defeating the Beast turns out to be blowing out the lantern, plunging the screen into darkness.
- Dark Reprise: A solemn, Latin version of Greg's "Potatoes and Molasses" song plays later on when Wirt tries to wake him up to prevent him from becoming an Edelwood tree.
- Despair Event Horizon: The Beast must wait for his victims to lose all hope before he has power over them.The Woodsman: Fall ill or lose hope, and your life shall pass into his crooked hands!
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The show's theme song "Into the Unknown" is sung by Jack Jones, the voice of the narrator, and thus, Greg's frog.
- Don't Go in the Woods: The whole series is about being lost in the woods and trying to get home. Although it turns out Wirt and Greg didn't enter the Unknown through the woods but through a Portal Pool in a graveyard—that is, assuming they went anywhere at all.
- Do with Him as You Will: Wirt discovers the Woodsman's lantern is actually the Beast's Soul Jar. Instead of blowing it out himself, he hands it to the Woodsman, whom the Beast had used all these years, telling him it's his problem. The Woodsman ultimately blows it out and extinguishes the Beast's soul.
- The Dragon: The Woodsman is unknowingly this to the Beast, whose soul is actually inside the lantern he must keep feeding Edelwood oil, not his daughter's like he was led to believe.
- Co-Dragons: While the Woodsman is tricked into doing the Beast's bidding, Adelaide is willing to do whatever the Beast asks of her.
- Dying Dream: The whole series seemingly happens while Greg and Wirt are drowning in the river. Whether it's just a hallucination or genuine purgatory is never confirmed, although the presence of Auntie Whispers' bell inside Greg's frog implies it was real.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Wirt and Greg, after growing along the way, are finally able to get home and leave the Unknown a better place than when they found it.
- Eldritch Location: the Unknown as a whole. Well...its a strange case. The residents are the strange ones but the unknown itself seems to be outside of time.
- Establishing Character Moment: The series opens with Greg, in the middle of a dark forest, cheerfully listing apparently random words. It turns out that he's listing possible names for his frog, establishing his status as a Cloudcuckoolander as well as how unaffected he is by the scariness of his surroundings. Wirt then stops him, realizing that they have no idea where they are, and panics, establishing his role as the constantly-worried one.
- Establishing Series Moment: The opening's plot relevance is limited to some Foreshadowing, but it sets up the creepy-yet-whimsical tone of the series.
- Family-Unfriendly Violence: The giant dog in the first episode gets crushed between a rock and the turning mill-wheel of the Woodsman's mill, complete with a Sickening "Crunch!" and vomiting a massive spray of Black Blood. It still survives (and returns to normal), but yeesh.
- False Dichotomy: One given in the finale Wirt is told he must carry the lantern with Greg's soul in it, or watch him die in the cold. Wirt nearly gives into it, but realizes he can take Greg to safety himself.
- Fantasy Americana: The Unknown is a vast area inspired by American folklore (with some European folklore thrown in).
- Foreshadowing: Plenty.
Enoch: Oh, well. You'll join us someday.
- The first minute of the series is a montage of events and characters that will come into play in subsequent episodes.
- Briefly, during the opening narration, a series of blurred shadowy images are shown. Only later do we find out that these images were Wirt and Greg drowning in the river.
- In the first episodes, a giant dog is attracted to the candy Greg leaves around. He had that candy because it was Halloween when they entered the Unknown.
- When Wirt sees the turkey in one of the empty houses he says he was looking for a telephone. This is odd given the setting until it's revealed Wirt and Greg come from a modern time period.
- The Pottsfield woman who asks Wirt "Aren't you a little early? It doesn't seem like you're ready to join us..." is a double example, she's directly referring to the true nature of life in Pottsfield, but it's also a reference to the recurring theme of premature death in the series, specifically the fact that the whole show is some form of a Dying Dream or other world experienced while Greg and Wirt are drowning in the river.
- Then there's this line from Enoch in the same episode:
- The Innkeeper insists bluebirds like Beatrice are 'bad luck'. Beatrice then 'curses' her in spite before taking off, and in the very next chapter, Beatrice admits she was cursed into her current form after angering a bluebird.
- The residents of the Inn mistake Wirt for a "Young Lover", and throng him with relationship advice, which he claims he doesn't need. Turns out he actually is in love - and his inability to talk to his crush led to him and Greg falling into the Unknown, kickstarting the plot.
- Likewise, in chapter 5, Wirt treats playing the clarinet, whispering poetry to himself, and having had a crush on a girl as if they're the darkest secrets imaginable. They came to the "entrance" to the Unknown because Wirt desperately wanted to keep said girl from hearing a recording of his poetry and clarinet playing.
