Shadow was about to finish three years in prison and come home to his wife, Laura — until with three days to go, Laura is killed in a car accident. Now adrift and with no one to turn to, Shadow is approached by a grifter calling himself Wednesday, who needs a bodyguard and errand runner. But since he reluctantly accepted, Shadow's been seeing all kinds of unexplained things — and he's not sure if he's going crazy, or if the world truly is more bizarre than he was led to think.
- Adaptation Personality Change:
- Shadow was an Unfazed Everyman in the book, but here he's more emotional and engaged with the events surrounding him.
- He also comes off as somewhat more clueless than in the book. Due to the Adaptation Expansion of the show, it takes him longer to come to grips with the idea that the gods are real. He also doesn't guess who Mr Wednesday really is until Wednesday tells him.
- Adaptational Villainy: In the book, Shadow was reluctant to take part in the robbery that sends him to prison until Laura convinces him, because it's implied he's never committed a crime before. Here, he's using his gift for misdirection to try and cheat casinos, well before meeting Laura.
- Affectionate Nickname: He's nicknamed "Puppy" by Laura. Audrey suggests it's a sign that Laura considers Shadow more of a pet than a husband.
- Audience Surrogate: Like the audience, he's taken on a trip with Mr. Wednesday into a strange world beneath the world.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Lampshaded by Wednesday, who laughs and remarks at what an improbable name "Shadow Moon" is, guessing that his mother was a hippie.
- Badass Bookworm: Shadow got through his sentence with intense workouts and reading. Leaving him very well read, and able to go toe to toe with Mad Sweeney in a fistfight.
- Bald of Awesome: A bald badass and our hero.
- Berserk Button: Much of the time, Shadow has pretty good judgment but mentioning Laura is a good way to provoke him.
- Chess with Death: More like checkers with the Slavic god of darkness and evil. Shadow says he'll let Czernobog kill him with his hammer if he loses, but Czernobog has to join Wednesday if he wins. Shadow loses, but then gives another wager that he will give another swing for Czernobog if needed if he loses, but Czernobog will come with them if not. He wins this time, but still has to have his one swing later down the line.
- Disappeared Dad: Originally Shadow isn't aware of who his father is, due to his mother having been quite promiscuous (eighty six sexual partners in her life, according to Mr. World). Eventually he learns Mr. Wednesday is his father.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Shadow seems to have some precognitive ability, with future events (such as his failed hanging) glimpsed vaguely in strange dreams.
- Gentle Giant: He might be absolutely huge, but he's also an intelligent and introverted man who carefully considers his actions.
- Nice Guy: Shadow's just a good guy, through and through. He tries to be pleasant and accommodating with most people.
- Only in It for the Money: He makes it pretty clear that he finds Wednesday borderline aggravating, but the pay is too good to refuse and he doesn't have any other options. That said, Media's job offer is too suspicious and alarming for him to take up.
- Race Lift: Averted. In the book, Shadow's mother was African American, and his father was white. Ricky Whittle is British, and his father was African Jamaican while his mother was English (and white).
- Retired Outlaw: Shadow has zero desire to go back to prison, and has no wish to start committing crime again. Unfortunately, working with Wednesday often puts him at odds with that desire.
- Ship Tease: With Easter, whom he seems quite smitten by while she calls him sweet in return.
- Taking the Heat: He was offered a plea bargain where he would receive a reduced sentence in exchange for ratting out Laura. Shadow refused the deal to protect Laura, even after she tried to convince him to take the deal.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: In-universe. Shadow grew up traveling the world with his mother and speaks without any slang or an accent, he was accosted by a group of black youths who think he 'talks funny' and 'like a white boy'.
Shadow Moon's wife. In life, she was an apathetic and nihilistic woman suffering some kind of depression, who seemed to only love her husband like a pet — even to the point of calling him Puppy. Her boredom with their lives drove her to talk Shadow into robbing the casino she worked at, which cost Shadow three years of his life in jail. Her death is ultimately what kicks off the plot — and then she came back. Sort of — now she's essentially an animate corpse, able to move, talk and think, but slowly decomposing, and she's looking for a way to come back, for real.
