The Dark Easter Egg We Missed In 'Over The Garden Wall'
It's a trope as old as time, er, well, Creepy Pasta circa the early 2010s. Many of our favorite children's cartoons, from Rugrats to Phineas and Ferb, to Adventure Time, all carry dark secrets, from unknowingly dead characters to a nuclear apocalypse. But what if I told you there was a children's series that was all but canonically confirmed to be set deep in the depths of Hell -- a kid-friendly adaptation of Dante's Inferno, with each episode aligning with a circle of the afterlife, and the devil himself the as villain?
First airing on Cartoon Network over the course of five nights in November 2014, Over The Garden Wall is an autumnal cult classic from the mind of Adventure Time's creative director, Patrick McHale, recanting the tale of our two kid heroes, Wirt and Greg and their pet frog as they desperately attempt to find their way home from a purgatory-like state called The Unknown. Unsure of how they arrived there or how to return to where they came, the trio grows lost in the vast forest, encountering several folkloric figures from various points in Ameican history as they narrowly avoid succumbing to the evil clutches of The Beast, or, well, Satan in the flesh. Aside from having arguably the scariest villain in cartoon history, a hollow, trypophobia-inspired tree-man covered in the screaming faces of the damned, OTGW's appeal runs deeper than the average children's Halloween series, its layers of complex, seemingly unsolvable mysteries lending itself to rewatch after rewatch.
Since first discovering the series in 2016, I mused over the show's every detail, fell down Reddit rabbit holes of fan theories, consumed hours of interviews, and savored YouTube videos explaining the lore and behind this beloved series. But then, during an unseasonable rewatch last July, it finally clicked. After mulling over the show's episodic order and correlating themes, I noticed something interesting -- the latter nine episodes of Over The Garden Wall directly correspond to the rings of hell from Dante's Inferno, from purgatory to treachery.
Since the show's release, fans and scholars alike have long drawn parallels between OTGW and the first Divine Comedy, namely, through Beatrice, the bluebird who guides the boys through The Unknown for the majority of the series, however, this direct episodic correlation has yet to take off as a common explanation for the show's events, having only been noted a handful of times elsewhere, most notably through Tumblr user Globe Gander's thoughtful analysis, and a video dissecting the topic by YouTuber, TREY the Explainer.
Now reader, if you will, allow me to be your allegorical bluebird, guiding you through the sheer depths of this dark easter egg.
The Entrance of Hell -- Episode 1: The Old Grist Mill
We first approach the gates of Hell through "Into The Unknown," a haunting folk tune summarizing where our characters stand at the beginning of the series. "Somewhere lost in the clouded annals of history, Lies a place that few have seen," whispers the show's leading frog, who has many aliases, but for the sake of this analysis, we'll call Jason Funderburker. "A mysterious place, called The Unknown, Where long-forgotten stories are revealed to those who travel through the wood."
After singing one of the most iconic lines of the series, "the loveliest lies of all," we pan to our Greg, Wirt, and Funderburker, wandering alone through a wood, Greg rattling off a list of nonsensical names for his pet frog, including Antelope, Guggenheim, Leg-Face McCullen, and Steve. Suddenly, Wirt realizes the gravity of their situation.
"Wait. Wait a second. Uh, Greg...," he says nervously, glimpsing at the angry owls, towering trees, and squirrels with glowing, red eyes, surrounding them. "Where are we?"
"The woods," replies his brother nonchalantly. Following a brief discussion of their whereabouts, Wirt comes to a conclusion. "Greg, I think we're lost," He says, the fear apparent in his voice, "We sh- we should have left a trail or something..."
At the beginning of Inferno, Dante, too, finds himself wandering aimlessly through the wood, frightened and unsure of how he grew just so lost. "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost," the poet marvels. "Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say What was this forest savage, rough, and stern, Which in the very thought renews the fear."