- During each opening title card, if you listen closely, you can hear a faint train whistling in the background. Wirt and Greg ended up in The Unknown by jumping out of the way of an oncoming train and landing in a lake, unconscious.
- The monster in chapter 1 is revealed to be a dog that ate an Edelwood turtle. The oil in Edelwood keeps the Beast alive, who displays the exact same eyes as the "monster" in chapter 10.
- Various items in the abandoned mill the Woodsmen inhabits seem much more meaningful when the epilogue reveals that the home belongs to Beatrice and her family.
- A minor one comes with the Beast's design. Seen as a shadowy creature, he has twisted antlers that almost look like tree branches, which seems to abstractly liken him to his domain, the Edelwood forest. Turns out that when the light of the lantern, his own soul, shines on him, there is nothing abstract about his treelike qualities.
- Four-Philosophy Ensemble:
- The Cynic: Wirt.
- The Optimist: Greg.
- The Realist: Beatrice.
- The Apathetic: Greg's Frog.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the final episode, we get the briefest glimpse (as in, only a few frames at the max) of The Beast's true form, and let's just say it's not pretty.
- Happily Ever After: Implied through the epilogue, with a little fourth wall breaking thrown in.
- Heroic Sacrifice:
- Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The entire show takes place on Halloween night.
- Human Resources: The Edelwood Trees are revealed to be lost souls consumed by the Beast. The Woodsman uses them to fuel his lantern, not knowing of their true origins until later.
- In Medias Res: The first episode starts with Wirt and Gregory already lost in the woods, but before they'd run into anything particularly weird. The Reveal implies that was actually the instant they entered the Unknown, they just couldn't remember that.
- Insult Backfire:Greg: I'm gonna call him "Wirt".
Wirt: That's gonna be confusing.
Greg: No, because I'll call you "Kitty".
Wirt: Well, I'm going to call you "Candy Pants".
Greg: Whoa, yeah!
- Invisible Parents: Wirt and Greg's parents, (in fact, Wirt and Greg's mother and Greg's father, Wirt's step-father), are discussed some late in the series but never seen on-screen.
- Jump Scare: Only once. In the final episode, we get a quick flash of the Beast's true form than can be quite shocking if you're not expecting it. Let's just say it's not pretty.
- Justified Title: The title references how Wirt and Greg are visitors in a strange land, but has a much more literal meaning. Right before ending up in the Unknown, Wirt and Greg climbed over the wall of a cemetery—one called "Eternal Garden".
- Last Note Nightmare: Done in the second part of "Come, Wayward Souls", where the angelic and heavenly chorus suddenly ends on a flat tone.
- Light Is Not Good: Though the Beast manifests as a shadowy silhouette in the forest, the source of his life is the lantern lit by Edelwood oil, which contains his soul. When it goes out and plunges the scene in darkness, the Beast is defeated.
- Long Song, Short Scene: Some of the songs featured in the actual episodes of the show are significantly shortened from the full versions made:
- "Langtree's Lament" is easily the most extreme example. In the episode, we hear three short snippets of it that add up to less than fifteen seconds, but the whole song is over two and a half minutes.
- "A Courting Song" has most of the second half only played inaudibly in the background as the scene shifts outside.
- "Over the Garden Wall" has a fourth of the song talked over in-episode, making it largely inaudible.
- "Come Wayward Souls" appears in full in the show, but the second half, where Greg sings, is rendered mostly inaudible by the dialogue over it. The same goes for the Dark Reprise of "Potatoes and Molasses" which leads into it.
- "Old Black Train" only plays for a few seconds in the show when Greg and Wirt roll out of the way of said train into the river.
- The Lost Woods: The Unknown is largely covered in this. The Beast lurks in the shadows of these woods, and his Edelwood trees grow in them.
- Knight of Cerebus: Although plenty spooky and weird throughout, the tone of the series immediately shifts to pitch-black whenever the Beast appears.
- Made a Slave: Beatrice's initial plan to sell Wirt and Greg as workmen to Adelaide in exchange for being turned back into a human. However, it seemed she didn't know the full extent, or that plans have changed...
- Meaningful Name: The little town of Pottsfield is a reference to "potter's field", a colloquialism for the the burial place of the unknown or indigent. Everyone in Pottsfield is undead.
- Maybe Ever After: Wirt and Sara.
- Mythology Gag: The series as a whole takes significant cues from The Divine Comedy, with perhaps the most obvious example being that the supernatural guide is named Beatrice.
