Watchmen showrunner Damon Lindelof talks us through episode 6 and that stunning twist [spoilers]

(Image credit: HBO)

Damon Lindelof has done something extraordinary with Watchmen. Not only has the showrunner – best known for Lost and The Leftovers – created a TV sequel that will satisfy fans of Alan Moore's graphic novel, but one that enhances the original.

"This Extraordinary Being" marks perhaps the most mesmerising and impressive episode yet – one that offers an origins story to a mysterious character from source material and further adding intrigue to the series' overarching mystery. We spoke to Lindelof about the episode, quizzing the writer on his creative process and what Moore would think of his decisions on the show.

**Spoilers for Watchmen episode 6 ahead**

GamesRadar+: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s very much appreciated. In episode 6, we discover that Will Reeves is Hooded Justice. I'm wondering, which idea came first: to create a character who would become Hooded Justice, or did you create Will Reeves and then retrofit Hooded Justice to that character?

Lindelof: That’s a great question, and I want to give you the most honest answer that I can, because: A) memory is subjective, and B) ideas don’t happen in chronological order. Pieces of them come.

The first part is that since Watchmen… since the original 12 issues were published in 1986, and into ’87, I have long been fixated on Hooded Justice. At the end of each comic, there are excerpts from Hollis Mason’s autobiography. He was the original Nite Owl, and he starts to relay the history of the Minutemen, starting with the initial appearance of Hooded Justice. He makes a big point of saying that Hooded Justice’s identity was shrouded in mystery and was never revealed.

All the other Minutemen, he was on a first-name basis with and knew them. The Silhouette was Ursula Zandt, and The Comedian was Eddie Blake, and Captain Metropolis was Nelson Gardner. But he never knew Hooded Justice’s identity.

And so my father and I, we became completely and totally convinced that Hooded Justice must be, in some way, responsible for The Comedian’s death, and that the fact we never knew his identity was going to pay off in the original Watchmen. So any clue that was Hooded Justice-related, we fixated on. Then we came to the end of Watchmen, and it turned out that Hooded Justice was, for all intents and purposes, a red herring. And a very effective one at that, because I love the way that the original Watchmen resolved. We were so focused on Hooded Justice, we were ignoring what was right in front of our face, which was Adrian Veidt.

So the first thing is that I have, for 30 years now, just been wondering: who was Hooded Justice? And although the comic suggests he may have been this circus strongman named Rolf Muller, that always seemed to be a fairly shaky premise to me.

When Watchmen was offered to me for the third time, I was doing a lot of reading and focusing my thoughts on the camouflaged history of America as it related to the injustices carried out against people of colour.  I was reading all this [author and journalist] Ta-Nehisi Coates. I had just learned about the massacre of 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And then they asked me about Watchmen. That idea of “who was Hooded Justice?” slipped into what I was thinking about in terms of race in America, and it finally answered the question that I had been wondering about, at least in my head, which is: why would Hooded Justice never reveal himself?

If it was no big deal what his secret identity was, why did we not know what it was? And I felt like: maybe the answer is because he is a black man. If you were a black man putting on a costume and fighting crime in the ‘30s and ‘40s in America, that would not be acceptable. You would be treated entirely differently than if you were a white man. So he had to hide his ways.

And that was the inciting idea that I came in and pitched at HBO when I told them, “This is what I want to do with Watchmen.” So that’s how it kind of came together.

It's an amazing revelation that feels like it was meant to be. It must be quite strange to be reinventing these characters you have so much love for? What’s it like creating this new history for these characters?

It’s simultaneously the most exhilarating thing in the world and also the most terrifying. It’s exhilarating in the sense of: I suspect if you’re anything like me, when you were a little kid, you played with action figures, or you made up stories for all of the characters you loved in the movies and TV shows and comic books that you watched. And that’s what you did.

We build on pre-existing myths. It’s very hard to come up with original ideas. So it’s a lot of fun. The idea of writing dialogue for Adrian Veidt is the thrill of a lifetime.

At the same time, for reasons that are very obvious, but I’ll state them anyway: Mr. Moore does not want his characters to be played with, and he’s very explicit about that. That’s the terrifying part, where it’s like: I’m doing something that I’m not supposed to do. I’m doing something that’s against the wishes of someone that I have more creative respect for than most people on the planet.

