I'll let you in on a little secret: Twilight Sparkle is one of my favourite protagonists ever. Her combination of intelligence and academic prowess are an inspiration to both younger and older viewers, but there's so much to Twilight's character that makes her more than just the usual studious type of character. Although other ponies, such as Rainbow Dash, may perceive Twilight to be an egg-head who would never be able to do something sporty, such as win a race, Twilight wears her intellect firmly on her hooves and proves that just because you care about succeeding and learning, you can still be an awesome pony to hang around with. Not that this would be assumed if we judged her simply based on the Pilot, however; it takes a while for her strengths to show themselves, but soon enough it becomes very easy to love everything that Twilight embodies.
At the beginning of the season, we learn that Twilight is something of a misanthrope: she prefers the company of herself to making friends, and grows frustrated when Princess Celestia decides that she should get out of her library and make some friends. The norm at this stage appears to be that Twilight has never experienced prolonged exposure to other ponies, and severely dislikes the concept of friendship. What is interesting is that she dislikes something that she's never had; thus, it is Twilight's perception of the negative aspects of having friends rather than the actual lack of friends that gives her this outlook. We don't feel as if Twilight has failed to make friends in the past instead, we get the feeling that she's never wanted to even try and make friendships with other ponies. Although this may appear hard to believe, given that Twilight is a fairly mature and reasonably old and independent pony, it is not too difficult to understand. After all, in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" Twilight as a little filly attempts to gain entry into Princess Celestia's academy of magic as she is gifted in the arcane. I shall dwell further on this scene later, but as a point of reference we should observe that, after ultimately being accepted, she naturally confines herself in her study in Canterlot, tirelessly reading and absorbing spells. Thus, Twilight's isolation from other ponies can be believed if we follow the chronological points of her life.
Of course, helping to hatch Spike from his egg in this early stage gives her a young companion, proving that she isn't at the beginning of the show entirely alone. Spike and Twilight's friendship is ever-prevalent, and the two of them have more interaction than arguably any other duo. Almost every scene at Twilight's library-home features Spike, and the two characters play off one another well throughout the season. Everything accumulates in Spike's own episode, "Owl's Well That Ends Well", where Spike is continuously referred to by Twilight as her 'number one assistant'. Clearly, Spike and Twilight have a very strong relationship with one another: Twilight comes across as the big sister to the baby dragon that is Spike, and she often looks out for him. But she also has the ability to scold Spike when he's being foolish, putting her into a position of natural authority.
Indeed, from the moment Twilight arrives in Ponyville she assumes the position of what can essentially be summarised as party leader. She may not be the most popular pony, but she comes across as the most level-headed. Her frustrations in the Pilot episode not wishing to befriend certain ponies; getting annoyed with Fluttershy's overt fondness of Spike; disliking Pinkie Pie's party for her are natural, insofar as she really does not wish to be there performing arbitrary tasks when she could, in her mind, be warning off against Nightmare Moon. Twilight's ability to predict the return of Nightmare Moon instantly puts her into a position of power, and, bar potentially Rainbow Dash and her legendary Sonic Rainboom, Twilight's knowledge and magic make her the most powerful pony in Ponyville.
It is lucky, then, that she rarely uses her magic unless she has to, perhaps perceiving it as an abuse of power. On several occasions she shows a reluctance to engage in the arcane; whether it's out of the fear of alienating her friends in "Boast Busters" or wishing to engage in the traditional ways of Ponyville in "Winter Wrap-up", Twilight has the capacity to use her magic only when necessary. More impulsive ponies would perhaps abuse this power more: it's hard to imagine a hot-headed pony like Rainbow Dash not to go slightly overboard with her magic if she had the ability to use it, which is something that cannot be said of Twilight. And yet, despite being modest about her abilities, Twilight Sparkle shows enormous promise. Princess Celestia herself shows an awareness of Twilight's incomparable magical abilities, explaining why she makes her her star pupil. Twilight's relationship with Celestia presents one of the stronger relationships in the show: at the end of almost every episode Twilight Sparkle delivers a message to Princess Celestia explaining what she has learned from her particular adventure that day. That Twilight is the one to summarise events and deliver the moral outcome supports the assumption that she is the main character, if there is such a thing within the show.
Twilight, although at first reluctant to make friends, soon learns of the joys and values of friendship and relishes on pleasing Celestia. She lionises Celestia, never wishing to disappoint her tutor, as can be seen in "Swarm of the Century" where she takes it on herself to direct Ponyville's celebration for Celestia's arrival, and in "A Bird in the Hoof" where she becomes incredibly nervous over the Princess' visit, hoping desperately that she will like her friends. It is ironic that when Twilight first arrived in Ponyville she was against making friends, and yet this is precisely what she comes to care about and wishes for Celestia to approve of. She often panics when the prospect of not living up to Celestia's expectations comes into the equation, although there is a sense that Twilight works towards appeasing Celestia more than is actually required, creating a situation where letting Celestia down is entirely in her own mind.
