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Western Animation / Over the Garden Wall

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"Led through the mist by the milk-light of moon
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?"
"Into the Unknown"

Over the Garden Wall is an Emmy Award-winning 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. Airing in a Two Shorts format from November 3 to November 7, 2014, the show is Cartoon Network's first original mini-series, and based on the 2013 animated short film Tome of the Unknown.

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".

On September 8th, 2015, the series was released on DVD, with bonus features including the original pilot, creator commentary, a music-only track called the "Composer's Cut", and animatics. The series can be watched on various streaming services, including HBO Max and Amazon Prime. You can also occasionally catch it on television every year around Halloween. Meanwhile, the show's complete soundtrack would see proper release on September 19, 2017, following a limited edition vinyl-only release in July 2016, though many of the songs had been available to listen to on Cartoon Network's YouTube channel since the mini-series' premiere.

The series would go on to have a number of tie-in comics by KaBOOM! Comics. The page for those can be found here.

As the show contains numerous twists and big reveals, especially on the second watch, be aware of spoilers on this page or subpages.

Over the Garden Wall provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Beatrice opening Adelaide's window after hearing her demand to shut the door and keep out the "poisonous" night air. Judging from Beatrice's reaction, she probably thought Adelaide was being dramatic and just wanted a distraction, but Adelaide was serious about the threat to herself, and melts and smokes upon breathing the air.
  • Adopt-a-Servant: Subverted with Lorna and Auntie Whispers, who was only making her do chores to keep her Demonic Possession in check. Played Straight with Adelaide's designs on Wirt and Greg, which thankfully go unfulfilled.
  • Aerith and Bob: The main trio are Gregory, Beatrice, and Wirt.
  • All Just a Dream: In the final episode, the entire show is implied to have been a dream Wirt had while he was drowning. However, there's some implications this may have not been the case.
  • 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 easiest choice may have terrible consequences.
    • 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 inhabitants of Pottsfield are Puritan-influenced in their design, and one of the songs they sing in the episode is influenced by early colonial "shapenote" singing.
    • 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 modern day, 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.)
  • Bait-and-Switch: This show thrives on this trope. What we think the episode is gonna play out, they pull a twist on us. For example:
    • "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee": A series of them. We see a bunch of pumpkin people inhabiting a town, only for them to confirm they're just people in costumes. Then, their maypole turns out to be a living pumpkin entity that sentences the group... to a few hours of manual labor. When they find bones, the group thinks they're being made to dig their own graves... but they're freeing skeletons to don pumpkin costumes and join their fellows, who are all undead. Also, that maypole pumpkin is yet another costume - inhabited by a talking cat.
    • "Schooltown Follies": Miss Langtree's father is strict and cruel, but he's trying all he can to keep the school afloat and the gorilla on the loose is really Jimmy Brown, the man who supposedly left her, trapped in a costume.
    • "Mad Love": Mr. Endicott fears he is going mad from seeing a ghost, and it seems as if he may have been responsible for the death of the ghost he sees, acting angry and very suspicious when accused of this. Turns out that his mansion is so large it got built into his business competitor's mansion, and she was the "ghost" he thought he had been seeing.
    • "Lullaby in Frogland": Beatrice finally takes Greg and Wirt to Adelaide of the Pasture, the Good Woman of the Woods, whom she assured would help them, and seems reluctant to say goodbye. The whole thing was a trap, with Beatrice being promised freedom for capturing Wirt and Greg for Adelaide. Beatrice is hesitant to carry out the plan, and ultimately sabotages Adelaide, but Wirt is angry at her betrayal and he and Greg leave her behind.
    • "The Ringing of the Bell". We see a girl, Lorna, living with a monstrous hag, Auntie Whispers, working her to the bone with a bell that controls her will, directing her to sort the bones of victims and warning Wirt and Greg that they are going to be eaten. She's actually using the bell to command a spirit inside Lorna, keeping her too busy to leave and attack innocent people. The bones are all the victims of the possessed Lorna.
