Master of horror Stephen King recently apologized for The Stand, his massive novel where a man-made virus sweeps through the world and devastates the population. "I'm still apologizing for it 40, 50 years later," the author told Stephen Colbert. "People will come along and say through their little masks, 'I feel like I'm living in a Stephen King story.' My response is, 'I'm sorry for that.'" Now The Stand is heading back to TV amidst a real-life pandemic and the apologies have been replaced with wonder, doubt, and differentiation.
Speaking to Vanity Fair, the author explained what it was like going back to the story — which shut down production four days early in March due to the Coronavirus — during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Whether or not anybody will want to watch it in the aftermath of coronavirus, I don’t know,” the author said. “The book is selling — The Stand, the novel, is selling — so.” Not very reassuring, but these aren’t reassuring times. This strangeness bled into showrunners Benjamin Cavell and Taylor Elmore’s handling of the nine-episode miniseries. “It was very surreal, obviously, to start to realize that there was a creeping pandemic the way there was at the beginning of our show,” Cavell said.
And the show itself starts with the plague in full swing. The pilot episode, directed by Josh Boone (The New Mutants), starts with masked survivors of the Captain Trips virus cleaning up a Colorado neighborhood littered with dead bodies. This isn’t Contagion, but 28 Days Later — this is in the muck.
“King does this great thing that we made the conscious decision not to do, which is to go to the 10,000 foot view of what’s going on,” Cavell said. “That’s not a luxury that our people have. What does the apocalypse look like from the ground where you can’t see what’s happening other places, you can’t see what’s happening to other people, you can only see your subjective experience?”
But the point of the story — which is about a “weaponized human-made device,” Elmore clarifies, saying that it’s “an alternate version of how things could have gone” — isn’t about horror or fear or realism. “I wanted to write about bravery,” said King. “At some point, people do have to make a stand.”
That doesn’t mean the series isn’t going to tap into the fears exacerbated by real-world events. “When you hear reports that 100,000 or 240,000 people are going to die, you’ve got to take notice, and it is going to be bad. It’s bad right now,” said King. “It’s brought the economy to a complete stop. In a lot of ways, I mean, you see the pictures of Times Square or London, and you say, ‘It really is like The Stand.’ But the cars aren’t piled up, and nobody’s shooting each other yet.”
This was said, of course, before people started bringing assault rifles to anti-quarantine rallies. The Stand, with its stacked cast — including Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Greg Kinnear, James Marsden, Amber Heard, Heather Graham, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo, Owen Teague, and more — hits CBS All Access later this year.