This more insecure side to Twilight once again has a credible source: if she was personally taken on as Celestia's prize student, then it makes utter sense that she would want to do everything in her power to avoid disappointing Celestia. Still, although she is clearly the closest pony to Celestia out of the mane six, she doesn't always know how the Princess will react to a situation and misjudges the Princess' reaction with surprising frequency. Twilight has a tendency to freak out and exaggerate a situation when Celestia is involved: when Fluttershy steals Philomena from Celestia in order to help the poor Phoenix get better, Twilight instantly assumes that Fluttershy will be banished to the Everfree Forest. In "The Best Night Ever" Twilight Sparkle believes that she may have ruined the Grand Galloping Gala, which is soon revealed by Celestia to be as far from the truth as possible. Twilight views Celestia as a self-inflicted paternal figure and mentor, especially as Twilight left her own parents at a young age, and she often appears to fear losing the Princess' support and adoration, and thus simultaneously finds that when a situation requires Celestia's input it can send her into a fit of nerves. It is interesting to note that Twilight Sparkle seems to bring this on herself, as the show rarely hints that Princess Celestia has the constitution to banish ponies or even raise her voice into more than her usual soothingly dulcet tone. There are clearly issues of power here and an insecurity in Twilight when it comes to characters with authority over her, as time and again it is Twilight who throws herself into a self-imposed frenzy. Applejack also left her core-family when she was young, but she found herself ultimately needing to return to them; it is perhaps testament to Twilight's utter focus on her studies that she persevered.
Thankfully, although Twilight may not always be able to keep her cool around Princess Celestia, she does instead have a great deal of maturity and confidence around her other friends. In "The Ticket Master", the first proper episode of the show, Twilight is in a position of power over her friends once again in that she has tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala and must choose who to give them to. It becomes clear at this stage that some of her friends respect her more than others. Whilst Applejack and Twilight appear close at the very start of this episode Twilight is seen helping Applejack pick apples at Sweet Apple Acres other ponies such as Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy aren't quite so respectful towards Twilight. This is why Dash is more than happy to take the tickets near the end of the episode after the other ponies decline, and why Fluttershy is Spring-cleaning Twilight's home purely to get the tickets. It is fortunate that in the following episodes Twilight's relationship with these ponies becomes stronger. In "Look Before You Sleep", for example, Twilight Sparkle has her first slumber party, something that she has clearly been interested in for some time, as suggested by the fact that she has a special book dedicated to sleepovers. As Twilight's childhood was clearly a rather lonely period of her life, it makes sense that she would glorify a rather common situation such as this simply because she was without it as a filly. As she never experienced these things in her youth Pinkie Pie herself announcing that Twilight, "Really need[s] to get out more" - she finds comfort in sublimating her childhood with her modern lifestyle at times. By experiencing this situation with Applejack and Rarity and ensuring that the slumber party is, in the end, everything that she dreamed it would be, she secures her friendship with these two ponies.
Pinkie Pie is a slightly different situation, however. Whilst Twilight seems by episode 15, "Feeling Pinkie Keen" to be good friends with all of the ponies, she seems uncharacteristically aggressive and combative towards Pinkie Pie and her twitches. Although it does seem far-fetched to believe that Pinkie Pie can predict the future with her bodily impulses, other level-headed ponies such as Applejack have managed to accept that when Pinkie's tail starts twitching, you better take cover. This episode presents us with a stubborn Twilight who is rooted in logic, fact, falsifiability and scientific protocol. She cannot accept that an unknown source of information Pinkie's twitches can offer a realistic glimpse into the future, and makes it her mission to belittle Pinkie rather than accept her, even hooking her up to a machine in order to monitor her brain-patterns in the hopes that she can scientifically disprove that Pinkie has a power. Some viewers have seen this episode as something of a religious debate, with Pinkie's twitches being evidence for a God-like force, whilst Twilight represents science and the need to have solid proof of something. This can certainly be argued, but I see the episode more as a way in which to see Twilight's reaction when somepony challenges her. And, sadly, it's not always a good reaction.
