american gods primer

A storm is coming. The gods are restless. The battle between the past and the future is upon us.

The longanticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods is finally landing on April 30, 2017 on Starz and it’s about damn time. This best-selling fantasy story has been brought to life by series co-creator and showrunner Bryan Fuller, geek royalty who is no stranger to macabre humor and mind-bending visual storytelling (Hannibal and Pushing Daisies, anyone?). The pedigree of fellow showrunner Michael Green (fresh off co-writing Logan), the involvement of Gaiman himself, and a cast ordained by the gods ensures that both book readers and newcomers have a wild ride ahead.

American Gods is a twist on the gritty fantasy genre that forces its characters to live in a moral grey area – it’s certainly going to appeal to Game of Thrones fans. Taking a story about a war brewing between supernatural beings and turning it into a culturally relevant story about modern day America, American Gods manages to feel real and makes fantasy almost relatable…before slapping you across the face with a big dose of man-eating goddesses and angry hammer wielding eastern European boogeymen.

If you’re not convinced to give this series a shot…well, that’s why I’m here. Let’s break down everything you need to know.

[NOTE: This article is written from the perspective of an avid fan of the book. There will be no direct show spoilers.]

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This is Not Your Typical Fantasy

Spoiler alert: there are gods. Lots of them. Mythology-based, sacrificed-to, eat-your-heart, worshipped-for-centuries, gods. While this story won’t feature any battles on Mount Olympus, there is a war brewing…but think more backwoods America and less Westeros. The gods of myth and religion in American Gods are, for lack of a better word, real. They wear normal, albeit sometimes eccentric clothes, they have to make a living, and they lead normal lives, no matter how many goats and virgins were bled in their names. Most of these gods have been in America for centuries, carried over by the immigrants to the new world, and they have long since traded in their theatrics.

Don’t mistake “normal” lives for boring, though. American Gods is still a fantasy story, and super-cool, super-weird things happen, even without dragons and orcs. What makes this story so unique and different from traditional fantasy is its mundane setting. Gaiman manages to build an elaborate network of gods and conflict right in the middle of America’s heartland, hidden from our view. The path to meet these gods and learn about their conflict is more “twisted buddy road” trip and less Fellowship of the Ring. The setting is familiar, so it’s the characters who make this story fantastical. Think of this otherworldly battle as a gang turf war, but the gangs are all-powerful deities and the turf is the whole of America…and none of its citizens even remotely aware of what is going on.

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The Old Gods and the New Gods

American Gods is all about a competition of relevance. We can divide the cast into two categories of gods: the old gods, brought over in the hearts and traditions of those who have come to America over the centuries, and the new gods, created by the ideas that the modern American culture values most, like money, celebrity, technology, and media. Gods are brought to life and destroyed based on the fervor and passion of their followers. If people stop worshipping a god and stop passing down the traditions that honor them, that god dies.

The opposite is also true. When a group of people put a lot of love, thought, and value into an idea, that idea can evolve into a deity. In modern day America, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t pray to the powers-that-be every time the buffering ring of death appears on whatever YouTube video is viral that day. Beyond the internet and TV, think of how much passion is behind the pro-gun movement. Over the last 16 years, while American Gods has sat comfortably on our shelves, social media has ignited passion in things that go beyond “pro” and “against,” teetering into the realm of need and would-kill-for. With the addition of a “god of guns,” the show’s New Gods will reflect the obsessions of 2017, expanding the original concept from the novel.

American Gods is not with out its humor and irony. Without the pomp and circumstance that their homelands hold, many of these gods and folk tales have gone from god-like to, well, your immigrant grandmother that likes to talk about the “old country.” However, instead of her home village sauce recipe, she is talking about all the blood that used to be sacrificed in her name. Take for instance, a group of Egyptian gods still getting their organ fix by running a funeral home in Illinois, or Mad Sweeny (Pablo Schrieber), a foul mouthed leprechaun that can throw back a drink and has a proficiency for gold coin tricks, or Czernobog (Peter Stormare), an eastern european god that is as excited talking about the old days of bashing brains with his giant hammer as an aging former football player talking about his best touchdown passes.

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