Two episodes into The Stand, and it’s clear that the makers of the CBS All Access event series based on Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic viral thriller aren’t afraid to put their own stamp on the beloved source material. The series premiere, which debuted on the streaming service on Dec. 17, notably altered the book’s chronology and pushed one of the supporting characters — Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) — into a central role.
The just-released second hour, “Pocket Savior,” has made an even more significant rewrite, radically altering one of the best-remembered sequences from King’s book. In the novel, musician Larry Underwood and his temporary lover, Rita Blakemoore, escape from a plague-ravaged Manhattan by a terrifying one-way trip through the Lincoln Tunnel, climbing over abandoned cars and Captain Trips-bloated bodies along the way. Onscreen, though, Larry (Jovan Adepo) opts to make his escape from New York through the sewers, and then across the George Washington Bridge, avoiding the kind of carnage that his book counterpart experienced.
It’s a change that will likely leave King fans scratching their heads, since the Lincoln Tunnel scene ranks among the top 5 scariest scenes he’s penned during his long career as America’s best-loved boogeyman. Not only that, but it’s been successfully brought to the screen once before: Mick Garris’s 1994 ABC adaptation of The Stand found creative ways to keep the Lincoln Tunnel sequence intact.
No Lincoln Tunnel...? No "Baby Can You Dig Your Man?"
— Robert Meyer Burnett (@BurnettRM) December 24, 2020
“In the book, that scene takes place in pitch-blackness,” Garris told Yahoo Entertainment last year. “My challenge was, ‘How can I shoot this and convey darkness, while still allowing the audience to see it?’” He met that challenge by using car headlights to temporarily illuminate the interior of Pittsburgh’s Armstrong Tunnel — which stood in for the Lincoln Tunnel — along with unnerving camera angles and special lenses. “We took a much more cinematic approach and did lots of wide angles, wide lenses and other things that weren’t the norm for network television.”
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Benjamin Cavell and Taylor Elmore — two of the executive producers behind the 2020 version of The Stand — confirm that the Lincoln Tunnel remained Larry’s exit strategy in early versions of their adaptation. During the development process, though, the logistics of accomplishing that sequence as King wrote it proved too daunting. More crucially, the creative team made an executive decision about the overall tone of the show that demanded closing off the Lincoln Tunnel as an escape route. “We wanted to tell this story in a really grounded way,” Cavell explains. “The challenge we set for ourselves was really be a faithful to the soul of this iconic book, but ground it in a 2020 reality and have people make logical, character-based decisions.”
With that mission statement in mind, the writers decided that sending Larry and Rita (Heather Graham) into a dark, corpse-filled tunnel was the opposite of a logical decision. “Just putting ourselves in a chaotic New York where it’s hard to get out of the city, and ways are blocked — why in god’s name would you go into the Lincoln Tunnel to get out!” Cavell says, laughing. “There are bridges out of New York: Don’t go in the dark where you know there are no lights!”
At the same time, they wanted to retain King’s conceit of a subterranean journey out of a post-apocalyptic hellscape, which made the city’s sewer system the only logical back-up choice. (Logical for Larry at least: After a close encounter with some rowdy sewer rats, Rita decides to take surface streets to the George Washington Bridge.) “That was the solution that we came up with to fit the grounded reality of the story we were trying to tell, but didn’t deviate so much from the book that you didn’t know what we were adapting,” Cavell notes.
Elmore also points out that several of the narrative beats from the original Lincoln Tunnel scene find their way into Larry’s experience in the sewers. In both versions, he loses his main source of light — a Bic lighter in the book, and an iPhone in the show — at a key moment in the trip, and also confronts the horror of his intense isolation. Further scares are provided by those scuttling rats, as well as a hallucinatory moment where Larry sees the corpse of his mother floating by him, and a rat climbs out of her open mouth. “I think it’s a really cool sequence,” Elmore says. “There’s a lot of stuff that happens in the sewer that still happened in the Lincoln Tunnel, and the story remains the same. The literal mechanism of how they get out of the city is what’s changed.”
For his part, Adepo describes the sewer sequence as “very difficult” to film, but is thrilled with how it came together. “That was a three or four day sequence,” he remembers. “The water was warm, but just moving and trying to act underwater [was tough]. The rats were great: fantastic performers, very professional. But getting them on their marks after they expanded all of their energy...” The actor also thinks that the scene is scary enough to ward off any fan backlash to the loss of the Lincoln Tunnel. “The essence still holds true — the suspense, the fear and the confusion that Larry goes through in just trying to navigate New York. That’s something that fans will ultimately appreciate.”
The executive producers also think that any fan outrage over the loss of the Lincoln Tunnel scene will be tempered when they realize how the sewer sequence embodies what makes this version of The Stand stand apart from King’s book. (It’s worth noting that the author himself isn’t averse to making changes: He and his son, Owen King, have written a top secret new ending for the series.) “We are well-aware of what this book means to people — it means an enormous amount to us,” Cavell says. “The changes we’ve made are certainly not done recklessly... we have really thought about them. Whenever we were deviating, we didn’t do it lightly.”
The Stand is currently streaming on CBS All Access.
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