[Warning: this story contains spoilers through the season finale of Starz’s American Gods, “Come to Jesus.”]
The final episode of the inaugural season of American Gods, spearheaded by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green for Starz, ended just short of a major milestone from the Neil Gaiman novel on which it’s based.
All season long, viewers followed the journey of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a recently released ex-con who fell into an otherworldly pursuit following the death of his wife Laura (Emily Browning). Shortly after the funeral, Shadow embarked on a road trip across middle America alongside a charming confidence man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Perhaps it’s more accurate to call him a confidence god, however; Wednesday made grand overtures throughout the first season of the Starz series, even somehow compelling Shadow to create a snowstorm with nothing more than the power of belief, but any questions about Wednesday’s true form were put to rest in the finale as he revealed himself as Odin, the great Norse god of thunder — among other names and titles, of course.
While Wednesday’s true identity is certainly an important revelation for the series, it’s not the stopping point most fans of the Gaiman novel would have expected for the season. Instead, those fans were likely expecting to see Wednesday, Shadow and some of the other deities — including Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy and Peter Stormare as Czernobog — arriving at the The House on the Rock, the site of what’s easily the single most iconic moment from the source material.
Based on the real-life Wisconsin tourist attraction of the same name, the House on the Rock is an architectural anomaly designed by Alex Jordan Jr. and originally opened in 1959. For those unfamiliar, the YouTube channel Atlas Obscura has an excellent breakdown of the “mind-tripping brain warp” nature of this extremely unusual location, which you can watch below.
In the fifth chapter of Gaiman’s book, Wednesday takes Shadow to the House on the Rock, and he explains it as “a place of power,” due to its nature as a roadside attraction. He says: “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples, or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
Shadow points out that there are churches all over America, and Wednesday dismisses their significance as no greater than a dentist’s office, in this context. He continues: “No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat-house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
As is his wont, Shadow doesn’t believe in Wednesday’s description of the House on the Rock’s power — at least, not until he sees it for himself. Pages later, Wednesday and his companions transform into all of their godly glory, holding a great meeting in which Wednesday warns the others about the coming war against the new gods, doing his level best to recruit them to his cause. It’s here that Wednesday reveals himself to Shadow as Odin, unlike the show’s version of this revelation, which takes place at Ostara’s (Kristin Chenoweth) house.
“I told you I would tell you my names. This is what they call me,” Wednesday says in the book, just as Shadow is seeing Wednesday’s true form for the first time. “I am called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-eyed. I am called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and I am the Hooded One. I am All-Father, and I am Gondlir Wand-bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn: Thought and Memory; my wolves are Freki and Geri; my horse is the gallows.”
Shadow finally speaks Odin’s true name, and once he does, the whisper becomes louder and louder until it’s an undeniable echo, bellowing within a great hall in which Wednesday conducts his meeting with the other gods. From this point forward, Shadow knows that the oddities he’s experienced during his travels with Wednesday are more real than he could have ever imagined.
It’s a massive turning point in Gaiman’s novel, and given that the climactic scene occurs little more than 100 pages into the book, many fans expected to see the House on the Rock sequence in the season one finale. Instead, what they saw was Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) driving on a bus past a sign for the House on the Rock in the final scene of the season — a promise that the sequence is very much still ahead, albeit a bit further down the line than expected.
While the House on the Rock’s veritable absence from the finale is certainly disappointing for the book-reading faithful, it wasn’t without some warning. Fuller told THR before the season’s launch that due to some episode restructuring, budget that would have gone toward the House on the Rock sequence was instead repurposed to streamline the show’s narrative. What’s more, given that the first season of American Gods didn’t quite crack the first 100 pages of the book (with a total count of 541 pages in the updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition, including forewords and afterwards), fans can rest assured that the show will adapt almost every granular detail of the novel — eventually, anyway.
What did you think of the American Gods finale?