Station Eleven's Biggest Changes From the Novel (So Far)

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Station Eleven, available now on HBO Max.

HBO Max's latest limited series, Station Eleven, is startlingly similar (though thankfully much less dire) to the current state of the world. A virus called the Georgia Flu spreads rapidly around the globe, at first disrupting life in ways that now feel all-too-familiar, then ultimately killing about 99.9 percent of the population. But Station Eleven, which is based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel, is, like its source material, a surprisingly hopeful take on a post-apocalyptic future. It follows a nomadic troupe of actors and musicians performing Shakespeare and trying to do better than survive twenty years later, with frequent flashbacks to their lives in the before times and the people they loved. Though the novel and the series share the same basic plot and characters, HBO Max's version (on which St. John Mandel is a producer) has taken some significant liberties. This is what's changed from the page to the screen:

Jeevan Gets a New Backstory and a Larger Role

HBO Max's adaptation begins just as the book does, with Jeevan noticing that Arthur is having a heart attack and rushing the stage. From there, Jeevan's story has undergone a major rewrite. He takes responsibility for eight-year-old actor Kirsten when her kid-wrangler and her parents are nowhere to be found. What he assumed would be temporary stewardship of the girl quickly becomes a more permanent and high-stakes situation. At his physician sister's desperate urging, Jeevan and Kirsten stock up on groceries and head to his brother's apartment. In the show, Jeevan is Kirsten's guardian for the first 80 days of the pandemic, then for some time after when they escape to a cabin.

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In the book's opening chapter, Jeevan only encounters a young Kirsten backstage before they go their separate ways. He and Frank endure the 80 days in the apartment together until Frank, who is a paraplegic, commits suicide (in the series, an invader kills him with the knife that becomes Kirsten's weapon). Frank's backstory is more complex, too. It's his friend and not his sister who alerts him to the severity of the Georgia Flu. He's also a member of the paparazzi and even interviews Arthur years before he attends King Lear. Finally, the book's version of Jeevan has recently embarked on a career as a paramedic and does attempt to perform CPR on Arthur before he passes away.

The Setting Is Switched from Toronto to Chicago

The series starts off with a production of King Lear that's been staged in Chicago. That's also where Kirsten, Jeevan and Frank live and where much of the action takes place in the timeline that covers the outbreak of the Georgian Flu. The later timeline, 20 years further into the future, takes place in makeshift cities around Lake Michigan. It's also worth noting that the show's Arthur, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, is Mexican and Clark is, at least at first, trying to return his body to his home country.

Though the novel's Travelling Symphony does make its way around the Great Lakes region (which they call "The Wheel"), much of the rest of the story takes place in Toronto. Arthur and Miranda are both from a remote part of British Columbia, so his choosing to return to Canada to perform his King Lear has added significance.

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Miranda's Past Is Decidedly Different

On screen, Arthur and Miranda have a meet-cute in a diner, seemingly when he's already quite famous. She's portrayed as a workaholic and their quickie marriage ends when she suspects him of cheating on her with his costar, Elizabeth, and when he breaks her trust by taking Elizabeth into her studio and showing her the draft of Station Eleven. It's revealed that her motivation to write the comic is the loss of her father to suicide and her broken childhood home.

The book's Miranda meets Arthur years before he's a big star. He always remembers her beauty and talent and reconnects with her as she's trying to leave an abusive relationship. She's bankrolling her no-good artist boyfriend at the time with a temp job at a logistics firm. The highly regimented work gives her structure and purpose, but she eventually leaves the gig and the guy (who gives her a black eye on her way out) to marry Arthur and move to Los Angeles. When Arthur divorces her for Elizabeth, she returns to Neptune Logistics.

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The Travelling Symphony Takes Some Detours

When we first see full-grown Kirsten with the Travelling Symphony, they're arriving in St. Deborah by the Water ready to put on Hamlet, with a very pregnant Charlie and her partner Jeremy in tow. On their midwife's advice, Charlie and Jeremy decide to stay in the town for the baby. Meanwhile, a stranger appears with who he says is his teenage son, claiming to be a huge fan of the Symphony. He seems eager to join and to get close to one of the group's youngest members, Alex. This stranger turns out to be Tyler Leander, Arthur and Elizabeth's son and the Prophet who is going from town to town, brainwashing and making off with the "pre-pans."

In book form, the Symphony is returning to St. Deborah by the Water a year after Charlie and Jeremy have decided to stay. They're nowhere to be found, but the locals warn the troupe to leave as soon as possible, as the Prophet runs the community now like a cult. Empty graves contain the names of people who've left. We don't meet the actual Prophet (at least not as the Prophet) until much later in the novel. Tyler and Kirsten's interactions are different, as are the occurrences at some of the Symphony's stops.

The first nine episodes of Station Eleven are available to stream on HBO Max.

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Rita Dorsch (324 Articles Published)

Rita is a film and TV writer for CBR, and freelance writer and author. She teaches writing and theatre for Penn State and Kent State Universities. She studied writing and theatre at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She lives and works out of the Greater Pittsburgh area.

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