Near the end of 2022, Stephen King fans were treated to the exciting news that director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep) is planning to give The Dark Tower series a proper episodic TV series-style adaptation. Prior to this, the fate of The Dark Tower’s future was left up in the air following failed attempts at adapting the series into other formats, notably the feature film that came and went back in 2017.
To be fair to the film, it was a treat seeing the iconic Idris Elba portray Roland in addition to seeing memorable locations from the books like the Dixie Pig brought to life. Unfortunately, that was about all the film was good for as it attempted to cram key contents from all of the core books into its 1 hour 35 minute runtime.
Aside from the film, a more successful adaptation of The Dark Tower came via the likes of Marvel Comics, later published by Gallery 13, starting in 2007. I own almost all of the Dark Tower comic books and enjoy them quite a bit, though it is a bit frustrating to see them (the earlier ones especially) becoming increasingly hard to find.
The art and general approach of the comics pair remarkably well with the narrative of the books and serve as tangible proof that an adaptation broken up into bite-sized pieces can certainly be an effective way of translating the overwhelming amount of content packed into King’s Dark Tower series.
If Flanagan can break The Dark Tower into pieces in a similar way as the comics did (which is suggested in interviews to be his plan), we may very well see the “impossible to adapt” Dark Tower become possible. With that in mind, here are five things I as a hardcore Dark Tower fan would love to see from Flanagan’s adaptation of The Dark Tower series.
5 things I’d love to see in Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of King’s “Dark Tower” series
1. Contents of the books in proper order
The first and arguably most important thing I’d love to see from Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of King’s ambitious Dark Tower series is proper continuity. Previously, there were plans to adapt The Dark Tower into an episodic series for Amazon starting with Roland’s backstory from the fourth book, Wizard and Glass.
It’s here in book four that readers are finally able to dive deeper into how Roland became a gunslinger and some of the events occasionally referenced by Roland like the Battle of Jericho Hill which colored his tumultuous, traumatic young adulthood. The comics also start here at Roland’s upbringing. For me personally, I feel like the series would flow better and make more sense following King’s original layout.
So yes, that means saving Roland’s backstory for farther along in the series rather than starting with it outright.
In interviews, it sounds like this is Flanagan’s plan with intent to open the series with the iconic first line of the first book, "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
As for why I think this would work well, it’s because it gives readers a chance to form an opinion on the mysterious Roland based on who he is when and where we find him in the first three books. The time that passes in the first three books also allows the reader to form a connection to Roland as he is in the “now” and because of that previously formed connection, the trauma of what Roland has been through in his childhood has more depth and weight.
2. Thoughtful casting choices
My personal pick for who should play Roland in The Dark Tower adaptation is someone who’s closer to King’s original description of Roland in the books. Essentially, someone who embodies a younger Clint Eastwood. I’ve seen a number of great actors along these Eastwood-esque lines suggested for Roland by other fans, but I hold firm that my pick makes the most sense.
Who? Well, none other than an actor like Anson Mount. Check out his work as Cullen Bohannon in Hell on Wheels if you need convincing in addition to his recent work as Captain Pike in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. In terms of other characters like Susannah, I’ve always thought Danai Gurira who played Michonne in The Walking Dead would be great, with someone like Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad) for Eddie.
Regardless of who’s chosen for what though, I hope real care is put into the casting process because the cast itself can make or break the entire series. You could have the best writing and cinematography but if your cast struggles to bring the characters themselves to life you likely won’t get viewers to stick with you for the long haul. And given the size and scale of The Dark Tower series, that long haul could end up spanning the length of several seasons.
3. Locations, references, Easter Eggs
One of my favorite things about King’s Dark Tower series is how it’s deeply connected with the vast majority of his other works. You’ll find references to The Dark Tower in those other books, and to events from other books within The Dark Tower. For example, there’s seemingly a reference to the virus from The Stand in book four of The Dark Tower. Meanwhile, in the story Everything’s Eventual, we run into one of the characters from The Dark Tower, Dinky Earnshaw.
In one of the later Dark Tower books, the main characters even meet up with Stephen King himself in a strange fourth wall breaking sort of situation. There are so many connections made between Dark Tower and other King books that many fans have dedicated considerable time to outlining them all, such as in this video which does a stellar job at breaking these references down.
Interestingly, there was a show that did a great job with King-style references and Easter Eggs called Castle Rock which aired for two seasons on Hulu. I highly recommend checking that one out if you’re a Stephen King fan not just for its references, but in general it’s a good watch. Back on topic though, the show’s opening itself includes a wealth of Easter Eggs for fans to sift through thanks to the map of Maine it shows which references a number of fictional King-created locations, such as Derry where Pennywise dwells in the book It.
I feel like The Dark Tower series would seem empty and less of the pillar at the center of all King’s work without the inclusion of Easter Eggs, so I really hope in Flanagan’s adaptation we get that same sort of Stephen King scavenger hunt as seen in King’s books themselves, and other shows like the aforementioned Castle Rock.
4. Solid promotional effort
The Dark Tower is popular among Stephen King fans, but is lesser known among general audiences than other properties such as The Shining, It, or Pet Sematary. As such, I feel like in order to ensure the series is set up for lasting success, it’ll need an assortment of solid, compelling promotional material. Especially when it comes to attracting a large enough audience to sustain the series over the course of several seasons, which the show absolutely needs in order to get The Dark Tower right.
Fortunately, there are a lot of cool things in The Dark Tower series that could be turned into promotional material. For example, you could try and get the likes of Studio Trigger (Cyberpunk: Edgerunners) to make some animated shorts based around the comics. Or hell, you could even put some Dark Tower-related cosmetics into popular games.
I know that hardcore Dark Tower fans will certainly cringe at the idea of a Roland cosmetic in Fortnite for example, but the hard reality is that numbers matter to the people investing money into shows and The Dark Tower is no exception here. It needs to be able to attract sizable viewership especially at launch and in order to do that, creative promotional efforts are going to be required.
5. Involvement from Stephen King
Unrelated but related, it’d be cool to see a cameo from Stephen King in the series if possible similar to him appearing as the Minister in the 1989 film, Pet Sematary. More importantly than a King cameo though is including King in the creative process. The Dark Tower is often considered to be among King’s greatest works and while I’m sure he loves all of his books equally, The Dark Tower series is a different kind of special. To make sure things look the way King envisioned, and characters act the way King intended when writing them, having him on board as a Creative and Executive Director just makes sense.
Bonus: Revisit the online Dark Tower game, Discordia
I have a whole retrospective piece on the early 2000s Dark Tower browser game, Discordia, on Prima Games if you want to read up on what it’s all about. To keep things short here, I’d love to see Discordia revisited and expanded on. Either that, or in the far flung future, I’d love to see an actual video game adaptation of The Dark Tower series.
What you’d have is something akin to a blend between Red Dead Redemption 2 and Horizon Forbidden West and… can you imagine how cool that’d be? Seriously, The Dark Tower has so much untapped potential to become something truly huge that it’s more than worth it to support past efforts like Discordia, or new efforts such as adapting it into video game format.