Spoilers ahead for those of you who aren’t caught up with AMC’s The Terror.
Back when Lost was a thing, a major hook for audiences was the introduction of polar bears to what appeared to be an otherwise tropical island. Fast forward nearly 15 years and that hook is still in people’s minds, especially for those of us who have become ensnared by AMC’s period-piece mystery/thriller/drama The Terror. A twist on the real-life tale of Captain Sir John Franklin‘s 19th century voyage to find a way through the icy, treacherous Northwest Passage, the crews of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror find themselves hunted by a mysterious and massive creature. And as of the most recent episode, “First Shot a Winner, Lads”, the monster was finally revealed.
Now personally I preferred the stealthy, off-camera approach to the show’s predator; revealing the creature in the fifth episodes feels a bit too soon, even if the real terror of the story has more to do with isolation, the elements, and the behavior of your fellow man than a near-mythical monster. However, there’s plenty yet to be explained and uncovered about The Terror‘s monster, which appears to be more than your average polar bear. We’ll get into the mythological explanations and prehistoric possibilities in a bit, but first, let’s revisit the show’s compelling creature known as the Tuunbaq.
Get another look at the Tuunbaq thanks to this behind-the-scenes video from The Terror:
Here, you can take a deeper dive into the creation of the creature thanks to Framestore and this AMC featurette:
The show’s VFX supervisor Frank Petzold laid out the creation of the creature during a recent press event. It all started with an illustration by Neville Page (Star Trek: Discovery, Goosebumps, Falling Skies) and then the VFX team and animators made Tuunbaq their own thing. Here’s what Petzold had to say:
We all started with an illustration by the creature designer Neville Page, so he got the creature approved by David [Kajganich] and Soo [Hugh]. Of course that was just one glimpse of the creature, and we started to translate it into the computer, not just the model and the form but we also had to start thinking about the character and who is he really. Because if you’re animating a creature and you really mean it, you don’t look at it as a device, you actually give it a name and you talk about it. Quite often people say, “Oh no, he wouldn’t do that.”
You can expect the mortality of both the creature and the crew to be put on display as the series goes on:
The other thing we had to think of as doing the story, it’s sort of a parallel evolution with the crew. The crew is suffering, starving to death, freezing to death, there’s personal terror, and at the same time, they’re also trying to attack the creature because the creature is attacking them and in return, the creature gets shot at, he gets burnt… so he deteriorates as well. There’s a little bit of a parallel evolution where in the end you’ll actually feel some compassion for the creature.
Still, the terrifying creature isn’t wholly animalistic; there’s a disturbing human likeness baked into its design, as confirmed by co-showrunner Soo Hugh:
“We never wanted to scare the audience. We wanted to make sure he looks human.”
That’s partially due to the intention of making it easier to feel compassion for the creature, and perhaps partly due to the monster’s mysterious mythology.