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Watchmen, explained: Five big things we learned from episode 1 of HBO’s series

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 21, 2019, and has been republished now that the entire series is available to watch for free on

HBO’s Watchmen series premiered October 20, 2019, and the continuation of the groundbreaking graphic novel created by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins sparked quite a bit of conversation — particularly when it comes to the show’s connection to the comics that inspired it.

Leading up to the premiere of Watchmen, there was a lot we knew about the show, but much more that remained a mystery. Here are five big things we learned about the world of Watchmen from the show’s first episode. (Note: Important plot points from episode 1 will be mentioned in the following text, so consider this a spoiler warning.)

Squids and trans-dimensional hoaxes

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One of the weirdest moments of Watchmen episode 1 involves a sudden shower of miniature squid that erupts from the sky — seemingly at no surprise to, well… anyone. Those familiar with the original comic shouldn’t be surprised, either.

In the Watchmen comic, former hero Ozymandias (a.k.a. Adrian Veidt) attempts to unite the nations of the world against a common foe by teleporting a massive squid monster into the middle of Manhattan and making them believe it’s an attack from a dangerous, alternate dimension. He succeeds in his mission, despite sacrificing millions of lives, and the surviving heroes agree to keep the hoax a secret to preserve the international peace it created.

The show hasn’t revealed what’s behind the (seemingly frequent) squid-storms, but the fact that they’re happening — and that hoax rumors surround the “trans-dimensional attack” engineered by Veidt — suggests that the peace brokered by the giant squid hasn’t endured, even if the messy aftermath has somehow persisted.

Dr. Manhattan on Mars

At the end of the Watchmen comic, Dr. Manhattan suggests that he plans to head off into space and explore the universe, but early in the HBO series, we see a live video feed from Mars featuring the naked blue hero creating and destroying massive structures on the planet’s surface.

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That Dr. Manhattan is (relatively) close by and humanity is keeping an eye on him indicates that his story is far from over — which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but does confirm things are probably going to get weirder in Watchmen before they get any clearer.

Sister Night and the new heroes

The heroes we knew from the Watchmen comic appear to have faded into the background, but that hasn’t stopped a new group of vigilantes from taking on criminal threats.

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The first episode of Watchmen introduces several new vigilantes to the Watchmen world, including former police officer Sister Night (played by Regina King) and interrogation expert Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson). We also get a brief introduction to Red Scare (Andrew Howard) and Pirate Jenny (Jessica Camacho).

Heroes’ legacies

The legacies of many of the lead characters from Watchmen are on full display in the HBO series if you know where to look, and they appear to have shaped the world in which the series unfolds in a big way.

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Rorschach’s conspiracy-fueled ramblings, for example, have inspired a dangerous white-supremacist militia to hide behind his ink-blot mask — effectively turning the character who led the original narrative into the story’s villain in this new chapter. Meanwhile, the squid that rain down on the city’s inhabitants and the aforementioned “trans-dimensional attack” suggest that Veidt’s legacy also lives on — even if his connection to it remains a secret.

Less obvious, however, is the legacy of both Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan, which can be seen in the tech that appears throughout the episode.

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The aircraft flown by the police chief and Pirate Jenny is clearly based on Nite Owl’s ship, while the prevalence of electric automobiles and a reference to watch batteries giving people cancer is a nod to Manhattan’s legacy.

In the original comic, Dr. Manhattan revolutionized energy production in the world, accelerating humanity’s use of electric vehicles. He also allowed for the development of better household batteries, but Veidt managed to make everyone believe the batteries (and Dr. Manhattan himself) gave people cancer as a way to get him out of the picture. That belief is echoed in the episode, which mentions the batteries’ danger and shows members of the Seventh Cavalry stockpiling them.

Ozymandias isn’t done

Although he’s never identified as such in the episode, Jeremy Irons’ eccentric character in the show is Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias — the diabolical genius behind the events of the original Watchmen comic who is now believed dead by the general population.

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The first episode suggests that his story is far from over, though. In fact, he’s writing a new one. The title of the play he says he’s writing is The Watchmaker’s Son, which is almost certainly a reference to Dr. Manhattan — who grew up as the son of a watchmaker before he became the near-omnipotent, blue-skinned entity we know from Watchmen.

What that title — and the play itself — means for the Watchmen series remains to be discovered, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Veidt isn’t done pulling strings.

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