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Why Ice King Is The Most Tragic Character In Adventure Time

In the first season of "Adventure Time," series protagonist Finn is a knight of sorts working both to protect and gain the affection of the royal Princess Bubblegum. She's frequently antagonized by the hapless Ice King, an ice wizard living in near-solitude, accompanied only by a waddle of disinterested penguins. That said, even in its first season, "Adventure Time" attempts to subvert its fantasy setting's surface-level cliches. Princess Bubblegum, for example, is not a damsel in distress but is self-assured to the point that she's sometimes as competent, if not more so, than Finn. The Ice King, meanwhile, is more often than not more buffoonish than he is threatening in his role as a villain.

As the series progresses, the subversions only grow deeper and more complex. For instance, Princess Bubblegum, while still smart and powerful, is soon portrayed as an increasingly autocratic leader. She also rebuffs Finn's advances, and rather than remaining the object of his unrequited affection as she would in a typical series, Finn genuinely moves on and the two remain friends and co-workers.

Perhaps the most drastic turn for a character in the 10-season run of "Adventure Time" is first teased in the season 3 episode "Holly Jolly Secrets Part II," and detailed in the season 4 episode "I Remember You." As it turns out, the Ice King was once a noble human named Simon Petrikov. In an act of self-sacrifice, he was corrupted by the crown he still wears and turned into the Ice King. The longer "Adventure Time" explores Simon's backstory, the more the tragedy that is the Ice King becomes the series' most heartbreaking storyline.

The tale of Simon Petrikov

The present day of "Adventure Time" takes place after a vague apocalyptic event, the Great Mushroom War. Simon Petrikov's adulthood predates that apocalypse, at which point he was a scientist and collector of ancient artifacts. One day during that period, Simon finds what he would later know to be the Ice King's crown. Upon trying it on, he briefly loses all sense of his own cognition and even drives away his fiance, Betty.

When "Adventure Time" next picks up his story in flashback, Simon has become one of a scant number of survivors post-apocalypse. In the wastelands of Ooo, he meets a young Marceline, acting as her caretaker in the absence of her human mother (whose story is detailed in the sequel series "Adventure Time: Distant Lands"). However, he leaves Marceline upon realizing that he's succumbing further and further to the crown's influence, having to use its ice powers for his and Marceline's survival.

So, when "Adventure Time" begins, the gentle scientist Simon has been subsumed entirely by the Ice King persona. That transformation, viewers learn, entailed the loss of both his fiance and surrogate daughter. That said, seemingly in acknowledgment that the Ice King's story is the show's most tragic, it becomes the predominant focus of the series finale, giving Simon a proper resolution rather than letting his personal tragedy simply remain in the past.