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Series / The Terror

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"This place wants us dead."

In 1845, two Royal Navy ships left England in an attempt to finally discover a navigable passage through the Arctic. They were the most technologically advanced ships of their day.

They were last seen by European whalers in Baffin Bay awaiting good conditions to enter the Arctic labyrinth.

Both ships then vanished.

The Terror is a ten-part TV miniseries by AMC, based on the best-selling novel by Dan Simmons. It's a fictional account of Franklin's lost expedition, in which 129 officers and men set off in 1845 to find the "Northwest Passage" to the Pacific Ocean through the Canadian Arctic, and were never seen again.

Two ships, the Real Life Royal Navy polar exploration vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, venture into uncharted territory. The commander of the expedition, Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), is blithely confident that the expedition will make it through the ice and through the Bering Strait to warm water in the Pacific. He is supported by the acting captain of the Erebus, the Glory Hound Commander James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), whose self-styled swashbuckling bluster belies that he is a Naďve Newcomer to anything of this scale. The captain of the Terror, the far more cynical Capt. Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), who is also an experienced Arctic explorer, consistently points out the extreme dangers of the Arctic and the recklessness of Franklin's actions, but both Franklin’s stubbornness and Crozier’s own weakness for the bottle and abrasive personality lead to his warnings falling on deaf ears.

Events prove him right, as a series of disasters unfold. The ships are trapped in the Arctic ice, and they remain trapped when the ice never thaws in the summer of 1847. Supplies start running low. Worse, much of their food turns out to be contaminated (insufficient preservation and high levels of lead). And still worse than that, a supernatural monster, a gigantic bear with a humanoid face that the local Netsilik natives call the "Tuunbaq", is stalking the crew. Eventually, as the horrors of scurvy and starvation start to loom, conniving caulker’s mate Cornelius Hickey begins a slow mutiny based on relentless, brutal survivalism, and Crozier and Fitzjames are forced to set aside their differences to try to keep their men alive as some begin to turn on each other and others form deep, trusting bonds in the face of certain death.

Ridley Scott was an executive producer.

The series' second season turns the show into a Genre Anthology, namely historical fiction/horror, named The Terror: Infamy.

Not to be confused with the 1963 horror film directed by Roger Corman.

This work contains examples of:

