After years in development hell, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic books have finally received the adaptation that fans have been hoping for. Part of what makes the story so memorable is its vast array of fantastical characters. The Sandman’s realm, called The Dreaming, is itself host to many of the magical creatures who appear within the series. The television series has, for the most part, been faithful to its source material, but has made a few alterations when it comes to several characters – one of these being the inclusion of a shape-shifting nightmare named Gault (Ann Ogbomo).
In Episode 7, “The Doll’s House,” Morpheus/Dream (Tom Sturridge) discovers that three of his creations whom he calls the Major Arcana went rogue in his absence and are missing from The Dreaming. The arcana are personified dreams and nightmares that have shaped and live in the Dreaming – the ones who are missing include The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), Fiddler’s Green (Stephen Fry), and Gault. Gault, it turns out, has been inhabiting Jed Walker’s (Eddie Karanja) dreams, and playing a role very unlike that of the nightmare Morpheus describes her as. She shape-shifts to look like Jed’s mother, Miranda (Andi Osho), and sends him on adventures as a superhero called The Sandman in an effort to distract him from his abusive foster home. When Morpheus tracks her down, he forces her to return with him to the Dreaming, and he chastises her for becoming too involved in Jed’s life and exerting too powerful a role in his dreams.
Though Gault expresses her desire to be a dream rather than a nightmare, Morpheus tells her that she cannot change to be anything other than what she was created to be. Gault declares that she isn’t afraid of Morpheus, and that he can’t persuade her to resume her proper role – an announcement that only provokes Morpheus’ ire, and inspires him to banish her to “the darkness.” However, he eventually gives Gault the happy ending she wanted; realizing his mistake, Morpheus gives her wings and turns her into a dream to inspire people.
Gault is actually a completely new character and was created solely for the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman. She herself did not exist in the source material; rather, her character combines two nightmares from the comics called Brute and Glob. In the comics, Brute and Glob also go rogue after Morpheus’ disappearance, but in a different, more insidious way. Craving power, they build their own pocket of The Dreaming inside Jed Walker’s (Eddie Karanja) head. When Lyta’s (Razane Jammal) husband Hector Hall (Lloyd Everitt) dies, they are the ones who trap his soul in the dream dimension. They then fashion him into a superhero called The Sandman to be a surrogate dream king of their pocket of the Dream Dimension, hoping to use him as a pawn to eventually seize control of the entire Dreaming. In the comics, Morpheus finds them during The Doll’s House story arc that is depicted in Episodes 7-10 of the show; he then banishes them to the darkness and sends Hector Hall to the afterlife.
In the comics, The Doll’s House arc was one instance in which The Sandman crossed over with other parts of the DC universe, specifically comics called Infinity, Inc. Hector, Lyta, Brute, and Glob are all originally part of the Infinity Inc. comics, meaning that Netflix had to separate The Sandman from the DC universe. Lyta and Hector were given different backstories unrelated to DC Comics and different roles in The Doll’s House story arc; meanwhile, Brute and Glob were combined into Gault and made into a new character. The Netflix series gives the combined characters of Brute and Glob much more emotional nuance in the form of Gault. Gault makes Jed the Sandman rather than Hector and for completely different reasons.
While Gault gives Jed adventures as the Sandman to provide him a reprieve from his miserable waking life, Glob and Brute make Hector the Sandman to create a puppet ruler whom they can manipulate in their own quest for power. In Episode 7, when Gault brings up Jed’s suffering, Morpheus says, “You abused that suffering to build a Dreaming you could rule.” Within the adaptation, these allegations aren’t true, since Gault genuinely does want to help Jed. However, Morpheus’ accusations do reflect the events of the original comics, in which Glob and Brute’s aim is to hold dominion over the Dreaming. The reason for Hector’s soul’s existence in the dream dimension also changes with the elimination of Glob and Brute’s scheming. Instead, his presence turns out to be a side effect of Rose Walker’s (Vanesu Samunyai) growing powers as a dream vortex.
Gault receives the least screen time among the three missing Arcana and is the only one not to spend time as a human. Instead of having aspirations towards humanity, she has aspirations towards providing a service different from the one she is meant to provide. Morpheus reminds her of the significance of her responsibilities when he says, “A Nightmare’s purpose is to reveal a dreamer’s fears, that they may face them.” Nightmares, then, do have an important role in The Sandman universe and do not simply exist to needlessly trouble sleepers’ minds. Even if nightmares do have potentially beneficial purposes, however, it is clear that Gault does not think that they can help Jed – and that he is too aware of his own fears in the waking world to be confronted by them again when he sleeps. She wants to be a dream in order to give people respite and hope in times of difficulty.