Castle Rock is part of the recent wave of excellent Stephen King adaptations that includes last year’s cinematic takes on It and Gerald’s Game. What sets Castle Rock apart, and what might generally push viewers over the love-hate divide, comes down to how distracted they’ll be with picking up on the plethora of Easter eggs hidden in the narrative. Because Castle Rock is ostensibly a new story, set in a King-favored location with some familiar characters (and some who only look familiar), it’s easy to get bogged down in multiple rewatches, pausing every five seconds to take down license plate numbers or comb through indecipherably muddy microfiche in order to find a clue.
And so far? The story of Castle Rock seems to be doing a great job standing on its own, letting you know what parts of the author’s lore will be important to the story by putting it front and center, while the rest of the clue-hunting is, at least for now, pure gameplay. To keep that game going, here are the Easter eggs, categorized and chronologically cataloged, that my trusted Losers’ Club of roommates and I were able to find in the show’s first three episodes. If we’ve overlooked any, please be sure to let us know.
Chapter one: “Severance”
Who is…?: Alan Pangborn
Our introductory character, who in 1991 went out one morning to the middle of the woods to find a missing Henry Deaver by just sitting on a lake and waiting for a large noise to happen, after which Deaver suddenly appears on the ice. Wow! Already a mystery! And already, a callback: Alan Pangborn was the hero sheriff in Needful Things, who tried to keep his down together as they became a mindless mob in the hands of the devil, who seduced them with cool thrift-store finds like real Tiffany lamps, Elvis memorabilia, and a necklace that cured arthritis. And wouldn’t you know it, the events of Needful Things end in 1991, the same year as the Henry Deaver mystery. “A” for consistency!
Pangborn is also the sheriff, either as a side character or someone mentioned but unseen, in Bag Of Bones, Gerald’s Game, and King’s novella The Sun Dog. He’s seen some shit—if his is the same Pangborn, that is.
Stunt casting: Scott Glenn
Scott Glenn could be The Ghost Of Christmas Future for the version of Pangborn played by Ed Harris in the Needful Things movie. The actor is just a year removed from playing a different former sheriff on another paranormal prestige drama about how small communities deal with grief; on The Leftovers, Glenn bore the role of Kevin Garvey Sr. with Pangbornian stoicism and a knack for keeping secrets.
Visual cue: Dead deer in the snow
Encountered by Dale Lacy during his nature walk to the worst retirement party ever. Dead animals could mean a lot in King’s world: a sign of an infection or alien presence (The Stand, The Tommyknockers), or something more ungodly, like Pet Sematary or Cujo (the latter of which takes place in Castle Rock). We don’t see whether the deer has a body or is just a head, which, considering how Dale Lacy takes his own life, may be important.
Visual cue: Frozen lake
The image of a boy stranded in the middle of an iced-over lake immediately calls to mind the beginning of The Dead Zone, where an ice-skating fall activates the first half of Johnny Smith’s dormant psychic ability.
Visual cue: Sheepdog
Cujo’s eponymous beast was a Saint Bernard—is that close enough? There’s also King’s own corgi, Molly, a.k.a. the “Thing Of Evil,” but it’s probably a bigger Easter egg that Melanie Lynskey’s character shares her name.
Musical cue: “Sull’aria…Che Soave Zeffiretto”
Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) listens to this duet from Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, which is the same piece that leads to Andy Dufresne’s solitary confinement in The Shawshank Redemption.
Extended universe: The doomed wardens of Shawshank
Lacy beheads himself by tying a noose to a tree and then plunging his car into a body of water; as the vehicle sinks, we see the decal on the bumper: “Maine Department Of Corrections: Shawshank.” “Bit of trivia: Shawshank’s actually lost four wardens in office,” Lacy’s successor, Warden Porter (Ann Cusack), is later told. “You can still see the bullet hole where Warden Norton—,” her tour guide says, before Porter cuts off this bit of epilogue from The Shawshank Redemption.
Wardrobe cue: Warden Porter is the devil in Prada
We know this new warden is trouble, and not just because her brother was in 1408. There’s also the matter of the red dress she wears for her first day on the job. Red means something huge in King’s work; it’s a harbinger of the coming of the ultimate cross-series baddie. Call him Randall Flagg, the Ageless Stranger, The Man In Black—we know if a character wears too much red, they are either agents of Flagg or vulnerable to his influence.