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  • Accidental Murder: During the Carnivale fire in episode 6, Hickey cuts through the tent to free some trapped crewmen and ends up stabbing Dr. Macdonald through the fabric. This is notable for being perhaps the only death which Hickey didn't intentionally cause.
  • Actor Allusion: In the first episode during dinner, Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) tells a story about his heroism during the Opium Wars, remarking to Sir John (Ciarán Hinds) that he "felt like Caesar crossing the Rubicon". Hinds himself was Caesar crossing the Rubicon in Rome, and Menzies played Brutus.
    • Later when the crew are putting on a masquerade as a morale-builder, Fitzjames (Menzies) is looking through the costume trunk (Truth in Television: expedition ships often had things like costumes, libraries, and gramophones to entertain crew on long, isolated missions.) The outfit he settles on? A Roman costume that's extremely similar to Brutus's. Possibly combining this with foreshadowing — it's almost a copy of what Brutus is wearing when he dies.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Fitzjames, to an extent. He is much more of an open Glory Hound here than he is in the book, boastful of his abilities and disdainful of Crozier (particularly his alcoholism and joylessness), but he is also far more prone to delivering (narratively justified) What the Hell, Hero? speeches at Crozier.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Many of the characters have undergone notable changes, although they are still very much recognizable as the book characters. In some cases, such as Fitzjames and Goodsir in particular, this is because of more recent research on the Real Life Franklin expedition that was published after the original novel on which the miniseries was based.
    • Sir John Franklin's most negative traits are downplayed, the extremes of which are divided among other characters: Lady Jane gets his ambition and haughty snobbery, Dr Stanley gets his virulent racism, and Lt. Irving gets his self-righteous religious fervor.
    • Hickey is less outwardly psychopathic in the first few episodes, and there are clear attempts to present him as possibly an alright guy before his mental state begins to deteriorate. These moments — and Hickey's true motivations — are often quite ambiguously depicted and open to interpretation, at least at first. It is eventually revealed that Hickey is a very realistically-portrayed sociopath, and his Pet the Dog moments have been a facade. However, he is definitely more nuanced as a character then the novel's version.
    • Fitzjames is less of a Flat Character, and his relationship with Crozier exhibits Teeth-Clenched Teamwork. He is also revealed to be desperately overachieving for having been born a possibly mixed-race (by Victorian standards, at least), all but abandoned illegitimate child, saddled with a mean-spirited pun of a name hinting at this.
    • In the novel, Lady Silence was very much The Stoic, rarely showing any kind of emotion aside from an occasional smile. This was aided by the fact that she was mute from the get-go in the novel, having sacrificed her tongue to the Tuunbaq years before the expedition even arrived. In the series, she is angstier and is openly afraid of the Tuunbaq.
    • The monster in the novel was a Super-Persistent Predator that was hunting the crew mostly For the Evulz. In the series, it's attacking the crew in reprisal for them accidentally killing its shaman and gives up the hunt after it gets wounded by cannon fire. At least, until Hickey murders a group of Inuit. Then it comes back with a vengeance.
    • Irving is characterized as somewhat uptight and prudish, as opposed to his novel counterpart, who is an expert seducer.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Multiple members of the crew side with Hickey in his mutiny that remained loyal in the book, including Tozer, Des Voeux, and Mr. Hoar, Fitzjames' steward.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Unlike the book, Crozier, Blanky and Dr Macdonald can speak a little of the Netsilik language, with Goodsir doing his best to learn (in accordance with later research turned up after the novel's publication that revealed the real life Goodsir was attempting to compile a dictionary), and 'Lady Silence' still has her tongue when she first appears, so they're better able to communicate.
    • Between the publication of Dan Simmons' book and the premiere of this series, the wrecks of both the Erebus and the Terror were discovered; what archaeologists have learned from the remains has been incorporated into the series, altering the book's climax. (It was believed for many years that the ships never moved again once they were stuck in the ice. Discovery of the wrecks showed that they in fact moved down the coast of King William Island a fair distance. Thus, in the show Crozier leaves a skeleton crew behind to pilot the ships in case they ever see open water.)
    • Fitzjames gets an entirely new backstory relative to the book, drawn from a biography of the real Fitzjames published a few years after the novel that was the first serious attempt to figure out who he was and what his life had been like before the expedition. He was a bastard who bluffed his way into the Navy with the help of his foster family.
  • Adapted Out: Apart from the Tuunbaq, almost all the supernatural elements of the novel were removed. The lack of a spring thaw and strange storms are explained as natural events and even the Tuunbaq is treated more as a strange bear rather than the full-on Eldritch Abomination it was in the novel. Crozier doesn't have psychic abilities, while Lady Silence seems to have a psychic link with the Tuunbaq as she did in the novel, but it's much more downplayed. The biggest removal, however, was the novel's implication there was something even worse than the Tuunbaq lurking in the Arctic.
  • The Alcoholic: Captain Francis Crozier. Apparently he'll use any excuse to open up his liquor cabinet, and keep it open as long as possible. In this, he is the polar opposite of Franklin. In "First Shot A Winner, Lads" he realises how unsustainable this is, and makes an effort to go cold turkey.
  • All Trolls Are Different: The Tuunbaq is a gigantic, cannibalistic bear with curiously humanoid features, which may have provided the inspiration for the malevolent Jötnar of Scandinavian folklore (the Vikings having encountered and traded with the Inuit centuries earlier).
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Sir John Ross would not have been able to warn Sir John Franklin about being unprepared for his expedition, as he was appointed British consul to Sweden in 1839 and wouldn't return to Britain until 1846, one year after the expedition left.
    • Mr. Goodsir opens a food can with a lever type can opener that wasn't invented until 1855.
    • Fitzjames is said to have sailed the coast of Namibia, which wasn't known by that name until 1990 (the very concept of "Namibia" as a defined location was created by the Germans when they established their Southwest Africa colony in 1884).
  • Artistic Licence – History:
    • The doomed expedition is real, as are most of the British characters. The story, however, is about what happened after they went missing, and while it incorporates information from remains found and sightings, it is a largely fictional tale with supernatural elements.
    • The show (and book) follow earlier literature in assuming that the "Aglooka" mentioned by native witness accounts was the same man and that his identitity was Crozier, which would mean Crozier survived long after the ships became trapped and likely was among the last survivors. However it's been pointed out that the "Aglooka" encounters are inconsistent enough to presume that different bands of Inuit met different groups of Franklin Expedition survivors and gave the "Aglooka" name to a different man each time ("Aglooka" was likely the Inuktitut word Aglukaq, meaning "long strider"). The claim that Crozier was given the name in his earlier expeditions to the Arctic, and the Netsilik man identifying him from his daguerreotype are likewise fictional (though the latter is likely based on a Inuit hunter who claimed to have met a commander of the Expedition while they were still on the ships, and produced two spoons with Crozier's initials as evidence).
    • Stanley has a daughter in the show. In reality he only had a stepson by a woman he married ten days before the expedition departed.
  • Badass Long Coat: Crozier and Fitzjames wear fur lined overcoats with brass buttons.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Generally averted. By the end of the series, even the best-looking of the men (such as Jopson and Fitzjames) look pretty rough, primarily due to a combination of cold, scurvy, and lead poisoning.note 
  • Based on a True Story: While most of the plot of the series is pure dramatic speculation, the Franklin Expedition really did vanish without a trace — from the point of view of the Western world, anyway. In reality, while the exact order of events is still a mystery, a member of the expedition popularly believed to be Crozier was spotted by local Inuit multiple times as late as 1858. A group of around 12 white men were reported living around Back Fish River in the mid-'50s, and a linguist visiting the area in 1937 met a group of mixed-race Inuit who stated they were the descendants of three white men who had come from two ships trapped in the ice nearly a hundred years prior. One of those three men was, from his description, very likely James Fitzjames — who had apparently led a long life with a large, happy family among the Inuit and died peacefully in his mid-80s. However, as none of this is yet proven or disproven, and the show does an impressive amount of Shown Their Work for what is definitively known, the artistic license is fully justified.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The Tuunbaq resembles a gigantic polar bear with a humanoid face.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Of the Call-Forward/Dramatic Irony variant. After sending a diver to remove ice from the ship's propeller, Franklin expresses his curiosity about the underwater world and his wish to see it in the future. This is how he dies.
