This American Gods articles contains spoilers for Season 1.
“A Prayer For Mad Sweeney” was one of the standout episodes of American Gods Season 1, and what Neil Gaiman called at this month’s TCA presentations, “one of my favorite deviations from the book.” American Gods Season 2 will see a similar “deviation,” with another Mad Sweeney-centric episode telling the history of the Old God to an even more expansive degree.
In Season 1, we got to see Mad Sweeney as he was a few hundred years ago. In Episode 7 of Season 2, we will learn about the last 6,000 years of Mad’s history.
“That’s a lot of years,” noted Pablo Schreiber, who plays Sweeney in the show.
“It’s a long episode,” added Emily Browning, who plays American Gods‘ Laura Moon and had a substantial role in Season 1’s Mad-centric ep.
Gaiman spoke to Den of Geek about having the opportunity to further expand on his novel in Season 2 with the expanded history of Mad Sweeney.
“I do have 6000 years of Mad Sweeney backstory all there and it wasn’t need for the book so, it gets implied, but it’s yours if you want it,” said Gaiman. “And then sitting down in Toronto in a trailer with Heather [Bellson] and just taking her through the history of Mad Sweeney and the ups and the downs of him as a god and as a saint and his battle with the saint and the madness of Mad Sweeney and what he was and how that ties in and everything and I think they pulled that off and it became something bigger and better than I hoped.”
Speaking more generally to Den of Geek about Mad’s journey in Season 2, Schreiber said: “My arc this season, or Sweeney’s arc this season, is an arc of revenge I guess, or retribution. There was a lot of themes through the first season of him feeling misused and abused and a lot of guilt that he had to make up for and the process of this season is his journey toward clearing his own conscience.”
One of those sins is the murder of Laura, which we learn in Season 1 was carried out by Mad Sweeney on Wednesday’s orders. Mad spends most of the first season trying to get his coin (and therefore his luck) back from Laura, but, when the opportunity presents itself, he lets Laura keep it (unbeknownst to her) so that she can survive.
“Mad could’ve walked away,” said Gaiman of that moment. “He could’ve just taken his coin and he didn’t. He gave it back and it kept on. It’s like, okay, there’s something really wonderful happening and watching both Laura and Mad Sweeney have their own arc in Season 2, and watching where that takes them, I think it would be fair to say that [the shape of their arc is] probably my favorite thing in the whole of Season 2.”
In general, the Mad and Laura dynamic is the best-developed relationship of Season 1, and one that was mostly built for the TV series.
“I don’t think anybody quite expected it,” said Gaiman of the Laura/Mad dynamic. “It was very much a thing of, in terms of the moving people from point A to point B. Going, ‘Well in the novel, at this point, both Mad Sweeney and Laura are off-screen so wouldn’t it be great if they’re traveling with each other?’ That just seemed like a lovely and efficient way to do so.”
Schreiber gave Den of Geek insight into the aesthetic “updates” his character got when making the jump from the page to the screen.
“We talked about that in design in terms of the [fact that the] book was written 20 years ago, so what does the Mad Sweeney of today look like?” Schreiber told Den of Geek. “Because it was really important that all of the characters, you could conceivable find them in today’s world. So rather than the trucker hat, which felt ’90s, it made it’s way to what it was, which is more of that modern-day kind of hipster vibe that you would find in Silverlake, or Williamsburg, or something like that.”
“So there were small updates like that. And it was for me kind of important that the Sweeney that’s in the book is very … he’s incredibly put upon. And his tone can be very whiny in the book. Put upon was really important, and we didn’t want to lose that because it’s this idea of the leprechaun who’s lost his luck that is the humor of the character, so he has to be put upon in order to be funny.”
“But, I wanted the whiny tone that kinda comes off in the book to be transformed a little bit in order for him to be a character that would last,” continued Schreiber. “You just don’t want to listen to somebody whining like that all the time.”
I kind of love this take on Mad Sweeney, who really is one of the highlights in the TV series in a way he wasn’t in the book.
“It was a bit of a total change for him to be a character that would stick around and capture hearts,” noted Schreiber of the different role the character plays in the adaptation. “That was a little bit different than the tone of the book with that character, if any of that makes sense. That was my journey.”
American Gods Season 2 will premiere on Sunday, March 10th, 2019 at 8 p.m. ET on Starz and will be available the same day on the Starz App.