|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||13|
|Original release||November 17, 2017|
The first season of the American streaming television series The Punisher, which is based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, sees Frank Castle uncover a conspiracy while seeking revenge for the death of his family. It is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), sharing continuity with the films and other television series of the franchise. The season was produced by Marvel Television in association with ABC Studios and Bohemian Risk Productions, with Steve Lightfoot serving as showrunner.
Jon Bernthal stars as Castle, alongside Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah, Daniel Webber, Paul Schulze, Jason R. Moore, Michael Nathanson, Jaime Ray Newman, and Deborah Ann Woll. Development on The Punisher as a spin-off from Daredevil began by January 2016, and it was ordered to series in April. Lightfoot was announced as executive producer and showrunner, with Bernthal and Woll reprising their roles from Daredevil. Filming took place in New York City from October 2016 to April 2017. Practical effects were augmented by the visual effects department, including the addition of muzzle flashes and gore to fight scenes. The season explores post-traumatic stress disorder for military veterans, and depicts "all sides" of the United States gun control debate.
The season premiered in New York City on November 6, 2017, with the full season of thirteen episodes released on November 17 on Netflix, and received mixed to positive reviews, with Bernthal's performance, action sequences and improvements to its source material from the previous films gaining praise, but criticism towards its pacing and amount of violence. A surprise release had been planned for October, but was cancelled following the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. A second season was ordered in December 2017.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date |
|1||1||"3AM"||Tom Shankland||Steve Lightfoot||November 17, 2017|
|Frank Castle, as the "Punisher", hunts down and eliminates the last members of the gangs who killed his family. Six months later, he is awakened at 3:00 every morning by nightmares of his family's deaths. Castle passes much of his time working, taking down an old building. This angers the other workers, who are denied extra pay due to Castle's overtime. He also visits Curtis Hoyle, a veteran that Castle served alongside before his family died, and mentions that his time in Afghanistan involved some activities that he did not want to discuss. A new worker, Donny Chavez, attempts to befriend Castle, and proves himself to be eager to please the other workers. He agrees to help them steal money from a local gang, but he accidentally reveals his identity to the gangsters. The others attempt to kill Chavez at the worksite, but Castle is there and kills them first. He then kills the gangsters before they can hunt Chavez. Meanwhile, Homeland security agent Dinah Madani begins investigating Castle's Afghanistan troop, believing they killed her previous partner.|
|2||2||"Two Dead Men"||Tom Shankland||Steve Lightfoot||November 17, 2017|
|A man calling himself "Micro" monitors cameras around New York City, and begins tracking Castle from the building where he murdered the gangsters. He contacts Castle and tells him to check a disk that he had left for Castle at his old family home; the disk contains footage of Castle and his unit in Kandahar, torturing and murdering Madani's partner Ahmad Zubair. Madani had that video before it was stolen, and now wants to discuss Castle—who is believed to be dead—with his old army friend Billy Russo. Her superior Carson Wolf forbids her from this, but she convinces him to use Russo's new business Anvil for field training, and talks to Russo then. Castle's journalist friend Karen Page agrees to help him find Micro, and learns that he is former NSA analyst David Lieberman, who was caught leaking secrets and was believed to be killed. Wolf covered up the story, so Castle tortures and kills him, learning that the death of his family was just one attempt to kill him. He is then able to follow Lieberman back to his base of operations.|
|3||3||"Kandahar"||Andy Goddard||Steve Lightfoot||November 17, 2017|
|Castle tortures Lieberman, and learns that as an NSA analyst, Lieberman had been sent the video of Zubair's murder for assessment, and chose to act with his conscience and send it to Madani. Soon after, Wolf hunted Lieberman down with special forces, shooting him and framing him for a crime. The shot hit Lieberman's cellphone and he was able to go underground. Lieberman gets the upper-hand on Castle, who reveals that in Kandahar he was selected for a special unit, Cerberus, alongside Russo, and they were used by a mysterious agent to hunt down and kill high value targets. Castle had not known who Zubair was when he was ordered to kill him, and had grown increasingly disillusioned with his command. When they ignored his and Russo's advice and went ahead with a mission that killed several other members of Cerberus, Castle was able to complete the mission in an intense killing spree, but he and Russo then transferred from the unit. Now, Castle agrees to work with Lieberman to hunt down those behind Cerberus.|