  • Big Bad Slippage: As his sanity slips into nothing (and he wasn’t exactly well-adjusted to begin with), Hickey becomes increasingly unhinged and becomes the real Big Bad of the series.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Neptune, Crozier's pet Newfoundland.
  • Blatant Lies: Little suggests leaving the sick men at camp, saying they will come back for them when they find help. Everyone seems to know this is bullshit; he means to leave them to die.
  • Book Ends:
    • The first episode begins with James Ross and his interpreter learning that all the men on the Franklin expedition are dead, and Crozier's final words were "Tell them we are gone. Dead and gone." In the final episode — very nearly the final scene — we learn that Crozier asked the Inuit leader to lie and pretend he died and was actually sitting outside the tent while this was happening, and he walks away from any chance of return to England as his final words are repeated.
    • The series begins and ends with men suffering dying hallucinations.
      • In the first episode, Young hallucinates Lady Silence's father warning him to run away.
      • A heartbreaking, soul-crushing scene in the final episode involves a dying Jopson pleading to no avail to not be left behind by the crew, which he thinks Crozier is a part of. He hallucinates a feast with Crozier seated at the head of the table, completely oblivious to him. Jopson proceeds to crawl on the table, knocking everything off in an attempt to get Crozier to notice him. But then the scene cuts away and we're shown that he's only been crawling on sharp rocks, a little ways from his tent, the recipient of Sanity Slippage, and the belief that Crozier left him for dead.
  • Break the Cutie: The story has this in spades, from Goodsir to Jopson to Hartnell to Peglar...
  • Call-Back:
    • In his first scene, Fitzjames is bragging about the bullet he took in China. In a later episode, the bullet wound reopens due to scurvy and becomes infected.
    • Early in the series, Jopson remarks on how close they are to breaking out of the ice, to which Crozier shoots back, "'Close' is nothing. It’s worse than nothing. It’s worse than anything in the world." At the end of the series Crozier finds Lt. Little at the point of death, with everyone else already dead. Little can only gasp out the word "Close?" before he dies.
    • Early in the series, Fitzjames the suck-up says that Franklin loves his men "more than God loves them." Much later, after many terrible things have happened, Crozier tells Fitzjames that they will leave food behind in their camp, just in case any of Hickey's mutineers change their minds and want to come back. Fitzjames, moved at Crozier's generosity, mutters "More than God loves them."
    • In episode 4, Hickey mentions seeing Lady Silence striking a certain pose during what he believed to be her attempting to control the Tuunbaq. In episode 10, during his own attempt to take control of the beast, Hickey strikes a similar pose.
  • The Captain: The Eeyore Crozier and Gentleman Adventurer Franklin are captains of their own ships, but Franklin is the one leading the expedition. Commander Fitzjames later has to assume the role as well when Crozier is Going Cold Turkey and isn't feeling well enough to lead.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
    • Hickey murders his compatriots and frames the Inuk purely to save his planned mutiny, even though not doing that would have vastly improved everyone's chance of survival.
    • Near the end, when "Cornelius Hickey" reveals that he murdered the real Cornelius Hickey and took his place on the ship, Crozier snarks "You could have just joined up."
  • Cool Boat: The two ships of the expedition are the most advanced of their time, with heavily reinforced hulls, locomotive engines installed to provide power and heating, and a propeller instead of the paddlewheels normally seen on early steam warships. Not that it does them much good in the Arctic...
  • Cool Sword: Fitzjames carries an ornately engraved saber.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Brave Scot: Sir John Ross personally leads a mission to find the two lost ships.
    • Blanky certainly qualifies as this by virtue of being a complete badass.
  • Cutting Back to Reality: The final episode has Lt. Thomas Jopson, in the last moments before his death, hallucinating a feast with Captain Crozier seated at the head of the table, completely oblivious to him. He proceeds to crawl onto the table, knocking everything off in a desperate attempt to get Crozier to notice him — but then the scene cuts away and we see that he was only crawling on sharp rocks a little ways from his tent.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: A variation: In episode 7, the sun glinting off of the icy peaks affects Fitzjames badly enough when he takes off his snow goggles that he spends about ten entire seconds squinting, blinking, and rubbing his watering eyes in obvious pain. This is one of the first signs that he’s much sicker with scurvy than he lets on. Light sensitivity is a major symptom.
  • The Dragon: Tozer to the Big Bad Hickey and The Brute Manson after the mutiny.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Deliberately averted with Hickey (in contrast to the book, where he exploits a severely mentally disabled man for sex). He's definitely depraved, and definitely homosexual, but these factors never cross streams except in that he's also something of a clingy jealous guy to the unlucky and commitment-averse Gibson — he's not a bad guy because he's gay, he's simply a very bad guy who happens to be gay.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The Tuunbaq strikes again after a long period of absence just as Hickey and Tozer are about to be hanged.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The crew manage to wound and fend off the Tuunbaq after it sets its sights on Blanky. This is the first indication that, unlike the book, this version of the Tuunbaq has a consistent corporeal form. And if it can be wounded...
  • Dead Person Impersonation: It is eventually revealed that Cornelius Hickey is not the real one, but another man who murdered him and stole his identity.
  • Dead Star Walking: Sir John (Ciaran Hinds) is dead by episode 3 of 10.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Crozier and Hickey are discriminated against for being Irish. Crozier's repeatedly had his proposal for Sophia Cracroft's hand turned down (partly on her uncle's urging) and feels he's been unable to advance further in the navy due to his nationality. Hickey congratulates him for showing that a 'mick' can make it.
    • Fitzjames speaks proudly of his heroics during the First Opium War.
    • A flashback shows a theatre piece about the conversion of Mohawks and Iroquois to Christianity. Sophia chuckles that it is a Downer Ending, because they are converting to Catholicism.
    • Two of Terror's crew are caught having sex in the ship's hold. This might not seem like a big deal to 21st-century audiences, but homosexual activity was a punishable offense in the Royal Navy of the 19th century (though technically only for the first 90 days out of port).
    • There is also the use of "Esquimaux" (the period spelling) and "Eskie" to refer to Lady Silence and her father. While "Eskimo" is still used today as an ethnic descriptor, particularly by the Yupik people of Alaska, it has become considered a pejorative term by aboriginal Canadian peoples and has dropped out of official use.
    • Fitzjames is illegitimate and was raised by an adoptive family. This is treated as a Dark Secret, worth desperately protecting and covering up for decades, rather than fairly incidental as it often is in the modern day.
  • Double-Meaning Title:
    • Terror is the name of the lead ship in the expedition, as well as the emotion most felt by the characters in this horror story.
    • The episode title "Gore" serves as a reference to the Nice Guy Lieutenant Gore, as well as the violent end he meets.
  • Downer Ending: As you would expect from a real life centuries-old tragedy. Everyone on the mission, save one, dies in various gruesome or heartbreaking ways, with Goodsir in particular driven to suicide and then cannibalised. Silence/Silna, now that the Tuunbaq is dead, must go into the Arctic wilderness by herself to spend the rest of her life in exile; her fate is left uncertain. Crozier survives but had to abandon his ship and loses the crew he tried so hard to keep safe, all his friends (both old and new), his left hand and any hope of a life back in England, particularly with Sophia. Lady Jane and Sophia will spend years searching for the expedition to little or no avail, and will never learn the specifics of what happened to Admiral Franklin or Crozier. Even the death of the Tuunbaq is rather sad, as the Inuit people have lost a protector from British imperialism and Western colonization. The only bright spot is that Crozier is accepted by the Inuit village he's joined and can make a new life for himself, but even then he's so emotionally broken that there's really not much left to him.
  • Dramatic Irony: In "Punished, As A Boy", Lady Jane is desperately trying to get the Admiralty to send a rescue party after her husband who died near the end of the previous episode/several months earlier. Plus she talks about feeling her husband's 'spirit'.
  • Dutch Angle: However, the angle is motivated by the fact the ship is tilted, so not only is it unnerving for the viewer, but it was inconvenient and unnerving for the sailors In-Universe, too.
  • Dwindling Party: A crewman drowns before the first episode has hit the 15-minute mark; Dr. Stanley mentions three others buried on Beechey Island before the series began; Young dies of some form of tuberculosis. And that's only the first episode. The monster then starts picking off the crew of the ships, with the body count per episode increasing rapidly. Special mention goes to episode 8, Terror Camp Clear, in which the Tuunbaq attacks the camp and kills off a whopping 32 men in one go.
  • Dumb Muscle: The Manchild Manson is big and strong, but cognitively delayed.