- Allergic to Routine: A dramatic example. She can't stand living a life where she does the same exact thing every last day, even if she has everything else she wants. This first causes her to attempt suicide because she was stuck in a crappy and repetitive job and later to attempt to rob her employer with Shadow's help because she was bored with her life despite being happy with her marriage.
- Ambiguous Disorder: It's implied she was suffering from depression before her death. She's apathetic to life, full of self loathing, and suicidal (which she expresses as a means to find peace); all signs of clinical depression. Most of her actions in life were driven by the need to drive away the emptiness for even a moment, no matter how terrible the consequences.
- Animal Motif: Flies — starting from the one she kills with bug spray at the start of her episode, to the ones that tend to follow her around, because flies are attracted to rotting flesh.
- Attractive Zombie: She remains quite attractive at first; unfortunately, as months pass, she rots severely.
- Back from the Dead: Shadow putting Mad Sweeney's lucky coin on top of Laura's grave eventually revives her, although her body is still decaying and filled with stitches and embalming fluid.
- Body Horror: When she refuses to give his coin back, Sweeney graphically describes how she will rot until her flesh literally falls from her bones. Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis patch her up as best they can, but they too inform her that "You will need to tend to your flesh, as it can no longer tend to itself." By the time she and Sweeney arrive at Easter's mansion in "Come To Jesus", her skin is blotchy and mottled, her speech is slurred due to her tongue's decay and she's throwing up maggots.
- Came Back Strong: After her revival, Laura becomes strong enough to rip apart the Technical Boy's goons with light punches and force open a locked door with one arm and no effort, despite her small frame, not to mention give Mad Sweeney a Curb-Stomp Battle.
- Driven to Suicide: Shortly before meeting Shadow, she attempted to kill herself by inhaling bug spray.
- Glass Cannon: She packs a hell of a punch... but she's still a tiny woman (and a decaying corpse at that). One of Technical Boy's goons was able to break her arm off at the shoulder socket with a crowbar. Fortunately, she didn't feel it.
- Hollywood Atheist: She is told that since she believed in nothing in life, she will go to nothing in death. That being said, it seems that the problem wasn't her atheism specifically, but rather her violent refusal to believe in anything. She didn't believe in love, or her husband, or her friends, or even herself. Contrast with Shadow, who is a more even-handed portrayal of an atheist, and who believes in plenty of things even if he is skeptical of the supernatural.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: She is the tiny girl to Shadow's huge guy (and later on, the tiny girl to Robbie's huge guy). Finally, she strikes up a platonic partnership with Mad Sweeney, becoming the tiny girl to his huge guy. Clearly, the showrunners love pairing up the petite Browning with tall, looming acting partners.
- Inhuman Human: Laura is animate and as intelligent as she was alive — but her body is slowly decaying.
- Ironic Hell: Anubis sentences her to sit in the hot tub filled with bug spray gas she once used, either as a passageway to nothingness or for eternity. Laura isn't pleased when she sees it.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- While still alive, she makes many questionable and immoral choices thanks to her troubled mental health, but she really does love Shadow and once undead, feels remorse for the pain she's inflicted onto her loved ones.
- After figuring out where the Old Gods meet, she tells Salim, thus releasing him of being the driver for her and Sweeney.
- Lady Macbeth: When Laura has become bored with her life, and wanting nicer things, she goes to Shadow with a plan to rob the casino she works at, while Shadow is content with Laura and what he has, a reversal of when they first met. Shadow reluctantly agrees, and it doesn't go well.
- Ms. Fanservice:
- Subverted. When she crawls out of her grave, she promptly vomits copious amounts of embalming fluid onto the ground. We later see her in tight jeans, only for her to end up on the toilet with embalming fluid violently erupting out of the other end. She does spend a good bit of screen time nude... but her autopsy scars and thick stitching send her right into the Uncanny Valley. They also completely negate her attempt to seduce Shadow.
