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Easter eggs that connect all of American Horror Story together

FX's American Horror Story series might be an anthology show built of distinct stories that are each watchable without needing to know the other seasons, but throughout every installment, the series has become meticulously meshed with recurring characters, settings, and themes.

The series' mastermind, Ryan Murphy, has boasted before that the show is like a "Rubik's Cube" of fragmented connections that are slowly being drawn together between each of the seasons, but as the show continues to creep everyone out, those binding ties have become thicker and thicker. What started as a few cheeky winks for fans here and there in the earlier seasons has since become a full-on family tree of interwoven bloodlines and related events from the past. Here's a look back at some of the major associations that can be found between Murder HouseAsylumCovenFreak ShowHotelRoanokeCult, and Apocalypse, starting with the earliest nods and working all the way up to the big payoff that's brought it all together at last.

Character recurrences

The vast majority of AHS's characters have enjoyed just one seasonal run, but there have been a handful of returnees who've popped back in for a second showing. The first character to bridge the divide was Pepper (Naomi Grossman), who made her debut in Asylum as a patient at Briarcliff Manor who'd been committed for killing her own child. In Freak Show, though, we got to see what transpired before those events and found out that poor Pepper was actually a microcephalic member of Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities—before she got framed by her sister Rita Gayheart and brother-in-law Larry for the murder of their disfigured infant Lucas and was thus sent to live out her days in the institution.

Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) followed suit, showing that there was more to her, too, than her devilish possession as seen in Asylum; she also appeared in Freak Show as a much more serene and affable individual who filed the admissions paperwork for Pepper and assigned her to library duties at the Asylum. Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) from Freak Show was also a call back to Asylum's Nazi doc Hans Gruper, Arden's given name, who'd mutilated poor Elsa Mars' legs much the same way he goes on to torment Shelley.

Marcy the realtor (Christine Estabrook) continued the trend of recurring cameos by reprising her Murder House role in Hotel, selling off yet another disaster abode (in the latter case, the Cortez Hotel) to an unsuspecting buyer. Unfortunately for her, she met her end at the Cortez, and even mentioned that the little dog she adopted from the Harmons' Murder House was a goner by then.

In Hotel, Dr. Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and the Murder House itself got brought back for a crucial scene in Hotel—he botched an abortion effort on the Countess (Lady Gaga), essentially giving birth to her maniacal fetal child Bartholomew, who was possibly even worse than his own Frankenstein-ish child resurrection, Infantata. Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) from Coven also cast her spell on Hotel but didn't live to talk about it; and Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson), the psychic and TV personality hopeful from Murder House, came along for the ghostly Hotel ride, having already established her own small screen popularity by the time she uses her skills as a medium to meet some real maniacs at the Cortez meal table.

Twisty the Clown has become so notorious by AHS: Cult that he's been immortalized into comic book form, with his murder sprees informing the actions of a new generation of clown killers.

What's in a name?

Direct character and setting reprisals are the most obvious Easter eggs for the AHS faithful to savor, but there've been some in-name-only winks to the full anthology along the way as well. Coven's Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) may have been related to the Murder House's original owners, Dr. Charles (Matt Ross) and Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe), if the name holds any significance—and, from where we're sitting, there are no accidents when it comes to the nomenclature of the Murphy show universe.

Meanwhile, attorney Harry Goodman (Derek Richardson) from Murder House may have had some connection to Asylum's Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis), especially since they're both on-hand for investigatory efforts in their show appearances. There were also two characters named Jack Colquitt (played by Geoffrey Rivas in Murder House and P.J. Marshall in Freak Show), and since they were both detectives with that unusual name, it simply can't be a coincidence—given the timelines, with Freak Show events set in the '50s and his Murder House appearance during the modern era, they may be grandfather and grandson. And the name DeLongpre pops up twice—first in a Murder House reference to the Harmons' baby and second, in Coven, by way of former Supreme Mimi DeLongpre. And that's not all, folks.

In Roanoke, Edward Phillippe Mott (Evan Peters) is presented as the ancestor to Freak Show's Dandy and Gloria Mott. Plus, those killer nurses from Murder House, Miranda (Jenna Doolittle) and Bridget Jane (Areana Cirina) seem to be represented in faux form by actors in the backstory portion of the My Roanoke Nightmare documentary (portrayed by Maya Rose Berko and Kristen Rakes). Also, the Uber driver Rhett Snow (Billy Snow) who made two cameos in Roanoke might just have some kind of connection to Coven's Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy).

Theoretical throwbacks

Even where names and actual reprisals fail to appear, there are still some characters that draw us back to something familiar from the past. For example, Roanoke's Woods Witch (played by Lady Gaga) is thought to be the original Supreme Scathach, relating back to Coven (as portrayed by Alexandra Daddario), and that's just the latest in a string of extra-seasonal inferences that can be drawn from the full series scope so far.

The season also presented the medium Cricket Marlowe (Leslie Jordan), who made mention of his history with New Orleans, Louisiana, which is where Coven took place. The actor starred in that season as the warlock Quentin Fleming, so perhaps he was trained by … himself?

