• Dark Winds goes beyond typical police procedural tropes by delving into the psychological and moral struggles of its protagonists, similar to cult favorite crime dramas like True Detective.
  • The show is a positive step toward Indigenous North American representation, addressing ethnic and socio-political realities while set in the 1970s Southwest.
  • Dark Winds is based on Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee novels, with season 1 drawing from “Listening Woman” and “People of Darkness,” and the potential to explore other eras if renewed for more seasons.

The AMC psychological thriller series Dark Winds takes place in the past as it follows the adventures of Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Dark Winds introduced its protagonists as emotionally burdened cops as they investigate a series of unrelated crimes while questioning their own morality and spiritual beliefs along the way. Now, with the Western noir entering its sophomore season, the lead duo is compelled to investigate another morbid case in the Southwest.

The homicidal cases that Leaphorn and Chee dabble in make the show go beyond the usual police procedural tropes. With Dark Winds also delving into the psyche of the policemen, it walks in the footsteps of cult favorite crime dramas like True Detective. Further, with McClarnon and Gordon leading the ensemble cast, Dark Winds is also a positive step toward Indigenous North American representation while also addressing the ethnic and socio-political realities of the era it is set in. The fact that Dark Winds also borrows inspiration from an iconic series of detective fiction novels enriches the context of the show even further.

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Dark Winds Takes Place In 1970s New Mexico

Zahn McClarnon and Kiowa Gordon walking in the open in Dark Winds

Dark Winds is set in the 1970s, with the first season kicking off in 1971. While the follow-up season doesn’t specify the year, it’s heavily implied that the show has yet to abandon the early 1970s. As for the location, the crimes mostly occur in New Mexico. But despite this, Leaphorn and Chee are actually based in Navajo County in the neighboring state of Arizona. By using these areas to tell its stories, Dark Winds is able to employ a hot, desert backdrop for its characters that fits in well with its Western themes and overall tone.

Dark Winds Follows Two Books

Zahn McClarnon looking up in a police uniform in Dark Winds

The decision to set AMC’s Dark Winds show in 1970s New Mexico is rooted in its source material. Dark Winds has a literary connection with not just Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin serving as executive producer but with the series being directly based on mystery writer Tony Hillerman’s acclaimed Leephorn & Chee novels. Hillerman has authored 14 detective novels as a part of the series, starting with 1970’s The Blessing Way. Dark Winds season 1, however, is directly based on the third novel, Listening Woman, while also borrowing elements of its plot from the fourth installment, People of Darkness, the book that introduced the Chee character. The rest of People of Darkness forms the main plot of Dark Winds season 2.

If renewed for more seasons, Dark Winds can explore other eras beyond the 1970s, considering that Hillerman’s series of 14 novels were published from that time up until the 2000s, with the last novel, The Shape Shifter, publishing in 2006. The Shape Shifter serves as an example of how Hillerman indulges in multiple time periods with its work, as it’s a 21st-century tale drawn from flashbacks to the Long Walk of Navajo in the 1860s as well as U.S. military action in Vietnam during the 1960s and the 1970s. With that connection in mind, Dark Winds certainly has the potential to look at other time periods if the opportunity were to present itself.

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