The Hunt is a Twilight Zone episode from 1963. It is about an old man named Hyder Simpson and his old hound dog, Rip.
The episode opens up with Hyder Simpson returning home to his wife, Rachel. They live in the uncharted wilds of 19th century America.
He comes in for dinner, with his wife having made some sort of stew for them to eat. Hyder brings Rip in the house with him. Rachel clearly has a level of rueful disdain for the old hound. She tolerates him letting Rip sit beside them at at the supper table.
As Rachel feeds some stew onto a plate for Hyder, with him flirting with her.
“Say, when was a last night a woman like you been kissed? ”
She smirks and rebuffs him lightly as he flirts with her. As the scene progresses to them eating at the supper table, it becomes very clear that they have a close, loving relationship. They discuss being married for over 50 years and how much they love and care for each other.
Hyder tells Rachel that he and Rip will be going coon-hunting that night. Rachel is clearly distraught, citing omens she has witnessed over the past few days that Hyder shouldn’t go coon-hunting that night. Hyder treats her nervous worry as the superstitions of an old woman.
Hyder and Rip do go coon-hunting on that evening. Rip trees a raccoon and Hyder, at first, says to Rip you didn’t tree a raccoon. Rip starts to run along a stand of trees and they find the raccoon has run over several branches to a branch over the river. Rip instinctively jumps in after the coon and Hyder yells out, “You’ll drown yourself doing that, Rip!” Hyder jumps in after Rip in order to save him.
They both awake the next day by the river, with Hyder thinking he fell asleep while tracking that raRccoon down. The two companions walk back to Hyder’s property and find two of Hyder’s neighbors digging a grave-shaped hole on his properFty. He greets them, but they don’t respond. He then threatens to leave his property with his gun and they still don’t respond. Hyder calms down when the men mention they are burying a dog. Hyder sympathizes with their silence, as he thinks they are just too heartbroken to talk.
He returns home to find his wife dressed in all black, with a black hat with a veil. Hyder then sees the local pastor approach his wife, saying that even though Hyder wasn’t a religious man, he deserves a Christian burial. As Hyder protests—with nobody noticing him—Hyder slowly realizes that he and Rip might be dead.
As his wife sobs in the pastor’s arms, he tries to bargain with the situation and tell his wife this is nothing but a bad dream. He sees a coffin taken out of his bedroom and he wonders aloud, “Who do you have in that box?”
As they walk to the cemetary, Hyder encounters an unfamiliar fence that prevents him from walking in. They follow the fence a ways, thinking he will eventually find a gate. He does and a man behind the gate approaches them.
The man greets the two, asks for Hyder’s name and asks him how he died. Hyder has to confront that he drowned in the river the previous night. The man says that beyond the hill is the Elysian Fields. Hyder asks the man if he is Saint Peter, and the man coyly says he does man the gate.
When Hyder tries to enter the gate, Rip growls, grinds his paws into the dirt and refuses to cross the threshold. Hyder refuses to enter a place that is “too high-falutin” for Rip. The man and Hyder argue for a time and Hyder decides to not enter Heaven without his dog.
They continue to walk along Eternity Road for a spell, with Hyder musing on what sort of place would not allow dogs in and not allow men to coon hunt with their dogs.
Hyder sits down and after a time, a man clad in a plaid shirt and overalls greets Hyder, sits down and states it’s time to move on to heaven. Hyder states that he already told a man that he wouldn’t go into heaven without his dog. The man looks at with a bit of apprehension and asks Hyder if he got mixed with that man. Hyder says no, as it would be a hell of a place with no dogs.
The man responds that Hyder would not be too far wrong with that assessment, as he tells Hyder he avoided entering the gates of Hell. Hyder asks why Hell would refuse to allow a dog in. The man—who by now is clearly an angel—tells him: “You see Mr. Simpson, a man—he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”
The episode wraps up with Hyder walking with the angel towards a gate to Heaven, waxing about how he is looking forward to coon hunting. When they reach the gate, Hyder asks about his wife, Rachel. He is worried about Rachel getting past the gates of Hell. The angel assures him that Rachel will have no problem avoiding the lure of Hell and will be along shortly.
