Nightflyers, Syfy’s new series based on the 1984 novella by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, is freaky, bloody, and full of medieval weaponry. Right from the opening scene there’s a big, hairy axe murderer, and though he’s no Sandor Clegane, Game of Thrones fans will feel right at home watching the blood of important characters flow.
Martin compared the dark, 10-episode first contact series to Alien in the New York Times. As in Thrones, the balance of power is practically a character in Nightflyers. Instead of a loose coalition of warring nation-states, the factions are a ragtag group of scientists and the residents of a colony ship called the Nightflyer enlisted to investigate a mysterious alien entity called “The Volcryn.” Earth is dying, and rugged researcher Dr. Karl D’Branin (Eoin Macken) thinks tapping into its powerful energy will save the planet.
Despite an executive producer shakeup in March and a few classic 80s sci-fi novella tropes—D’Branin pledges to return to his family alive (lol) and the crew members resolve tense moments with sexual non-sequiturs—the first few episodes of the show released to press deliver real spooks and scares.
The card up D’Branin’s sleeve is a moody psychic boy named Thale (Sam Strike) who exhibits similar energy readings to the Volcryn and might be able to communicate with the them. However, people with his type of powers, known as “L1s,” are feared and hated by normal people (heyo, X-Men). Since He can read the passengers’ most vulnerable thoughts and control their perception, and he keeps accidentally fucking up their minds and making their eyes bleed when he gets stressed. Almost every scene he’s in is hallucinatory and hellish in a good way.
The only person keeping Thale in check is a psychiatrist named Dr. Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol). A sci-fi lynch mob of Nightflyer passengers blame him for a series of mysterious accidents that happen throughout the ship, so she keeps trying to put Thale into a drug-induced coma. He hates the drugs, and they don’t work anyway, which is an example of the show’s biggest frustration: nobody on board thinks anything through.
Nobody prepared the crew for the magic psychic stowing away on their ship, so they naturally freak out at the thought of him. The captain of the ship, an elusive man named Eris (David Ajala), watches everyone through cameras and only appears as a hologram, but he still doesn’t have a grip on the chaos enveloping his ship. The aliens are holed up in a dangerous part of space called The Void, and no one who has approached them has come back alive. But people still treat the mission they’re on as a casual jaunt and get distracted by petty shit.
These frustrations aren’t with the writing, but with shitty human nature. It’s basically the tension of the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens bottled up in a floating tin can in the sky. As much as Eris tries, there’s no adult in the room who actually wields power and maintains order like Tywin Lannister in Thrones. With Tywin, all hell broke loose in Westeros, and that’s how everything in Nightflyers feels.
Martin told the L.A. Times that viewers can expect big surprises just like in Thrones, and the series delivers plenty of shocking twists in the episodes released to press. “Space is an incredible setting for a horror story because you are isolated,” he said. “There are no cops to call when you’re four light-years from the nearest planet.”
The effects are solid enough, keep the creepy vibe real, and the scares are genuinely chilling, rarely relying solely on a startling jump cut. Like Westeros, the Earth of Nightflyers feels deep and reflects Martin’s dark view of human behavior, increasingly reaffirmed by the news cycle. While Nightflyers will air during Game of Thrones’ familiar Sunday night, it’s not a perfect fit for fans looking to plug a hole that won’t be filled until the HBO show returns sometime in April.
But hey, Nightflyers is out on Syfy December 2 at 10 PM EST.
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