‘American Horror Story: Roanoke’ Could Have Stood Out Better With Focus On This 1 Thing

Overall, American Horror Story is a successful hit. It just finished its ninth season, has a tenth confirmed, and Ryan Murphy seems down to make even more if it feels right. But that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have its share of disappointments or near-misses. None of the seasons flopped by any means. But critics and fans have their least favorite moments of the show, and Season 6, Roanoke, is among them. 

It’s not the worst-rated season on Rotten Tomatoes, but it comes in at sixth place out nine if you ranked them from best-rated to worst. Creator Ryan Murphy prided himself on the twist in the season, but it could have stood out more if they had stayed within the colonial era of Roanoke.

Sarah Paulson and Ryan Murphy at the FOX Broadcasting Company, FX, National Geographic And Twentieth Century Fox Television's 68th Primetime Emmy Awards After Party, 2016.
Sarah Paulson and Ryan Murphy at the FOX Broadcasting Company, FX, National Geographic And Twentieth Century Fox Television’s 68th Primetime Emmy Awards After Party, 2016 | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Roanoke had so many moving parts

A lot went on in this season. Each actor played several characters; some even played actors portraying someone else. The intense secrecy surrounding the season’s theme continued up until the minute it premiered in 2016. But once it was revealed that it was dealing with Roanoke, it brought fans back to the first season, and theories popped up about the twist that happened mid-season. 

But in all the fanfare, the lost colony of Roanoke wasn’t used to its fullest capacity. The show didn’t emphasize the colonial aspect enough after the reality TV portion of the series took over. Thomasin White and her 16th-century colonists were the main reason that area was haunted and made it the bloodiest season yet, but that’s about it. 

The real-life lost colony is a horror story in itself

Back in Season 1, when Billie Dean Howard mentioned Roanoke to Violet when describing a ritual to get rid of spirits. They disappeared out of nowhere but haunted the native people there. Yelling “Croatoan” and burning an artifact supposedly got rid of unwanted ghosts.

When Roanoke took a central part of Season 6, it skimmed over the real-life mystery that still exists to this day. Historians have no idea where the colony went, and this aspect could have been explored more in the show. Nothing’s scarier than old-timey American wilderness and possible supernatural disappearances

‘American Horror Story’ doesn’t go back in time past the 1900s

On top of this real-life inspiration that could have added more meat to the season, American Horror Story hasn’t gone past the 1900s in any of the seasons. There were flashbacks in past seasons like Coven going back to the 1800s. But an actual season hasn’t taken place that far back in American history before. 

Really, the fact that the colonial aspect wasn’t used as much is a bummer. The costumes and retro horror could have reached different levels that AHS hasn’t done. Movies like The Witch and Midsommar exploit that fear of pre-industrial times, and it works so well. 

Sure, Murphy’s twist and “show within a show” element wouldn’t have a place in this type of season. But the show could have gone back and forth with present-day hauntings, and still had convoluted or different POVs. 

Kathy Bate’s character deserved a more central part

Kathy Bate’s Thomasin White/The Butcher character also could have used more screentime and backstory. In a recent ranking of American Horror Story episodes by season, Murphy said Bates was so good in Roanoke

I loved how the actors played multiple roles within a storytelling a story, most of all Kathy Bates. This is one of her greatest roles for us, I think. I have never been more enthralled than when Kathy gets upset because of the Saturn Awards and the injustice of it all. She was so so brilliant in that. They all were. This was the season that made me think “Ok, this show can go for 20 years.”

— Ryan Murphy, Entertainment Weekly

It does make sense, though, why Murphy chose the type of format that fans saw. Murphy told E! News that he’s a massive fan of reality TV, and that played a part in “My Roanoke Nightmare.” And despite what could have been, this season was still well-received by audiences. Maybe something like American Horror Story: Colonialists or Civil War could be horror stories that write themselves later on.