In honor of Stephen King’s birthday, the makers of The Dark Tower film are unwrapping their plans for the saga’s companion TV series.
The movie — starring Idris Elba as the gunslinger Roland Deschain, and Matthew McConaughey as the menacing Man in Black — opens on Feb. 17 and explores the hero and villain’s opposing quests to reach an otherworldly tower that connects their apocalyptic realm with ours.
Ever since the film project was first proposed, it came packaged with an unusual idea: a spin-off TV show that would fill in the fantasy epic’s prodigious backstory.
Now, sources at production company MRC and the film’s producer and co-screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman, have revealed to EW exclusive details about what they have planned for that series.
First off, it’s definitely happening.
MRC and Sony Pictures, which is releasing the film, have committed not just to financing a pilot but a full run of between 10 and 13 episodes, depending on how the scripts and story arcs develop. The Dark Tower show will begin shooting in 2017 with plans to premiere it in 2018, ideally around the time the film becomes available on cable or streaming services.
What the producers don’t yet have is a distributor. The darkness of the story rivals that of Game of Thrones, so they will require either a cable or streaming platform (MRC also makes House of Cards for Netflix, so they have a history already.) But MRC is not going to wait for a partner to come aboard before moving forward.
Elba has signed on to appear as older Roland alongside Tom Taylor, 15, who plays Jake Chambers in the film, a boy from present-day New York who harbors a secret, psychic power and is grappling with visions of the tower and the men (and other creatures) who are trying to reach it.
That duo will serve as the framing device for the show’s central story, which takes place many years before the events depicted in the film. Since the series will be Roland’s origin story, a younger actor will be cast to play the aspiring gunslinger as a teenager, back before the realm of Mid-World “moved on” into chaos and bloodshed.
Goldsman will serve as one of the executive producers, along with Jeff Pinkner and Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (who inspired McConaughey’s spiky, crow-feathered hair in the movie.) The film’s director, Nikolaj Arcel, and co-writer, Anders Thomas Jensen, are working on the script for the show and will be executive producers as well, but another showrunner will be hired to oversee day-to-day operations.
McConaughey’s involvement is a possibility, but not locked in. His character, Walter, is a semi-immortal who wields powerful, ancient magic and is a major element of Roland’s origin as a six-shooting knight, but in King’s books this sorcerer often takes on different names and appearances.
So, the character will be in the show, but he may be inhabiting the shape of another actor.
Back in Roland’s younger years, the Man in Black was known as Marten Broadcloak, an adviser to Roland’s father, Steven, the ruler of Gilead. (Yes, ironically, the father of Roland is… King Steven.) Even back then, Marten was a ruthless manipulator who, in a gambit to destroy young Roland, manuevers the hot-headed boy into prematurely taking his gunslinger trials against instructor Cort Andrus.
That part of Roland’s tale was partially laid out in King’s original novel, The Gunslinger, and it will form part of the TV series while the bulk of the show will focus on the fourth book in the saga, Wizard and Glass, which told another tale of young Roland and his early tribulations.
Although written in the middle of the series, Wizard and Glass is primarily a prequel that features Roland and his ka-tet of fate-forged allies, including the boy Jake, listening to the story of the gunslinger’s past while preparing for the next leg of their journey.
In this framing device for the book, they are camped within reach of a “thinny,” which is a kind of aurora where reality has eroded and people who draw too close can be consumed like it’s a black hole. Roland tells his new friends of his first encounter with such a thing, unspooling a tale about being sent by his father on a mission to the Barony of Mejis, a distant seaside kingdom in the same dimension as his homeland of Gilead.
As a tribute to King on his 69th anniversary in our world, MRC created this map, overlayed with a quote from the book, which was spoken by Cort to a young Roland.
The map demarcates the various towns and landmarks within the territory of Mejis: the capital, Hambry, along the Clean Sea; Coos Hill, home of the witch, Rhea; Citgo, the oil fields that could help fuel an army; Bad Grass, the toxic meadowlands; and Eyebolt Canyon, where a different thinny cries out for victims.
We won’t spoil the whole story-within-a-story of Wizard and Glass, but in brief, Roland reveals how he fell for the beautiful Susan Delgado, and later tested the faith of his original ka-tet — friends Alain Johns and Cuthbert Allgood. (None of these roles, including the young gunslinger, have been cast yet.)
“In the movie, Roland is suffering tremendous loss. The most concrete, personal, existential heartbreak a character can have,” Goldsman says. “If the movie chronicles his final reach toward hope again, the TV show is the loss of that hope.”
While the big-screen film mixes and matches elements of King’s saga (it serves as a a sequel, for those who understand the meaning of that instrument on Elba’s hip, known as the Horn of Eld), Goldsman says The Dark Tower TV series will be a more straightforward adaptation. “This one has much more fidelity to the story as King wrote it,” Goldsman says.
As for what lies beyond … ?
Just as Arcel’s movie was developed with a door open to other films, a second season of TV is also a possibility if all goes according to plan. Although they will have exhausted King’s original narrative by that point, they could then explore the stories of Marvel’s Dark Tower comics, primarily plotted by Robin Furth, King’s in-house historian for the saga and author of The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance.
The comic book stories explore young Roland’s return to Gilead and the later Battle of Jericho Hill, where the fate of the gunslingers — and their world — is decided in brutal fashion.
In addition to the source material in the comics, King could also choose to offer them tips on where to take the story in a future season, since he has been presiding over the film project from afar, weighing in on scripts and story changes. Or, he may sit back and decide to let them run with it on their own.
What the King wants, he gets. Especially on his birthday.
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