Watchmen HBO Trailer Breakdown and Analysis

HBO's Watchmen trailer offers plenty of clues about how the original characters fit in this new world.

Damon Lindelof is making a Watchmen TV series for HBO. While the big screen Watchmen movie adaptation divided audiences, fans have long dreamed of what it would be like if a cable network undertook a massive adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ towering, inescapable comic book masterpiece. Well, HBO finally took everyone up on that, readying a Watchmen TV series for a fall release.

However, this isn’t another adaptation of the story that everyone knows. Instead, HBO’s Watchmen is a continuation of Moore and Gibbons’ work, moving the world forward to (presumably) the present day, and the action from New York City to Tulsa, Oklahoma. There’s only one recognizable character from the book present in this HBO footage, although the legacies of nearly every major player from Watchmen can be felt in various characters and shots. 

Watch the HBO Watchmen trailer here if you haven’t already, and then we’ll get into some analysis.

Now, let’s take a closer look. This isn’t intended as a chronological exploration of the trailer. Instead, we’re just trying to make connections as we see them, and see what (if anything) relates to the original story. 


Watchmen HBO Trailer Rorschach Acolytes in Church

Unsurprisingly, Rorschach, the most visually striking central character from the comics, looms the largest over this trailer. The fact that Rorschach’s ideology has apparently been adopted by right wing militia nuts is entirely unsurprising. Watchmen ends with Rorschach’s journal likely about to be discovered by the staff of New Frontiersman, an aggressively reactionary publication. Rorschach’s mask has taken on as much significance as the Guy Fawkes mask has in certain anonymous circles, but here it would appear that a segment of a generation may have been radicalized by the unhinged words scrawled in Rorschach’s journal.

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Despite the book’s title, there was no team known as the “Watchmen” in the comics, there were the Minutemen and the short-lived “Crimebusters” and that was it. Does their “tick tock” chant indicate that they refer to themselves as “The Watchmen?” Or maybe that’s what the police are called in this world? If either (or both) of these are true, it also calls to mind the divide between the “real world” definition of Minutemen, the originals being the civilians who helped fight the British during the American Revolution, and the current being a xenophobic, racist group dedicated to “protecting” our southern border from immigrants.

Also, the fact that Jesus is a little “off center” there not only makes for a nice “clock” framing, but also helps illustrate how maybe these guys are a little skewed. One other thing to note, this is a more “traditional” American flag on display (other than the swallowtail format of it) than one we see elsewhere in the trailer, so its use here probably symbolizes their regressive views. But if anyone knows if there is any additional historical significance to this particular version of the flag, let us know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

Watchmen HBO Trailer Rorschach Klan

It’s possible that these Rorschach acolytes are essentially…fine, but scenes like this, as they storm into a private residence, make for some uncomfortably Klan-like imagery. And considering their idol’s worldview wasn’t exactly the most stable, well, you can see where this is going. 

Nite Owl

Granted, making this connection is a tenuous one, because Nite Owl appears to be completely absent from this trailer, but stick with me for a moment…The original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, was a police officer before was inspired to become a superhero by the one-two punch of seeing Superman on the cover of Action Comics #1 on the newsstands and headlines about Hooded Justice appearing on the scene shortly thereafter. Then he became a cop who moonlighted as a superhero. 

The argument can be made that superheroes serving in an official capacity in the Watchmen universe have more in common with the Comedian than Nite Owl (especially given how that funeral scene pays homage to Eddie Blake’s funeral…more on that in a minute), but I don’t think this connection can be overlooked. 

There’s also a slight chance that the aircraft that is shot down by the Rorschachs in another scene in this trailer isn’t a standard police helicopter, but a variation on Nite Owl II’s Archie hovership.

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It certainly looks like Archie, here, but then…

…the colors are wrong, and there appears to be lettering. So maybe the cops are using modified versions of Dan Dreiberg’s Nite Owl II technology!

Watchmen HBO Trailer Masked Police

Keep in mind, the Keene Act, which outlawed vigilantism in 1977, was in part triggered by a police strike, which was in turn triggered by a wave of dissatisfaction with vigilante activity.

So what is it that has moved the tide so far in the other direction? Why do police feel the need to go masked now in this universe? Is it because the public found a renewed interest in masked adventurers in the wake of the tragedy of 1985? Is it because the police feel the need to hide their identities in order to do their own jobs more effectively because of a rise in anti-police sentiment? And, most importantly, why the absolute screaming fuck is there someone wearing what appears to be a giant stuffed panda head in that shot?

Watchmen HBO Trailer Regina King

It’s also interesting that while it’s standard for police officers to wear masks, some appear to get special privileges where they can customize their identities. We don’t know this character’s name, but we do know she is an official operative of the police force (likely a detective), and that she’s played by Regina King.

Watchmen HBO Trailer Silver Mask Reflection

In fact, let’s go with the detective angle, as both King’s character and this mysterious silver fella are shown operating in broad daylight, wearing badges, and seemingly investigating a crime scene with more “traditional” (yet still masked) uniformed officers. 

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Silver Mask here (not his actual name) is shown in front of a trio of screens, each showing key moments from American history, including astronauts, soldiers (American heroes), a cowboy (one of the prototypes for the lone vigilante/superhero archetype), and an atomic bomb explosion (both a reference to Doctor Manhattan and the questionable decisions about securing victory at any cost…something Adrian Veidt is quite familiar with). All of these images make for some appropriately Rorschach-esque reflections on his mask…but also reflected in his mask is noted multiple screen enthusiast Adrian Veidt. So it’s a safe bet this guy is a detective, something is up, and he would like a word with the former Ozymandias.