Extended universe: Henry’s defendant, Leanne
We learn the boy who went missing in 1991 grew up to be a defense attorney. His current client on death row? Married to one Richard Chambers, better known as the bully in The Body and its cinematic adaptation, Stand By Me, both of which take place in Castle Rock.
Show’s secret thesis: Leanne’s death-row speech
“Wherever you go next, does the tape just get erased? And if it does, you’re not really you anymore, are you?” This is a very big clue Castle Rock is sharing with us: that there are Castle Rock echoes of events like those in Cujo, Needful Things, and Shawshank, and characters who have experienced them. But the “tape got erased,” so we can’t just assume that, say, the Pangborn played by Glenn is the same one played by Ed Harris.
Same same but different: The shining
Town preservationist (god knows why), Molly Strand (Lynskey) has self-diagnosed “psychic disorders” whose symptoms include trouble empathizing with others and a few supernatural powers thrown in for good measure. She wears dark glasses and abuses painkillers to help cope with what sounds an awful lot like the abilities that helped Danny Torrance unlock the dark secrets of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. And as we learn in that book’s 2013 sequel, Doctor Sleep, adult Danny copes with the shining by drugging and boozing it away.
Stunt casting: Sissy Spacek
Nominated for an Oscar for playing a telekinetic teen with severe mommy issues in Carrie, Spacek’s playing a mother in a King-related production 42 years later, one who has dementia and possibly knows some things about Henry’s late, adoptive father that she’s not sharing.
Visual cue: The mouse
The Kid (Bill Skarsgård, the big screen’s Pennywise) was kept in an underground box by Warden Lacy for over a decade, but he’s made at least one new friend: a tiny mouse, just like the one held by the prisoner John Coffey in The Green Mile, which extended the rodent’s life span to Methuselah-esque lengths.
Chapter two: “Habeas Corpus”
Audio cue: Thomas Newman
The show’s theme song, heard for the first time in the second episode, was composed by Thomas Newman, who also worked on the scores for The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
Extended universe: The Lacy files
In a flashback voice-over, we hear that Dale Lacy knew about the incidents of Cujo, Needful Things, The Body, and The Dead Zone, and has been collecting files on them. He believes Castle Rock is evil, which is something that everyone seems to know and yet they refuse to move away, with the notable exception of that Deaver boy. He went all big-city and escaped.
What’s in a name: Jackie Torrence
The first time I heard Jane Levy’s character’s name I wanted to slam my head through a bathroom door, so I guess that’s a nice Shining reference.
Same same but different: The Death Touch
It’s implied the Kid was able (or unable not) to send malignant and fast-growing cancer via touch after being grabbed by his neo-Nazi bunkmate. Maybe he’s reverse-John Coffey.
Locations: The Mellow Tiger and Nan’s Luncheonette
Both are mentioned throughout King’s stories that take place in or around Castle Rock, including Needful Things, It, and The Sun Dog.
Extended universe: Pruitts
Someone being appointed to the Castle Rock board, might be related to two girls who get trapped in Under The Dome.
Same same but different: They come back
So our Pet Sematary suspicions were confirmed! Henry catches Pangborn digging up a dead dog they had buried the day before, to make sure it wouldn’t get up and start wandering around. But also, come on! This whole town tore down a cemetery and is currently reinterring the bodies, including that of Henry’s dad, who may have been a real creep.
Oy, religion: Lacy’s last speech
Implies that he thought by keeping the kid in the cell, he was doing God’s bidding, but:
“‘Never again let him see the light of day.’ That’s what God told me. He told me where to find him, how his prison should be built, how to put an end to all the horrors we’ve seen in this town… What he didn’t tell me was how full of doubt I would be about what we did, or where I’d wind up in the end. I fear for this place. I fear what’s to come, Alan. But I know Castle Rock still has a defender, even in the dead of night”
And this is after Alan and the sheepdog dig up Lacy’s severed head, which apparently is now free to roam wherever it wants. Seriously, Castle Rock can’t even figure out where to inter the bodies that will stay down, let alone the undead.
It is never really great to do stuff because God tells you to in Stephen King stories—or in life, for that matter. But off the bat I’m wondering if the good Reverend Deaver and Lacy knew something the rest of the town—minus, perhaps, Pangborn—didn’t. It’s also worth noting that Needful Things featured two different men of faith falling prey to their baser instincts, but neither seem to be related to Henry’s adopted father.
