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Times Adventure Time Got Really Dark

If ever a show leaned into its own weirdness and surreal identity, it was the Cartoon Network hit "Adventure Time." The show, which ran from 2010 to 2018, was the brainchild of Pendleton Ward, who would later go on to craft the Netflix series "The Midnight Gospel." To say that "Adventure Time" was unique would be a gross understatement, playing host as it did to some of modern animation's strangest ideas. Nothing seemed off-limits for Ward's series, which tackled such subjects as life, death, rebirth, eldritch monsters, and even political corruption.

Despite its (literally) candy-coated exterior, the series was never afraid to get disturbing, resulting in some supremely dark moments. From recurring characters dying in gruesome fashions to an endless supply of supernatural spooks, this show didn't mess around. From its first season to its last, there was very little ground that "Adventure Time" didn't cover. These are just a few choice examples of times that the series threw caution to the wind and got really dark.

Ice King's tragic backstory

Up until the show's third season, the character of the Ice King was presented as nothing more than a comedic foil. The princess-obsessed, manic ruler of the Ice Kingdom had already established his place in the hearts and minds of fans. Voiced by the legendary Tom Kenny, the character was a glorious mix of unchained ego and excitable insanity. The character was then taken in an intriguing direction in the Season 3 two-parter "Holly Jolly Secrets." 

After finding a cache of Ice King's VHS tapes, Finn and Jake sift through them to discover his secrets. However, what they find is more than they could've imagined—namely, the Ice King's secret origin story. Originally a professor of archaeology, Simon Petrikov acquires a magical crown from a dock worker in Northern Scandinavia. After putting it on for a gag in front of his fiancée Betty, Simon succumbs to the powers of the crown. We then see snippets of Simon's gradual descent into madness and his eventual transformation into the Ice King. It's a haunting sequence that stands in stark contrast to the jokester the Ice King had previously been portrayed as.

Finn gets tortured by gnomes

It wasn't uncommon for Finn and Jake to find themselves in unsavory situations throughout the show's eight-year run. In the episode "Power Animal," Finn finds himself kidnapped and at the mercy of a gaggle of gnomes. While hosting a party at the treehouse, Finn is praised for his seemingly bottomless reserve of energy and focus. This catches the attention of a rather bizarre partygoer whose identity is unknown to both Finn and Jake. Soon enough, this stranger kidnaps Finn. He later reveals himself to be the Grandmaster of the Gnomes.

As Jake attempts to find him—constantly getting sidetracked due to his lack of focus—Finn's situation only worsens. He is thrown into one apparatus after another, including a hamster wheel, an electrical containment unit, and a brain scanner. This is all done to harness Finn's energy, which in turn powers a device that will allow the gnomes to conquer Ooo. Jake eventually does come to Finn's aid, due in major part to a wish from the Party God that allows him to focus. However, it's still majorly distressing to see Finn in such prolonged and horrific circumstances for an entire episode.

Marceline's tragic backstory

It's fair to say that Marceline the Vampire Queen is definitely the breakout character on "Adventure Time." Voiced by Olivia Olson, Marceline is a playful if not slightly sassy 1,000-year-old vampire who lives in Ooo. Very often Finn and Jake find themselves embroiled in conflicts related to or directly caused by her. Throughout the series, we learn just about every facet of Marcy's tragic backstory. 

Marcy is the result of a relationship between her human mother, Elise, and her father, Hunson Abadeer, the ruler of the Nightosphere. Following the Great Mushroom War, which was responsible for Ooo's magical populace, Marcy encounters Simon Petrikov. The two form a loving father-daughter relationship, but sadly, Simon abandons her due to his worsening condition. She later is turned into a vampire during a fight with the Vampire King of Ooo while protecting a tribe of humans. This grants Marcy immortality, leading to her meeting and even forming a romantic relationship with the Candy Kingdom ruler, Princess Bubblegum. As far as lore is concerned, Marceline definitely has one of the show's most complicated histories.

