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“American Gods”: Meet Neil Gaiman’s Deities Before You Watch Them on TV

by  in Lists, TV News Comment
“American Gods”: Meet Neil Gaiman’s Deities Before You Watch Them on TV

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the “American Gods” novel, and presumably the TV series.


In Shadow Moon’s world, gods only exist if you believe in them. Showrunners Bryan Fuller (“Star Trek: Discovery,” “Hannibal”) and Michael Green (“Alien: Covenant,” “Heroes”) are adapting Neil Gaiman’s award-winning fantasy novel “American Gods” as a Starz television series set to debut in 2017.

Gaiman’s novel centers its mythical tale on Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a convict released from prison days before his sentence ends so he can attend his wife’s funeral. He meets a con man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who recruits him to be his personal bodyguard and driver. In truth, Wednesday is the Norse god Odin and he travels across America to recruit forgotten deities to aid him in an epic battle against the New American Gods — manifestations of the nation’s current obsessions like technology, celebrity and credit cards. Along the way, Shadow finds out his own unique place in this battle of the gods.

Starz unveiled the first trailer for “American Gods” at Comic-Con International in San Diego, giving fans a preview of what’s in store when the series begins and showing off some of its characters for the first time. To get you up to speed with the world of “American Gods,” CBR breaks down all of the key characters in the trailer so you can dive right in when the series graces the world with its divine presence in 2017.

9. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle)

Shadow Moon isn’t the hero you might expect from a story that blends fantasy and mythology, but then again, Neil Gaiman’s stories tend to push into unique and fascinating places. From the moment he leaves prison, Shadow finds himself in constant danger. Much of the novel is devoted to Shadow trying to figure out why he, of all people, is thrown into the middle of an epic war between gods. Born in Norway but hailing from the American midwest, before meeting Mr. Wednesday the most exciting thing that ever happened to him was getting arrested for armed robbery and assault after his partner tried to rip him off. Before going to prison he worked as a personal trainer, and the former star of “The 100” certainly looks the part. He frequently tosses a coin around and flips one when deep in thought.

As the series continues, Shadow will discover that he is neither human nor god, but perhaps something in between, and may possess powers he can’t even begin to understand but that will play a crucial part in the coming conflict.

8. Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane)

Mr. Wednesday is the leader of the Old Gods and wants to wage a war between the New American Gods that have emerged in the 21st Century. He is actually All-Father Odin, the Norse God of wisdom, but appears to others as a slightly grizzled middle-aged con-man with a glass eye. His main motivation is to destroy the New American Gods and believes they are destroying the Old Gods. He thinks gods can only exist if people believe in them, and these new, false gods present too much competition for the Old Gods to survive. Some of the Old Gods reject his pleas for help, feeling comfortable with how they’re worshipped in the modern era.

Shadow first meets Wednesday on a plane to his wife’s funeral. When he agrees to become his bodyguard and driver, he has no idea about the Old God’s secret or the battle against the New Gods he unwittingly becomes a part of.

7. Laura Moon (Emily Browning)

Laura Moon is/was the deceased wife of Shadow Moon, and her death is what prompts Shadow’s early release from prison. They originally met through Shadow’s best friend, Robbie Burton (played by Dane Cook). Robbie and Laura started an affair while Shadow was in prison. She tried to break things off before his release, but not without one last time. They decided to fool around while driving home, resulting in a car crash that killed them both.

As seen in the trailer, Laura doesn’t exactly stay dead. She is awakened from her grave by when Shadow tosses a coin given to him by Mad Sweeney, a friend of Mr. Wednesday. Laura’s revival doesn’t exactly lead to a typically happy reunion, but it does start her journey anew and lead to plenty of bloodshed by her hand that is designed, at least in part, to prove her loyalty to Shadow.

6. Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber)

When you picture a Leprechaun, you might not think of him standing 6′ 5″ and smoking Lucky Strikes. But Mad Sweeney isn’t most Leprechauns. Originally from Ireland where he was tasked with watching a sacred rock for more than 3,000 years, he’s lived in the United States so long at this point that his his accent is completely gone. At Jack’s Crocodile Bar, Shadow Moon’s coin manipulation prompts Mad Sweeney to do his own coin trick. The hot-headed Sweeney wants to fight Shadow after the latter says he knows the Leprechaun’s trick is just “Miser’s Dream,” which Shadow tries to shy away from but can’t escape.

After the fight, Shadow discovers one of Sweeney’s gold coins resting in his pocket. This same coin is the one he flips onto Laura’s grave, later resulting in her resurrection and setting Sweeney up to be both very powerful and full of secrets.

5. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki)

Bilquis is a goddess of old who shows the dangers of the New American Gods interacting with the gods of old. Bilquis works as a prostitute and receives both her life and power from others worshipping her. When she finds it harder to find suitors in real life, she starts dating online. It’s not long before one of the New American Gods, Technical Boy, tricks her and ends up killing her.