Later, Dante is confronted by three angry animals as he encloses upon the entrance to Hell -- a panther, a lion, and a she-wolf (not to be confused with Shakira's underrated 2009 bop), all seemingly deterring him from entering the underworld. Forced turn back, he encounters Virgil, an ancient Roman poet who helps him find an unguarded entrance to the afterlife. Similarly, after meeting the Woodsman while roaming the wooded Unknown, Greg, Wirt, and Funderburker are ambushed by a black fanged creature with glowing eyes, who they presume to be The Beast. Following an intense battle involving heroic acts like tossing candy in the monster's direction, spanking it with a plank, and chasing it around the mill, the creature, which is revealed to be a dog, is finally defeated, a mysterious black turtle popping from its mouth as the watermill squeezes it. Despite our protagonists' victory, the Woodsman is visibly angry about his nearly-destroyed property and spilled oil. Wirt attempts to look on the bright side. "But- but- but look. We- we got the Beast problem solved," he says.
"The dog?! That is not the Beast! The Beast cannot be mollified like some farmer's pet! He stalks like the night. He sings like the four winds. He is the death of hope. He steals their children, and he'll ... ruin ...," he says, trailing off. Before they venture on, he provides them a word of warning: "One last thing. Beware the Unknown! Fear the Beast! And leave these woods... if you can. It is your burden to bear!" To Inferno fans, this advice may sound eerily familiar, a callback to the words inscribed above the entrance to Hell: "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." Nothing like Hellish-warnings to kick off a Cartoon Network children's show!
Limbo, The First Ring of Hell -- Episode 2: Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee
After finally entering Hell, Dante finds himself in Limbo, the first ring of the underworld, filled with good pagans and unbaptized children who are infinitely waiting for something to happen. As British-born writer, Dorothy L. Sayers put it, "After those who refused choice come those without opportunity of choice." Appropriately, themes of being stuck and wanting to leave an undesirable situation to reoccur throughout the episode, a guiding point in both character development and interactions. The first and arguably most subtle instance of this is when Greg finds Beatrice stuck in a bush as they aimlessly traipse through the forest. "It's you again," says our bluebird heroine from inside of a tangle of thorns. "I'm stuck. Help me out of here, and I'll owe you a favor."
"Woah! I get a wish?" asks Greg excitedly.
"No, no. no. Not a wish. I'm not magical. I'll just do you a good turn," she clarifies. After discussing the (lack of) plausibility around a flying tiger, Beatrice poses an, erm, interesting question. "So, um, you two are lost kids with no purpose in life, right?" While this quip foreshadows the Adelaide of the Pasture plotline, which comes to a head in episode six, the wording of her inquiry seems to highlight the questionable fluidity of their circumstances. However, the allusions to the Divine Comedy become more explicit when they enter the seemingly-empty town of Pottsfeild, filled with skeletons donning Pumpkin costumes for their Harvest festival. In search of someone who can help them find their way back home, Wirt encounters a girl who has several questions about their intent. "Say, aren't you a little too ... early?" she asks, referencing the fact that Wirt is, well, not a skeleton.
"What do you mean?" he asks, confused.
"I mean, it doesn't seem like you're ready to join us just yet," she remarks.
"Join you? Yeah, no, I'm just passing through," Wirt explains.
"Folks don't tend to "pass through" Pottsfield," the girl replies.
While in Limbo, Dante has a similar interaction with Virgil, asking if anyone has ever left the ring.
"I was a novice in this state," he explained. "When I saw hither come a Mighty One, With sign of victory incoronate. Hence he drew forth the shade of the First Parent, And that of his son Abel, and of Noah, Of Moses the lawgiver, and the obedient Abraham, patriarch, and David, king, Israel with his father and his children, And Rachel, for whose sake he did so much, And others many, and he made them blessed; And thou must know, that earlier than these Never were any human spirits saved." Just like Pottsfeild, people don't tend to pass through Limbo, so much so that Wirt's comment to the pumpkin girl sparks a massive commotion at the Huskin' Bee.
"Eh, what, what? Leave Pottsfield? Who wants to leave Pottsfield?" an old man asks, sparking confusion and chatter among the residents.
Enter Enoch. A massive talking pumpkin head and black cat in disguise, Enoch is Pottsfeild's parallel to Purgatory's King Minos, the judge of the damned who resides in Limbo. "Now, let me get this straight -- you come to our town, you trample our crops, you interrupt our private engagement, and now you want to leave?" he asks, referencing a pumpkin Greg stepped on earlier in the episode. After the group continually expresses their desire to leave, Enoch doubles down on his stance, "Children, it saddens me that you don't wish to stay here with us, particularly because I simply have to punish you for your transgressions."
