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Series / American Horror Story: Roanoke

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American Horror Story: Roanoke note  is the sixth season of Ryan Murphy's horror anthology series American Horror Story, aired by the FX network in 2016.

The sixth season, presented as a faux paranormal documentary series "My Roanoke Nightmare" about an interracial couple (Shelby and Matt Miller) who buy a home out in the woods in Dare, North Carolina. Unfortunately, everything that can go wrong starts to go wrong for the couple: the house turns out to be a former nursing home owned by a pair of murderous sisters who butchered their clients. Matt's drug addicted ex-cop sister Lee kidnaps her kid, who promptly goes missing on the property, while the land is the same land as the legendary lost colony of Roanoke. And the colonists, led by the maniacal matriarch the Butcher, don't take kindly to tresspassers, unless it is to use them for their annual ritual blood sacrifice to the Harvest Moon... Which is almost upon them.

Unlike previous seasons of AHS, very little information about Roanoke was revealed prior to airing. A total of twenty-six promotional videos were released in the weeks leading up, but according to Murphy, only one of them was indicative of the real seasonal theme. The subtitle itself, Roanoke, wasn't confirmed by FX until the day after its premiere.

The season further breaks from tradition, by using the usual production troupe of actors from the series in shared roles per the documentary nature of the season: Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson, Andre Holland and Cuba Gooding Jr, and Adina Porter and Angela Bassett play Shelby, Matt, and Lee Miller as the "real" version of them and their actor reenactor counterpart respectively.

Denis O'Hare also returns as a writer who used to live in the house (and whose video tape diaries recording the history of the house provide backstory), while Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, and Wes Bentley return as the leadership of the Roanoke colonists.