  • Eat the Dog: Hickey cooks and eats the ship's Heroic Dog Neptune.
  • Endless Winter: Obviously. They're far enough north that the best "summer" they can hope for is for temperatures to rise slightly above freezing, and even then that summer never really arrives.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: In the first episode, the men comment on Neptune the ship's dog whining at night, assuming it's because he's smelled a bear. He also doesn't seem to care for Hickey, defecating in front of him out of what seems to be pure spite.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Tuunbaq is a supernatural monster, and Hickey is the secondary antagonist.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Downplayed example; everyone is dressed for cold weather, but not nearly as heavily as in the novel. No use in paying for actors if you can't see their faces.
  • Face Death with Dignity: A lot of the sailors do not do this—cannibalism, mutiny, madness, abandoning the sick and weak—but some do.
    • Blanky, realizing that with his gangrenous leg he has no hope, leaves the main party in an effort to draw the Tuunbaq to him instead. He also ties as many forks to himself as the surviving sailors can spare, to make himself as unpleasant a meal as possible. When the Tuunbaq does show up, Blanky laughs in the face of death and says, "What in the name of God took you so fucking long?"
    • A haggard Goodsir, clad only in his nightshirt, smears his body with poison and drinks some more poison, aiming to kill Hickey's men when they cannibalize him. Then he makes a point to dress up in his full uniform before lying down on his cot and slitting his wrists.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Several crewmen join Hickey in his mutiny, most notably Tozer, Des Voeux, and reluctantly, Hodgson.
  • Fan Disservice: Goodsir, Fitzjames, and Hickey are all good-looking men one might look forward to having a Shirtless Scene or two. Pity you only see them undressed when they're respectively carved up like a Christmas turkey, investigating rotting war wounds, and being flogged.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Sir John, whose men love him and fear disappointing him.
    Fitzjames: Sometimes I think you love your men more than even God loves them, Sir John.
    Sir John: For all our sakes, let's hope you're wrong.
    • Then Crozier, in a far more meaningful way, fighting desperately to save his men and bring them out of the Arctic alive. This is echoed in a Call-Back when Crozier tells Fitzjames that they will leave a store of supplies behind in case any of Hickey's mutineers change their minds and attempt to return. Fitzjames, moved by Crozier's generosity of spirit, mutters "More than God loves them."
  • Fighting Irish: In a fit of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy The Drunken Sailor Crozier starts a fight with Fitzjames after the latter confronts him for requisitioning the whiskey on Erebus.
  • Finale Credits: As the credits roll for the last time, we get a reprise of "The Silver Swan".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: When the series starts Fitzjames and Crozier openly dislike one another. Fitzjames is an inexperienced yes-man to Franklin and ends up supporting him against Crozier, despite the fact that Crozier's right about the risks of the voyage, but Crozier is also an abrasive, joyless alcoholic who rebuffs Fitzjames’s initial attempts at friendship and publicly embarrasses him out of spite. Later, as each shows his bravery and compassion through a series of disasters, the two men become True Companions.
    Fitzjames: "Are we brothers, Francis? I would like that very much."
  • Foregone Conclusion: If the words "Both ships then vanished" didn't spell it out, the rescue party arriving years too late and being told of the dying Crozier's warning — "Tell them we are gone. Dead and gone." — hammers home that this story is not going to have a happy ending.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Pay close attention to the opening credits. The profiles of Franklin and Fitzjames are blown away to show the skull beneath the skin, and sure enough they both die during the course of the story. By contrast, Crozier's face distorts into the same mask worn by Lady Silence's father in "Go For Broke", showing his ultimate fate of surviving and being adopted by the Inuit.
    • When Fitzjames is telling the story of the time he was shot by a sniper during the Opium Wars in China for what is implied to be the umpteenth time, Lieutenant Little notes that the nature of his wound (a bullet passing through Fitzjames's arm, entering his side and stopping just short of shattering his spine) is "like the shot that killed Lord Nelson at Trafalgar," and Fitzjames confirms that he came very close to dying the same way. He does, two years later, thanks to scurvy reopening the wounds — and with a bleeding eye and rotting arm to mimic Nelson's famous disabilities to boot.
    • In episode 3, Morfin starts to sing a sailor's lament in honor of Franklin, but is startled to realize that he's forgotten some of the lyrics. He's suffering from the early stages of chronic lead poisoning, which is going to become a big problem later on.
    • A subtle one regarding Hickey's identity. In episode 2 Crozier comments that Hickey doesn't sound Irish, which Hickey says is because he's lived in England a long time. Hickey also responds that Crozier 'gives hope to the rest of us micks.' Mick is a derogatory term for an Irish person, so unlikely to be used by one. Look closely, and Crozier gives a slight reaction to this. When we meet the real Hickey briefly at the beginning of episode 7, he speaks with a typical Irish accent.
    • In episode 7, Crozier asks Jopson how he feels being deprived of his regular duties, and allows him to be the one who gathers the officers for a command meeting. At said command meeting, Crozier promotes Jopson to the rank of Lieutenant.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Franklin to Neptune and Jacko the monkey.
  • From Bad to Worse: The entire show is basically a constantly descending Trauma Conga Line. As follows:
    • First a minor outbreak of tuberculosis occurs during their first winter in the ice, killing three of the crew.
    • Then Erebus damages its propeller, forcing them to rely on Terror—the less capable ship—to push through the ice, causing setbacks.
    • Next, the ships get stuck in pack ice, and remain trapped there for a whole winter. When they try to get free in the spring/summer, there's no sign of a thaw or any way out of the ice.
    • Then a scouting team accidentally shoots an Inuit shaman and appear to have incurred the wrath of a monster which kills several of the crew, including Franklin.
    • Then they discover that a lot of the tinned supplies they brought with them were inexpertly processed and sealed and have spoiled, so they'll soon run out of food; and Goodsir and Macdonald are growing worried that the men are suffering from lead poisoning — either via the soldering in the food that hasn't spoiled, or via the water pipes on the ships.
    • When Goodsir brings that last tidbit to the attention of Dr Stanley, Stanley appears to be driven to despair and madness by the almost certain death sentence that has been given to the expedition, and sets the Carnivale tent and himself on fire. Two of those to die in the disaster are Dr. Macdonald and Dr. Peddie, leaving Goodsir as the last medical man in both crews.
    • When the crews abandon Erebus and Terror, Crozier and a few other men discover that the advance party that was sent out months before had been killed by the Tuunbaq only a few miles from the ships — so there's no hope of rescue coming.
    • Just as Lieutenant Irving makes contact with a Netsilik family in the hopes of being able to trade with them and find a way of supporting the party, Hickey snaps and murders both him and Farr, trying to spark a mutiny that ends in the camp getting attacked by the Tuunbaq, and himself and his mutineers getting away with a captured Goodsir in tow.
    • The crew finds out that the Tuunbaq does not only kill people, but devours their souls as well.
    • Fitzjames is dying slowly and painfully from scurvy and has to be mercy killed by Crozier, Blanky is succumbing to gangrene and sacrifices himself to lead the Tuunbaq away from the remaining crew, Hickey kills a dying Gibson and forces Goodsir to butcher him for meat, and the mutineers capture Crozier.
    • An off-screen example is what befalls Lieutenant Little and the remaining crewmen who elect to follow Crozier's order to leave him behind, even though he hoped they wouldn't actually do that. When Crozier finds their camp after several weeks under Lady Silence's care, all that remains are collapsed and tattered tents, half-eaten bodies and severed limbs in cooking pots, and the dying Edward Little, whose face is now covered in golden chains sewn into his cheeks and lip and is so far gone he can only blankly stare at Crozier and utter "close" before expiring.
  • Gallows Humor: Blanky, facing the imminent amputation of his leg, asks Crozier to serve everyone a shot of whisky from his bottle, stating that he feels like he and the Tuunbag have just gotten engaged and he wants to celebrate. Much later on, as he's preparing to lure the Tuunbaq away from the rest of the crew, he starts cackling gleefully when Crozier realizes why he wants forks and rope.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Crozier, who is the first to realize that he cannot go on being The Alcoholic as things are going bad, tells his officers that he's going to be locked up in his room for a while. He even says "I may beg," but that the other officers are to carry on without him until he gets dry. Attended only by his loyal steward Jopson, Crozier eventually kicks alcohol.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We don't actually see Irving's posthumous castration, just a huge, appropriately-placed bloodstain on the cloth that covers his corpse.
  • Great White Hunter: In the third episode Franklin sets up a trap for the Tuunbaq similar to those used in India for hunting tigers, and brings a camera to photograph the expected result. It does not end well. At all.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: A watchstander aboard Terror is found cut in half. The doctors determine he was cut with a claw, and when Fitzjames suggests the assailant was a man using a bear’s claw as a weapon, they observe that the power demonstrated in each cut was beyond the strength of any man. The monster swiped its claw three times in the same place, deliberately bisecting the poor bastard — or rather, bastards, as the Tuunbaq, disturbingly, stacks the upper half of one dead man on the lower half of the other.
    • This fate ultimately befalls Hickey in We Are Gone.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Franklin and Crozier to Neptune, in contrast to Hickey, whose first lines are complaining about the dog's apparent elevation over the crew and eventually kills and eats him.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Fitzjames is the only one of the ship's officers who always carries his sword.
  • Hero of Another Story: James Clark Ross had sailed with Crozier on a previous Antarctic expedition which netted him fame and success upon his return to England.
  • Heroic Bastard: Fitzjames. It's practically his Freudian Excuse.
  • Historical Domain Character: Essentially the entire cast, with the notable exceptions of Lady Silence, her father and the Tuunbaq. Also notable is the case of Cornelius Hickey, which unlike the book, is revealed to be a stowaway who murdered the "real" Hickey and assumed his identity, presumably to get over the gratuitous villainization that the novel did to the real man.
  • Holier Than Thou: The most outspokenly religious character, Sir John Franklin, is a classist xenophobe who has a dead Inuit's body disposed of like trash, at the same time he is preparing the eulogy of a British soldier and friend of his. He even remarks to the crew that they "have only lost one man" (and should only mourn him, as a result).
  • How We Got Here: The first scene of the series features James Clark Ross, leading a rescue party in 1850 and making contact with the Netsilik, whereupon they learn that all the men of the Franklin expedition have died. Then we jump back to 1846 and the start of the story proper, as Franklin and his ships approach the Arctic ice.
  • Hubris:
    • Sir John's flaw, as called out explicitly by Crozier when Franklin decides to trust in divine providence rather than take sensible precautions.
    • Invoked without being explicitly named where Fitzjames is concerned, as the dramatic war wound he's so fond of telling people about opens up again when he comes down with scurvy and ultimately kills him.