    • The premise of the show is simple: two strange boys lost in a fantasy world. The penultimate episode reveals that they're from the real world and entered the Unknown during a near-death experience on Halloween, unaware of what's going on in the real world.
    • This also ties into Wirt's own anxieties over his crush on Sara. He sees himself as standing no chance with her, overshadowed by rival Jason Funderberker, but it's clear to the viewer - once we meet them - that Sara is fairly receptive to Wirt's attentions, and that Jason is not exactly The Ace Wirt saw him as. Things are not always as they seem.
  • Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Miss Langtree's pupils from "Schooltown Follies" wear full outfits complete with hats, but no shoes. Justified by them being fairly realistic animals who’d be unable to wear human shoes.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The one-room schoolhouse in "Schooltown 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-Forward: In "Schooltown Follies", Greg teaches some kids to play "Two Old Cat" as a scavenger hunt for two old cats. In a flashback in "Into the Unknown", Greg and Wirt pass two kids talking about a stick and ball game called "Two Old Cat" without explaining the rules, showing where Greg got the name of the game from.
  • Character Development: Most of the main characters, but Wirt in particular.
  • Chariot Pulled by Cats: The opening of the series shows, among other things, a cat riding a wagon pulled by turkeys.
  • 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.
  • Company Cross References: Near the end of the series, an overhead shot shows that the layout of Wirt and Greg's town is almost identical to the layout of Aberdale.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Episode 9 reveals that Wirt and Greg entered the Unknown due to Wirt not wanting Sara to find out about the mixtape he made her. If he had just told her about the tape, neither of them would've fallen into the lake to avoid an oncoming train and entered the Unknown. Episode 10 even reveals that running away was for nothing because Sara doesn't even have a cassette player and thus has no means to listen to it (though Wirt, having finally gained some self-confidence by the end, offers to let her listen to it at his house).
  • 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, "Come, Wayward Souls" thrown in at the end for good measure.
  • Creepy Jazz Music:
    • "The Beast Song" is an ominous yet jazzy song sung by the tavern keeper to warn Wirt and Greg about the Beast. For bonus points, the Tavern-Keeper is modeled after and sounds like Betty Boop.
    • The Highwayman's song is also based on songs from Betty Boop cartoons, and the Highwayman even dances like Cab Calloway.
    • "The Old North Wind" plays while an Anthropomorphic Personification of the north wind huffs and puffs all over Greg's Fluffy Cloud Heaven dream, and it features a deep, growly-voiced singer talking about succumbing to the cold.
  • Crossover Punchline: A subtle example. A skyview of Wirt and Greg's hometown show it to be almost identical to the town of Aberdale from Clarence.note 
  • 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 outright 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.
  • Dream Apocalypse: The grim Spoof Aesop of Distillatoria as explained by Greg is that you should believe in yourself, but there's a chance you might just be a character that someone dreamed up and when they wake, you'll cease to exist, rendering your existence and efforts therein meaningless as it was with Dream-Sara.
  • 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. In a more clear instance, "Babes in the Woods" is almost literally spelled out to be a Dying Dream for Greg who was about to freeze to death. He decides to decline perishing in the dream, wakes up and...gets lured away by the Beast.
  • 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.’s 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 who lets negativity overtake him too easily.
  • 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.
  • Expy: The Tavern-Keeper from episode 4 acts, speaks and sings in a manner similar to Betty Boop.
  • 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.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Adelaide melts into goo onscreen.
  • 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.
  • Fantasy Americana: The Unknown is a vast area inspired by American folklore (with some European folklore thrown in).
  • Foregone Conclusion: Distillatoria supposedly takes place after the show, but it begins with Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice extricating themselves from the Unknown in a manner dissimilar from the actual finale, hinting that the "real world" they find themselves in is a sham.
  • Foreshadowing: Plenty.
    • 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:
      Enoch: Oh, well. You'll join us someday.
    • The Tavern-Keeper 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.
