What Is 'Snowpiercer'? Everything You Need to Know About The TNT Adaptation

The TV adaptation of the 2013 post-apocalyptic action-thriller Snowpiercer will premiere on TNT on Sunday, May 17 at 9 p.m. Eastern. Taking place more than seven years after an ecological disaster has turned the planet into a frozen wasteland, Snowpiercer follows the remnants of humanity, who live aboard a train endlessly circling the planet.

If that gloss on the premise isn't enough for you to dive in, here's everything else worth knowing before the Snowpiercer premiere.

Snowpiercer Premise

In the 2013 movie, an army of the poor—held at gunpoint in squalor, in the tail compartments of the train—march on the front of the train, fighting through the richer compartments and the train's elite to reach the engine room and confront the train's creator, Wilford (Ed Harris).

The Snowpiercer series takes a twistier path to revolution, at least in its first few episodes. Rather than the stark division between the haves and have-nots motivating the revolution portrayed in the movie, the Snowpiercer series recreate multiple classes and social institutions throughout the 1001 train compartments. It also folds in different dramatic structures, including a murder mystery opening the season.

Snowpiercer Cast

Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly in 'Snowpiercer.' TNT

The Snowpiercer TV series stars Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly as opposites in the class structure of the train. Diggs plays Layton Wells, a former homicide detective now living in the tail of the train, where he spends his days raising rats and sniffing Chronole (Kronole in the movie): an industrial waste with narcotic effects. Connelly is Melanie Cavill, a first class passenger who works as the Voice of the Train, airing daily announcements over the train-wide PA.

Other Snowpiercer cast members include Mickey Sumner, Annalise Basso, Sasha Frolova, Alison Wright, Benjamin Haigh, Roberto Urbina, Katie McGuinness, Susan Park, Lena Hall, Sheila Vand, Sam Otto, Iddo Goldberg, Jaylin Fletcher, Rowan Blanchard, Steven Ogg, Timothy V. Murphy, Happy Anderson, Jonathan Lloyd Walker, Aleks Paunovic, Shaun Toub, Kerry O'Malley, Aaron Glenane, Fiona Vroom and Chelsea Harris.

Snowpiercer Themes

Yes, Snowpiercer is about the last of the human race toughing it out on a train, but—and this probably won't be much of a surprise—the train... it's also a metaphor. As in the original movie, the linear separation between train cars dramatizes class divisions and other social inequalities.

"You deserve better, because you are better," the Snowpiercer website says, in language pitched at a hypothetical first-class passenger. "Take your place among the world's elite on Snowpiercer, an exclusive, ultra-luxury passenger train unlike anything that's come before it."

A substantial emphasis is placed on the concept of a 1001 train cars in the Snowpiercer series, with the first class compartments including luxury experiences like "The Sky Lounge" (Car #0010), "The Aquarium/Sushi Bar" (Car #0012), an art gallery (Car #0150) and artificial beach (Car #0194), alongside full-car (or multi-car) living compartments for the elite. Second class is a little more utilitarian, with mess halls (Car #0334) and a "media car" (Car #0530), while third-class includes grungy red light districts, a gladiatorial fighting arena (Car #0982), and, oddly enough, a haunted house car (Car #0993).

The reconception of Snowpiercer as more than a gradation between the poor and rich, but instead a panoply of human experiences and social institutions comes from source material preceding the movie.

Snowpiercer Adapts More Than The Movie

The cover for the English release of the 'Snowpiercer' graphic novel. Titan Comics

The Snowpiercer series also folds in elements from the movie's original source material as well—a French graphic novel written by Jacques Lob, with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, called Le Transperceneige.

"Across the white immensity of an eternal winter, from one end of the frozen planet to the other, there travels a train that never stops," Le Transperceneige opens. "This is the Snowpiercer, one thousand and one carriages long."

Originally published in 1982, Le Transperceneige includes a number of complications left out of the movie, including a plague and a plot to disconnect the rear carriages slowing down the train. Three sequel graphic novels were also written.

The first volume of Snowpiercer, "The Escape,"was translated into English in 2014 and is available in print from Titan Comics.

Snowpiercer Was In Development Hell For Years

Showrunner Graeme Manson alongside 'Snowpiercer' cast members Mickey Sumner, Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs and Alison Wright at the 2020 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, California on January 15, 2020. Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Snowpiercer had a chaotic path to television, with more open drama than the public is often privy to in the behind-the-scenes negotiations between individual creative talents and financing producers.

The TV adaptation of Snowpiercer has been in development since 2015, based on the 2013 movie directed by Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Memories of Murder, Parasite), who is attached as an executive producer. In 2016, TNT ordered a pilot of the series, to be written by Josh Friedman (Terminator: Dark Fate, Avatar 2), who would also serve as showrunner. Based on the pilot episode, to be directed by Doctor Strange's Scott Derrickson, TNT ordered Snowpiercer to series in January 2018. The path to TV got chaotic after that, with both Friedman and Derrickson abandoning the project after the pilot shoot.

The 72-page Snowpiercer TV pilot script by @Josh_Friedman is the best I’ve ever read. The feature-length pilot I made from that script may be my best work.

The new show runner has a radically different vision for the show. I am forgoing my option to direct the extreme reshoots.

— N O S ⋊ Ɔ I ᴚ ᴚ Ǝ ᗡ ⊥ ⊥ O Ɔ S (@scottderrickson) June 29, 2018

"It had a long birth. It's a really great property, I'm a huge fan of director Bong's movie and huge fan of the graphic novels, and it took a long time to get it right and we got it right," replacement showrunner Graeme Manson said at a Television Critics Association panel in January, further describing the premiere episode of the Snowpiercer series as a complete "rebirth of the series" after heavy reshoots on the original pilot.

Friedman was less diplomatic, insinuating that Manson was "either an idiot, a coward, or a vichy motherf**ker" for taking over showrunning duties on the show without reaching out to the project's former showrunner.

Put another way: if you were to take over a show I'd originated and worked on for two years and didn't reach out to me before taking the job you're either an idiot, a coward, or a vichy motherfucker.

— josh friedman (@Josh_Friedman) May 17, 2018

Reviews for the TV series have been mixed (54 on Metacritic) in advance of its premiere, but Snowpiercer was alrady renewed for a second season in May 2019. You can evaluate for yourself, when the premiere episode of Snowpiercer's first season, "First, the Weather Changed," debuts on TNT Sunday, May 17 at 9 p.m. Eastern. Snowpiercer will stream on Netflix outside of the U.S. and China.