Can’t Keep the (One Million?) Characters in Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ Straight? Here’s a Guide
The first season of Netflix’s The Sandman has dropped, and it’s a vast, sweeping epic of dreams and nightmares. At first glance, The Sandman seems to be about the exploits of Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming. However, like the comics that came before it, the series is just as much about all the people, human and immortal, who get caught in Morpheus’s orbit as he tends to the dreams of every being in the universe. That means this series has a lot of characters, and it can be hard to keep them all straight. Don’t worry, though, we’ve got you! Here’s every significant character who appears in Season 1 of The Sandman, plus the bonus episode that was released a couple weeks after the show’s premiere.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
The Endless are the personifications of the primordial forces that govern everything in existence. They were there at the dawn of time, and they’ll be around until the universe closes up shop. They’re also a group of temperamental siblings who don’t get along that well.
Dream (Tom Sturridge), also known as Morpheus, Kai’ckul, and countless other names, is the personification of dreams. As such, it’s his duty to shape the dreams and nightmares of every living things, and keep the Dreaming in good working order. When he’s imprisoned for a hundred years by the magician Roderick Burgess, the Dreaming decays and millions of people all over the world fall asleep and can’t wake up.
Dream is also moody, temperamental, and stubborn. He doesn’t always make the right decision, but it’s hard for him to admit when he’s messed up. Despite himself, he grows close to humans like Hob Gadling and Nada, only to push them away when he feels vulnerable.
Dream has six siblings, although we only meet three of them in Season 1. Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is Dream’s older sister, who meets with him by a park after he gets his tools back. Death is kind, wise, and gently irreverent, and she manages to pull Dream out of his funk by having him accompany her as she goes on her rounds, shepherding souls to the afterlife.
We also meet Desire (Mason Alexander Park) and their twin, Despair (Donna Preston). Desire is scheming and devious, jealous of Dream’s higher status and determined to prove that they and Despair are superior. Desire is a beautiful nonbinary person with golden eyes, while Despair drags a hook through her own flesh when she’s excited.
Although they haven’t made appearances yet, we see the sigils of Destiny and Delirium in Dream and Desire’s galleries. There’s one missing sibling the others keep referring to as the Prodigal, but if you haven’t read the comics yet, I won’t spoil their identity.
Denizens of the Dreaming (and Adjacent Territories)
The kingdom of the Dreaming, and all the lands surrounding it, is teaming with dreams, nightmares, stories, and other characters. Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) is the Dreaming’s librarian, although in Dream’s absence, she took on the unofficial role of caretaker. Matthew the Raven (Patton Oswalt) was a man until he died, but now he serves as Dream’s raven, since ravens can travel back and forth between the Dreaming and the waking world. Mervyn Pumpkinhead (Mark Hamill) is the Dreaming’s groundskeeper.
Of the countless dreams and nightmares in the Dreaming, we meet three Major Arcana, who have escaped. The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) is a nightmare who has parlayed his skills into a very successful career as a serial killer. Fiddler’s Green (Stephen Fry), who goes by Gilbert in the human world, is the personification of a pleasant afterlife for sailors from English folklore, and a resident of the Doll’s House who helps Rose Walker find her brother Jed. Gault (Ann Ogbomo), who imprisons Jed in a perpetual dream of being a superhero called the Sandman, is a nightmare who wants to be a dream instead.
Finally, Cain (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and Abel (Asim Chaudhry) are two brothers from the Book of Genesis. Cain is the world’s first murderer and Abel is the world’s first victim, and they spend eternity repeating the murder over and over again. They originally live with a gargoyle named Gregory, but Dream has to reabsorb Gregory to regain enough power to find his tools. To make up for it, Dream gives them a new baby gargoyle, whom they name Goldie.
The Fates make appearances throughout Season 1, giving Morpheus and other characters cryptic prophesies and advice. They take the form of three women: a maiden (Dinita Gohil), mother (Nina Wadia), and crone (Souad Faress). Although they appear as three, they’re all aspects of the same being.
Denizens of Hell
When Morpheus finds out that a demon has taken his helm, he goes to Hell to retrieve it. He’s met at the gates by a demon called Squatterbloat, who leads him to the City of Dis to meet with Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie), fallen angel and the ruler of Hell. Lucifer is attended by the demon Mazikeen (Cassie Clare), one of the Lilim, whose face is half whole and half skeletal.
The demon Choronzon (Munya Chawawa) has Morpheus’s helm and challenges him to a battle to keep it. At the end of the season, the demon Azazel, who appears as a collection of faces floating in a void, tells Lucifer that the demons want to expand Hell’s borders so that it encompasses the entire world.
As he’s traveling to Dis, Morpheus encounters a human soul he recognizes: Nada (Deborah Oyelade), the queen of an ancient city who had an affair with Morpheus ten thousand years ago. When she refused to become his queen, Morpheus sentenced her to Hell. Although Nada thinks, at first, that Morpheus (whom she knows as Kai’ckul) has finally come to free her, he tells her that he hasn’t forgiven her yet.