Princess Bubblegum gets possessed

Season two of "Adventure Time" began raising the stakes in terms of threats facing the Land of Ooo. The show's darker elements begin to take center stage in more episodes, with many shocking twists and turns. This is made abundantly clear in the two-part Season 2 finale "Mortal Folly" and "Mortal Recoil." Princess Bubblegum tasks Finn and Jake with defeating The Lich, The Land of Ooo's most sinister and powerful threat. The Lich is unique in that, unlike other previous villains, he is played completely straight with no comedic elements. The character oozes sinister vibes, helped in no small part by the voice work of the incomparable Ron Perlman.

At the conclusion of Part 1, Princess Bubblegum (PB for short) is dropped in a pool of the Lich's energy due to the Ice King's buffoonery. This results in PB being possessed by the Lich, which causes her to transform into an equally sinister entity. In a particularly horrific sequence, the possessed princess even traumatizes Jake with images of demonic fire before transforming into a monstrous behemoth. The expertly crafted pair of episodes is an indication of the darker path that the series takes in future seasons.

The freak deer

"No One Can Hear You" is one of the best examples of "Adventure Time" going all the way with a disturbing concept. The episode begins normally enough, with Finn and Jake attempting to corral a rogue deer who is attacking the Candy People. However, things take a turn when the deer not only breaks Finn's legs but also knocks him out cold. Finn awakens in the hospital with his legs in casts and later emerges to an eerily deserted Candy Kingdom. He soon finds Jake digging through the trash for supplies. Jake is convinced that everyone is hiding to surprise him for his birthday.

Soon enough, Finn discovers that he has been in a coma for six months and that Jake has completely lost his mind. He eventually makes his way into the kingdom's sewers and finds the Candy People, including Princess Bubblegum, stuck to the walls with melted sugar. At first, Jake, with his sanity restored, is convinced that he did this to the Candy people, but not so. The deer from earlier emerges from the shadows, removing his false hooves to reveal a creepy set of human fingers. It's "28 Days Later" by way of "Adventure Time" and it makes for a superbly unsettling episode.

Marceline is starved of blood

Despite Marceline's playful demeanor, the show never lets the viewer forget that she's a vampire with a thirst for blood. This is definitely exemplified in the fittingly titled episode "Red Starved," a story with a disturbing hook. While traversing the subterranean world of Ooo, Finn, Jake, and Marceline get stranded. Things worsen when it's revealed that a foolish Jake has eaten Marcy's bag of erasers, AKA her stash of red. Marcy informs the duo that things could become extremely dangerous for everyone if she gets too hungry. Jake has to contend with an increasingly ravenous Marcy while Finn goes off to find her sustenance.

Her deprived condition causes her to look more gaunt and withered, like a vampire from a classic horror movie. Given Marceline's usually playful demeanor, it is genuinely disturbing to see her in such a state. The episode adds an extra bit of morbid humor on top of this, as a starving Jake then tries to eat Marcy. It's an episode with a simple yet effective hook that results in genuine suspense and unsettling visuals.

Shoko hits her reset button

As "Adventure Time" progresses, the creators reveal more and more about the Land of Ooo's history. One aspect of this greater backstory actually has its seeds planted early in the Season 3 episode "The Creeps." During that episode's finale, Finn encounters a series of spooks, many of which are revealed to be pranks of Jake's. However, one specter that Jake cannot take credit for is a tall, green, highly disturbing female ghost. Finn opts not to dwell on the implications of this, quickly (and humorously) locking it away in his "vault." However, this repressed memory takes center stage in the Season 5 outing known as "The Vault."

Set in the early years of the Land of Ooo, we meet Shoko, a one-armed criminal with a penchant for thievery. It's explained that Shoko's parents sold her right arm for a computer before plopping her at a dojo. Eventually, Shoko is tasked with nicking a precious amulet from none other than Princess Bubblegum, then in the midst of building her guards. Shoko meets her end after falling into a river of toxic waste, crawling away before "hitting her reset button," AKA dying. It's a fascinating episode that provides morbid yet intriguing insight into the ghost that had been haunting Finn.

The Blank-Eyed Girls

Whenever "Adventure Time" does a legitimate horror-themed episode, it's always a very unique viewing experience. On a dark and stormy night, Finn and Jake are vibing at the pizza place and listening to Starchy's radio show. The show focuses on the unexplained and the paranormal events of Ooo, something that Finn reacts to with cynicism. Jake, however, is disturbed by the reports of a group of seemingly supernatural beings known as Blank-Eyed Girls. This urban legend soon reveals itself to be true, however, as the duo encounters one of them in their own treehouse. 