While technically Minos doesn't make his Inferno debut until Cantos V, Enoch carries many parallels to the figure, even with the serpent-like strings, presumably a reference to the King's snake that wraps around its body when sentencing the damned to a ring of Hell.
Furthermore, according to TREY The Explainer's video on the subject, McHale may have even implicitly confirmed this connection, liking one of the YouTuber's tweets expressing his intention of comparing the pumpkin cat to the afterlife's judge.
Canon confirmed? Maybe?
Lust, The Second Ring of Hell -- Episode 3: Schooltown Follies
After his exciting stay in Limbo, Dante descends into the next circle of Hell, where those who have committed lust reside for all of eternity, getting whipped around by intense winds as a punishment for being swayed by their desires. "The infernal hurricane that never rests, Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine," Dante describes. "Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them."
Although one of the more subtle Divine Comedy references, the entirety of Schooltown Follies is centered around the concepts of love and lust, most notably manifesting through teacher Ms. Langtree's obsession with Jimmy Brown, "that no good, two-timing, low-down handsome man of mine." As Wirt and Beatrice enter the schoolhouse, Miss Langtree is notably upset about her lover's disappearance, using class time to sing "Langtree's Lament," an alphabetical song discussing all the ways she was scorned, putting an entirely new -- and jazzy -- spin on the old adage that Hell is other people.
"'A''s for the apple that he gave to me, But I found a worm inside, 'B''s for beloved that I call to him before he left my side." she croons, standing before her classroom of clothing-clad animals, and, of course, Wirt and Beatrice. While in the extended version of the song, she continues on discussing her heartbreak for all 26 letters of the alphabet, including K, where she talks about kissing her man, and even numbers one through ten, in the show, we cut back to her around letter Y. "And 'Y,' yes 'Y,' Is the question that's on my mind. Oh why," she sings. No longer is she standing tall and pristine -- by now, Ms. Langtree is strewn across the floor, her hair looking like a windblown mess, a reference to both her lovesick mental state and potentially even the ring's punishment.
As Wirt so brashly put it, earning him a trip to the dunce box -- "Oof. That lady's got some baggage."
Gluttony, The Third Ring of Hell -- Episode 4: Songs of the Dark Lantern
After emerging the heroes of Schooltown Follies, reuniting Ms. Langtree with her long lost lover and saving the animal school through a successful fundraiser, complete with a rousing reprise of certified OTGW banger, "Potatoes and Molasses," our crew soon finds themselves hiding inside of a hay cart amid a freezing rain, Greg's stomachs growling as he complains of hunger pangs. You guessed it -- our protagonists are now in the third ring of Hell, reserved for punishing those who have committed gluttony.
Marked by its unending, slushy rain, in Inferno, this layer of the underworld punishes sinners for overindulgence in both food and drink, keeping them stuck in the mud to repent for all eternity. Instead of a mud pit, our gang arrives at a local tavern, ready to eat and find directions as they venture towards Adelaide of the Pasture. After opening the door to find it blocked by a sleepy pup, likely a reference to Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to this section of Hell, they meet the local residents, all defined by their professions. As Wirt unsuccessfully attempts to figure out where they're going, making sense of their, erm, unique community dynamics, Greg begins carrying massive plates of food over to their table, complete with a whole turkey, bread, and what appears to be potatoes.
A few misunderstandings and musical numbers later, the tavern's patrons finally categorize Wirt as a pilgrim on a sacred journey and start giving him advice. Just like Ciacco, a resident of this circle who offers Dante and Virgil a political prophecy, the Tavern Keeper provides her young patrons a few predictions on what's to come throughout their time in the Unknown, namely regarding the aforementioned beast roaming the woods.
"He lurks out there in the unknown, seeking those who are far from home, hoping never to let you return," she sings. "ooh-ooh, better beware, ooh-ooh, the Beast is out there, ooh-ooh better be wise, don't believe his lies. For once your will begins to spoil, he'll turn you to a tree of oil, and use you in his lantern for to burn."
Despite some discrepancies on the Woodsman's identity in relation to the Beast, the group finally leaves the tavern, the icy rain mysteriously ceasing as they exit, moving forth to a deeper ring of Hell.
