With its official premiere on Starz last night, it’s time to review the first episode of this much-anticipated series. For fans of the book and new worshippers at the boob tube, “The Bone Orchard” does NOT disappoint. I’ll be analyzing as someone who knew the book first, so some compare/contrast is inevitable. But I welcome comments from those who are experiencing this world through the show first.
Episode spoilers are a given. Best not to read if you haven’t watched!
What a stellar opening! Fuller and Green are apparently starting each episode with a Coming to America story narrated by Mr. Ibis – they made a great choice with 813 A.D. and the Vikings, but HOLY BUFFALO MAN I DID NOT EXPECT THAT MUCH BLOOD.
The 813 Coming to America has some changes from the book, but ones that I actually believe are better for the overall narrative. The TV sequence focuses on the challenges on the journey, their poor reception by the land (and its inhabitants), and the Vikings’ desperation to survive. In the book, they falsely befriend a Skraeling just to sacrifice him to Odin, which sparks a war with the native inhabitants. Instead, the becalmed Vikings resort to emulating their one-eyed god by mutilation, then fighting each other in America’s first–and–worst game of Shirts vs Skins.
That same desperation to survive is something we’ll see in the Old Gods and the New, so I thought it was some brilliant foreshadowing.
Meeting Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) in prison is pretty much lifted from the pages, and I was really impressed by Whittle’s non-verbal but clearly expressive reaction to learning Laura is dead. There are actually a few scenes in this episode that make it clear he’s not handling her loss well, and may actually be an improvement over the book. Book Shadow spends a lot of time in his own head, which doesn’t usually make for a dynamic TV scene.
Shadow’s first meet with Wednesday has some excellent additions, and without giving anything away I’m sure book fans were flailing at their screens over the dialogue exchanged. Ian McShane is a better Wednesday than I expected, masterfully alternating between the lovable confidence man and the gruff hustler. And I was pleased to see that they expanded the role of Audrey Burton, but kept her most memorable line.
But the queen of this episode is no doubt Yetide Badaki as the struggling goddess Bilquis. A deity of love and lust, she draws power through sex worship. In the book, Bilquis resorts to prostitution, whereas in the series she’s meeting men through dating apps. The iconic sex scene where Bilquis absorbs her worshipper is challenging enough to read aloud, I can’t imagine acting it out. But Badaki gives a truly commanding performance. The only thing that nagged at me was her worshipper mentioned having kids, which left me a bit conflicted about his impending fate.
The episode ended on a bit of a shocking note, at which point I may have screamed WHAT at the TV. Technical Boy orders his lackeys to kill Shadow, and they nearly succeed.
So who–or what– saved Shadow? Let me hear your theories!