From the very start of Centaurworld we are given a world at war. Yes, Centaurworld, the bright and cheery Netflix TV show for children. The one that looks like an ugly cute quirky thing with lots of fart jokes.
Oh, trust me. It has plenty of that. But it is also a surprisingly nuanced and compassionate look at trauma repression and the way people ignore their negative feelings after awful catastrophe. It does this in multiple ways throughout the show, but none are a clearer metaphor for the TV shows opinions on this than The Nowhere King.
Now, The Nowhere King is not the first introduction to the idea that repression and toxic positivity can’t work for us. He’s the last, and the one that ties that up in a creepy eldritch horror kind of bow.
In the second song of Centaurworld (yes, it’s also a musical) the characters sing about having previously been at war and that there was a mutual agreement not to talk about it. One is even hushed by the other characters.
Our main character, Horse, is pulled from her own world and dumped into Centaurworld, in a valley where it is nice and safe. She immediately wishes to return to get back to Rider, and persuades the sheltered and quirky characters she meets to join her on her journey by appealing to their suppressed desire for adventure and excitement. This is our first introduction to the shows constant message that sometimes the right thing to do is to face our more difficult emotions.
Later we are shown more characters distracting themselves from their own grief and distress. Wammawink, a major character, is shown to have lost her entire village in the war barely mentioned. This is where we first hear about The Nowhere King, in a deeply creepy lullaby sung by flowers. Tying it to Wammawink repressing her feelings of loss and loneliness is clearly a deliberate choice, as is making The Nowhere King an almost mythical figure.
Later we meet the Cattaurs, who under the leadership of Jonathan Teatime perform a variety show/drag show kind of thing ‘every day’. At the start of their song they indicate this is to avoid their own pain. By doing so they are often cruel and unkind to the competitors. By focusing on fun and pageantry to avoid their feelings they’ve become incapable of considering the feelings of anyone else. They too repeat the rhyme.
Following the group by now is also a Mysterious Woman, the only human we see aside from Rider in the entire show. She’s been present since they meet Waterbaby, the first Shaman. Her goal is to prevent the space between worlds from being opened, as what is in there is a horrifying and dangerous thing.
At the same time we are consistently shown both major and minor characters locking their own feelings away to the extent of willingly removing them from themselves – as we see with the Whaletaur Shaman. She offers those too guilty and hurt from their experiences a deep forgetfulness inside her body. The people inside her live a strange, distant half life experiencing nothing stronger than a vague contentment, while she constantly weeps their grief into the ocean.
She – and those that dwell within her – are persuaded that a life with the tricky feelings in it is better than a life with no feelings at all. And then, finally, we meet the Nowhere King.
Now, I am a horror writer and I am deeply annoyed that I didn’t think of an eldritch monstrosity locked away in a blank white liminal space and titled The Nowhere King for myself. This tv show for 12 year olds outdid me on this and on a lot of other imagery.
He first appears as described in his song – an object of horror filled with ‘towering hatred’. He is made of black goop and a deer skull of some variety, abled to fill his entire space or shrink down to nothing. He wants nothing more than to escape. And when The Mysterious Woman finally appears on the scene it becomes clear that theirs was once a relationship of mutual love and respect, possibly similar to that between Horse and Rider.
He bows to her. She is unable to kill him, but she longs to keep him locked away. When he is released it’s made clear this is potentially devastating to both realms… but. The connection is repaired, and now both realms have a greater chance to destroy him. Similar to every single more directly stated theme, the right thing to do is to open the gates and face the horrible thing.
If centaurworld has themes of recovery and grief then The Nowhere King is the poisonous, difficult parts of that we don’t want to face or acknowledge. Centaurworld says to us that the way to really recover and heal is to allow that hate-filled black sludge out so that we can confront it directly – and that we need the support of friends and loved ones to do that hard and difficult work.
Also, he’s really, really creepy.
Meet the characters below in this Netflix trailer:
You can watch Centaurworld on Netflix today.