The Stand: Randall Flagg's Dark Tower Connection Explained (2024)

In CBS All Access’ The Stand, Alexander Skarsgård’s Randall Flagg cuts an imposing figure. He's impossibly persuasive and armed with supernatural powers that make him a force to be reckoned with for those that… Stand against him. While Mother Abigail’s champions of the White will do their best to oppose his apocalyptic machinations, it’s unlikely that their understanding of "The Dark Man’s" true power will ever match that power’s scope and history.

To explain why requires minor spoilers about Flagg’s appearance in The Stand and in subsequent Stephen King novels.

The Stand: Randall Flagg's Dark Tower Connection Explained (1)

The Dark Man

Flagg’s appearance in 1978’s The Stand sees him assume control over the dark-hearted survivors of the Captain Trips superflu that wipes out 99% of the world's population. Many in this growing army of miscreants marvel at The Dark Man’s ability to keep order through a combination of wish-fulfillment and intimidation, but few seem to know much about his methods for achieving these ends (other than the occasional public execution of dissenters.) As Mother Abigail imparts onto her own followers, Flagg’s power of persuasion is pure evil in its origin. This goes back to Mother Abigail’s conviction that in this final battle, she is God’s representative, while Flagg is “the devil’s imp.” This Biblical interpretation makes sense coming from a devout centenarian fighting for the soul of the world, but the thing is, Flagg’s malice is not limited to just one world, one denomination, or even one name.

That’s because Randall Flagg is just one of many identities assumed by The Man in Black, the dark wizard who famously plagues Gunslinger Roland Deschain in King’s Dark Tower novels. As The Dark Tower books establish, all of Stephen King’s novels take place in one interconnected multiverse, and those various worlds are all bound together through the power of the Dark Tower itself. Roland’s quest to reach and defend the Tower is opposed by The Man in Black, who wishes to claim it for himself and become the god of all reality. But hey, he’ll settle for one reality at a time, too. Case in point: the Man in Black’s first appearance as Randall Flagg in The Stand, where society teeters on the brink of extinction; Flagg is happy to be the one to push it over the edge. As his various appearances in King novels confirm, the Man in Black thrives on the chaos he sows wherever his travels take him, and they’ve taken him all kinds of places.

Here are all the times the Man in Black has been confirmed to have appeared in a King novel (or novel co-written by King), and the names by which he goes in those stories:

  • The Stand (1978) - Randall Flagg, Richard Fry, Robert Franq, Ramsey Forrest
  • The Eyes of the Dragon (1984) - Flagg, Browson, Bill Hinch
  • The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition (1990) - Randall Flagg, Richard Fry, Russell Faraday
  • Hearts in Atlantis (1999) - Raymond Fiegler
  • The Dark Tower series (1982-2012) - The Man in Black, Richard Fannin, Marten Broadcloak, Walter o’Dim, Walter Padick
  • Gwendy’s Button Box (2017) - Richard Farris

As you’ll notice, the Man in Black often goes by the initials “R.F.” which, prior to King individually confirming his various appearances in canon, was the easiest way to follow the path he cut through the multiverse. That may be useful information to have in your back pocket going forward, especially if The Stand and Skarsgård’s Flagg end up being a big hit.

Randall Flagg in the Multiverse of Madness

King fans had a whirlwind of a month at the movies back in 2017. A hotly anticipated but ultimately misfired attempt at adapting the Dark Tower novels bombed critically and commercially, despite A-listers Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey starring as Roland and the Man in Black respectively. Luckily, IT: Chapter One swept in just weeks later and cleansed the palette for King movies, ending its record-breaking theatrical run with a staggering $702m at the box office. That’s seen numerous King adaptations move forward at breakneck speed, including The Stand, which had been in development hell for more than a decade up to this point. What ends up happening to Flagg in The Stand miniseries is an open question, especially considering King himself penned a new ending to the story just for mini, but whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of potential for Skarsgård’s Dark Man to reappear. After all, audiences are getting much more comfortable with characters and franchises intermingling these days.

Watch the trailer for The Stand below:

Thanks in large part to the MCU, cinematic universes where storylines persist and heroes appear in each other’s movies are now widely understood. Cinematic multiverses, where storylines and characters are largely separate from each other while still technically co-existing, are the new kids on the block. The Arrowverse’s Crisis on Infinite Earths saw a number of disparate DC properties from decades past all converging for a reality-bending, series-spanning event. Warner Bros. are going to take a crack at a similar event on the big screen with their upcoming Flash solo movie, which by all accounts is going to see Barry Allen use the Speed Force to zip through reality and run into non-DCEU heroes like Michael Keaton’s Batman. Marvel themselves may be moving in this direction, with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness potentially softening the MCU’s hard borders between non-Marvel Studios projects (J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson notwithstanding). This may be the way forward for King adaptations and we may already have an idea of how it could work.

While most recent King adaptations include subtle nods to other works by the author, 2018’s Doctor Sleep includes several direct references to the Dark Tower novels that the Man in Black primarily hails from. Among them are a mention of Ka (King’s version of the Force, more or less), a handful of companies from the novels being represented on signage, and a member of Rose the Hat’s True Knot being known to have “traveled worlds.” With Doctor Sleep laying inter-reality groundwork similar to what some DC properties are doing, and with Amazon’s Dark Tower pilot failing to get picked up to series, any future adaptation of The Dark Tower could bring back Skarsgård’s Flagg to menace the last surviving Gunslinger of Gilead as they duel over the fate of reality (no big shock, but Doctor Sleep director Mike Flanagan’s dream King adaptation is The Dark Tower series). We’ve already seen Flagg in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Hulu’s 11/22/63, biking his way through a crowd in Houston on the day of JFK’s assassination. And if rights issues get in the way of Skarsgård’s iteration of Flagg returning? Well, it’s well-established that the Man in Black can reincarnate, and not always in the same physical form, so recasting is on the table in a worst-case scenario.

So is Randall Flagg going to be a one-off foe in The Stand, or could we see him assuming a Thanosesque omnipresence through multiple King adaptations going forward? Whatever happens, when it comes to dealing with the Man in Black, it’s always best to expect the unexpected. And having a Gunslinger out there to challenge his evil never hurts.

What do you think? Let's discuss in the comments!

The Stand: Randall Flagg's Dark Tower Connection Explained (2024)
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