Ever since Pepper Bo Beper first reprised her Asylum role in Freak Show, American Horror Story viewers have known that each season exists in the same fucked-up universe. However, a number of fan theories suggest that the connections may run even deeper than that, arguing that each character is really just an actor working on a set in the show, or even that every season explores a different circle of hell depicted in the literary masterpiece that is Dante's Inferno.
A little while back, show creator Ryan Murphy explained to #TV Guide how much he enjoyed the Dante's Inferno theory, suggesting that it aligns somewhat with his own views on American Horror Story. Now, in the build-up to Season 7, Murphy took this idea a step further by posting a run-down of the theory on his Instagram account, one that explicitly links each season to a particular circle of hell.
Does this mean the theory is legit? What does this tell us about our upcoming journey into Season 7? And does this suggest that American Horror Story will end after nine seasons? To find that out, we must delve deep into Dante Alighieri's 14th-century poem Divine Comedy, exploring each of the nine circles of hell in turn.
What Is The 'Dante's Inferno' Theory?
In the epic poem, Virgil guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell, which culminate at the center of the earth where Satan is kept in bondage. Basically, if you imagine Coven's Minotaur and the Rubber Man from Murder House going on a field trip to their favorite happy place, you're somewhere close.
The sinners imprisoned in each circle are punished according to their crimes, in an act of poetic justice. For example, fortune-tellers pay penance for their blasphemy by walking forwards with their heads turned backwards, so that they can never look to the future again.
The idea that each season of American Horror Story reflects one circle of Hell was originally brought to life by Red Herry back in 2014, although their version made some different connections to the theory that Murphy seems to have endorsed.
- Limbo (Murder House)
- Lust (?)
- Gluttony (Hotel)
- Greed (Freak Show)
- Anger (Roanoke)
- Heresy (Cult)
- Violence (?)
- Fraud (Asylum)
- Treachery (Coven)
The most interesting addition here is undoubtedly the inclusion of Cult as representing the Heresy ring, giving us our biggest plot clue thus far. However, some of the pairings make us see past seasons of AHS in a whole new light, too.
How Every Season Of American Horror Story Connects To Each Circle Of Hell
Limbo (Murder House) — In Dante's Inferno, the first circle of hell is where everyone who died before being baptised is sent, along with the virtuous pagans who were born before the birth of Christ (sinful bastards, how dare they?!). Murder House embodies this clearly by revealing that the deceased members of the Harmon family are trapped in their home as ghosts.
Lust (?) — Many fans assumed that Hotel was the second circle of hell, given the abundance of blood orgies and "drilldos". However, if Murphy's post is anything to go by, then Season 8 or 9 could be even more sexual in nature than Hotel, potentially blowing sinners around in a violent storm like they do in Dante's Inferno.
Gluttony (Hotel) — In the third circle of hell, gluttons are condemned to eat disgusting filth, but in Hotel, the characters chose to do this themselves. Addiction to alcohol, drugs and even blood drove the likes of The Countess to despicable acts, but they got their just desserts by the end of the season.
Greed (Freak Show) — Between Elsa's obsession with fame and Dandy's arrogant use of wealth, Freak Show epitomized greed in a series of inventive and depraved ways. Luckily, these characters weren't forced to smash rocks together for eternity like the unfortunate sinners in Dante's Inferno.
Anger (Roanoke) — Whether we were watching people being killed by ghosts, or the actors who played those people being killed by ghosts, all the violence in the sixth season of American Horror Story ultimately stemmed from The Butcher's anger towards those who trespassed in the Roanoke house. In the fifth circle of hell, the angry sinners eternally fought each other on the surface of the River Styx, much like the spirits trapped on the Roanoke property.
Heresy (Cult) — Aside from the clownish teasers we've seen so far, little is known about how Season 7 will unfold. Having said that, Murphy's acknowledgement of heresy and politics as a theme suggests that these clown cults may spring up in defiance of the incumbent administration, sowing the seeds of dissent among the American people. Perhaps the offenders may even burn to death in flaming tombs, like the sinners trapped in Dante's sixth circle of hell.
Violence (?) — Violence of any kind is punished in the seventh circle of hell, whether that's violence against others or even against one's self. Knowing that a crossover between Coven and Murder House will probably play out in Season 8 or 9, could these ultra levels of violence take place between the residents of the Murder House and the Supreme's Coven?
Fraud (Asylum) — Asylum may have been one of American Horror Story's most violent seasons, but fraud played a huge role here too, most notably through the Briarcliff staff who pretended to help patients heal when they weren't even sick in the first place. In the eighth circle of hell, thieves, liars, sorcerers and false prophets all suffered eternal damnation, much like they did in Briarcliff too.
Treachery (Coven) — The lowest circle of hell is the most despicable of all, populated with those who betrayed others to commit their crimes. In Coven, this is represented by the power-hungry witches who fight one another in a bid to become the next Supreme. While many were punished in truly horrific ways during The Seven Wonders, none endured a fate as worse as Judas, Brutus, and Cassius in Dante's Inferno, each of whom were trapped in the ever-devouring mouths of Satan.
Does This Mean That 'American Horror Story' Will End After 9 Seasons?
Now that Murphy has hinted that the Dante's Inferno theory could apply to American Horror Story, fans have begun to worry that the end is nigh. After all, FX recently confirmed that the show had been renewed for three more seasons up to Season 9, which seemed like a bold (and oddly specific) move at the time. Most assumed that renewing the show for these extra seasons simply spoke of the network's confidence in Murphy's show, but what if the plan was to end the show after 9 seasons all along?
Of course, this is all just speculation for now. Murphy hasn't confirmed that the Dante's Inferno theory is definitive, and talk of both a secret season and the Murder House/Coven crossover doesn't help clarify things either. Furthermore, detractors have argued that too many seasons share the same components of these nine circles, leaving the theory open to interpretation. However, if American Horror Story does end after nine seasons, symbolizing Dante's descent through the nine circles of hell, then it would be fitting to end with the crossover season, representing a culmination of everything that the show has achieved by bringing everyone's favorite characters back one more time.
When Ryan Murphy first revealed that each season of American Horror Story was connected, the show runner told Entertainment Weekly that:
"They’re all very separate but there’s clues every season that we’re now telling you how the different worlds are intertwined."
Whether #AmericanHorrorStory ends with Season 9 or 99, it would be surprising if the show ended without revealing just how connected the seasons really are. While you lose your mind trying to figure out how it all ties together, take a look at our definitive timeline for clues and check out how each season that's aired so far ranks in comparison, from worst to best.
Do you think Ryan Murphy will end American Horror Story after 9 seasons? Let us know in the comments!