American Horror Story: Roanoke provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In-universe, My Roanoke Nightmare does this with the ghosts, who are played by actors with normal appearances, whereas in reality the ghosts are far more malevolent and terrifying, both in appearance and mannerisms.
  • All Myths Are True: The Piggy Man from Murder House turns out to be real, though somewhat exaggerated. He was merely a Serial Killer named Kincaid Polk who wore a severed pig's head as a mask, rather than a wholly supernatural creature as portrayed in the first season.
  • Anyone Can Die: A lot of characters deemed useful are murdered this season, notably Cricket Marlowe, the medium who assisted in the search for Flora, Dr. Elias Cunningham, and Lee's husband, Mason. When the actors and former occupants of the home hole up in the farmhouse to film the reality television sequel, Matt, whose survival initially seemed like a Foregone Conclusion, along with Shelby, who was set up as the Final Girl, are both quickly dispatched, along with most of the actors. The only survivor is Lee, who also dies when she burns the farm house to the ground.
  • Artistic License – History: Some aspects of My Roanoke Nightmare are later revealed to be fabrications or inaccuracies. The rain of teeth never happened, though the TV show convinced the Polks that it was real. The reenactment Mama Polk says that her kin made a deal with the Butcher over 200 years ago, but the real Mama Polk says it was exactly 150 years ago.
  • Asshole Victim: Every last one of the Polks.
  • Bad Moon Rising: "Chapter 4" reveals that during the dying grass moon, when the moon turns red, the Roanoke ghosts can kill the living.
  • Big Bad: The Butcher is the leader of the Roanoke colonists and The Heavy for Scáthach.
  • Big Fancy House: The farmhouse, which was built in the 18th century. Not quite as opulent as the Murder House or the Hotel Cortez, but it's not without its charm.
  • Big "NO!": Ambrose White yells this in episode 5 when his mother is about to sacrifice Priscilla, and turns on her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: By some variation, the house is destroyed, therefore nobody will allow to go back to it and be harmed, plus Lee performing a Heroic Sacrifice to be the caretaker for Priscilla and become the next Butcher as a Redemption Equals Death for having nearly ruined Flora's life. On the downside, Shelby, Matt, and the entire "real life"/"reenactment" cast and crew of Roanoke are dead and the spirits of the Colony are still to return every Blood Moon.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The season ends with the colonists approaching the burning house while the police are still there likely with the intention of killing everyone.
  • Brown Note: The word "Croatoan" holds the ghosts at bay. An element invented for the re-enactment, as they later find out.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Leslie Jordan plays a role in the series for the first time since Coven.
    • Same for Adina Porter, who played a One-Shot Character in Murder House.
    • Also series mainstay Frances Conroy, who missed last season due to a scheduling conflict, makes an appearance.
    • Taissa Farmiga reappears after not having been on the show since Coven.
  • Call-Back:
    • The events surrounding the Roanoke Colony were vaguely discussed in Murder House by Billie Dean Howard, and now it's the focus of a whole season.
    • Elias mentions that the house was built by Edward Phillipe Mott - presumably an ancestor of Dandy Mott from American Horror Story Freakshow. This is later confirmed - a historian relates the story of Edward Mott, and mentions that his last remaining heir died in Florida in the fifties.
    • In another reference to Murder House, the urban legend of "Piggy Man" mentioned in that season is revealed here to be about a member of the Polk clan.
  • Casting Gag: Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. play actors playing a married couple. It almost feels like this was intentionally done to weird out people who watched the producers' other show American Crime Story, in which Gooding played OJ Simpson and Paulson played Marcia Clark, the prosecutor who was determined to see him jailed for murder. A No Yay pairing if ever there was one.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: The Pig Man. Played with at one point, with an actor dressed as the Pig Man taking an Uber to what he thinks is just a set. The Uber driver is surprisingly sanguine about the whole thing.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Among the many disturbing events warning Matt and Shelby away from the house in the first episode is a dead, bloody pig being left on their doorstep. It happens again with fetal pigs when the crew is setting up in episode 6.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Married couple Matt and Shelby Miller are at the center of the story, and their survival seems guaranteed for the remainder of the season, until they return to the house against their better judgement and are killed as a result, leading to Lee becoming the Final Girl and The Heroine.
  • Delayed Diagnosis: Played with, where one overly-optimistic historian speculates that deranged nobleman Edward Phillippe Mott had severe social anxiety. Considering that he imprisoned (and inadvertently killed) his entire household because someone destroyed his collection of paintings, social anxiety probably doesn't explain all of his problems.
  • Demoted to Extra: Denis O'Hare, Wes Bentley, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, and especially Evan Peters have much less screen time than in the last season. Frances Conroy, Finn Wittrock, and Taissa Farmiga go from main or important recurring roles to The Cameo. Matt Bomer is reduced to The Voice, and is not even credited.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Edward Mott was in a sexual relationship with a black man in 1792, and all that comes of this is disapproving glances from his servants.
    • Though of course, this is only how the in-universe show portrayed it; we don't know what he might have actually faced back when he was alive. Judging also by how he punished his servants during that time, they may have wanted to let said indiscretion lie.
  • Evil Old Folks: The Butcher is the psychotic leader of the Roanoke Colony who engages in brutal human sacrifice.
  • Face–Heel Turn: In "Chapter 9," a dying Lee makes the same deal with Scáthach that the Butcher once did, performing blood sacrifices in her name in exchange for her own life being saved.
  • Fake American: invoked Audrey Tindall, who plays Shelby, speaks with an over-the-top Posh British accent in "real life."