|4||4||"Resupply"||Kari Skogland||Dario Scardapane||November 17, 2017|
|Requiring weapons and ammunition, Castle gets Lieberman to search law enforcement databases for known shipments of guns. Castle follows a lead to dealer Turk Barrett, but finds that the shipment was a special delivery and does not serve their needs. Barrett says that the main shipment is going to someone else, and Lieberman soon finds that Homeland security is working on an operation to buy the shipment in hopes of arresting those selling the weapons. Madani, now acting-Special Agent in Charge, wishes to investigate Wolf's murder, but is warned against pursuing the matter by another superior, and is instead told to focus on the weapons operation. She helps coordinate the operation, the plans for which Lieberman learned by hacking into Homeland security. He and Castle are able to disrupt the agents and hijack the weapons, but they are pursued by Madani. Lieberman crashes into Madani's vehicle, seriously injuring her. Castle saves her life, revealing himself to her and explaining that he killed Wolf.|
|5||5||"Gunner"||Dearbhla Walsh||Michael Jones-Morales||November 17, 2017|
|Despite being told to take time off and recover, Madani returns to work intent on continuing her investigation and now focusing on Castle. Her team is interrogated regarding the failed weapons operation, but she does not reveal that Castle is alive, and instead convinces another agent, Sam Stein, to help her. She interviews Page, who later tells Castle about Madani's investigation. Meanwhile, William Rawlins—the agent in charge of Cerberus—receives a medal for his achievements during wartime, and is asked by the Deputy Director of the CIA Marion James to serve as her deputy when she is promoted. Lieberman points out that the video of Zubair's murder must have been made by one of the other Cerberus soldiers, and Castle believes it was Gunner Henderson, who also knew what they were doing was wrong. They find Henderson living in seclusion, but Rawlins sends soldiers to kill him, discovering that Castle is alive. Castle and Henderson are able to kill the attackers with Lieberman's guidance, but Henderson is fatally wounded.|
|6||6||"The Judas Goat"||Jeremy Webb||Christine Boylan||November 17, 2017|
|Lieberman calls the authorities to find Henderson's body, and gets Hoyle's help to tend to Castle's injuries. Hoyle later bails Lewis Wilson, a young veteran that he had been trying to help rehabilitate, out of jail; he had been arrested protesting for the right to bear arms, and had been abandoned by another veteran he had admired, O'Connor. Hoyle reveals that the latter had lied about serving, and Wilson finds and kills O'Connor. Madani and Russo sleep together, and he realizes that she is using him to investigate Castle. She tells him that Castle is alive, and Russo broadcasts a message that Lieberman picks up. Castle meets with Russo to explain that Cerberus was a front for a major drug operation, and that he is fighting to take down those responsible. Russo offers to give Castle a chance at a new life instead, but Castle turns him down. Madani finds Henderson's body, and deduces what happened. She also gains proof that Castle is alive from his blood being at the scene. Russo later meets with Rawlins, whom he is working with.|
|7||7||"Crosshairs"||Andy Goddard||Bruce Marshall Romans||November 17, 2017|
|Wilson considers committing suicide, before making homemade bombs. Russo tells Madani that he does not believe Castle is alive. She realizes that Henderson was only targeted after she had started investigating him, and that her office may be bugged; Madani and Stein find the device. Castle and Lieberman plan to take their next target, Col. Morty Bennett, one of the leaders of Cerberus. Rawlins and Russo expect this, and also discuss Madani's investigation, with Rawlins comfortable that she has no leads. He also tells Russo that he should have killed Castle when he had the chance. Castle infiltrates the military base where Bennet lives, but Russo is expecting him and attacks him with a group of soldiers. Castle fights them off, not knowing who Russo is beneath a mask, while Lieberman gains remote access to Bennett's phone. Castle then escapes, being forced to injure a young soldier on his way. They track Bennett's phone to Rawlins, who has Russo kill Bennett. Castle attempts to shoot Rawlins, but he is standing behind bullet-proof glass.|
|8||8||"Cold Steel"||Antonio Campos||Felicia D. Henderson||November 17, 2017|
