What exactly is HBO's upcoming Watchmen series and what relationship does it have to the rest of the franchise? Watchmen was originally a 1980s DC graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, offering a revolutionary take on the superhero format with morally gray heroes and villains, a mature, unforgiving tone and a bleak, dystopian-style plot with plenty of political subtext. Often considered impossible to adapt into live-action, Zack Snyder's Watchmen hit theaters in 2009 to a mostly positive, but still incredibly divisive, reception. The Watchmen movie made some significant changes to the source material and wasn't a huge hit at the box office but, like the comics before it, retains a cult following.
HBO began to show interest in a Watchmen TV series as early as 2015 and Snyder himself was originally approached for the project, but showrunning duties eventually fell to Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers). As Watchmen's cast list began to emerge, boasting big names such as Jeremy Irons, the nature of the series was called into question. Still, a shroud of mystery remained over Watchmen's story and its placement in relation to either the original comic book or the 2009 movie.
Lindelof himself attempted to answer these questions in May last year, but did so in the vague, non-committal way that producers often employ so as to not quote themselves into a corner. According to the showrunner, the Watchmen series is not a remake, since it tells a completely original story that doesn't appear in the DC comics. Lindelof also claimed that HBO's Watchmen wouldn't be a sequel either, but went on to confirm that the series would be set in the decades after the events of the graphic novel. Despite suggestions to the contrary, a new narrative set chronologically after a previous story is a sequel, whether that was the intention or not. To all intents and purposes, HBO's Watchmen is a sequel to Moore and Gibbons' classic 1980s comic.
Conflicting comments from Lindelof aren't the only reason some viewers are a little confused about the format of the new Watchmen series. As previously mentioned, Zack Snyder was approached to oversee the project, suggesting the initial plan was to follow on from the 2009 movie adaptation, rather than the comic books. This idea has been propagated by Watchmen's trailers and marketing campaign, which have revealed a tone and visual style not dissimilar to that seen in the Snyder movie, leading fans towards the belief that the TV show would follow on from here, rather than the comics.
And as much as the Watchmen series is hyped up as an original, standalone story, returning characters from the comic books have been steadily unveiled, including Irons' Ozymandias, Jean Smart as Silk Spectre and nuclear nudist, Dr. Manhattan. Appearances from this familiar roster of names further Watchmen's sequel credentials.
If HBO's Watchmen follows on from the comics, rather than the movie, this means that Snyder's alterations won't come into effect, and the show's alternate version of Earth should've been attacked by a giant "alien" in the 1980s, rather than by a sequence of nuclear explosions. It'll be interesting to see whether this landmark moment is directly referenced in the Watchmen TV series, or whether the tragedy is alluded to in a less overt fashion, especially since Snyder specifically changed the ending to better fit the darker, more grounded tone of his movie.
Watchmen premieres with "It's Summer And We're Running Out Of Ice" October 20th on HBO.