    • In the first episode, the Woodsman tells Greg and Wirt "We each have a torch to burn, and this one is mine." It's not until later that we realize the true significance of the Lantern to him: (he thinks) it contains his daughter's soul.
    • 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.
  • For Want of a Nail: "Into the Unknown" reveals that had Wirt listened to Greg and decided to not run away from his problems over the idea that Sara would laugh over his mixtape for her, he and Greg wouldn't have ended up rolling down a hill and ending in a lake, nearly drowning. Moreover the following episode reveals that since Sara didn't even have a cassette player, Wirt's anxieties were for nothing since she had no means to listen to it!
  • 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.
  • Friendly Skeleton: The entire population of Pottsfield are skeletons wearing vegetable costumes to celebrate the harvest. They're quite reasonable.
  • Furry Confusion: The opening and Episode 8 has a fish who is also a fisherman. In the epilogue, it catches a black turtle.
  • Genre Shift: Episode 9 takes place entirely in the "real" world, and as such focuses more on character interactions and features few supernatural elements. This extends to the music, which has a modern Alternative Rock sound rather than the older styles heard everywhere else.
  • Genre Throwback: The series often features animation and designs that are reminiscent of cartoons and art from the 1920s and 30s.
  • Happily Ever After: Implied through the epilogue, with a little fourth wall breaking thrown in.
    Narrator: And so the story is complete and everyone is satisfied with the ending. And so on and so forth. And yet... over the garden wall...
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Greg gives himself up to the Beast in order to help him and Wirt find a way back home at the end of Episode 8.
    • Beatrice attempts to pull this before her deal with Adelaide is interrupted by Wirt and Greg.
    • Wirt almost does this. Then he averts it hard by taking a third option.
  • Holiday Motif: Episode two finds the main characters in Pottsfield, a town celebrating a mildly Halloween-esque harvest festival by dressing up in costumes made from pumpkins, complete with Jack-O-Lantern like heads. It is revealed at the end of the episode that beneath their costumes, the townsfolk are all skeletons.
    • Any further parallels to Halloween are explained in episode nine: the boys are dreaming after nearly drowning in a river on Halloween night.
  • Homage:
    • 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 first episode sees Wirt and Greg in the middle of a journey, lost in a dark forest where they encounter a vicious animal who blocks their path. This is just how the Inferno starts.
    • 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 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.
    • 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).
    • 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 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 scene where The Queen of the Clouds appears is similar to Dante's description of Mary as the Queen of Heaven in the Paradiso and illustrations of that scene by Gustave Doré.
    • The fact that Wirt and Greg meet the Beast, a Satanic Archetype, first on a frozen lake and then in the middle of a blizzard calls to mind the ending of the Inferno, where the Devil is frozen in a lake of blood and tears in Hell's Ninth Circle.
  • 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.
  • Impossible Task: The Beast sets three of these for Greg, who achieves them by interpreting them metaphorically. However, the real purpose of the tasks is to keep the victim occupied until they succumb to exhaustion and cold. The items requested and received are: silver thread (spider silk), a golden comb (a honeycomb), and to place the sun in an egg cup (the cup is placed on a rock at an angle such that the sun will set behind it).
  • 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 late in the series but never seen on-screen.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The plot steadily reveals information about the show's Big Bad, The Beast, and also revealing that the brothers got to The Unknown from the Real World.
  • 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".
  • Knight of Cerebus: Although plenty spooky and weird throughout, the tone of the series immediately shifts to pitch-black whenever the Beast appears.
  • 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.
  • 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 the term "potter's field", a colloquialism for the the burial place of the unknown or indigent. Everyone in Pottsfield is undead.
  • Maybe Ever After: The series ends with Wirt and Sara planning to listen to the Mixtape of Love together, with a hopeful tone implying that the confession will be accepted.