|Russo visits his mother in a psychiatric hospital, injecting her with a drug that she is addicted to. He later tells Madani that he grew up in the system. Lieberman and Castle identify Rawlins. The cameras that Lieberman is using to keep watch on his family go down, and he sends Castle to investigate. Castle has been spending time with Lieberman's wife Sarah since meeting her while investigating who "Micro" was, and finds out that she had disconnected the internet as punishment for her son, Zach. Castle reconnects the internet, and has some drinks with Sarah. She kisses him, but they both acknowledge that this is a mistake. She then asks Castle to intervene with Zach, and he realizes that the boy needs a father figure to spend time with. Knowing that she is being watched, Madani sets up a new operation, but releases false plans to be found. When Russo arrives at a warehouse with a team of mercenaries per that latter plan, he is ambushed by Homeland security. His team are all killed, but Russo is able to kill Stein and escape without Madani seeing him.|
|9||9||"Front Toward Enemy"||Marc Jobst||Angela LaManna||November 17, 2017|
|Castle agrees to contact Madani about Rawlins, but while he and Lieberman are watching her to ensure she is not corrupt, Wilson's bombs go off around New York, killing several people and injuring others. He targeted those he considered to be anti-guns, as explained in a letter he sends to Page in the hopes that she will champion him standing up against the system and publish his letter in her paper. She goes on the radio to disavow Wilson, who anonymously calls in to threaten her. Castle recognizes Wilson from the radio, having met him when visiting Hoyle once, and has Lieberman find Wilson. Meanwhile, Hoyle searches for Wilson, and when he tries to stop him, Wilson beats Hoyle with his own prosthetic leg and ties him to another bomb. Castle comes across this scene, and convinces Wilson to disarm the bomb, but not before Wilson calls the police. Castle is chased from the scene, his face caught on camera. Lieberman goes to Madani and tells her about Rawlins, as Castle is identified on television as being alive, and labelled a bomber.|
|10||10||"Virtue of the Vicious"||Jim O'Hanlon||Ken Kristensen||November 17, 2017|
|Wilson targets Senator Stan Ori, an anti-gun proponent who is planning a fundraiser for victims of the bombings, and has hired Anvil as security. Wilson kills one of Russo's men and steals his uniform. Madani informs her superior Rafael Hernandez of everything she knows, and he informs her that the team from the warehouse were all ex-Anvil. Madani confronts Russo about this at the hotel where the fundraiser is to be held. Page arrives at the hotel to interview Ori before the fundraiser, during which Wilson blasts his way into the room and attempts to shoot Ori. Castle arrives to protect them, but Wilson reveals that he is wearing an explosive belt and takes Page hostage. Wilson and Page enter an elevator, while Castle is chased down the stairs by Anvil soldiers until he is confronted by Madani and Russo. Russo shoots at Castle and then refuses to let Madani arrest him; she realizes that he had killed Stein. Before the standoff escalates, police arrive and arrest Russo and Madani. Castle escapes and finds Wilson. Castle helps Page get free, and Wilson blows himself up. Castle escapes while Det. Sgt. Brett Mahoney investigates and interrogates the survivors, including Russo, Ori, Page and Madani, all of whom are released from police custody.|
|11||11||"Danger Close"||Kevin Hooks||Felicia D. Henderson||November 17, 2017|
|Castle ends his partnership with Lieberman and takes up the mantle of the Punisher again. Madani confronts Russo about Stein's death, but he pretends to not be involved. She convinces Hernandez to take further action anyway, and they go to James, telling her about Rawlins and Cerberus. With the police searching for Castle, Zach goes against Sarah's wishes and calls the authorities. When police officers arrive with the intention of taking them away, Sarah's daughter Leo hides. Before Castle leaves Lieberman, they see footage from his house of Sarah and Zach being taken away. Castle sends Lieberman to find Leo, while he waits for Russo to trace his phone from Sarah's. A group of soldiers arrive at the base, and Castle kills them all, only stopping to question a soldier about where Russo, Sarah, and Zach are, though this is unsuccessful. James confronts Rawlins, who offers up Russo as a scapegoat to clear the name of the CIA, which she accepts on the condition that he resigns. Castle collects Madani, and they meet up with Lieberman and Leo.|
|12||12||"Home"||Jet Wilkinson||Dario Scardapane||November 17, 2017|
|Castle makes a deal with Russo to swap himself and Lieberman for Sarah and Zach's release; Lieberman has locked his computer containing all their files on Cerberus and Rawlins, and has a timer counting down on them. Castle officially confesses to his crimes for Madani, while Lieberman secretly does so only if their deal is changed: at the swap, Lieberman is apparently caught in the crossfire when Homeland agents arrive, with Castle being taken by Russo and Sarah and Zach going free. Lieberman then revealed to his family that this was a ruse so that he could be with them. While being held captive, Russo confesses to Castle that he knew of the plan to massacre Castle’s family yet he did nothing to prevent it. Castle is tortured by Russo until he unlocks the computer, allowing them to destroy all of the files (not knowing that Lieberman has already given copies to Madani). Russo promises to kill Castle quickly in exchange, but Rawlins arrives to torture Castle himself, wanting revenge. Russo helps Castle get free, and Castle kills Rawlins. Russo then tries to kill Castle, but Madani arrives in time to stop this after being tipped off to their location by Lieberman.|
