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Literature / The Stand

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Graffiti written on the front of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta in red spray paint:
"Dear Jesus. I will see you soon. Your friend, America. PS. I hope you will still have some vacancies by the end of the week."

One of Stephen King's best-regarded (and thickest) novels, The Stand is a classic work of modern apocalyptic fiction. It is the book which introduces (and primarily describes, on Earth at least) King's most famous villain and "antichrist" figure, Randall Flagg.

King set out to write "an American Lord of the Rings", although he later demurred as to whether he was successful. Still, it is often rated his most popular book, and, along with IT, one of the most important works of King's early period.

The story concerns the travels and travails of well over a dozen characters following intersecting story arcs across the United States during and after an apocalyptic Super-Flu nicknamed Captain Trips kills 99.4 percent of humanity. The survivors are left to cope with their loss and stay alive, until everyone starts having dreams that signal the arrival of an even darker menace...


First published in 1978, the novel was reissued in 1990 in a "complete and uncut edition" containing about 400 additional pages of material from King's original manuscript.

In the 1980s, a film adaptation was planned, but ultimately was not made due to the length of the book and issues with adapting the narrative. However, an eight hour made-for-tv Mini Series based on the novel, The Stand, aired for four nights on ABC in 1994 instead.

In January 2019 (and following a dizzying series of script and directorial changes over the course of four or five years), CBS announced it was officially picking up a 9-episode run of ''The Stand''note  for its CBS All Access platform to premiere in December of 2020.


The novel contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Hospital: The Project Blue underground laboratory, and later, the Stovington Plague Center. Both are medical facilities where all occupants have succumbed to Captain Trips and died.
  • Abusive Parents: A few examples are seen here and there, two of the most obvious being Frannie's mother (who has an entire chapter devoted to showing how selfish and unreasonable she was with Frannie over the years) and Trashcan Man's biological father (who got drunk one night and shot the whole family, save for the five-year-old Trashy and his mother). In a sadly ironic but perhaps understandable twist, Trashy identifies with his father and hates his stepfather, "the father-killing sheriff," who shot his father in the line of duty and later married his mother. From what the reader can tell, the sheriff was a pretty stand-up guy who did his best by Trash, but eventually could no longer cover for the kid's unstable behavior and habit of arson and has to have him committed.
  • Adam and Eve Plot: A rare animal version: Dayna Jurgens finds a female puppy in a storm drain and the residents of Boulder celebrate her and Kojak as the "canine Adam and Eve".
  • Adaptation Distillation: The Marvel Comics adaptation. Helps that it features a lot of the darker stuff that was cut from the network TV mini-series adaptation due to content issues, as well as exploring the psyches of several characters like Harold Lauder, who were given short shrift in the TV mini-series.
  • After the End: The world of The Stand goes through an apocalypse and then focuses on the struggles of the survivors.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Harold Lauder realizes that he was the only one to blame for his own fall. If he had just gotten over his petty grudge, he would have become a valued part of the community. It merely saddens him to realize this as he lies dying.
    • Trashcan Man is a true pyromaniac, and while he loves setting fires, he feels horribly guilty for the consequences of them. He can't control his own behavior, and actively hallucinates persecutors to voice his guilt when everyone dies out. He loves Flagg solely due to Flagg's manipulation of him, but can't even hold to that. Trash is ultimately just a very sick and dangerous man.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • Harold Lauder loves chocolate Pay Day bars, which didn't exist when the novel was first published in 1978. By the time of the expanded re-release in 1990, Sara Lee (which owned the brand at the time) had started to produce chocolate-covered Pay Day bars on a limited basis. Ultimately averted in 2020 when Hershey (the current owner) permanently added them to the product line.
    • It is off-handedly mentioned that a group of workers in a lab are sprawled dead at lunch beside spilled bottles of Coca-Cola and... Bubble-Up, a lemon-lime soda similar to 7-Up that was popular in The '70s. It is not nearly as widely known or popular now, and was thus changed to Sprite in the expanded 1990 re-release.
  • Anyone Can Die: It starts with a super plague that kills 99% of the entire world, and after that there's a fairly high mortality rate among the survivors.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: As the superflu grows out of control, society begins to increasingly break down. Things turn really bad when information leaks to the public that not only is the U.S military using lethal violence to supress protests and cover up just how bad the outbreak is, the government created the superflu in the first place and the entire disaster is their fault. Desertion becomes rampant as soldiers turn on their officers, civilians form into mobs, there's widespread looting, rape and murder everywhere and a series of executions are broadcast on television. The only reason things aren't even worse is because the flu kills almost everyone.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1, verging on Class 2. The planet itself is okay, but 99.4% of the human race is exterminated by Captain Trips.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The whole sub-plot with General Starkey. Fran's diary.
  • Arcadia: The narration gives a great deal of emphasis to the natural beauty of New England and Boulder after the plague.
  • Arc Words: "No great loss."
    • "You ain't no nice guy" for Larry.
    • "My life for you!" for those who worship Flagg.
  • Armies Are Evil: The US military is portrayed as being willing to gun down civilians with no compunction. In the last days of the plague it degenerates into bands of mutineers, rioters and looters. Stu's group encounters one such band on the road, who have devolved into a rape gang. There's also the fact that they deliberately spread Captain Trips to other countries out of sheer spite once they realize things are out of their control.
  • Artistic License: Early on in the 1990 version, Larry sees a slasher flick in the theater, and assumes there will be another one next year, because the title has a Roman numeral at the end of it. The problem? King happened to choose the one franchise that used Arabic numerals, not Roman.