Greed, The Fourth Ring of Hell -- Episode 5: Mad Love
Arguably the most explicit thematic connection throughout the entire series, Over The Garden Wall's fifth installment, is all about money, wealth, and excess in a clear parallel to the fourth ring of Hell, dedicated to punishing the Greedy. We first begin our episode at a lavish dinner table, where per Beatrice's suggestion, Greg and Wirt pose as the long-lost nephews to Quincy Endicott, an exuberantly wealthy tea tycoon, to pay for the ferry ride transporting them to Adelaide. Throughout the episode, Endicott makes numerous references to his wealth in almost supervillain-esque terms. "It's all for the money! Yes, the money takes my mind off my troubles -- the deep soul-crushing loneliness," he explains early in the episode. "Let us retire to the parlor and enjoy my unnecessary excess of wealth and luxury," the mogul exclaims later on, likely channeling his best Bezos impersonation.
Yet aside from his wealth, the means by which he acquired his fortune are, um, questionable, to say the least. "Do you know what I did for this money -- t-the things these filthy hands have done to make this money?" he asks Greg and Fred after being accused of murdering the lady of the house, who turned out to be another tea tycoon with a massive mansion unintentionally connecting to his. I guess that's one way to answer what you do for a living.
Yet Endicott isn't alone. At one point, Beatrice expresses her desire to straight-up rob the half-siblings' fake uncle, telling Wirt she "was thinking more like flat-out stealing from him." Meanwhile, Fred, the horse friend the crew met at the tavern in the last episode, literally sees green at the sight of a massive ornamental egg, Beatrice snapping him out of it, advising him "get a grip."
It's also worth noting here that our favorite tea-manufacturing uncle is one of the few characters from the Unknown that is confirmed to be dead. During a modern-day graveyard scene in Episode 9, eagle-eyed viewers caught a glimpse of an old-fashioned tombstone, clearly reading his name. On the bright side, at least Endicott seems to be enjoying his time in Hell, especially with his new girlfriend and all. Here's to running an afterlife tea empire!
Wrath, The Fifth Ring of Hell, and The City of Dis -- Episode 6: Lullaby in Frogland
The beginning of Lullaby in Frogland begins with our crew aboard a steamboat on their way to visit Adelaide, who Beatrice says can help Wirt, Greg, and Funderburker return home safe and sound. Dante begins his descent into the fifth ring of hell, similarly, taking a trip through a swampy marsh of Styx, where the wrathful are condemned to fight each other in mud to atone for their unreasonable anger, and the sullen are trapped beneath the surface to wallow for all eternity.
Following their foray at Endicott manor, we find our gang traveling the seas just like Dante, enjoying a journey on a frog riverboat. As Wirt, Greg, and Funderburker all revel in growing closer to meeting Adelaide and returning home, singing and dancing with joy, Beatrice, like many of the souls trapped in this level of Hell, sulks about, refusing to explain the cause of her ailment. "You alright?" Wirt asks her at one point. "You sound uncharacteristically wistful."
"What? Sorry, just thinking," she responds. Soon after, the element of anger comes into play when two froggy constables realize they haven't paid their fare -- despite receiving two cents from Endicott and his new girlfriend, in the last episode, Greg tosses them into a fountain. "Uncle Endicott pegged me all wrong," he explained. "I've got no 'cents,' no 'cents' at all."
Seemingly furious, the police pursue the group around the deck over their two-penny fare evasion, knocking over trays of hors d'oeuvre, barreling into passengers, and sending an armful of tadpoles flying in their pursuit. Although both the police and our heroes stop to acknowledge the ship's captain, a potential reference to Phlegyas, who transports Dante and Virgil across the river, their rage is ever apparent. Finally, the four find refuge in a storage closet, respectively disguising themselves as members of the band and a drum.
As they take the stage, Wirt accidentally hits the bassoon player in the face with a drumstick, sending him soaring throughout the deck, checking more patrons, striking down another tray of hors d'oeuvre, and once again, slipping on another poor tadpole before sailing overboard into the murky waters below.
Chaos breaks out, the other frogs abord frenetically jeering and scowling with anger, seemingly inconsolable -- that is until Jason Funderburker begins singing, his smooth folk vocals deescalating the situation.
