When American Gods hits TV screens in 2017, critics and viewers alike will hail it as the new Game of Thrones, not only because, much like GoT, it’s also based on a wildly popular novel by a juggernaut of the geek community. Not only because it takes place in the modern world and will therefore catch viewers who are tired of the same old pseudo-medieval courtly backdrops for their fantasy. Not only because one of its most prominent characters will suddenly and shockingly die at one point, or because the show’s sex-magic will make Melisandre’s demon shadow birth look tame by comparison — though those are also apt points of similarity.
American Gods will follow Game of Thrones footsteps in many ways, but one stands alone as the most unique: blurring the line between canon and adaptation.
When it first came to light that Game of Thrones would have to accelerate its story past George R.R. Martin’s snail-paced progression on A Song of Ice and Fire and spoil some plot details for The Winds of Winter, it was an unprecedented development.
Sure, there are other shows based on novels that expand past their source material, like The Leftovers, but that show began as an adaptation of a self-contained novel, and the show burned through its text’s plot in the first season. The rest of the show isn’t “spoiling” any future material, because there is no more forthcoming from Tom Perrotta. But when the news came out that Game of Thrones would beat A Song of Ice and Fire to breaking the news book fans had been waiting years for — like the truth about Jon Snow’s real mother — there was much hand-wringing over what this meant for Game of Thrones, and what that overlap meant for the concept of canon versus adaptation.
For most of Season 6, the show was still figuring it out. While the reveal about Jon Snow’s mother was hardly a surprise, Hodor’s death will reportedly be “different” in the books. But until Martin releases The Winds of Winter, “The Door” will be the definitive version.
In a similar manner, American Gods might “spoil” its sequel before it appears on bookshelves. Neil Gaiman said in a recent interview,
I’ve definitely found myself having to tell Michael Green and Bryan Fuller stuff about the as-yet-unwritten book two of American Gods, which is slightly frustrating for me, because I always like it when this stuff is inside and nothing gets out. But occasionally there are things where I have to say, “Okay, let me tell you enough about the next American Gods book that you’ll know why a few lines of dialogue are important and need to be in there; You will know there’s this little scene that seems like it won’t amount to much but it’ll become incredibly important, so don’t cut that line, because you’re going to need it three years from now.”
Because American Gods will take several seasons to get through the first book — Season 1 will reportedly cover the first third — it’s entirely possible Gaiman will have enough time to publish its sequel. But there have been teasers and hints about it for years, Neil Gaiman is a busy man, and the American Gods show will cover information at a different rate than the book. It’s entirely possible American Gods will end up covering some of these plot details before Gaiman has time to release them into the world in book form.
If this is the case, rather than being a source of anxiety for book fans, it should be a source of wonder. The concept of the adaptation superseding the canon is a new and fascinating thing — and nothing would more appropriately fit the themes of American Gods.
The show will air on an as-yet unspecified date in 2017 on Starz.