I feel like he left that door open for someone to come through and say, “What if this is what Hooded Justice was?” But I have no doubt that if someone said to Alan Moore: “On a TV show, they made Hooded Justice into a black man” – that he would not like that idea. Not because he’s judging the idea on its own merits, but because he doesn’t want those characters touched at all. He told a completed story.

So it’s a struggle. And I know that it feels disingenuous for me to say that I’m emotionally affected by it, because I did it anyway. But that’s the truth.

What's also amazing is that you frame Hooded Justice as a Superman for today. We see Action Comics number one in the episode. What was the thought process behind that?

The original Watchmen was a love letter to comic storytelling and myth. Superman is just a repurposed version of the Moses story from the Old Testamen and the idea of saying, “Well, instead of doing Superman for the 15th time, what does Krypton look like if it’s entirely populated by African-Americans? And how would that story go? What would it be like if Superman was black?” That’s an interesting story in and of itself. And I’m not the first storyteller to think of an idea like that.

But then, instead of doing Superman, let’s say, “Oh, there actually was a real Krypton in the middle of Oklahoma in 1921 in America. There was this place of African-American exceptionalism that was completely and totally thriving, and then it was destroyed just like Krypton was. So is there a way for us to tell this story of a sole survivor, a child basically being hustled out of there by his parents, and then grows up to become a great hero? But we’d make it an American myth, because that’s what makes it Watchmen?”

You ground it in reality. You show the political and cultural realities and the underbelly of America in the process. That’s how you basically approach the storytelling. And then you create confusion around what’s actual history, and what’s alternate history.

That’s the bar we were attempting to clear. It was very, very high. Sometimes I think we got close to it. We’ll see where we end up.

(Image credit: HBO)

Before the series debuted, you wrote on Instagram that you were trying to remix Watchmen. The show presents stories, like Veidt, that feels like a separate show within the show, the same way the Black Freighter was a comic within the comic. Is that what you meant by remix? Taking similar elements and bringing them to the screen with new components?

Yes. And, you know, look, I think we should probably start acknowledging that to say that this television series is not a sequel is not accurate. But to say that it’s just a sequel is also not accurate to me. In fact, I think it was important to do almost two full episodes of the show that didn’t necessarily [have characters from the comics]. 

This is what’s amazing, Jack. There are people out there saying, “I don’t even know why you’re calling this thing Watchmen.” And then there are other people who are saying, “It’s obviously a sequel. Why aren’t you just admitting it?”

I was like, “These two things seem to be in direct conflict with one another. How can one person think it’s a sequel, and then I’m being chewed about calling it a remix? And someone else is saying it shouldn’t even be called Watchmen?”

So that’s where the remix space exists, where essentially we are literally sampling old tracks, and we’re putting them in new songs. That’s what a remix is. That’s what Alan Moore did on Swamp Thing, which is probably, in my opinion, right up there with Miracleman. He did it with Miracleman – or Marvelman to Brits. He did it with Supreme. He comes in and he does remixes on established myths. So he subverts the origin story without violating canon. That is quite a trick.

One of the things mentioned throughout this series, time and time again, is legacy. You have Hooded Justice's legacy and family, which transfers to Angela Abar. There's Judd as well, whose Grandfather was a member of the KKK. What does legacy mean to you? And why tackle that subject

I think that the jumping off point for the show had to be: “What is the original Watchmen? How do we capture that energy and try to come up with something new, but in service of the old?

I think that the original Watchmen is very much about legacy. Every single character, particularly Laurie [Blake], whose mother was in the Minutemen, and, as it turns out, so was her father [The Comedian]. Or Dan who modelled himself after the original Nite Owl.

But I think the idea that these characters in the present are very much tied and anchored and tethered to the past, and that they inherit the trauma and the pain of their parents and grandparents – I think that’s a very powerful idea.

Most of us do not dress up in costumes and attempt to fight crime. But everyone can identify with this idea of: “My grandparents had a very hard life, and I’ve inherited a lot of that. Not just from hearing those stories, but there’s just something about the journey – the miraculous, thermodynamic miracle that ended in Jack Shepherd.People had to go through trials and tribulations and survival to get to you.”

All of those ideas felt incredibly powerful and relatable and cinematic – and, most importantly, emotional. And then when you specify and get into the specifics of the African-American experience in the United States? That inherited trauma is much more intense than it is for many others in this country.

I don’t think it’s dramatised nearly enough inside of genre storytelling. And so that’s what we were going for here.

Watchmen continues every Sunday in the States on HBO, and Monday in the UK on NowTV. 

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.