Twilight does at times come across as easily frustrated, stubborn and antagonistic. In "Dragonshy" she doesn't really listen to Fluttershy, far more wrapped up in her own little world than that of her friend, placing Princess Celestia's mission to stop the dragon as the most important factor. In "Feeling Pinkie Keen" she has little patience for Fluttershy dropping a frog on her, and indeed, she doesn't seem to have much patience for Fluttershy's love of creatures and critters in general. In "Owl's Well That Ends Well" she doesn't really take Spike's feelings into account until the end of the episode, when, at least to the viewer, Spike is clearly feeling under-appreciated and jealous. In "Griffin The Brush-Off" instead of believing Pinkie Pie that Gilda is a big meanie-pants, she instead accuses Pinkie of being in the wrong. Nevertheless, there are many virtues to her personality as well. In "Sonic Rainboom" she performs spells to allow the Earth ponies and Rarity to walk on the clouds in order to support Dash, and then persists that Rarity should stop showing off her wings as it's making Rainbow Dash feel uncomfortable. In "The Ticket Master" Twilight finds it impossible to choose between her friends, refusing to disappoint any pony at the risk of sacrificing her own ticket to the Gala. We see in "A Bird in the Hoof" that, although she risks facing the maximum penalty of Celestia, she accepts full responsibility in order to protect Fluttershy. And, in "Winter Wrap Up", although she fails at a lot of tasks, she continues trying as she wishes to help the Earth Pony way. When she gets upset, especially after being scolded by Applejack for using magic and running off in tears, it is a sorrowful moment that shows a more innocent and idealistic side to Twilight.
After all, although she would like to have the viewer think that she's always in charge and organised indeed, her organisational skills end up helping immensely in "Winter Wrap Up" - Twilight Sparkle at times comes across as an incredibly innocent little pony. In "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" after explaining the story of how she got her Cutie Mark to the Cutie Mark Crusaders she hops around gleefully shouting, "Yes yes yes yes yes!" in utter, unparalleled joy, lacking the usual restraint that she usually exerts and clearly showing how important her studying under Celestia is to her. All the surrounding ponies even look at her as if there's something wrong with her, such is the extent in which she breaks character. In "Feeling Pinkie Keen" she realises her lack of power in dealing with the hydra by questioning, "What would a brave pony like Rainbow Dash do?". Furthermore, in "The Best Night Ever" she reveals that all she really wants is to spend time with Princess Celestia; a heart-felt request that shows how important Princess Celestia is in her life, as she values just being there with Celestia above anything else at the Gala.
Her maturity should not be down-played, however. Although there are moments where adorable Twilight shine through, she is more often than not the voice of reason within the show. Perhaps this is because she is the only pony not local to Ponyville Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, although originally from Cloudsdale, spend a lot more time in Ponyville and thus Twilight's perception of the external world is different to the other ponies. She certainly sees Zecora in a more positive light than the other ponies in "Bridle Gossip", denying the accusations that she's an evil enchantress until the evidence really stacks up against the mysterious zebra. It is Twilight who ultimately apologises to Zecora, learning a lesson for all of the ponies about not discriminating against others. Twilight personally learns in this episode not to judge a book by its cover, as she could have easily cured the curse of the Poison Joke had she listened to Spike. In "The Stare Master" Twilight isn't afraid to wander into the Everfree Forest by herself, and although things don't necessarily go to plan, that she is willing to go in alone shows a confident and courageous side to her character. Within "Green Isn't Your Colour", furthermore, we see that Twilight Sparkle is a loyal pony who can keep a secret, even if it's enough to make her want to explode. Whilst someponies would not be able to keep a secret for so long, especially when she's trapped in the middle of the lies between Fluttershy and Rarity, she manages to keep her cool for the majority of the episode...helped by additional 'warnings' from Pinkie Pie. At the climax of the episode she finds herself with the conviction to apologise to Spike after revealing his own little secret about having a crush on Rarity, showing that she understands when she's in the wrong.
Ultimately, Twilight is a tremendous lead, and she is not without her humorous moments, either. Whether she's bursting into flames in "Feeling Pinkie Keen" or referencing the show in "The Show Stoppers" by addressing the Cutie Mark Crusaders as, "My Little Ponies!", she clearly has her own amusing side. Her relative bluntness as well can lead to some funny situations; when Fluttershy announces that she is Spring-cleaning Twilight's home, Twilight's dead-pan reaction of, "It's Summer!" raises a chuckle every time. In "Over a Barrel", Twilight lingers on the miscommunication that Rainbow Dash thinks that Fluttershy is a tree, a level of quirkiness rarely seen in her character; giggling at Fluttershy's "Huffy the Magic Dragon" quote merely compounds her sometimes child-like tendencies and the love that she has found with her friends.
But ultimately, the moment that stands out to me as the most heart-felt and warming scene throughout the entire season is at the end of "Owl's Well That Ends Well", where Twilight confesses to Spike that no one could ever replace him and that he is her best friend and always will be. Their loving embrace is beautiful and symbolic of the message of the entire show: that friendship is the greatest magic of all. Twilight utterly embodies exactly what the show is about, because "Friendship is Magic" can be seen as being her own personal adventure. Because friendship is new to her, and she is only just finding out that others can love her for who she is, her visit to Ponyville teaches her so much about friendship and what it's like to belong. No amount of magic can compare to having true friends, and, at least to me, Twilight proves this. The other ponies that she encounters have their own stories to tell, but Twilight will always be the primary story-teller here. "Friendship is Magic" is her own journey of discovery and of enrichment, and all of the events of the show form the words with which this tale is written~