The chaos, gore, and shock that filled the American Gods series premiere made us go “What The…?!”
Fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of STARZ’s television adaptation of the international bestseller, and it has finally arrived. We were introduced to the infinitely layered storytelling of the famed author through the series premiere, “The Bone Orchard,” and we are speechless. With its visually arresting style, diverse cast, and bold scene choices, the show captured us from minute one with its promise to surprise and awe.
With “The Bone Orchard,” we are thrust into the life of Shadow Moon, a con man who is keeping his head down and counting the days until he’s released. His singular focus is his wife, Laura, and the life that he expects to go back to once he is a free man once more. Unfortunately, as things tend to be when life is involved, he is given the unexpected news of the passing of both his wife and best friend and given an early release. On his way home, he finds himself the object of interest for a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and despite his reluctance, accepts his job offer. No sooner has the deal been sealed with honey mead does stuff hit the fan, and Shadow Moon is literally hung out to dry…
Gaiman promised his book fans there would be some shockers, and “The Bone Orchard” delivered. We’ve gathered some of our fellow fans, so let’s take a moment of silence for our innocence and then dive head long into the abyss, shall we? Let’s meet our roundtable:
Sky (@MzSkyZy) – Book fan, Bureaucrat and Admin on the American Gods Wiki,
Candace (@JaxtheVampire) – Book fan, Writer, Nerd, and Events Manager at Nerdee6
Romancia (@RomanciaSays) – TV newbie, Editor-in-Chief at TVAfterDark
Jennifer (@Storytellingdoc) – TV newbie, Fantasy Author, Doctor, and Senior Writer at TVAfterDark
Debbie (American_GodsUK) – Book fan, runs UK-based fan account for American Gods
Going along the lines of mythology, do we think Shadow Moon was always fated to become Mr. Wednesday’s employee? If so, should we assume he might have had a hand in the death of Laura and Robbie?
Sky (@MzSkyzy): Mr. Wednesday did orchestrate several events preceding Shadow’s acceptance, including the weather that diverted the plane, so it’s a high probability he also had a hand in Laura’s and Robbie’s accident/deaths. Shadow wasn’t “fated” to become Wednesday’s employer, however, because it always came down to Shadow’s free will to still say no, even after losing the coin toss or at any point in their journey. If Shadow was truly fated to work for Wednesday, then Wednesday wouldn’t have had to orchestrate events in the first place.
Candace (@JaxTheVampire): I think Wednesday was looking for someone in the exact state of mind as Shadow. So not that he made the death of Laura and Robbie happen, but more like he was laying in wait for someone like Shadow to come along. Especially, since Shadow is able to just automatically adapt to this new world that he finds himself in. Also having just been released from prison helps as well, I think. He’s been cooped up and caged away from the outside world long enough that it already feels odd going back to it. It’s the perfect opportunity to let someone in.
Romancia (@RomanciaSays): That’s interesting because a lot of folks, get fate and destiny confused. I think in this case, Shadow Moon meeting with Mr. Wednesday was fated but his choice in choosing to accept his employment was his destiny alone to fulfill. Perhaps, Mr. Wednesday did have a hand in Laurie and Robbie’s death. After all, he did say, “I’m a hustler, swindler, cheater and liar.”
The question for me and I know it’s early to tell but are they really dead? Or just the leverage Mr. Wednesday needed to get Shadow to drink in toast to their agreement sealing their pack, “it’s meade, drink of heroes, drink of the gods…it’s a tradition. It seals our bargain…second seals the deal, the third is the charm.” My reasoning for questioning their death, in particular, Laura moon is because that scene where the coin drops on her grave sort of sunk in and seeing that coin literally everywhere in this episode. I’m sure there’s some kind of significance and perhaps she’s linked to it?
Jennifer (@StoryTellingDoc): Coming at it from the point of view of a TV viewer, I was definitely suspicious! Considering what we know about who Mr. Wednesday really is, and the fact that he’s a con man, why wouldn’t he stack the decks to make sure he got what he wanted? Now, was Shadow always the one that he was going to choose? Maybe…maybe not. Either way, though, once Wednesday saw the potential I’m sure he did whatever he could to get him!
