This article contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”
For Percy Jackson, the 12-year-old son of Poseidon and protagonist of the Disney+ adaptation of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” all roads lead back to Camp Half-Blood.
Based on the popular young-adult book series by Rick Riordan, the show, which debuted in December, stars Walker Scobell as the titular character who discovers that he is actually a demigod and has been tasked with recovering Zeus’ master lightning bolt before a war breaks out between gods on Olympus.
The season finale of the fantasy series, which dropped on Tuesday, reveals that the camp’s Oracle successfully prophesied what would happen on Percy’s maiden quest to save the world: He ventures west from New York to Los Angeles and learns that Ares (Adam Copeland) helped steal Zeus’ master bolt. Percy is able to find and safely return the bolt to Zeus (Lance Reddick in one of his final roles), but because he misses the deadline, he initially fails to save his mortal mother Sally (Virginia Kull) from the Underworld.
And instead of being betrayed by his best friends Annabeth (Leah Jeffries) and Grover (Aryan Simhadri), Percy realizes that his mentor, Luke (Charlie Bushnell), stole the bolt and framed him as part of a bigger plan. After admitting that he gave Percy a pair of winged shoes meant to pull him into an Underworld abyss known as Tartarus, where Zeus’ imprisoned father Kronos was waiting to seize the bolt that was planted in Percy’s backpack, Luke urges Percy to partner with him to challenge their parents’ power and restore Kronos’ rule.
“One thing I feel people always gloss over is that I don’t think that Percy and Luke weren’t friends; Percy feels like [Luke] is his older brother,” Scobell says. He adds that Percy may agree deep down that it is unfair of the gods to expect their demigod children to worship and fight for them, “but he doesn’t agree with the way that Luke is choosing to go about that.”
Jonathan E. Steinberg, who co-created the TV series with Riordan and serves as co-showrunner with Dan Shotz, says that there would be no tragedy or drama if Percy didn’t at least consider Luke’s pitch to work for Kronos and turn on the other gods.
“The temptation is what makes the tragedy, and losing sight of what he’s signing up for is part of Luke’s tragedy,” he says. “He’s so angry that he’s willing to sign up with anybody who’s willing to give him a space for his anger to be used.”
Luke has his reasons for working with Kronos, which are presented in “The Lightning Thief,” the book that is the source material for the first season. He holds a grudge against his father, Hermes (Lin-Manuel Miranda), for not being present in his life and for sending him on an ill-fated quest — already completed by Hercules — that left him with a facial scar.
“By bringing Kronos back to life, I think there’s a sense of glory there as well that he thinks he’s somehow going to get,” Bushnell says of his character.
Considering that most of the season centers around Percy, Annabeth and Grover, the writers needed to find ways to keep Luke involved in the story, Shotz says. In addition to having Luke answer a special call from Percy and Annabeth in Episode 6, they decided to add flashbacks in the finale, where Luke teaches Percy about the rules of warfare and how to sword fight during one of Percy’s first days at camp.
“It was crucial to be able to see that the relationship that these guys had, for that very brief window, was impactful,” Shotz says.
It’s a departure from the book, where Luke lures Percy to the woods and tries to kill him with a pit scorpion.
“I like that they switched that for the show where he tries to recruit him, because I think it’s going to make people more empathetic towards Luke and what he’s feeling towards the gods,” Bushnell says. Now that Luke has escaped from camp, he will only become more powerful and like the captain of his own ship, Bushnell says.
Fighting the god of war
After telling Hades (Jay Duplass) that he will find his Helm of Darkness in exchange for Sally, Percy reunites with Grover and Annabeth on the shore near Sally’s Montauk cabin and comes face-to-face with Ares, whom he challenges to a duel for Hades’ helm.
Scobell says that shooting Percy’s showdown with Ares was “the coolest week of my life.” The role is played by Copeland, the Canadian actor and wrestler better known as Edge. “It’s not every day you get to fight Edge from WWE,” Scobell says.
Once he is knocked down by Ares — yes, Copeland really picked up Scobell by his shirt with one hand and (safely) threw him to the ground — Percy uses his ability to manipulate water to wipe out Ares and draw first blood in the fight.
“This is the first time that he’s stepping into who he’s meant to be, the hero that people keep telling him that he has to be throughout the quest,” Scobell says of the scene. “The whole time, like with the Minotaur fight [in the premiere], he doesn’t really have any idea what he’s doing, but this is the first time that he knows what he has to do.”
Despite recovering the helm and holding up his end of the deal with Hades, Percy feels both a sense of duty and glory to return Zeus’ lightning bolt to Olympus, naively believing that he can use the weapon to warn Zeus about Kronos’ plans and to negotiate peace between Zeus and Poseidon (Toby Stephens).