The most literal connection between the two stories comes towards the end of the episode. The gang disembarks the boat into a muddy swamp, where all of the frogs take a rest in the dirt, an allusion to the marshy punishments for the sullen. Furthermore, while sitting around a campfire, Wirt and Beatrice find themselves squabbling about their next moves, the bluebird desperately trying to convince the brothers to go elsewhere as the eldest sibling fights to press on in pursuit of returning home.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil find themselves in the City of Dis, a town within Hell dividing the punishments between petty sins and more serious crimes. Similarly, Lullaby in Frogland marks a significant tonal, thematic, and aesthetic shift in OTGW, signifying the end of Adelaide's narrative arc. Since episode two, our protagonists have counted on Adelaide as their ticket home. After Beatrice's betrayal, unsuccessfully attempting to trade the boys to Adelaide to use as child servants in exchange for scissors to turn herself and her family back into humans, Greg and Wirt are now stranded in the Unknown with no plan of how to escape. They are now arguably worse off than they were at the start of the series. Thematically, the episodes grow significantly darker after this point, covering topics including human demonic possession, near-death experiences, mental health, and loss. This change also translates on a visual level. Minus the Disney-inspired dream sequence in Babes in The Wood, most remaining segments occur either in the midst of rainstorms, snowstorms, or at night, turning the overall aesthetic of the show significantly darker than the fall-foliage inspired palette of the first few episodes.
Heresy, The Sixth Ring of Hell -- Episode 7: The Ringing Of The Bell
Arguably one of the scariest episodes in the entire series -- and the most deviant from Dante's original text -- The Ringing of The Bell is an allegory for heresy. In Inferno, heretics are punished by spending eternity locked inside flaming tombs. "For flames between the sepulchres were scattered, By which they so intensely heated were, That iron more so asks not any art," Dante explained of the scene. Here, the poet encounters Farinata, a political figure from his time. Although he, like the other souls in this realm, cannot see the present, he can see the future, warning Dante of his exile from Florence.
Similarly, at the beginning of the episode, Wirt and Greg come across the Woodsman, who provides them with oddly specific words of wisdom on escaping the Beast's clutches. "The beast knows your presence!" He cries. "Ready to claim you as a part of his dark forest, but only if you give up! Keep hearty in both body and spirit, and you shall be safe from him. Fall ill or lose hope, and your life shall pass into his crooked hands." Although admittedly a bit of a stretch, this advice represents a departure from the Woodsman's typical warnings, falling more in line with Farinata's words to Dante. Instead of providing vague messages about the Beast's evil nature, the Woodsman offers a specific lesson on how to survive an interaction with the monster, advice that seemingly saves the pair in the final episode.
The greatest connection between the episode and Inferno lies in the concept of Idolatry as doctrine and a form of heresy. Later on, Wirt and Greg meet Lorna, a teenage girl possessed by an unknown evil entity. The only way she can snap back during an, um, demonic episode, in which she has been known to cannibalize humans, is by hearing the ringing of a bell seemingly designed in her own image, down to the frilly details on her shirt and the patterns on her sleeves. While her caretaker, the Tim Curry-voiced Auntie Whispers, most frequently asks her to complete household tasks, including sorting the bones of her victims, organized in an underground mass grave (as implied from the title sequence, another reference to the cemetery in this ring of Hell) they avoid facing the root of her possession. Auntie Whispers later reveals this is out of fear of her niece leaving her. Yet Lorna's unconditional compliance with the bell and its holder could be argued as a form of idol worship, blindly following and revering an item that isn't an accepted deity in conventional religion, therefore falling under the category of heresy.
Violence, The Seventh Ring of Hell -- Babes in the Wood
Known for its technicolor Alice's Wonderland-inspired dream sequence, Babes in the Wood is more than just a reference to Walt Disney's 1923 production. From start to finish, it's a direct allusion to the seventh ring of Hell, punishing those who commit violence in three forms. The first section is a river of blood, where those who were violent against their neighbors or property are condemned for eternity.
