The Stand, Stephen King’s 1978 novel about a world under fire from a distorted flu pandemic, hasn’t been on TV since its miniseries adaptation in 1994. It picked a heck of a time to return to the screen. The CBS All Access show — starring a stacked cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Greg Kinnear, James Marsden, Amber Heard, Heather Graham, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo, Owen Teague, and more — is out later this year. Now fans can get a first look at the Stephen King adaptation that’s horror is perhaps the currently most relatable in his entire oeuvre.
Speaking to Vanity Fair, showrunners Benjamin Cavell and Taylor Elmore explained that their show, like the novel itself, isn’t necessarily about the virus. “It’s about the fundamental questions of what society owes the individual and what we owe to each other,” said Cavell. “Over the last however-many years, we have sort of taken for granted the structure of democracy. Now, so much of that is being ripped down to the studs. It’s interesting to see a story about people who are rebuilding it from the ground up.”
Fans of the fantastical horror story — which might not seem too fantastical now — can see those ragtag people working to survive and rebuild in a handful of first-look photos.
Take a look:
First is Goldberg’s Mother Abagail, the 108-year-old leader of a survivor’s movement catalyzed by shared dreams. With over a century of experience (“Well, that’s what she says,” said Goldberg. “She’s older, I think.”) she’s got plenty to bring to the table.
“She is very, very righteous and very good. But really flawed I feel,” said Goldberg. “I’ve been fighting with not making her the Magic Negro, because she’s complicated.” The actress had been vying for the role since the ‘90s miniseries adaptation and finally got her chance. And she’s really looking to make the mystical elements complex. “She doesn’t listen when God is talking to her,” the actress explained. “And she tends to go her own way because she’s been like this her whole life. It takes her a little while to figure out that there’s something bigger than her.”
Next, fans see the force opposing her and a key character in all of King’s deeplore: Skarsgård’s Randall Flagg. Here, the shapeshifting villain present in plenty of the author’s work is a rock-and-roll instigator looking to lead a new civilization of vice in Las Vegas.
“He’s so charming and he’s so handsome, and so powerful — I mean genuinely powerful, able to perform these sort of miracles where he could levitate himself and he has these actual powers,” said Elmore. “And yet he needs this adulation and this kind of worship from these people whom he’s summoned to him. He needs to have them make a show all the time of how grateful they are to him.” To that, Cavell added, “And there’s something fundamentally weak about that. Does it remind you of someone you know?”
It’s no mystery that the “galvanizing” figure takes some of his personality traits from a certain current world leader that’s not exactly handling the pandemic with flying colors. King himself loves to talk political smack on social media.
The next photos are Young’s pregnant Frannie Goldsmith (“a formidable force in this story,” as per Elmore) and her neighbor, Teague’s Harold Lauder. They’re both immune to the virus, with Harold crushing uncomfortably hard on Frannie. They travel together, but the end results might not be entirely healthy. “Frannie’s very conflicted about the way she feels about Harold,” Elmore said. “Obviously, that’s a huge relationship in the book that is explored in a specific way, and we take tiny liberties with it that an actor like Odessa can use to really make that character feel modern and resonant.”
The final photos introduce Nat Wolff’s jailed murderer Lloyd Henreid and a group of hazmat-suited individuals. Lloyd falls for Flagg after the latter lets him out of his cell. “It’s like, what would happen if you had to witness the apocalypse from inside a locked room?” Cavell said. “At a certain point there’s a riot going on in the prison around him but he’s restricted, essentially, to the view that he has just out of his cell because that’s all you can see.”
Rounding out the cast as the different survivor groups head toward an end-times gathering that could be better described as Armageddon, are a musician (Adepo), socialite (Graham), and sociology professor/King analogue (Kinnear). “He’s able to say these things that are part of my idea of the way that human nature works. First there’s chaos, and then there’s reintegration,” said King. “So it’s a question of, do things reintegrate in a way that’s good, or do they reintegrate in a way that’s Hitlerian and bad? It could go either way, so I wanted to write about that. I wanted to put those two forces in conflict.”
King wrote a new ending to this series, which will air in a different chronology than the novel and the first miniseries, so fans of the property can go in anticipating some surprises when The Stand hits CBS All Access later this year.