While the character only features in a single chapter of the original novel, Bryan Fuller says Bilquis will be “a major player in this world.” It’s very likely she survives far beyond the pilot, and based on other comments it’s also possible the show will find a way to showcase her (literally) man-eating genitalia.

4. Technical Boy (Bruce Langley)

Of all the New Gods in Gaiman’s world, Technical Boy is perhaps the easiest to spot on the street. He is the personification of the Internet, which means you’ll either love him or hate him with very little in between. He loves anything flashy, catchy and easily accessible. The main difference, in terms of his appearance, from the character in the novel and in the series is to reflect the changes the Internet has undergone. Due to this, the show opted for more of a cyber punk-inspired look that gives him a bit more edge — visually speaking — than he had in the original novel.

Aside from his brutal murder of Bilquis in the book, he acts as a messenger of sorts for the New Gods. Throughout the story, Technical Boy constantly tries to harass Shadow into opening up about Mr. Wednesday’s plan to combat the new Gods and tries to find new ways to seduce others into forgetting the ways of the Old Gods.

3. Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman)

Zorya Vechernyaya is one of the Old Gods and represents the Evening Star, Mercury. Hailing from Eastern European descent, she has bird-like hands that are always cold. She also has two younger sisters: Zorya Utrennyaya (Morning Star) and Zorya Polunochnaya (Midnight Star). The three sisters live together in an old brownstone in Chicago. They are re-interpretations of the Auroras, the stars in Slavic mythology that were directly responsible for opening the gates for the sun to rise as well as shutting down the day for the moon to take its rightful place in the night sky. This home and sisterhood is vital for Shadow's journey as it's here with the sisters he finally begins to see the true nature of reality. This leads him to investigate his own place within their new world with a very different outlook. Zorya provides shelter for Mr. Wednesday and Shadow on their adventure and introduces them to Czernobog.

Czernobog (Peter Stormare)

Czernobog is one of the Old Gods and, like Zorya, is also rooted in Slavic mythology. He is part of a duality containing who he refers to his as brother, Bielebog. In old Slavic tribes he is representative of a Black God, bringing bad luck to those who cross his path; Bielebog represents the White God, responsible for good luck and success. Since this character contains both, he is known to be mercurial, both kind and quick to anger.

When Shadow meets first visits Zorya, Czernobog is the one who answers the door. While Zorya is getting coffee for Mr. Wednesday and Shadow, Czernobog recalls his past working as a “knocker” in a meat packaging plant, slamming his giant hammer into the necks of cows and meat that is too tough to cut. Mr. Wednesday tries to recruit him to their cause through persuasion but this tactic angers Czernobog. In an effort to sway him, Shadow offers to play a game of checkers with him. Czernobog ends up losing and joins Wednesday’s cause against the New Gods.

2. Mr. World (Crispin Glover) & Low Key Lyesmith (Johnathan Tucker)

Mr. World is a part of the New Gods and is seen as their leader. He is often shown in a dark suit and is thought to be the mastermind behind the New Gods’ operation. Shadow meets him in the center of America to further discuss and lay out the rules of war for the Old Gods and the New Gods. While the character works in the novel, it’s unclear how the portrayal will work on screen since…

SPOILER WARNING: The following may ruin a key plot point of the series. Proceed at your own risk.

…he’s actually Loki in disguise.

In the novel, Mr. World is only a smoke-screen; Low Key Lyesmith (get it?) is the real deal, and will be played by a different actor. His true identity also makes him one of the Old Gods. Shadow will eventually uncover this truth, and the series will likely explore why an Old God would pretend to be a New God, and whether that misdirect will ultimately help or hurt Wednesday’s plan.

Mr. World also spends his time in the novel surrounded by the Black Hats, a group of black suited goons who act as bodyguards for the New Gods. With no casting announced for them, it’s possible the show is either going a different route or will save them for future seasons.

1. Media (Gillian Anderson)

Media is one of the New Gods (played by one of genre TV’s old gods) and for all intents and purposes both their face and voice. She feeds off the attention of others and often alters her body and face to replicate that of famous and iconic celebrities. Her spirit thrives off of the attention people give media and electronic devices like smart phones, tablets and televisions. Her voice is that of the spokesperson and effortlessly works to keep the populace in her favor. Her power is insurmountable in the present-day and often reaches out to Shadow to spook him and share ominous messages from the New Gods.

Shadow meets Media when he meets the other New Gods and learns how they have been able to gain power over the Old Gods. After her captivating turn on Fuller’s “Hannibal” as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, we can’t wait to see Gillian Anderson harness the power of the media as only she can.

Will you be tuning in to see Gaiman’s “American Gods” come to life?

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