[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Season 1 finale.]
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Season 1 came to an epic conclusion with the Episode 8 finale, “The Prophecy Comes True.” In it, Percy (Walker Scobell) made it to Olympus, the lightning thief’s true identity was revealed, and despite what the prophecy foretold, he did save what mattered most in the end.
The big question on our minds is, after the success of the series — the premiere was watched more than the Loki Season 2 premiere and Secret Invasion series premiere on Disney+ and viewership has only increased since then, according to the Nielsen streaming charts — what does the future hold for this fantasy series? TV Insider spoke with showrunners/executive producers Jon Steinberg and Dan Shotz about their vision for Season 1 and how it sets up the series as a whole.
Since it was green-lit, the plan for Percy Jackson was to have five seasons, one for each book in Rick Riordan‘s original book franchise. While Percy Jackson has not been renewed as of the time of publication, writing on Season 2 already began in 2023. Riordan revealed in a March 2023 blog post that Disney gave them the go-ahead to start developing Season 2 scripts. With the existence of multiple Percy Jackson spinoff books in The Heroes of Olympus, Trials of Apollo, and more, how interested is this creative team in adapting the entire PJO universe?
Steinberg (who co-created the series with Riordan) tells TV Insider that’s “a Disney and Rick Riordan question,” which doesn’t rule out his potential interest in fleshing out this entire franchise. Shotz goes a little deeper with his response.
“We’ve obviously put so much into getting this first season on the air, and now it’s hopefully looking to the future of continuing this path, which has been awesome,” Shotz says. “And then I think if it opens up in a bigger way, absolutely. But you can imagine how much it takes to make every one of these, the undertaking that it is. So we’re just grateful that people are responding the way they are.”
There has, indeed, been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the show’s first season, which succeeded at bringing to life the key plot points of The Lightning Thief book while adding new and exciting scenes that expanded on the source material, like the Sally (Virginia Kull) and Poseidon (Toby Stephens) flashback in Episode 7. One big book change came with the finale plot twist regarding the true identity of the lightning thief. (Spoilers from this point on.)
Just like in the book, Luke Castellan (Charlie Bushnell) was revealed to be the lightning thief. The son of Hermes (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was working with the Titan Kronos — father to Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades — who has been plotting his return from his Tartarus prison with Luke and Ares’ (Adam Copeland) help all season long. It was Kronos who was speaking to Percy in his dreams, Kronos who convinced Luke to fight for his side in the war he was brewing amongst his Olympian sons. The Titan is seeking to reclaim his throne on Olympus after Zeus (Lance Reddick) chopped him up and cast him into Tartarus. Luke harbored so much resentment for his absent father, his mother’s fate, and the Olympians by extension that he was easily turned to Kronos’ side.
In the finale, the creators added a sword fight between Luke and Percy when the plot twist was revealed. Luke tried to recruit Percy to fight for Kronos, and the talk snowballed into a fight witnessed by Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) who secretly watched while concealed by her magic baseball cap that turns her invisible. Scobell tells TV Insider that he loves the addition of the fight, saying that the book (which he’s read seven times) “always felt like it needed that, and it just fits the show.” (He also had an epic sword fight with Copeland’s Ares earlier in the episode that featured his nautical powers in full force.)
Luke only appears in a handful of scenes in Season 1, but they’re important ones. And his role will expand in possible future seasons. Luke’s “villain” arc was important to keep in mind when casting the role.
“I think in real life and in his performance and in his audition, there’s just this sense of charm and ease and confidence, but in a way that makes you feel like he’s listening,” Steinberg says of Bushnell, 19, “which was what really felt most important, that there’s multiple reversals happening here. You want to meet him and feel like he might be the bully, and then you want to meet him and feel like he’s your best friend. And then you want to understand that your best friend still cares about you, but his politics are a little bit different than yours.”
“You’ve got to have somebody who just feels like they have boat loads of integrity in order for that turn to not feel thin,” Steinberg continues. “And he has it in spades. It’s hard to cast a role for what amounts to five scenes that you know is going to be somebody you’re going to live with for the life of the show. And I think we’re pretty grateful that it worked out.”
