Led through the mist…to the ultimate Halloween show

I was hoping to do a special new Halloween review – but unfortunately, time got away from me and I didn’t have time to find a good new show. It’s been a weird week for me – and probably for a lot of people in general. Plus, I’m exhausted.

So I decided it would be best to revisit and re-examine the ultimate autumn show: Over the Garden Wall. I don’t really like my previous review of it – it was rushed and underdeveloped. And since I also haven’t reexamined a show for a while – I thought it would be an opportune time to do so.

The miniseries is a stand-out among Cartoon Network’s usual fare. Aside from being a mini-series: it’s widely loved, with deep lore, and is an allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

I’m serious. The entire series is mainly a reference to one of the most significant pieces of Western literature. Which – is kind of weird for a show on a network designed primarily for kids. But either way – it’s easily one of the best-animated shows of the 2010s.

The 10-episode series by Patrick McHale follows the adventures of a pair of brothers, Wirt and Greg, trying to find their way home through the woods in a land referred to as the Unknown. On their journey, they are accompanied by a talking bird named Beatrice and pursued by a shadowy entity known only as The Beast.

During their journey – they encounter many odd towns and beings who inhabit the world of the Unknown, whereas the name implies nothing is quite as it seems. But either way, the boys need to find their way home before time runs out.

This is Halloween. (Kind of.)

Most of the world the protagonists find themselves in is eerily whimsical. They run into anthropomorphic though non-talking animals in a one-room schoolhouse; a quirky rich man whose home is haunted and a boat full of frogs just to name a few.

It’s not scary, per se.

But it all feels slightly off. It doesn’t feel right and despite the boys’ strange appearance – the world is foreign to them. Or Wirt, the elder brother at least. Greg, the younger one, just takes everything in stride.

The entire show thrives and defines the Autumnal aesthetic. Trees are always in shades of orange, crimson, and goldenrod; there are turkeys and pumpkins, schoolhouses – if it’s part of autumn, it’s there. Except for pumpkin spice lattes, of course.

And the fall art style, along with the things that seem very off, gets many people, myself included to think about Halloween. It’s subtle, in a way many other Halloween specials aren’t. Since they tend to make it clear that it’s Halloween right away.

And the fall art style, along with the things that seem very off, gets many people, myself included to think about Halloween. It’s subtle, in a way many other Halloween specials aren’t. Since they tend to make it clear that it’s Halloween right away.

This show waits until the penultimate episode to not only reveal the brothers are from the “present” day; the 1980s in the show; but they disappear on Halloween night – and are dying as they get more and more lost

But before then…we don’t question the world that much. The aura of Halloween; spookiness, mystery, urban legends, and mythology are all there, and suited perfectly to the world that is created. It’s odd. They talk about cars and phones – but the world they find themselves in has skeletons dressed in vegetable costumes and a very wealthy man in a tasteful mansion – it wouldn’t be out of place for one of these places to have a phone.

The story doesn’t stop to explain why things are the way. They are what they are because they’re in the Unknown.

What is the Unknown?

The Unknown is a kind of physical space and a kind of state of mind, and an afterlife. It’s pretty ambiguous – but again a lot of this show is. That’s the point. Both boys ended up in the Unknown after falling into a river where they began to drown.

At the end of the series, where they have seemingly been on the journey for months.They are instead rescued from the river, showing that in real life, they have only been missing thankfully for a few minutes.

But – it couldn’t have just been a dream since both siblings remember it, and since JasonFunderberker is still glowing. However, – the idea it ’s some type of afterlife or purgatory is the strongest and most obvious intention.
It’s just a matter of how it manifests.

Aside from the obvious fact that the poor kids are dying the whole time – the fact supports the afterlife theory that their guide is named Beatrice, the same name as the guide in the Divine Comedy; that the town of Pottsfield they visit is inhabited by skeletons – who think Wirt and Greg are ‘early’ – and that Pottsfield refers to a Potter’s Field, a place for those too poor to afford proper burials.

And then there’s the original pilot – that clearly states the Unknown is where all stories go. Eventually. Once they stop being told or believed. Since Greg and Wirt were dying on Halloween night – they could have easily become an urban legend.

