In 2014, Cartoon Network aired the miniseries "Over the Garden Wall." The show follows two lost brothers, Wirt and Greg, as they travel through a strange forest called the Unknown. They have many strange and fantastical encounters, many of which border on horrific. They meet a woodsman who works continuously to grind Edelwood trees into oil to keep his lantern burning. It's the Woodsman who warns them of the Beast, a monstrous creature that haunts the forest and claims its lost souls.
"Over the Garden Wall" references various folklore and fairy tales that all point to the same conclusion: the show takes place in the afterlife. The most obvious evidence for this conclusion is given during the tenth episode, "The Unknown." The audience discovers in the previous episode that Wirt and Greg fell into a river in order to avoid being struck by a train. At the end of "The Unknown," it's revealed that they hadn't ever left the river. It's then inferred that the brothers' adventure through the woods was a death-dream. After every title card for each episode, a distant train engine and whistle are heard, foreshadowing the series' ending.
There are many symbols and allusions that prove this theory. One of which is the character Beatrice. Beatrice is a bluebird that acts as the brothers' guide through the wood to the enchantress Adelaide of the Pasture. This is an important reference to the woman, Beatrice, who guides Dante through Purgatory and Heaven in "The Divine Comedy". When Wirt and Greg finally meet Adelaide of the Pasture, they find that she a less of a good woman and more of a witch. Adelaide sits in her bed cutting string, referencing the thread of life cut by the Fates.
In the episode, "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee," Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice meet the people from the town Pottsfield, who dress up for a husking bee (a real New England tradition), which celebrates the harvest. The name Pottsfield is a reference to a potter's field, a place where poor or unknown people would be buried. The townspeople dressed up in various crops from the harvest, using pumpkins for heads. At the end of the episode, Wirt finds out the costumes hid not people, but animated skeletons. This ending was ominously inferred when a townsperson said that Wirt was "a little early" to be there, meaning that he wasn't dead yet. But the leader of Pottsfield, Enoch, assured Wirt that he would join them someday.
Beatrice tells Wirt they need two pennies to travel on the ferry to Adelaide's pasture. This is an obvious allusion to the two coins put on the dead's eyes to pay Charon the ferryman to cross the river Styx. The brothers are given the coins by Quincy Endicott, a wealthy owner of a tea company. Four episodes later, there are flashbacks of the brothers' life before they went over the garden wall. During one scene, Wirt and Greg are hiding behind tombstones to avoid detection from Wirt's peers. There's a brief moment when the grave Greg hides behind is in clear focus. The name on it is unmistakable: Quincy Endicott.
It is important to note that the cemetery is called the "Eternal Garden." The brothers literally go over the garden wall and into eternity. When the boys jump over the cemetery wall, they fall down a hill to avoid a train and as they fall, a song plays that compares the train to death: "There's an old black train a-comin' scraping 'long the iron. You don't need no ticket, boy. It'll take you in it's time."
Wirt is a melancholic character and after Beatrice's betrayal he has even less hope than usual. There is a noticeable change in the weather as Wirt begins to despair. The series started out in a cheery autumn, but finished with a desolate winter. He has lost all hope that they will ever make it back home. Wirt and Greg decide to go to sleep, during which Greg has a dream about the Queen of the Clouds. The Queen tells Greg that she can help Greg get home, but that Wirt can't come because he is already being claimed by the Beast. The Beast forms Edelwood branches that ensnare the sleeping Wirt. Greg trades himself to the Beast as an exchange for his brother.
The episode "Song of the Dark Lantern" gives us the first view of the Beast. He is a figure wreathed in shadow, with antlers and two bright lights for eyes. The Beast tells us why the Woodsman works methodically to keep his lantern lit: the light of his daughter will go out if the lantern does. The Beast turns the souls of lost children into Edelwood trees, and sometimes offers their loved ones an exchange; he will keep their soul in a lantern if its bearer will keep it lit.
There are multiple encounters of the Beast mocking and reminding the Woodsman to keep the lantern lit. But it's revealed that the soul of the Woodsman's daughter isn't carried in the lantern. It's the Beast's soul. The Woodsman took the lantern from him, so he needed to guarantee that the Woodsman would keep the lantern lit. He tricked the Woodsman into believing that his daughter's soul was lost in the forest, keeping him away from his home where his daughter really was. Once the Woodsman figures out that his daughter's soul is not in the lantern, he takes a chance and blows the lantern out. The Beast yells out, "Are you really ready to go back to that empty house?!" in a last attempt to dissuade him. It's during this scene that the audiences sees the Beast in clear light. He looks like a tree covered in screaming and hopeless faces.
The Beast is consistently a symbol of despair. His song, " Come Wayward Souls ," encourages the meek to "submit to the soul of the earth," or rather, to submit to death. The Beast transforming the lost and despairing souls into trees is another allusion to "The Divine Comedy". In "Inferno", the seventh circle is inhabited by the three forms of sins of violence: violence against others, oneself, and God. Those violent against themselves were the ones who committed suicide. As punishment, they were transformed into trees, contrasting the Tree of Life. The Beast turned the souls of those who despaired into a similar forest.
In the last episode of the series, Wirt managed to pull Greg out of the river where they were greeted by emergency aid. No time passed during the series, which is shown through the constant half-moon phase of the moon. Since both Greg and Wirt remember their adventures through the Unknown, it is reasonable to conclude that they really did travel through a version of the afterlife.