|13||13||"Memento Mori"||Stephen Surjik||Steve Lightfoot||November 17, 2017|
|Lieberman and Madani race Castle to her father, a doctor, who saves Castle's life. Russo kills a group of agents sent after him, and then finds Hoyle and holds him hostage. Castle arrives, and Russo agrees to meet with him that night, choosing to do so at the carousel where Castle's family died. Madani tracks Castle's phone there, and decides to follow him despite being told to take no further action by Hernandez and James. Castle and Russo fight, and when Madani arrives, Russo shoots her in the head. Castle eventually gets the upper hand, but chooses not to kill Russo. He instead smashes Russo's face into a pane of glass, permanently disfiguring him. Castle is taken into custody, while Madani and Russo are taken to a hospital, where they survive. Three days later, Hernandez and James free Castle, giving him a chance at a new life at the request of Madani. Russo is officially blamed for his crimes. After several hearings and debriefs, Lieberman is released and returns to his family. Castle joins Hoyle's support group for veterans.|
By January 2016, ahead of the Daredevil season two release, Netflix was in "very early development" on a spin-off series titled The Punisher, and was looking for a showrunner. The series would be centered on Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, and was described as a stand-alone series apart from those leading up to The Defenders crossover event. That April, Netflix officially ordered a full 13 episode season of The Punisher, confirmed Bernthal's involvement, and named Steve Lightfoot as executive producer and showrunner. Asked whether he would rather have a 10 episode season given the longer 13 episode-seasons have been criticized for other Marvel Netflix series, Lightfoot said that he wanted the season to be a "slow burn show" that was character-driven, and that he felt they had the right amount of story to fill the 13 episodes.
Lightfoot had a loose idea of what the "journey of Season 1" would be when he joined the series, and this was fleshed-out and altered in the writers room throughout work on the season. Executive producer Jeph Loeb said the season would ask the questions "Who is Frank? What is Frank going to do? And who's going to try and stop Frank?" Lightfoot chose not to adapt any specific version of the character from the comics and instead looked to the work that was done in Daredevil defining the character. That series' depiction was what got Lightfoot interested in the character, and he wanted it to dictate this series' direction. The Punisher begins with a teaser featuring Castle killing the gang members that he believes are responsible for his family's death, which is a conclusion to the character's story in Daredevil. The series then jumps ahead to the character "stuck in the past and sort of crippled by this grief". The season also depicts some events from before the second season of Daredevil, which Bernthal described as being "loose with chronology"; this includes an explanation of Castle's time serving in Kandahar, which had been mentioned in Daredevil and was something that Lightfoot felt this series should address.
As a fan of Westerns and 1970s urban thrillers, Lightfoot felt that the series should combine those ideas due to Castle's antihero persona being an archetype of Western films but set in the urban environment of New York City. Lightfoot looked to films from those genres as inspiration for tone and style, ideas, and themes for the series, and also looked to 1970s conspiracy thriller films due to Castle being a fugitive in the series and the general sense of paranoia. The series makes a reference to Marathon Man (1976), while Lightfoot described the first episode of the series as a modern "updating" of Shane (1953). Lightfoot also took inspiration from the Bourne film series and the film American Sniper (2014) for the series. Regarding his previous television series Hannibal, Lightfoot stated that he learned from that series' creator Bryan Fuller to make an antihero like Hannibal Lecter relatable to the audience by finding "something in them that's universal that we can all feel", such as Lector being lonely. Carrying this over to The Punisher, Lightfoot saw in Castle the idea of "a man whose family was taken from him at a young age" and that a series focused on him should be an exploration of his grief and how he responds to it. Lightfoot felt that even audience members who did not agree with Castle's actions would be able to go on a "journey" with the character if they understood this aspect of him.
