Everything casual Stephen King fans need to know before watching 'Outsider'

There's at least one familiar Stephen King character in HBO's new thriller.


HBO’s next bone-chilling mystery is almost here. The Outsider premieres on Sunday with two hour-long episodes introducing viewers to the latest Stephen King adaptation. Half True Detective (the good seasons) and half It (Part 1, not Part 2), Outsider begins as a story about detectives and murderers before veering into King’s distinct, supernatural multiverse.

You don’t need to be a Stephen King expert to enjoy HBO’s The Outsider, but it can’t hurt to freshen up on a few key concepts and characters, right? With that in mind, here are two important King creations to keep in mind when the show kicks off this Sunday.

Holly Gibney in the TV adaptation of 'Mr. Mercedes'


Meet Holly Gibney

Holly Gibney was first introduced in Mr. Mercedes, a 2014 crime fiction novel from King that kicked off the Bill Hodges trilogy. In the book, Holly is an autistic young woman who’s also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, synesthesia, and sensory processing disorder.

Mr. Mercedes follows Bill Hodges, a retired detective who’s goaded into investigating a case of vehicular homicide by the murdered. During the story, he meets Holly, who helps him solve the case and even neutralizes the killer using a sock filled with ball bearings.

In the third book of the Bill Hodges trilogy, End of Watch (2016), Holly returns. This time she’s Hodges sidekick at his P.I. agency, Finders Keepers. The story returns to the original villain from Mr. Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield, who gains supernatural powers as he recovers from the injuries inflicted on him by Holly in the first book.

The Bill Hodges trilogy was also adapted into a TV series, titled Mr. Mercedes, which cast Brendan Gleeson as Bill Hodges, Harry Treadaway as Brady Hartsfield, and Justine Lupe as Holly Gibney.

Holly Gibney in 'The Outsider' on HBO.


Holly’s return in The Outsider

Holly Gibney shows up again in The Outsider to help detective Ralph Anderson investigate a gruesome murder. To avoid spoiling the plot of HBO’s new show, I won’t reveal anything else about her role in the story, but here’s a particularly powerful monologue delivered by Cynthia Erivo, who plays Holly in Outsider (via Time):

“I can tell you what day May 1st lands on 204 years from now faster than any computer on Earth. I can look at a skyscraper for two seconds from a speeding car and tell you within six inches how tall that building is. And I can not only recite the lyrics of every rock ‘n’ roll song ever written from 1954 to the present day, but I can tell you which Billboard chart position they were in week-to-week before they fell off completely. But you know what? I don’t listen to music because I don’t like it. Heights make me throw up. And if you ask me what date it is today I have to look at a calendar.”

Ben Mendelsohn and Yul Vazquez in 'The Outsider'.


What’s “ka” in the Stephen King multiverse?

Aside from Holly, the biggest Stephen King in-universe reference from The Outsider is ka, a neutral energy that powers all living things (sort of like the Force in Star Wars). Ka explains a lot of the supernatural things that happen in King’s various stories, and it plays a role in this one, too — at least, in the book it does.

So if someone starts talking about ka — or anything supernatural starts happening — that’s probably why.

The Outsider premieres January 12 on HBO.