HBO’s Watchmen doesn’t just adapt Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s wildly influential DC comic, it tells a whole new story set in its rich universe, 34 years after the action of the source material. As such, it includes dozens of nods to the characters and action of the book, some embedded right in its plot, but many in background details or throwaway references. With so much story to keep track of every week, it can be hard to catch everything that Damon Lindelof and company are throwing at you, so let us guide the way.
First, a clarification: We’re only in this for the deep cuts that go straight back to the source. The line between Easter egg and plot point has become blurry in some quarters over the last few years. That the Seventh Kalvary wears Rorschach masks is plot. That the egg yolk Angela drops in a bowl visually recalls the cover of the first issue and the death of the Comedian is an Easter egg (in a very literal way). So we’re here for the references and callbacks to Watchmen, not the story, which often ties into the source material in very direct ways. So don’t comment that Jeremy Irons playing Adrian Veidt is an Easter egg — that’s just casting. And we’re not here for the fact that the Clarks from the episode four prologue are likely a reference to Clark Kent either. Just Watchmen-brand eggs sold here.
And before we get too deep, let us advise you to check out a cool bit of marketing from HBO itself, a series of files created by the fictional character of Dale Petey, Laurie Blake’s partner on the show. It’s called Peteypedia, and offers some hints as to where the show is going and how some of these references play a role. Finally, props to SYFY, Thrillist, ScreenRant, Den of Geek, and Insider for assistance in catching some of these. Who watches the people who watch Watchmen? We do!
Episode 1: “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”
Bass Reeves Looks like Hooded Justice
In the opening scene of the series, set during the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, a child is watching a silent film about Bass Reeves, a hooded vigilante. The film within the show is called Trust in the Law! and features Reeves in an outfit that looks a great deal like the one worn by superhero Hooded Justice in the comic book. Reeves was a real legendary lawman, and some even claim the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. It would make sense that he is also the inspiration for Hooded Justice.
The creators of Watchmen will visually allude to the infamous cover of the first issue of Watchmen multiple times this episode, including in a shot of the kid after the massacre in which he has a blood streak on his forehead in exactly the same position as that iconic image.
A True Easter Egg
Angela Abar (Regina King) cracks some eggs in a bowl and the camera cuts to its underside, revealing them in the form of a yellow smiley face, another allusion to the comic cover. There’s even a bloody mark in the right place in one of the yolks.
Angela’s passcode to enter her secret room and become Sister Night? 1985 — the year Watchmen takes place.
The narrative of Watchmen ended with the discovery of Rorschach’s journal, which it appears was then published, as it has become a bible for the Seventh Kavalry. Sheriff Crawford plays a video from the cop-killing group in the premiere, and we hear someone say “Soon, all the whores and race traitors will shout ‘Save us!’ And we will whisper, ‘No.’” It’s a quote from the journal/source: “The accumulated filth and 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.’” It’s also likely not coincidental that the quote appears in the first issue of the comic book and the first episode of the series.
Under the Hood
Eagle-eyed (or should that be owl-eyed?) fans noticed that a copy of a book called Under the Hood is sitting on the desk in the sheriff’s office. This is a major callback to the source material. In the comic book, Under the Hood was the name of the autobiography of Hollis T. Mason, a.k.a. Nite Owl. Chapters of Watchmen ended with excerpts from Under the Hood, which the good sheriff is reading casually. There are a lot of connections between the Sheriff and Nite Owl, but those are for another piece.
While we’re on the subject, Angela sits in Judd’s office and sips from a mug that looks a lot like Nite Owl himself. Add these more subtle drops to the fact that an actual Owlship comes into play shortly, and the producers are clearly trying to draw lines between Don Johnson’s character and Nite Owl himself.
Nixon on Mt. Rushmore
While Looking Glass is interrogating the 7K suspect, images flash behind him, including a shot of Mount Rushmore that features a surprising visage: President Richard M. Nixon! Those who have read the book know that in its alternate timeline Nixon not only wasn’t impeached but became an international hero after we won the Vietnam War.
There’s a detective in the premiere named Pirate Jenny, which is as deep a reference as you can get in that it’s a shout-out to the song of the same name from The Threepenny Opera, which inspired Tales From the Black Freighter, the book within a book that appeared between chapters of Watchmen. Got that?
Dollar Bill Propaganda
It makes sense that the Seventh Kalvary would embrace some of the worst propaganda from the world of heroes in this timeline. Take this poster for the National Bank seen in their headquarters. After Angela kicks some ass, you can spot Dollar Bill kicking a black man out of the bank with the nauseating claim, “Our banks are clean and safe and family-oriented and we keep the riff-raff out!” Eek. In the book, Dollar Bill was created as a publicity stunt, someone to help build confidence in the banks, although he eventually became a member of the Minutemen.