"We talked a lot as we developed the show that once you take hold of the hand of violence it's impossible to let it go. That relationship to violence really interested me, not just the fact he has the ability to use it but also the cost of it."
—Showrunner Steve Lightfoot on violence in The Punisher
Rather than show the "beautiful" scenes of horror that were created for Hannibal, Lightfoot wanted to follow the lead of the character's fight scenes in Daredevil by not shying away from the cost of the actual actions, feeling that showing the brutal reality of Castle's actions would better convey to the audience that "This stuff hurts, and it's not OK" rather than glossing over the violence which he felt would have been worse. He elaborated that he was unsure if the series was the most violent Marvel Netflix series, as he was simply taking the level of violence he saw depicted in Daredevil as a baseline for this series, and that it is important to remember that "a lot of what he's doing is wrong. We have to let the audience lose him at times and let him win them back. To just wholeheartedly be behind him wouldn't be right". Despite this, Lightfoot wanted to convey the character's feelings and thoughts to help the audience understand the character, and often used flashbacks or dreams featuring his family since Castle does not talk much and having constant flashbacks also represented how he is unable to stop thinking about them.
Lightfoot described Castle as a metaphor for "the fact that we’ve been sending men to war for 15 years now and then bringing them back and expecting them to just fit back in. Clearly, that isn't what happens." Having not served in the military himself, Lightfoot spent time with the rest of the series' writers reading first-person accounts and memoirs from real-life war veterans, and the series also had consultants from the military, the Special Forces, and the CIA including one military consultant who read every script of the series and gave notes. Noting that a vocal community of United States soldiers and veterans were fans of the Punisher character, Lightfoot and Bernthal ensured that the series was always respectful of the military and law enforcement despite Castle's actions being generally criminal; Lightfoot said it was an "interesting thing to be respectful of the police and at the same time, the character is beyond the law." Feeling that it was not his place to preach about the politics of vigilantism or the United States gun control debate, Lightfoot wanted to create a "body of characters where you feel like all sides and issues were given a voice so the audience can decide", from a veteran who is a "gentle group-therapy leader" to a "gun nut". When creating an original character for the series to serve as the "tough nemesis cop" who is hunting Castle, Lightfoot decided to "mix the paradigm up" by making the character female and his equal. Lightfoot noted that the writer's room, which included both men and women, had "a lot of fun" with this idea. They also wanted the character to be of Middle Eastern descent and be as big of a patriot as Castle and an action hero in her own right. This character became Dinah Madani. Lightfoot did not want the "spiderweb" of supporting characters in the series to be "sidekicks" to Castle, and instead have "their own narrative and their own story that was the most important thing to them".
The main cast for the season includes Bernthal as Frank Castle / Punisher, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as David Lieberman / Micro, Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani, Daniel Webber as Lewis Wilson, Paul Schulze as William Rawlins, Jason R. Moore as Curtis Hoyle, Michael Nathanson as Sam Stein, Jaime Ray Newman as Sarah Lieberman, and Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page. Bernthal and Woll both reprise their roles from Daredevil.
In August 2017, Shohreh Aghdashloo was revealed to be portraying Farah Madani, Dinah's mother, in a recurring role for the season. Also recurring in the season are Jordan Mahome as Isaac Lange, Kelli Barrett as Maria Castle, Aidan Pierce Brennan as Frank Castle Jr., Nicolette Pierini as Lisa Castle, Ripley Sobo as Leo Lieberman, Kobi Frumer as Zach Lieberman, and Tony Plana as Rafael Hernandez. Rob Morgan and Royce Johnson reprise their roles from previous Marvel Netflix series as Turk Barrett and Brett Mahoney, respectively. Geoffrey Cantor and Clancy Brown reprise their respective Daredevil roles as Mitchell Ellison and Ray Schoonover.
In addition to several actors portraying war veterans, including Mahome, the series also cast real-life war veterans as extras and supporting cast for scenes such as support group meetings. Mahome, whose father served in the military, found this to be a powerful experience and helpful for his acting in the series.
