American Horror Story Timeline: When Each Season Takes Place

Every season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is connected. The timeline can be tricky so we broke down when each season takes place.

Each season of American Horror Story is its own concise story, but each installment marks a chapter in a much larger shared universe, meaning the full American Horror Story timeline is tough to pinpoint. American Horror Story is best known for its wildly varying timelines, the same actors playing multiple roles in the same season, and its insertion of characters from a previous season into a newer season. Each season takes place during different time periods and locations, yet there are some surprising connections.

American Horror Story season 4, Freak Show, for example, featured the return of three Asylum characters, which was just the beginning of interweaving storylines throughout decades. While the primary setting of most AHS seasons has been in the present day, most episodes frequently delve into past events. Though Murphy’s terrifying shared American Horror Story universe is still evolving, it can still be confusing to follow at times. To complicate matters, a majority of seasons have jumped back and forth through time with flashback sequences.

American Horror Story: Freak Show (Season 4) – 1952

Sarah Paulson as twins in American Horror Story Freak Show“Freak Show,” set in the conservative backdrop of 1952’s Jupiter, Florida, offers a poignant glimpse into the lives of performers at Elas Mars’ Cabinet of Curiosities. As one of the last operational freak shows in America, the season battles societal prejudices and financial hardships. Characters such as the two-headed Dot and Bette, Lobster Boy Jimmy Darling, and Pepper provide depth, illustrating both the external challenges they face and their inner desires for acceptance and love. Notably, the arc of Pepper connects this season to “Asylum,” bridging two seemingly distinct narratives. While “Asylum” was released two years earlier, “Freak Show” sees Pepper 14 years younger.

American Horror Story: Asylum (Season 2) – 1964

Joseph Fiennes talking to Jessica Lange in American Horror Story: Asylum.
Set within the haunting walls of Briarcliff Manor in 1964, “Asylum” dives deep into the macabre and the misunderstood. Once a tuberculosis hospital, the now asylum houses a diverse group of inmates, ranging from wrongly accused journalist Lana Winters to the enigmatic Bloody Face Killer. Pepper’s presence in the asylum ties it to “Freak Show,” creating a cohesive storyline across the series. “Asylum” serves as a chilling critique of mental health care in the 1960s, weaving together real-life American Horror Story “Asylum” people and historical truths masterfully, and it’s one of the best seasons when it comes to taking advantage of its period.

American Horror Story: 1984 (Season 9) – 1984

Donna Chambers (Angelica Ross) in a yellow sweater in American Horror Story 1984

In 1984, the series pays homage to the iconic slasher films of the 1980s. The storyline unfolds in Camp Redwood, a seemingly idyllic summer retreat with a history soaked in blood. As a group of young adults led by Brooke Thompson arrive, hoping for a summer of fun, they are instead stalked by the vengeful and seemingly unstoppable serial killer, Mr. Jingles. Just like the other seasons, “1984” is characterized by its time period with its nostalgic callbacks and neon-soaked atmospheres, all punctuated by a synthesizer-heavy soundtrack. “1984” masterfully encapsulates the essence of ’80s horror. However, it doesn’t really connect to other seasons.

American Horror Story: NYC (Season 11) – 1981-1991

The Angel Of Death appears American Horror Story Season 11 NYCAmerican Horror Story season 11, “NYC,” takes place in the titular city of almost the whole of the 1980s. The location and period are taken advantage of in the season, as that story focuses on a string of killings involving gay men in the town and the emergence of a new virus. “NYC” includes a number of Easter eggs that reference a number of the previous 10 seasons. The season sees the return of the American Horror Story Angel of Death, who hadn’t featured in the horror series since season 2, “Asylum.”

American Horror Story: Murder House (Season 1) – 2011

Murder House in American Horror StoryWhile “Murder House” is the first season of American Horror Story, it’s actually the fourth season in the American Horror Story timeline. The inaugural season of American Horror Story is set against the backdrop of a historic mansion in Los Angeles, purchased by the Harmon Family in 2011. As they settle in, the Harmons – Ben, Vivien, and their daughter Violet – soon discover their new home’s series history. The season’s climax introduces the birth of the Antichrist, setting the stage for future story arcs. It also comes after the longest time gap in the AHS timeline.

American Horror Story: Coven (Season 3) – 2013

Jessica Lange dressed all in black in American Horror Story Coven

“Coven” transports viewers to 2013’s New Orleans, a city pulsating with magic, history, and a labyrinth of witchy politics. At Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, young witches are nurtured under the watchful eyes of the Supreme witch, Fiona Goode. While the season is set in the present day, characters like the immortal Madame Delphine is based on a real-life serial killer, and “Coven”‘s Marie Laveau has historical depth too. Themes of oppression, racism, and power dynamics are artfully intertwined with tales of witchcraft. Drenched in the New Orleans ambiance, “Coven” is a standout in the American Horror Story timeline.