This results in several attempts to communicate with and banish the girls from their house using Starchy's on-air advice. The Blank-Eyed Girls seem at first to be nothing more than regular girls with fake eyes. Just when Jake opts to call the police, the girls remove their wigs and then their own heads. They then upstage themselves by unzipping their own skin to show their true forms as weird, cloud-like entities. The creepy physical gags result in a disturbing, hilarious, and mind-boggling ending.

Princess Cookie jumps from a cliff

Only on a show like "Adventure Time" could the potential death of a talking cookie elicit actual sadness. In a scenario right out of a police procedural, we see a police standoff at a convenience store in the Candy Kingdom. The culprit is shown to be a belligerent cookie who wants nothing more than Princess Bubblegum's crown. PB tasks Finn and Jake with defusing the conflict, leading to Jake infiltrating the store dressed as a milkman. Jake strikes up a chat with the cookie in order to distract him and gradually learns his motives.

It's revealed that PB visited the cookie when he was little. The cookie confided in PB about his desire to be a princess. PB, not understanding how important this was to him, laughed at this notion. This sad story leads to Jake developing sympathy for the cookie and opting to help him escape. However, cornered and with no options left, the cookie decides to jump off a cliff. He thankfully survives. While recuperating in a mental ward, he's given a grass crown to finally satisfy his request.

The Lich wears Billy's skin

While not a consistent onscreen presence, the character of Billy is definitely a memorable addition to the show's character roster. Voiced by Lou Ferrigno, Billy is the Land of Ooo's original great hero, a gigantic bearded man of epic reputation. Following the events of Season 2's finale, The Lich is largely absent, occasionally appearing only as a possessed snail. This Easter egg takes center stage when the Lich—having acquired the Enchiridion—attacks Billy. These events are shown to Finn via a strange series of dreams, leading him to check on his hero.

Billy appears to be all right, but shows concern when informed of Finn's dream about him. Eventually, it is revealed that Finn's dream was indeed real and the Lich has indeed killed Billy. This is confirmed quite horrifically when it's shown that the Lich has been wearing Billy's skin as a suit. This is one of the show's more disturbing developments and methods of writing off a character.

King Worm's mind games

Sometimes there's nothing more bizarre and disturbing than one's own mind. "Adventure Time" knows this. Dreams and warped realities pop up multiple times on the show. Finn finds himself in what seems to be some kind of dreamscape filled with distorted versions of his friends and surroundings. He eventually locates Jake and the two begin working to escape their mental prison. Following a series of increasingly surreal visuals and developments, the duo thinks they've escaped.

However, Finn soon realizes the Jake he's been with is nothing more than a figment of the dreamscape. The whole situation is revealed to be a machination of King Worm, a character briefly introduced in Season 1. Finn then discovers that tapping into his own hidden fears holds the key to defeating the worm. Soon enough, Finn unleashes all of his notable fears—the ocean, the mysterious ghost girl, and The Lich. This is enough to cripple King Worm and Finn is finally able to break free from his mental trickery.

Finn plays god

The Season 5 episode "All the Little People" boasts one of the show's most intriguing and legitimately unsettling premises. While Finn and Jake discuss the various aspects of relationships, the ever-mischievous Magic Man covertly leaves Finn a small bag. Inside the bag, the duo finds a series of living miniature replicas of every major character in the Land of Ooo. They take the little people home and begin examining them, noticing the unique interplay and chemistry between the various miniatures. Soon enough, Finn begins taking his godlike fascination with them a bit too far and creates unique couplings.

This fascination gets weirder as Finn begins intentionally causing strife and drama among the denizens of his little world. The episode's tone is definitely unsettling, but in a way that sets it apart from the rest of its disturbing brethren. There isn't anything overtly violent or horrific being portrayed, but the episode's music creates an undeniable sense of discomfort. Seeing Finn slowly lose himself to the inner workings of the miniature world is equal parts fascinating and unnerving.