Debbie (@AmericanGods_UK): I think so yes. If we look at the baseline for a lot of greek myths, without giving anything away for people who have not read the book, it seems like Shadow’s destiny was laid out for him in advance. Whether it was orchestrated by Mr Wednesday directly, or if it was a matter of the larger fates aligning, is a more difficult question to answer. In the specific context of the show, I would come to the conclusion that Mr Wednesday would have manipulated whatever he could, to make sure that Shadow did what he wanted. Shadow had to become isolated and in a specific place emotionally before he would go along with Mr Wednesday, and a really easy way to do that would be to ensure Laura is out of the equation.
We definitely recognized Bryan Fuller’s hand in this show within the first few minutes of this show, and it is intense! Did this turn you off, or were you able to find a way to stomach the gore?
Sky: It’s not to everyone’s liking but the transition from gory blood-work to artful masterpiece is what I loved about Hannibal and what I’m loving on American Gods. Contemplate this: if it were any other color but red, it wouldn’t necessarily be considered gory.
Candace: I was in the moment the credit sequence started. Okay no. I’ll be honest. I was in the moment I heard Bryan Fuller would be producing. His style is so unique and different, it doesn’t matter what he puts on the screen in front of me. I’ll watch it. And as soon as that credit sequence started you knew it was a Fuller series.
Romancia: Let me first of start by saying, how much I just love and adore Bryan Fuller and I’m a huge fan of “Hannibal.” In terms of gore, he certainly brings with him a team that delivers the gore as Mad Sweeney says, “with panache.” Only other showrunner works that I love more if not equally is Steven DeKnight who also created an epic show for Starz “Spartacus.” Bryan definitely found the perfect home in Starz for this series. I’m a person that doesn’t mind gore to be honest, however, I do think that even those that aren’t really a fan of it, would still appreciate the artistry Bryan and the team uses to create his vision. I’m ready for more. I’m wanting to see how far the showrunners are willing to go in the gore aspect now that they’re on cable network that essentially allows them to push the line. I can’t wait!
Jennifer: I’m not going to lie…I was a bit shocked. It’s not that I’m a bloodbath innocent or anything, but there’s always a fine line for me between art and shock value. When the episode started, I would say I leaned towards the latter, but having given it some time to sink in, I think I realize the importance of Fuller’s decision to include these to give us a clear understanding that the show will not be shying away from the tough topics. We as the audience do not benefit from the sanitizing of war…it is bloody, and it is necessary.
Debbie: Being a veteran Fannibal, the gore was not a problem for me. In Hannibal, the scenes with the blood and bodies (and body parts) never seemed gratuitous or there to shock. They were a necessary part of the story, but it always felt like it was raised to the level of high art by way of the lighting and direction. From the outset, it was clear that Bryan and David were carrying this aesthetic into American Gods. I hope that by presenting the more visceral parts of the show in this way would mean that people that may normally turn off a gory horror movie, would find this more palatable. Also, there were some humorous bits to eliviate the tension, especially in the early Viking scenes.
With such an eclectic collection of characters already in the first episode, which one stuck with you the most and why?
Sky: ALL OF THEM! I can’t pick which one I loved the most. Each scene introduced the next character by highlighting and showcasing their personalities and stories. I even loved Audrey, which I was not expecting. If I had to pick one, it would be Shadow, always Shadow, because he is US, the viewer. He is being taken on this wild ride and is trying to figure things out as he goes along. He is our entry into this mad, crazy world of gods and goddesses. And he is such a relatable and likeable character.
Candace: I love Mad Sweeney. Even if I didn’t have any future knowledge of the story I would still love him based on that short introduction we got. I love all things Irish, so I’m a little biased towards him. But he was just enough of a stereotypical Irishman wrapped in something a little different for me to love him as soon as he said “I’m a leprechaun.” His interaction with Shadow is definitely one of the stand out scenes of the episode, I think. Speaking of, I need to know where that bar is pronto so I can pay a visit.
