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The Entire American Gods Timeline Finally Explained

Neil Gaiman has a knack for mythology. For his 2001 novel American Gods, the author pulled stories from varied cultures around the world and wove them into a vibrant tapestry set against the backdrop of middle America. The Starz show created from Gaiman's novel has been nothing short of spectacular in its ability to bring those mythological pages to life onscreen. The struggle for power between the deities of old (those gods American immigrants have brought along with them throughout the centuries) and the rulers of the new world (television, the internet, and technology) is still going strong with its third season on the network, which means Gaiman's universe of gods is getting even bigger.

Who exactly are these gods, both old and new? And how do they fit in to American Gods' central storyline, the one that features Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and his mysterious cross-country road trip partner, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane)? American Gods' road is a strange and winding one, but we've sorted out everything you need to know to make sense of it. 

Spoiler warning for both the Starz series and the novel is in full effect.

14,000 BC — The death of a god

A tribe that worships the god Nunyunnini leave their land before its inevitable destruction and set out to start anew in North America. The tribe travels for months before reaching its final destination. In the series, they encounter people already indigenous to the land who deny them entry, an action which causes the tribe to lose faith in their god. In the novel, the tribe is the first to arrive on American land, but as the years pass, generations spread out and newcomers arrive, bringing new gods into the fold.

Both scenarios result in Nunyunnini being abandoned by his followers. Because the life of a god is dependent on belief, Nunyunnini's story becomes the first example of how gods can and do die when there's no one left to worship them. Nunyunnini is one of many gods who fall as new gods come in to take their place, and his fate is what pushes the Old Gods of the story to fight back against the New Gods' influence over modern Americans.

813 AD — God of the Gallows

Centuries later, a Viking ship lands on American shores. The men aboard worship the "all-father," or Odin. In the series, the ship is met by a barrage of arrows coming from the indigenous people of the land. The attack forces the ship to retreat, but in order to gain safe passage, the Vikings offer blood sacrifices to Odin so that he will provide them with the wind required to return.

In Gaiman's novel, the Vikings land and build a hall in their gods' names. They sacrifice one of the native people to Odin by hanging him from an ash tree — Odin is also known as the gallows god, and he accepts hanging sacrifices. During the winter, other members of the man's tribe attack the Vikings in retaliation and burn their ship in hopes that no other Northmen will follow. 

But the Vikings were successful in transporting their gods to American shores. This is the point in time where Odin first sets foot in America, and it's where he'll remain for the foreseeable future.

1697 - early 20th century — The Old Gods

From this point on, as newcomers arrive in America, they bring with them the gods of their respective homelands. During the late 17th century, a slave ship brings the African god Anansi (Orlando Jones) to the Americas (Elegba and others in the novel). In the 18th century, Essie Tregowan (Emily Browning) tells stories of leprechauns and pixies, and she leaves them offerings in exchange for good luck. She brings Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) with her to the other side of the world. 

Other old gods find their way to America through the years, by various means of immigration. As time moves forward, these gods are forced to adapt or die. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), the Queen of Sheba, uses modern technology to find lovers who will worship her to death; an Islamic Ifrit (Mousa Kraish) trades places with a lonely businessman named Salim (Omid Abtahi); and Czernobog (Peter Stormare), the Russian god of darkness, lives a meager existence with his sisters, the Zoryas (led by Cloris Leachman), who control the light. As society moves forward and away from the stories of the Old Gods, they fall further into obscurity, barely able to scrape by in the world.

Early 20th century — The New Gods take over

As technological advances are made in America, new gods emerge. Media (Gillian Anderson), who appears first as Lucille Ball and later as Marilyn Monroe and David Bowie, grows to power as people turn to their TVs in place of the gods of their familial ancestors. Media is powerful — fueled by Americans' desire for celebrity. 

Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), a god who controls the internet and all things gaming related, appears in the late 20th century. He's younger than Media, but he's still got power. In spite of a seemingly overinflated sense of self, Technical Boy fears his own mortality, as technology itself is ever evolving.

Mr. World (Crispin Glover) rules them all — as the New God of Globalization, he controls everything in the new world: surveillance, war, Wall Street. He knows everything there is to know about everyone, because he is the modern world, in a nutshell. And because the gods are powered by belief, there's no end to the power that Mr. World holds. 