- Near-Death Experience: Arguably, Cloud City. More definitely, the entire show.
- Nightmare Face: The mutated dog in the first episode, and the Beast's true form.
- Nice Mean And Inbetween: The main trio. Greg is obsessively optimistic and naive, Beatrice is cynical and snarky with a soft side at times, and Wirt is inbetween, not as snarky as Beatrice, but more assertive than Greg.
- Ninja Prop: Various modern references made by Wirt and Greg appear to sit fairly happily in the Anachronism Stew world of the Unknown until The Reveal that they're actually normal children from our world somewhere in the 80s-00s.
- Non-Standard Character Design: Auntie Whispers has a much more jarringly inhuman design than the other characters, while most of them have fairly realistic (albeit cartoony) proportions, Auntie Whispers is massive, with a bulging head, froglike eyes, and an all-black mouth filled with rotten teeth, all of which serves to make her extremely creepy. Which makes it all the more surprising when it turns out she's Good All Along.
- The Old North Wind: Trope Namer. While Greg and Wirt try to sleep in the cold, windy forest, Greg envisions the wind as a villainous character in his dream, where the North Wind is depicted as a sinister old man made of clouds who, along with his three cloudlike minions, wreaks havoc on the Fluffy Cloud Heaven world in Greg's dream. He is introduced with an ominous song titled "The Old North Wind".
- Ominous Latin Chanting: The Dark Reprise of Potatoes and Molasses is translated to Latin, as if the circumstance in which it plays wasn't dark enough.
- Ominous Owl: Used for dramatic effect. Both Wirt and Beatrice, on different occasions, come across a spooky owl in sitting a dark tree, which serves to make the woods of the Unknown even scarier.
- One Steve Limit: Zig zagged. By the end of the series, Greg has chosen to name his frog Jason Funderburker, after Wirt's supposed love-rival for Sara. However, the orignal Jason's name is spelled "Funderberker" with an E, whereas frog-Jason's name is spelled with a U.
- Ontological Mystery: The story begins without giving any idea as to why Greg and Wirt are in the Unknown, or any details about their background. It seems unimportant at first, especially because they never question it, but how they got there turns out to be a major revelation.
- Or Was It a Dream?: The whole trip to the Unknown may have been in Wirt's head as he was struggling to not drown. After he wakes up, we see the people of the Unknown continuing with their lives without Wirt or Greg there, but with heavy vignetting that suggests it could still just be another fantasy. The accompanying version of "Into the Unknown", which has a few lyrics which were cut off the first time the song played, lampshades this:How the gentle winds beckons through the leaves
As autumn colors fall
Dancing in a swirl of golden memories
The loveliest lies of all
- On the "it really happened" side, there's the fact that the frog's stomach glows at the end of the hospital scene, the same way it did after it ate Auntie Whisper's bell. Also, when they wake up in the hospital, Greg refers to the frog as Jason Funderburker even before both he and Wirt could have actually talked about an agreed upon name in the "real world," indicating that he remembers what happened, too. However, it could also be that Greg had the same dream. Who knows, though?
- Oscar Bait: Not in a bad way, but this miniseries is more geared toward the Emmy for best animated mini-series than normal Cartoon Network fare.
- Plot Twist: As can be seen by the many spoiler tags, this is a series full of them. Things are seldom as they seem in this show; which serves the show's subtle Aesop of not being afraid of the unknown, for things you fear may actually turn out be quite benign.
- Pumpkin Person: Our heroes stumble upon an entire village of them!
- Quarter Hour Short: Although episodes are initially aired with two back to back and sold digitally with two packaged together, episode are still Quarter-Hour Shorts rather than Two Shorts because each part has an opening and credits individually.
- Shout-Out: The series loves its fairytale, Fleischer, Disney, Dante, Miyazaki and Tex Avery references. Notably:
- The name for the series itself comes at least partially from a lost silent era film of the same name.
- The Beast's "Chop the Wood to Light the Fire" song is based on a song from act 1 scene 3 of the Hansel and Gretel opera
- The first scene in the woods, showing a tall ominous tree in the dark, nearly mirrors a similar scene with a tree in a Hedgehog in the Fog.
- The Innkeeper acts, speaks and sings in a manner similar to Betty Boop
- In the same episode, the Highway Man's dance is a reference to the rotoscoped Cab Calloway segments used in Betty Boop shorts (it was not rotoscoped, though, it's just... weird).
- Additionally, the song about the Beast takes on the style of the Headless Horseman song from Disney's adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and even imitates a few shots of the sequence.