Romancia: The gods we’ve seen so far really did have quite an entrance. Each god had me on the edge of my seat, the obvious answer would be Shadow but it’s Technical Boys hanging that was quite shocking, dark and rather risky intro to this crazy world of the new gods. I can’t imagine what social media is saying about that scene. I’m interested to find out what showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green would say about the decision in the editing room to leave that scene in. Admittedly, it wasn’t just that scene, there’s something about that character I just feel I’m going to love to hate. Similar to my feelings for Game of Thrones character Joffrey, Bruce Langley performance brings that same kind of feeling and that is a character I most definitely will be watching throughout this season.
Jennifer: I was definitely intrigued by Mr. Wednesday. Here is a man/god who has seen it all from the very beginning, and yet chooses to spend his time wandering the Earth and performing parlor tricks to get by. His attitude grates on your nerves, and yet you cannot but be drawn to him. It’s probably the same feeling that Shadow had meeting him for the first time. I’m a fan of Ian McShane anyway, so seeing him play the darkly humorous Mr. Wednesday was quite the treat.
Debbie: Mad Sweeney, hands down. Pablo stole the scene entirely. He is a great character actor, and it really showed here. The tension between himself, Mr Wednesday and Shadow was palpable, which immediately made the character interesting. Besides, who wouldn’t love a 7ft, drinking, brawling leprechaun. You can already hear the fan fiction being written, and I can’t wait.
Two words: red room. What were your thoughts on our introduction to Bilquis as a literal man-eating goddess of love?
Sky: I wanted a cigarette after. That scene was amazing. Yetide Badaki is amazing. Everything was just so perfect from the lighting to the music to the act itself. I wasn’t certain how they would pull that off visually but they did it! She starts out looking a little old and worn, like a middle-aged mom with kids out on her first date and the transformation into the stunning, glowing goddess she is was breathtaking. I found myself sighing with her as it ended.
Candace: OKAY. LET ME TELL YOU A STORY ABOUT WHEN I READ THIS PART IN THE BOOK. It’s at the very beginning. Even sooner in the book then it is shown in the show. I read this chapter, THEN HAD TO GO BACK AND READ IT AGAIN BECAUSE THERE’S NO WAY I UNDERSTOOD THAT CORRECTLY. Upon reading it a second time I straight up DROPPED the book and a whole line of curses came out of my mouth. I’m not sure why I was so surprised being a Neil Gaiman fan for such a long time but HOLY VAGINA BATMAN.
I thought it was shown on screen very well. I can’t wait for a general audience reaction.
Romancia: OMG! Orlando Jones wasn’t kidding when he said, “many a dudes has disappeared in her eyes.” As much as I was impressed with Bilquis and I was she was utterly captivating in the scene, the worshipper wasn’t off the mark either with his, “I worship your thighs your eyes and your cherry red lips. Daughter of the south, storm queen of the throne of honey, secret owner of all gold. I am yours my beloved, Bilquis. Queens and concubines and maidens hide their faces in shame before you because you are the mother of all beauty. Trees bow and warriors fall. Give me your blessing. I bow my head before you and worship you” Someone give me an ice cold couch to melt into because that scene was hot. I can’t imagine what it was like to read it in the books. Not to mention you know damn well that we all secretly wish we are the goddess of love. Worship me!
Jennifer: I have to say that Bilquis really stuck with me. There was something about the simultaneous balance of power and vulnerability that really stuck with me. We don’t know who she really is, what is going on, and for what reason she is where she is. There is a desperation in the act, one that echoes through Yetide Badaki’s voice even as she grows in strength. It actually took me a minute to realize she was literally taking him in, and then the symbolism of it all made me sit back in my seat and gasp.
Debbie: What a sequence! Everything about her introduction was note perfect. Purely from the perspective of someone who has read the book, I didn’t see how they could realistically bring this scene to life, without seeming crass or gratuitous. I think whilst the scene is obviously shocking, and I know this might sound odd, it still managed to be tasteful. Or as tasteful as a woman “enveloping” a man whole can be. Yetide’s performance was just outstanding. We already knew Bryan was adept at handling strong female characters, and I think Bilquis is definitely going to be a favorite.
