Neil Gaiman Didn't Want American Gods To Repeat Game Of Thrones' Mistakes

With the wonderful adaptations of "The Queen's Gambit," "Station Eleven," "Pachinko," and so on, it's become clearer than ever that television is the best medium for adapting novels, not film. This was shown perhaps most clearly through the first season of "American Gods," which dedicated eight hour-long episodes to the first hundred or so pages of the 500-page book. Although you'd expect this decision to lead to wide-spread accusations of the show stretching out the book purely for financial reasons, (like the backlash to so many YA series splitting their finale in two), "American Gods" proved to be a story that benefitted from a slower pace. The show gave itself time to breathe, and as a result created a show that expanded and explored every detail in the book in an interesting, exciting way. 

Unfortunately, original showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green left after the first season, and the show never quite reached the same creative heights. It was canceled after its third season with the book material still unfinished, yet there's still a slight possibility of an eventual renewal or maybe a TV movie to wrap things up. Before the show was canceled back in 2021, Gaiman talked about his expectations for season 4, saying

"We definitely wrap the novel in season 4 ... But it is open-ended, in that with each of the showrunners, I've had to sit down and say, 'Okay, this is the plot of the next 'American Gods' book, which I have not yet written, but you need to know this, because you need to know that these characters are important, and you need to know that this thing leads to that thing. So all three of them, bless their hearts, have done things to set that up, if we ever get there."

That's right, American Gods might have a sequel

It may be surprising to hear that Neil Gaiman's working on a sequel to "American Gods," considering the first book came out over 20 years ago and it stood on its own pretty well. "I've been [planning] to do a second American Gods book since the first American Gods book," Gaiman said back in 2011, although he still doesn't seem close to finishing it. (That eleven-year wait for "The Winds of Winter" isn't looking that bad now, is it?) 

It's not clear exactly how far along in the process he currently is, but from the start of the TV adaptation he was making sure the other writers knew about the events of the sequel and making sure to include scenes that adequately set those events up:

"There were moments, which they were very good about listening to, when I would say, 'Okay, nobody but you two knows anything at all about the plot of American Gods 2, but I need to tell you that this line, which seems like a bit of dialogue that you could lose, will become important. Or this little scene — an indigenous scene — which seems trivial will become important one day and if we get to season 5, we'll need it then, so let's put it here now.'"

One issue Gaiman was anticipating was the "Game of Thrones" situation, where the show overtook the books and the showrunners found themselves dealing with a whole array of new storytelling problems to deal with. With the sequel still a long way off, "American Gods" likely would've prematurely moved into sequel territory at its production pace at the time.

More than happy to wait

"Having watched the George R.R. Martin of it," Gaiman said, "I will be perfectly happy for 'American Gods' to stop for five years, so I can write another novel they could then use for inspiration and start again if people are still interested." For Gaiman, a five-year pause was a better alternative to David Benioff and Dan Weiss's decision to charge through the unfinished material of "Game of Thrones," not just diving into the rest of the books but rushing towards the ending. 

"The Winds of Winter" and "A Dream of Spring" are both expected to be massive books, as packed with big events as the third book "A Storm of Swords," which was split into two seasons by the HBO adaptation. There was enough material there for at least another two or three seasons, but because the books weren't out yet, the showrunners could get away with streamlining the latter books' events to much greater extent than they did throughout the first five seasons. Or rather, they almost got away with it, but the consequences of this decision caught up with them in the much-maligned final season. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the "American Gods" writers will even get to  make the choice of whether or not to go on a hiatus after season 4, but it's nice that we got three seasons of a show that took its time in telling its story, that never fell into the trap of racing to the finish. Hopefully Netflix's "The Sandman" series will follow the same route.