Let's not forget that Billie Dean Howard made mention of the Roanoke colony all the way back in Murder House, when teaching Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) how to banish spirits—a case of accidental foreshadowing, perhaps? Or had she learned of the Croatoan send-off spell from the history books surrounding this era?

AHS fans also widely theorize that Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) from Asylum is actually the faceless therapist that treated Dandy Mott in Freak Show—which takes place beforehand, timewise. The theory is that he became so fascinated by Dandy's murderous ways that he followed suit later on in life.

Oh, and those pig-masked killers in Roanoke? Those were definitely taken to be a wink to the "Piggy Man" legend from Murder House, which Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott)'s patient Derrick (Eric Stonestreet) feared so deeply.

Location, location, location

Boston, Massachusetts might not be the exclusive location of the AHS series' seasons, but it does seem to be a central element for a lot of the show. For starters, the Bay State serves as the setting of both Murder House and Asylum. And even when the season settings ventured elsewhere, the place was mentioned on numerous occasions—the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, for example, run thick throughout the references of subsequent seasons.

Another locale that earned prominence was Florida, where Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) from Murder House mentioned her family was from and where Freak Show took place. She and her husband moved from Los Angeles, California, which is also where Hotel was located and where Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt Miller (Andre Holland) moved from to get to the Roanoke house. (Note: Both the Harmons and the Millers move from L.A. after suffering miscarriages.) And, as mentioned previously, the New Orleans, Louisiana setting for Coven got a mention in Roanoke courtesy of the character Cricket, and in that season there was a tie back to Boston by way of the witch trials and the lineage of Queenie, who descended from that era. Considering Roanoke itself was mentioned in Murder House as well, the geographic connections are as prevalent as any of the other Easter eggs in this American Horror Story's lore.

Running rules

Another common thread found throughout all the seasons of AHS are the supernatural rules in play. Ghosts, for example, continuously exist as haunting, visible presences that appear to be confined to their death locations (consider how Hotel became like the Eagles' "Hotel California" in that "you can never leave" and how in Roanoke all the spirits were confined to wander Mott's mansion) but can have physical interactions with the living around them.

Spirit mediums are also regularly employed and possess real powers (see also: Billie Dean Howard and Cricket from Hotel and Roanoke respectively); witchcraft is a very real practice throughout the series (Coven being the obvious example, but there are plenty of others, up to and including Roanoke). Demonic possessions run rampant throughout—Sister Mary Eunice in Asylum is taken over by the Demon, and Lee Harris (Adina Porter) is compelled by Scathach to make the Blood Moon sacrifice on her behalf. Blood thirst is also found in multiple installments, as Infantata from Murder House certainly experienced that, and Countess (Lady Gaga) from Hotel and her "children" sipped on the red stuff as well.

Thematic threads

In addition to all of the supernatural elements that bleed together throughout AHS, there are also some common themes between the characters' motives and actions along the way.

For starters, a lot of the worst people have severe mommy issues. Take Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) from Murder House, for example. He holds a major grudge against his mother Constance (Jessica Lange) for her neglect, and he takes it out on Violet's mother as a result. Add Asylum's Oliver Thredson and Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott), and Hotel's Donovan (Matt Bomer) to the list of those who had it out for the matriarchy. Not to mention, Coven's Kyle Spencer (Evan Peters) as well as Freak Show's Bette Tattler (Sarah Paulson) and Dandy Mott all kill their moms out of sheer hatred as well.

Mariticide has become just as common as matricide, however. Both Constance and Nora slay their spouses in Murder House, Joan Ramsey (Patti LuPone) killed her husband in Coven, and both Shelby Miller and Lee Harris took down their significant others by the time the Roanoke season was done.

There have also been a lot of references to the Devil, like the Antichrist in Murder House, Asylum's Demon, the appearance of Papa Legba (Lance Reddick) the gatekeeper to the spirit world in Coven, the creepy circus entryway in Freak Show, and, of course, the events of Devil's Night in Hotel.

Bigamy is another recurrent theme—how many girlfriends did Evan Peters' characters have? The same is true for rape, seduction (both of Lady Gaga's characters are genuine seductresses), and even sewing is given a maniacal purpose throughout: Dr. Charles Montgomery makes a monster out of his dead son's body parts, Dandy Mott loved to stitch up his creeptastic puppets, and who could forget the seams in Hotel concealing the demon beneath the beds?

A lot of the characters portrayed by Sarah Paulson are also obsessed with pop culture relevance—Billie Dean Howard becomes a TV star between Murder House and Hotel, while Cordelia Foxx from Coven turns to the small screen for a modicum of relevance, Lana Winters hosts her own talk show, Roanoke's Audrey Tindall was an actress of the most self-important regard, and even Bette and Dot from Freak Show loved to watch the boob tube.