- Even in her sex scenes that take place before her death and resurrection, Laura's own disinterest and detachment from them takes away from any titillation that could be had.
- Never My Fault: Played with. She does cop to her mistakes, but she downplays them and tries to play at everything being fine rather than actually face her consequences.
- Posthumous Character: Subversion — Laura's death is what causes Shadow's early release, and kicks off the main plot. Then two episodes later, we see her truly Back from the Dead.
- Really Gets Around: According to her, before Shadow she slept with a ton of men.
- Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration: Type I. While sentient, Laura is just a corpse that can walk and talk. All of the various preservatives used on her body were expelled the moment she was resurrected, so nothing is stopping her from deteriorating. Her eyes turn glassy, her physique withers away, her arm falls off repeatedly and she attracts flies, her body soon hosting a nest of maggots that she will occasionally vomit out. While killing Argus had helped undo some of the rot, it is just a temporary measure.
- Spanner in the Works: Her coming Back from the Dead and finding out who killed her puts a huge damper in Wednesday's plans — mainly it could get Shadow to turn on him, since Wednesday was the one who arranged for Shadow to be sent to prison and for her to be killed all so Shadow would be in a position where he would willingly enter Wednesday's "employment".
- Super Strength: Laura is absurdly strong, capable of tearing through normal men like wet paper and flicking Mad Sweeney across the room with a single finger. Her strength is supernatural in nature, so there seems to be a form of super anchoring going on so she doesn't go flying or wrench herself apart using it. Notably, she completely lacks Super Toughness (as seen when a crowbar from one of Technical Boy's men is able to tear her arm clean off and when she gets into another car crash that pulls her Lucky Coin right out of her body).
- Tempting Fate: She claims to Shadow she's got the perfect plan to rob the casino without getting caught to convince him to rob the place. One Gilligan Cut later, she's asking the now imprisoned Shadow how he got caught.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: She admits that as a child, when she confessed to her priest she didnt know how to pray, and when he told her to pray for her family she started praying that they would all die.
- Violently Protective Girlfriend: She slaughtered Technical Boy's goons while they tried to lynch Shadow.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When she throws up maggots.
- Waif-Fu: Completely averted, as Laura isn't an exceptionally skilled or nimble fighter — her strength is magical in nature and thus she can cause tremendous damage with little to no actual fighting prowess.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Laura talks Salim into driving her to Eagle Point, and Laura ends up spying on her mother and her family — but they can't (or don't) see her looking through the window. Laura ends up deciding that she needs to break away, now that she's (un)dead.
Wednesday: You wouldn't believe in me if I told you.
A con artist and grifter, who happens to also be the Norse Old God Odin Allfather. But no one sacrifices to him anymore, he's forgotten save in history and lore, and so he lives as a grifter, sneaking money wherever he can. But his latest task is to rally the Old Gods — War is coming, thanks to the New Gods, and the Old Gods may find themselves wiped out unless he can get them together.
- Adaptational Personality Change: Unlike the book Wednesday, who seems more relieved than anything that he doesn't have to come with Shadow to Laura's funeral (as he has other things to do), this version offers his sincere condolences. At least it seems that way, except Wednesday's the one who ordered Laura's death in the first place.
- Affably Evil: He might be an unscrupulous con artist, but damn if he isn't instantly likable. Due in no small part to being played by walking Charisma Bomb Ian McShane, Wednesday charms just about everyone with his wit, his insight, his apparent honesty and his outstandingly genial manner. He's also casually murderous, imprisoned Shadow, and set up the death of Shadow's wife.
- Anti-Hero: He is affable, charming, witty and can be charitable when the mood suits him. With that said, he is a Consummate Liar with an endless trail of broken promises that he has accumulated over the course of all his time in America to the point where every God he meets up with either wants him gone or dead. He makes his living coning mortals out of their money and, as typical of a God in this setting, holds very little sanctity in human life.
