There are plenty of powerful, memorable, and even terrifying characters on the new Starz series American Gods. After all, the show is all about a brilliantly cinematic face-off between Old Gods from ancient cultures and civilizations and the more recently powerful New Gods of America. But at the center of it all is a decidedly regular guy — ex-convict Shadow Moon, portrayed on the show by Ricky Whittle. Shadow is pulled into the contentious world of the gods by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. But exactly who is Shadow Moon on American Gods?
At the beginning of the story, Shadow is an ordinary (albeit down-on-his-luck) man in jail, nearing the end of his sentence. The book makes much of his large, intimidating size and the fact that he mostly keeps to himself while imprisoned. He's released several days early due to his wife Laura's accidental death in a car accident, an accident which also kills his best friend, effectively leaving him without the only two people he had in his life. (Laura's death, as it turns out, isn't exactly permanent, but that's a whole other issue entirely.) From then on, Shadow's life begins to change in ways that he couldn't possibly imagine.
All of those changes center around the fact that he "bumps into" an older grifter, Mr. Wednesday, who repeatedly attempts to recruit him for a job. At first, Shadow is resistant, unwilling to get into any more illegal activity after his jailtime. In the end, Wednesday wears him down and Shadow agrees to act as Wednesday's bodyguard, accompanying him on a series of errands.
Those errands, as it turns out, involve recruiting Wednesday's fellow "Old Gods" (various deities from the pantheons of many cultures and religions) to fight against the "New Gods" who have (as the Old Gods see it) "stolen" all of their worship. Basically, nobody cares about the Old Gods any more (most of them, at least) and they're pretty upset about it (again, most of them, but not all). Shadow travels the country with Wednesday, visiting the older man's friends and fellow gods in an attempt to drum up interest in a face-off against the newer American gods.
Spoiler alert: Things don't exactly go smoothly for them. But then again, if they did, we wouldn't have a whole series' worth of story about it, would we?
One of the most interesting facets of the character is that his race isn't explicitly addressed in the novel, but it's implicitly clear (from descriptions of his "coffee and cream" complexion) that he's a man of color. As reported by Vanity Fair at the time of Whittle's casting, there was some concern among the fandom that the character would be yet another victim of rampant Hollywood whitewashing. Thankfully, Whittle fits the role to a T, between his looks, build, and attitude — he's already played one other fan-favorite brooding loner over on The 100 and I can't wait to see what he does in this new role.