Serling ends the episode with this narration:
Travelers to unknown regions would be well-advised to take along the family dog. He could just save you from entering the wrong gate. At least, it happened that way once – in a mountainous area of the Twilight Zone.
On one hand, this episode can be read as how Heaven—or any version of the beauty of eternal life—hinges on how you view life. To Hyder, Heaven was raccoon hunting, square dancing, and spending time with his wife. To another man, Heaven could be working on Wall Street and having a robust urban lifestyle. In this vein, a man’s values and morality—which leads to a virtuous lifestyle—also leads to an afterlife that is framed around those lived experiences. The virtuous farmer lives on in the fields, the virtuous businessman lives on in a shop.
That, however, isn’t the main theme of the episode; devotion to loved ones is the primary theme.
Hyder has a great level of respect towards his wife and is completely devoted to her. The same is true of Hyder’s wife and her love towards Hyder. While this dynamic is secondary to Hyder’s relationship with his dog, it is an important theme in the episode. When Hyder dies, it is his wife’s impassioned devotion towards him that causes Hyder to realize that he has passed on from the living. When Hyder finally meets the heavenly angel at the end, the angel remarks his wife will be along shortly, implying that her devotion to him will compel her soul to pass on to the afterlife.
His relationship with his wife recalls a time past. A time when men and women truly loved one another and had a level of devotion and respect that is completely foreign in modern times. As we see at the exposition of the episode, they have clearly defined roles (gender roles) and they are perfectly fine and content with that. They clearly live in technologically primitive times, but have a level of happiness and contentment that is unknowable in the age of omnipresent media and familial collapse.
Still, the most striking devotion in the episode is Hyder to his dog. Hyder clearly has a great level of respect for dogs, given his commentary to the men digging a grave on his property. Hyder trusted Rip with his life.
What I think Hyder valued most about Rip’s devotion was how pure it was, as was Hyder’s to Rip. Rip faithfully followed wherever Hyder wandered and was fiercely protective of Hyder when confronted with the evils of Hell. Hyder returned this devotion with a devotion of his own—he followed Rip after the coon simply because he trusted Rip’s instincts; Hyder refused to enter the gates of Hell because of the demon’s refusal to allow Rip across the threshold.
As the episode highlights, a relationship between a man and his dog can be a thing of beauty. Dogs are simple creatures: faithful, devoted, and protective. Dogs can fill the voids the modern world forces wide. Loyal to a fault and appreciative of their owners, dogs are the the perfect antidote to the modern world filled to the brim with the ungrateful, the disloyal and the covetous. While dogs have always been great companions in many ways, dogs are loyal in a world full of disloyal women and appreciative in a world all to often dismissive of men.
Especially in Hyder’s isolated and dangerous world on the frontier, it wasn’t just the love and devotion of his wife that gave his life meaning, but also his beloved dog. It can be tough to relate to in the modern world of urban sprawl, social media, and the teeming multiplicity of people, but Hyder lived in a tough, unforgiving world filled with few people. A dog wasn’t just a companion, but also a beloved member of the family—this is seen with Hyder’s insistence that Rip sit at the table with him and his wife, as Rip was just as fit to break bread at the dinner table as any human family member.
While we are not confronted with the isolated frontier lifestyle—filled with primitive technology and social isolation—we are faced with new problems. We are more socially connected than ever before, yet still feel isolated. All the technology in the world can’t replace the substantive relationships we social creatures so deeply crave with each other.
All that notwithstanding, the simple love between a man and his dog is more than enough to speak to the power of the relationship. As Hyder ambled down Eternity Road, he was purely content to spend eternity with no more than his dog’s companionship. That simple fact shows the extraordinary relationship that a man can have with a dog. Dogs do not judge, dogs do not discriminate, nor do they take life for granted—those are all human faults and foibles. With the vagaries of human fickleness absent, a man can truly a love something that will love him back unconditionally.