HBO's Watchmen is not exactly an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic graphic novel. It's a new story set in the same world where all the events of the comic happened. Using the graphic novel as a canonical text gives executive producer Damon Lindelof the opportunity to pack the show full of references that Watchmen fans will appreciate. And if you're watching Watchmen without having read the comic, maybe this can help you understand the context of the show. Here are all the Watchmen Easter eggs embedded in the show. This post will be updated as the season continues. If you see any Easter eggs I missed, let me know on Twitter.
Episode 1 - "It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice"
Squids. The first Easter egg of the season is this poster in Angela's (Regina King) son's classroom. The kids need to learn about squids because every now and then tiny ones rain from the sky. This is apparently an aftereffect of what happened at the end of the graphic novel, when Adrian Veidt dropped a psychic squid on Manhattan that blew up and killed millions of people. It was supposed to unite the world against a supposed alien attack, but Veidt was exposed by Rorschach's journal, which was posthumously published in a right-wing newspaper called the New Frontiersman. It's unclear at this point in the show whether or not Veidt's plan succeeded or if people believed Rorschach (they probably didn't, because Rorschach was a pretty easily discreditable fringe-dwelling nutjob).
The Future Is Bright. This sign wielded by an optimistic fellow as Angela heads to her bakery is the inverse of the sign carried by Walter Kovacs — Rorschach without his mask — in the comic. He was a doomsday prophet with a sign that said "The End Is Nigh."
American Hero Story. The Minutemen get the FX treatment. The Minutemen were the first group of costumed heroes, assembled in 1939. (The second group was assembled in the '60s and consisted of the comic's main characters.) The members were Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre, Hooded Justice (pictured above), the original Nite Owl, Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman, and The Comedian. They fought crime and served as American propaganda during World War II. They fully disbanded in 1949, amidst infighting, scandal, and tragedy. They definitely have an interesting enough story to warrant an O.J. Simpson-style limited series.
Nixon. In the Watchmen reality, Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, used nuclear superman Dr. Manhattan to win the Vietnam War, annexed that country into the United States, and was reelected five times until he died in office. Gerald Ford, Nixon's vice president, succeeded him. Ford was defeated in 1992 by Robert Redford, who has been president ever since. Nixon has since been adopted as a right-wing symbol, as President Redford is a liberal who implemented a federal reparations program for victims of racial violence and their descendants. Got all that?
Rorschach. The Seventh Kavalry is inspired by the masked vigilante who never gave up the fight even after costumed adventuring was outlawed. That inspiration might be based on a misinterpretation, as Rorschach's libertarian ideology was not explicitly white supremacist. The speech this Seventh Kavalryman makes — "Cop carcass on the highway last night. Soon the accumulated black filth will be hosed away, and the streets of Tulsa will turn into extended gutters overflowing with liberal tears. Soon all the whores and race traitors will shout 'save us.' And we will whisper, 'No,'" — is a remix of the passage from Rorschach's journal that opens the graphic novel: "Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us!'... and I'll look down and whisper 'No.'"
The Abyss Gazes Also. In the graphic novel, a psychiatrist tried to understand Rorschach by having him look at the ink blot psychological tests from which he drew his name. On the show, the Rorschach test gets a modern upgrade with the Pod, which measures reaction to Rorschach-style stimuli. Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), the masked detective who administers the test, is styled as sort of an anti-Rorschach. Rorschach's mask also tightly covered his whole head, but it constantly moved and changed. Looking Glass' mask is an unchanging, impenetrable mirror.
Poison pill. Adrian Veidt staged an attack on himself to make it look like someone was preying on costumed heroes, and to keep the guy he hired to shoot at him from talking, he slipped him a poison pill and made it look like a suicide. The Seventh Kavalry member who shot the Tulsa cop actually took a suicide pill.
Dollar Bill. In the Seventh Kavalry's hideout, Angela sees an old framed bank advertisement featuring Dollar Bill, one of the original Minutemen. The Dollar Bill character was created by the National Bank Co.'s marketing department to capitalize on the costumed hero fad and give customers a sense of security that their money was being protected by a superhero, and this ad makes clear that the customers they were selling to were white people who wanted their money kept safe from black people. In the comics, Dollar Bill was considered a decent, upstanding man by his peers, which of course does not mean he wasn't racist. Like Rorschach, Dollar Bill has been co-opted as a white supremacist symbol, maybe justifiably, maybe not. Dollar Bill was killed while attempting to thwart a robbery when the impractical cape the bank made him wear got caught in a revolving door and he was shot at point-blank range.
Nite Owl's ship. The design of Tulsa PD's aircraft is very similar to the one used by Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl. They even both have a flamethrower.
