Who are the Endless in ‘The Sandman?’ SuperNayr

Who knows where the dark fantasy of The Sandman started? Conventional wisdom is that Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, arrived on paper, filtered through the plots, script, and art of Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg. But a twinkle in the Dream Lord’s dark eyes suggests otherwise. 

Wherever it began, it has spread far and wide. From the pages of DC Vertigo comics to the wider DC Multiverse and onto audio adaptations and a high-profile Netflix series, Dream, to give this personification of everything unreal another name, is everywhere. 

Different media adapts the Sandman saga differently, but each is a step into dreams that explores themes of reality and responsibility. It’s a modern classic that takes readers, listeners, and watchers from Earth to Hell via the Dreaming — the realm of the Dream Lord. 

The opening arc of Sandman deals with a universe without Dream. Imprisoned for decades, Morpheus’s realm fractures and disintegrates. Rogue nightmares escape the Dreaming as it falls to ruins and humans absorb facets of the Sandman — a nod to past DC Comics continuity and earlier superheroes that went by the name Sandman.

Chaos ensues when the natural forces of the universe are left ungoverned, and the Dreaming is only one realm. While Morpheus is Lord of the Dreaming, he’s also one of the seven Endless, a dysfunctional set of siblings, each personifying an aspect that governs the existence of everything in the universe. 

Dysfunctional dynasty

Endless_Family_Meeting_Sandman
Image via DC Comics

Sitting above gods, the Endless are the product of Night and Time — their figurative and literal children. But unlike their parents, the siblings all have names that begin with the letter D. These are not names in the typical sense (although Morpheus tends to collect nicknames) but their function. 

The Endless may not be siblings as we understand them, but they operate as a typical family unit — calling family meetings, falling out, and trying to get one over each other. 

The abandonment of his family and responsibilities makes middle sibling Destruction the subject of a critical story arc in Sandman. The oldest, Destiny, tries to stay above the squabbling of his younger siblings. While Death generally gets on with all the others (she will be the last sibling they see after all), her closest bond is with Dream. The three youngest siblings, however, all mistrust Dream. Desire holds the biggest grudge and is the most manipulative of the seven. Throughout the original saga of 75 issues, it’s worth keeping an eye on Desire as they tease their siblings and worse. 

The Endless are universal forces and can survive destruction by being reformed and returned to their duties. However, by their very existence, they are not immortal. There will be a point in the DC universe where Death is destined to be the final being in existence. As Destruction put it, and he should know best, “The Endless are echoes of darkness, and nothing more… And even our existences are brief and bounded. None of us will last longer than this version of the Universe.”

Deliberately delphic 

Dream_and_Death_Sandman
Image via DC Comics

Much of the Endless remains unknown, and that’s deliberate. Sandman creator Neil Gaiman wanted to leave the many mysteries of this family to readers’ interpretations. If you’re familiar with Gaiman’s exploration of myth in the modern age, American Gods, you’ll know the importance of belief in gods. As the Endless are not gods, they continue, whether anyone believes in them or not, until they are destroyed and reformed as a variation or leave their responsibilities. They are as old and as timeless as the concepts they personify.

If any of Endless abdicate their responsibilities, like Destruction, or are removed from their duty, those functions are distributed throughout the universe. Naturally, things become chaotic when something like death is shared around. That was the upshot of Dream’s imprisonment during most of the 20th century.

While in their post, the Endless follows a set of laws that become apparent throughout the Sandman volumes. Although rules are there to be broken, doing so has consequences. Relationships with mortals are frowned upon, and we see several occasions where Dream’s relationships end badly. A fundamental rule in the family is that harming a family member will return suffering to the perpetrator. The series explores that through Dream’s dealings with his troublesome sibling Destiny and troubled son Orpheus.

The appearance of the Endless changes based on the eye of the beholder. Death and Dream are commonly seen as pale, dark-haired figures, or perhaps that’s just how we read them. Desire and Delirium, as befits their responsibilities, are prone to change more than most — the latter even alters physical appearance in the middle of a sentence.

