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HBO's Watchmen series: Everything we know about the release date, cast and plot

Did someone say, "What do I watch after Game of Thrones?"

Warner Bros.

As history shows, adapting the Watchmen graphic novel hasn't exactly been all smiles.

Zack Snyder's 2009 live-action movie came off the back of two decades of development hell, with Twelve Monkeys' director Terry Gilliam flirting with the project before deeming the comic (gathered into a graphic novel in 1987) "unfilmable". Other big names like Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne series) were put forward then pulled back, until Snyder got the gig in 2005.

The result was a final cut of two hours and 43 minutes, with an "Ultimate Cut" bringing that up to 3 hours and 35 minutes. Response was split. With an R-rating, six main characters, an alternative timeline and part of the film set in the past, Snyder can at the very least claim to have given it a red-hot shot.

Now, a decade later, HBO is tackling Watchmen again, but with a TV series that gives showrunner Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) more time to address the comic's complicated narrative. That's if he chooses to tread there at all. In a five-page open letter to fans, Lindelof, a lifelong fan of the graphic novel, detailed his intentions not to adapt the "sacred ground" but to remix it.

He flashed words like "original", "contemporary" and "new faces" but also stressed that he wouldn't "erase what came before". Here's what we know about the upcoming series that already looks to be adding new characters with ties to the old. Now sit back and smile!

Editors' note: First published Oct. 20, this article was last updated Jan. 7, 2019.


Will the iconic smiley face badge feature in the show like it did in the 2009 movie?

Warner Bros.

When will Watchmen be on HBO?

HBO has confirmed Lindelof's "revamp" is coming in 2019, and according to IMDb, the first series will be eight episodes, one-hour each, so there's hefty screen time for the large cast of characters.

As for when in 2019, that's still up in the air. But with the last season of Game of Thrones finally announcing an April, 2019 release, maybe HBO will try a clever Cersei-like move and time Watchmen right after, giving devastated GoT fans a new show to jump over to.

Soundtrack fans, note that composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of The Social Network are on board, hopefully bringing that dark, electronic sound that inspired the soundtracks of Mr. Robot and Ex Machina. The duo won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for their work on The Social Network. So ears, get excited.

Lindelof will be on writing and producing duties, helped out by fellow producers Nicole Kassell and Tom Spezialy. Kassell, who's directed for HBO before on Westworld and on Lindelof's The Leftovers, directed the new series' pilot.

On June 27, Lindelof used Instagram to announce that filming of the pilot was done, praising Kassell: "Yesterday, she called wrap on the pilot of Watchmen... and let there be no doubt -- she WAS the pilot, navigating our owlship flawlessly from takeoff to landing." Then on Oct. 16, Lindelof announced on Instagram that "production starts TODAY" after the August announcement that the series was picked up by HBO. 

Now, here's how to watch the series. HBO is a subscription service that offers both cable and streaming with its HBO Now so you don't even need a TV. Bonus: You can stream HBO Now for free for 30 days.


From left, Jeremy Irons, Regina King and Don Johnson are among Watchmen's cast members.


Meet the cast

We don't know for sure who they're playing yet, but the confirmed cast includes:

Lindelof has insinuated there'll be new characters to partake in vigilante activities -- and it seems in crime fighting too. The first teaser image from the Watchmen Instagram account offered what looks to be a policeman in yellow, and subsequent posts revealed an entire police force clad in masks.

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Who Watches The Watchmen? #WatchmenHBO

A post shared by Watchmen (@watchmen) on

View this post on Instagram

Masks Save Lives. #WatchmenHBO

A post shared by Watchmen (@watchmen) on

The initial post's description: "Who Watches The Watchmen?" implies, well, the masked police are on the vigilantes' case. On closer inspection of the officers' badges and a squad car, you can see the words "Tulsa Police", implying the setting for the series is Oklahoma.

Speaking of masks, HBO teased its big upcoming shows during the 2019 Golden Globes, including a first glimpse of several Watchmen characters in action. A very familiar mask showed up.

Given the show stems from both the movie and the graphic novel, it's likely the figure in the grey and black-marked mask isn't the original Rorschach, especially since the character meets his end in both by the hand of superpowered Doctor Manhattan.

But we do get a clear look at Oscar- and Emmy-winner Irons, whose character THR is speculating will "topline the pilot" as an "aging and imperious lord of a British manor." According to Slashfilm, that aging lord is none other than retired genius superhero Adrian "Ozymandias" Veidt in his later years. Veidt is rich, so holing up in a big expensive house checks out. Still, that information hasn't been confirmed by HBO.

In not exactly the clearest of line deliveries, Veidt says in the teaser video what sounds like "Johnny just begun." Could he be referencing John Osterman, aka Doctor Manhattan?

Slashfilm also brought news the great Smart from Fargo and Legion will play an FBI agent "tasked with tracking down vigilantes." Her character's name is exciting: Agent Blake, possibly connected to Edward Blake, whose murder at the beginning of the graphic novel could be a sore point for the agent in the series. Again, we're waiting for an official announcement from HBO.

In the teaser video, we get a glimpse of Smart as the FBI agent reflected in the police car's side mirror. More new yet unknown figures include a man wearing a shiny gold mask and another in red. A third wearing a cowboy hat whose face is blurred in the short clip wears a suit and appears to march purposefully down a corridor lined with yellow-masked officers. Could he be another higher ranking officer?


Could we get a start date, though?


What we know about the plot

The short answer is not much. HBO offers a fairly general description that covers Lindelof's intentions to do something fresh without compromising the story's bones:

"Based on the Alan Moore graphic novel, Watchmen is set in an alternate history where 'superheroes' are treated as outlaws. And while Lindelof (The Leftovers) plans to embrace the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel, the series will also attempt to break new ground of its own. He announced his intentions earlier this spring on Instagram."

Lindelof likened his take to Noah Hawley's Fargo TV series, which became "its own thing" from the Coen brothers' original 1996 film, he told Syfy in April. "I wouldn't call Noah Hawley's version of Fargo an adaptation because the movie exists inside of his world, and so everything that happened in the movie Fargo, it does precede the television show Fargo." He provided more insight on Instagram.

All the way back in 2009, pre-Snyder's Watchmen, Lindelof did say this to CBR of Watchmen's influence on his writing: "From the flashbacks to the non-linear storytelling to the deeply flawed heroes, these are all elements that I try to put into everything I write."

So at the very least maybe we can expect those elements in the new series, no doubt honed during Lindelof's time writing Lost.

And Dave Gibbons, the artist of the comic, appears to approve of the script, telling Entertainment Weekly in September: "I found Damon's approach to be really refreshing and exciting and unexpected… While it's very reverential and true to the source material (by which I mean the Watchmen graphic novel that Alan and I did), it's not retreading the same ground, it's not a reinterpretation of it. It approaches it in a completely unexpected way."

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