  • I Am a Humanitarian: As supplies run out and desperation (fueled by the madness of lead poisoning) sets in, the party resorts to cannibalism to survive...with Hickey leading the charge.
  • Implied Love Interest: Goodsir and Lady Silence form a close bond over the course of the series, the exact nature of which is never specified. While it's hinted a few times that Goodsir may have romantic feelings for her, nothing explicit is said or shown. Ultimately, it's a case of "what might have been," since he is Driven to Suicide and she is forced into exile after Tuunbaq's death.
  • Insistent Terminology: Goodsir is the first to point out that he's only a surgeon, not a doctor. Indeed, British surgeons to this day are still referred to as Mr/Miss etc, not 'Dr'.
  • Irony:
    • In episode 3, Sir John tells Crozier that he is not fit for command in a fit of anger. Sir John is killed by the monster by the end of the episode, forcing Crozier to assume command.
    • Blanky in episode 9: Dying of gangrene, he walks away from the camp to draw the Tuunbaq off. Eventually he can go no further, sits down on a hillside — and suddenly realizes that the stretch of frozen ocean he's looking out over is the Northwest Passage the whole expedition came out here to find. His only reaction is to burst out laughing and note it down on his map while he waits to die.
    • After they’re caught fooling around, Hickey discovers Gibson has sold him out to Lieutenant Irving, though Gibson insists this betrayal was necessary to spare them both from a more severe punishment. In the penultimate episode of the season, Hickey repays this figurative backstab by literally stabbing Gibson in the back, though this too (in theory) is done to spare the other further suffering.
  • It Can Think: The crew of the expedition debate whether or not the monster is deliberately picking off the leaders of the group: first Gore, then Franklin...
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Hickey and the superstitious sailors believe Lady Silence is a witch controlling the Tuunbaq. While it's not clear to them at the time whether she's actually commanding the beast to kill (in fact, she’s obviously terrified of the creature), there is clearly some connection between the two.
  • Karmic Death: In episode 3, Franklin has the Inuit shaman unceremoniously dumped into an ice hole without even a service; the Tuunbaq later throws him into the same hole.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Sir John seems like a good guy, until we find out that he forbids his niece from marrying the accomplished and perfectly honorable Crozier on account of his Irish heritage.
    • When Hickey disobeys orders and then argues against his punishment, Crozier orders him to be lashed thirty times as a boy, meaning he has his trousers pulled down and viciously whipped across his bare ass until it's scarred and bloody. By the standards of the time, this was actually a light punishment.
  • Killed Offscreen: Des Voeux. While he escaped the Tuunbaq's final slaughter of the mutineers, he's very obviously on his last legs the final time we see him.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Crozier is grumpy and cynical, with no faith in God. As time goes by, though, he becomes a loving and protective leader.

