fter gauging the reaction of many TV critics, TV lovers, and TV dilettantes to the premiere of the new fantasy series American Gods, one clear pattern has emerged.
Long-time fans of the Neil Gaiman—who wrote the novel the show is adapted from—are excited to see what’s comes next. Non-book-readers, however, tend to react to the premiere with confusion.
I thought it might be helpful to infuse this article with a little bit of book knowledge, so that everyone can be equally excited about what’s to come.
There are no major spoilers below, but there is, hopefully, enough added info there to clear up lingering American Gods questions. Still, so we’re all on the same page, here is your official Season 1, Episode 1 spoiler alert. Don’t say Czernobog didn’t warn you.
What’s with Those Vikings?
The episode opens with a bloody (and we mean bloody) Viking battle.
This scene actually doesn’t happen in the book (more on that in a bit), but it’s what’s called a “Coming to America” scene. In the novel, interspersed among the main Shadow and Mr.
Wednesday plot are several “Coming to America” scenes, which explain how the gods of the old world got to American via the faith and dreams of immigrants.
Set in various time periods and exploring several different kinds of immigrant experiences, the interludes are often disconnected from the main story.
The “Coming to America” sequences will crop up throughout Season 1—usually acting as a sort of pre-credits “cold open” treat. Some will have characters that tie back into the main plot; some won’t.
This viking story pays homage to the moment that first sparked Neil Gaiman’s idea for American Gods. “During a stopover in Iceland I stared at a tourist diorama of the travels of Leif Erickson, and it all came together,” Gaiman wrote in a preface to the 10th Anniversary Edition of the book.
Here we see a Viking crew, stranded on Northern American shores, endeavoring to find a sacrifice violent and bloody enough to please their war god, Odin, in the hopes he will bless them with winds to fill their sails.
After the Vikings have sufficiently wounded themselves and placated their god, the episode hops forward in time to more familiar book territory. But the most important takeaway here is that the Old Gods—brought to American shores thanks to belief—demand bloody sacrifices. Oh, and did that wooden statue of Odin look at all familiar? It should…