- The ferry is called the McLoughlin Brothers Ferry, named for a children's storybook publishing company that operated from the 1800s to the 1920s.
- Greg's Disney Acid Sequence is animated like a cross between The Wizard of Oz, Little Nemo, "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" from Disney's Silly Symphonies, Harvey Toons, and Minnie the Moocher. Many scenes from the sequence itself are direct lifts from Alice's Wonderland, the first of Disney's Alice Comedies.
- The "Babes in the Woods" episode shares its name with a fairytale about two lost children in the woods. In the original story, the children die, setting a grim tone for those who get the reference.
- Auntie Whispers's design looks similar to that of Yubaba from Spirited Away, and she too keeps a young girl in bondage to maintain her dwelling. And, like Yubaba, she's also one of two sister witches, one good and one evil. Being the "good" one, Auntie ultimately ends up more like Zeniba.
- Greg's frog at the piano, seen at the beginning and end of the series, resembles the title card for Flip the Frog.
- The comic miniseries has Holly Hobbie-esque girls in the first issue.
- The rock tune that opens episode 9 is a sound-alike of the T. Rex song 'Ballrooms of Mars.'
- Beatrice acts as a guide through the woods for the kids, just like her literary counterpart.
- Befitting his status as a Satanic Archetype, The Beast's name references one of the names of the Antichrist in The Bible. His MO of turning people into trees is a reference to the Seventh Circle of Hell in The Divine Comedy; more specifically, it's the punishment those who commit suicide face in Hell, fitting the Beast's nature as an allegory for depression/suicide.
- Another significant parallel to The Divine Comedy is that the final encounter with the Beast, the Satanic Archetype of the story, is in a cold snowy area, as the ninth circle of Hell was frozen in Dante's work.
- The Beast is completely featureless figure who hides in the woods, preys on children, and is associated with the forests, and can even be mistaken for one of the trees at a glance. This has led more than a few people to compare him to the Operator.
- The Gorilla in Chapter Three looks an awful lot like the Bumble.
- Shown Their Work: Part of what makes the atmosphere of the Unknown so effective is the work put into capturing the environments, clothing, and musical styles of the past eras which influence the setting. Some examples:
- Per the above, there is a good argument to be made for how each chapter of the story refers to a theme in the Inferno, and even if not all of the parallels are intentional, there are definitely subtler references that some viewers might not pick up on.
- The song the Pottsfield villagers sing is based on an obscure old style of American choral music known as shape note singingnote , which fits perfectly with the vibe of the town.
- In chapter 7, when Lorna and Wirt block a door handle with a chair, they were originally going to be wedging the top of it under a doorknob like people do now. But since it happened that there were no doorknobs at that time, the door was changed to have the accurate vertical bar handle, and the chair's carving was altered to be able to slide into the handle sideways instead.
- Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: Wirt's defeatist cynicism gets him in trouble much more often than Greg's idealism, and the latter is played as the more noble characteristic. Justified, because you cannot afford to lose hope in the Unknown, and cynicism can indeed lead to that.
- Snow Means Death: The show's shift from autumn to winter in the final episodes threatens the lives of the protagonists and indicates that they're running out of time.
- Soul Jar: The Woodsman's Lantern contains the soul of his daughter, which is why he's so desperate for Edelwood oil to keep it lit. The last episode reveals that the lantern actually doesn't contain his daughter's soul; it contains The Beast's.
- Stealth Pun: Pottsfield is named after the term "potter's field", meaning a graveyard for the unidentified dead. Everyone in Pottsfield is undead, thus making it a literal final resting place of the Unknown.
- Subverted Trope: Many episodes subvert spooky horror-story scenarios by setting up tropes only for the end of the episode to reveal that the situation, though still spooky, was in fact harmless.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Sara's insistence that she and the others are going to the graveyard just to "hang out and drink age-appropriate drinks," and immediately afterwards specifies: "Age-appropriate stuff that's not illegal." (They are seen later at the graveyard with what looks like a carton of either milk or orange juice.)
- Title Drop: The title is dropped as one of the lyrics in the song Gregory's frog sings in Chapter 6.
- Title-Only Opening: "Into the Unknown" is the Theme Tune for the series overall, with different versions being played in the first and last scenes of the show. However, individual episodes only have a "Cartoon Network Present" card, a series title card, and an episode title card with a faint, very short version of "Into the Unknown" playing.
- Tomato Surprise: Wirt and Greg aren't wearing those clothes because they're from the "olden times"; they're modern-day kids wearing Halloween costumes. This was subtly hinted at throughout the series by how Wirt and Greg frequently made comments that seemed anachronistic, like Wirt looking for a phone or claiming to be in high school, which most people wouldn't think twice about.