American Horror Story: Roanoke (Season 6) – 2014-2016

Kathy Bates holds a meat cleaver in American Horror Story Roanoke

“Roanoke” offers a unique spin on the American Horror Story narrative, unfolding as a docudrama titled “My Roanoke Nightmare.” The season revisits the chilling mystery of the vanished Roanoke colony, presenting it through a modern lens. In 2014, Shelby and Matt Miller purchased a North Carolina farmhouse, only to be haunted by the colony’s malevolent spirits. The twist-laden season takes a meta-turn in 2016 when the cast and real-life counterparts converge for a sequel show. This innovative narrative approach, combined with nods to historical events, elevates “Roanoke” as one of the series’ most experimental and chilling installments.

American Horror Story: Hotel (Season 5) – 2015

Denis O'Hare as Liz Taylor and Kathy Bates as Iris in the lobby in American Horror Story: Hotel
Set in the art deco halls of the enigmatic Hotel Cortez in 2015’s Los Angeles, “Hotel” delves into a realm of addiction, desire, and death. Built by the enigmatic and murderous James March, the hotel serves as a trap for souls, housing a range of spectral residents. One resident includes the glamorous American Horror Story Countess (Lady Gaga), who harbors a dark thirst. Connections to “Murder House,” the very first season emerge in “Hotel,” particularly with the return of realtor Marcy and a visit by the Countess to the infamous house.

American Horror Story: Cult (Season 7) – 2017

Kai surrounded by men in clown masks in American Horror Story Cult.Set against the politically charged climate following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, “Cult” offers a disturbing exploration of societal fears and the allure of charismatic leaders in 2017. The season follows Ally Mayfair-Richards, whose phobias intensify post-election, making her an easy target for the manipulative Kai Anderson, who capitalizes on the public’s anxieties. Once again, while the season is set in the modern day, a lot of the corruption and crime in the season is revealed to be connected to the past. Cameos from historical figures like Andy Warhol and Charles Manson blend real-life horrors with the show’s fictional terror.

American Horror Story: Apocalypse (Season 8) – 2020-2021Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, and Emma Roberts sit on a couch in American Horror Story Apocalypse

Merging past narratives, “Apocalypse” plunges the American Horror Story universe into a cataclysmic confrontation between good and evil. Beginning with a nuclear apocalypse in 2020, survivors find refuge in underground outposts governed by a mysterious organization. Central to the plot is Michael Langdon, the Antichrist born in “Murder House,” whose rise to power threatens humanity’s remnants.

The witches of season 3’s “Coven” re-emerge as humanity’s last hope, leading to epic battles, time travel, and strategic alliances. Familiar faces from both “Coven” and “Murder House” converge, creating a rich tapestry of interconnected tales. Apocalypse not only revisits but reshapes past events, and it jumps slightly into the future too.

American Horror Story: Double Feature: Red Tide (Season 10) – 2021

A vampire in water in American Horror Story Red Tide

Some of American Horror Story‘s seasons take the modern-day approach at the time of their broadcast, and that’s especially the case with the very linear first half of season 10. The first half of the “Double Feature” season, “Red Tide,” takes place in the scenic yet isolating Provincetown, Massachusetts. The storyline follows struggling writer Harry Gardner and his family as they seek inspiration and solace. However, Provincetown hides a sinister secret: a mysterious black pill that enhances talent but comes at a horrifying price.

American Horror Story: Double Feature: Death Valley (Season 10) – 1954-2021

Doctors operating on an alien in American Horror Story Death Valley

While the second half of American Horror Story season 10 is set in the present day, it’s heavily mixed with flashbacks with extended looks as early as 1954. Those events from the past connect with what’s going on 70 years later. “Death Valley” is about a group of camping students who end up in the middle of an alien conspiracy. In 1954, the aliens arrived during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency and continued through JFK’s presidency. The season reveals that JFK was assassinated because he wanted to expose the aliens.

American Horror Story: Delicate (Season 12) – 2023

Kim Kardashian as Siobhan in the city in American Horror Story DelicateAmerican Horror Story season 12 is set in the present day, and it’s by far the most modern-looking of all the seasons. The season is ultimately a modern take on Rosemary’s Baby, as “Delicate” follows a woman desperate to have a baby and undergoes an embryo treatment. However, while “Delicate” is the most modern American Horror Story season, it also flashes back further into the past than ever before. The final episode of “Delicate” part 1 flashes back to 1555, which depicts Mary I, the Queen of England, a.k.a. Bloody Mary, who makes a deal with Satan and gives birth to a demonic child.

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