Is Netflix's The Punisher planning to surprise fans and drop its entire first season without warning? For weeks, the production powerhouse and streaming service has been teasing a mysterious 2017 release date for the show, which seems to be much ado about nothing... Unless the date really, truly is a surprise. And in fact, we think we know what that date might be.
Here's the background: The Punisher is the latest take on Marvel's gun-happy (though to be fair, more like gun-sad) antihero, after three movies never quite launched the character into the stratosphere of, say, Spider-Man or the X-Men. So instead, the House of Ideas rebooted the character on TV, as part of the cast of Daredevil's second season. Jon Bernthal's complicated, conflicted take on a former military man driven to vigilante violence by the death of his family was critically lauded as one of the best parts of the season, and led directly to his own spin-off series.
Technically The Punisher takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes the Marvel movies. But slightly less technically, it takes place in the mostly separate Netflix portion of the universe, which includes the street-savvy heroes in The Defenders (introduced in the aforementioned Daredevil, as well as Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones). It's produced by Marvel TV, which also makes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans, though those — plus the upcoming Cloak and Dagger on Freeform, and Runaways on Hulu — are also kind of their own thing.
So for the purposes of figuring out the release date of The Punisher, we're going to push aside Marvel TV's overall schedule and focus on the Marvel/Netflix shows instead. Ready to put on your conspiracy hat? Here we go:
With "only" six seasons of television under their joint belt, Marvel and Netflix haven't necessarily set a release pattern, à la the Marvel movies' usual yearly May/November releases (and even those have their exceptions, as well as an accelerated schedule as the studio has started to release three or more films a year). Punisher is also an outlier because it's the first time Marvel and Netflix have released three shows in one calendar year.
Daredevil's first season, which kicked this whole thing off, hit Netflix on April 10, 2015. Jessica Jones followed at the end of November that year, Daredevil Season 2 came in March of 2016, with Luke Cage right at the end of Sept. 2016. In 2017, we got Iron Fist mid-March, The Defenders mid-August, and The Punisher on ???.
So just looking at that schedule, you could argue that The Punisher could be released anywhere from September to November, based on the previous two years' schedules. We can get closer than that, though, and to do so we should take a look at the gap between wrapping filming on the shows, and when they launched on Netflix.
Daredevil wrapped in December of 2014, launching four-ish months later. The gap for Jessica Jones was much shorter — around three months — and was the same for Daredevil Season 2. But the next three shows have hit a different pattern: Luke Cage had a nice six months from the director yelling "cut!" to fans watching the bulletproof man on their streaming devices, while both Iron Fist and Defenders had about a five-month gap, each.
[By the way, Jessica Jones season 2 has wrapped filming and is on target for a 2018 release. Luke Cage's second season is filming right now, Iron Fist may go back in front of cameras by the end of 2017, and Daredevil Season 3 is, as of yet, unscheduled.]
Part of the reason for the staggered schedule? The shows don't just share a supporting cast through cameos and major roles (one superhero or even a lawyer may show up for multiple episode arcs on the next show), they also often share crews. Once the crew wraps, they move right into the next show. I'd argue that after the first three shows were completed, Marvel figured out how long they needed to film, and when they needed to wrap in order to up the ante to those three shows each year. Hence the more consistent post-production gap in 2016/2017.
The Punisher backs this up; it wrapped filming in April 2017. If you follow that logic, releasing in September would be that five-ish months gap, while October would be the luxurious six-ish months Luke Cage previously enjoyed. A November release would be an unprecedented seven-month gap from wrap to TV screens — and again, there's no real set pattern based on only six shows, because the sample set is too small, but we think we can rule out November for the release date based on this.
Knowing that, let's take a look at Netflix's schedule! Barring any unforeseen changes, Netflix tends to release its big TV shows on Fridays, and there's a lot of evidence that holds up, at least through the end of October. The big release on Sept. 22 is the animated show Neo Yokio, which has some phenomenal voice talent behind it, including Jude Law and Jaden Smith. Friday, Sept. 29 is packed with four series and three films, including the rebooted Magic School Bus starring Kate McKinnon. In October, an international series called Suburra: The Series and a documentary launch Oct. 6; Friday the 13 is anchored by David Fincher's highly anticipated Mindhunter; and Oct. 20 has one series (The Day I Met El Chapo) and two movies. Meanwhile, Oct. 27 is the release date for Stranger Things 2, and no, The Punisher is not being released the same day.
So there are two dates that seem pretty open — though full transparency, there are only a few additional fully scheduled Netflix releases through the end of the year past October, and several 2017 releases beyond Punisher that also aren't scheduled, including Longmire, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Watership Down.
But looking at the evidence above, it seems pretty reasonable to think Netflix will release Punisher in October, and on either Oct. 6 or 20. Before we get to which one we think it's going to be, here's a reasonable question: could Netflix even do a surprise release?
Well, yeah, of course it could. The company is uber-secretive, and though it has never full-on pulled a Beyoncé, it has announced and released shows in a relatively short period of time. For instance, Brit Marling's long simmering sci-fi epic The OA dropped its first trailer Dec. 12, 2016, and Netflix released the series Dec. 16. As a general rule, the company has a tendency to release trailers or teasers for shows and additional seasons without any warning to press or fans.
And particularly with a show like The Punisher that has a built in fanbase — and a lot of goodwill after Bernthal's triumphant appearance on Daredevil — it's not like it has to give a lot of advance notice: people will clear their schedules and watch, no matter what.
So with all that out of the way, we'd like to throw out a date to you: Friday, Oct. 6.
There's two big reasons for this: for one, Oct. 20 is a month from the writing of this article, and Netflix has already built a ton of anticipation and interest for the show.
The second reason? New York Comic-Con is Oct. 5-8. With over 180,000 fans attending, it's one of the largest pop culture events of the year. Marvel has scheduled its big Punisher panel for Saturday, Oct. 7 at 5:15pm ET. This gives fans plenty of time to binge the first few episodes of an Oct. 6 launching season (or the whole series, let's be honest) before welcoming Bernthal and company to the stage for a victory lap.
It's also distinctly possible that Marvel could use that panel to show off the first episode of the show; it previously surprised fans with the debut of Jessica Jones at New York Comic-Con, and fans at San Diego Comic-Con were recently treated to the first episode of The Defenders. It's also possible Marvel and Netflix could reveal an Oct. 20 release date during the Comic-Con panel, which, at two weeks after the convention, would still be a relative surprise.
But given all the rest of the evidence above, Oct. 20 seems a little too late in the game, while Oct. 6 fits all the qualities of a Marvel/Netflix release date perfectly. We'll find out soon enough either way.
(TV Guide has reached out to Netflix for comment.)