After Lorna's impromptu exorcism, we find the trio riding on a makeshift boat down a river. As Greg paddles on using a guitar, Wirt wistfully gazes down at the water beneath them. "Can we admit we're lost for good?" he asks his brother as they reach land. "That this fog is deeper than we can ever understand? That we are but wayward leaves, scattered to the air by an indifferent wind? Can we just admit we're never gonna get back home, Greg?"
"Wirt, you can do anything if you set your mind to it," Greg replies cheerfully. "That's what the old people say." Despite his younger brother's encouragement, Wirt seemingly gives up, apathetically dubbing Greg the leader of their expedition, as he falls asleep below an Edelwood tree. Greg takes his new leadership challenge in stride, asking the universe for guidance in helping them find their way home. "Star, oh, star up in the sky, guide my dreams with light that shines. Help me know just what to do, to get Wirt home and also me, too," he says, looking upward. "And if you don't, I don't care, I'll pull down your underwear." Oh, Greg.
He is then transported via bed chariot to Cloud City, a vintage cartoon paradise, simultaneously wholesome and plagued with violence. After several Wizard of Oz-esque introductions, including decapitated bears juggling their own heads, the Old North Wind shows up, a violent cloud destroying the city with his angry heaves. Although at first, Greg and a few Cloud City citizens attempt to thwart him with cannonballs, their attempts are futile, the North Wind blowing the objects back at them. The younger brother decides to take matters into his own hands, fighting the villain on his one on one. They chase each other throughout the cloudy jurisdiction, entering a small, fluffy house, where they proceed to fight each other in true cartoon fashion, stars and symbols flying as the house shakes. Yet good prevails -- Greg captures the 'Ol Windbag in a bottle, liberating the sky community.
After defeating the North Wind, the Queen of Cloud City offers Greg a wish in exchange for saving her town. At first, he asks her to return him and his brother home, yet he quickly learns that isn't possible. "I'm sorry, Gregory, but Wirt cannot go with you. He is too lost," she explains. We then see an image of Wirt sleeping below, covered in vines, a symbol that the beast has claimed him. In the circle of violence's second section, those who died by suicide or committed acts of violence against themselves are turned into trees, their leaves and branches falling throughout the afterlife. Although not physically violent, Wirt's defeatist attitude earlier in the episode is an act of self-destruction, leaving him vulnerable to the punishment in question. Greg chooses to save his brother, sparing him from the demise, surrendering himself to the Beast instead. It's also worth noting that at the end of the episode it begins to snow, a parallel to the circle's third section, distinguished with fiery rain punishing those who've committed acts of violence against God or nature.
Fraud, The Eighth Ring of Hell -- Into The Unknown
In Dante's eyes, the sin of fraud is so horrid that neither one, two, nor three cohesive rings are enough to properly condemn its perpetrators. Fraud's layer of Hell has ten sections, aimed at punishing panders, flatters, Simoniacs, astrologers, grafters, hypocrites, thieves, people who gave bad advice, sensationalists, and con artists. A less literal translation than the previous nine episodes, (it seems near impossible to cram ten clear allusions to each subcategory into an eleven-minute short) Into The Unknown centers around themes of fraud and deceit.
Not to be confused with that song from Frozen 2, the episode begins by revealing the series' biggest twist. Despite their presentation and generally timeless nature, Wirt and Greg are not travelers from a time long, long ago. Our heroes actually hail from modern-day and have been transported into this mysterious world by a twist of fate. The reason for their, um, interesting, attire also connects with the themes of deception -- they are respectively dressed as a garden gnome and an elephant, in celebration of Halloween.
Aesthetics aren't the only connection to these ideas -- the notion of presenting oneself as something they are not consistently manifests in Wirt's character. Throughout the episode, Wirt finds himself in state of social myopia, convinced he's uncool, unliked, and generally a loser when his peers seem to enthusiastically greet him and treat him kindly. For example, after lamenting to his brother that he's unable to attend a party as he was not invited, he enters the house to find a group of friends seemingly happy to see him. Wirt also manages to convince himself that Sara has no desire to be around him, despite encouraging him to join their group in visiting the graveyard to drink "age appropriate stuff that's not illegal."