  • Last Kiss: After Peglar dies, a heartbroken Bridgens kisses his hand.
  • Lethal Chef: The Erebus cook's solution to rotting tinned food contaminated with lead? Add salt.
  • Magical Native American: Lady Silence is the Inuk equivalent.
  • Not Himself: Lead poisoning, scurvy, and plain desperation have these effects on the crew. Exemplified by Jacko the monkey, which goes from calm and friendly to erratic and violent after Goodsir changes its porcelain feeding plate for a lead can.
  • List of Transgressions: Before Hickey's flogging, Crozier recites the charges to the assembled crew.
    Crozier: For the crimes of insubordination, dereliction of duty, desertion, kidnapping, brutality, and dirtiness, Petty Officer Cornelius Hickey will be flogged 30 lashes. As a boy.
  • Magic Versus Technology: The supernatural Tuunbaq against a well-equipped Royal Navy expedition.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": In Terror Camp Clear, this is the reaction of the expedition when the Tuunbaq attacks the camp. Made even worse by the fog and fact that it caught them out in the open, allowing it to easily slaughter men left and right.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It isn't made entirely clear whether the Tuunbaq died almost immediately after tearing Hickey in half because Hickey's soul had become so foul that trying to eat it (and the rest of him) poisoned the monster, or if it simply choked on him.
  • Meat Grinder Surgery: MacDonald is forced to amputate Blanky's leg after an attack by the Tuunbaq.
  • Medieval Prehistory: The Tuunbaq resembles the extinct short-faced bear in size and proportions, though with a more human-like face.
  • Morality Pet:
    • Despite being a classist, racist, and British imperialist (though toned down in all three from the original source), Sir John doesn't come across as entirely bad, because he cares for the pet monkey gifted to him by his wife.
    • Crozier comes across as better than all other officers because he cares for the Inuit and defends Lady Silence when he can. He's also kind to the ship's dog Neptune, and his steward Mr. Jopson.
    • Dr. Stanley has a scene drawing a picture, and talking lovingly of his (fictional) daughter right before he commits mass murder-suicide after losing his mind.
  • The Mutiny:
    • Hickey stages one, leading a revolt and taking away a large chunk of what remains of the ship's company.
    • The remnants of Crozier's loyalists make a more subdued one. When Lt. Little, senior of the two officers they have left, says they must go back and rescue Crozier, the men simply refuse to do it. They also refuse to obey Crozier's command to take the sick with them, instead leaving those men to die in their tents.
    • Earlier in the series Crozier nearly mutinies himself. After Franklin refuses to admit how much trouble they're in, and refuses to permit Crozier to take a party of men and voyage down the Back River so they can find civilization and rescue, Crozier elects to go anyway. The only thing that stops him is the monster killing Sir John, which leaves Crozier in command of the expedition.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The Arctic is presented as such to the viewer, and definitely this for the characters.
  • Naďve Newcomer: Most of the crews, but out of the main characters it’s most emphasized with Goodsir, the Nice Guy doctor, and Fitzjames, who has never commanded anything of this scale before.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The expedition sails on the Terror and the Erebus (Greek god of darkness). Both vessels were warships before being converted for explorationnote .
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Hickey was already a sociopathic Bastard Bastard, but the flogging ordered by Crozier pushed him into a full Face–Heel Turn and Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal.
    • Crozier lashes out at Blanky in a fit of drunken anger, ordering him to go out and get a "full report" of conditions on the ice. This puts Blanky in the Tuunbaq's sights when it storms Terror moments later, costing him his leg, and is ultimately part of the reason for his death.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Lt. Graham Gore is shown to be a friendly officer who treats the men of his scouting party very fairly, taking one of the haul lines to pull their boat and equipment when he could easily pawn the hard work off on the enlisted men, until he becomes the Tuunbaq’s first victim.
    • Surgeon Harry Goodsir is probably the nicest and most compassionate member of the expedition.
    • Crozier's steward (later Lt.) Thomas Jopson deserves a mention as well for being, along with Goodsir, one of the most unambiguously good men on the expedition.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: Crozier does this before Going Cold Turkey. Acutely aware that he must quit drinking so he can lead the men, he tells Jopson and his officers to shut him up in his cabin and leave him there until he's through withdrawal, even though "I may beg." They do, and he makes it.
  • No Name Given: Although we don't find this out until near the end. The man we know as "Cornelius Hickey" actually murdered the real Cornelius Hickey and took his place on the ship. We never do find out what Fake Hickey's name is; the most we're given are the initials E.C. that Fake Hickey carved into the chest where he stowed his belongings.
  • Noodle Incident: Morfin mentions in First Shot a Winner, Lads, to Goodsir that he had been flogged once before, and does not go into further detail as to why, though the latter asks.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Even before the Tuunbaaq is revealed, there are plenty of suspenseful moments where it seems obvious that something nasty is out there, but nothing shows itself.
    • When Diver Collins is clearing ice from Erebus's prop. Already nervous in the unfamiliar Arctic waters, and well-aware that any malfunction in his diving suit will most likely be fatal, Collins sees — or perhaps imagines — a dark figure floating towards him in the water, and immediately panics.
    • Even as British sailors and marines are dropping like flies, the Tuunbaq remains out of sight, leaving only tracks and mutilated bodies.
  • Oh, Crap!: By the boatload.
    • Franklin at the end of Go For Broke when he sees that the ships have become trapped in the ice, the exact situation they were trying to avoid.
    • Goodsir has one when he goes to fetch Lt. Gore and arrives just in time to see the Tuunbaq maul him to death, complete with The Scream.
    • Franklin has two consecutive ones in The Ladder. First, when Tuunbaq caves in the hunting blind and rips Sgt. Bryant's head off, second, when he sees that it tore off his own leg right before throwing him down the ice hole.
    • Goodsir has a massive one when he deduces that the crew is suffering from years of collective lead poisoning thanks to the improper soldering on the cans, and the water pipes. Dr. Stanley also has one when he is informed of this, leading to...
    • Crozier, when he sees Dr. Stanley covering himself in oil.
    • An understated one from Crozier, Fitzjames, Morfin and Tozer after they happen upon the remains of the rescue team they sent out a year ago just 18 miles from the ships, meaning there is no one coming to save them.
    • The crew has a collective one when the Tuunbaq returns.
    • Hickey has a well deserved one when Tuunbaq bites down on his arm instead of accepting him as a shaman.
  • Old Soldier:
    • Blanky is the naval equivalent, having spend most of his life at sea and seen many strange things.
    • Franklin himself is 60, and Crozier seven years younger.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • In the first episode Crozier tries to warn Franklin of the danger of his chosen route, since he isn't caught up in the mad dash for glory. He begs Sir John to take the longer but safer route down the east coast of King William Island, away from the ice. Sir John refuses.
    • Later on, as Crozier himself becomes more habitually drunk, surly and irresponsible, Fitzjames picks up this role from him for a brief period, after which they become friends.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Franklin and Fitzjames are upper class Englishmen or at least passing off as such in Fitzjames' case, in contrast to Crozier, the lower middle class career officer from Oireland.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • While Fitzjames initially comes off as a vain sycophant trotting at Franklin's heels, it gradually becomes apparent that it's less yes-manning and more that he sees Franklin as one of these, especially after Franklin's gruesome death. Unsurprising, as Fitzjames' real father not only dumped him to be raised by friends as an infant, he gave him a name that bordered on a joke about his illegitimacy, and his loving foster father died the last time he was away at sea. Fitzjames could use all the loving older mentors he could get.
    • Franklin and his wife Lady Jane also served as this for his niece, Sophia.
  • Pirate Parrot: Sir John sometimes carries Jacko the monkey on his shoulder.
  • Polar Madness: The series currently provides the page quote. Fitting, since the expedition has to deal with brutal cold, long periods of unending darkness, constant snowstorms, near-total isolation, dwindling and tainted provisions, ice that is slowly squeezing their trapped ships to pieces, and the giant, angry bear-demon-thing that keeps showing up to kill them in increasingly horrible ways. It's no wonder that more than a few of them snap under the pressure.
  • Precision F-Strike: There aren't many instances of swearing in the series, but we get this gem courtesy of Blanky toward the end when he's facing down the Tuunbaq:
    What in the name of God took you so fucking long?

