Kirby Howell-Baptiste green background

Since 1988, comic book fans have been in love with Dream of the Endless and his dysfunctional family. "The Sandman" is an epic saga that sprawls beyond its titular character and encompasses a universe of diverse characters. With its premiere season live on Netflix, we get to meet them for the first time all over again. With this reunion comes all the emotions we’ve felt before. There are a lot of them, but it’s the heartbreak that makes Morpheus’ long journey special. For fans who know how the story ends, the tears we spill matter. Not one is wasted.

Neil Gaiman’s new vision for "The Sandman" doesn’t miss these moments, but it adds new ones, too. Not all our crying jags are expected this time out, and a couple of them are bittersweet instead of wrenching. Let’s recap some of the biggest moments that have managed to tear at our hearts. If you haven’t watched the show (which you should), this is the final checkpoint before entering spoiler territory!

The desolation of the Dreaming

Tom Sturridge and Vivienne Acheampong

Picky comic book fans might be tempted to binge-watch this new version with a frown as "The Sandman" opens with a stirring tour of the Dreaming at the height of its power. The Gates of Horn and Ivory open to show us Dream’s shining palace, a place where nothing is impossible, every color shines, and every book that’s ever and never been written can be found. It’s a small change from the original text, and it may feel like the special effects team is showing off to hook new fans, but this sequence matters.

The Dreaming is part of Dream (Tom Sturridge) himself, and as he withers in his magic cell, so goes the Dreaming. His release should feel triumphant, but instead, it’s staggering. The Dreaming we glimpsed is gone. All that’s left are sandy ruins and the faithful librarian Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong), who’s outlasted her magical halls. Dream rarely shows emotion. It’s his nature. Yet, he reels subtly at the failure of his world to thrive without his presence. Meanwhile, we gawk in horror at the bland and ruined dream territory. It’s the first depressing body blow we get and a warning that this isn’t a story with cheap, happy endings. And it’s not going to get easier anytime soon.

The death of Jessamy

Tom Sturridge and raven

When Dream sets out into the worlds beyond, he usually has his raven with him. He’s had more than a few during his endless reign, but when he’s off to corner the Corinthian, it’s Jessamy (she’s a pied crow instead of a "true" raven but a pretty bird all the same) at his side. When what should have been a simple chore for Dream goes sideways thanks to Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), Jessamy is quick to try and rescue him.

Burgess is sure that Jessamy never leaves Wych Cross, and there’s no doubt he’s right. When he’s not at his magical orgies, he’s out trying to kill the bird to make sure she can’t save Dream. It’s a hopeful moment when she flits inside the manor and starts a chain reaction of mayhem, all to buy herself time to get down to Dream’s prison. It’s a shock to see her splattered against the glass sphere, victim of a shotgun blast from Burgess’ traumatized son. Through her blood, we can see Dream’s stunned face, or we could if we weren’t busy choking up over this brave little bird.

Gregory the gargoyle

Asim Chaudhry pets Gregory

The Dreaming is ruined and Dream’s faithful companion is dead. Surely things are going to start looking up from here, right? Well, no. Dream’s not just weakened from his enforced hundred-year vacation, he’s missing his tools. Basically, he’s on 3 percent phone battery, and he’s got to recharge what he can just to go find his stuff. That means collecting whatever dream material has survived the fall of the Dreaming.

There’s only one piece left, and its name is Gregory. Gregory is a cutie — a big, goofy gargoyle with expressive eyes who loves his caretakers, Cain and Abel (Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Chaudhry). He loves batting his toys in front of a handmade gargoyle house that has his name painted above the door. We’ve only had Gregory for five minutes, but if anything happened to him — you know the rest. Then, Dream comes to ask him for his final sacrifice to save the Dreaming, to which Gregory, with those puppy eyes, looks up into his face and agrees. Honestly, we’re yelling about the injustice of it all alongside Cain. It may have to be done, but does it have to hurt this much?

Rachel’s dreams

Eleanor Fanyinka and Jenna Coleman

The Netflix series pulls away from some of the gorier aspects of the comics without losing impact. If anything, Johanna Constantine’s (Jenna Coleman) visit to ex-girlfriend Rachel (Eleanor Fanyinka) hits harder this time out. There’s no sign of the comic’s fleshy webs of meat all over Rachel’s apartment to warn Johanna about what’s to come. Instead, she’s greeted warmly by Rachel herself, and the pair immediately begin to rekindle their romance. It feels like a dream.

