Starting with the episode "Crossroads Part II" the

final five Cylons begin to hear Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" in their heads.

Have the creators/writers ever stated why they picked that song in particular and what it might mean to the story?

7 Answers 7


There are themes throughout BSG that are part of our culture and past ("All Along the Watchtowers", Greek Gods, the expression "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." (From Peter Pan of all places). The idea is that these themes exist within the re occurrence of the universe and will reoccur along with the type of events of the story (creation of robots, rebellion of robots etc.)

One of the ideas is that the song itself is embedded into our existence, as supported by comments by Bob Dylan, and how many times it has been redone.

Some notes from the BSG Wiki

  • The song is apocalyptic in nature.
  • Christopher Ricks has commented that "All Along the Watchtower" is an example of Dylan's audacity at manipulating chronological time: "at the conclusion of the last verse, it is as if the song bizarrely begins at last, and as if the myth began again."
  • Over 25 notable bands have performed cover versions of "All Along The Watchtower"; the definitive cover was performed by The Jimi Hendrix Experience . Many people are unaware that his version was not the original
  • Ron D Moore's point of view actually mirrors what Bob Dylan himself had said about his songwriting early in his career: "The songs are there. They exist all by themselves just waiting for someone to write them down. I just put them down on paper. If I didn't do it, somebody else would.'"

I've thought about it a bit and I see it like this.

If you consider the events of Season 1: Laura Roslin is the joker because initially many people thought that such a low ranking member of the government becoming President was a joke.

Admiral Adama is the thief because he was the only high ranking military commander to survive the attack on the colonies. Somehow Adama and the Galactica escaped the Cyclon attack. This shouldn't really have happened, but it did.

The Cyclons are the princes along the watchtower. They may have won the war, but because they are machines they cannot really know what their victory is worth.

But you asked about the meaning of the song. The point is made that the final five Cylons are thousands of years old. Perhaps the fact they all remembered the music tells us that music like that is unforgettable. It is a powerful force that can and does shape our destiny.

  • Thanks, interesting thoughts on a super old question.
    – Justin C
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 0:59
  • 1
    An old question, but also a good question. From an old, but good show. I'm re-watching it all at the moment :-)
    – Lost Soul
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 22:54

I obviously don't know what the producers had in mind, and I'm guessing I disagree with Ron Moore on the impact of his work. However, here is my answer.

I disagree that Roslin and Adama are the joker and the thief. I don't think taking the song quite that literally is a wise move, given the subtle implications written into the tv show. I believe the cylons combined with various humans at various moments represent "the joker and the thief". This makes more sense than assigning two specific individuals to the roles of joker and thief, as even in the song, recall, the joker and the thief are not specific characters so much as stand-ins for every outcast turned revolutionary.

I believe that the show eventually transcended notions of good and evil as embodied in the human v.s. cylon battle. I think this is the root of the show's brilliance. The cylons were created by humans, and were themselves the result of previous incarnations of cylons on previous worlds. The show, I think, hinted that this is inevitable--that cylons are the height of hubris and the result of fundamental human misunderstandings regarding what is and is not valuable.

The show Caprica would seem to back this up, as it indicates that the cylons were created due to the hubris of one man and the fears his daughter had of dying, combined with his grief over her death and his unwillingness to face up to that or deal with it effectively. The fact that these events occur in the wake of terrorist acts responding to the onset of technology and the way in which that tech is replacing morality and theology is also relevant.

Battlestar Galactica at its end indicated that the value of a life lies in what choices the person makes with it, not in whether that person is human or cylon--not in how they were made or with what intention, but in whether they learn from their mistakes and try to be better than those who came before. That's a profound message, and making the choice to grow and change surely represents a revolutionary stance within a society so afraid of death and loss and change that it relies increasingly on technology to combat death.

So I think that most of our main characters are the joker and the thief, though some of them--notably Kara Thrace and Boomer--also serve as the princely court at various times out of their own fear.

