Five Most Important Changes Hannibal Has Made to the Source Material


Whenever there is a film or television adaptation of a story that people know and love, there will always be backlash because of the changes that will inevitably be made to the source material. It’s pretty rare that an adaptation is able to justify alterations, but NBC’s hit show Hannibal, developed by Bryan Fuller, has shown over the course of two seasons that, sometimes, change can be for the better. Throughout the show’s run, there have been a multitude of alterations made to the material that the writers have had to work with (and plenty more will be headed our way in the upcoming season), but here’s a look at what I think are the five most important changes and additions Hannibal has made to the Thomas Harris series of novels:

[SPOILERS for Seasons 1 & 2 of Hannibal Follow]

The Relationship Between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter

In the novel Red Dragon, the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter is condensed into just a few pages. In actuality, the characters barely knew each other before the confrontation that lead to Hannibal’s imprisonment. The second film adaptation of the story (after the famously underrated Manhunter) lengthened their relationship a little bit, but the two were still mere acquaintances. Any good drama needs a strong relationship between hero and villain (or, in Hannibal’s case, antihero), and Fuller agreed with this belief when crafting the plan for his television adaptation. Instead of just meeting each other over a single case, Fuller devotes two full seasons (well, in a way, at least) to the friendship between his two leads, and the utter breakdown of that friendship in the Season 2 finale led to one of the most emotional moments on television that I’ve ever witnessed. For really the first two years of the show, the relationship between Will and Hannibal has provided a narrative backbone, and it will be interesting to see how this relationship is altered in the upcoming third season.


In the original novels (and, really, even in the films), the only major female role of substance was that of Clarice Starling. Clarice never shows up, chronologically, until The Silence of the Lambs, and, as of right now, Bryan Fuller doesn’t even have the rights to any characters debuting in that novel (because of a complicated rights issue with MGM). Because of this, Fuller decided to genderswap some characters that, more or less, didn’t necessarily have to be male for the story to still work wonderfully. Specifically, the characters of Dr. Alan Bloom and Freddie Lounds were reworked as women (with “Alan” becoming “Alana”) for the television adaptation, and the characters have been used spectacularly through the course of the show. Aiding this characterization, of course, is the pure talent of Caroline Dhavernas and Lara Jean Chorostecki, respectively, who portray the women on the show. Hannibal also gave the character of Beverly Katz (played by Hettienne Park)  a major role in the show’s first two seasons, and the new character of Miriam Lass (played by Veep‘s Anna Chlumsky) has in many ways become a spiritual sibling of Clarice Starling. Furthermore, Fuller has helped to bring more diversity to the cast by selecting the acclaimed Laurence Fishbourne for the role of Jack Crawford, a character played in the film series by white actors. Season 3 looks to bring even more diversity to the established mythology, and it is simply one of the changes that has helped Hannibal stand out.


A Larger Role for Mason and Margot Verger

This one may be a selfish choice, but my favorite part of the Hannibal Lecter mythology has been Mason and Margot Verger. Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of the novel Hannibal did a very good job with Mason, but it completely left out his sometimes-more-interesting sister. The novel, though, still only featured the siblings after the former had been utterly ruined by the good doctor, so it was very exciting to me to hear that they would be playing a large role in the show’s second season (set well before the events of the final novel). As excited as I was to get a large role for the characters, my expectations were surpassed even more than I felt possible. The wonderful Michael Pitt brought an absolute power to the character of Mason, managing to turn him into even more of a deprived villain than the character for whom the show is named after. Pitt was truly one of the most acclaimed parts of season 2, and his characterization was often compared to that of The Joker. Katherine Isabelle also managed to become a fan favorite with her portrayal of Margot Verger, and it is a real gift that we will be able to see these characters continue their storyline into the next season (although Pitt has been recast with Horns‘s Joe Anderson for season 3).

Dr. Abel Gideon

Not all change is for the better, but, in the case of Eddie Izzard’s Dr. Abel Gideon, it sometimes can be. Originally introduced as a very obvious way to homage The Silence of the Lambs early on in Hannibal‘s run, Izzard’s performance as serial killer and would-be-Chesapeake Ripper Abel Gideon proved to be one of the driving forces for many characters on the show. He didn’t appear in that many episodes through the first two seasons, but Izzard dominated every scene in which he was present. Although he met his untimely demise during Season 2, Izzard has been confirmed to guest star in Season 3. Whether this appearance will be in a flashback or as a hallucination or something else entirely is impossible to say, but I know that I’ll be looking forward to seeing how Will’s former prisonmate will be blended in with the story.

The Use of Abigail Hobbs

Even in the novels, the driving force for Will Graham was his experience with the Minnesota Shrike, Garrett Jacob Hobbs. It was mentioned in the backstory that Hobbs had a daughter that was affected by his crimes, but Bryan Fuller knew that there was much more to explore with her story. Brought to life wonderfully by Kacey Rohl, Abigail Hobbs became one of the most interesting characters of the show’s first season, and her actions led to consequences throughout the show’s first twenty-six episodes. At the end of season 2, Abigail was one of the characters that was left in dire need of help after Hannibal’s escape, so we won’t know her fate for sure until season 3 begins in June.

What are your favorite changes made so far by Hannibal? Let us know below, and don’t forget to tune in for the season 3 premiere on Thursday, June 4, at 10/9c on NBC.

[Photos via NBC]

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