- Badass Boast: When he finally introduces himself proper to Shadow in the Season 1 finale.Wednesday: Do you know me? Do you know what I am? Do you want to know my name? This is what I am called. I am called Glad-O-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-eyed. I am also called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and the Hooded One. I am All-Father, Gondlir, Wand-bearer. I have as many names as there are winds. As many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn. Thought and Memory. My wolves are Freki and Geri. My horse is the gallowed. I am ODIN!
- Beware the Silly Ones: He may be a charming and eccentric conman, but he relishes chopping off Vulcan's head after the latter's betrayal.
- Big Good: Subverted Trope. He may be the leader of the Old Gods in their brewing war against the New Gods, but he's still a Con Man and, by his own admission, a horrible person, so that even his fellow Old Gods are wary of him. He did after all send Shadow to prison and have Laura killed, all so Shadow would come work for him.
- The Charmer: His method of recruiting his fellow Old Gods to his cause includes showering them with gifts and a lot of flattery appealing to their Pride.
- Chewing the Scenery: He absolutely owns every scene he's in thanks to Ian McShane's performance, and he certainly isn't afraid to ham it up whenever the opportunity arises. His final Season One Badass Boast (see above) is probably the most epic example.
- Con Man: He's a very talented con artist and grifter, with his Establishing Character Moment having him pretend to be senile to get a better seat on a plane. He later orchestrates a rather cunning plan to rob a bank by pretending he's with a security company and pretending the ATM and deposit box are out of order so people literally hand him their money.
- Establishing Character Moment: Is first introduced as a senile old man who is trying to get a first class ticket home for his son's christening. His next scene has him confidently enjoying cashews and alcohol in the first class cabin, all pretense gone.
- Eyepatch of Power: Or rather, a glass eye of power. See Mismatched Eyes for more.
- Familiar: He has two, a pair of ravens that act as his messengers. In the finale, he reveals them to be Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory), the ravens who accompany Odin in myth. He also boasts of having two wolves named Freki and Geri, one of which appeared in "Head Full of Snow".
- Foreshadowing: He's constantly dropping hints to his true identity up to last episode of the season, between saying that Wednesday is "his day"note , his healing touch powers, and his unusual glass eye.
- God of Thunder: While the de-facto title belongs to his son, Wednesday is a god possessing a level of control over the weather, summoning a Bolt of Divine Retribution to kill the New God's mooks as a sacrifice to Ostara.
- I Have Many Names: Grimnir, Glad-O-War, Grim, Raider, Third, One-Eyed, Highest, True-Guesser, The Hooded One, All-Father, Gondlir, Wand-Bearer, and, of course, Odin.
- Kick the Dog: In "Come to Jesus", when Easter's rabbits try to physically prevent Wednesday from going to her party, he gleefully runs them over.
- Loophole Abuse: He's not above this at all. For example, he takes Vulcan as a sacrifice to himself, since he uses a sword made for him (that is to say a weapon made in his name) that could kill even a god, a technical way to assign a death to himself.
- Also subverted. He does the above after Vulcan tries to convince him to wield a firearm instead. Vulcan had long since adopted his own line of firearms as a similar means of tribute to himself, so Odin knew better than to even try to kill Vulcan with a Vulcan gun.
- Manipulative Bastard: It was Wednesday who was responsible for foiling Laura's plan to rob the casino, which got Shadow sent to prison, and it was Wednesday who had Laura killed so that Shadow wouldn't have anyone to come back to, all so that he would agree to work for Wednesday.
- Mismatched Eyes: His left eye is brown, the right is golden. They both move normally, and considering who and what he is, it is hard to say which one is glass. Even the previews of second season, which show him in One-Winged Angel mode. One eye glows bright, the other does not, but is the glowing eye a godly eye (and the non-glowing glass), or is it an empty eye socket glowing?
- Obfuscating Stupidity: He pretends to be a senile old man to get himself bumped to first class. He does it again when arrested by the police.
- Repeatedly feigns ignorance of circumstances around Shadow that he himself set in motion.
- Pet the Dog:
- When Shadow leaves for his wife's funeral, Wednesday tells him to take all the time he needs.