  • Artistic License – Biology: During a short section from Kojak's point of view, it's said that all animals have some telepathy with others of the same kind. It's also said that Kojak would go on to live for 16 more years, although in real life anything longer than 16 years would be an exceptionally long lifespan for a dog.
  • Ate His Gun: General Starkey and Harold Lauder. Starkey kills himself after it becomes clear that there is no stopping Captain Trips and the whole human race is doomed. Harold kills himself after he's stranded in the desert with a broken leg, abandoned by Nadine, Flagg having decided that Harold has outlived his usefulness.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Glen, Stu, Larry and Ralph all quote "I will fear no evil" from Psalm 23.
  • Babies Ever After: Played with. The first baby to be born after the plague is only partially immune, due to having only one immune parent, and quickly dies. The first main character's baby is likewise partially immune, but survives.
  • Balls Of Fire: Flagg releases an Energy Ball at the climax.
  • Berserk Button: Trashcan Man does NOT deal well with being made fun of for his pyromania. When some of the Las Vegas boys tease him about it, he responds by single-handedly blowing up several vehicles and essentially crippling Flagg's military.
  • Big Bad: Randall Flagg of course, who would go on to become King's "ubervillain" via Canon Welding.
  • Big Damn Villains:
    • Flagg sends wolves to save Trashcan Man from The Kid.
    • Played with when Trash delivers an atomic bomb to Vegas.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Discussed (sort of) by Rita and Larry. Rita says "the Big Apple is baked," while they're discussing leaving New York City after most of the population is dead.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stu and Fran are reunited, but most of the main characters die at God's behest. Humanity is on the path to recovery at the end, but Flagg is still alive (in the expanded edition).
  • Black-and-White Morality: Becomes a big trend in Stephen King's work. With Mother Abagail's faction being unambiguously good, and Flagg's faction being satanically evil. It becomes more complicated with individual characters such as Harold Lauder, who is drawn to Mother Abagail but ultimately goes over to Flagg's side out of romantic jealousy, as well as the Trashcan Man, who can't really be called evil despite his destructive urges because he's severely mentally ill.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Poke Freeman gets a good chunk of his head blown off in the botched robbery that gets his partner in crime Lloyd sent to prison. The Judge and Glen Bateman also die this way.
  • Bring Him to Me: Dayna Jurgens is discovered while acting as a spy in Vegas on behalf of the Free Zone and taken before Flagg for interrogation.
  • Bury Your Gays: While it's certain that Anyone Can Die in the apocalypse, the story spends a fair amount of time on the deaths of the gay/bi characters, including Kit Bradenton, The Kid, Trash, and Dayna.
  • Canon Immigrant: Flagg has since become one of King's most popular villains, and has made numerous reappearances in other books.
  • Canon Welding: The Stand became part of The Dark Tower continuity (as did most of King's work).
  • Captain Ersatz: It's hinted Flagg is Nyarlathotep.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Mother Abagail: You come see me, ___. You and all your friends.
    • The Trashcan Man has "My life for you!" as his mantra and battle cry once he starts worshipping Flagg.
    • Tom Cullen's speech pattern includes repeated usage of the phrases "M-O-O-N, that spells (random word)" and "Laws yes!"
    • The Kid’s “that happy crappy” and “don’t tell me, I’ll tell you.”
  • Censorship by Spelling: Campion uses it when he says that everybody died in the research facility in front of his little daughter.
  • Chandler's Law: According to King, Harold's bomb was caused by him having writer's block, and feeling the heroes were getting complacent in Boulder.
  • Character Development: Larry starts off as a selfish, arrogant Jerkass, but gradually grows enough to become the de facto leader of the heroes after Stu gets injured en route to Las Vegas.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: All over the place, even before the narrative as such really picks up steam. In one particularly vicious chapter, darkly titled "No Great Loss", King introduces — and then immediately kills off — more than a dozen characters, not even from Captain Trips but from disturbingly plausible and mundane accidents.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The nuclear weapons out in the desert. The Trashcan Man transports one to Las Vegas, thinking it would please Flagg, but it gets detonated by Randall's energy ball, killing everyone in the city.
    • One random scene in the first part of the novel, when society is collapsing as the superflu runs wild, described the panicked flight of the citizens of Boulder, Colorado. The people of Boulder left the town en masse after a false rumor that the plague started at the Boulder Air Test Center. Much later, when survivors begin concentrating in Boulder, they find the town largely free of corpses.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:Julie Lawry. After being run off by Nick and Tom early in the second part of the book, she joins the Vegas group in the third part of the book and recognizes Tom undercover as a spy, and gives Lloyd and Flagg the information they need to realize Tom is the third spy. Ultimately subverted, however: by the time they come to this realization, Tom has already left Vegas and is able to slip past the guards Flagg sets up at the Utah-Nevada border.
  • City of Gold: Cibola! Seven-in-One! Las Vegas appears this way to Trash in a mirage.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Stu Redman is forced to perform an appendectomy, though the guy dies as he's doing it. Later on, the Free Zone is forced to rely on a veterinarian until a doctor arrives, and even then the doctor tells the vet that he needs to train him to be better able to take care of humans, especially as the doctor is rather old.
  • Code Emergency: "Tell him 'Rome Falls'." It meant everything was screwed and it was time to put the plan to infect the rest of the world in motion.