Unfortunately, it is. Dream, on the advice of his new raven, Matthew (Patton Oswalt), has to check on Constantine, and he finds her ensnared by the druglike temptations of his pouch of sand. Shaking the dream off, we find the real Rachel trapped in bed, withered and barely alive. She doesn’t want anything but her dreams, and the pouch, grasped in her bony hand, won’t let her die. Ugliest of all, Dream finds it hard to give a rip about mortal torments after his imprisonment. He’s ready to walk off with his sand and let Rachel’s agonized body thrash the rest of the way out. It takes Constantine’s rage to get Rachel a peaceful death. The glimpse of Rachel’s final dream is beautiful and heartbreaking. She loved Johanna till the end.

Nada’s torture

Deborah Oyelade and Ernest Kingsley Jr.

Odds are pretty good that a second season of "The Sandman" will open with a version of "Tales in the Sand," which will explain the reasons why Dream recognizes a special prisoner in "A Hope in Hell." Nada (Deborah Oyelade) is his former lover. We get that much. Long ago, when her tribe was among the first rulers of the world, she knew Dream by the name Kai’ckul (Ernest Kingsley Jr.). What happened between them is unclear, except that Dream doesn’t forgive her and that he condemned her to an eternity in hell for an act of defiance.

Even without context, it’s bleak. Dream’s not an ordinary protagonist, and his behavior toward Johanna Constantine shows his coldness. Seeing a crying young woman locked in hell’s thorny cells and barely caring shows us that Dream is capable of being monstrous in his own right. It’s a brief scene but a hard-hitting one meant to prepare us for the kind of person Dream is. No wonder everyone’s asking if he can change. Nada’s tears help show that he needs it, and it’s easy to cry along with her.

Rosemary’s freedom

Sarah Niles in store

One early "Sandman" story stands above the rest. That’s "24 Hours." Filmed as Episode 5, "24/7", it’s a horror show, but it’s the episode before "A Hope in Hell" in which John Dee (David Thewlis) walks out of the institution for the first time in decades. Dee seems weak, and maybe he doesn’t even realize what happens to his guards. A lady named Rosemary (Sarah Niles) picks him up out of kindness, and his voice strengthens as he begins a rambling monologue, telling us John Dee is all here, and he really is the monster Ethel Cripps warned us he was.

It’s a terrifying slow burn, and it hits hard for fans of the original comic. A good woman whose honesty and terror weren’t enough to earn mercy, Rosemary is meant to be John Dee’s first deliberate victim. However, the Netflix series adds a twist, and it makes the finale of "24/7" make more sense. This time, Dee lets Rosemary go. He even gives her his protective amulet. It’s a lesson the comic missed. John Dee’s actions are evil and manipulative, but he’s consistent, too. Rosemary’s goodness should have let her live, and this time, it does. It’s a welcome surprise, and it brings tears of relief.

Death’s gentle wings

Tom Sturridge and Kirby Howell-Baptiste

It takes some stern stuff to make through the first half of "The Sound of Her Wings" without bawling. It’s not that it’s all about death, exactly. It’s that Death of the Endless (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is so gentle and empathetic to her charges that our grief turns cathartic. It may be the baby that won’t live to its first birthday that took you out or the kind old man who recites the Shema to comfort himself before taking Death’s hand, or you went full waterworks on all of them.

An argument can be made that Death is the most necessary character to come out of "The Sandman." Sure, fans know how important she is to the overall story, but this is a Death none of us have to be afraid of. For anyone that’s grappled with heavy fears of mortality, the smiling face and outreached hand of this Death is a comfort, a fictional notion that deserves to be more than that. If we could know death is truly as gentle as this perky goth darling, it’d go a long way to making us all feel better about our final hour.

Hob Gadling, best friend

Ferdinand Kingsley candles

If you thought you were safe from choking up in the back half of "The Sound of Her Wings," think again. The life and times of semi-accidental immortal Robert "Hob" Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley) showcases the best of our humanity. Hob’s just some medieval dude, a guy with a big mouth that catches Death’s ear when he claims he’ll refuse to die. Dream doesn’t realize that Death’s set him up with a hobby project that’ll teach him a bit about being mortal, and he acts grudgingly about his centennial appointment with Gadling most of the time.