Let’s be honest – we were all thinking we could have used something to take the edge off those scenes. If you could create a drinking game around this episode, how would you do it?
Skye: Drinking? Pass me a joint, my friend.
Candace: A shot every time you see Shadow mess with a coin. I’m not sure I would even last very long, especially in this episode.
Romancia: I think my exact thought was, “I feel I should be high for this episode.” (Haha) It felt very weird and yet intriguing. I’m not a book reader and I’m choosing to be so for this season on purpose but the hype for this show from almost everyone I’ve mentioned it too, initially has me watching, whether I’ll be able to follow it through we’ll see but the disorientation I felt, most definitely put me the perspective of how Shadow Moon the protagonist must have been feeling and of yea that end of scene cliff hanger will have me coming back for episode 2. Ice tray quarters would be a great drinking game for this. I’d have to create a drink that I like, so I had a bartender friend Ricky, serve one up for me. I’ll share the details on this later but I’d love to see what everyone would be drinking because not to advocate getting hammered but tossing a few back to soak in what you just watched may be the next best thing.
Jennifer: Not much of a drinker, but perhaps a take on the honey mead? After all, we are all agreeing to tune in every week. That’s like a contract with Mr. Wednesday, I think…
Debbie: Well, there has to be mead in there somewhere. I think a shot for each time a character is introduced or named might get interesting. The drinks could be matched to the characters too, so Mead for Wednesday, Irish Whiskey (or Irish Cream) for Mad Sweeney, maybe some artisan pure filtered vodka for Technical Boy. I’m open to suggestions. Though I do think character themed cocktails would be a lot of fun too.
Why do you think Shadow Moon went along so easily with all the strangeness? Do you think it was shock, resignation over life, or just plain giving up that made him agree?
Sky: All of the above. Shadow is at rock bottom, shell-shocked and broken. His hopes and dreams he nurtured over the past 3 years to sustain him while in prison are dashed in an instant. There is nothing left for him and nowhere for him to go. He is simply existing, perhaps waiting for his own turn to die because his entire life as he knew it is over. He agreed because at least it’s more interesting than what he has waiting for him, which is nothing.
Candace: I think he’s in a position in his life that no matter what, he has to adapt. Not only does he have to find his place in the outside world again, but now the only thing keeping him tethered to that world (his wife) is gone. I wouldn’t state it so much as giving up, but rather moving on. He would have nowhere to go if he didn’t take Wednesday’s offer. It was his only option.
Romancia: Shadow Moon reminds me of a guy I dated once, all skulking and mysterious and spoke with his eyes, his stare like Ricky Whittle. Except he wasn’t an ex con and he wasn’t as fine looking as Ricky Whittle and I didn’t have thoughts of kneeling at his feet.
However, Shadow seems to be the kind of guy that’s not only superstitious but he has a sense of morality as we’ve seen him not wanting to get in a fight with Mad Sweeney, he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself. His interaction with his wife’s best friend, you know the one that felt taking a knee and reviving the biblical eye for an eye scenario and even then you see he’s strong willed and his confrontation with Technical Boy prove to show that he’s loyal to his words, not easily manipulated. It’s the scene with Mr. Wednesday hires him on to be his bodyguard that spoke volumes about the character Shadow is especially for an ex con, “You want me to hurt people? No! I’ll hurt people if they try and hurt you. I won’t hurt people for fun or profit.” So far they aren’t no Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner yet, but I’m sure they’ll get there. (Haha)
Jennifer: I think Shadow has more a curiosity and openness than he lets people see. There’s two parts to him: the young boy who still believes in magic and likes coin tricks, and the disillusioned man who has lost everything he cared for. We all have those two parts to us, and I think in that moment, Shadow needed to be the former to (ironically) keep his sanity. He’s already faced what he thought was impossible – losing his wife and best friend at the same time and finding out that they were having an affair. I think he wants to believe in something so he can hold onto the hope that life can get better.