Each of the Endless controls a realm in which they are the absolute ruler and a sigil that represents them. They can communicate with and summon each other using a gallery of sigils within each domain. These emblems are of great importance to each of the Endless, as demonstrated by Dream’s quest to reclaim his distinctive helm and sigil, among other totems, in the opening story of Sandman.

These are the seven Endless in order of age:

Destiny

Montage of Destiny of the Endless in the comic books and Adrian Lester
Image via DC Comics /

Destiny is the oldest of the Endless. He is blind and governs from his realm, the Garden of Forking Ways. His sigil is the Book of Destiny, which is chained around his wrist. Destiny is the embodiment of fate and inevitability, and he is often depicted as a solemn figure who is deeply aware of the past, present, and future. In the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman, Destiny is portrayed by Adrian Lester. He will be introduced in the second season, which is expected to delve deeper into the complex relationships and responsibilities of the Endless siblings.

Death

Montage of Death of the Endless in the comic books and Kirby Howell Baptiste
Image via DC Comics / Netflix

Death is one of the most beloved characters in The Sandman universe. She is personified as a young goth woman who is cheerful despite her role as the guide for all who die. Her sigil is an ankh. Death is the second oldest of the Endless and is known for her nurturing and compassionate nature. In the Netflix series, Death is played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. She first appears in the sixth episode of the first season, where she offers guidance and support to her brother, Dream, as he navigates his responsibilities.

Dream

Montage of Dream of the Endless in the comic books and Tom Sturridge
Image via DC Comics / Netflix

Dream, also known as Morpheus or the Sandman, is the Lord of Dreams and ruler of the Dreaming. He is a sulky, taciturn, and moody figure. His sigil is the imposing helm he occasionally wears, the skull of an elder god Dream slayed in times long past. Dream is the protagonist of The Sandman series and is responsible for the realm of dreams and stories. Tom Sturridge portrays Dream in the Netflix adaptation. The series begins with Dream’s capture and imprisonment for over a century and follows his journey to reclaim his lost power and restore his realm.

Destruction

Montage of Destruction of the Endless in the comic books and Barry Sloane
Image via DC Comics /

Destruction, also known as “The Prodigal,” is the charismatic and loud sibling who disappeared during the Enlightenment. He chose not to pass his mantle on, believing that neither he nor his siblings should interfere in mortal lives. His sigil is a sword. Destruction is unique among the Endless in his decision to abandon his realm and responsibilities, seeking a life of creation rather than destruction. In the Netflix series, Destruction is portrayed by Barry Sloane and will be introduced in the second season.

Desire

Montage of Desire of the Endless in the comic books and Mason Alexander Park
Image via DC Comics / Netflix

Desire is the genderless and most self-centered of the Endless, capable of blending into any situation. Their realm is a colossal statue of themselves called the Threshold, with Desire living in its heart. Their sigil is a glass heart. Desire is known for their manipulative and cunning nature, often scheming against their siblings for their own amusement. Mason Alexander Park plays Desire in the Netflix adaptation. Desire is introduced in the first season and will continue to play a significant role in the ongoing conflicts within the Endless family.

Despair

Montage of Despair of the Endless in the comic books and Donna Preston
Image via DC Comics / Netflix

Despair is the younger twin of Desire and generally appears as a short, naked, and grotesque woman. Her realm, The Gray Realm, is filled with rats, fog, and floating mirrors through which she observes mortals. Her sigil is a hooked ring that she uses to cut herself. Despair embodies hopelessness and is often depicted as a figure who revels in the suffering of others. Donna Preston portrays Despair in the Netflix series. She is introduced in the first season, where her interactions with her twin, Desire, and her influence on the mortal world are explored.

Delirium

Montage of Delirium of the Endless in the comic books and Esmé Creed-Miles
Image via DC Comics / Focus Features

Delirium, the youngest of the Endless, was once known as Delight. She changed her name for reasons only she understood after Destruction left his post. Delirium’s appearance and realm constantly shift, reflecting her chaotic state of mind. Her sigil is a swirl of colors that darkens with her mood. Delirium embodies madness and unpredictability, often delivering prophecies that initially seem nonsensical. In the Netflix adaptation, Delirium is portrayed by Esmé Creed-Miles. The youngest Endless will make her first appearance in the show’s second season.


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