The other characters like Lorna and Auntie Whispers are from fairy tales, Mrs. Langtree’s school from picture books, Cloud City from 1920s movies, and the Tavern goers could have been from a movie or a theater troupe.
Which is confirmed to an extent with the creator – he says it’s not just stories that were forgotten but also stories never told at all. It’s a real place physically but it’s also the afterlife….

Which is excellent.

I appreciate not having a straight answer for a show like this. It lives a lot of room to wonder and interpret and I like it when the meaning isn’t obvious or spoon-fed. A lot of my favorite showrunners have this habit of either lying their ass off when asking questions or refusing to be clear.

These aren’t my own observations, unfortunately – but it’s an aspect of the show I always get so excited to talk about and read about and discuss. It’s not afraid to challenge the viewer – and you can either watch the show purely for aesthetics, for the story-telling, the animation, or the deep story lines and literary allusions.

It’s more than just the goofy kids’ show it initially appears.

Nothing is as what it appears.

And the idea that nothing is ever as it initially appears is a continuing theme in the show itself. Most of the time, the places or people that seem dangerous – turn out to be helpful or neutral.

And those that appear friendly aren’t always good.

Fred the Talking Horse is a thief. Lorna the sweet girl has a demon living inside her. The Pottsfield citizens just want to have their harvest festival. It’s charming and genuine. Most of the people in the Unknown aren’t malicious. Sure, they can hinder the progress – but most of them aren’t trying to hurt them.

Hell, the tavern patrons, despite their misunderstanding, do try to help Wirt plan a wedding to Sarah – which is kind of sweet when you think about it.
And honestly, this whole theme wasn’t something I thought about until I started doing some research for this review.

Which goes to show that this show does this theme more cleverly than I realized or I haven’t been paying enough attention. Probably mostly the latter- but that just shows I have a lot more to learn.

Musically Inclined

While I’m not personally musically inclined – I can’t play an instrument or stay on tune if my life depended on it. But I love seeing how shows and movies incorporate music: Kipo is one of my favorites for that exact reason. Same with the Musical series: Central Park.

When its original songs – you get to see the creativity and talent of those involved. And for Over the Garden Wall – it’s something else.

None of the music is even remotely current. I don’t even know what to call some of them: there’s a song in somber LATIN that is a reprise of the cheery nonsensical “Potatoes and Molasses.” There are Opera songs for the Beast; a Randy Newman-esque number, folk style songs, and they’re all excellent. And it’s fascinating to see how the songs were cut – since so much seemingly got left out.


Out of all of them – I will have to say the intro song “Into the Unknown” is my favorite just because of the imagery it evokes and the feeling it has. It’s haunting and beautiful – though I think the Latin reprise is certainly the most creative in many ways.

It’s interesting to see how most of the music comes from the late 19th and early 20th century – from all different aspects of life in the U.S. but it all still fits together in the end – and not some disparate.

I wish I knew more about music to research it properly and analyze the songs’ origins and structures or how to find people who discuss them. There must be so much analysis to find all these genres and have them match up while keeping to the themes of the series.

Seriously, there’s something for every type of nerd in this show. I wish there was more – the creator originally wanted 18 episodes, and while it works well in 10-episodes, I wouldn’t mind more adventures on between, even if we know how it will end.

Maybe one day the series can get revisited, and we can get a fuller story. And I wonder how the show would have turned out if they had ended it differently, namely with Greg going home and Wirt getting trapped or staying in the Unknown. I have become attached to this ending though – the happy one.

But I do hope they get to see Beatrice again someday.


And that’s the scoop.

Score: 9/10


Year of release: 2014

Length: 10 episodes; 11 minutes each

Creator/Executive Producer: Patrick McHale

Directors: Nick Cross (art), Robert Alvarez, Larry Leichliter, Eddy Houchins, and Ken Bruce (animation), Nate Cash (supervising)

Writers: Amalia Levari, Tom Herpich, and Patrick McHale (main), Cole Sanchez and Bert Youn (episode 9 only)

Voice Actors: Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Lloyd, Jack Jones, Samuel Ramey


If you liked this review read: “Trick or Treaters” is a not-so Halloween treat

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