CERTAIN LINES ARE DRAWN in the sand this season,” says Zahn McClarnon, who stars as Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn in Dark Winds, the crime series from AMC set in and around the Navajo Nation. “We get to find out if Joe crosses those lines.”

Based on the novels of New Mexico writer Tony Hillerman, the first season garnered more than a million average views per episode by capturing audiences with a complex narrative that showcases Native culture in a rural police drama set during the early 1970s. “It’s just a different experience for viewers,” McClarnon says. “We’re finally getting some stories told on television that show more of Native cultures—specifically, Navajo culture.”

Season 1 introduced a new generation to Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee (played by Kiowa Gordon), and Sergeant Bernadette Manuelito (played by Jessica Matten) as the tribal police took on a band of armored-car-robbing extremists in order to solve a string of murders.

Season 2 brings Leaphorn face-to-face with the man who may be responsible for his son’s death, as Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito investigate a shadowy cult called the People of Darkness. That’s also the title of Hillerman’s 1980 novel, which provides the main source material for this season. “[Joe] lives with quite a bit of guilt from last season with what happened to his boy, and him not being able to protect him,” McClarnon says.

The new season opens on Leaphorn and Manuelito pulling up to a trailer home hidden deep in the desert. As they search for clues, a mysterious figure pulls up in a pickup and machine-guns the trailer, with Leaphorn and Manuelito trapped inside, before speeding off into the night.

Kiowa Gordon returns as Jim Chee in season 2 of Dark Winds. Photograph courtesy of AMC.

Filled with dark mysteries, desperate car chases, and plenty of shoot-outs, the series is grounded in real-world events, including the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970 (often called Title X Family Planning Program), many of which provide context for the world that the characters occupy.

Set near Monument Valley, the new season was filmed in the sweeping deserts and mountains of Tesuque Pueblo and Santa Fe. “We try to make that beautiful landscape—the vastness of it—a part of the show,” McClarnon says. “You might say it’s even a character.”

While the cast and crew endured the Southwest’s summer months for the first season, season 2 was shot during the winter, which created a tough filming environment. “It was a challenging season to work out there in the snow,” McClarnon says. The team’s efforts have culminated in an enthralling crime series with New Mexico’s natural beauty on full display. “When you’re out in that landscape,” McClarnon says, “there's something magical.”

Aside from playing Leaphorn, McClarnon serves as an executive producer on the show, which features Native show writers and directors, including Santa Fe–based director Chris Eyre, who’s also an executive producer. “New Mexico is a great state to shoot in, to work in,” McClarnon says. “Dark Winds loves being in New Mexico.”

Season 2 of Dark Winds is set to premiere on AMC on July 30. 

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