  • Corpse Land: All of the cities, especially New York, are completely littered with dead bodies after the plague hits. This is likely why the survivors are guided to Boulder, as a false rumor that the plague started there caused a mass exodus while the population was still healthy enough to travel.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • The classic cover (currently the page image) features a white-clad warrior with a sword battling a black-clad monster with a scythe and the head of a crow, which symbolically represents the book's good vs. evil narrative, but can leave new readers pretty confused since it seems to hint at some sort of medieval High Fantasy rather than a modern post-apocalyptic story. A more recent cover features a man holding a bullet between his teeth which really just has nothing to do with the story at all, even on a symbolic level.
    • Another cover features the head of a crow. This refers to how Flagg can turn into a crow, but is still confusing.
    • The more recent cover of the expanded edition features a foggy road strewn with corpses, which fits the story better than either of the aforementioned covers.
    • The older edition of the Swedish translation features a man who is presumably meant to be Randall Flagg considering he wears Flagg's iconic buttons, but whoever illustrated the cover appears to have taken Flagg's title as "the dark man" literally, as he's been drawn as a heavyset african-american man with a buzzcut and a moustache, which doesn't match his description in the book at all. A newer edition instead shows a gas mask lying in the middle of a graveyard in an abandoned city, with a crow sitting on it.
  • Creator Provincialism:
    • The action ranges across the country, quite a lot of it takes place in Maine (which is a frequent King locale) and Boulder (where he was living at the time of writing, and of which he is apparently quite fond).
    • King has said he regretted not mentioning what happens to the rest of the world... beyond speculation that there may be rival Flaggs popping up all over the globe in an apparent violation of the villain playbook. The book does make clear that the people running Project Blue deliberately spread it around the world once it's clear that there's no hope of saving America from annihilation.
  • Crisis Point Hospital: Larry takes his mother to a hospital which is overflowing with Superflu patients; many of the staff are themselves infected. When his mother dies and he can't get anyone's attention, he writes her name and age on a piece of paper, pins it to her clothes, and then leaves the hospital.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Dark Man, Randall Flagg, if his name wasn't enough of a indication. He often takes the form of a raven when traveling and even transforms into a black cat-like creature right before he's defeated. Additionally, he builds his empire in the dark, seedy Las Vegas in comparison to Mother Abagail's wholesome, farm-filled Boulder.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms:
    • Stu implies he does it (at least before pairing up with Frannie), telling Harold early on that there's no need for rape when a man is good with his hands.
    • Referenced a few times with Harold. He's said to "smell like a shootoff in a haymow." He fantasizes about being King Harold while the girls from his high school service him, and Frannie notes that Harold has an X-rated film playing in his head at all times.
    • For Lloyd, in jail, it's "as good a way to get to sleep as any."
    • When Lloyd meets Nadine for the first time, she starts doing it in front of both him and Flagg, signifying her Sanity Slippage after Flagg rapes her and impregnates her with his demon child.
  • Deadly Game: The incident with black soldiers in a game show studio. They take the game show set over and start executing people.
  • Death by Irony: Harold spends at least two chapters writing and recording a Take That! speech to be played by his bomb before it explodes. Nick, the only deaf character, is the only person in the house when it detonates.
  • Death of a Child: There's a sequence about a third of the way through the book that touches upon the stories of several isolated survivors, all of whom die from accidents, injuries, or misadventure in the days or weeks immediately following the plague. It's very difficult for parents to read. One story is about a five-year-old who accidentally falls down a dry well, breaks both legs, and dies several hours later. Another is about a Catholic man who loses his entire family to Captain Trips, throws all his energy into running in an attempt to find an outlet for his grief, and proceeds to overexert himself to the point of having a heart attack.
  • A Death in the Limelight: One whole chapter of the book is dedicated to recounting the deaths of characters who had not appeared at all before that chapter. All are plague survivors; the chapter illustrates the secondary mortality rate of scattered survivors in an After the End world.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Two of them. First there's Captain Trips, which wipes out 99% of the human race. Then there's the Deus ex Nukina that detonates in Las Vegas and wipes out Flagg and his followers.
  • Deus ex Machina: Literally, Deus ex Nukina. The actual Hand of God appears from heaven and detonates Trashcan Man's nuke, destroying Las Vegas and Flagg.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Glen, upon meeting Flagg. He laughs with derision, whereupon Flagg has him shot.
  • Disaster Democracy: Instituted (albeit in a modified form) in Boulder.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Trashcan Man shows off some new toys he found in the desert (incendiary grenades), some of Flagg's goons tease him about his obsession with fire; unfortunately, they don't realize how personally he takes it until he rigs several vehicles with the grenades, blowing them up and killing a half dozen men.
  • Distract and Disarm: Stu disarms the guard sent to kill him by yelling that there's a rat off to the side. When the guy turns to look, Stu clobbers him with a chair. It stuns him long enough for Stu to struggle with him and eventually get the gun away before the guy can use it.
  • Doorstopper:
    • Many editions, especially foreign language ones, go so far as to split it up into multiple books (incidentally, this actually becomes a plot point in 20th Century Boys, which heavily alludes to The Stand).
    • It's longer than War and Peace, Moby-Dick and some editions of The Bible.
    • The audiobook on CD is 37 discs long.
    • The version is 47hrs and 52min.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The good people in the story (Stu, Frannie, Nick, Larry, and the like) dream of Mother Abagail and her farm. The bad people (Harold, Nadine, Trash, and others) dream of Randall Flagg and Las Vegas.
  • Driven to Suicide: Many examples.
    • Several people involved with Project Blue are stated to have committed suicide after seeing the destruction it unleashed.
    • Starkey shoots himself after being relieved of his duty at Project Blue.