- When the New Gods are discussing how humans can be used, Wednesday snaps that for all the terrible things the Old Gods did, they also gave something back to the humans who worshiped them. The New Gods are just parasites.
- Precision F-Strike: He's usually talking in a polite manner and rarely curse, but when he do...Wednesday: Serious question my dear, I have no doubt that millions upon millions exchange tokens and observe the rituals of your festival all down to the hunting of hidden eggs but does anybody pray in your name? Do they say it in worship? Well they mouth your name but they have no idea what it means. None whatsoever. Same every Spring: you do all the work, he gets all the prayers.
Easter: What has gotten into you?
Prime Jesus: I feel terrible about this...
Easter: [comforting Prime Jesus] No! No!
Wednesday: It's her day! You took it. You crucified her day! When they started following you everybody else got burned! In your name, Happy Fucking Easter!
- It's a moment of Fridge Brilliance when you remember that Odin was also one of the Old Gods whose source of worship was taken over by Christians.
- It can also be a moment of Catharsis Factor for viewers who worship "the old gods" and may have to dig through christianization, or outright suppression, of the gods they worship/follow/revere.
- Shock and Awe: Punctuates his intent to wage war with the New Gods by dropping an enormous lightning bolt on the faceless "children" spawned by Technical Boy, killing them instantly as sacrifices to Easter/Ostara.
- Tranquil Fury: He's good at controlling his emotions, but he is still willing to act on them.Wednesday: About that little shit in the limo: An insult to you is an insult to me. Don't think that just because I didn't lose my temper doesn't mean I'm not angry — or am lacking a plan.
- Trauma Button: While he normally shrugs off any insult or emotional appeal, mention his son Donar and it wipes the smile right off of his face.
- Weather Manipulation: By way of prayer from others, he can manipulate the weather to control the wind, make it snow, or even fire thunderbolts.
Mad Sweeney: Good and ill. We're like the wind. We blows both ways.
Sweeney calls himself a leprechaun, despite being over 6' tall. Wednesday hired him to put Shadow to the test as a bodyguard, and... other odd jobs. Too bad his love for coin tricks led Sweeney to drunkenly give Shadow the Golden Sun coin, the source of Sweeney's good luck, now made rotten. Too bad it's also the coin that's animating Laura, and Laura's not going to give it to him. Now he figures the only way to get the coin back — is to bring Laura back, for real.
- Adaptation Personality Change: In the book, he stays fairly amicable despite losing his special coin in his other appearance. In the show he quickly becomes more snarky and irate after Laura refuses to give him his coin back. This may be due in part to his role being expanded for the show. He also retains his accent, which he had lost in the book after being in America for so long, and being all but completely forgotten.
- The Atoner: He fled from a battle after having a vision of his death; he works for Wednesday to make up for it. That in turn led to him killing Laura on Wednesday's orders, which is one of the reasons he is taking her to Ostara to get resurrected.
- Blood Knight: He loves, loves, loves fighting.Sweeney: Now you're fighting for the joy of it, for the sheer unholy fucking delight of it!
- Butt-Monkey: After he gives his lucky coin to Shadow, he nearly gets his head blown off with a shotgun, survives a car crash, gets beaten up by Laura, and then arrested by the police. The longer the series goes on, the clearer it becomes that everything that can go wrong for Sweeney will go wrong. By the end of Season One, and continuing into Season Two, he's basically reduced to the role of Comic Relief due to all the crap that keeps happening to him.
- Cluster F-Bomb: More or less every time Sweeney opens his mouth, it's accompanied by excessive profanity.
- Dies Differently in Adaptation: Rather than drinking himself to death he gets an Inertial Impalement with Gungnir.
- Fiction 500: He has enough gold that he thinks nothing of throwing away handfuls of coins. This backfired when he accidentally gave away his lucky coin, the only one that actually matters.Laura: How much gold do you have, anyway?
Sweeny: Dunno. How much is in a hoard?
- Fiery Redhead: Loud, passionate and loves to fight.
