Once again this review will contain spoilers. Those of you who haven't watched this episode yet, you have been warned.
So the episode start with the six main ponies and Spike heading to the Equestrian capital of Canterlot during the Winter. It turns out that they are all there to take part in a celebration known as Hearth's Warming Eve, which like the celebration of Nightmare Night, is one exactly like a real-world holiday with a different name, in this case Christmas. After a brief game of "I spy", we get the episode opening title screen.
As the episode begins proper, we find that the seven main characters are there in the city to take part of an annual play which takes place in the royal palace. A play that takes place all over the country, with the one taking place in Canterlot being the most important. The play in question is a re-enactment of the founding of Equestria, with the six main ponies all playing the parts of important figures of the time. As the play begins, Spike acts as it's narrator. As he starts to tell the story, the scene shifts from the ponies acting out the play to scenes from the past. It's explained that long before the arrival of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, Equestria was not a united land as it is in the present. Back then the three pony groups, Earth ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi, were not part of one society but rather separate conflicting tribes. A tenuous peace emerged between the three groups. The Earth ponies would ted to the land and provide food for the other two groups, with the unicorns bring about the day and night in return, and the pegasi controlling the weather. However, soon an unprecedented blizzard fell upon the land, making it near impossible for the Earth ponies to grown any food. This led to a crisis between the tribes, with in-fighting and conflict. As the strife grew, so to did the blizzard.
Eventually, a summit was called between them. There, representatives of the three groups would meet with each other to discuss the crisis. From the unicorns, there was the daughter of their king, Princess Platinum *played by Rarity). For the pegasi, there was their ruler, Commander Hurricane (played by Rainbow Dash). And for the Earth ponies, there was Chancellor Puddinghead (played by Pinkie Pie). Although the meeting was called to discuss how best to deal with the blizzard, it quickly descends into an argument between the three leaders, who all blame each other for their current state of affairs. The summit falls apart and they each return to their own lands. Hurricane goes home and meets with her aide, Private Pansy (played by Fluttershy), to discuss plans to stand independent of the other tribes. Platinum return to her palace and meets with a servant, Clover the clever (Played by Twilight) with plans to do the same. And Puddinghead meets with her secretary, Smart Cookie (played by Applejack) and comes to the same conclusion.
And so begins the quest by the three leaders and their assistants to go out and search for a new land for their tribes to live in. Over the course of the journey, the leaders all act in ways that irritate their aides, such as hurricane's overly-aggressive nature, Platinum refusing to cross a tiny stream, and Puddingheads general silliness. But the aides put up with it regardless. After some time the three groups eventually come across a new land, green and untouched by the blizzard. They each stake a claim to it but find that the other tribes have found it as well. This of course leads to strife between them and, much to their surprise, they find that the blizzard they escaped from has now caught up with them and covered this newly-discovered area.
In order to escape the cold, all six of them take shelter in a nearby cave. But because of the divide between them the leaders attempt to lay claim to the floor of the cave. As they bicker amongst themselves, the leaders become encased in ice. The assistants are all shocked by this, but even more so by the arrival of three horse-like spirits flying above them. Clover explains to Pansy and Smart Cookie that these creatures are "Windigos", spirits who cause extreme cold and feed off the conflict between peoples. It's here that the three realise that the blizzard back in their homeland was caused by their hatred for each other. The three aides then confess to not hating each other specifically, and even end up taking a liking to each other, realising that and the end of the day, they're all ponies in spite of their differences. Just before the ice can consume them, Clover's horn gives off a powerful burst of energy that drives off the Windigos and frees them from the ice.
Clover realises that the spell didn't come from just her, but from having forged a friendship with the other two. And all through the following night, they come to know each other better, telling stories and singing songs that would eventually become the traditional Hearth's Warming Eve carols. This causes the ice to melt around them and free their leaders, who are so grateful that they soon forget their past conflict. With the strife between the tribes ended, they agree to share the newly-discovered land between them, leading to the creation of the nation of Equestria.
And so the episode ends with the six ponies congratulating each other on doing a good play.
So how does the episode hold up?
Well, not to beat around the bush, but I think this goes right up with "Luna Eclipsed" and "Sisterhooves social" as one of the better episodes this season. The episode had just so much going for it that I don't even know where to begin. Firstly, let's look at the story itself. Let me say right now that this is not the first time I've seen a story like this. A play of a historical event turning into flashbacks of the story with historic figures played by present-day characters is a story structure I've seen in several cartoons before. True, none of them were fictional histories but the point still stands. Having said that, fictional histories are something I've always latched onto. I've just always had a fascination with fleshing out back-stories for make-believe worlds. In past episodes, the history of Equestria has always been told through word of mouth or storybooks. We've never actually gone to see those past events ourselves.