Stephanie Maslansky, who served as costume designer for the first seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, had the choice between designing for The Defenders or for The Punisher due to a scheduling conflict between the two productions, and chose to work on The Defenders. Instead, Lorraine Calvert designed the costumes for The Punisher after introducing the look of the character in the second season of Daredevil; her take on the character's "beloved" comic-inspired costume balances the original design, Bernthal's needs as an actor and interpretation of the character, and Lightfoot's intentions for the tone of the series.
Filming began on October 3, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York, under the working title Crime. Locations for the production included Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the Williamsburg Bridge, Columbus Circle and Central Park West, Cortlandt Alley, Circle Line Downtown cruises, the Manhattan Family Court building, Long Island City, Grand Ferry Park in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sunnyside, Queens, Pulaski Bridge, the Roosevelt Island and its steam plant, the Bronx County Courthouse, Newtown Creek, The Roosevelt Hotel, Astoria Park, Tudor City, Hunts Point, Bronx, the Forest Park Carousel, the Bronx–Whitestone Bridge, the "GoodFellas Diner" before it was damaged in a 2018 fire and the Mount Zion Cemetery, both in Maspeth, Queens, and in Astoria, Queens. A car chase for the season was filmed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in night shoots, with Moss-Bachrach driving one of the cars. Filming for the season wrapped on April 9, 2017.
Visual effects supervisor Greg Anderson and vendor FuseFX returned from the first season of Luke Cage to create the visual effects for The Punisher, creating 855 visual effects shots across the season. Their team changed in size for each episode, but generally consisted of 15 to 20 people. Due to the realistic tone of the series, which does not feature any superpowers, the visual effects department had to work even harder than usual to ensure their effects were believable, with a focus on creating "gunplay, knifeplay, explosions and other real world effects." They preferred to augment practical effects rather than start from scratch to help with realism as well as the series' budget and schedule.
As an example of the work Fuse did during fight sequences, Anderson discussed the scene where Russo and his men attack Micro's basement. Though practical prop weapons were used for the fight, Fuse had to augment the action with computer generated blood, knives, and muzzle flashes, as well as a computer generated head that is blown apart by a shotgun. The sequence was thoroughly storyboarded and pre-visualized to plan out the exact visuals required. Because the scene, like many others throughout the season, required a dark environment the visual effects team had to work with the cinematography department to decide where the low-light should be practical and where color-grading could be used to alter a more brightly-lit set given it is difficult to integrate visual effects with dark images. Conversely to this scene, a sequence such as when Russo blows up a hideout required minimal visual effects work because the explosion was shot practically, with Fuse mainly just adding some windows to the building that were removed for the explosion.
The most technically difficult scene of the season to create was in the first episode, where Castle shoots someone from across the Mexico–United States border. Anderson estimated that the scene was 90 percent digital, with the environment between Castle and his target created entirely by the visual effects department. So that Moore could portray amputee Curtis Hoyle, Fuse had to digitally replace his leg in several shots. This involved Moore wearing a green sleeve over his leg and Fuse replacing it with a stump. The company also had to recreate the background behind Moore's actual leg which was often the most difficult part, such as when he is getting out of bed and realistic-looking digital cloth needed to match with the actual sheets that were on set. Additionally, visual effects were used to augment cement in the sequence where people are thrown into it. The special effects department created a mixture to look like cement for use while filming the scene, but it ultimately did not look realistic on camera and had to be changed digitally.