I think the show indicated ultimately that the cylon rebellion was inevitable and that the destruction of the human civilization was ultimately necessary to create a more ordered, kinder and more moral society, one where Adama and Roslin could at last rise to roles in which they excelled and where cylons who opted to claim their humanity could do so.

I think that the use of this song represented Moore's last attempt to get this message through to us--his suggestion that we, like the humans of Caprica, would destroy our civilization if we kept going as we are, and that this destruction would be necessary to make way for rebirth.

  • 2
    This answer goes off on tangents a few times. Refining it a bit might improve it.
    – Obsidia
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 21:59
  • And I think that seeing as how I've worked for the past two years as a professional writer [and I'm guessing you have not], I'm probably much more of an expert on writing than you will ever be. Additionally, if you cannot follow five paragraphs about a show you presumably like, I worry Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 22:49
  • 2
    Hi! :) I review posts on this site, and try to help people who are new to SFF learn about writing posts here. I was just trying to offer a suggestion since this is your first post. No offense was intended by my comment. For your information, I did read and follow your entire answer, despite never having seen Battlestar Galactica.
    – Obsidia
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 0:26

Consider when the Final Five begin hearing the song. It starts playing before Baltar's trial, and also leads to the Raiders recognizing the emergence of the Five and refusing to attack out of fear of hurting them. Baltar's trial is an event that shakes up the fleet, especially when he's acquitted, and the Raider's refusal to fight leads directly to the Cylon Civil War. I think the lyrics to Watchtower portend a coming revolution, as two typically underprivileged members of society, the Joker and the Thief, move against the powerful and secure Businessmen and Princes, safe, behind their watchtower. In the same way, Baltar's trial leads to him gaining newfound acceptance and political power as a religious leader, upsetting the balance of the fleet. The Cylon Civil War, while obviously affecting cylon society, affects the fleet as well, as the rebels seek an alliance in their bid to win the war. You can take it even further. In the context of BSG, Gaius Baltar is the wild card, the Joker. He's a scientist, defense contractor, counselor, president, traitor, and prophet. If Bill Adama is the King, Laura Roslin the Queen, and Apollo/Starbuck the Jack, then Baltar is indisputably the Joker. Plus, the verb form of "Raider," is "raiding," which means plundering and stealing. Stealing isn't too far from thieving, which could mean the Cylon Raiders are the Thief in the song. The Joker and the Thief head towards confrontation with the Princes and Businessmen, which promises to destabilize the Watchtower. All Along The Watchtower, while literally being the song that activates the Final Five, is also a subtextual sign of upheaval in what's left of human society.


As it happens they are about 60 light years away from Earth. The song is very ancient and the original 13th tribe (being Cylon) had already populated “Old” Earth. The radio transmissions were first detected upon Radios then started to reactivate the virus upon the Galactica and other ships in the fleet. (Power loss & surges).

The transmissions were intentional and a marker to reactivate the next final five upon their approach to "New Earth".

The melody is the medium in which bears the code to reactivate, not the song itself which changes over the Millennia. The song was produced in the late 60’s and re produced over the next 40 years by other bands and artists which are symbolically represented as avatars in modern society. As are the final five in the story itself.

The lyrics are somewhat insignificant except to pre-identify the song for the viewer and to create a sense of irony.


I think its also a song about realization a wake up call for us to wake up from mediocrity; to realise were not what our jobs are. To face up as well to our responsibilities to each other, our time and world. It says much for the song that it was put into words first when times began to change and new ideas began to emerge.


In simlistic terms the joker could be starbuck and the thief could be galactica, the princes keeping their view could be the final five on the upper level, the businessmen are the colonials drinking the wine of galactica and the hybrids are the ploughmen digging through space. The falsehoods ate the notes of the song and the hour getting late is the final jump, through the song galactica tells starbuck not to get excited and remember, i dont think i got all of it but i thought it was worth sharing.

  • 2
    Can you offer any evidence to back this up?
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 11:36

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