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • The fact that Shelby, Matt, and Lee are giving interviews on My Roanoke Nightmare indicates that they survive the events they're recounting.
    • And in episode six, an onscreen bump announces that all of the characters involved in "Return to Roanoke" will be dead by the end of the season, except for one.
  • Found Footage Films:
    • The Millers find several showing Elias Cunningham's encounters with the Roanoke colonists 17 years earlier.
    • The second half of the season is one of these for the filming of Return to Roanoke, the sequel to My Roanoke Nightmare, during the filming of which apparently almost everyone involved died.
    • "Chapter 9" also features footage from some fan bloggers of My Roanoke Nightmare who were exploring the area around the house and ended up killed by Lee and the ghosts.
    • "Chapter 10" jumps between various formats, with one of them being footage from the paranormal investigative show "Spirit Chasers" who were exploring the house and were all killed by the ghosts.
      • Or did they? the text before Spirit Chasers states the episode was approved to air by "the survivors", though it's unclear who the survivors ARE, beyond Flora who was not actually on the show.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: The Polk family are deeply inbred, live in squalor, exhibit racism, sell and use drugs, engage in cannibalism, and offer up sacrifices to the Butcher in exchange for being left alone.
  • Immoral Reality Show: Sidney deliberately puts the cast of Return to Roanoke in mortal danger for ratings, ratings, ratings.
  • Jerkass: Sidney. Whether he's forcing his crew to keep working immediately after the death of a coworker or bullying a mentally ill woman into a psychotic episode it's clear he has no regard for the life or safety of anyone.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The Butcher is the most visible supernatural threat, but is actually in service to the witch Scáthach.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: The Butcher's portrayer, Agnes Mary Winstead, turns out to be a sweetheart. At least until it's revealed that she has gone insane as a result of playing the role.
  • Mythology Gag: Just like in Murder House, a family move into a seemingly wonderful house, only for it to turn out to be involved in some paranormal weirdness, and are unable to leave because they've sunk their entire savings into it. Also, everyone in the main cast dies by the end and now haunts the place.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: With little exception, the reenactment actors are revealed to be arrogant, rude, and downright hostile toward their real-life counterparts.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In a meta-example, this was invoked by the marketing. Roanoke is the first season where the subtitle was not released beforehandnote , no cast members were officially confirmed, no trailer with actual footage was released before the premiere, and where only one of the 26 teasers was relevant.
    • Actually, the more the series progressed, the more teasers became relevant. The odd swamp thing romance, for example, was based off of Matt getting seduced by Scáthach. The paranormal monster (the hair ghost in the tub) was a reference to the supernatural monsters (possibly the Chen family ghosts), the creepy rednecks coming towards the house referenced both the Polks and the Roanoke colonists, probably more.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: Well, land. But through hell or high water, the Roanoke colonists will do ANYTHING to get people off of their land.
  • Oddball in the Series: By far, the most unusual season for many reasons: it's presented as a paranormal documentary in the first half, then as a reality television show in the second, has a title card but no opening sequence, and series mainstay Evan Peters isn't introduced until episode 5. It's also currently the shortest season at ten episodes.
  • Paranormal Investigation: My Roanoke Nightmare is very much styled after these types of shows.
  • Pig Man: The colonists sometimes place the head of a pig on their victims.
  • Police Are Useless: Matt quickly becomes convinced that the local sheriff doesn't have the inclination or disposition to help them. He drags his feet and he does the minimum required of his job, though they increasingly give him reasons to doubt their credibility, so it's somewhat justified. Later in the season, Matt's opinion becomes validated by the fact that the Polk clan has killed and eaten an undetermined number of people over the years and have been paying off the local police for years with drug money.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Lily Rabe, after only making cameo appearances in Freak Show and Hotel.
  • Protect This House: The Millers will do anything to keep their house away from psychotic looking hillbillies, a Pig Man, and ghosts.
  • Rain of Something Unusual: In the first episode, Shelby witnesses a rain of teeth. They all disappear once Matt returns.
  • Real After All: The actors who played the Millers had assumed the real-life family had either exaggerated or outright lied about what they went through on the show. It takes some deaths for them to realize the horrors are all too real.
  • Romance on the Set: In-universe, Audrey Tisdall (who plays Shelby Miller) and Rory Monahan (who plays Edward Phillipe Mott) started dating while filming My Roanoke Nightmare and got married.
  • The Savage South: The season takes place in North Carolina, which is apparently populated by hillbillies, pig men, and the ghosts of the Roanoke colonists.
  • Skewed Priorities: The network's lawyer is more worried about being held liable if one of the actors relapses in her alcoholism than he is about having some get murdered during production.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: both Defied and Played Straight.
    • Once Matt and Shelby saw the supernatural horrors on the film and realised that their house was a former murder house, they immediately tried to bail and sell the house. Unfortunately, they were sold the house under false pretences and in a contract they cannot back out of. The realtor wouldn't buy it back from them and couldn't without paying an absurd amount to the bank; unless they wish to incur a lifetime of debt and misery they'll never get away from. After narrowly escaping being sacrificed by the Butcher, they decide bankruptcy is worth it and flee; it's later revealed they sold the house for half of what it was worth.
    • Defied again in episode 6 when Diana attempts to bail on the production only to discover that Danger Takes a Backseat.
