Filming for the 2020 adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel The Stand began in September 2019, but there have been ample comparisons made between the post-apocalyptic superflu and the COVID-19 pandemic. King’s iconic story famously depicts the fallout from a deadly superflu that sweeps the world. Who could’ve guessed that a real-life pandemic would begin to siege the globe just a few months later? Here’s what the two have in common, as well as how they differ, explained.
The Stand is a story of good versus evil set in a post-apocalyptic world. A small group of people survived a highly transmissible virus known as Captain Trips. The survivors attempt to rebuild society as evil forces work against them. The show premiered on CBS All Access in December 2020; that moment in time just so happened to be the deadliest month in the nearly year-long battle against COVID-19, with the global death toll already in the millions.
The timing of the miniseries’ production and subsequent release could not have been more eerie. Because of that, many have claimed that King predicted the pandemic. While he did predict that the world was overdue for a deadly virus to spread, the world he created doesn’t hold many similarities to 2020’s COVID-19 outbreak. Let’s take a look at how the two pandemics compare.
The world really began to take notice of COVID-19 in the first months of 2020. Experts believe it began after someone in a Chinese wet market ingested an infected bat. The symptoms of the virus vary wildly, with some people being asymptomatic and others experiencing mild cold or flu-like symptoms. Others, tragically, succumbed to respiratory failure. The coronavirus is highly transmissible, which allowed it to bring the world to its knees in a matter of months. At the time of writing this article, the globe has seen about 100 million cases, with 2.16 million ending in death. The majority of people usually survive the virus, but it still has a death rate higher than the seasonal flu.
The Stand‘s Captain Trips was a biological weapon that accidentally spread to the global population. It leaves virtually no survivors, meaning it has a fatality rate of about 99%. The miniseries doesn’t fully divulge the symptoms of the virus, but the Stephen King book does. Captain Trips starts out like the common flu, but becomes increasingly worse as it progresses. It caused symptoms such as fatigue and congestion but eventually causes fever, pain, and swelling. As the story is focused more on the fallout than the virus itself, the miniseries only shows a handful of scenes demonstrating the effects of the virus. This is specifically prominent in the first episode, where the audience sees Frannie’s father succumb to the disease. He starts off feeling slightly under the weather, so Frannie dismisses it, but he quickly dies, as does nearly everyone else in their town. The show’s decision to only spend a fraction of time on the virus itself underlines just how quickly it took out the entire population.
Scientists got to work almost immediately on creating vaccines for COVID-19. At the time of this writing, the world is in the early stages of vaccine rollout. Throughout the majority of the pandemic, it’s been predicted that the coronavirus will eventually adapt into something similar to the common cold. That means some version of it will likely be in people’s lives moving forward. In The Stand, the world never got to that point with Captain Trips. As the virus was designed to be completely unstoppable, vaccines wouldn’t stand a chance at stopping it. However, since Captain Trips killed everyone who was not immune to the virus, it was likely a one-and-done situation in The Stand. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines were a beacon of hope. So, releasing a miniseries about an incurable virus in the midst of a real-life pandemic might be the most effective showing of horror that a television show could hope for.
Because it moved so quickly, Captain Trips was never really handled per se. Most of The Stand takes place after the virus wiped out most of the population, but the series does show some flashbacks to when it was currently happening. One moment showed the President of the United States addressing the country over the radio, calling for calm and ensuring citizens that the virus was not released on purpose. Since The Stand is less about the virus than the aftermath, King was wise to create a fictional virus that moved so quickly. That way, he wouldn’t get bogged down by details that ultimately didn’t matter in the end.
Many governments were completely overwhelmed by and unprepared for the quick arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving responses unorganized and chaotic. The general response was encouraging face masks, physical distance from those not in one’s immediate household, and temporarily closing down spaces and events that would encourage large gatherings of people. The COVID-19 response was incredibly strict in some countries and lax in others, which allowed the virus to spread uncontrollably and unpredictably.
While the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t brought the end of times, it’s the deadliest event in recent history. Thanks to the plethora of post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows released in recent years, many people likely thought an event like a deadly virus would bring about chaos and anarchy. Some areas of the world took a political stance against COVID-era regulations, sparking worldwide debates related to their effectiveness and various conspiracy theories. However, many followed protocols and stayed home, kept physical distance, and wore face masks.
Survivors in The Stand generally took two different approaches. Some attempted to rebuild society and find a new sense of normalcy in a post-virus world. This is more in line with real-world approaches. Others embraced the chaos. The Stand features a dark, charismatic figure named Randall Flagg. He sets up shop in Las Vegas, which he renames New Vegas, and his followers flock to him. Sex, drugs, and debauchery run rampant in New Vegas. It’s a lot more aligned with what audiences have come to expect from post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows.
Despite cries that King predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, Captain Trips and the coronavirus aren’t really similar to one another. The horror author wisely saw the signs that a deadly outbreak would likely siege the world in his lifetime, so he just exaggerated the situation. It’s undoubtedly eerie watching a show about a fictional pandemic during a real pandemic, but audiences should be relieved that the world of COVID-19 doesn’t look like the one King created in The Stand.