- Fighting Irish: A brawling leprechaun with a drinking habit, he's clearly a play on the stereotype. And he's got the accent, which he lacked in the books.
- Flipping the Bird: He flips off Wednesday with both hands just before he dies.
- God of Good: According to Ibis, Sweeney was originally Lugh, Irish God of the Sun, Luck, Craft, "everything valuable to civilization", before Catholicism and cultural osmosis turned him into a cowardly pagan king and eventually into a Leprechaun.
- Heartbroken Badass: After he realizes he has developed feelings for Laura.
- Irony: When discussions of gods comes up, his tone is usually a cynical one, seeing them as inherently petty and selfish who's squabbles come to the expense of everybody else, but if Ibis is to be believed, Sweeney was himself a god.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: In A Prayer For Mad Sweeney, when regaining his lucky coin after Laura crashes the ice cream truck that they were riding in, Sweeney decides to give it back and thus revive her.
- The Jinx: Ever since he accidentally gave Shadow his lucky coin, the luck that Sweeney's relied on has gone sour. An angry bartender's gun, which, according to him, should've jammed or backfired, instead shot the bottle in his hand and got glass in his face. Then while hitching a ride with a stranger, the truck in front of them goes out of control and sends a metal pole flying through the windshield and the head of Sweeney's driver. Naturally Sweeney is keen on getting his coin back.
- Leprechaun: What he claims to be, despite being taller than Shadow. In fact he claims being short is a stereotype, and in mythology the Tuatha Dé Danann — the supernatural race who would eventually become The Fair Folk of Irish folklore — were very often taller than ordinary humans.
- Made of Iron: The amount of punishment that Mad Sweeney can shrug off is honestly incredible. He more or less walks off being beaten senseless by Laura several times and has survived two separate car crashes, at most only managing to knock him unconscious for a short while. In Season Two he outright states that, unlike Laura who's driving like crazy, he'll survive a rollover of their car if she keeps going like that. Justified, as hes not human.
- Multiple-Choice Past: Due to a mix of being as old as he is and his legend becoming fragmented over time, Mad Sweeney has only vague memories of who he was before he came to America, unable to properly accept any identity he manages to resurface. It is never really clarified which version of him was the true one, but the nature of gods and belief pretty much make all of them equally true.Mr. Ibis: Stories are truer than the truth.
- In one recollection, he is one of The Fair Folk who is told by a Seer a prophecy of his death one night and is shortly thereafter killed by a saint or a swineherd.
- In another, he is the Irish king of Buile Shuibhne who kills a priest and is cursed as a result.
- In the last, he is Lugh, who kills his grandfather Balor in battle, who may or may not have actually been a local incarnation of Odin.
- My God, What Have I Done?: His reaction after causing the crash that killed Robbie and Laura under Wednesday's orders is a more subdued version of this. In fact, it's this particular memory that makes Sweeney double back and give Laura back his lucky coin.
- Pardon My Klingon: When he realizes that his conscience is going to make him give Laura the coin back instead of just abandoning her, he swears violently in Irish.
- Public Domain Character: According to Gaiman, a lot of Mad Sweeney's character is loosely based on Suibhne mac Colmain, King of the Dál n'Araidi, from the Old Irish folk tale Buile Shuibhne ("The Madness of Suibhne" or "Suibhne's Frenzy"), and thus technically isn't a god — or even a leprechaun — at all, but rather is an incarnated folk hero. He confirms this in "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney", when he mentions he used to be a king.
- Refuge in Audacity: This seems to be his primary tactic to doing anything. As he observes to Shadow concerning his genuinely magical coin tricks:Shadow: How'd you do it?
Sweeney: With panache.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: He rarely lets a sentence go by without cussing. He's particularly fond of Country Matters when referring to Laura.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: He used to be a lot nicer in previous centuries; over two hundred years of little to no belief have taken their toll.
- What You Are in the Dark: He's offered the chance to take his coin back after Laura loses it in a car crash and dies in the process, which lets him retrieve it with nobody there to stop him. He ends up returning it to her anyway, cursing his misfortune as he does.