  • Rewatch Bonus: At the very beginning of the first episode, when Ross is questioning the Netsilik leader (via interpreter) about what happened to the Franklin expedition and is told Crozier's last words, someone sitting outside the tent gets up and walks away. In the final episode it turns out that person was Crozier, walking away from the prospect of returning to England and maintaining the lie he asked the Inuit leader to tell.
    • In episode 7, we see a flashback to Cornelius Hickey joining the crew muster. He is played by a different actor than Adam Nagaitis. This is because the Cornelius Hickey that Nagaitis plays is an imposter.
  • Riddle for the Ages: When Crozier finds Lt Little's party, their camp is in ruins, with bits of equipment and clothing strewn about the place, the half-eaten remains of at least one crewmember sitting in a pot, and the rest of the crew lying together dead. Little, still barely clinging to life, has pierced his face with gold chains. He lives long enough to mutter a cryptic "Close" to Crozier before expiring. Neither Crozier nor the audience learn how it came to pass. Even stranger, this part, down to the facial piercings, is true.
  • Seadog Beard: Blanky has a long beard befitting his status as a tough old salt who's seen it all.
  • Secret History:
    • The final episode reveals that Crozier joined the Inuit and purposely left tales that he had died to stop searches for him.
    • In the show (but not in the book), Cornelius Hickey is actually a fictional character who murdered the historical Hickey and assumed his identity.
  • Secretly Dying: Though the expedition as a whole starts taking awful damage from lead poisoning, scurvy, frostbite, and general lack of adequate medical care, Fitzjames and Blanky both try to conceal the grave extent of their personal injuries. Fitzjames is forced to give up the charade when he collapses on the haul; Crozier sees the blood staining Fitzjames’s clothes from his old war wounds reopening and gently but firmly insists that Fitzjames be placed in the whaleboats instead of walking. The jarring from the whaleboat itself causes Fitzjames to cry out in pain, and it’s clear from that point on that he doesn’t have much longer. Shortly after his death, Blanky in turn reveals that his stump leg has gone gangrenous and asks Crozier to let him go before he ends up in similar condition.
  • Self-Immolation: Dr. Stanley, in an attempt to mass-Mercy Kill everyone during the Carnivale.
  • Sergeant Rock: Solomon Tozer of the Royal Marines. Until he joins up with Hickey. Sergeant Bryant is also an example of the trope until Tuunbag decapitates him.
  • Shadow Archetype: Hickey becomes this to both Crozier (as an underappreciated, overworked lower-class Irishman) and Fitzjames. Both Hickey and Fitzjames received their positions on the ship through dubious means — Hickey performed a Kill and Replace on the real Cornelius Hickey, and Fitzjames, whose career in the Royal Navy began when his foster family glossed over his volunteer record to get him promoted to midshipman without his actually having done the prerequisite duty, received the appointment in thanks for paying to cover up a scandal involving an admiral’s son. Hickey proves to be almost totally amoral, while Fitzjames, uncomfortably aware of being a fraud, is ultimately a good man who does everything he can to try to deserve what he has.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of research went into making this show.
    • Crozier and a few others are shown wearing tinted sunglasses. Just such a pair of glasses was found amid the traces found of the exepedition's futile attempt to go south and reach the mainland.
    • After Peglar dies, his lover Bridgens wanders away, clutching Peglar's journal, until he lies down and himself dies. The scribbled remnants of a journal, along with Henry Peglar's seaman papers, were found in 1859.
    • Near the end, Crozier finds an abandoned camp left by Little's party; among the detritus are several books, pages flapping in the wind. In Real Life the remains of several of Franklin's crew members were found with quite a bit of stuff that was pretty useless for desperate men trying to make a forced march before they starved to death, like a copy of a novel, The Vicar of Wakefield.
    • Finally Crozier crosses a frozen strait and finds the last camp, where everyone is dead except Little, who gasps out the word "Close?" and then expires. The last known camp of the Franklin expedition was found at just such a place on the Canadian mainland, now called "Starvation Cove".
    • When Crozier finds Little the lieutenant is looking ghastly, with chains hooked into his face for some unexplained reason. The Inuk who witnessed the end of the expedition described finding just such a white man with chains hooked to his face.
    • Fitzjames' entire backstory, including the war story he brags about at dinner as well as his confession of his origins, comes from a biography of his real-life counterpart by William Battersby, published a few years after Dan Simmons' novel. When the novel was written, not much was known about him aside from his then-present reputation as a cheerful, handsome war hero and a general assumption that he had "connections".
    • The death of Sir John Franklin; some viewers wondered why he didn't surface as soon as possible after being dropped into the ice hole's waters. Currents notwithstanding, the sheer chill factor of that water would've caused his muscles to seize up within seconds, ensuring he'd sink like a stone and freeze to death shortly before drowning. Which is also foreshadowed in the very first episode, when an unfortunate crew member falls into the waters; it's less than a minute, on the surface itself, before he just gurgles and sinks with little more than ten seconds or less of mild thrashing.
  • Significant Background Event:
    • Lt. Irving, leading a hunting party consisting of him, Hickey, and Farr, spies a Netsilik family. Delirious with happiness, he goes to meet them, while Hickey and Farr remain in the far background at the top of the hill. As Irving greets the Netsilik, we see Hickey and Farr, still in the far background, disappear from the top of the hill. When Irving comes back, he and the audience find out that Hickey has murdered Farr.
    • In "The Ladder", while Goodsir is making a daguerreotype of Franklin and the hunting party, some snow cascades down onto the hunting blind behind them, as if disturbed by something. The Tuunbaq attacks the blind from above minutes later. It was watching them the whole time.
    • In the first episode, while the Inuit are telling James Ross about what happened to the expedition, you can see a hooded figure sitting outside the tent listening, before eventually getting up and leaving. In the final episode, This turns out to be Crozier, deciding to abandon his life in England.
  • Solitary Sorceress: White Magician Girl Lady Silence apparently lives apart from Inuit society, judging by her and her father being out on the pack ice in the first place, and her decision to stay near the ships after his death. In the end, the death of the Tuunbaq forces her to spend the rest of her life alone, apparently by her own unquestioned choice.
  • Squishy Wizard: Lady Silence's father is The Beast Master who can control the Tuunbaq, but he can't stop a bullet any better than anyone else.
  • Sword and Gun: Crozier carries a percussion pistol, and Fitzjames uses a musket when hunting the Tuunbaq.
  • The Teetotaler: Sir John Franklin, in contrast to Crozier, who drinks like a fish.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Goodsir commits suicide by drinking poison, but also slashes his wrists to hide that fact, knowing that Hickey will order his seditious men to eat him, thereby poisoning them as well. It works even better than he could have expected, as the Tuunbaaq is also poisoned to death after eating some of the poisoned crew.
  • Time-Passage Beard: After abandoning the ships, Goodsir's muttonchops fuse into a full beard to show that time has passed and provide some insight into his mental state. Crozier wakes up with a beard after having recovered from his battle with the Tuunbaq, showing that at least a few weeks have passed, and he keeps it after the Time Skip to highlight how far he's separated from his old life.
  • Toilet Humour: Whilst the rest of the crew attends Franklin's burial Hickey defecates in his ex-boyfriend Gibson’s bed and wipes his bum with a pair of ceremonial white gloves.
  • Together in Death: Bridgens and Peglar, who are all but stated to be a couple. Given the era, neither of them could openly acknowledge their feelings, but it's made very clear how much they care for each other.
  • Tongue On The Flag Pole: A rare non-comedic example. Due to the cold, the party are careful not to touch metal above deck with their bare flesh, otherwise they'll get stuck and lose several layers of skin trying to get free. Crozier (who really should know better) at one point makes the mistake of bringing a telescope too close to his eye, and nearly rips his eyelid off. Another man tears off most of the skin on his palm while preparing a cannon to fire at the Tuunbaq.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Goodsir, in spades.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Hickey tries to become this after he realizes the Tuunbaq is more than just a mutant polar bear and that there’s a powerful spiritual dimension to the beast. It ends with him carving out his own tongue and the Tuunbaq mauling him to death in disgust at the very idea. To add insult to injury, Hickey’s soul is so unclean that the Tuunbaq chokes and dies on it.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The entire show, for practically every single character, is an almost completely unrelenting version of this.
  • Upper-Class Twit:
    • Sir John is a well-bred and dignified gentleman, but over the course of the first two episodes we find out that he has a spotty military record and was far down on the list of ideal candidates for the expedition. Sure enough, he consistently makes the wrong choices.
    • Subverted with Fitzjames, who initially seems like nothing but Franklin's preening yes-man, who supports his decision against Crozier in the first episode and seems more concerned with the men's personal cleanliness than running the ship. After that, though, it steadily becomes clearer that he's no twit — he has his men monitor Crozier's drinking problem after the latter becomes head of the whole expedition, successfully predicting that Crozier will hit the bottle and make things worse and personally calling him out on it. He ultimately becomes, if not a great leader himself, a brave and effective right hand man to Crozier after the latter has kicked his drinking habit And then, to hammer it home, it turns out Fitzjames is not even truly upper class, either.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Both the series and the book it's based on follow the the real life Franklin Expedition and depict the widely accepted account of events that caused the tragic failure of the expedition with reasonable accuracy. However, one major departure from real events is the inclusion of the Tuunbaq, which is a completely fictional embellishment.
  • Villainous Rescue: Hickey is saved from execution by the arrival of the Tuunbaq.