A Roman Helmet
Before Jeremy Irons’s character is revealed to be Adrian Veidt, the producers drop a visual Easter egg for the most hardcore fans of the book that basically confirms what we all knew right away. In his first scene, a Roman helmet can be spotted on a shelf in the back, one that looks nearly identical to one in Veidt’s house in the comic book.
“The Watchmaker’s Son” and Other Clocks
Jeremy Irons’s Adrian Veidt tells his servants that he has written a play called “The Watchmaker’s Son.” Those who know the source will recognize the reference to Jon Osterman, the son of a watchmaker, and the man who would become Dr. Manhattan. There are multiple allusions to clocks throughout the episode, a visual motif in the books too, which referenced the actual Doomsday Clock that warns us how close we are to nuclear annihilation. A bloody version of that clock was on the cover of the final issue.
A Final Nod to the Cover
The final shot of the episode features the sheriff’s star in the grass, a blood drop on it again designed to call to mind the iconic cover of the first issue. Of course, that image is a reference to the death of the Comedian in the first issue, whose blood falls on the happy face pin he wears, and the series premiere uses a similar structure, as the blood of a supposed hero falls on the pin he wears.
EPISODE 2: “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”
As Sister Night is leaving her shop, we get a shot of the alley, in which someone has spraypainted the image of the “Hiroshima Lovers” on the wall. This is a direct nod to the book, which uses this icon of doomed love first in Chapter 5, “Fearful Symmetry,” and returns to it in Chapter 8, “A Brother to Dragons,” in which Dan has a dream where he and Laurie are caught in the same embrace as they are turned to ash.
The Return of the Newsstand
Any fan of Watchmen will tell you that Moore and Gibbons regularly returned to the image of the newsstand, so it’s nice to see it return here in a similar way to push the story forward.
Angela’s children are dressed up and playing with Cal, and their choices are kind of Easter eggs in that they are an owl and a pirate, two images that recur in the graphic novel and HBO series. Of course, Nite Owl is a major character, and Tales from the Black Freighter features, well, pirates.
The Persistence of Memory
In the bedroom of Angela’s son Topher, we see him playing with a toy inspired by Dr. Manhattan and building his own version of Veidt’s mansion, but the deepest Easter egg is the fact that a kid has a version of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory on his wall. Clocks, clocks, everywhere.
A Red Flower Bouquet
There’s a shot of Angela in the second episode that’s a clever visual callback to the opening of the comic book. As Angela holds red flowers in front of her, its meant to recall the same pose and bouquet in the hands of Lauria Juspeczyk in the book. Lest you think this is a stretch, director Nichole Kassell basically confirmed it to SYFY.
EPISODE 3: “She Was Killed by Space Junk”
Laurie Likes Her Devo
In an early scene in her apartment, Laurie puts Devo on (specifically “Mongoloid”). Devo is directly referenced in the comic book when Laurie explains who they are to Nite Owl in chapter seven.
Who the Owl
There are owls everywhere in this show! Whether it’s an animated owl in the opening of American Hero Story, an owl mug in the Sheriff’s office, or the fact that Jean Smart’s Laurie has an actual owl for a pet, it’s a major visual motif. Of course, Laurie’s owl has the best possible name for an owl: Who.
Laurie’s Minutemen Pop Art
In Laurie’s apartment, there’s a shot behind her after her scene with Joe Keene that reveals a bit of Andy Warhol–inspired pop art of the heroes that looks directly pulled from the book.
Rorschach’s Journal Is Legit
This isn’t so much an Easter egg as it is confirmation that the original source material is being taken very seriously, and that Rorschach’s journal was published unedited in the show’s universe. The page that Agent Petey sneaks into the slideshow is word for word from the comic book itself.
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
As Petey and Blake fly into Tulsa, they see Lady Trieu’s Millennium Clock shooting into the sky, and Petey quotes her as having said the above line. Of course, it’s not original, coming from, wait for it, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” which is the other name of Adrian Veidt. Petey calls it a “shoutout” to Veidt after Trieu bought his company, but it’s also a shoutout to the source material.
Police Strike of ’77
Agent Petey gets a lot of the good references this week, maybe because of his Ph.D. in history. Anyway, he mentions the Police Strike of 1977, which happened in the book because cops were protesting the rise of vigilante justice, leading to the foundation of the Keene Act, outlawing heroism. It also helped define the Comedian as a villain after he fired at protesters in that strike.