The Watchmaker's Son. The subject of unconfirmed-but-definitely-Veidt's (Jeremy Irons) play is Jon Osterman, who became Dr. Manhattan as the result of a laboratory accident. Jon Osterman's father was a watchmaker, and he encouraged his son to become a nuclear physicist instead of following in his footsteps.
A newspaper headline earlier in the episode said that Veidt has been declared dead, so whatever is going on with Veidt at his manor in the Welsh countryside surrounded by clones is a secret from the world. He was introduced on the show riding a white horse, which is a reference to the band Pale Horse, who were performing at Madison Square Garden when the squid hit, and also his status as a bringer of death.
The drop of blood. This is a reference to Watchmen's most iconic image, a smiley face pin with a drop of blood on it. In the graphic novel, the pin and the blood belong to the Comedian, who is murdered by being thrown out of a window. His murder catalyzes the story, not unlike how the murder of Chief Crawford (Don Johnson) will catalyze the show's story. Angela will investigate Crawford's murder like Rorschach investigated the Comedian's. And like Rorschach, the more she learns, the more questions she's going to have.
Episode 2 - "Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship"
Hiroshima Lovers. The graffiti silhouette of a couple in an embrace was a recurring image throughout the comic. Rorschach's court-appointed psychiatrist compared it to the remains of people blown up by the atomic bomb, which was the threat that hung over the comic.
New Frontiersman. Rorschach's favorite newspaper. Sort of like the New York Post meets Infowars.
Newsstand. Many scenes from the comic took place around a newsstand near Madison Square Garden, representing the regular person's perspective on the extinction-level controversies of Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias and Russia. And since there's no internet in the 2019 of the show, the newsstand is still important. This one is run by Bunny Colvin from The Wire (Robert Wisdom), who, like Bernard from the comic, is garrulous and opinionated about the news of the day.
Two minutes to midnight. In the moments before members of the Seventh Kavalry attack Angela in her home, her husband Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) mentions that it's two minutes to midnight, which calls to mind the Doomsday Clock on the cover of each issue of the comic, counting down the moments until the clock reaches 12 and a catastrophe happens. Clocks are a signature motif in Watchmen, both comic and TV show.
Pirate and Owl. Angela and Cal's adopted daughters dress up as an owl — a Nite Owl reference — and a pirate, a reference to Tales of the Black Freighter, a pirate comic book that's a story-within-the-story in the comic. Angela's advice to the girls to put something in the ghost's (Cal's) pockets to keep him from floating away is inspired by the infamous raft of bloated corpses assembled by the comic's protagonist.
Li'l Dr. Manhattan. Topher (Dylan Schombing) is playing with a levitating building toy called "Magna-Hattan Balls," inspired by Dr. Manhattan's abilities. And when he's done, he destroys the palace he's built, just like how Dr. Manhattan destroys the elaborate sandcastles he builds on Mars.
Watchmen (2009). This is one that probably will remain unconfirmed by the show's producers, but the slo-mo and gratuitous violence in American Hero Story seems like a cheeky reference to director Zack Snyder's much-maligned movie adaptation of the comic. Also, American Hero Story is a story-within-the-story, like Tales of the Black Freighter.
Red roses. Angela arriving at Chief Crawford's memorial service with a bouquet of roses mirrors Laurie Juspeczyk bringing her mother, Sally Jupiter, flowers in the second issue of the comic after the Comedian's death. Judd is the show's analogue to the Comedian.
Senator Keene. Joe Keene (James Wolk), the senator from Oklahoma whom Judd's wife, Jane (Frances Fisher), used to work for, is the son of Senator John David Keene, author of the Keene Act, which outlawed costumed vigilantism in 1977. Joe Keene has an act of his own — the Defense of Police Act, which has allowed Tulsa police to wear masks to protect their identities. Joe Keene is even more ambitious than his father, and is planning to make a run to succeed President Redford.
Nite Owl goggles. Nite Owl's technology seems to have been widely adopted by law enforcement, as his airship appeared in the first episode and his X-ray goggles appeared in this episode.
"Nothing ever ends." This episode's scene with Veidt was basically one big Easter egg, as his play is a retelling of Dr. Manhattan's origin story. But the biggest nod is on the line he mouths along with Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison): "Nothing ever ends." This line was spoken to Veidt by Dr. Manhattan at the end of the comic when Veidt, in a rare moment of self-doubt, asked the godlike and omniscient Dr. Manhattan if he had done the right thing "in the end" by killing millions of people to avert even more death. Thirty-five years later, Veidt is even more aware of how nothing ever ends.
