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The Ice King's Backstory From Adventure Time Explained

Few TV villains are as pitiful as Adventure Time's Ice King (voiced by Tom Kenny) — but what makes him so saddening isn't just his tendency to fail with the ladies. In the beginning of the popular Cartoon Network show, the Ice King is a goofy, lonely bad guy, whose main mission in life is to force a princess to be his bride. Beneath that, however, is a bottomless loneliness that is the very essence of the Ice King's tortured soul. Why else would an ostensible villain try so hard to impress Adventure Time's heroes, Finn the human (Jeremy Shada) and Jake the shape-shifting dog (John DiMaggio)?

But why so lonely, Ice King? And just how did the guy get to be so obsessed with princesses? Was he always that way? Throughout the series, we get bits and pieces of the Ice King's life before the main events of Adventure Time, including the details of his touching relationship with Marceline (Olivia Olson), and his original demeanor (which was much less pathetic). Let's dive into the Ice King's complicated history, and take a look at his evolution over the course of the show.

The Ice King wasn't always bad

Though the Ice King is insufferable throughout much of Adventure Time's early seasons, he still shows little bits of humanity. He cries about his loneliness, he's sweet to his penguin friends, and he wants to fit in with Finn and Jake. In the latter half of the show, we find out that the Ice King really isn't bad deep down. In fact, he started out as a normal, nice guy named Simon Petrikov, who lost his mind due to the effects of the magical crown he found.

Before the events of the Mushroom War that changed the Earth, Petrikov worked with, and had a deep appreciation for ancient artifacts. One day, he purchased a crown from a dockworker in Northern Scandinavia, and quickly learned that wearing it would make him black out and hallucinate. The crown essentially took control of the Ice King's mind, making him do and say horrible things that he wouldn't be able to recollect after. The crown eventually altered his physical appearance, as well. This revelation transformed the Ice King's character in the minds of viewers from a pathetic old coot, into a deeply tragic victim of the crown's evil magic.

The Ice King watched out for Marceline

One of the first things we learned about the Ice King's backstory was his history with Marceline, the Vampire Queen (a welcome and rare openly gay animated character). In season 4's episode "I Remember You," the Ice King pays an unwelcome visit to Marceline's house. While it originally seems like Marceline is yet another girl the Ice King harrasses from time to time, she reveals that the two have known each other for thousands of years, and she has a soft spot for him in her heart.

The two start a jam session, and Marceline sings lyrics made up of notes the Ice King wrote on the back of some scrapbooking papers. The notes give us a hint of the Ice King's fading memory, induced by the crown, and a little backstory about how he looked after her in the wreckage of the Mushroom War. 

In season 5, episode 14, we get a deeper look at the bond between the Ice King and Marceline, as she explains their backstory to Finn and Jake. In the aftermath of the Mushroom War, Petrikov watched over Marceline as a sort of father figure: He kept her fed, found them shelter, and tried to keep her spirits high. Though the Ice King obviously doesn't recognize the events of Marceline's story as the truth due to his memory loss, he continues to seek out her friendship in future years, showing just how strong their bond remains.

The Ice King was engaged

That's right — the Ice King had a fiancé, and her name was Betty (Lena Dunham). Before Petrikov transformed, the two were in a loving and committed relationship, grounded in a shared passion for science. However, as depicted in season 3 episode 20, "Holly Jolly Secrets Part II," we learn that when Petrikov donned the crown for the first time, it was the last time he saw Betty. It's insinuated that he said or did some horrible things, while under the crown's influence.

To make matters worse, in season 5's episode "Betty," we see that when Petrikov first put on the crown, he chased Betty around the city, blasting ice rays and calling out for "his princess." Could this mean that the entire time the Ice King was trying to find a princess to marry, he was subconsciously searching for Betty? What a heartbreaking connection to make.

While the Ice King did some pretty unfortunate stuff, his backstory allows viewers to empathize with him, and even makes space for important conversations about mental illness. And even though Petrikov and Betty didn't necessarily get their happy ending, it was nice to see that Ice King once knew love.