In April 2017, Tyler Bates was announced as the composer for The Punisher, after previously composing for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In order to "get into the dark corners of the Punisher's mind," Bates played "more of a broken blues" guitar, which was augmented with talkbox effects and other "guitar noises", along with guitar-vol and melodica. On this style, Bates said, "The rough edges and broken nature of [music like this] leaves a great deal of space for emotion and interesting color—and a bit of an attitude. Otherwise it's not going to be an authentic expression of the idea. There's a darkness in there that I'm happy to tap into." A soundtrack album for the season was released digitally by Hollywood Records on November 17, 2017 in conjunction with the season's Netflix release. All music composed by Tyler Bates:
|1.||"The Punisher Main Title"||1:15|
|6.||"Lewis Gets the Boot"||2:04|
|12.||"Just in Time"||1:56|
|13.||"Made an Enemy"||1:13|
|14.||"Keep It Running"||1:40|
|15.||"Escape the Base"||3:44|
|16.||"Like a Soldier"||2:17|
|17.||"Heads Will Roll"||1:58|
|20.||"No More War to Fight"||1:38|
|21.||"The Punisher End Title"||1:11|
Bernthal and Woll appeared at New York Comic Con in October 2016 to officially announce the start of production on the series and the latter's involvement, while Bernthal presented exclusive footage from the series at San Diego Comic-Con 2017. A teaser was revealed on Netflix in August 2017 after the credits of the final episode of The Defenders. Also in the month, the series' Twitter account revealed the episode titles as Morse code messages. In September 2017, the series' Instagram account released viral videos made to look like security footage, while episodic photos and a poster for the season with a redacted release date were also released. On September 20, the official trailer for the season was released. Andrew Liptak of The Verge said it "sets up The Punisher with its own distinct tone that's different from the other Marvel Netflix shows. It wades into government conspiracies and hacking, which is reminiscent of shows like CBS's Person of Interest or USA's Mr. Robot, but with more gunfire." Nerdist's Kendall Ashley called the trailer "intense, super bloody, and has [me] INCREDIBLY pumped for the show's premiere." She added that "if this trailer is any indication, The Punisher is definitely going to live up to fan expectations". Ashley felt the inclusion of "One" by Metallica in the trailer "helps paint Frank as a badass unlike any we've seen on the Marvel Netflix shows so far." Cooper Hood, writing for Screen Rant felt the trailer would "only increase the fever for" the series despite it not yet having a release date, with it more closely fitting the "mold" of the character than the more cryptic videos previously released. He also found it "well-cut" to the beat of the song, which he praised as "amplifying the intensity".
By the end of September, Netflix had updated their viral website for the New York Bulletin to include a profile page for Karen Page. After revealing her login credentials in a post on Daredevil's Facebook page, readers who visited Page's profile found images referencing Page's research into Castle from the second season of Daredevil. Bernthal and other members of the cast were scheduled to appear at New York Comic Con 2017 to promote the season, but the panel was cancelled after the 2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting. Two weeks later, a second trailer was released revealing the season's release date of November 17, 2017. Tom Philip at GQ was not very enthused with the trailer, saying it was "hard to get super jazzed about another gritty, ultra-violent, gun-loving, non-superhero show right now." He was critical of the "utilitarian-sounding writing" in the trailer, but felt the chemistry between Bernthal and Woll would be a reason to watch the series. Philip also felt the addition of Moss-Bachrach was "curious", and said "at least [the series is] a swing for the fences from a TV studio that tends to play it astoundingly safe." Scott Mendelson of Forbes noted that the gun violence sequences featured were mainly "flashbacks with military men doing military things in full fatigues or scenes of bad guys shooting at not-so-bad guys with heavy gunfire", which was a strong contrast to the first trailer. Mendelson felt this shift in the marketing strategy could have been in response to the Las Vegas shooting. TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington agreed with Mendelson, noting how the trailer "plays up Castle's motivations and the more human side of the story", while still looking "gritty and dark, [and] Bernthal's portrayal looking as strong as ever." Etherington also criticized the soundtrack of the trailer. The Punisher had its red carpet premiere on November 6, 2017, in New York City at the 34th Street AMC Loews theatre.
The first season of The Punisher was released on November 17, 2017 on the streaming service Netflix, worldwide. In July 2016, Netflix COO Ted Sarandos had stated that The Punisher would not debut until 2018 at the earliest, following The Defenders' August 18, 2017 release, but in October 2016 Marvel confirmed the 2017 release instead.
In early September 2017, Dominic Patten and Denise Petski of Deadline Hollywood commented on the lack of specific release date for the season at the time, calling it "an unusual" and "rare move for Marvel and Netflix, who usually give a lot of lead-up to the launch" of their high profile series. The pair felt with the increased marketing of the season, it would release "sooner rather than later". Allison Keene of Collider expressed irritation at this because she and other television journalists were unable to plan content without knowing the release date, while fans anticipating the series would watch it "whenever it appears" regardless of when the date is announced. Polygon's Susana Polo felt Marvel and Netflix would announce the date at their scheduled New York Comic Con 2017 panel in October, as the convention had been used in previous years to reveal "breaking fall Marvel/Netflix news". It was soon reported that this was indeed the case, with Netflix planning a surprise "drop" release of the season after the New York Comic Con panel, mimicking a strategy from the music industry where an artist's album is released "with little or no fanfare". However, Marvel and Netflix decided to delay the release of the season to later in 2017 following the Las Vegas shooting and subsequent cancelling of the panel. Two weeks later, the November 17 release was announced.