The Comedian

Watchmen HBO Trailer Masked Police Funeral

The eerie shot of a policeman’s funeral recalls the opening pages of the second chapter of Watchmen, and the funeral of Eddie Blake, the Comedian. It’s tough to tell if it’s clever editing or if the police are also clapping rhythmically and chanting “tick tock.”

Jean Smart in HBO's Watchmen

The brilliant Jean Smart (Legion) is in this show, as if you needed any more reasons to tune in. But there have been rumors circulating since her casting that she is playing an FBI agent named “Blake.” Smart’s role hasn’t been confirmed, so you shouldn’t read too much into this yet, but if she is indeed related to Eddie, well…that will be pretty weird. 

BUT, let’s follow this for a minute. Jean Smart is roughly the same age as Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre (and Eddie Blake’s daughter) would be in 2019 (Smart was born in 1951, Laurie in 1949). Is it possible that after going into hiding at the end of Watchmen, Laurie decided that she needed to continue doing good, perhaps to make up for some of the morally grey things her masked (and blue) compatriots engaged in, and sought out a job in the FBI? And if so, why would she take the name of the father she resented so much?

Adrian Veidt

Watchmen HBO Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt

Jeremy Irons is Adrian Veidt, and this shot is brilliant. He’s not levitating, although the placement of the chair behind the desk and the way his robe drapes sure makes it look that way when the trailer cuts through it. It’s interesting to note how little digital technology there appears to be in the world in this trailer, and Veidt seems to prefer an analog existence in his study/meditation room.

Also, Jeremy Irons is 70 years old and I really hope I look that good should I live to be anywhere near his age.

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Watchmen HBO Trailer Castle

Even though this shot appears directly after the Black Freighter moment in the trailer (more on that in a minute), it’s almost certainly not part of that particular callback to the comics. It looks like there’s an automobile visible on the road behind that tree. Perhaps this is Adrian Veidt’s estate or something.

Doctor Manhattan

Watchmen HBO Trailer Dr. Manhattan Watch

Dr. Jon Osterberg was fond of fixing watches, and this pocketwatch’s hands are set at about nine minutes to midnight, which is approximately what the clock hands in the final panel/doomsday clock motif that ends each chapter of Watchmen began at.

Watchmen HBO Trailer Alarm Clock

Every clock we see is an analog one, and they’re all approaching midnight. The design of this one even mirrors Doctor Manhattan’s hydrogen atom forehead design. But other than this, the trailer is surprisingly free of giant, glowing blue penis.

The World

Watchmen HBO Trailer Family with flag

So it’s not clear what’s happening here, and the trailer is deliberately misleading, as this is intercut with clips of the Rorschachs apparently shooting down a police helicopter, while this family could very well just be observing a fireworks display. But this shot of what could be a “typical American family” in the Watchmen world of 2019 holds a few clues. 

This family seems to have adopted two Vietnamese children, and considering that Doctor Manhattan won the Vietnam War in the Watchmen universe and the United States likely annexed the country, this could be something celebrating victory/unity. Also note the very different American flag on the porch, which contains a circular blue field of stars, one that likely contains more than 50.

Watchmen HBO Trailer Washington Monument

This modification, adding a floating observation platform of some kind to the Washington Monument, is another one of those subtle changes to the world brought on by the presence of actual metahumans. The influence of a world with real superheroes that was such a vital element of Watchmen remains here. We saw throughout the background of the comic how the existence of actual superheroes changed everything from fashion to cars to hairstyles to the kinds of cigarettes people smoke. It will be fascinating to see how HBO’s Watchmen carries on that tradition, and the above image may be one of our first clues. The observation deck also does give this a “clock/sun dial” motif, doesn’t it?

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Unless this isn’t the Washington Monument at all, and perhaps some kind of memorial for the victims of ye olde space squid slaughter of 1985? Speaking of which…

Watchmen HBO Trailer Carnival

This carnival scene and it’s bloodless carnage is eerily reminiscent of the horrors visited on New York City by the extradimensional space squid thing. Here, instead of Madison Square Garden, it’s an unassuming rural carnival. Does this event actually take place, or is it merely a horrific vision of what could happen?

However, referencing the space squid almost certainly means that the Watchmen TV series is a sequel to the comic book, rather than the Zack Snyder movie which controversially changed the book’s ending (although we’re rather fond of the movie’s ending, whatever other problems the movie has).

The Black Freighter

Watchmen HBO Trailer Black Freighter

Watchmen used Tales of the Black Freighter, an imaginary pirate comic book, as a way to parallel the ongoing events of its world. Watchmen established that superhero comics quickly fell out of favor in a world that had real masked adventurers, so pirate comics instead became the escapist entertainment of choice.

The Black Freighter will clearly have some kind of presence on the show based on this brief clip. Wouldn’t it be something if in the 2019 of the Watchmen TV series, they are in the midst of a pirate culture boom that mirrors the superhero saturated era we currently live in? Perhaps in this reality, just as movies and TV have supplanted comics as the primary purveyor of superhero stories, there are countless pirate-themed blockbuster movies and television shows. Perhaps Tales of the Black Freighter has been adapted into a lurid Black Sails or Outlander-esque bodice-ripping adventure romance on prestige cable TV. It’s easy to imagine that HBO is running Tales of the Black Freighter instead of Game of Thrones in this world.


Don Johnson in HBO's Watchmen

Is Don Johnson’s police chief using the “tick-tock” as a means to clue someone in that he’s actually in with the Rorschach Klan, or is this merely one anonymous policeman’s way of greeting another? In any case, it’s great to see the Johnsonaissance ™ continue here on Watchmen.

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Watchmen will premiere on HBO in the fall. tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock…

Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.