Subduction zones produce the largest earthquakes. Over the past two decades, space geodesy has revolutionized our view of crustal deformation between consecutive earthquakes. The short time span of modern measurements necessitates comparative studies of subduction zones that are at different stages of the deformation cycle. Piecing together geodetic 'snapshots' from different subduction zones leads to a unifying picture in which the deformation is controlled by both the short-term (years) and long-term (decades and centuries) viscous behaviour of the mantle. Traditional views based on elastic models, such as coseismic deformation being a mirror image of interseismic deformation, are being thoroughly revised.