In the first episode of American Gods, a woman absorbs a man into her vagina. One moment, they’re having fairly standard sex; the next, the camera pans out to revel the man growing smaller as his body vanishes between the woman’s legs as she tells him to “worship” her. After she climaxes, he’s gone. The woman lies back, alone in her bed and visibly glowing with renewed energy.

For people who read Neil Gaiman’s novel, this infamous scene is known as the Orgasm of Death. For show-only viewers, it was a major “what the fuck is happening” moment. Although the show’s first episode does not explicitly specify, Bilquis, the man-absorbing woman, is an ancient sex goddess.

In the novel, she’s referred to as the Queen of Sheba. When she tells the man to “worship her,” she doesn’t just have a kink for praise. She means it quite literally because worship is the source of her power.

Yetide Badaki as Bilquis in 'American Gods'
Yetide Badaki as Bilquis in 'American Gods' 

In American Gods, deities immigrate to America with their believers. As the years progress and their believers dwindle, their power fades. As a result, they’re stuck performing tasks like driving taxis, running funeral homes, or hanging out in bars instigating fights. In the book, Bilquis is a prostitute. The show has updated her into a down on her luck woman who goes on Tinder dates with timid divorcees.

The Queen of Sheba is a biblical figure vaguely described as the queen of the “east,” thought to have origins in Ethiopia or Yemen. She values wisdom and truth, supposedly has a cloven foot, has legendary gold treasure, and has a complicated relationship with King Solomon. When she visits him and tests his wisdom, he promises not to touch her if she refrains from touching anything of his. After she drinks water, he maintains that agreement is broken. They have sex and she becomes pregnant. She raises his firstborn son in the mysterious land of Sheba.

Traditional versions of the myth don’t say anything about her being a sex goddess, though that part might come from King Solomon reportedly giving he “every desire she expressed.” Regardless of how the sex plays into the traditional story, both the book and the show play fast and loose with mythology. American Gods purposefully highlights how myths get twisted to suit their cultures. In the show, there are a myriad of Jesus to suit different Christian and Catholic sects, and there’s even more than one version of Odin. No god has a single definitive version.

This specific American version of the Queen of Sheba draws power and validation from sex rather than wisdom, which is telling about the culture she’s anchored in. Bilquis is not a major presence in the novel besides the Orgasm of Death scene, but American Gods has expanded her role.

American Gods airs on Starz, Sunday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Photos via Starz