Your Over the Garden Wall Theory Is Valid But May Be Wrong


  • Over the Garden Wall was a 10-episode fantasy animated series on Cartoon Network.
  • The series followed brothers Greg and Wirt who encounter a place called “The Unknown” that’s haunted by the Beast.
  • Fans of the series have theorized that The Unknown is actually a purgatory, a place between life and death.

Airing in 2014 on Cartoon Network, Over the Garden Wall follows brothers Greg and Wirt after they get lost in a bizarre forest called the Unknown. Over the course of the 10-episode series, the two boys meet an eccentric cast of characters, including a woman cursed to be a bluebird, sentient skeletons dressed as pumpkins, and a man so wealthy he didn’t even know the size of his mansion. The woods are also haunted by a monster known as the Beast, who leads weary travelers to their doom to keep himself alive. That dark-fantasy setting appears to be entirely separate from Greg and Wirt’s world, connecting these characters through some form of magic.

Although the Unknown could be written off as simply the fantastical setting, fans have long theorized it may symbolize something more. Sometime in the decade since Over the Garden Wall’s release, a popular fan theory developed that the Unknown is actually a sort of purgatory, where Greg and Wirt are sent because they’re caught between life and death. Many fans came to accept the theory as truth. However, it may not be exactly correct.

Updated on November 9, 2023 by Katie Doll: Over the Garden Wall’s most favored theory is that the Unknown is the place between life and death, but this theory has long been applied to other stories. This article has been updated to expand on the popular nature of purgatory theories in Over the Garden Wall and other films, television shows and video games.

Is the Unknown the Place Between Life and Death?

A Over the Garden Wall still shows Wirt and Greg with startled expressions

Over the Garden Wall: All the Parallels to Dante’s Inferno

Early in production, the Unknown was called the In-Between, indicating it’s not a place for the living or the dead. Further evidence can be found in the book, The Art of Over the Garden Wall, which describes the Unknown as “The place between life and death, between dreams and reality.” It wouldn’t be far-fetched to believe that Greg and Wirt are between life and death because the penultimate episode reveals the brothers became lost in the Unknown after falling into the water and nearly drowning. At the end of the series, they find their way home by going through that same lake again before being taken to the hospital.

Over the Garden Wall’s creator, Patrick McHale, didn’t reject the theory, but instead said in a 2020 interview, “Any interpretation that feels right to people is a perfectly valid interpretation to me.” Many fans have taken his response to mean the theory is, effectively, canon. One Reddit user, u/Tesseract618, notes the Woodsman returns home to find his daughter waiting for him, suggesting he had been missing for a long time. It’s possible the Beast kept him between life and death in the Unknown. It was only after the Beast’s defeat that the Woodsman was able to return to the land of the living.

Over the Garden Wall’s Finale May Rule Out the Purgatory Theory

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Another Reddit user, u/Wendys_frys, speculated the majority of the Unknown’s residents are already Edelwood trees and cannot return to the real world. Perhaps, the user claimed, their only goal was to find peace in the afterlife. After the Woodsman meets the brothers, he states, “Everyone has a torch to burn.” That would indicate everyone trapped in the Unknown must face some task to find peace, move on, or return to life.

The evidence for the Unknown being a sort of purgatory is damning and seems canon. However, the final episode, “The Unknown,” may bring the theory back into question. Greg and Wirt are the only characters who return to the real world. At the end of the final episode, the narrator says, “And so, the story is complete, and everyone is satisfied with the ending. And so on and so forth, and yet, over the garden wall” before showing the citizens of the Unknown still there, though clearly much happier. That would indicate they never actually moved on and could only mean they either chose to stay or were forced to do so. This would not make sense if the Unknown were in purgatory, which suggests a temporary state of being.

Why Purgatory Is a Significant Setting in Many Stories

5 Ways Over The Garden Wall Is Underrated (& Why It’s Overrated)

The idea that the Unknown may be purgatory isn’t exactly outrageous, and not just because of its ambiguous nature. Purgatory is a common theory that arises in shows, movies and television shows about other universes, dimensions and worlds. Typically, these theories come about when it’s not exactly explained what these other places are, just like the Unknown. For seasons, many speculated that the island in Lost was purgatory because of its mysterious and supernatural nature, and the series finale questioned the idea that everyone died from the plane crash — even if, in fact, that wasn’t the case. The dimension Thanos visits in Infinity War after snapping half the universe out of existence was also believed to be a purgatory of sorts. Death Stranding, a video game that relies heavily on the themes of life and death, confirms that the “Beach” is a purgatory in which many characters with special abilities can visit at any point.

So why does purgatory show up as either theory or canon in many stories? Many people like to believe that characters are visiting a state between life and death because purgatory represents a time of reflection. Typically, the only way out of purgatory is to move forward to whatever comes next after death (except for the cases of Death Stranding and Over the Garden Wall), and usually characters who have been thrown into this in-between state aren’t there by their own will. If they can only move forward, then the best way to cope with that is to accept their past. And in some supernatural cases, they can fix their mistakes they made while alive or help their loved ones heal from the tragic loss, just as the main character does in The Lovely Bones.

  • Lost
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • The Lovely Bones
  • Death Stranding
  • Flatliners
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Over the Garden Wall‘s Unknown could act as this state of self-reflection for Greg and Wirt, if fans choose to go with this theory. It’s not uncommon in stories that characters return from purgatory to the land of the living, just as long as they complete their mission that fulfills proper character development. But the setting of Over the Garden Wall is made to be entirely ambiguous. With no set guidelines for how the Unknown operates, every theory is valid in its own right.

Over the Garden Wall is available stream on Hulu and to buy on Prime Video.

Wirt and Greg Over the Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall

Two brothers find themselves lost in a mysterious land and try to find their way home.

Release Date
November 3, 2014

Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry, Jack Jones, Samuel Ramey

Main Genre

Fantasy, Horror, Adventure, Short


Patrick McHale

Tome of the Unknown

Cartoon Network

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