    • Rita Blakemoor can't handle the shock and stress of the post-plague world, and overdoses on sleeping pills.
    • Dayna rams her head through a window and then slashes her neck with the broken glass to avoid being interrogated by Flagg.
    • Harold ultimately shoots himself, though it's more like a self-Mercy Kill because he's already dying miserably by then.
    • Nadine goads Flagg into killing her.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Starkey spends a great deal of time watching the monitor depicting Private Bruce face down in a bowl of soup. After he's relieved of command, he enters the quarantined area and makes a point to remove Bruce's face from the bowl (and clean it up) before killing himself.
    • Frannie Goldsmith burying her father in his garden, told in painful and realistic detail.
    • Nick Andros, in preparing Jane Baker for her burial.
      He knew what came next and didn't want to do it. It wasn’t fair, part of him cried out. It wasn’t his responsibility. But since there was no one else here—maybe no one else well for miles around—he would have to shoulder it. Either that or leave her here to rot, and he couldn't do that.
    • The claimed reason behind the creation of the Boulder Burial Committee. The real one being for health concerns.
  • Dying Town: Arnette, Texas, where the novel opens, is one of these even before the Captain Trips outbreak. Every city and town becomes one of these as the virus spreads.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In spite of the hardships it faces, things end on a high note for the Free Zone and its denizens. Stu survives his voyage over the mountains, Fran has her baby, the Zone finds prosperity and humanity is safe from Flagg... for the time being.
  • Elvis Lives: Stu notes to Fran that before the apocalypse, when his friend who ran his town's gas station had given him the graveyard shift job as a favor, that he met a long-haired driver with a beard that he fully believed was Jim Morrison.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: The unnamed president gives one full with Implausible Deniability. While American society is falling apart due to the superflu, he still insists that the disease is not deadly. The speech is interrupted several times by the President's coughing fits.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Lampshaded. The characters speculate on what will happen to all those corpses, how life will never be the same, etc.
  • Ensemble Cast: There's no real main protagonist to be found.
  • Escape from the Crazy Place: Stovington Hospital. Stu is the only one left alive in the place and spends an entire chapter going through it, encountering dead or nearly dying people. The doctor that wanted to exterminate him even tries to kill him one last time before expiring himself.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Many of the characters in the immediate post-plague chapters are left wandering in shock at how deserted the world is now.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Flagg's callous nature and personal obsessions are part of what makes Vegas fall. Glen easily manipulates him because of this.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas serves as Flagg's residence.
  • Evil Will Fail: Randall Flagg's half of civilization begins to deteriorate when the presence of so many volatile personalities mix in one society, fear stops being as effective for control, and every minor failure makes the Big Bad himself go into fits of rage and lose his focus, causing errors in judgement.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Poke Freeman, whose eye and half of his face are mangled by the bullet of a .45 revolver.
    • Nick, who in the expanded novel suffers an eye gouge during his scuffle with Ray Booth in the Shoyo jail.
  • Faceplanting into Food: A scientist at Project Blue dies in the cafeteria with his face in a bowl of soup, which Starkey finds a very undignified way to spend eternity.
  • Failsafe Failure: One guard manages to escape the facility housing Captain Trips with his family before the base goes into lockdown, dooming most of the human race.
  • Fantasy Americana: A seminal example. King said his goal was to write an American Lord of the Rings.
  • Feedback Rule: Stu deals with this during his speech at the first public Free Zone meeting. He says they have to get used to technology again (most of Boulder still had no power but they had a generator set up for the meeting). Plus, Stu was also nervous.
  • Foreshadowing: All over the place; some examples more subtle than others. A very subtle example when Glen Bateman and Stu Redman have this exchange shortly after meeting:
    Stu: I like to listen.
    Glen: Then you are one of God's chosen.
  • For the Evulz: The only reason Flagg does anything. Justified in that he's a Satan analogue.
  • Freudian Excuse: Trashcan Man did not have a happy childhood, which prompted him to light fires as a sort of coping mechanism. This only gave his bullies more excuses to hurl taunts and insults at him, which only gave him more reason to light fires... and it went downhill from there.
  • From Bad to Worse: First the plague hits, then Randall Flagg appears and starts gathering an army to slaughter the survivors.
  • Gasoline Lasts Forever: At the very end of the extended version, Stu and Fran are casually driving across the country together, many months after any gasoline was being refined.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The superflu that the U.S. military cooked up has a 99.4% death rate... but it's loose on American soil. And, thanks to a mean-spirited effort by the military, starts to spread to other countries as well.
  • Good Hurts Evil: Characters drawn to Flagg are afraid of Mother Abagail in their dreams.
  • Government Conspiracy: The creation of the virus, the attempt to suppress news of its outbreak, and the deliberate spreading of the virus to other countries to ensure the U.S. doesn't go down alone, is dwelt on. It's noted that some people are so obsessed with secrecy that they will continue trying to kill witnesses like Stu, even when there's hardly anyone left for him to tell, and no one really cares any more.
  • Green Aesop: The condition of the natural environment visibly improves in the months after the plague.
  • The Hand Is God: At the end Randall Flagg tortures one of his men with a ball of electricity he'd conjured. At this point, there is a huge distraction and Flagg loses concentration on the ball and it flutters away. The distraction was the Trashcan Man, who'd found a nuclear bomb and towed it all the way back to Las Vegas. Flagg panics and tries to tell Trashcan to get rid of it. Then one of the men who'd been sent to challenge Flagg screams "The Hand Of God!" and points. The ball of electricity had grown to an enormous size, it was heading straight for the nuclear bomb, and it looked just like a hand. You only get one guess as to what happened when it reached the bomb...