In the first episode, Morpheus is imprisoned by a magus named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), who’s trying to imprison Death in order to bring his son back to life. Burgess has another son named Alex, who takes over Morpheus’s imprisonment when his father dies.
A woman named Ethel Cripps (Joely Richardson) becomes Roderick’s lover and gives birth to a boy named John Dee (David Thewless). Ethel steals Morpheus’s tools from Roderick and sells them, buying herself an amulet that prolongs her life and protects her from harm. A century later, she’s a successful dealer of art and rare artifacts.
Her son, John, is institutionalized after murdering people. Although in the comics he’s in Arkham Asylum, in the Netflix series he’s in an anonymous psychiatric hospital. He uses Dream’s ruby to manipulate people into committing acts of brutality under the guise of honesty.
Caught up in this whole mess is the exorcist Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman). Constantine is based on the DC comics character John Constantine, who originally made a guest appearance in The Sandman issue 3, “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Johanna earns a living getting rid of demons, but she’s haunted by mistakes she made in the past. Her ancestor of the same name appears in Episode 6.
John Dee’s Victims at the 24-Hour Diner
When John escapes from the hospital, a woman named Rosemary offers to give him a ride. When she gets him to the ruby, despite knowing he’s a murderer, he gives her Ethel’s protective amulet instead of killing her.
John then goes to a 24 hour diner staffed by Bette, who’s a waitress and fiction writer, and Marsh, the cook who’s secretly having an affair with Bette’s college-age son. Also at the diner are a couple named Kate and Gary who don’t get along; a young woman named Judy whose girlfriend left her after Judy hit her, and Mark, a young man interviewing for a job at Kate’s company. After John manipulates them using the ruby, they all end up dead, and the Fates appear in the forms of Bette, Judy, and Kate.
Hob Gadling and his Contemporaries
Episode 6 takes us several centuries back in time, to when Death and Dream encounter a man named Hob Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley) bragging at a pub that he intends to never die. When Death decides to grant him his wish, Morpheus tells him they should meet at the same pub in a hundred years to see how Hob likes immortality. They begin to meet once a century, and although Morpheus is initially offended when Hob suggests that the two of them have become friends, he gradually comes around to the idea.
As they pub crawl their way through English history, Hob and Morpheus encounter Geoffrey Chaucer, Christopher Marlow, and William Shakespeare talking about their craft.
Rose Walker and Her Family
The second half of the season focuses on a young woman named Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai), who’s searching for her brother Jed (Eddie Karanja), who got lost in the US foster care system years ago. As she’s searching, she and her friend Lyta (Razane Jamal) get a mysterious invitation to London, where they meet Rose’s great-grandmother Unity Kincaid (Sandra James-Young).
Unity is a survivor of the Sleepy Sickness that spread while Morpheus was imprisoned by Burgess, and was sexually assaulted by Desire while she slept, leaving her pregnant. Unity was meant to be a dream vortex, a rare being who destroys the barriers between dreams and can collapse reality itself, but because she slept, she passed the trait down to Rose.
Lyta, meanwhile, spends her dreams with her deceased husband, Hector, who turns out to be a ghost who refuses to go to the afterlife. Lyta becomes pregnant in the dreaming world, and Rose’s powers carry the pregnancy into the waking world.
The Doll’s House Residents
While searching for Jed, Rose and Lyta stay in a B&B run by Hal (John Cameron Mitchell). Also staying at the house are a couple named Barbie and Ken, and two gothy spider collectors named Zelda and Chantal.
Finally, at the end of the season, Rose finds herself at an annual convention for serial killers who call themselves Collectors. Each killer goes by a moniker like “Fun Land” or “The Good Doctor.”
The Bonus Episode: “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” and “Calliope”
The 11th bonus episode, which dropped a couple of weeks after the first 10 episodes, features two stories adapted from Dream Country. The first story, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats,” features a feline Prophet who roams the world, preaching to other cats about an encounter she had with the Cat of Dreams (that is, Morpheus). In her encounter, the Prophet is guided by a raven to the cave of the Cat of Dreams, who tells her that humans rule over cats because they dreamed it, so, if enough cats dream of a world in which cats reign supreme, reality will change. After the Prophet preaches, a young kitten tells her that she believes in the Prophet’s words, and the story ends with the kitten dreaming of catching some bit of prey—presumably a human.
The second story, “Calliope,” is about a writer named Richard Madoc who goes to visit another writer, Erasmus Fry. Erasmus gives Richard the muse Calliope, whom he’s been keeping prisoner in order to mine her powers for writing ideas. When Calliope learns that Morpheus is free from his own imprisonment, she calls to him. Morpheus sets her free by plaguing Madoc with ideas, but before he does, he and Calliope discuss their son, Orpheus. Orpheus hasn’t made an appearance in the series yet, but he becomes a major plot point later on.
(featured image: Netflix)
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