Studios spend a fair amount of time trying to stop spoilers. Whether it’s actors refusing to talk about anything in interviews for fear of accidentally revealing a secret or the president of Marvel Studios refusing to tell people the title of a film because it itself is a spoiler, secrecy is everywhere. Except for American Gods.
You’d think American Gods would be in the same boat as Game of Thrones. They’re both lavish adaptations of books by beloved genre writers on a premium cable channel. In the war of Game of Thrones spoilers—book fans saying something from the book isn’t a spoiler, since it’s been out for years, versus television fans guarding their ignorance with ferocity—the TV fans have won. Crafting spoiler-free synopses and headlines for Game of Thrones is practically an art.
In American Gods not only will this argument not come up, it’s not even relevant.
“People ask us often are we worried about spoilers, things like that. And the answer is ‘not very much,’” said Michael Green, American Gods executive producer. “There is plot, and for those who that is there reason to come, that is serviced and enjoyable. But it is the interactions and discussions along the way that is so appealing.”
Of course American Gods has a plot. But the sense of mystery that pervades Gaiman’s novel doesn’t drive the show. I could describe the plot in detail and it would convey about a tenth of the beauty of the visuals, the emotion of the actors, the way the music underscores every moment in the TV series perfectly. You would still have to watch even if you knew every plot detail.
In any other show, a character coming back as a zombie would be a spoiler. In American Gods, it’s tweeted out by the show’s official account before the show even hits the air.
If you’re used to the vagueness of everything HBO releases of Game of Thrones, the openness of American Gods will shock you. While the book is told from the point of view of someone who has no idea who any of these people are, the marketing for American Gods has been very clear about the gods we’re meeting. The Shadow Moon of the TV series isn’t ignorant or confused as much as he is someone who has no belief, so he can’t accept what he’s seeing.
In the book, the reveal of Mr. Wednesday’s real identity is an important moment for Shadow. But it’s not a spoiler at this point to say that Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday is Odin, according to Bryan Fuller himself, an executive producer on American Gods and whose last project was Hannibal, another adaptation and update of a book.
“When I read the book, I was fully aware of who he was,” explained Fuller. “There was I was aware of Mr. Wednesday, so it never occurred to me that it was spoileriffic because the book’s called American Gods.” an executive producer on American Gods and whose last project was Hannibal, another adaptation and update of a book. (While I wouldn’t have thought it was a spoiler, either, years of internet freak-outs over spoilers have made me more cautious.)
Ian McShane, for one, is glad that he doesn’t have to be coy about his character. “If you know anything about Norse Mythology, you know what Wednesday means—Wotan,” he said. “An audience needs something to be given back to. It’s always mysterious! They always say, ‘we’re holding this back, and this back.’ Well, give me something! Otherwise you go, ‘Okay, you’re not going to give me anything? Well, boom.’” (“Boom” meaning that the audience gives up and leaves.)
American Gods is less interested in being mysterious and more interested in examining its characters and the themes of belief and identity. It’s not straying that far from the original. “I read the book and then I watched show, I was like, ‘It’s a lot how I imagined,’” said Kristin Chenoweth, who plays Easter. There are changes—mostly expansions to give characters more time and backstory—but the core of the show is the book. And the beauty of the show is how it interprets it. You can’t spoil that, you just have to watch them do it.
The glory is in seeing the interpretation, not obsessing over every little plot detail. “This is fanfiction,” says Orlando Jones, who plays Mr. Nancy. “I get insane about that idea. I can’t believe that Neil Gaiman, Bryan Fuller, and Michael Green are writing American Gods fanfiction together. That shit is off the chain.”
American Gods is too good in its execution to need secrecy. It only needs to be seen, and nothing can spoil that.