  • Here We Go Again!: In the Extended Cut, Randall Flagg wakes up on a small island after the events of the climax. He introduces himself to the cowering natives and starts manipulating them with his charisma and charm.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dayna Jurgens commits suicide so Flagg won't be able to torture her until she reveals the identity of the third spy (Tom Cullen). Her sacrifice is a large contribution to his eventual downfall.
  • Hit So Hard, the Calendar Felt It: "... this thirtieth day of September, the year nineteen hundred and ninety, now known as The Year One, year of the plague."
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: When Fran is impregnated by her boyfriend, his idea of "taking responsibility" is to offer to either marry her or pay for an abortion, her choice. She refuses both and decides to raise the baby herself, later accepting the help of new beau Stu Redman.
  • Hope Spot: A few characters are shown to live through the severe fever that usually ends up killing the victims of the superflu and seem to be recovering, only to die about a day later as the other symptoms finish them off. If you get sick, you die, there's no way to recover from it, and only the immune are safe.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Randall Flagg visually resembles a normal man, but anyone who spends more than a few seconds in his company quickly comes to view him as an Eldritch Abomination. Dayna subtly notes he lacks wrinkles on his hands, and Nadine is driven insane when she has sex with him.
  • Incredibly Inconvenient Deity: God is this for Mother Abagail. As she tells Nick: "'Abby,' the Lord says to me, 'there’s work for you far up ahead. So I'll let you live an live, until your flesh is bitter on your bones. I'll let you see all your children die ahead of you and still you'll walk the earth. I'll let you see your daddy's land taken away piece by piece. And in the end, your reward will be to go away with strangers from all the things you love best and you'll die in a strange land with the work not yet finished. That's My will, Abby,' says He, and 'Yes, Lord,' says I. 'Thy will be done,' and in my heart I curse Him and ask, 'Why, why, why?' and the only answer I get is 'Where were you when I made the world?'"
  • Idiot Ball: The nurse at the CDC who knows there's a deadly virus around, who passes right by signs saying any odd symptoms should be reported immediately but thinks there's simply no way her sneeze could possibly be connected to all that...and thus infects the entire CDC and takes out the only people who could have found a vaccine.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Bobby Terry shooting the Judge is technically an example of this; he is trying to kill him, but he had explicit orders from Flagg to not shoot the target in, yes, the face.
  • The Immune: Roughly 1% of humanity are completely immune to Captain Trips for unknown reasons, as the testing Stu underwent by the CDC only revealed that his body completely destroyed the virus before it could infect him, but the staff died too quickly to figure out why. This applies to all the survivors with the exception of Flagg, who isn't human at all, and possibly Mother Abagail, who is protected by God.
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism: Zigzagged between the Boulder Free Zone and Flagg's empire in Las Vegas: While the Free Zone has a rudimentary government and elects Stu sheriff, everyone is still free to live and do however they like (so long as no one is harmed). Las Vegas quickly becomes a fascist society, where everyone is assigned a job and crimes as small as drug use are punishable by torture and death. Yet because of their discipline, Vegas has electricity and supplies while the Free Zone struggles to even turn the lights on. In the end, as the Zone becomes closer to a pre-plague society, Stu notes that it's probably best for everyone to go their separate ways.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When Stu tells the doctor to take Geraldo, the guinea pig who's been breathing his air, he says, "Don't forget your guinea pig." He really means the other guinea pig.
  • I Want Them Alive!: When Lloyd belatedly learns about Tom being a spy, he sends security forces to collect him, explicitly saying this. (Though of course it's very obvious to everyone that it's Flagg who would want him alive, so don't screw it up.)
  • Incurable Cough of Death:
    • If a character coughs or sneezes, chances are they're a goner. Justified in that The Plague is an "on steroids" version of the flu, for which coughing is a typical symptom.
    • Subverted when Stu fakes a coughing fit to spite his caregiver-captors in Stovington, sending them into a complete panic until he reveals the joke.
  • The Infiltration: The Boulder leadership sends Judge Farris, Dayna Jurgens and Tom Cullen to Las Vegas to join (and spy on) Flagg's operation. It goes horribly wrong, with the first two suffering tragic deaths, and the third returning only days after Las Vegas had already been destroyed by the Hand of God.
  • Just Before the End: The story opens just a few minutes after the plague is released and begins infecting people.
  • Kick the Dog: Flagg runs into an innocent fawn. "Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub!"
  • Kill 'Em All: 99.4% pure example of this trope. Even among the main characters, the death rate is pretty high.
  • Kirk Summation: Whitney Horgan's speech is cut short.
  • The Last DJ: Ray Flowers. Literally. As the government desperately tries to suppress news of the unfolding disaster, Ray takes the microphone in his studio and talks about all the horrifying news for a while. Until the army barges in and shoots him.
  • Last Request: Stuart Redman's nurse Vic in the Stovington Plague Center, dying of Captain Trips, asks Stuart to kill him with the pistol he's carrying.
  • Look Behind You: Stu Redman tells the "doctor" who's been sent to terminate him at the Stovington hospital that there's a huge rat behind him, then hits him over the head with a chair. Lampshaded when Stu is so surprised it works as well as it does that he almost fails to follow up on his own distraction.
  • Loophole Abuse: A Catholic survivor of the plague, who lost his wife and all of his children, literally runs himself to death while out jogging in order to circumvent his moral and religious compunctions about suicide.