51 Stars on the U.S. Flag
Blink and you’ll miss a flag on the coffin that has a very different star pattern — 51 in a circle. Those unfamiliar with the comic book will likely have no idea that Vietnam is the 51st state, annexed as such after Dr. Manhattan helped us win the war there.
Veidt Meditates Like Dr. Manhattan
Frustrated, Adrian Vedit seeks solace in a meditative position in his chair that’s clearly designed to recall the crossed-legs position of Dr. Manhattan on Mars in the source material, one of its most famous images.
The Game Warden’s Seal
Veidt receives a letter from the mysterious Game Warden, which is sealed with an image of a skull and crossbones. Pirate imagery everywhere, all likely due to Tales From the Black Freighter.
Angela’s Nite Goggles
When she’s investigating the tunnel after the attack during Crawford’s funeral, Angela wear some red night-vision goggles that make her look a great deal like the legendary Nite Owl. Laurie seems to notice in the final shot of the scene, too.
Laurie’s Toy and Esquire Cover
When she returns to the Black Freighter Inn & Suites (yeah, that’s an egg too), Laurie opens a suitcase that contains a massive blue dildo, likely modeled after the appendage of Dr. Manhattan. Inside we also get a shot of an Esquire cover that says “Silk Spectre Takes Manhattan.”
EPISODE 4: “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”
Blink and you’ll miss a shot of Mrs. Clark reading this book, a super deep cut for the producers. It’s a book by Max Shea, the fictional author of Tales From the Black Freighter.
Eggs are everywhere in Watchmen, and so it makes sense that the Clarks from the prologue would meet-cute over ones hitting a porch. It’s almost as if conversations about including so many Easter eggs led to a proliferation of actual eggs — seen in Angela’s demonstration in the first episode, Will pulling one out of boiling water in the second, and more imagery to come in this episode, which opens from the inside of an egg with yolk-like yellow on the title card. This isn’t so much an Easter egg to the book as an Easter egg to the concept of, well, Easter eggs.
Angela comes home and basically falls into the bunk bed below Topher. Her son talks to her about what happened at the funeral, passing her a stuffed animal that looks a lot like Bubastis, the lynx that Veidt genetically engineered as a pet in the comic book.
Episode 5: “Little Fear of Lightning”
The Veidt Method
In the episode’s prologue, you can spot someone reading what is very likely an issue of Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic book within the comic book source material, which has an ad on the back for the Veidt Method. The advertisement is meant to mimic cheesy self-help ads from the back of comic books decades ago. It’s yet unclear exactly how to follow Veidt’s health regime.
We see a poster early in the episode and later hear that this is the band that was playing when the squid attack happened. (Steven Spielberg even named a movie that sounds a lot like Schindler’s List after them.) They are referenced in the book, of course, spray-painted on the side of the stairs in one frame and later referenced in a poster as playing Madison Square Garden.
The Knot Tops
Wade wanders into the wrong group of people at the carnival, a gang called the Knot Tops, who come directly from the source material. In Moore and Gibbons’s book, the Knot Tops use a drug called KT-28s or “Katies,” which you can see referenced on the shirt of one of the men Wade speaks to in the prologue before his adventure in the fun house.
Yes, this is more plot than Easter egg, but you may be wondering if this is a new creation for the HBO show or directly loyal to the source material. It’s a Moore and Gibbons creation: In the book, on November 2, 1985, an alien, squid-like monster landed on Manhattan. It was something that Lindelof wanted included in his series from the very beginning, telling Collider, “From the jump, before we even did the pilot, I said to everybody on the crew, ‘Just so you guys know, we’re doing the squid.’”
Promethean Cab Co.
The commercial Wade watches urging people to come back to New York, not unlike what we saw in the real world after 9/11, features a couple who have just seen something that sounds horrible called Oppenheimer: The Musical — look carefully and you can spot a sign for Promethean Cab Co. in the background, which is a company from the source material.
In the comic book, Rorschach eats cold beans out of a can. This is apparently a thing now in this universe, because Wade eats beans straight from the can too. Gross.
In the focus group that Wade observes, you can see kids eating a new cereal called Smiley-O’s. Yellow smiley faces are everywhere on this show, reflecting both the iconic cover and the Comedian’s blood-smeared button.
“Does it ever end? Of course it does.”
Dr. Manhattan’s final words from the graphic novel are “Nothing ever ends.” Wade’s line from his support-group meeting sure sounds like an auditory Easter egg, contradicting the good doctor.
“I leave it entirely in your hands.”