  • When He Smiles: The characters don't smile often, but when they do, their faces light up and the mood is almost always just a little lifted.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Blanky is clearly Made of Iron because as soon as his peg leg is fitted he is back in action.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Or the cat, as it were. We never discover the fate of Fagin, the ship's cat. It's likely she was either eaten for food or starved to death on Terror when the vermin ran out.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Fitzjames has a blazing row with Crozier for risking the men's lives by sending them out to take whisky from the Erebus.
  • White Mage: Lady Silence's father is a shaman whose job is to protect the Inuit people from the Tuunbaq. His job has apparently now fallen to his daughter.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The series starts out like this, with daily life aboard a Royal Navy exploratory expedition represented in surprising detail. Both vessels were originally built as mortar shipsnote , but were converted to exploratory ships, as their heavily-framed hulls built to withstand the recoil of a heavy mortar also made them capable icebreakers. Despair sets in amongst the crew after the third episode, however, and shipboard life goes out the window in favor of starvation, hypothermia... and a vicious monster.
  • World Half Full: Surprisingly enough, despite the, well, terror the men live (and eventually fail to live) through, the series takes the ultimate position that above all else, it's important to bond and help each other in the face of tragedy, and that Hickey's vicious "adaptation" strategies only make things worse. Goodsir even says toward the end that even after everything he's been through, the Arctic is still beautiful to him, filling him with childlike wonder and curiosity.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: When Sir John is gifted Jacko, his first remark is that the monkey is actually female, but he keeps the name anyway.