The distinct undertones of loss and mourning throughout Adventure Time’s hour-long finale, “Come Along With Me,” feel both appropriate for the special’s focus on the Great Gum War and at odds with the larger show’s generally optimistic worldview.
“Come Along With Me” is, in a technical sense, the ending of a show that changed the landscape of animated television. But on another level, the finale is also an expression of the belief that Adventure Time and the impact it’s had on its fans is something that’s never truly going to end.
Though Princess Bubblegum’s finale battle with her Uncle Gumbald—the Great Gum War—was teased as being the final event that brought forth Ooo’s ultimate destruction, “Come Along With Me” immediately makes clear that isn’t the case. Or, rather, that it’s important for people to broaden their ideas about what the destruction of Ooo actually means.
The special opens with the introduction of two new characters: Shermy (Sean Giambrone) and Beth the Pup Princess (Willow Smith), two best friends living in an Ooo of the not-too-distant future where BMO has become king in the wake of the Great Gum War. Ooo, obviously, didn’t come to a definitive end, but rather an end, heralding a historic change in the landscape echoing the nuclear war preceding Adventure Time.
Shermy and Beth, Finn and Jake’s spiritual successors, set out on a journey to find the King and learn just what happened during the war. As it turns out, the war is something of a misdirect that gets wrapped up fairly quickly as Princess Bubblegum and Gumbald battle and soon realize there’s no way their conflict will end in anything but chaos and destruction for their respective kingdoms. In brushing up against the idea of an epic final battle, “Come Along With Me” subverts the trope and instead insists that Adventure Time’s relationships are what have always made its heroes strong.
But it isn’t just the positive ties between characters that “Come Along With Me” highlights. In pairs—Finn and Fern, and Princess Bubblegum and Gumbald—come to realize they aren’t really one another’s enemies by finding the strength to see past their perceived differences and recognize their respective humanity. They’re the kind of moments of character development that can often get lost in Adventure Time’s frenetic, irreverent storytelling, but “Come Along With Me” purposefully slows down in order to really let you sit with what everyone’s going through.
That being said, the back half of the Gum War is technically a huge battle, though it’s thankfully rushed, in a word, so as to get back to the emotionally-charged meat of the special.
After months of hints that’ve been scattered throughout the show, GOLB, a being of pure destruction, finally makes its appearance and promptly begins to wreak havoc on the land, forcing everyone to set aside their differences and fight back together. There are a lot of things to be read into GOLB’s presence, but what’s most immediately interesting about it is that it highlights the ultimate futility of all-out war. A number of characters have valiant moments where they make clear how ready they are to sacrifice themselves if it means saving Ooo and the people they love, but they all fail because, again, fighting isn’t really the point here.
Marceline flies into a demonic rage when she mistakenly believes that Princess Bubblegum’s been killed, and when the two realize that they’re still in the fray together, they profess their love for one another and—in case it was unclear what the nature of their relationship is—they seal things with a kiss. It’s knowing that your loved ones are safe, the finale posits, that can stop wars from beginning and, in Adventure Time’s case, ultimately bring them to an end.
Cartoon Network was understandably tight-lipped about plot details for Adventure Time’s finale, but it actually dropped a rather major, if cryptic hint about how things would end at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con courtesy of Steven Universe’s Rebecca Sugar.
Sugar, who returned to Adventure Time this season, penned “Time Adventure,” the song that brings “Come Along With Me” to its emotional climax when the heroes realize that GOLB is vulnerable to musical harmony. The song’s lyrics are deceptively simple and speak about how we all perceive time:
This verse, in particular, stands out as an encapsulation of how the finale begins and ends and just what all has happened across the course of Adventure Time’s run:
Singing will happen, happening, happened
will happen, happening, happened
And will happen again and again
Cause you and I will always be back then
Over its nine seasons, Adventure Time has used Finn and Jake’s adventures to subtlety suggest that no matter what world-ending catastrophes and villains the Land of Ooo was forced to reckon with, none of this can ever truly end. Destruction might befall Ooo and heroes may fade into distant memory, but in time, new generations rise up to rebuild from the ashes. It isn’t at all coincidental that Beth, a princess, strongly resembles both Jake and Lady Rainicorn—she’s part of the next leg of Adventure Time’s sprawling, never-ending story.
When you zoom out, “Come Along With Me” feels like a goodbye to Adventure Time with a bolded asterisk at the end. It isn’t just that Adventure Time’s continuing with an official comic book due out later this—the show’s spirit is something that just can’t come to an end. It’s part of the culture that exists within the hearts of fans, and will bring them back to Ooo, Finn, Jake, and the rest over and over again.