Chapter 3: “Local Color”
Visual cue: Red flannel
Young Molly breaks into Henry’s house while he’s missing, puts on his red flannel jacket, and kills Reverend Deaver by unplugging his breathing apparatus. We know that she’s not fully herself, but using or being used as a conduit for someone in a very cold place. And despite knowing it was Henry (or someone else’s) rage, could you imagine the guilt living with that, if you were Molly? Knowing how that close of a connection with someone made her their puppet? Maybe the red flannel isn’t about Henry at all but the temptation from The Crimson King himself, offering Henry as a reward for the reverend’s murder.
Visual cue: Yellow raincoat
Molly wears a jacket that’s the same bright hue as Georgie’s in It, and it’s so incongruous with the drab, burned-out surroundings of Castle Rock, it must be addressed with a sick Minions burn.
Bad-idea jeans: “Every revitalized downtown needs a gazebo”
Maybe Molly should reconsider this plan, based on the history of the structure’s predecessors: The Castle Rock gazebo is the scene of a murder in The Dead Zone, and it’s burned down during the culmination of Needful Things.
Same same but different: Children of the Oxy Corn
I know, I know, “put a bunch of creepy kids in a room together doing weird things like holding a kangaroo court while wearing the Eyes Wide Shut mask they made Daddy at summer camp but he never wore so it’s theirs now.” It’s actually less King than Creepypasta, but if you squint hard enough, the resemblance to Children Of The Corn is there.
Literary reference: Lord Of The Flies
This kids’ tribunal also contains echoes of William Golding’s allegorical novel, from which Castle Rock takes its name. King is a huge fan of the theme where children take over and create their own savage-but-fair feudal systems—plus, the Kid’s neo-Nazi cellmate is seen reading Lord Of The Flies earlier in the series.
Timey-wimey stuff: Henry Deaver’s age
Henry is 39 years old. When he was around 12, he was kidnapped by his father and taken somewhere for 11 days, after which he returned, unharmed. Comparing that with the references of both the rev and the Kid asking “Has it begun?” and “Can you hear it now?” it seems like we’re dealing with some sort of monstrous ritual that coincides with the ending of “hibernation” for the creature from It, a sort of Mercury retrograde from hell where people are more likely to go insane and murder each other on the street without it even being Purge Day. It happens every 27 years or so, and if Castle Rock is playing by the same logic, it would make sense that Henry has a more difficult time remembering incidents about the town than Molly, who is essentially Mike Hanlon without a library. With Derry, the setting of It, and Castle Rock being close to each other, it’s possible that something’s going on where supernatural occurrences can be timed like clockwork.
Episode four: “The Box”
Audio cue: Tom Waits, “Clap Hands”
Not necessarily an Easter egg per se, except in that Tom Waits’ music is some of the creepiest in the world and often deals with spooks and ghouls as often as it does heartbreak, whiskey, and pianos. If it were up to me, this episode would have launched with another one of Waits’ songs, the less melodious but way more on-point “What’s He Building In There?”
What’s in a name: Vince Desjardins
Here’s another “The Body”/Stand By Me reference. Vince is part of Ace’s gang in the story, and as you may have assumed from the word “gang,” he’s not one of the good guys. The fact that Henry may or may not have been kept in a box for 11 days outside the Desjardins’ residence is not a signal of hospitality.
Stunt casting: Quentin Collins as Joseph Desjardins
As Emily L. Stephens pointed out in her recap, the actor playing the living Desjardins brother is known for his work on a series about vampires in another Maine town: the influential supernatural soap Dark Shadows.
What’s in a name: The Box
The episode’s title, possibly referring to the one in the Desjardins backyard, with a spoon and a little bowl, which Henry may or may not have escaped from. Or was it a dog that was kept back there? If so, which dog? (There seem to be a few options.)
Or this could be about the pine boxes that Henry’s adopted father keeps escaping from, having been dug up and reburied for the third time now. Or it’s the box in Shawshank where the Kid was imprisoned. Might even be the TV monitors that are ultimately Dennis Zalewski’s undoing.