  • Magical Negro: Mother Abagail is the daughter of two freed slaves and has psychic and prophetic powers which she believes are the result of her becoming "God's will".
  • Make It Look Like a Struggle: In Lloyd and Poke's backstory, they helped a gun/drug-runner called Gorgeous George double-cross the Mafia on a drug shipment so they could split the profits themselves, and tied him up and gave him some token bruises at his request. It's quickly and horrifyingly subverted when Poke wonders if George can keep a secret, and decides to pokerize him just to be on the safe side. This is how their murder spree kicks off.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Larry hooks up with Rita, who's old enough to be his mother, shortly after the plague.
    • Stu and Fran have a considerable age gap; he's around 30 and she's a college student.
    • At Flagg's behest, the thirty-seven-year-old Nadine takes up with Harold, who's seventeen.
  • Mission from God: Mother Abagail tells Stu, Larry, Glen and Ralph that God wants them to go west and make a stand before Flagg.
    Mother Abagail: I don’t know if it's God's will for you to ever see Boulder again. Those things are not for me to see. But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand. You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand.
  • Monochrome Casting: In both the book and the mini series, the only non-Caucasian characters are Abagail, the Rat Man, Leo (though he has blonde hair and light-colored eyes) and the Judge (only in the series, in the book it's never specified), not counting the group of black people who execute the soldiers in a television studio. In many cases in the novel, the character's race is not mentioned.
  • Mordor: The entire U.S. west of the Rockies is shadowed by Flagg's evil presence, but his power and followers are largely concentrated in Las Vegas.
  • Motivational Kiss: Stu gives Dayna Jurgens two kisses for luck when she's about to go away on a dangerous mission.
  • Mundanger:
    • While Captain Trips and Randall Flagg are the main threats to the survivors and both are magical in nature, many minor antagonists are just regular humans who happen to be violent (Ray Booth) or self-centered (Julie Lawry).
    • All of Harold's more heinous actions are done of his own choice. Flagg merely lets him know that he exists, but doesn't magically interfere with his life in any way, shape or form.
  • Mythology Gag: The extended edition features a reference to the AC/DC song "Who Made Who," which was used as the theme song of the King-directed adaptation Maximum Overdrive.
  • Narrative Filigree: This was a point of dispute between King and his publishers when the novel was first published. The publishers succeeded in getting the first edition edited down but King released an extended edition later. Much of the additional material is basically filigree that doesn't particularly advance the plot. Trashcan's Man terrifying adventure with the psychotic rapist The Kid, which was cut from the first edition of the novel, is a good example.
  • Not Too Dead to Save the Day: The spirit of Nick Andros leads Tom Cullen to save Stu's life.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: What exactly Stu encounters in the dark stairwell on his way out of the hospital is never revealed.
  • Oh, and X Dies:
    • When Dayna leaves Boulder, the narration states: "no one in the Zone ever saw Dayna Jurgens again". Indeed, she dies in Las Vegas.
    • When Larry, Glen and Ralph have to leave Stu behind, it's similarly stated that "they never saw Stu Redman again." However, Stu survives; it's the other three who don't.
    • While telling the story of what happened to Kojak in Nebraska, King parenthetically throws in: "Kojak lived another sixteen years, long after Glen Bateman died."
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Bobby Terry after shooting the Judge in the face in direct contradiction to Flagg's orders. His panic is very quickly proven to be justified.
    • Pretty much everyone in Las Vegas when The Trashcan Man returns bearing his last gift for Flagg.
      Lloyd Henreid: Oh, shit, we're all fucked!
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: 108-year-old Abagail Freemantle recalls appearing on a talent show back in 1902. Before her, a woman performed a "racy French dance", showing her ankles "to the raucous whistles, cheers, and stamping feet of the men in the audience."
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-universe, and extensively talked about by the characters themselves. One of the original "Evil US Government quarantines innocent civilians at gunpoint and leaves them to die" plots, it seemed uncharacteristically cynical (even for King) until, say 2005 (as if!) Capt. Trips itself.
  • Passing the Torch: Stu breaks his leg during the mission to Vegas, leaving Larry to lead the others in their confrontation with Flagg.
  • Patient Zero: Campion. The second he and his family made it off the base and encountered other people, it was already entirely too late to contain Trips.
  • The Plague: Captain Trips, in its early stages, is indistinguishable from a common cold or a flu except by a doctor who knows what to look for.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Traffic Jam: A few of these are described: Stu and Tom look through one to find a stick shift car that Stu can drive with his injured leg since Tom can't drive. Later, on the way back to Boulder, they're in an area of deep snow and Stu finds that they're actually on top of one of these, which is buried under the snow. There's also the massive traffic jam inside the Lincoln Tunnel, which is also full of corpses of civilians the military massacred when they tried to flee the city.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: The survivors receive prophetic dreams from both Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg.
  • Real Men Take It Black:
    • Nick Andros, a young and skinny but tough and resourceful deaf-mute drifter, takes his coffee black. Lampshaded by Sheriff Baker: "Take it like a man, do you?"
    • Larry doesn't like getting Rita's cream-and-sugar-laced coffee. He "subscribed to the truckers' credo of 'if you wanted a cup of cream and sugar, why'd ya ask for coffee?'"
  • Reality Subtext: The scene early in the novel when a group of students riots and is shot by the military is based, according to King, on the real life massacre at Kent State in 1970. For bonus points, the in-universe riot is set at Kent State.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: One survivor of Captain Trips is so afraid of being raped that she gets her father's World War II-era pistol out of storage for protection. It hasn't been cleaned or oiled in decades, and the ammunition is old and tarnished, but she still loads it and keeps it handy. The first time she tries to shoot someone, it explodes in her hand and kills her.
