Pipkin and Hazel take their time in getting back to Watership Down, and don’t return until evening. Hazel urges Pipkin to keep their expedition a secret from the others, but back in the burrow, Fiver catches the scent of a farmyard on Hazel’s feet and asks him what he’s been up to. Hazel reveals where he and Pipkin have been, and Fiver calls Hazel a “silly show-off.” He chides him for risking his own life—and the lives of everyone else—for something that’s of barely any value to their group. Hazel brushes Fiver off.
Hazel is the braver rabbit, while Fiver is more cautious, nervous, and timid. This creates a tension between them which is exacerbated by the fact that they love and want to protect each other. Because Hazel sees himself as more capable than Fiver, he often discounts Fiver’s advice when it’s convenient to do so.
The next morning, during silflay, Hazel tells all the others about the visit to the farm, and Bigwig jumps at the idea of a raid. Hazel assembles a team—Blackberry, Dandelion, Speedwell, and Hawkbit will accompany him back to the farm tonight. That evening it rains, and their plan is thwarted. Before sleep, Fiver begs Hazel not to return to the farm—Hazel asks if Fiver has had a bad vision, and though Fiver admits he hasn’t, he says he doesn’t want Hazel to go anyway. To mollify Fiver, Hazel says he won’t go to the farmyard with the others and will keep watch from the slope above.
Hazel is willing to listen to and believe Fiver whenever Fiver has had one of his prophetic visions—but beyond that, Hazel is more concerned with himself than his brother’s opinion. Though Hazel loves Fiver, he doesn’t respect him as an advisor the way he should.
The next morning is bright and dry, and Hazel spends much of the day strategizing with the others about their infiltration of the farm. As the rabbits’ excitement mounts, Dandelion says he’s feeling so brave that he’ll be “disappointed” if they don’t run into a cat or some other elil on their journey. They decide to set off around sunset so that they can get to the outskirts of the farm before dark and head for the shed once the place has gone quiet for the night.
The rabbits, having been through an extremely difficult and dangerous journey, seem almost uncomfortable with the peace and quiet at Watership Down, and long for another brush with danger and violence. They want to feel powerful, capable, and invincible.
The rabbits reach the farm around twilight, resting and eating while they wait for the sun to go down. When it’s time to head in, Hazel tells the others of his promise to Fiver to stay away from trouble, and Bigwig agrees that Hazel should stay hidden during the raid and take over navigating everyone back to Watership Down once the hutch rabbits are free.
This passage shows that the others fully accept Hazel as chief. They understand that he is too important to risk his life in dangerous operations and is better suited to strategic or navigational jobs.
Down at the farm, Bigwig and the others encounter a cat almost right away. Rather than running from it, Bigwig attacks it, and though the cat scratches and wounds Bigwig, it is not a particularly “determined assailant” and it skulks off rather quickly. The rabbits make their way inside the shed and Bigwig and Blackberry get to work chewing open the leather straps on the hutch while the others keep watch. After a long struggle, the hutch rabbits are free.
Bigwig continues to show off his hotheaded, confrontational nature as he launches into a fight with a cat. His determined, provocative demeanor stands in sharp contrast to that of the quiet, timid, inexperienced hutch rabbits.
Bigwig tells the rabbits to follow him, but they want to know where Hazel is and are less comfortable without him present. Blackberry and Bigwig assure the rabbits that they will be able to safely make their way to where Hazel is waiting in the lane and tempt them with promises of fresh juicy grass. Halfway across the farmyard, the dog wakes and begins to bark, and the rabbits all dash for the edge of the farm. Haystack and Laurel go tharn, and the others abandon them, making their way up the sloping lane towards Hazel.
The mission at Nuthanger begins to go south when the hutch rabbits, fearful of trusting someone other than Hazel, waste precious time and allow unforeseen challenges to arise. These rabbits are very different from the fearless, intrepid rabbits in Hazel’s group, and as such Bigwig and the others are frustrated by their timid natures.
When Hazel realizes that two rabbits have not made it out, he asks Dandelion to go with him to fetch them. Dandelion agrees, and Hazel hurries down to where Haystack and Laurel are sitting tharn in the same position they were moments ago. As Hazel tries to get through to Haystack and Dandelion talks to Laurel, Dandelion senses a kind of terrifying vibration in the air. He turns around to see that there are two cats approaching; beyond them there are two humans with torches, and their lights turn Dandelion tharn as well.
Even brave rabbits like Dandelion are helpless against certain environmental—and non-environmental—threats. As Dandelion goes tharn, Adams demonstrates that sometimes instinct takes over, leaving rabbits at the mercy of their surroundings.
Two humans complain that Lucy’s rabbits have gotten out again and hurry to catch them. Hazel urges Dandelion and Haystack to run, and they follow his orders. Laurel is caught by the farmers, while the others run for the lane, pursued by the men.
Just as Hazel and Bigwig feared, not all of the hutch rabbits have the instincts and drive to successfully escape the comforts of the farm they call home.
Hazel, Dandelion, and Haystack take shelter in a ditch and listen for the men’s footsteps. Hazel decides to run from the ditch and draw them off while Dandelion and Haystack rejoin the others. Hazel takes off, and sure enough the farmers shine their torchlights in his direction. He runs quickly for another ditch but feels a sharp pain in his hind leg—he has been shot. Hazel crawls through the ditch, dragging his leg behind him, and soon smells a damp, rotten scent—he is at the mouth of a land drain. He crawls into it, taking cover, and hears the humans lamenting that they have lost him. He falls unconscious as blood trickles from his leg.
Hazel is determined to do anything to ensure the survival of the larger group—even directly endangering his own life. As he selflessly puts himself on the line for two rabbits he hardly knows, he shows how his self-sacrificing disposition is both heroic and foolish—a personality hallmark of any “epic” hero who has a lot to learn about how to be a true leader.
Bigwig hears the approach of two rabbits—he jumps from the ditch to find Dandelion and Haystack, but no Hazel. They report that they heard Hazel get shot, and saw Laurel get put back in the hutch. Bigwig suggests they all wait a while for Hazel to show up, and meanwhile sets out with Dandelion to try to track him. When they come across a trail of blood, they believe Hazel has been killed, and return to Watership Down to deliver the news. They tell Fiver what has happened, but he informs them that he has already seen the bloody, lifeless Hazel in a vision. The rabbits, inconsolable, go off to sleep.
Things seem to have taken a turn for the terrible. Hazel’s desire to build a better home for his people has ended in tragedy, and now the other rabbits fear they have lost too much—their hope, their fearless leader, and their sense of direction.
The next morning, Holly comes limping into the warren. Buckthorn, Silver, and Strawberry are with them, but they have not brought back any does. Buckthorn is wounded, Strawberry is ill from exhaustion, and only Silver is unharmed.
Something has gone horribly wrong on Holly’s mission to the neighboring warren, compounding the pain and loss of the botched mission to Nuthanger Farm.