1990s — Forgotten childhood

Shadow and his mother arrive in America from France, and Shadow has a difficult time adjusting to his new life in the land of the free. Being of mixed race, Shadow feels segregated from both sides, but his mother explains to him that he needs to be above the hatred and tells him that he is light. 

In a hospital, Shadow's mother learns that she has cancer, and her time starts running out. Shadow meets a mysterious man with a penchant for coin tricks in the waiting room who tells him about how magic takes years for most people. The man is Mr. Wednesday, but Shadow doesn't know it yet. 

It's also entirely possible that Mr. Wednesday is pulling the strings in Shadow's life, particularly when it comes to the deaths of those closest to him. Mr. Wednesday needs to steer Shadow toward him eventually, and he's pretty good at playing the long game.

2010s — Not quite a love story

Laura (Emily Browning) is an unhappy casino dealer when Shadow first sits at her table. She catches him trying to cheat and persuades him not to do it, since the casino bosses would be a little less forgiving about losing house money. The pair begin a relationship and ultimately wind up married, but Laura is never fully devoted to him, their relationship, or life itself. 

She's bored, and so she convinces Shadow to rob the casino, assuring him she'll be able to keep them from getting caught. It doesn't work, and while Shadow heads off to prison, Laura goes about her day to day life, becoming even more miserable as time goes on. She attempts suicide by locking herself in her jacuzzi and unloading a can of bug spray in what little space she has to breathe, but she survives and decides the next best thing to do is to begin an affair with Shadow's best friend and boss, Robbie (Dane Cook).

Jail bird

During Shadow's time in prison, he becomes friends with his cellmate, a man named Low Key Lyesmith (Jonathan Tucker). He offers Shadow advice (in particular regarding how to treat airport employees), introduces him to literature — including a copy of Herodotus' Histories — and leaves several contraband coins behind when he's transferred to another prison. Shadow winds up learning coin tricks in his spare time. 

The week before Shadow is set to be released, he begins to feel on edge. He calls Laura and tells her he feels there's a storm coming, but she assures him that everything is going to be fine. Two days before he's supposed to get out, the warden calls Shadow into his office and informs him that Laura died in a car accident earlier that morning. Shadow's release date is moved up so that he can return home and attend his wife's funeral. 

On the flight back home, Shadow officially meets Mr. Wednesday, who offers him employment as a personal bodyguard. Shadow declines, and the two part ways... temporarily.

A new purpose

When the plane lands, Shadow decides to get off and drive the rest of the way home. Along the way, he stops at Jack's Crocodile Bar and again runs into Wednesday, this time with Mad Sweeney in tow. Wednesday again offers him a job, and when Shadow explains that he has one waiting for him with Robbie, Wednesday tells him that Robbie is dead, too.

Turns out the car crash that killed Laura killed Robbie too. Laura had decided it would be best to part ways, but not without giving Robbie a goodbye gift of sorts. Distracted driving and all.

Shadow finally agrees to work for Wednesday, and Sweeney goads him into a fight that wins Shadow a gold coin with a mysterious background. When he finally makes it home for Laura's funeral, he discovers her affair and tosses Sweeney's coin onto her grave — it's an act that effectively brings her back to life, but not completely. Laura's stuck somewhere between living and dead, and as long as she has possession of the coin, she'll be able to walk around, but not without some decay issues.

The fight begins

Almost immediately, the New Gods make Shadow a target. Technical Boy is the first to go after him — he warns Shadow about working with Wednesday before he has his men attempt to lynch him. Media tries to sway Shadow to their side on several occasions, but she too is unsuccessful. 

Wednesday brings Shadow along to recruit the Old Gods in his quest to fight the New Gods, although Shadow still has little idea as to who exactly Wednesday really is. As time goes on, Shadow begins to realize the world he's stumbled into, and he eventually discovers that the man he's been working for is the god of the gallows.

When Mr. World gets involved, it's to try and broker a deal between Wednesday and the New Gods. By sending a missile named Odin to North Korea, Wednesday will once again have an audience. It's tempting, but Wednesday refuses to get involved with them.