  • Recruited from the Gutter: Lloyd Henreid is in prison when the super-flu hits, awaiting trial for armed robbery and murder, and finds himself to be the only survivor. He would have starved to death in his cell if the Antichrist Randall Flagg hadn't rescued him. Because of this, he remains Flagg's most loyal follower.
  • Repressive, but Efficient: Las Vegas gets the utilities running in their city much more quickly than Boulder, and discipline is harshly enforced, with crucifixion being a common punishment for crimes as petty as recreational drug use.
  • Residual Evil Entity: Randall Flagg, the dark man, vanishes in the nuclear destruction of Las Vegas, ending his fledgeling evil empire... until he wakes up on an island surrounded by natives, introducing himself as Russell Faraday and claiming he's come to teach them how to be civilized.
  • Road Trip Plot:
    • The first arc revolves around Stu, Nick and Larry's road trips, as they are drawn to Boulder.
    • The novel's final chapters are centered around Stu, Ralph, Larry and Glen as they make their way to Las Vegas.
  • Science Is Bad:
    • This book was written in the '70s and "back to the land" themes are prominent.
    • Captain Trips is a scientifically engineered Holocaust.
    • Flagg is described as "the last magician of rational thought." Glen speculates that Flagg is drawing all the "rationalist, engineer types" who want to quickly get the old society back up and running, military and all, while Mother Abagail attracts those seeking a Hidden Elf Village or Utopia and struggles to turn on the lights. It's not suggested that Straw Atheists are attracted to Flagg, however; merely people looking for quick solutions.
    • Interestingly, the book inverts the typical "Magic Versus Science" trope: supernatural forces merely take advantage of the sudden, artificially engineered holocaust to initiate the Apocalypse more or less.
  • Second-Person Narration: Fran recalls that Harold used to publish short stories in the high school's literary magazine that were written in present tense or second person or both. "You come down the delirious corridor and shoulder your way through the splintered door and look at the racetrack stars — that was Harold’s style."
  • Send in the Search Team: Harold suggests help will be found at the Stovington plague facility that Stu managed to escape from; despite Stu telling them the place is dead, the other characters go in and confirm this fact for themselves.
  • Shared Dream: All of the Superflu survivors have recurring dreams of Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg beckoning them to come to either Boulder, Colorado or Las Vegas.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In-universe. A chapter is devoted to vignettes of plague survivors who succumbed to gruesome accidents because they were reckless and/or lacked the interpersonal support they could have expected from normal pre-plague society. One plague survivor becomes a Body In Abreadbox with the corpses of her husband and infant son and dies of starvation.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: King lived in Boulder for a time, so all the street names and places referenced in the book are real. As one example, the Mormon church where Harold helps remove about 70 bodies and has an epiphany about his character, is, as of 2019, still in the location where King described it.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: A running theme through the book is that God always gives you a choice (however much it might suck), and all the people who go over to Flagg's side do it of their own free will; they may go because they're scared spitless, but they aren't mind-controlled zombies. Interestingly, the book also hints that Flagg may be the one character who has no control over his own destiny.
  • Sole Survivor: The superflu immunity didn't appear along family lines, meaning that if any of the survivors had family, they quickly lost every one of their loved ones. The immunity was so rare that most survivors weren't just the last of their family, they were the last living soul in their entire town. Fran and Harold are the only characters in the novel who are mentioned as having a previous relationship with another survivor at all.
  • Spy Speak: The Captain Trips situation goes from Flowerpot to Troy, and finally Rome Falls.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: They get to Boulder, they get the electrical system ready to go again, they throw the switch to turn the power back on... and it immediately shuts back down again, because every light, every television, every space heater, every electrical device that was on when people died is still on, and they were not bringing the system back up at full capacity. So before they try again, they have to go around and turn everything not being used off.
    • Even after Captain Trips has run it's course, there's dozens, possibly hundreds of further deaths as most immune survivors are spread out across the U.S, some miles away from any other living human. Anyone who gets sick or injured (broken bones, heart attack, drug overdose, etc.) or who needs someone else to look after them (children, elderly) stands a good chance of dying since no one is available to intervene quickly.
    • One of these survivors, a woman named Irma who suffers from a particularly extreme case of Does Not Like Men, believing that all men are rapists who are just waiting for an opportunity to get her, tries to shoot the only other survivor in her hometown with her fathers old gun. Said gun, and the bullets, had been left to rust in a box for almost 20 years by this point, meaning that the second she pulls the trigger, the bullet in the chamber backfires, causing the gun to explode and kills her instantly.
    • Another survivor, a heroin addict in Chicago, breaks into his former dealers house and finds his drug stash. He promptly overdoses on it with one hit and dies in minutes, because said heroin hadn't been cut and dilluted for sale yet, meaning it was almost completely pure. The heroin he'd previously had access to on the street was usually less than 10% pure.
  • Squeamish About Slaughter: When Mother Abagail needs to feed a large group of survivors, she asks two of the men to take her to a neighboring farm that has a fattened pig. They help her butcher it, but are too disturbed by what they witnesses to eat dinner.
  • Squick: In-universe: The dead body Larry finds in the lavatory with a swollen neck the size of a tire. Larry says it had this effect on him despite everything else he'd seen.
  • The Stinger: Added to the Uncut edition, to strengthen the tie with The Dark Tower: Randall Flagg wakes up after the nuclear blast on an island somewhere and possibly even another reality (or level of the Dark Tower), and begins to take over a society once again. Ka is referenced.