Visual cues

There's been some interesting camera work and prop decorations interspersed throughout American Horror Story to firm up the connections between the various seasons as well. Murder House, Coven, and Roanoke all featured an opening scene that panned over a wooded region before setting in on the story, for example, and grandiose staircases have also made for a common motif (and sites of death, of course).

Eagle-eyed fans might have spotted the Roanoke Butcher's cleaver among the weapons available at Iris (Kathy Bate)'s disposal in Hotel, and even the element of literally two-faced characters—like Bette and Dot from Freak Show and Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley) from the same season—has had some recurrent relevance in later seasons. One could argue that Sarah Paulson's appearance in multiple roles in the subsequent seasons Hotel and Roanoke is a tribute to her ability to double up; meanwhile, Wes Bentley's Hotel character John Lowe certainly had two minds pushing and pulling his behaviors, right?

Murphy also made good on his promise that the top hat cup received by Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts) in Freak Show would hold some visual significance for Hotelit was a nod to the hotel-centric 1935 film Top Hat which featured "Cheek to Cheek," a song re-popularized by the season's celebrated newcomer, Lady Gaga. Not that there were any shortage of top hat lovers throughout the series, like Edward Mordrake, Papa Legba and Chester Creb (Neil Patrick Harris).

Sinful significance

One of the overarching themes that seems to be gaining support among AHS theorists is the idea that each season has a place in a grander statement about the concept of sin—be it a reference to one of the traditional seven deadly sins or the levels of Hell in Dante's Inferno. Indeed, Hotel seemed to confirm that suspicion by focusing on the Ten Commandments Killer, who pulled a Se7en and chose murder victims whose behaviors related to the Biblical no-nos, so here's where each of the seasons might fit on that list.

Murder House involved a lot of lascivious behavior by its characters, so that one might fall into the lust category, while Asylum would be more in line with the fraud theme, since some of the characters were falsely imprisoned (pour another one out for Pepper). Coven would probably be in the vein of heresy, since so much witchcraft was afoot, but some peg it as the season of treachery. Freak Show could also fall under fraud since Elsa Mars paraded herself to be something she wasn't, but pride is also a relevant theme.

For Hotel, gluttony seems like the obvious go-to under both guises since James March (Evan Peters) and the Countess couldn't seem to get enough death to satisfy their bloodlust, but Countess was also extremely covetous (she took children from their parents and bedded people outside of her sham marriage to March, for example). With Roanoke, the pride factor is also at play since they're parading their story around for so many to see on national television, but violence and wrath are also key components of the story. Whether or not each season directly corresponds to one of these nefarious markers remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: All of them play into those themes very neatly in some way or another.

Double vision

Another recurring trait of the American Horror Story series is that its actors are often called upon to do double, triple, or quadruple duty by appearing as multiple characters throughout each season. It all started with Sarah Paulson playing the Siamese twins Dot and Bette in Freak Show, and they've only gotten more prolific. Paulson would later play three characters on Roanoke, as Shelby Miller, then Audrey Tindall, then her throwback portrayal of Lana Winters, and did it again on Apocalypse as Wilhelmina Venable, Cordelia Goode, and Billie Dean Howard.

It's Evan Peters who might hold the record for most characters portrayed in a season, though. In Cult, he was all over the place, beginning with his central role as the ambitious and nefarious councilman Kai Anderson and going on to offer dramatizations of many cult leaders past, including David Koresh, Jim Jones,  Marshall Applewhite, and Charles Manson. He also popped in as a few other historical figures — namely Andy Warhol and Jesus Christ — in addition to playing as his own bad angel-slash-sick cheerleader in several scenes. In other words, the key players in the American Horror Story franchise might get a lot of work out of the series, but they're expected to do some serious heavy lifting as well.

Apocalypse brings it all together

Although character and location callbacks had been rather subtle throughout the series leading up to its eighth season, American Horror Story: Apocalypse decided to go all in with the crossovers and, for the first time, pretty much required its audience to be familiar with seasons past.

First, they brought back the latex man for Evan Peters' character to get frisky with, and it was an incredibly naughty reminder of the earliest eerie goings-on in Murder House. Then, the witches from Coven — Paulson's Cordelia Goode, Emma Roberts' Madison Montgomery and Frances Conroy's Myrtle Snow — strolled in to liven things up, even though many of them had been dead before. The season later brought back Taissa Farmiga's Zoe Benson, too, before venturing back to the Hotel Cortez from AHS: Hotel to show Gabourey Sidibe's Queenie being held captive by the Evan Peters' ghost of James March after he'd killed her on-site in the fifth season. After that, the show ventured right back to where it all began at the Murder House — even revealing that the season's new warlock Michael Langdon (played by Cody Fern) was the little Antichrist conceived in it. Thanks to his magical trials, fans got to revisit some of the show's oldest, but hardly forgotten characters from the first season: Jessica Lange as Constance, Evan Peters as Tate, and Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, and Taissa Farmiga as Vivien, Ben and Violet Harmon. If the show wasn't already full circle before, Apocalypse really brought it all home, so to speak, by splicing so many of its original faces together into one very dark narrative.