Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include spoilers.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the series finale of Adventure Time. Read at your own risk!]
After 10 seasons, Adventure Time came to an end with an epic, four-part finale, "Come Along with Me," on Monday, Sept. 3 on Cartoon Network. The series that began as the simple tale of a boy, Finn, and his magical stretchy dog, Jake, grew into a complex universe of characters and worlds with a history that stretches over eons, tackling issues like identity, abandonment and trauma right alongside celebrations of whimsy, joy and silliness.
In its final season, Adventure Time saw war brewing in the Land of Ooo, with Princess Bubblegum's evil Uncle Gumbald leading a rogues' gallery of villains against Princess Bubblegum in an attempt to take over the Candy Kingdom, with Finn and Jake desperate to avoid a war and working to defuse the situation.
TV Guide talked to showrunner Adam Muto about the end of the long-running series, which featured a few exciting cameos and returns, and about whether or not the show could ever come back.
How did it feel to say goodbye to these characters and this rich world?
Adam Muto: I think whenever a show ends, it's gonna feel bittersweet, but for me it was over a couple months ago. So, I've had time to process it a bit more, but I still don't really know how it feels. You'll have to ask me in another year what it feels like, 'cause [the finale] still hasn't actually aired. Once the finale airs, I think a lot of people on the show feel like it will be the real release and ending, and then you can process it. I know some people, like some of the board artists, they need the last episode to air just so they can be free of it, 'cause it's still at the back of their heads; it takes up this mental space. So I don't know yet. I'll find out in a couple weeks.
Was the finale something that you guys were writing toward for a while?
Muto: Elements of it, definitely. There are some questions that were brought up in Season 1 and, of course, Season 3, and then kind of building on those. But because it's a season-to-season show — that's how we found out when we got pickups — we couldn't aim the entire show toward that. But definitely this last season, there was a feeling that different threads were gonna have to either come together or be left mysterious. So that was kind of the process as we approached the last episode, how many of those to pay off and how many of those to not try to be too neat with.
How did you decide which characters you wanted to give resolution to in the finale and which you would leave up to fans' imaginations?
Muto: Definitely Simon and Ice King sort of as a question, because that had been set up over multiple episodes — would he ever be cured — so that felt like something that needed to be addressed, and along with that, sort of what happened to Betty. And then the Princess Bubblegum and Marceline stuff, finding a way to resolve that, or at least have a satisfying scene with that. It was sort of just what was set up, I think.
A lot of the episodes leading up to [the finale], we were trying to use to serve as the last episode for that particular character so we wouldn't have to cram too much in at the very end here. So there are scenes, but we already had our last major Lumpy Space Princess episode by the time we get to the end, and our last Flame Princess episode, so it was actually less dense by the end than it might seem. It was just sort of hitting the big [beats] and then finding vignettes for all the characters that we knew we wouldn't be able to give full stories to just so we could get snapshots of where they could end up.
There are lots of returns and cameos in the finale. Is there one in particular that you were excited to fit in?
Muto: Yeah, well especially in that montage at the end. There are some scenes throughout where unexpected characters show up, like Duke of Nuts is a Season 1 character, and for him to show up in Season 10 not having shown up the intervening seasons was kind of a funny inclusion. And Shelby and the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant kind of get cameos. But a lot of them, the weirdest ones show up in the montage at the end, 'cause we knew we'd try to capture what life going on would be like in Ooo, so I wanted to get a good variety of sort of momentous changes and then just very almost banal days in some of these characters' lives. So we did a pass and added scenes with the Jiggler, and that's also a Season 1 character, and Donny, and the Crabbit, a lot of characters that we hadn't seen in a while but we kind of assumed their lives continued too. Tiffany, that was another one, because it was really left ambiguous what happened to Tiffany in the last Tiffany episode, so I was happy to slip him in there.
Adventure Time is a deeply emotional and sometimes challenging series. Was it important to you to push viewers outside their comfort zone with the finale?
Muto: I don't think that was a goal going into the finale, it was just sort of... The show can be thorny at times, so [we] kind of lean[ed] into those elements, but there wasn't any section to me that was like, "This is really gonna make people uncomfortable." It was more, we have this kind of tradition of doing these dream episodes, so it would be nice if there was a section dedicated to dreams, and that might be a more satisfying way to resolve the conflict rather than just have two armies fight each other. That was kind of the set up, but it was nice to use that more as a backdrop as opposed to characters running at each other. But I don't know — was there a specific scene you were thinking of?
