Everyone’s favorite Archie Comics based teen crime drama, Riverdale, is back for its third season on The CW and things are not looking great for Archie and his pals. Don’t worry, they’re still as fashionable and as shirtless as ever before, but not only is Archie Andrews on trial for murder, and not only has Betty Cooper’s mom Alice joined a cult, but the town of Riverdale is slowly being invaded by a creature called the Gargoyle King. Watch out, this post contains spoilers for Riverdale’s Season 3 premiere.
This week’s episode gave us our first real insight into what, exactly, the Gargoyle King is–and it’s even more buckwild than you might expect. Dilton Doiley, Riverdale’s erstwhile scoutmaster and occasional paranoid gun enthusiast, and his friend Ben have, apparently, started playing a Dungeons and Dragons flavored roleplaying game over the summer–a game that, somehow, has summoned the Gargoyle King into their world. Maybe.
It’s unclear whether or not the Gargoyle King is actually some sort of supernatural monster that has been summoned to Riverdale by Dilton and Ben’s game, or if it’s just (yet another) opportunistic serial killer carving a path through the countryside. Honestly, at this point, either option seems pretty absurd–and equally likely. Either magic and monsters are both real, or Riverdale is the single most unlucky town on Earth, so does it really matter?
That question is exactly the point of this season, explained Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa at this year’s New York Comic Con. “Just how supernatural is the Gargoyle King? That’s the big question.” Aguirre-Sacasa teased, “He’s a little bit like the Slender Man–we’re taking these crazy things, but we’re grounding them with real-life touchstones.”
The Slender Man seems to be an apt comparison after we see Dilton’s panic in this episode. “Ben and I, we thought it was just a game,” he frantically explained to Jughead, “The Gargoyle King.” But it wasn’t a game, apparently–or, at least, it wasn’t the game Dilton and Ben assumed it was. Just hours after Dilton’s initial breakdown, Jughead finds a mysterious map left on his kitchen table that leads him deep into the woods on the outskirts of town. There he finds what can only be described as a sacrificial altar–and the unconscious, possibly dead, bodies of both Dilton and Ben strung up below it.
Fans of the first season of HBO’s anthology crime drama True Detective might see the similarities immediately. The creepy wicker-and-skulls motif, the ritualized position of the bodies, the weird runes painted (carved?) into their backs–it has all the classic Southern Gothic markings of some creepy, cult-based horror. A True Detective flavored, surreal, supernatural-but-not crime spin on this season seems slightly more likely than the honest-to-goodness supernatural being tossed into the mix–but really, it’s far too early to call.
There is, after all, a cult in the mix with Alice and Polly Cooper’s “The Farm,” a New Age “lifestyle support group” led by the mysterious (but amazingly named) Edgar Evernever. For a brief moment, we see Betty hallucinate (?) Alice and Polly attempting to sacrifice Polly’s twin babies into a giant bonfire–only to watch the babies float upwards away from the flames rather than burning to death. Moments after watching/hallucinating the event, Betty experienced a strange not-quite-black-out where she collapsed with a ringing in her ears. Was it the product of her recently revealed prescription drug problem? A side effect from the nefarious machinations of The Farm? A genuine supernatural event that Betty’s mind just couldn’t process? Were Alice and Polly really about to sacrifice children, or was the whole thing just in Betty’s head?
The waters of what is or isn’t on the table get a bit murkier when you look at the bigger Archie Comics-based picture. Though they’re officially not crossing over (not yet, at least) Riverdale’s neighboring town of Greendale is dealing with witches, warlocks, and demons over in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, so who’s to say some of Greendale’s magic didn’t cross the city limits?
So far, we know that The Gargoyle King has something to do with Dilton and Ben’s tabletop game, that it apparently either requires or encourages some sort of sacrifice, that Jughead may now be the only other person outside of Dilton and Ben who knows that something is wrong, and, while all of this is going on, Riverdale is now home to a cult. Maybe the two things are related–maybe they’re not. But, either way, Riverdale’s teen heroes are about to have their work cut out for them.