The history of this world we're given here seems like a very believable one despite the fantasy setting. After all, the pony characters are essentially three distinct races. And as many of us know from our own history, different races have never had a good record when it came to interacting with each other back then. As such it makes perfect sense to me that these groups would have been at each other's throats at one point. The writers do a very good job of showing just how bad their dislike for each other was, even going so far as to put in lines that (I think) could be considered racism. Lines like "what a shock!" An Earth pony with no bright ideas" really caught me off-guard. Sure I've heard worse comments in my life but for a kid's show to show prejudice like that is not something you get every day. But you know what? I think that adds to the realism of the situation. These people are at war with each other so it's not surprising they'd throw a few derogatory terms around.
On top of that there was just little touches here and there that really helped to flesh out this fictional history and connect it with the present world these ponies live in. Firslty, when Clover explains what the Windogos are, she tells the others that she learned about them through her mentor, "Starswirld the Bearded" a character that was mentioned as the person Twilight dressed up as in "Luna Eclipsed". When I first saw that episode I honestly thought it would be one of those throwaway names that would be forgotten after it's episode. But no. Here they bring it back, which shows a clear effort on the part of the writers to keep the history of this world consistent. The fact that the ancient pegasi appear to be a miliaristic society along the lines of ancient Sparta, would explain the tendency in the present times for members of the equestrian military, particularly the royal guard, to almost all be pegasi. And finally we have the unicorns. I mentioned in my review of "Sweet and Elite" that the unicorns of the Canterlot appeared to all be of the aristocracy, or at least the upper class. In this fictional history, that same upper-class appearance seems to remain, with their people having a monarchy and generally seeing themselves as more cultured.
If there was one thing I could criticise about the story of this episode it would be the decision t have the historic figures portrayed by the main characters. The reason being is that because they're portrayed by these characters we know, they behave in way we know the characters to act. Hurricane/Rainbow Dash is aggressive, Platinum/Rarity is somewhat pompous, Puddinghead/Pinkie Pie is very silly. In fact, these past characters seem like exactly what you would get if someone were to create caricatures of all of the six main characters. Twilight is level-headed, Applejack is practical, Fluttershy is scared, Rainbow Dash is aggressive, Rarity is somewhat snooty, Pinkie Pie is silly, that's what we get, the main characters' defining characteristics taken to extremes. Not only that, but the episode fails to tell us if this is an accurate representation of what these figures were like or if it's just artistic license on the part of the people playing them. Ideally, the episode should have been structured so that the play starts out with them portraying these characters, but then we shift to the real people in the flashback scenes. I know it sounds wrong for me to get so worked up about a made-up history, but it honestly bothers me.
The song this week, "The fire of friendship" is a rather brief one. It's about thirty seconds in total and happens once the play is finished. I can't identify any of the individual singers who did it this time as it was sung by both the main characters and the crowd who watched their play. As such it wasn't sung by an individual singing voice actress as we usually get but rather a chorus throughout. And to be honest, I rather liked it. It was short but sweet and carried the feeling of a genuine Christmas carol. I know what you're going to say, yes I know it's not really Christmas, but it's close enough. It was nice to listen to and it was well-sung. No problems here.
Time to talk about the humour now. This week the vast majority of the humour came from Pinkie Pie portraying the character of Chancellor Puddinghead. Every time she was on-screen she either said or did something to make me laugh. The chimney scene, punching holes in the map so she can see where she was going, there wasn't a single unfunny moment when she was around in this episode. However, the funniest moment for me came near the start of the play. It's where the three leaders meet with each other and try to discuss the blizzard crisis. Nothing gets achieved, they all blame each other for the problem and the interactions they have with each other were just hilarious to watch. In fact these three interacting with their respective aides was pretty funny to watch too, especially between Puddinghead and Smart Cookie. That relationship reminded me very much of that of another pair of fictional characters, Zapp Brannigan and Kif from the 20th Century Fox cartoon, Futurama. It's exactly like it, with the person of authority being a complete fool and the assistant being completely exasperated with their antics.
This would usually be the part of the review where I talk about the moral of the episode. But this time there doesn't seem to be one as there's no regular report sent to Princess Celestia or even any narration by twilight or the others. I suppose given the kind of story shown in the episode we can interpret the lesson as being that it's better to get along with people than to fight with them, but until we get anything officially I can't confirm or deny anything on that count.
Overall this was a great episode. Whilst I clearly had some issue with the historical setting taking place with present-day characters it never spoiled my overall enjoyment of the episode. The ending song was good, the attempts to flesh out this world's history and back-story was impressive and appreciated, and there was plenty of humour and good character moments throughout. A more-than-worthy mid-season finale for the show.
Join me next time when Applebloom has a little trouble with her relatives in episode twelve of season two, "Family appreciation day".