On the latest Adventure Time episode, “King’s Ransom,” Ice King recruits Finn and Jake’s help when Gunter goes missing; they trace his disappearance back to an unexpected acquaintance who holds the key to Ice King’s past and future. It’s the eponymous time again!
It’s funny that we never think of Finn and Jake in the stereotypical human boy-pet animal relationship, the ol’ ‘boy and his dog’ story. Instead, the writers chose to meld ‘boy and dog’ with ‘boy and best friend’ and ‘boy and brother,’ into one super-dynamic that encompasses the connotations of all three. “King’s Ransom” explores that first bond, between human and pet, and the way we use our pets to compensate for emotional imbalances–but of course, this is all through the lens of Ice King’s tragically convoluted origins, which relates pet-love to unfulfilled fatherly love, and beyond.
Once again, Finn and Jake are the embodiment of an Elysian friendship in this episode, much to the jealousy of other Oooians like Ice King, who bursts into the Treehouse at the start of “King’s Ransom,” accusing them of kidnapping Gunter. Ice King projects his envy of Finn and Jake’s bond, claiming incoherently that they’d taken Gunter because he’d always been ‘Jake to Ice King’s Finn’ or something like that. Adventure Time has fully shifted away from focusing on Finn’s adolescent journey, and instead now holds Finn’s character as a static beacon of blissful normalcy for other characters to aspire and react to, a narrative style that you see more often in westerns or something similar, where the protagonist proceeds on his journey, already perfected, while the conflicts arise in his collisions with an imperfect world.
In “King’s Ransom,” Ice King’s affection for Gunter is spotlit like never before, and several scenes take this affection further, until it borders on obsessive need. To calm down the frantic Ice King, Finn suggests Jake shapeshift into Gunter to act as a temporary surrogate, which, pathetically, works. To appreciate the depth of Ice King’s manic need for pet-affection, we can look back to the episode “Evergreen,” which told the story of the crown’s conception: in prehistoric times, an ice wizard named Evergreen went against his magic enclave’s warnings and constructed a crown powered by its wearer’s wishes, in order to stop a doomsday comet from striking Earth. Evergreen’s arrogance made him a terrible father-figure to a mutated lizard-boy named Gunter, who wanted more than anything to be a powerful ice wizard like his beloved master. Things didn’t go as planned, Evergreen was incapacitated as the comet hurtled closer, and when it came to Gunter to bear the crown and stop the comet, fate found Gunter unprepared by Evergreen; the crown reacted to Gunter’s fervent wish for Evergreen’s affection, and to be Evergreen himself
That crown, of course, became the Ice Crown, and Gunter’s desire that Evergreen should love him was transferred to the Ice King, who is now possessed by an inexplicable need to have and love a smaller thing named Gunter. In other words, Ice King’s insanity, including his love for Gunter, is part of a legacy of neglect that began with one terrible father and one needy child. All of which is horribly ironic, since Ice King becomes the tragic foster-father to Marceline the Vampire Queen.
Together, Ice King, Finn, and Jake track Gunter’s whereabouts to Moosebone Clearing via ransom note, where a mysterious voice demands that Ice King remove his crown and leave. While on stakeout, Ice King regales Finn and Jake with baby pictures of Gunter (whom he’d apparently found over a century ago), when the crown is taken by a group of foxes. As we learn from Ice King’s interrogation of the lonely Mr. Fox, they’re working for a mysterious malefactor who communicates via can and string. The foxes eventually escape in different directions using Ice Crown decoys, despite Jake’s brilliant-seeming but predictably-stupid idea to clone himself using his shapeshifting abilities, forgetting the fact that he can’t give these clones eyes and ears of their own, making them blind, bumbling, and slightly less mobile versions of Jake.
Meanwhile, we see that the malefactor has been tinkering with the crown, accessing its prehistoric magics, modifying its parameters, and adding a foreign spark to it. He finishes by connecting the crown to Gunter, in whose eyes we can see Gunter’s true form, Orgalorg, the feared intergalactic scourge from long ago, who desired to consume the Catalyst Comet to consume its power. At the close of the previous season, Orgalorg had been defeated by Finn and cast back down to Earth, where its gravitational force smushed him back into penguin form. It’s unknown whether Gunter still consciously harbors Orgalorg’s mind and wishes, and even more puzzling, it’s unknown what sort of affection Gunter returns for Ice King. Ice King might be an addled old man with a compulsion for a small animal friend, but Gunter is intelligent, more capable than Ice King, and still harbors this gargantuan being in him.
Ice King and compatriots follow the path of the can-and-string, and we learn that at a distance from the crown, Ice King’s attributes seem to fade; he grows a fuller beard and his nose isn’t so witchy and pointy, but as previous episodes indicate, Ice King’s normal human lifespan is extended only by the crown’s parasitic influence. Once they reach the lava-encircled lair of the mystery baddie, Ice King insists on rescuing Gunter alone in order to strengthen their bond. It’s confusing how to regard his obsessive love at this point: on one hand, it’s a somewhat artificial need inspired by the crown’s influences, and inherited from lizard-Gunter’s desires, but on the other, Ice King’s love for Gunter reflects lizard-Gunter’s very genuine dearth of affection, and serves as a tragic echo of lizard-Gunter’s pitiful life, in service of the coldhearted Master Evergreen. If we’re arguing about the legitimacy of Ice King’s love in “King’s Ransom,” it should be remembered that basically all pet-human relationships are founded on a human need for a receptacle for affection, and that pet-love is essentially an extension of the need to give and receive parental love.
Hence, it’s hard not to think of lizard-Gunter’s forsaken love, when Ice King refuses Finn and Jake’s help, and braves a leap across a moat of lava to rescue Gunter. Even Finn and Jake are taken aback by the normally-scattered Ice King’s dedication; at that moment, he is bearing the karmic burden established long ago by Evergreen’s selfishness, and paying off his karmic debt by risking everything for his own Gunter, the way Evergreen never had. Once past the lava moat, Ice King enters the cavern to find Betty holding the crown, still maddened after a botched mind-experiment involving the destructive pixie-prankster, Magic Man. After that incident, it seemed Betty inherited both his wizarding powers and his madness, as her researches indicated that the two go hand-in-hand. Ice King doesn’t recognize her, and even tries to buy a hug from this beautiful stranger, offering Gunter as payment. It seems that as much as the crown inspires Gunter-love, Simon Petrikov’s love for Betty transcends its cursed influence. Magic Betty slyly agrees to a hug, then disappears once Ice King closes his eyes.
At the close of “King’s Ransom,” it’s unclear what Magic Betty’s after at this point, specifically, whether or not she still wants to free Simon from the crown’s grasp, as she did before inheriting Magic Man’s mad-wiz-biz–regardless, Ice King notes that the crown feels different somehow. Referring back to Betty’s findings on wizards and their requisite sadness, madness, and magic, we can guess that Betty’s despair for Simon is still intact, though greatly confused by the madness-magic, and whatever she’d done to the crown using Orgalorg’s essence, it still might be working towards a cured Simon Petrikov. Though at that point, it’s unclear how Simon might restore Betty in turn.