Destroying the treehouse? That was traumatizing!
Muto: [laughs] You know, it's the end of the show. That was important, actually, to kind of feel like we were --- we weren't going to kill off Finn and Jake, obviously, but that symbolized so much, there are so many episodes that begin with establishing shots of the treehouse that we felt like we had to do some major change, and that is the biggest death in the finale, watching the treehouse just get smashed because of all of the memories. And then you see wreckage and it's artifacts from other episodes and hopefully Jake's reaction is like what people's reactions will be when they see that, because you're not supposed to do that, you're not supposed to completely shatter it. It also makes it hard to reboot, I think. Show's over, the treehouse is gone. But life goes on. This part of their lives is over.
Music plays a big role in the finale. Was that a priority, continuing the show's tradition of original music?
Muto: Yeah, that was an important part. The speech at the end that Jake gives to Finn, that was something that [show creator Pendleton Ward] felt really strongly about, getting that idea in there. Even that scene, ending it with them staring at the sky on this endless grassy field talking about music was something we kind of settled on while we were writing early, but that was really important to Penn, so I was happy that we managed to work that in in a way that didn't feel wedged in. It was like, yes, the episode is kind of about that. There's even a song during the dream sequence where there's a poodle that shows up and that poodle is played by his mom, Betty Ward, and it seems like a very strange inclusion, and it is, but it's also this distracting moment, like music is used to at least get people to escape and chill out for a second. So I don't know if the finale is actually about music, but music was really an important part of it, to it.
What do you hope fans and new viewers will take away from the finale and the series as a whole?
Muto: Wait, new viewers? Does anybody do that, [watch the finale first]? I hope nobody does that. They'll just be like, "What is this? I don't understand any of these reference points." But it's weird, you could almost start [with the finale]. The way the episode starts, it almost feels like a new show, because we did have a new title sequence that was animated by Science Saru, and they've done all the special intros. That was kind of a mislead that this could be an all-new show and the original Adventure Time is sort of their mythology, and so you see glimpses of it, but Shermy and Beth could be its own thing. And it's the kind of show that there is a cyclical nature to especially how we treated Ooo. Things do repeat and there are analogs that show up age to age, and that's why the fun will never end. Not because literally the same characters, you're following them and they're doing the same thing forever, but the patterns and the roles that the characters will take on will sort of recur through the history of that world. ... I hope nobody, I hope nobody watches it [that way]. I really — ugh, that would be my nightmare, if this was the first episode somebody watched.
Are there plans to return to Ooo somewhere down the line on TV, either with a spin-off, sequel series, the comics, or in a different medium?
Muto: I think definitely the comics are gonna keep going, but they're just different iterations and it's Cartoon Network's call what will happen with it. Once you put it out there, once [Adventure Time] became a franchise, we all realize it's its own thing now, it's this big multi-headed monster and all we can really do is affect our specific part of it, and that was the show. I think it will continue in some form, but I have no idea what that is. As far as I'm concerned, this version of it has its ending and that's pretty important. I wouldn't want to step on that.
Have you thought about what comes next, beyond some more well-deserved time off?
Muto: Yeah, it's tricky because I've been on this show so long and it had so much possibility, it could be a lot of shows to me. It spoiled me in a lot of ways. The next show has to be wildly different or even better and it's made me a little gun-shy about committing to one of those. So far I've just been helping out on other shows. We'll see, we'll see what the next big thing is.
Yeah, it's a tall order if you're trying to top yourself. It'll certainly be interesting to follow, as a viewer.
Muto: Maybe it won't, maybe it'll be downhill from here, and this is it.
Well, hey, if that's the peak, it's a good peak.
Muto: Gotta appreciate it. Yeah, I'll take that.
Adventure Time is available to stream on Hulu, but beginning Tuesday, Sept. 4 fans can also purchase on DVD Adventure Time: The Final Seasons, which features a ton of exclusive bonus content. The show's soundtrack, featuring more than 20 songs from the finale, will also be available on Sept. 4.