    • Played Straight by the Polk clan, which doesn't stick around after the events depicted in My Roanoke Nightmare become widely known. By the time production starts on Return to Roanoke nobody has seen any of them for weeks. It turns out that they're still around, just in hiding.
  • Show Within a Show:
    • My Roanoke Nightmare takes up "Chapter 1" through "Chapter 5." It features talking head interviews and dramatized reenactments.
    • "Chapter 6" through "Chapter 9" involve the show's sequel, Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell, a hidden camera reality show with the interviewees and their reenactors living in the house.
    • "Chapter 10" goes all out, featuring footage from a PaleyFest panel, episodes of Crack'd (a true crime documentary series) and Spirit Chasers (a paranormal investigation show), two YouTube videos, a Lana Winters special, and brief news broadcasts. The final scene of the episode, where Lee talks to Flora then burns down the farmhouse, is the only time this season actually averts this trope.
  • Shown Their Work: Some viewers have commented on and even mocked the "quasi-Scottish" accents of the English Butcher and her clan, not realizing that this accent is, in fact, a fairly historically accurate English accent. Specifically, it's a reconstruction of a London-ish English accent from the 15th-16th century. You'll hear a similar accent in The VVitch and by googling "Shakespeare: Original Pronunciation". Now whether this was intentional on the part of the show or just a coincidence brought on by poor imitations of modern accents is still up for debate.
  • Sole Survivor: A bump in Episode 6 promises that there'll only be one from everyone involved in Return to Roanoke. Episode 9 reveals it to be Lee.
  • Spanner in the Works: Matt and Shelby swooping in and buying the house ruined the Polks' plans to better supply the colonists with fresh sacrifices without outside interference.
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: The season involves the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony. The rather mundane cause for the disappearance was that the colonists simply decided to move far inland to survive the winter. Of course, they were all sacrificed afterwards by their possessed leader and became ghosts, but that's not why they disappeared.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: The Chen Family were a family of Taiwanese immigrants who lived in the Roanoke House during the early 1970's. They began experiencing supernatural phenomena during their stay so they attempted using ancestral folk magic to protect themselves, only to be killed by the Butcher and her ghostly minions. Due to the cursed nature of the property, they manifest as ghosts under the Butcher's power, killing all others that trespass on her land. Due to their heritage, the Chens all appear similar to the onryō from The Grudge, possessing long scraggly hair, clinging to the walls, walking on all fours and contorting in impossible ways.
  • Talking Heads: My Roanoke Nightmare features interviews with Shelby, Matt, and Lee, Uber driver Rhett Snow, and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
  • Title-Only Opening: In contrast with the previous seasons, there's no opening sequence only title cards My Roanoke Nightmare and Return to Roanoke.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Lee feels this way about the cast of Spirit Chasers, for going to investigate the House (during the Blood Moon no less) even after everything else that's happened there. She outright tells them that they all deserve to die for it. And they do.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: "Chapter 6" sets up this tone for the remainder of the season by revealing to the audience that all but one unidentified person involved in the production of Return to Roanoke died filming it, sentencing the rest of the cast to death.
  • Trash the Set: In the final episode, Lee blows up the house, ensuring no one else will ever live there and fall victim to the ghosts.
  • Unexpected Character: Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy were not among the cast members confirmed to appear prior to the season premiere. Also, Doris Kearns Goodwin's cameo came out of left field.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The first few episodes open with a notice that the events depicted are inspired by real ones. Mott and the utility of "Croatoan" are two examples where the producers lied.
  • The Unreveal: There are a number of these.
    • Mason's ghost appears in "Chapter 6" stalking Lee, later revealed to be his killer. However, he never appears again.
    • The circumstances of the Roanoke colonists' deaths are shown, but their later haunting and subsequent banishment by a Native American tribe, as recounted in Murder House by Billie Jean Howard, is never shown or even alluded to.
    • Ryan Murphy revealed that Scáthach was the original Supreme of the American witches. However, it is a major plot point in Coven that There Can Only Be One Supreme, with the incumbent dying to make room for her successor. Whether or not Scáthach is alive (and, in that case, how there came to be subsequent Supremes, as well as how she's managed to live this long) or dead (in which case her manner of death as well as how she managed to retain her magic as a ghost are unexplained) is never revealed.
  • The Voice: Cheyenne Jackson's character, a producer on My Roanoke Nightmare, is unseen in the first five episodes, only appearing as an offscreen voice. He finally appears in Episodes 6 and 7.
  • Wham Episode:
    • The series starts off nice and slow until Chapter Four when Cricket is brutally dispatched by disembowelment and the Roanoke colonists plan their attack on the house.
    • "Chapter 6" is also a significant episode due to the change in format from documentary to found footage, because of the reveal that everyone involved in the production of the sequel Return to Roanoke has died (save for one person) and the footage we are seeing was pieced together from the cameras left behind.
  • Wham Line: "'R' is for Rory"
  • Where da White Women At?: Matt and Shelby
  • Whole-Plot Reference: My Roanoke Nightmare's storyline of city folk running afoul of a community of backwards and particularly violent historical ghosts in the middle of nowhere is similar to the 1964 film Two Thousand Maniacs!.
  • Wild Wilderness: The farmhouse is on the edge of a particularly terrifying forest.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The colonists occasionally confuse "thee" and "thou"


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): American Horror Story Six


American Horror Story: Roanoke

American Horror Story: Roanoke takes place in rural North Carolina and has so far included hillbilly stereotypes and extremely violent ghosts.

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