It was easy to compare the end of Invincible‘s first episode to one of the most talked-about scenes from HBO’s Game of Thrones. But until Season 1’s epic finale, no one but fans of the comic really knew why it happened.
The Game of Thrones “Red Wedding” scene needs little introduction at this point. As the series’ third season rounded into its final stretch, a royal nuptial turned into a bloody mass assassination, clearing a notable lineup of major characters off the board and effectively hitting reset on the story. Invincible tread a similar path when its first episode capped off with Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons), née Omni-Man, ambushing the Guardians of the Globe super-team — his longtime colleagues — and murdering them in cold blood.
Why? Fans have been pondering Nolan’s true intentions all season as the walls have slowly closed in around him. And much like that “Red Wedding” moment from Thrones, Invincible‘s eighth and final episode of Season 1, “Where I Really Come From,” brings us to a similar inflection point in the show’s emotional journey. Nothing will ever be the same after this.
We now know that while Nolan is indeed an alien from the planet Viltrum, his past characterization of a peaceful homeworld that sent him off to be Earth’s great protector was completely full of shit. In fact, Viltrum is a planet of warriors and conquerors who long ago decided that only the strongest among them should survive. So they fought. And they killed. About half the planet died, but those who remained were the planet’s best.
Nothing will ever be the same after this.
With that finished, they turned their attention out toward the wider galaxy, conquering world after world as they grew their empire. But the sprawling campaign left their forces spread thin, and that’s when a new approach was hatched: Instead of sending out conquering armies, trusted Viltrumite officers working alone would spend decades embedding themselves into a to-be-conquered planet’s society, quietly setting the stage for a future swift takeover.
Nolan’s been lying to Mark (Steven Yeun) and Debbie (Sandra Oh) all along. He’s always seen himself as superior to the Earthlings. His marriage is a sham, and his emotional attachment to Debbie is comparable to the relationship between humans and their pets. Mark, with his Viltrumite blood, was always expected to get with the program once the truth came out. But as we all saw, that’s not how things go.
One of the things that works so well about Invincible, both the comic and the show, is how it’s always grounded in a familiar reality. The story doesn’t just let people die, it also considers the emotional reverberations that ripple out when tragedy strikes. It’s not specifically about collateral damage, but it doesn’t shy away from showing the price of superheroism.
Never has that been clearer on Amazon’s series than in the Season 1 finale. Mark and Nolan’s knockdown brawl across the planet and through the streets of Chicago is emotionally wrenching. The elder Viltrumite’s callous murder of innocents takes on a relentless pace in the first half of the episode, and Mark witnesses every moment.
He crushes a man’s skull right in front of his son, just to prove a point. Later, he shoves Mark down the length of a speeding subway train, serving the teen superhero a traumatic firsthand look at human fragility as his own indestructible body becomes a weapon that eviscerates passengers all the way through.
The title cards have gotten progressively bloodier with each episode of Invincible‘s first season, and the eighth episode at last tells us why. It’s not just the gore and the violence that makes this story so brutal. It’s the truth behind that violence. The family betrayal. The decades of lies. Mark’s worst defeat yet isn’t the brutal beating he takes from his father; it’s the destruction of a family he thought he knew.
Earth’s Superman is actually a villain, a conqueror from a distant world who’s had designs all along on subjugating the human race. The revelation of who Nolan is and what he’s about irrevocably changes the game for Mark and everyone else. That’s how the stage is now set as we look ahead to Season 2.
Invincible Season 1 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.