Every episode of Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek feels like a collection of moments plucked from your greatest childhood memories of endless summers full of possibilities. Previously, you could start watching any episode at random and easily get swept up in Craig, Kelsey, and J.P.’s adventures without knowing all that much about the show. But Craig of the Creek has very stealthily laid the groundwork for an epic story about war that’s bigger than any one kid splashing around in the Creek.
As the Creek’s resident cartography nerd, when Craig isn’t busy getting into mischief with his friends, he’s usually got his face buried in the comprehensive, hand-drawn map of the forest he’s been working on; it’s got a detailed breakdown of all the best spots where Craig of the Creek’s various groups of kids hang out. While everyone has a general idea about where things are in relation to one another, Craig’s one of the few people who regularly wanders outside his familiar haunts in search of new, different things, giving him a unique perspective on and appreciation for the whole of the Creek.
In a pinch, the map will help get you where you need to go, but to Craig, its real importance lies in the fact that every entry represents a piece of the special world that kids in his neighbourhood have been building together for years.
Because Craig’s always stumbling across things he’s never seen before, the map’s been a constant work in progress, requiring multiple revisions as he works towards completing one final, master document. In “Under the Overpass,” Craig and the crew happen upon a single honeysuckle blossom floating downstream, and while the plant’s obviously covered in creek water, Craig has an inkling that the plant’s sugar sweet nectar might make it a valuable commodity to bring to the Creek’s trading post. Even though none of the Creek kids are used to seeing honeysuckle growing in their neck of the woods, the lone flower’s presence in the stream is all the confirmation Craig needs to let him know that there must be a honeysuckle bush out there somewhere, and so he and his friends set out to claim their prize.
It’s only after Craig, Kelsey, and J.P. make an unexpected turn at a fork in the water that they’re able to locate the bush deep in an uncharted area that’s eerily quiet and littered with trash. The sense of dread they feel as they come up on the bush is partially due to the fact that the kids know they’ve technically crossed over into the neighbouring town of Herkleston Mills, but also because of the ominous overpass they must float under in order to complete their journey.
Curiously, the area is covered in a variety of cryptic symbols that creep the kids out every time they see them — as they get into the habit of making regular runs back to the honeysuckle bush — but Craig can’t help himself from wanting to catalogue each and every single one of them in hopes of discovering what they mean.
Though none of the kids are eager to admit it, they all know that something or someone is out there with them just beyond their line of sight, watching them as they start becoming comfortable with the honeysuckle territory. On their very last journey to this special section of the Creek, their mystery stalker reveals himself in the most melodramatic of ways. Unbeknownst to any of the regular Creek kids, a boy only known as the Green Poncho lurks in the woods by the underpass, patrolling the area in an effort to keep other kids out for reasons that are unclear but obviously related to the symbols that fascinated Craig so much.
After the Green Poncho attacks the kids with a variety of trick arrows fashioned out of scented markers and pencils, they book it back to home base, fearing for their lives, and for a while, the mysterious, hooded character disappears from Craig of the Creek...but not from Craig’s memory.
Life, of course, goes on, but when Craig’s little sister Jessica gets lost in the wilderness while their mother’s busy at the hair salon, Craig finds himself back in an unfamiliar section of the Creek where he encounters Raj and Shawn, two Honeysuckle Rangers from another nearby neighbourhood. Being good samaritans, the pair of Honeysuckle Rangers vow to help Craig find Jessica, but when they get a glimpse of his map and realise that he’s familiar with parts of the Creek they don’t know, they begin hatching a plan to steal it from him in order to give it to yet another unknown, unseen person.
By the time Craig’s found Jessica, he also realises that Shawn and Raj’s intentions aren’t entirely wholesome and that the tattoos on their forearms resemble the underpass symbols he saw while hunting for honeysuckle. It’s only because the Green Poncho emerges from the Creek armed with stink bomb arrows that Craig and Jessica are able to get away, and he speaks to the siblings once they’ve all caught their breath. The Green Poncho explains that he’s actually from their neighbourhood. The reason none of them know him, he explains, is that as the Green Poncho, he’s been sworn to guard the border between the Creek’s two halves to ensure that an invasion never occurs.
The covert mission to steal the map brings Raj and Shawn over to Craig’s side of the Creek in “Return of the Honeysuckle Rangers,” and it’s here that the mystery Craig of the Creek’s been building toward is finally spelled out. Truth be told, the Honeysuckle Rangers don’t really have all that much interest in Craig’s map for themselves, and the only reason they attempt to snatch it is that they’ve been commanded to by the king of their side of the Creek. A map like Craig’s has the potential to give the Creek King exactly the kind of strategic advantage he would need to invade Craig’s side and impose his rule on the other kids who are used to doing whatever they want during their play time.
Within the context of the show, the Green Poncho’s revelation about the existence of another Creek community feels like the preamble to an epic conflict. But from a more zoomed out perspective, it reads as a very clever way of touching on the weirdness all kids feel in those moments when they’re confronted with the reality that the social groups and dynamics that feel so unique to their personal orbits are actually quite common. The king’s side of the Creek has its own kind of power structures, obviously, but like Craig and all of the other Creek kids, all the strangers really want is to have the time of their lives while playing outside.
As momentous as the events of “Return of the Honeysuckle Rangers” are, the wildest thing about it is that it’s only the second episode of Craig of the Creek’s sophomore season — meaning that there’s probably lots more to come before this story arc comes to a close. There’s no telling how the impending clash of the Creek is going to play out, but if Craig somehow ends up having to come for the Creek King when the next episode airs on May 11 in the U.S, he’d best not miss.