Godless and Cormac McCarthy

***This contains some spoilers***

Decided to check out the Netflix show Godless after hearing great things about it and finding out the writer/director, Scott Frank, is from Ft Walton Beach, which always makes it a bit more special when it’s someone from so close to your home town. I live in Pensacola, Florida for anyone reading this who might not know me. And I love Westerns. Three good reasons to get excited.

During the opening scene of the first episode something struck me as mighty familiar. Lots of dead bodies and the camera pans over to a child’s body hung to death. Sure Westerns are violent but this was foreshadowing an ultra-violence I’ve only encountered one time before in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I get it though, a Western written after Blood Meridian is going to have similarities, intentionally or not. McCarthy changed the way we view the American West. There is no denying it.

I continued on to episode two. Here is where I nearly turned it off. The leader of the villainous gang, Frank Griffin, is sitting around a campfire with a child on his lap and articulating his worldly wisdom. Luckily Griffin doesn’t scalp the child as Judge Holden does on page 164.

Later Frank Griffin has a monologue about the world being Godless sounding very similar to Judge Holden’s talk about “God is War.” Frank Griffin says, “God? What God? […] There ain’t no higher up around here to watch over you and your youngens. This here is the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake. The land of the blade and the rifle. It’s a Godless country.” About as Gnostic as we can get. The only thing we never get is Frank Griffin dancing and playing the fiddle and saying, “I never sleep and I will never die.”

And of course there is the Roy Goode and Frank Griffin father-son relationship and Roy Goode breaking free of Griffin. Again very similar to the Kid and Judge Holden’s relationship. During the same campfire scene, Griffin says of Roy Goode, “I aim to show him that love when we meet up again.” I couldn’t help but think of Judge Holden and the Kid in the jakes at the end of the book.

I couldn’t roll my eyes back far enough into my head. However, I was able to overcome these obvious references and enjoy the show. Fans of McCarthy either have to appreciate what Scott Frank is doing with allusions or laugh at the obvious nods. There are plenty more, too. All stories come from other stories and we sometimes get protective of those we hold dear to us. I’m glad I continued on with the series because Godless is one of the better shows I’ve seen and a damn good Western. And it will have to do until a director gets the cajones to put Blood Meridian on the screen.

Read my follow up to this post with Director/Writer Scott Frank.

6 thoughts on “Godless and Cormac McCarthy

  1. Thank you. I’m a huge fan of Mcarthy’s work and an glad to have found your article as these comparisons had playing playing on my mind but I have yet to find any comment from Scott Frank himself. I wonder if you had also picked up on the references to All the pretty horses in Goode’s horse sense and perhaps the crossing in Goode’s reference to his time spent alone in the wilderness. A great peice of television generally. Scooter Mcnairy’s Bill is a beautifully subtle performance. As you also say we all await the coming of Blood meridian to the screen. Many years ago Marlon Brando was mooted for the role of the Judge. James Franco has been hoping to direct this for a while but as yet no news.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely saw similarities with All the Pretty Horses and the Crossing. I just kind of threw this blog post together after finishing the series because it seemed so blatant to me, and didn’t include nearly all the references I noticed. I’d have to rewatch the series again as I did the first two episodes and just haven’t had the time yet. But really interesting and I appreciate Scott Frank’s work. I also appreciate your comments. Thanks for reading.


  2. Very late reply but just watched Godless and was googling if anyone else picked up on the obvious similarities with CMC’s work. Also Shawshank redemption. There is a scene where Roy is talking to Alice about his father and how his father died when he was young and “so I was imagining a younger man”, essentially directly lifted from No Country for Old Men where the Sheriff is reflecting on a dream of his father, “I’m looking back at a younger man”.

    Then the Shawshank connection with the letter Roy has from his brother. I lifted this comment from reddit bc it summarizes the similarities better than I can: (user: Heisenberg82) “Both the content and the form of the letter bear striking similarities to Andy’s letter. Jim writes to Roy asking Roy to join him in Atascadero—Andy writes to Red asking Red to join him in Zihuatanejo. Jim writes about how big and blue the Pacific Ocean is—this seems essentially lifted from Red’s words and hopes about that ocean. When Alice finishes reading the letter, Truckee asks her if she thinks that Roy is headed to Atascadero to see Jim. Alice responds “I hope.” As Shawshank ends and Red finally meets Andy on the shore of the Pacific, we hear Red’s narration end with these lines: “I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I HOPE.” ”

    My biggest disappointment with this show is how featured horses are and yet the “horse whispering” “horse breaking” stuff just goes against reality. When you bend reality to make a narrative “more engaging” for the masses or whatever his impetus was, it severely undermines the story/true to life connection, IMO. The anti-thesis of Cormac McCarthy, who is exemplary in his research. This show had a lot of wasted potential IMO, but it was still entertaining for the most part.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s a strange thing to balance that line between paying homage to your influences and blatantly ripping them off. I never picked up on the Shawshank Redemption similarities


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