Would you want to live forever? On the surface, it seems like a simple enough question. Most of us fear death on some level, after all. But would you really want to live forever? And is death as terrible as we fear? These are questions posed by the sixth episode of The Sandman, which explores the concepts of immortality, atonement, human connection, and Death’s mercy.
Who Wants to Live Forever
After a few episodes of drama and epic battles, The Sandman takes a breath in episode 6, “The Sound of Her Wings.” The episode starts with Dream feeding pigeons in the park, feeling morose and somewhat rudderless, now that he has regained his sigils. Recovering them had been a Quest. The need to do so had given him purpose. But what is he to do now?
Luckily for Dream, he’s not alone. His sister, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) has come with a comforting shoulder and a shove in the right direction. When she encourages him to reconnect with an old friend, the episode detours into a series of flashbacks. Making viewers wonder where the story is headed, until it all comes together in the end.
The flashbacks center on Hob Galding (Ferdinand Kingsley). He declares he’ll never die, and Death decides to grant his wish. In turn, Hob and Dream make a pact to meet in the same bar every hundred years, so that Dream can determine if Hob has grown weary of an immortal life.
As the flashbacks progress, we see Hob experience the highs and lows that comprise the human experience (even more over so much time). And at each meeting, Dream asks him if he’s tired of living. Even when suffering from the lowest of lows, however, Hob’s answer never wavers. He isn’t ready to die. He has so much to live for. He has so much to do.
For Hob, an immortal life gives him the opportunity to learn from and atone for his mistakes. He will never want to greet Death, but he comes to realize that the question of whether he is ready to do so really isn’t the point of these regular meetings. In truth, Dream is lonely. He wants a friend, and Hob is the closest thing he’s got.
Not that he’s happy – or ready – to hear that truth about himself, of course. Though it’s not the only thing Dream isn’t ready to hear at first.
A Comforting Hand to Hold
Every episode of The Sandman has been beautiful in its own way, but the story is haunting and poignant in its depiction of Death. Death is far from the cold and terrifying creature depicted in such stories as A Christmas Carol. She’s warm and kind. Loving, even.
She understands our fear: that we are afraid of being alone, in the end. And, for the most part, she ensures that we are not. Perhaps death wouldn’t be so terrifying if we know there was one such as her awaiting us.
(Which doesn’t get author Neil Gaiman off the hook for the scene with the baby. It’s a scene that’s haunted me since I first saw it, and watching it play out in live action doesn’t make it any better, damn you.)
Death may be the most feared of the Endless, but she understands humanity – and perhaps the role her siblings play – better than anyone. The Endless don’t need to find purpose outside of their function, for their existences to have meaning. While they may sometimes feel lonely, they are not alone. And neither are we.
The Endless need humans, as much as humans need to dream, desire…or even die. And just as Dream himself needs us.
It’s a comforting thought.
The Sandman is streaming now on Netflix.
It’s the sound of her wings not the shadow.