Or this could be a metaphorical memory box, the one held by Molly but rightfully belonging to Henry Deaver, which is why he can’t seem to remember anything that happened to him. As the Kid says early in this episode, “He has a name written on him that no one knows except himself.” Perhaps “knowing” is a type of evil in Castle Rock, and only a few strong souls, like Pangborn and Molly, can keep their memories intact without being affected by its toxicity.
Extended universe: The Strangler
Stephen King is telling us to ignore the Easter eggs in Castle Rock and just focus on the show itself, and we’d love to, but if you wanted to create a stand-alone horror, maybe don’t have your realtor character mentioning that she lives in the same house that a “serial killer” died in—a serial killer with mommy issues. Not concluding that Molly lives in the house previously occupied by The Dead Zone’s Frank Dodd would be doing a disservice to all of us fans who keep track of this stuff.
Visual cue: The smiley face
On the monitor bank at Shawshank, a very loud signal to a more recent King novel, Mr. Mercedes, in which the killer’s calling card is this proto-emoji.
Audio cue: Roy Orbison, “Crying”
I was so happy for this one, as it references my favorite Stephen King short story, “You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band.” In it, a couple turns off the highway to end up in a town populated entirely by dead musicians, including Elvis, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin and, you guessed it, Roy Orbison. And what a beautiful nightmare of a scene, all depicted through security cameras, leading up to Dennis’ final line: “I want to testify.”
Visual cue: X marks the spot
Dennis X-ing out different monitors is a callback that seems linked to Henry marking Xs over the space of his father’s headstone.
Episode five: “Harvest”
Extended universe: Tinnitus
Henry gets his hearing checked out after the Shawshank incident that ended with Dennis’ killing spree and death. He talks about this issue with his ears ringing; apparently it isn’t a new problem, but one he’s had since childhood. This is a problem Henry shares with King, who was plagued by chronic ear infections growing up.
Extended universe: Bangor Strangler
Again, a Dead Zone reference that, at this point, doesn’t do much besides point back at itself. Okay, we get it. We know which of King’s stories take place in this town—is there anything more about this that’s relevant to our story at hand? For example, is the Bangor Strangler controlling the Kid when he decides to break into a family’s house and watch the happy tableau turn into a fight between the mother and father while the child, celebrating his birthday, goes ignored? But wait, isn’t the Bangor Strangler shacking up at Molly’s house these days, vis-a-vis her throwaway reference in “The Box”?
Extended universe: Arthritis complications
Runs in Ruth’s family. Luckily, Sheriff Pangborn should be used to dealing with it, seeing as his love interest in Needful Things was Polly Chalmers, who suffered from severe arthritis.
What’s in a name?: Jackie Torrance, again
Finally, some evidence that all these Easter eggs show us that Castle Rock belongs in the same universe as the Stephen King stories that take place in and outside the eponymous town. Jackie is related to the characters from The Shining and was named after her uncle, tortured, alcoholic author Jack Torrance. (Though on which side? Wasn’t a big part of The Shining how both Jack and Wendy were both alienated from their respective families? Why would a sibling then name their child after their estranged, homicidal sibling?)
Extended universe: Undead dog
Whose dog was that, that kept interrupting Sheriff Pangborn’s retirement speech and distracting everyone enough to not notice Ruth’s exit? We’ve had several mentions and even seen several dogs around town, more dead than alive, however. Is this a Pet Sematary thing or a Cujo thing—or both? I lean toward the former: With all that’s going on with the reburials of Henry’s adopted father (and now his gaseous body causing a coffin leak that won’t even leave a body?), I’m worried that it’s only a matter of time until the good (or bad) Reverend Deaver finds his way back home.
Audio cue: What the Kid hears
Well, we’re getting closer to the truth now, at least a little bit, about the function of The Kid, if not his actual identity. (Apparently, he doesn’t age.) While earlier in the episode the show seems to point to the idea that he is indeed in league with the devil, destroying anyone or anything he touches (or, in the case of Dennis and the family he creepy-crawls, having them destroy themselves), from his final conversation with Pangborn in which he offers to help Ruth, I get the sense the kid is more of an amplifier, or a tuning receiver. He has some version of the Shine, at least. We can hear it when he steps on top of Molly’s building and is able to “hear” the town like it’s a faraway radio signal, with a loud dog barking (Cujo?) and the phrase “Wanna see a dead body?” (“The Body”/Stand By Me). Clearly, the Kid can “tune in” to all the bad juju of Castle Rock. Question is, what else does he do?