  • Suicide by Pills: Rita Blakemoor can't handle the shock and stress of the post-plague world and uses sleeping pills to overdose and kill herself.
  • Take That!: Several towards Ronald Reagan (in the 1990 edition). For instance:
    Larry: He [The Judge] is only seventy, for the record. Ronald Reagan was serving as President at an older age than that.”
    Fran: That's not what I'd call a very strong recommendation.
  • Taking You with Me: Once America's leadership realizes they're doomed, they deliberately infect the rest of the world with Captain Trips.
  • Television Geography: the town of Arnette is said to be in East Texas, but is described as having West Texas’s wide-open, arid landscape, and later East Texas native Stu is surprised by the green vegetation of the eastern states. East Texas is dominated by pine forest to the north and swampy, dense wetland forest to the south. Moving west, the landscape gives way to lush, wet grassland. There are no dry prairies for a couple of hundred miles.
  • Throw-Away Country: A divine wind ensures that Los Angeles gets the short end of a nuclear fallout incident entirely offscreen, thereby sparing the good guys. Don't even ask what happened to other countries.
  • Title Drop: Abagail, during her Final Speech.
    "And with God's help, you will stand..."
  • Totally Radical: Teenage characters unironically calling cops "pigs", which even in 1980 was a rather dated insult and had become all the more so when the setting had been updated to 1990.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Harold frequently munches on chocolate Paydays, though he gives them up during the journey to Boulder. By the time Larry's caught up with him, having figured out trail-of-breadcrumbs-style that they were Harold's favorite food and thus brought some as a gift, Harold politely declines them.
  • Tuneless Song of Madness: Having been jailed just prior to the apocalypse, Lloyd Henreid ends up trapped when the virus wipes out everyone else at the prison, eventually finding himself trying to pick meat off the arm of the prisoner in the neighboring cell, all while continuously singing the nonsense chorus lyrics from "Camptown Races."
  • Updated Re-release: Two updates of the novel were done. The mid-1980s one just tweaked a few cultural references. The Complete Uncut restored much of what King was forced to cut, either because it made the book too long or because it would have offended too many back in the 70s.
  • Walk into Mordor: The third act of the book centers on one, as Stu, Ralph, Larry and Glen start the journey to confront Flagg in Las Vegas.
  • Wham Line: Not a spoken line, but a thought that Flagg has early in the novel, as he gleefully realizes that some vast change is coming to the world: "After all, why else could he suddenly do magic?"
  • Wandering Walk of Madness: One chapter discusses the fact that many survivors of the superflu end up dying anyway due to "those ole emergency room blues" — in other words, bad luck. One, a man in his fifties, used to jog for the sake of his health prior to the plague; however, now that the plague has killed off all his friends and family, he's ultimately reduced to jogging obsessively around his neighbourhood — partly as a coping strategy but mostly because he has absolutely nothing else to do. By the end, his demons have gotten the better of him and he is now running in a blind, obsessive panic, until at last his heart gives out after nearly six hours of non-stop running; to his immense relief, he drops dead on the spot.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Many characters express these sentiments when they stumble upon particularly terrible scenes of death. Averted with the narrator, as he has this to say when describing a chapter of survivor's demises from various accidents:
    No great loss.
  • What Is This Feeling?: When Trashcan Man arrives in Las Vegas and interacts with other of Flagg's followers, he realizes he is feeling happy.
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: The escape of Campion, the security guard at the research facility who spreads Captain Trips beyond hope of containment, is explained thusly:
    "He drove through the main gate just four minutes before the sirens started going off and we sealed off the whole base. And no one started looking for him until nearly an hour later because there are no monitors in the security posts — somewhere along the line you have to stop guarding the guardians or everyone in the world would be a goddamn turnkey..."
    • Also crops up when the Boulder committee start thinking about law and order and the enforcement thereof. They look to Mother Abagail for guidance... But later they wonder the implications of their various rules, for example, whether restoring electrical power would lead to restoring the electric chair. They avert this trope somewhat by consciously making their society and committee status democratic.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Major Len Creighton has a fairly substantial role in the first section of the book as General Starkey's second in command in Project Blue, and after Starkey's suicide becomes the head of the military coverup. He's last "seen" on-page talking over the radio to one of his officers in LA during the last days of the plague. It is very possible he died of the superflu but notably he gives no indications of being sick even at this very late stage, leaving his fate a mystery.
  • Widow Woman: Rita Blakemoor's husband died some time prior to the plague. She seems to have gotten over it.
  • Wild Child: Joe/Leo is reduced to this by the trauma of his family dying in the plague and nearly dying himself of an infected animal bite.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: A common criticism is that the protagonists don't really do much against The Empire created by Randall Flagg. His people are already losing faith in his infallibility by the time Our Heroes show up to make their titular stand, and desertions have become common. Then one of his tragically crazy henchmen shows up with a nuke in tow, which is detonated by Deus ex Machina. The heroes don't do much besides watch. And die.
  • Worthless Currency: With so few plague survivors and so many goods free for the taking, money becomes meaningless. Even using it for high-stakes poker only provides a short-lived thrill.
  • Xenofiction: Parts of the book are told from the perspective of Kojak, the dog.
  • You Have Failed Me: After Bobby Terry winds up shooting the Judge's face to pieces rather than keeping it whole per Flagg's explicit orders, Randall personally appears to savagely tear Bobby apart.
    "There were worse things than crucifixion. There were teeth."

We need help, the poet reckoned.