Every year around Halloween, I have the tradition of hiding under a blanket and watching all ten episodes of Over The Garden Wall in one go. It’s not a long tradition, considering the entire show only lasts a little below 2 hours, but it’s a good one — especially if you’re a fan of the beautiful and weird.
Created by Adventure Time alumni Patrick McHale and released in 2014, Over The Garden Wall is, simply put, a rarity in modern animation. Its distinctive art style and music, which brings to mind images of faded polaroids from a time long ago, were inspired by various illustrations, short films, and games from the 1800’s to 1900’s; while its story is surprisingly complex, with subtext from sibling bonds to the meaning of life and death.
Its premise follows two half brothers, Wirt (voiced by Elijah Wood) and Greg (voiced by Collin Dean), who are trying to find their way home through a strange forest, encountering ominous creatures and people along the way. With each episode exploring a different myth or legend, the series almost takes on a “Monster Of The Week” format, but its overarching plot elevates it from weekly adventures to something greater.
Here are three reasons why you should watch it:
#1. This show is not as straight forward as it seems
In essence, Over The Garden Wall is a simple tale disguised in surreal packaging. It makes sense then, that the show’s creator helped set the foundation for Adventure Time, a show that’s famous for subverting its audience’s expectations by hiding deep plots and character developments behind a bubblegum facade.
But unlike Adventure Time, which is all sunshine and rainbows, Over The Garden Wall is somber from the start. The entire show takes place in “The Unknown”, a perpetually autumnal landscape that is both grim and beautiful. The season of Autumn was picked for a reason, meant to symbolise a time of change for our characters and the end of all things.
These two themes follow Wirt and Greg like a shadow throughout their journey, as they encounter new creatures and people, each stranger than the last. Whether this “change” manifests itself in the shape of a crooked half-moon, or in a village of skeletons who dress up as pumpkins, it is always present in each episode. However, the audience is left in the dark as to what all this means — at first.
That brings me to Reason Number Two.
#2. Its highlights some of the most meaningful writing of its time
Over The Garden Wall is an incredibly deliberate show. It doesn’t need 282 episodes to tell its story, nor is it that complex to begin with. Where its magic lies is in the way it purposefully keeps its plot hidden from reach, using great characterisation to communicate the story’s intended themes, without overtly spelling it out for its audience.
One of my favourite moments happens in its opening minutes, where we’re introduced to Wirt and Greg for the first time. Wirt, the eldest and more anxious of the two, has a breakdown when he realises that they’re lost in the woods. Whereas Greg (oh dear, sweet Greg) only cares about two things — his pet frog and candy — much to Wirt’s chagrin. In just a few minutes, the audience already understands their dynamic, their potential conflict, and cares about their objective: finding their way home.
As easy as it would have been to leave their characters one-dimensional, Wirt, Greg, and even the supporting characters are given nuance and meaning as the series progresses. Not through cheesy self-reflections recapping the lesson they learned, but through their reactions to the weird, creepy scenarios they get themselves into.
In the end, what you takeaway from Over The Garden Wall ends up open-ended, depending on your personal interpretation of these characters. This culminates in the show’s last 2 episodes, and a final reveal about Wirt and Greg that completely recontextualises the whole show forever.
#3. It makes you want to rewatch it again, and again, and again
Speaking of its finale, you might have seen this type of ending before (see: Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, DuckTales). Its one of the reasons why the show begs to be rewatched, and why it maintains a cult following ever since it came out in 2014.
Even after multiple watches, fans of the show continue to make new discoveries and craft theories about “The Unknown”, tying it back to great works of art like Dante’s Inferno, the River Styx in Greek mythology, and even Biblical references in Potter’s Field. My personal favourite? The opening song which foreshadows all of the characters Wirt and Greg will meet in the show.
Still, the show’s creators have only confirmed a limited number of references, leaving majority of them up to fan speculation. Some fans have debated whether these references even exist to serve a purpose, but it’s needless to say that the mystery of it all keeps fans excited about watching the show for another year.
Over The Garden Wall, truly, remains the kind of animation that only comes along once in a generation. Even if Elijah Wood will never be able to escape playing the small guy in the woods in his work.
If I’ve managed to convince you to give the show a go, leave a comment below! And if you liked this article, check out the ones that inspired it:
- Over the Garden Wall: A Sweet, Strange Journey into The Unknown by Martin Cahill
- Myths and Meanings of “Over the Garden Wall by alliterator (Part One here)
- Here’s my 17-page research paper on why Over The Garden Wall is the new religion of millennials by Zoliare