  • Mixtape of Love: Episode nine has a flashback of Wirt making a poetry-filled audio cassette mixtape for his crush, Sara. Hijinks occur in an attempt to get the tape back after it ends up stolen and prematurely given to its intended target. We learn that trying to retrieve the mixtape is the Inciting Incident that lead to Greg and Wirt going "over the garden wall" in the first place. In episode 10 (the final episode), Sara and Wirt reunite and Sara tells Wirt that she hasn't listened to the tape yet, as she doesn't own a cassette player. Wirt offers for her to listen to it at his house, which she accepts.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: An ordinary girl Lorna is being raised by the sorceress Auntie Whispers, who uses a magic bell to force her to work constantly. Auntie Whispers insists that she has no choice, as otherwise Lorna would "fall into wickedness." It turns out to be Brainwashing for the Greater Good—Lorna suffers from Demonic Possession, and the evil spirit has to be constantly occupied or it goes on a killing spree.
  • Mundanger:
    • The reveal of Greg and Wirt 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 is losing his mind is reminiscent of someone dealing with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
  • 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 In-Between: 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.
  • Now You Tell Me: After various episodes, the kids finally get to Adelaide, only to discover she is an evil witch that plans to brainwash and enslave them, but Beatrice manages to kill her. The next episode has the brothers finding Lorna and Auntie Whispers, when they manage to get rid of the spirit possessing Lorna, just before they part ways, Auntie Whispers reveals that Adelaide is her sister, and warns them to avoid her at all costs. Wirt's expression, understandably, has this trope all over it.
  • 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 original 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.
  • Painting the Medium: This is done with Adelaide's music. Since she's a witch with a spiderlike sewing motif and has woven a giant snare into her hut, the music that plays while she's onscreen is composed entirely of stringed instruments.
  • Pantsless Males, Fully-Dressed Females:
  • 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.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The lantern that the Woodsman carries which contains the Beast’s soul is powered by oil from Edelwood trees, which are lost souls that have succumbed to despair in the woods. Once the Woodsman finds out, he’s horrified.
  • Pumpkin Person: Our heroes stumble upon an entire village of them in the second episode! It turns out that they're actually skeletons in pumpkin costumes while Enoch is actually a black cat.
  • 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.
  • Sapient Steed: Fred, a talking horse who the protagonists initially took as an ordinary horse until he revealed he could talk at the end of his debut episode. He’s only briefly used as a horse by the protagonists though, since he leaves them shortly after his introduction to get a job.
  • Ship Tease: Distillatoria ends with a romantic poem of Wirt's that can refer to either Beatrice (the mention of breezes) or Sara (the mention of clowns).
  • 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.
    • Greg's frog at the piano, seen at the beginning and end of the series, resembles the title card for Flip the Frog.
    • 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.
    • The Gorilla in Chapter Three looks an awful lot like the Bumble.
    • The ferry is called the McLoughlin Brothers Ferry, named for a children's storybook publishing company that operated from the 1800s to the 1920s.
    • Another comes in the Beast turning his victims into Edelwood trees either through either trickery with Greg or despair with Wirt. The representation of the Beast for suicide and how he manipulates it harks back to Canto XIII of the Inferno, where victims of suicide are turned into trees and suffer the abuse of harpies within the seventh circle of hell.
    • 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.
    • The rock tune that opens episode 9 is a sound-alike of the T. Rex song "Ballrooms of Mars."
    • Sara was named after the eponymous Fleetwood Mac song.
    • The comic miniseries has Holly Hobbie-esque girls in the first issue.
    • Many people will recognize that needing two pennies for the ferry is a reference to the Greek myth of The Ferryman needing payment to cross the River Styx into the underworld. But when Greg and Wirt get on the ferry, it's full of singing frogs which doesn't quite seem to fit the theme - unless it's a reference to another work of Greek literature, Aristophanes' play The Frogs, in which Dionysus does indeed run into a chorus of frogs while being ferried to the underworld.
  • 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. The soundtrack calls the song "Pottsfield CM": many shape-note tunes are named after places, followed by the song's meter ("CM" - common meter).
