Neil Gaiman reflects on American Gods season 3, teases what could come in potential season 4
The author of the show's source material discusses the "frustrating, upsetting and maddening" cliffhanger as war approaches in an uncertain future.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's season finale of American Gods.
Never trust a conman. Just when you start to believe for real, you'll realize you were being played all along.
American Gods has been a long and winding road. After a critically acclaimed first season overseen by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and a more uneven second season following their ouster, season 3 finally hit some of the major plot points in Neil Gaiman's original novel by the time the season finale wrapped on Sunday. Not only did Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) finally make it to Lakeside, the frozen Midwestern town with more than a few dark secrets hidden beneath the surface of its icy lake, but by the end of the season he was literally dead.
In a one-two punch for the ages, American Gods killed off its two main characters in the final episodes of season 3. Episode 9, "The Lake Effect," ended with Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) getting struck down by his own legendary spear Gungnir, inspiring Shadow to hold vigil for his fallen father in episode 10, "Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree." But hanging from the branches of the world tree Yggdrasil (as Norse ritual dictates for a god's funeral) is too much for any mortal to endure, and the season ended with Shadow perishing on the tree.
"Episodes 9 and 10 are a couple of my favorite episodes of the whole of American Gods. It's like all of the ravens come home to roost," Gaiman tells EW. "This is where lots of things that were set up in season 1, and even some things set up in season 2, this is where they all come in and land. At the end of episode 10, we know and Shadow knows what's going on. So we're very, very much back in the book."
It's a climactic cliffhanger, especially thrilling since American Gods has not yet been officially picked up for season 4 by Starz. Remarkably, each season has had a different showrunner at the helm, with Gaiman serving as executive producer and consulting with each one (aided by his own experience as a showrunner of Amazon's Good Omens). But for once, Gaiman says it "would be lovely" to have season 3 showrunner Charles "Chic" H. Eglee stay on for another season, if the renewal happens.
"I would love that continuity. I sigh deeply when I learn that somebody else has left, because it means that I'm going to have to start again at the beginning with somebody, and that is literally the last thing that any of us want," Gaiman says. "But on the good side, it means that I've made a lot of friends that I wouldn't have made otherwise. I put a lot of things into the stew in the beginning, and so did Bryan and Michael. Jesse put some stuff into the stew. And now Chic has actually sort of stirred it and spiced it and is serving the stew to perfection."
Gaiman continues, "I think season 1 was fabulous, but it tended to become almost an anthology show. There was the Laura episode, and the Easter episode. One of the things I love about season 3 is it doesn't really do that. You remember high points and low points, but mostly it becomes a driving story that gets you through and a story in which Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon finally steps into his role."
Unfortunately, because American Gods has been a bumpy ride, it has lost some players along the way. After season 2 wrapped in 2019, actor Orlando Jones (who played Mr. Nancy, a.k.a. African trickster god Anansi) had a very public falling-out with the show. As EW reported at the time, Jones accused Eglee and Starz of breaking promises to him and claiming that Mr. Nancy sent the "wrong message for Black America."
Gaiman, who has never held firing power on American Gods, still isn't completely sure what happened with Jones, but points out that some characters were meant to come in and out of the story as it progressed, as they do in the novel.
"In the book, Mr. Nancy disappears for quite a while from the plot, and then turns up surprisingly at the end," Gaiman says. "That was the original plan. It was not the way it went down. I was very much looking forward to him coming back at the end and was really disappointed that that isn't how it worked out. I would still love to see him back in season 4, because that's when everything's being done."
As American Gods viewers and creators wait to find out if the show will continue, there are two paths forward for the divine saga. Without another season, American Gods would end on one of the most aggravating cliffhangers of all time. Not only is the protagonist dead, but just as Shadow had started to believe in his destiny and the righteousness of his father's cause, he realized it was all a trick.
All along, Wednesday has been manipulating events to lead precisely to Shadow's lethal vigil, because that blood sacrifice has now returned Wednesday to his full power as the Norse god Odin. Never trust a conman!
"If we don't get a season 4, we've ended on the single most frustrating, upsetting and maddening place that any season could possibly end," Gaiman says.
And also, in the event of a season 4, American Gods would finally be able to tackle the conflict it has been teasing since the beginning: A war between the Old Gods like Odin and the New Gods like Mr. World (Crispin Glover). But even that may not go down the way you think. Eagle-eyed fans of the book may understand the importance of Mr. World taking on other forms this season and being played by other actors like Dominique Jackson and Danny Trejo.
"It makes me incredibly happy to see Crispin Glover again," Gaiman says. "We wanted to set up some things about Mr. World. In order to do that, we needed you to be able to watch Mr. World taking on other identities as Mr. World, which then hopefully set up for some big reveals in season 4."
And beyond that...? Could there be a future for American Gods even after season 4 (or "season war," as this reporter referred to it in an uncanny malapropism)? Gaiman has, after all, always intended to write a sequel.
"We definitely wrap the novel in season 4," Gaiman says. "But it is open-ended, in that with each of the showrunners, I've had to sit down and say, 'okay, this is the plot of the next American Gods book, which I have not yet written, but you need to know this, because you need to know that these characters are important, and you need to know that this thing leads to that thing. So all three of them, bless their hearts, have done things to set that up, if we ever get there."
Gaiman continues, "but also, having watched the George R.R. Martin of it, I will be perfectly happy for American Gods to stop for five years, so I can write another novel they could then use for inspiration and start again if people are still interested."
For now, the future is still unwritten.