“Part of the decision to have the timeline on the quest elapse was to remove any motivation for him facing Zeus other than a feeling of needing to do the right thing without any prospect for gain or glory,” says Steinberg, acknowledging that it’s a change from the book. “I think it is one of those moments when you feel the sense of a mom who raised her kid right. He knows if he doesn’t do it, nobody else will.”
Meeting the gods and a father
When Percy brazenly points out the dysfunction of Zeus’ family on Olympus, Zeus goes to strike the young demigod with his lightning bolt — only for Poseidon to come to his son’s rescue for the first time and surrender his position in the war. Percy thinks of Poseidon only as his father, rather than as the god of the sea, Scobell says, and resents him for abandoning him and his mother.
Shortly before being sent back to the real world, Percy asks Poseidon an innocuous question: “Do you ever dream about mom?” Poseidon does not have a clear answer.
“As an audience [member], I don’t want to know, but I want to be in Percy’s shoes of feeling like, ‘I really hope so,’” Steinberg says. “What he does know is that Poseidon didn’t say no. … I like that there’s a moment where Percy glimpses what that family would look like, and it isn’t validated.”
But even after saving the world, reuniting with his mother and going back to school in New York for seventh grade, Percy gets an ominous warning from Kronos in his dreams: “Your survival is the key to my return.”
“The thing I hope lands in that moment is that this voice that couldn’t have been scarier … is now just [Percy’s] grandpa,” Steinberg says. “There’s no corner of this world that he isn’t connected to in this family story. It’s an awareness [for Percy] that, not only do I belong there, but every direction I look in is going to have really complicated, emotional, family terrain that needs to get crossed.”
From book to screen, and what’s next
Adapting the book series required several changes, and Steinberg says there was “a very quick meeting of the minds” between Riordan, his wife Rebecca, who is an executive producer, and the rest of the production team about choosing which moments best captured the tone, spirit and heart of the book series. Fans of the books have expressed appreciation for changes like better explaining Medusa’s backstory, and disappointment over other shifts like the deadline to retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt.
“Sometimes, it requires those things to be connected in ways that they weren’t in the book,” Steinberg says.
For example, in the penultimate episode, rather than wandering into Crusty’s Water Bed Palace — a shop run by Procrustes (Julian Richings), who is Percy’s half-brother — on a side mission, the writers gave Procrustes an opportunity to talk about Poseidon as an absent father and to use the back room of his store as an entrance into the Underworld.
Another change was made to Percy’s stepfather, Gabe (Timm Sharp), who is depicted more as an annoying loser than an abusive parent. In the finale’s post-credits scene, Gabe discovers that Sally, who has filed for divorce, has changed the locks to their apartment. He opens a package on their doorstep that contains Medusa’s head and gets turned to stone.
That ending was always the plan for Gabe, Steinberg says. “Gabe says he answers Sally’s phone, so we assumed that he also opens her mail. It seemed like him being hoisted on his own nosiness and doing it to himself felt like the proper, fitting end to our version of Gabe.”
One storyline that remained consistent, however, was the development of the fan-favorite relationship between Percy and Annabeth. Scobell says the little details of their friendship “hit so much harder” in the live-action adaptation — including the use of the nicknames Seaweed Brain and Wise Girl.
“I was drawn to the idea of this relationship between two kids who have never really had a best friend,” Steinberg says. “They’ve had varying degrees of family, they’ve had Grover, they’ve had people who cared about them, but not someone who knows what it’s like to be them. I think that can be scary and also really comforting in a way that’s hard to replicate.”
What comes next for the series has yet to be revealed. Disney said that “Percy Jackson” was among the most-watched premieres on Disney+ and Hulu in 2023 — the first two episodes cracked Nielsen’s top 10 streaming chart — but it has not announced whether the show will be renewed for additional seasons. Adapting “The Sea of Monsters,” the second book in Riordan’s series, would follow next for the show. (Rebecca Riordan recently wrote on Threads that she has read Season 2 scripts.)
Steinberg says the writers have been having “fascinating conversations,” with “lots of moving pieces” to figure out. Chief among them is finding ways to expand the story to include as many colorful characters and large-scale set pieces as possible.
The actors and producers say they are hopeful that they will be able to adapt the entire series, including the fifth book, “The Last Olympian.” Scobell and Steinberg say they would be particularly excited to introduce the titan Hyperion; Percy’s Cyclops half-brother Tyson; and Hades’ “forbidden” children, Nico and Bianca di Angelo, who the showrunners confirm were mentioned in the background of a Lotus Casino scene in Episode 6.
At the beginning of the story, Percy has a kind of childhood innocence that makes him plead with gods and mortals alike to do the right thing. “I think everyone at Camp Half-Blood and all the gods try to force it out of you, but what I like is that Percy never lets go of that,” Scobell says.