All images courtesy Spike TV

We’ve seen the first episode of Spike’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist—and though it’s largely set-up, it reveals what the show is keeping from King’s original story, hints of how the novella’s being expanded for TV, and all the secrets and melodrama you’d expect from a King story.

The Mist has some surprises in store, which is no small feat for a show based on a novella that’s been around since 1980 and was already made into a feature film in 2007. Most importantly, it introduces a whole new slate of characters—many of whom seem poised to make the story more interesting. There’s a queer teen who’s secure in his identity even if his parents aren’t, and a woman whose criminal past makes her oddly well-equipped to fight off monsters. There’s also a soldier who can’t remember who or where he is—but is very likely connected to the original story’s mysterious “Arrowhead Project.” We don’t know too much about these people after the first episode, but it’s enough to make us curious about what they’ll do next.

Not every character is unexpected—Bridgeville, Maine is supposed to be a fairly typical small town, after all. The main focus of the first episode is Eve (Vikings’ Alyssa Sutherland), a high-school teacher who’s just been put on leave for daring to stray beyond the conservative lesson plan in sex-ed class, despite the fact that she’s suffocatingly protective of her own teen daughter, Alex (Gus Birney). Her husband, Kevin (Morgan Spector), is far more permissive, a parenting choice that—in the show’s most heavy-handed plot point—unwittingly puts Alex at risk when she’s allowed to attend a party where roofies are on the menu.

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The good news is that even with all the personal drama that’s been added, and the necessary helpings of exposition, the horror elements are strong right from the start. The Mist begins racking up a body count with surprising speed. Episode one contains both eyeball-crunching gruesomeness caused by an insect attack, and a gut-punchingly senseless random murder caused by a jittery person with a gun. And then there’s the freaky monsters in the mist, which we obviously don’t learn too much about this early on.

One notable and interesting change from King’s story is that, by the end of the episode, The Mist’s surviving characters are spread out across the town, rather than taking shelter in a supermarket. The majority of citizens are either barricaded in the local mall (shades of Dawn of the Dead) or church (shades of The Fog). The first location, where several dozen people are gathered, is clearly where power struggles will cause a rapid breakdown of politeness once “taking shelter” becomes “trapped for days with a dwindling food supply.” The second hints that a religious debate tied to the origins of the mist, a key plot point in King’s story, will also be a part of the show, probably involving the character played by Frances Conroy, who’s a combination of Earth mother and conspiracy theorist. And the story will also thankfully have some movement, since several main characters are still fumbling around trying to figure out how to survive while tracking down their loved ones.

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There’s also the overarching mystery of where the mist came from; is it supernatural or caused by some kind of government experiment or fuckup? Looking forward, it seems we’re in for creature horror and existential dread, which if wielded properly could make for quite a nightmarish combo—especially if The Mist continues to develop its intriguingly imperfect characters.

There’s a lot going on in just the first episode, and wanting to see the follow through on everything it set up makes us want to come back and see more. We’ve seen a lot of shows in the “small town trapped by outside forces” vein, including Wayward Pines and another King adaptation, Under the Dome; both started strong but couldn’t quite keep it together as their stories progressed. If The Mist can pull all its threads into a coherent story that builds on King’s premise, it could be a scary triumph.

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The Mist premieres tonight on Spike TV.