Episode 3 - "She Was Killed by Space Junk"
Laurie Blake. The focus of Episode 3 was Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), formerly known as Laurie Juspeczyk. Back in the day, she was Silk Spectre II, modeled after her mother, Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre. When she was young, Laurie was in a long-term relationship with Dr. Manhattan, but she left the blue man for Nite Owl. She knows what Ozymandias did with the squid, but it seems like she's kept the truth to herself. After she found out she was Edward Blake's daughter, she took his name and his persona, transforming into the Comedienne. And she has really become her father: a brutal cynic with an extremely dark sense of humor. Like her father, Laurie is working for the federal government. Also like her father, she has no reservations about shooting a fleeing person in the back with no regard to whether he lives or dies. And the joke she records for Dr. Manhattan about God getting killed by falling brick and going to hell is the kind of joke her father would have liked. Her concluding "Roll on snare drum, curtains. Good joke," is a paraphrase of something Rorschach said after he told a Comedian-style joke.
Nite Owl. Laurie has a pet owl in a cage. That, combined with Joe Keene's line "You know, Laurie, the president can pardon anybody he wants. Anybody. He could even get your owl out of that cage," indicates that Dan Dreiberg is in prison for violating the Keene Act, which outlawed vigilantism. Supplemental material on HBO's website — which is reminiscent of the excepts from memoirs and interviews and other supplemental material in the comic itself — confirms that Dreiberg and Blake were taken into federal custody in 1995.
Black Freighter. The comic book was apparently so popular that people can name a motel after it.
Vivarium. The confirmation that the Lord of the Manor is Adrian Veidt was packed with Easter eggs (like the Ozymandias mask on the bust of Alexander the Great, Ozy's idol), but my favorite was the little terrarium, which called back to his "vivarium," a giant terrarium at Karnak, his Antarctic base.
Adrian Veidt. The Smartest Man in the World's best days are behind him, and he's clearly unhappy about it. He's a prisoner in a gilded cage at this manor, but we don't know why yet.
"Silk Spectre Takes Manhattan." Laurie misses her ex and his big, blue nuclear rod.
Episode 4 - "If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own"
Look on my works. This episode was light on explicit Easter eggs. The biggest one was that Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) is now the world's Ozymandias figure, the way that Laurie is very much like the Comedian. Lady Trieu bought Veidt Enterprises from Adrian Veidt (Do you think maybe she has something to do with his imprisonment, like maybe that was a term of the deal?), and she's built his industrial empire up even bigger, to the point that she's a trillionaire. She's built her own vivarium to bring the foliage of her native Vietnam to Tulsa. In that giant, domed terrarium, she has a statue of Veidt as he appears now, which Laurie says "looks like sh--." Probably on purpose. She's working on some kind of top-secret project experimenting with time and memory, which may turn out to be the psychic squid attack of the Watchmen TV series.
Dub. Adrian Veidt liking Jamaican music is canon, taken from an interview with Nova Express he did in the comic. Last week we saw him listen to Desmond Dekker's seminal 1969 single "Israelites," and this week, he played Leroy Sibbles' "Do Your Thing" to drown out the screams of the pond-babies being rapidly aged into Mr. Phillips and Miss Crookshanks. Now, these songs are straightforward reggae, not the experimental dub offshoot that Veidt said he was a fan of. But maybe we'll get some Lee "Scratch" Perry at some point this season.
Episode 5 - "Little Fear of Lightning"
Knot Tops. The opening sequence of the episode where Looking Glass gets his traumatic origin story is too big to qualify as an Easter egg, and the reveal of the infamous squid doesn't really need to be explained, because the show had been building to it. But there was an Easter egg within the sequence. The girl who stole his clothes and her friends were Knot Tops, members of a delinquent youth subculture similar to skinheads or SoundCloud rappers. They were addicted to a drug called "katies," were big fans of the band Pale Horse, and generally terrorized Manhattan with violent acts that included murdering elderly Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. They were across the Hudson River in Hoboken, too.
Beans. Eating beans directly out of the can with his mask rolled up is a classic Rorschach move.
Nostalgia. In the comic, one of Veidt Enterprises' most popular consumer products was a fragrance called Nostalgia. By 2019, the sense most tied to memory isn't smell, it's taste, as the "Nostalgia" product name has moved to pills that allow consumers to re-experience memories (or experience someone else's memories, as we'll soon see).
Mercy. But fragrances are still important. Maybe Veidt Enterprises under Lady Trieu is still in the perfume business, and Wade Tillman's focus group business has been contracted to research its newest product. That's all conjecture, as the show didn't say anything about who's making Mercy, but Mercy's round bottle looks a bit like Nostalgia's.
Watchmen airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.