- Totem Pole Trench: Aboard the frog steamboat, Wirt, Beatrice, and Greg's frog wear a large overcoat (with the frog on top) to evade the police. They look ridiculous, but the disguise actually works.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The Village of Pottsfield. Played with yet ultimately subverted. Despite the admittedly suspicious and creepy behavior of the villagers and their leader Enoch, they never actually mean the boys any harm and let them leave once they've completed their community service. Which doesn't change the fact that the villagers wear costumes to conceal the fact that they're all undead.
- Transflormation: This is revealed to be the fate of all those who lose hope in the forest — they become Edelwood trees, which The Beast can use to power his Soul Jar.
- Trapped in Another World: Greg and Wirt at first think they're just lost in the woods, but find they're stuck in a seemingly endless countryside with no idea where anywhere is in relation to home.
- Turtle Power:
- Wirt has a poster for a band called the Black Turtles in his room as he's battling his own fear. Subsequently, a recurring small black turtle is frequently seen all over the Unknown, and good-aligned characters are often seen harming it, hinting at the negative nature of that kind of fear.
- In Chapter 1, a snarling dog-creature is revealed to return to the form of a normal pet dog, once it regurgitates a turtle.
- In Chapter 2, Gregory befriends a group of friendly Civilized Animal schoolchildren, one of whom picks up a turtle and throws it far away.
- In Chapter 7, Auntie Whispers is seen picking a turtle out from a basket, and then eating it.
- In Chapter 8, it also shows up in Greg's Cloud City dream sequence, in rubberhose cartoon character form - right in front of an old man carrying a lantern.
- In Chapter 10, the Fish fisherman hooks up a turtle in the epilogue.
- Villain Song: The Beast gets two: First, a somewhat jovial but still creepy chanting of "chop the wood to light the fire" (based on a number from the Hansel and Gretel opera). Second is the much more bombastic "Come Wayward Souls".
- Wham Episode: Chapter 9, "Into the Unknown", which reveals that Wirt and Greg are modern-day kids drowning in a river and that The Unknown is possibly their Dying Dream.
- Wham Line:
- In "The Ringing of the Bell": "Come out before it is too late! She will devour you!"
- "You're not trying to help me. You just have some weird obsession with keeping this lantern lit. It's almost like your soul is in this lantern."
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Which shows the residents of the Unknown going about their lives after Wirt and Greg return to their world.
- Whole Episode Flashback: Chapter 9.
- Whole Plot Reference: The story borrows from Dante's Inferno. Examples include the nine chapters in the Unknown lending comparisons to the circles of Hell, the name of the main female character, and the climate in the final scenes of the adventure. Despite these, it is still a unique story, but the influence pervades the series.
- The Wonderland:
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: It took the brothers days to find their way home compared to the nearly four minutes it would've taken them to drown in the river they fell into.
The comic series provides examples of:
- Arc Welding: The 2015 series does this for individual episodes of the main show. Examples include:
- How the characters got into the hay barrel they start episode 4 in.
- How the cast went from riding Fred the Horse at the end of episode 4 to Quincy Eddicott's mansion in episode 5.
- How the Woodsman came to believe his daughter's soul was in the lantern.
- What happened right before Greg made up the song "Adelaide Parade" sung at the beginning of episode 3, along with additional reasons for Wirt and Beatrice getting into an argument over Wirt being too obedient.
- Cryptic Conversation: Two girls browbeat Wirt into doing their chores and then give him vague and incomplete instructions that lead him to making stupid mistakes.
- The Dilbert Principle: Played for laughs in one issue where the general of hat-ship keeps promoting Wirt for doing absolutely nothing, while Greg gets reprimanded whenever he tries to help.
- Failure Is the Only Option: One issue has Beatrice confess that Adelaide isn't going to help them while the boys are stuck in animal form. Since the issue takes place before episode 6, naturally her confession won't be heard.
- Involuntary Shapeshifter: One issue has Wirt and Greg turn into animals after eating magic pears. Subverted, since it turns out the boys were just mugged for their clothes and are hiding in a tree.
- Rare Vehicles: One issue has a crew of soldiers who sail across grass plains in a giant upside-down hat. At the end the hat gets sunk by a giant washtub being piloted by Greg.
- Toilet Humor: Beatrice deliberately brings up bowel movements in order to embarrass Wirt.
As autumn colors fall
Dancing in a swirl
Of golden memories
The loveliest lies of all