Aside from these larger threads, Into The Unknown subtly peppers in references to the ten circles, appeasing Dante superfans. Greg steals a rock, a reference to theft as one of the crimes punished in this realm. After awaking inside of a tree, Beatrice's bluebird mother attempts to feed Wirt a spoonful of dirt, which according to TREY the Explainer may be a reference to the punishment for flattery, eating excrement for all eternity. Yum? The YouTuber also argues that Wirt's fascination with the unknown also plays into the punishment for astrologers, having their heads put on backwards, unaware of what will happen for all eternity.
Treachery, The Ninth Ring of Hell --The Unknown
Despite popular misconceptions, Hell is not all fire and brimstone -- at least not in Dante's eyes. The final circle, reserved for those who betray their benefactors, is entirely frigid, perpetrators permanently lodged in ice with arctic blasts emanating forth from the Devil's flapping wings. Those who have committed particularly heinous acts, namely Judas, a betrayer of Christ, as well as Brutus, and Cassius, who killed their friend Casear, are punished by spending the afterlife lodged in Satan's mouth, bitten for all eternity. After musing at this layer's horrors, Virgil and Dante manage to escape, climbing through the Devil's body through the other side of the earth. While we don't spend much time in this layer, the treachery is tangible. After all, the Devil himself is the manifestation of the sin, a similarity to the Beast in OTGW.
Now in control of Greg following his sacrifice to save his brother, the Beast attempts to make a deal with Wirt -- as long as he can keep the lantern lit, his brother will live on, similar to the Woodsman's bargain. "Above all else, he is treacherous, a trait that is made distinct from fraud by how it is a betrayal of a more intimate sort," wrote Globe Gander of their similarities. "In insincere defiance of his fearsome reputation, he tries to pass himself off as helpful and altruistic; telling the Woodsman, Greg, and Wirt that he'll help them out if they perform some simple, but essentially idiotic tasks for an indefinite (read: forever) amount of time." Yet once both of his victims stand up for themselves, and the light goes out, the Beast is destroyed, plunging the Unknown into darkness.
Yet for a split second, before the lantern is extinguished, we catch a glimpse of the Beast in all his terrifying glory, appearing strikingly similar to the description of Lucifer in Inferno. Like his poetic counterpart, who Dante says has multiple faces and wings, the Beast is covered in holes depicting screaming faces, with a wing-like structure allowing him to float. According to a Tumblr account allegedly managed by Patrick McHale, the Beast was originally supposed to look a lot more like a modern depiction of Satan, complete with horns, a tail, and a cape. Considering he was even at one point dubbed "Old Scratch," a common nickname for the Devil, this comparison seems to canonically check out.
As soon as the Beast is defeated, our characters realize it is time to return home. "Goodbye, Beatrice," we hear Wirt say. "Goodbye, Wirt," she replies.
Suddenly, the eldest brother snaps awake, still underwater. He dives deeper, rescuing his brother and Jason Funderburker before swimming to the surface, collapsing only seconds after calling for help. Fortunately, his friends find him just in time, transporting him to the hospital, where they seemingly peacefully sleep.
By the time Wirt comes to, Greg is up and well, telling the tales from their time in The Unknown. The final easter egg Lorna's glowing bell, lodged in the frog's stomach. Yet the three heroes aren't the only ones who receive a happy ending. "Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear," Dante says as he re-enters the realm of the living. "Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars."
So what does this all mean?
I must confess -- I am no expert on The Divine Comedy nor Over The Garden Wall. Everything in this analysis is entirely speculative, an educated guess backed up by research, Globe Gander and TREY the Explainer's fascinating insights, and a few semi-confirmed pieces of canon. The show's Inferno similarities provide a logical explanation for some seemingly-unsolvable mysteries, but the lore of this world likely runs deeper than any of us can imagine. With some sources saying the series was in development on and off since 2004, 10 years before its Cartoon Network debut, OTGW has survived multiple iterations, pulling from a variety of source material to create the Americana-inspired classic we know and love. There are still many mysteries to be examined. What, exactly, are those dark turtles? What entity possessed Lorna? Who are Adelaide and Auntie Whispers and how do they relate to the Beast? Were our beloved brothers dead? Was it all a dream? Unless you're creator Patrick McHale or a member of the story team, the world may never know. But hey, it's the mysteries of OTGW that make it truly a classic worth revisiting year after year.