Manipulation at play

While Shadow and Wednesday travel across the country in an attempt to build their army of Old Gods, Laura sets out on her own personal journey — to keep Shadow safe in his travels and find redemption for the life she wasted. She has the power of Sweeney's coin keeping her alive, but the leprechaun isn't exactly keen on the idea of someone else in possession of his most beloved treasure, so he tags along with Laura.

When Laura catches up to Shadow, it's at the spring goddess Ostara's (Kristin Chenoweth) estate. Laura learns that Wednesday was not only behind her death, but that because she was killed by a god, there's no chance she'll ever be able to come back from it. 

Bilquis, meanwhile, having utilized the technology of the New Gods, is indebted to them and forced to play both sides. She, along with several other gods, try to maintain neutrality in the upcoming war, but it becomes clear that there is no such thing.

New beginnings

Media takes some time to herself to hide out, recharge, and reacclimate to the world. When she finally emerges, it's as New Media (Kahyun Kim), the personification of a celebrity for a more modern era. She and Technical Boy set out in search of Argus, the Greek god of surveillance to try and form an alliance. 

Laura decides to go along with Wednesday as he seeks out Argus as well, believing that the surveillance god will be able to recharge her coin and keep her inevitable demise at bay. Wednesday tells Laura that she needs to kill Argus — for Wednesday, the act will force the god to regenerate in a new form, thereby reaffirming his allegiance to the Old Gods. Laura's killing of Argus interrupts his merge with New Media, resulting in another setback for the New Gods.

Before they're completely down and out, however, Technical Boy gets his own version of an upgrade, and emerges as Quantum Boy, a New God with the ability to upload digital information at an alarming rate.

Chaos, destruction, and rebirth

With the birth of Quantum Boy, the New Gods take digital aim at Wednesday and Shadow. They manufacture an attack that frames them as terrorists and brings the police to their door. Shadow attempts to escape, but in the midst of everything, he discovers (via visions from the tree Yggdrasil) that he is, in fact, Wednesday's son and thereby a demigod. He uses his powers to effectively wipe out the police presence and thwart the New Gods' attack.

Sweeney, meanwhile, tries to kill Wednesday with his own weapon, Gungnir, after having visions of a past, cursed existence that may point to him being the Irish god Lugh. He fails and dies by Gungnir himself, but before he goes, he hides the weapon so Wednesday can never get it. When Shadow rejects her, Laura decides to take it upon herself to kill Wednesday once and for all. She grabs Sweeney's body to take with her, wherever she goes. It's implied that Laura has the ability to resurrect herself without any help from the gods, and it's further implied that she'll be able to resurrect Sweeney as well.

The breakaway

At the end of season 2 of American Gods, Shadow gets on a bus headed for the middle of nowhere, armed with an entirely new identity: Michael Ainsel of Lakeside, Wisconsin. In Gaiman's novel, Lakeside is where the second half of Shadow's story begins. 

Mike Ainsel lives an ordinary life in Lakeside — he has an apartment that's always cold, even when the heater is on, he becomes friends with the local sheriff, and no one thinks anything of him. It's the perfect place to hide out from the New Gods, which is exactly what Wednesday wants for Shadow at this point in time.

But Lakeside has secrets of its own, and during the time that Shadow stays there, he becomes wrapped up with the town's dark history, as well as its residents. While he goes on odd jobs with Wednesday here and there, the bulk of his time is spent lying low. Eventually, Shadow is forced to return to the Old Gods' war, when the New Gods cause a death that can't be ignored.

Lookout Mountain

Shadow experiences a rebirth of sorts, and he uncovers the mystery surrounding his own life and purpose. He heads to Lookout Mountain, the place where the Old Gods and the New Gods will meet for their final confrontation. There, the Old Gods, rallied together by the death of one of their own, are convinced they have the power needed to defeat the New Gods.

The New Gods, on the other hand, realize they have a traitor in their midst, and the entire war has been orchestrated to serve another purpose entirely. 

Laura finds her way back to Shadow, and she receives the redemption she's been after since her death. She's revived, if only temporarily, and if only to take out one of the gods who's been manipulating everyone she and Shadow have come into contact with since their respective journeys began. 

Although this ending may in fact differ from what Starz has in mind for its series, the larger brushstrokes are certainly there. Shadow's story will one day come to an end, as will Laura's. As for the gods, so long as there's at least one person out there who believes, they'll never truly die.