Candace: I think it was probably a mixture of all of these things. Whilst prison is not an ideal environment, it had lent stability and routine to Shadow for three years, and his tether to the outside world was Laura. With both the safety net of structured living and a loving home environment gone, I think he was probably feeling like the world had turned upside down anyway, so what difference does a little more strangeness make. I think there is also a little nihilism in Shadow’s character that meant that he was no longer bothered where his path took him.
If you could see into a crystal ball, what would you predict is the future of this series based on just this pilot?
Sky: There is a reason I adopted the American Gods wiki last year: I knew with Neil Gaiman’s story, Bryan Fuller as show-runner, and Ricky Whittle as lead that this is going to break the TV industry and change it for the better. This show is going to be the best thing on television for at least the next 5 seasons or longer. It’s going to be critically acclaimed with awards galore for the cast and crew alike and I am so here for this, with popcorn.
Candace: Completely based off of this episode, I think Game of Thrones will finally get dethroned. This story is going to captivate so many people that general audiences will finally realize why fans of the book love this story so much. But not only that, Ricky Whittle is going to skyrocket into the A List of television actors. Ever since his first episode on The 100, liked so many CW alum before him, he’s been underrated. I’m so happy that he finally has a show worthy of his talents.
Romancia: As a non book reader going in I’d certainly say I have to wait at least four episode to decide. While the pilot was intriguing enough, along with its cliff hanger, I’m not sure what the fuck is happening except Shadow Moon is in one hell of a mind fuck ride or is this all real? I’m a huge fan of the x-files series and there are elements of this show I can’t quite touch on specifically, yet, but it gave me a hint of lure and wanting to understand that series.
I suppose for now in my mind Shadow Moon and Scully are similar. This is the beginning stage and I’m in this with them as a viewer Shadow certainly resonates more with me as I watch as I’m in the same self discovery as he is in on the show. – The fans they are the Molder of Neil Gaiman’s work. They have such belief and their own worship in Gaiman’s work that you can’t help be intrigued with what just about this story everyone seems to bowing down too. While I’m hanging in for four episodes to see if I’ll be continuing with the show, we’ve got a world full of willing #GodSquad worshippers sticking around and more to be converted.
Jennifer: If I didn’t know Neil Gaiman and his body of work, I would say this was a niche show that might not last more than the first season. However, I do know of his mad genius, and I know it would be unwise not to give the show a chance. There’s a deep tapestry of symbolism to just the first episode alone, and I suspect there’s much more coming down the pipeline. If audiences will be open to American Gods like Shadow is to Mr. Wednesday, we will have one hell of a groundbreaking show on our hands!
Debbie: This is hard, as having read the book, I know where the plot is going. However, I think the pilot signposted a lot of what may be to come. There was a lot of focus on the gold coin Shadow took from Mad Sweeny, and the fact that Wednesday is a potentially dangerous con man, we also know Laura doesn’t stay dead for long, from the trailer, so I would say these elements are going to be showcased.
Mostly from the pilot, I would predict the future of the series to be blood soaked, brutal yet beautiful, artistic, shocking and utterly compelling through to its climax (no pun intended).
Final Verdict: With Gaiman and Fuller at the helm, American Gods “The Bone Orchard” cons its way into the darkest corners of our hearts
No matter if you’re a longtime Gaiman fan or new to the world of American Gods, we were all thrust into the chaos together during the series premiere “The Bone Orchard.” Neither our feelings nor our sensibilities were spared as we were led from one stunning and graphic scene to another under the watchful eyes of Gaiman and Fuller. We met old gods and new gods, a reluctant bodyguard, and an angry gigantic leprechaun. We got gore, nudity, and a healthy dose of “what just happened” all in the span of one single episode. While Shadow’s face bore a perpetual look of confusion, ours wore an expression of horrified curiosity. Needless to say, we may each have a different reason for tuning in next week, but you bet we’ll all going to be watching!