“You need that heartbreak to work at the end for Percy, and that’s only going to work if you show in the few scenes that we have with him, that you are so drawn into him and are rooting for him,” Shotz adds. The Luke-Percy flashback at Camp Half-Blood in the beginning of the finale was important to include, as it not only called back to when Luke trained Percy in sword fighting in the book, but also to show that “there’s a real connection between these guys” and “to really connect that brotherhood so that when the heartbreak does come at the end, you’re torn.”
“You kind of understand his pain and what he’s dealt with,” Shotz adds, “and are really looking at it like he didn’t have the parent that Percy did. Percy had this mother that shifted him to find that humanity, and Luke is a really tortured soul who’s gone more to anger. It was really finding the actor who could deliver all of that very quickly.”
Another scene added to the series was Hermes’ scene with Percy and Annabeth in the Lotus Casino (Episode 6). Hermes tells the demigods that despite how it looks, the Olympian parents do care about their half-blood children. This scene served multiple purposes: it lays the groundwork for Hermes’ expanded role in later seasons, and it gives context to Luke and Poseidon’s stories, Steinberg and Shotz say.
You “understand Luke’s damage better” through that scene, “so that when you got to the turn at the end of the season, you really felt it and it didn’t feel like it was just falling out of the sky,” says Steinberg. The moment helps Percy see his then-absent father in a new light, Steinberg says, realizing that he harbors some resentment for his mom from all the times he was left alone at boarding schools. Percy’s left wondering, “maybe Dad’s trying a little bit harder than I think he is,” as Steinberg explains.
The Hermes scene was one of the ways the series made its own mark on the already memorable plot from the book (for fans who enjoy the 2010 movie, the Lotus Casino sequence is also widely regarded as the fan-favorite). Shotz says this was their way of making “it even more interesting than it was” in Riordan’s writing.
Percy met his dad in the finale when he stepped in to save the demigod from Zeus’ wrath. It’s a ghost town when Percy arrives on Olympus to return Zeus’ master bolt and warn his uncle about Kronos. But look closely in one shot and you’ll see some Olympians peering out from behind columns to get a glimpse at the bold son of Poseidon.
The intent there was to show that it was “high noon for Percy,” Steinberg explains. “It wasn’t that no one was there, it’s just that nobody wanted a part of what was coming. That feeling of being in a showdown required people opening their windows to gawk at it.”
“With the war brewing, everybody is sort of hiding out, waiting for how this is all going to go down,” Shotz adds. “It has impact on everyone.”
Percy meeting his father on Olympus happens in the book, and it’s an even more touching moment than Poseidon’s debut in Episode 7. The Black Sails creators explain why adding that moment was vital to sticking the landing in the finale.
“I think it’s hard to write and think about Episode 1 and hearing Percy say that he has been left at a different school every year of his life and not want to understand what that must mean to him and what abandonment must mean to him and how it’s colored really all of his understandings about relationships with people,” Steinberg shares. “And frankly, even right at the outset of what it must mean for the Grover [Aryan Simhadri] betrayal. I think that as much as he loves his mother and as much as her love is unconditional, it’s hard to be 7 or 8, 9 and feel like you’re being left. I didn’t know that you could finish this story in Season 1 without acknowledging that summit, without acknowledging that there was this real trauma and maybe just a little bit of resentment from Percy towards Sally.”
“Where that mapped onto was a feeling of we’re going to the Underworld, and it should feel like the story’s going to get raw for a second. We’re going to get to the darkest place we felt like we were comfortable with Percy going,” Steinberg says. “That was a moment of feeling like, ‘Am I going to rescue my mom if it comes at this cost?’ And this nagging voice at the back of his head saying, ‘She left you. Every time, she left you.’ And I think also wanting to understand, in a moment right before Poseidon was really going to step into the story and have Percy’s back, to get a sense for who he is and what this experience must have been like for him.”
This and other book changes were happily embraced by the powers that be behind the scenes, Steinberg says, and this Sally, Poseidon, and Young Percy (Azriel Dalman) flashback encapsulates the entire purpose of the series.
“It’s one of the pieces of the show I think I’m proud of, being able to not just tell a story about a kid and his mom, but tell a story about his mom and how awful this must be for her too. It felt important.”
Stay tuned to TV Insider for a dive into the Ares fight with Copeland and Scobell.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Season 1 Finale, Available now, Disney+