Regarding the decisions made concerning the New York Comic Con panel and the season's release, Loeb said that they were made "specifically because it was a week after a horrible, horrible incident. It hasn't changed the television series, the show is not predominantly about gun violence, and in fact it shows you the problems that occur in that world." Bernthal and Lightfoot felt delaying the release of the season "was the right decision" out of respect for the victims, with Lightfoot saying there was no reason to go ahead with the panel if it was going to upset "even one person involved" with the shooting. Moore had initially felt the season would not be released at all once the panel was cancelled. Between the Las Vegas shooting and subsequent delaying of the season, and the eventual November 17 release, the United States experienced another mass shooting with the Sutherland Springs church shooting. Bernthal hoped that these two shootings and the release of the season would together help further the discussion on gun violence, with "all sides of this debate" represented in The Punisher.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 67% approval rating with an average rating of 6.61/10 based on 78 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "A rocky start can't keep The Punisher from pushing the boundaries of Marvel's TV universe with a fresh take on the comics-derived action thriller." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 55 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Summarizing the critical response to the entirety of the first season, GameSpot said reviews were "mixed." It received mixed to negative reviews from the LA Times and Salon.
The Washington Post said that Netflix had finally gotten the franchise "right" in a live-action in a way the prior three movies had failed to please fans. It gave the credit to the "soul" of the show and Bernthal as "one of Marvel's great casting gets" and made the show "a definitive adaptation that doubles as Netflix's best Marvel show to date." The Hollywood Reporter thought the first 13 episode season felt "at least twice the length it should be." The New York Times said "the action picks up as the season progresses, but The Punisher never quite gets in touch with the visceral roots of its material."
Esquire called the first season "a compelling and complex horror story about the military." The New York Times said that although the action picks up later in the first season, the slow pace made it less pulpy and more of a procedural thriller with a moody and psychological approach, particularly for its focus on PTSD. Variety also wrote positively of both the show and Bernthal's "seamless" performance, saying that "It's difficult to imagine better casting than Bernthal, who communicates so fluently with impassive silences, and is convincing both when he is being terribly violent and especially gentle." However, the review said the show took some time to show that it "transcends what it appears to be" at first, through Steve Lightfoot's "sharp, conscious storytelling." It also praised what it called anti-violence themes throughout the series. Vanity Fair wrote a less positive review, saying the show was as "psychologically confused as its antihero," as the writers had Castle target people for questionable reasons but portrayed him as justified. Vanity Fair wrote that "What the series neglects to examine, of course, is the fact that the Punisher is just as wicked as the villains he targets." Vulture described the show's attempts to "humanize and deepen" Castle beyond the violent "monster" he was in the original comics as "unpersuasive," and described a conflict between the showing wanting to be both The Best Years of Our Lives and Death Wish IV: The Crackdown at the same time.
Lightfoot defended the amount of violence in the series, reiterating that he did not feel that it was any more violent than Daredevil, that he believed it would be worse to not show the violent repercussions of Castle's actions because that would be "flippant" and not convey the real-life cost of the violence, and that Castle never "just blithely walk[s] away" from the violence as it always takes a physical or emotional toll on him. This extended to the repeated depictions of the death of Castle's wife, which Lightfoot did not think was in bad taste because it was about visualizing Castle's feelings, something he would not talk about; the deaths evolve through the season until they show Castle as the one killing her to signify that he blames himself for her death, which Lightfoot felt was important relationship building between Castle and the audience rather than just gratuitous violence.
Collider ranked the season as the fourth best among superhero series of 2017.
|2018||IGN's Best of 2017 Awards||Best Action Series||The Punisher||Nominated|||
|Golden Reel Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing - Episodic Short Form – Effects / Foley||"Memento Mori"||Nominated|||
|Golden Trailer Awards||Best Action (TV Spot / Trailer / Teaser for a series)||"The Punisher – Reflections"||Nominated|||
|Best Graphics (in a TV Spot / Trailer / Teaser for a series)||"The Punisher – Reflections"||Nominated|
|Best Sound Editing (in a TV Spot / Trailer / Teaser for a series)||"Family Man"||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||Best Actor on Television||Jon Bernthal||Nominated|||
|Best New Media Superhero Series||The Punisher||Won|
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited Series, or Movie||The Punisher||Nominated|||