The graphic novel ends with Rorschach’s journal being placed in the custody of Seymour, an employee at The New Frontiersman, and we know it’s been published in this world. The last line of the comic book is “I leave it entirely in your hands,” which Keene purposefully echoes to Wade when leaving it up to him whether or not to watch Veidt’s video.
So many TVs
There’s a shot of Wade in front of a wall of televisions when he’s taken in by the Seventh Kavalry that’s meant to echo a similar shot from the source material at Veidt’s lair in Antarctica. Apparently, any underground operation needs a whole wall of televisions to get the job done.
“I did it!”
Veidt says this when his video revealing his plan is over, and it’s the same thing he says in the source material when he learns that his squid monster gambit worked as planned, bringing the Cold War to an end.
This one isn’t so much an Easter egg as a twist on the source material. You know the drugs that Will gives Angela? It shares a name and a purpose with a scent developed by Veidt in the source material. While that was just a perfume designed to make those who smell it remember something from their past, the technology has been developed into a drug form that can do much more than that. Digging through the HBO site reveals an ad for Nostalgia that provides more information.
Episode 6 – “This Extraordinary Being”
“This Extraordinary Being”
In Watchmen, Moore and Gibbons included an excerpt from a book by Nite Owl, Sam Hollis. That excerpt gives this episode its title, as Hollis quotes a piece from a newspaper about Hooded Justice: “This extraordinary being had crashed in through the windows of the supermarket while the robbery was in progress and attacked the man responsible with such intensity and savagery that those not disabled immediately were only too willing to drop their guns and surrender.”
The episode opens with a variation on the Watchmen font and logo from episodes past, instead using the word “Minutemen,” a reference to the 1940s crime-fighting team from the source material.
The episode of American Hero Story within the episode includes the FBI agents trying to blackmail Hooded Justice, and they name-drop three villains: Captain Axis, King Mob, and Moloch. Only one of them is from the source material, Moloch, whose real name was Edgar Jacobi. A magician turned baddie, he fought the Comedian and Ozymandias in the ’60s, hijacked the Queen Elizabeth II in 1972, and bombed the New York Stock Exchange in 1977. Veidt ended up murdering an older, retired Jacobi, framing Rorschach for the crime.
The Other Minutemen
At the press conference at which Hooded Justice is introduced, you can make out the blurry shapes of other members of the Minutemen behind the new hero. It’s hard to make out who’s there, but that sure looks like the Comedian behind Hooded Justice and the figure in the distance stage right bears a striking resemblance to Silhouette.
Remember the racist poster in the Kavalry headquarters that Angela spotted in episode one? The press conference ends with it again, driving home the embedded racism even in heroism culture that Hooded Justice will have to face.
“An Almost Religious Awe”
Another week, another title pulled directly from the source material. This week’s, seen behind a marionette of Dr. Manhattan in the opening Saigon sequence, comes from the mouth of the big blue guy himself, who says, “Often, they ask to surrender to me personally, their terror of me balanced by an almost religious awe.”
In the Dr. Manhattan video that opens the episode, there’s some nice background on how Jon Osterman became the big blue guy, including the idea from the book that he could synthesize lithium, leading to things like ads for a “Manhattan-Made Lithium-Powered Engine.” Of course, a lot of that video relates back to the source material, but most of it constitutes plot rather than Easter egg.
Monsters From Outta Space
A young Angela cycles through a collection of VHS tapes in the opening scene, and several reference Watchmen directly or indirectly. One of the first, after a slightly confusing “Trunky/Tusky” double feature (that could maybe be a reference, or at least foreshadowing, to the elephant found later), is a flick called Monsters From Outta Space. The title, funky spelling included, is from the source, when a receptionist expresses skepticism over how to deal with a Dr. Manhattan who has just appeared in their TV studio for an interview: “They’re not paying me enough to handle monsters from outta space!”
We’ve already seen Max Shea’s in-book material referenced as an actual book that exists in this world, and now we know it was a big enough hit to be adapted into a movie!
There’s a B-movie in the source about the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter, that is called Silk Swingers of Suburbia. Maybe in Vietnam, the rest of the title was slightly altered.
The squid drawing
In the flatulent trial scene of Adrian Veidt, an illustration of the squid that fell on New York is presented as evidence. It is the exact same as the drawing in the book done by Hira Manish, an Indian painter who designed the creature and was killed by Veidt to keep the conspiracy secret.
“Life on Mars?”
The beautiful piano tinkling on the way out of the episode is an Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor version of the great David Bowie song “Life on Mars?,” a reference to the belief that Dr. Manhattan was on Mars this whole time, a subplot from the book.