    • 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. Also, the two brothers are fighting for their lives, drowning in the real world the whole time, so giving up or staying strong is directly tied to their survival in the outside world. In the final episode, however, This is ruthlessly subverted. Greg’s overly optimistic belief that, if he just waits a little longer for the sun to set into the teacup, the Beast will show him and Wirt the way out, is exactly what The Beast is counting on. This causes Greg to very nearly die and become one of the Eidelwood trees, and the only thing that saves him and defeats The Beast is Wirt’s realisation that The Lantern contained only the soul of The Beast.
  • 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.
  • Steamrolled Smart Guy: Wirt sets his sights on Adelaide's house once Beatrice tells him that Adelaide could help them get home, developing a one-track mind about getting there above all else. However, Greg is easily distracted by the fantastical things they pass by. Greg frequently gets distracted and wanders off, forcing Wirt to chase after him.
  • Subverted Trope: Many episodes subvert spooky horror-story scenarios by setting up tropes commonly found in these things (like Dig Your Own Grave in "Hard Times in the Huskin' Bee") only for the end of the episode to reveal that the situation, though still spooky, was in fact harmless. This ties into the Central Theme of the series: that what you think is going to be dark and scary isn't truly that at all.
  • 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.)
  • Teens Are Monsters: Averted. Every teen in the modern era is very friendly and tend to genuinely like Wirt. The "meanest" teen encountered is a football player who thinks Wirt is spying on Sara while she's changing.
  • Title Drop: The series title is dropped twice by Gregory's frog: the first time as a lyric of the song in Chapter 6, and the second time in the closing narration of the finale.
    • Chapter 9's title ("Into the Unknown") is uttered by Wirt.
  • 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 some fantasy "olden times"; they're modern-day kids wearing Halloween costumes. This is 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.
  • To the Tune of...: The Beast's song "The Jolly Woodsman" is sung to the same tune as one sung by Hansel and Gretel's father in Humperdinck’s opera adaptation.
  • 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. They may or may not be in a Dying Dream based on how they were close to drowning.
  • The Trees Have Faces: Edelwood trees weep black oil instead of sap and have twisted, ugly faces; several characters are startled when stumbling upon them. They become much more disturbing when we learn that the edelwoods are the souls of people who lose hope in the Unknown, used as fuel for the Dark Lantern.
  • 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".
  • Villains Never Lie: Subverted in a rare and breathtakingly well-done in-universe example of Fridge Logic. The one thing everyone keeps telling Wirt—people who, regardless of their failings and his initial suspicion of them, have nonetheless proven to mean him no harm—is to beware the Beast and not believe his lies. That the Beast lies, tricks, deceives, is mentioned every time he the point where it begins to blend in to the set dressing. To the point where not only the characters but the audience stop really hearing it. Wirt is inches from accepting a Deal with the Devil for Greg's soul when he stops, catches himself, and visibly has the thought...why are we taking the Beast's word at face value?
  • Weird Moon: The moon in The Unknown is a downward-facing half moon, which is impossible in real life. Despite the numerous days spent in the Unknown, it also does not change phases either.
  • 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, which explains how Wirt and Greg entered the Unknown.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The story borrows heavily from Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy. 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:
  • Worm in an Apple: "Langtree's Lament" in the "Schooltown Follies" episode is a heartache song disguised as an educational song that starts with ""A" is for the apple that he gave to me, but I found a worm inside."
  • Wrote a Good Fake Story: Afraid that they're about to be executed by the citizens of Pottsfield, Wirt distracts them with a story about removing rocks from their field while Beatrice and Greg try breaking their shackles. Halfway through, Wirt realizes they've run off without him and starts freaking out, only for one of the Pottsville folks to say, "Well, what happened to the rocks?"
  • 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. Justified Trope either way, since neither the Unknown nor unconscious kids who are having an (almost)-Dying Dream would pay attention to "time."

"How the gentle winds beckons through the leaves
As autumn colors fall
Dancing in a swirl
Of golden memories
The loveliest lies of all"


Trope Namer - Old North Wind

The trope namer, YES HE IS! Greg imagines the cold wind as a villain in his dream (with three cloud minions.)

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheOldNorthWind

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