Only one episode into the first season of Starz's new series American Gods and already fans have been treated to plenty of stunning and memorable imagery. It's clear that this show is from the mind of Bryan Fuller, aka the same showrunner who gave us the hyper-stylized Hannibal TV adaptation. One of the most enigmatic "characters" to appear in the first episode was the white buffalo, introduced in Shadow's dreams. The dreams certainly came across like omens, leaving many viewers to wonder — what does the white buffalo mean on American Gods?
While viewers have barely dipped their toes into the crazy world of Neil Gaiman's epic, mythology-inspired saga, it's obvious that the white buffalo will play a much greater role in the weeks to come. After all, the creature appears on the series' promo art, staring down the front of the car that Mr. Wednesday and Shadow drive around America in search of Wednesday's fellow Old Gods to recruit for his battle against the New Gods. Wednesday and Shadow are the story's two most important characters, so the fact that the poster is the two of them and the white buffalo strongly suggests that the creature is meaningful in a larger sense. American Gods' SXSW display even featured a gargantuan white buffalo statue.
Also, the thing is freakin' terrifying. I mean, it's got fire coming out of its eyes! Just look at this gif, keeping in mind the fact that it's voiced by Ian McShane (who also plays Mr. Wednesday).
Terrifying, but also weirdly beautiful, like much of this delightfully strange and visually stunning show.
While the show hasn't come close to letting us know what the white buffalo really is, the creature does have a book equivalent to give us a hint of what's up with it. Interestingly, it seems as though the show has substantially altered the character — in the American Gods book, Shadow frequently dreams of talking with a buffalo-headed man (fittingly referred to as the Buffalo Man) throughout the book. The Buffalo Man also appears to another character in their dreams, but in the form of a Buffalo Woman. The creature sounds a lot like a buffalo-version of the bull-headed mythological minotaur. In the show, the buffalo is pretty clearly not a man of any kind — it's a snowy-white American bison, a rare type of buffalo spiritually significant in several Native American religions.
Towards the end of the book, when Shadow asks the Buffalo Man who it is, the Buffalo Man replies, "I am the land." Rather than yet another god, the creature is a personification of the actual landscape. The character even landed on the very first cover of the graphic novel series based on Gaiman's book, an interesting choice given that, while he's significant, he's not a major part of the book.
Viewers will just need to wait and see whether the show's white buffalo will correspond precisely with the book's symbolic Buffalo Man.