Hob finally angers Dream in the 1900s so bad that he storms off. The poor guy has no idea that the best way to upset an immortal is to tell them a truth they don’t want to hear. Hob tells Morpheus that he’s lonely and that Hobs is his friend. From Hob’s view, Dream deliberately misses their next appointment to prove he’s not. Dream has to go out of his way to find Hob and in his understated way, finally admits that Hob was right after all. It’s a big step for Dream and a tearful reunion for us.

A nightmare can change

Dream bone helm

"The Sandman" streamlines some of its original storylines, and the results are easier to follow. There are also emotional turns of the screw. A twelve-year-old boy named Jed Walker is missing, and his sister, Rose (Kyo Ra), will do anything to find him. Jed’s trapped in an abusive foster home, and his only refuge comes at night.

Gone from this arc are the ugly nightmares Brute and Glob. Instead, an elegant nightmare named Gault has Jed under her wing. Gault’s taken the form of Jed’s mother, using her power to support his dreams of being a superhero called the Sandman. The Dream King assumes she’s trying to make her own kingdom out of a little boy’s dreams once she’s cornered, but Gault challenges him over it. It’s about the right to change, she tells him. It’s all about the right to change in "The Sandman." Gault is banished to Darkness for wanting to be a dream and not a nightmare, but it’s clear that she goes down a raging victor. It’s yet another painful moment that reminds us that Dream is our protagonist, but he’s not nice, and he’s not interested in changing — not yet.

The sacrifice of Fiddler’s Green

Tom Sturridge and Stephen Fry

Gilbert (Stephen Fry) is a garrulous old soul. He’s an out-of-date fellow that likes reading G.K. Chesterton and refuses to leave a lady unguarded. It’s not hard to figure out that he’s one of Dream’s lost creations, something called Fiddler’s Green. He’s a stark contrast to the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) because his love for the human world shines through his round and happy face. It’s that love that later sends him back to the Dreaming to try to save us all.

Fiddler’s Green likes to monologue about his interests, which can put a listener to sleep, but he gets a showstopper speech when he shows up to try and stop Dream from killing Rose. While his offer to replace Rose can’t work, Green (in Fry’s impeccable cadence) tells Dream the answer to the riddle of the vortexes: They’re meant to remind the Endless that as mighty as they are, they’re servants to mortal needs. To underline his point, he returns to his true form, and that’s the moment we started crying in earnest. Fiddler’s Green is a verdant, rolling field, and it’s among his flowers that part of the big finale of "The Sandman" will play out.

Unity Kincaid’s unlived life

Sandra James-Young and Vivienne Acheampong

Unity Kincaid (Sandra James-Young) enters the story early on as one of the dreamers caught up in the encephalitis lethargica pandemic that comes with Dream’s capture. However, she doesn’t return until she reveals herself to her granddaughter, Rose Walker. Unity only wakes when Dream goes free, and she’s trying to make up for lost time with the few relatives she has left.

Unity funds Rose’s attempts to find Jed (Eddie Karanja), and she’s already made plans for her great-grandchildren to visit her. She even wants to buy a house of her own for them to all live in. It’s unfair that she has to step between Rose and Dream in the season finale and unfair that the life she should have had is an unwritten book in Dream’s library. Unity deserved a full life of her own, but the machinations of the Endless got in the way. It’s more generational trauma and more sacrifice from people that already gave so much, but Unity does it freely for a family she didn’t get to enjoy but already loves. We’re barely recovering from our tears when we get some catharsis minutes later, and Dream calls out the mastermind behind Unity’s stolen life.

Even Dream can change

Dream looking anguish

The question of Dream’s ability to change is handled so meticulously in the comics that the show’s amplification of the theme can feel like it’s being shouted, but it also leads to great new moments. The best part of binging "The Sandman" is finding out that an angry #SaveGault Twitter campaign, which was 100 percent on many viewers’ minds at the end of "Playing House," won’t be necessary.

Dream’s already begun the hard process of changing. It’s done in small moves, but for him, they’re seismic events. He brings himself to apologize, in his way, to Lucienne for his attitude. He takes mercy on Fiddler’s Green, letting the kindly old dream flourish with no penalty. He’s even shut up about the irrepressible Matthew sticking by his side, but it’s the recreation of Gault that kicks off a flood of happy tears. This rogue nightmare and motherly protector gets exactly what she deserves. She’s reborn as a dream as dark and starry as before with gleaming fairy wings. It’s a perfect fantasy.