Hulu’s Castle Rock isn’t an adaptation of Stephen King, but rather an original series that uses the breadth of his literary and cinematic universe as a jumping off point. The first season, after all, folded only one prominent King character—Sheriff Alan Pangborn—into its story, choosing instead to luxuriate in the toxic air of the town and its neighbor, Shawshank Prison. In season two, we get not one but three major King characters—Misery’s Annie Wilkes, The Sun Dog’s Pop Merrill, and The Body/Needful Things’ Ace Merrill—as well as the addition of another town, Jerusalem’s Lot. Yes, that one.
That’s… a lot of lore, and what’s even more confusing for the casual viewer is that these versions of the characters and settings exist more or less independent of their literary counterparts. Annie, for example, is much younger than the one famously played by Kathy Bates. Ace, meanwhile, clearly hasn’t endured the events of Needful Things, nor has Pop met the Sun Dog. That said, they do retain many aspects of the characters as they exist on the page (and on the screen). “There are more worlds than these,” indeed.
This makes Easter egg-hunting a bit more complicated and, when it comes to King, Easter egg-hunting is already tough. As Emily L. Stephens writes in her review of the second episode of this season, “[A]nything can feel like a reference, simply because [King’s] prolific works cover so much ground.” We’ll do our best, though! Let us know what we missed in the comments.
But first, a quick detour through the opening credits.
As we learned last season, Castle Rock’s opening credits don’t deliver clues so much as a general vibe—all the scribbles, numbers, and maps etched into these pages serve to signify the breadth of King’s universe and the show’s obsessive mining of its world. But they also highlight some of the books that helped inspire the season, though you probably already guessed which ones after it was revealed Annie, the Merrills, and ’Salem’s Lot were colliding in one story.
Let’s take a look anyway:
The above text is from 1991’s Needful Things, which King once called “The Last Castle Rock Story” (although he’s since set other stories there). The emphasis on “the devil” also speaks to the show’s last season, in which a man was kept hidden in the bowels of Shawshank because some thought him to be the actual devil.
Here we have ’Salem’s Lot’s table of contents, with the book’s ominous Marsten House highlighted. In the book, the Marsten House is described as sitting above the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot “like a ruined king.” More on it below.
Here’s a map of King’s Maine, with special attention given to King hot spots like Derry (the setting of It and Insomnia), Haven (the setting of The Tommyknockers, thus the “crash site” scribble), Little Tall Island (the setting of Storm Of The Century) and, obviously, Castle Rock itself. ’Salem’s Lot has also been scribbled in, presumably to justify its close proximity to the Rock in the universe of the show.
Customary It reference.
And, of course, Misery, specifically the scene in which Annie makes imprisoned writer Paul Sheldon burn the one copy of his masterwork—not a Misery novel—because of all its naughty words.
Also, it’s only there for a split second, but there’s a Sun Dog illustration inscribed with the story’s central Polaroid Sun 660 camera.
Chapter 1: “Let The River Run”
An older version of Annie Wilkes serves as the antagonist of Misery, King’s 1987 novel about a nurse who saves, then horrifically tortures, her favorite writer, Paul Sheldon, after his car crashes in the mountains of Colorado. Sheldon, she soon learns, has killed off Misery Chastain, the protagonist of his tawdry, lucrative romance series, in his latest book. Annie, axe in hand, demands he write a new novel bringing her back to life. Throughout the novel, we learn that several children and adults have died under Annie’s care, as did a number of her acquaintances and family members.
Kaplan’s Wilkes shares some aspects of the character on the page. She’s from Bakersfield, works as a nurse, and loves romance novels, but differs primarily in that she has a child, Joy (Elsie Fisher), who is 16 during the main action of Castle Rock. Here, she lives and works under the name Anne Ingalls and, it turns out, is wanted by the FBI for murder.
Ace Merrill, local shit-kicker, first appeared as a homicidal bully in the 1982 novella The Body (later adapted into 1986's Stand By Me) and, after serving four years in Shawshank Penitentiary in the early-to-mid-80s for breaking and entering, returned to Castle Rock only to link up with Leland Gaunt, the cruel shopkeeper of King’s Needful Things.
Paul Sparks’ Ace exists independent of the latter, but probably not the former, as his bullying is as practiced here as it always was. Unlike in the books, he’s introduced here as having a brother, Chris (Matthew Alan), and two Somali step-siblings, Nadia (Yusra Warsama) and Abdi (Barkhad Abdi).
“Pop” Merrill is often mentioned in Castle Rock history, but he plays a major role in only one King story, the 1990 novella The Sun Dog. A slimy type in King’s canon, Tim Robbins’ take on Pop is a more sympathetic one, as the character is trying to reconcile his fractured family as he struggles with terminal cancer. Both here and in King’s work, however, Pop is the shrewd owner of the Emporium Galorium, a junk shop that doubles as a sort of hush-hush money-lending operation.
Forgive the spoilers for a 44-year old book, but Jerusalem’s Lot (a.k.a. ’Salem’s Lot) is engulfed in flames at the end of King’s 1975 novel, though “One For The Road,” a supremely terrifying follow-up in his short story collection Night Shift confirms that creatures of the night still stalk the abandoned town. That’s right, ’Salem’s Lot is King’s Dracula, a vampire tale so nasty and unforgiving that it’s a wonder anyone would think to raise a family there again.
That’s exactly what Castle Rock is up to, though, placing it and the Rock in what seems like shockingly close proximity to each other, and insinuating that its past is riddled not with vampires, but witches.
Like Carrie’s Sissy Spacek, who starred in Castle Rock’s first season, Robbins occupies a rarified space in the King universe, having previously melted the hearts of earnest bros everywhere with his iconic turn as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. What’s especially fun is that Dufresne is an in-canon character in the world of Castle Rock, as last season folded Bob Gunton’s Warden Norton into the fabric of the prison’s history.
Carly Simon’s “Let The River Run” isn’t just Annie and Joy’s favorite song—it also inspired the title of the episode, likely due to its promise of hope and mention of “New Jerusalem,” which not only evokes the relevant town but, in Christian terms, has come to represent an idyllic community for saved souls, something for which Annie and Joy are searching.
Turns out Castle Rock’s Annie loves pigs as much as Misery’s Annie, as she wears scrubs, socks, and even a pin fashioned after the animal. In the film, Annie owns a pig named Misery, named after Sheldon’s heroine. The pig even has its own IMDB page, the bio for which reads thusly: “Misery the Pig rates highly as one of the best, most charming and natural porcine thespians to ever grace the screen. Big, round and brown, but still quite pretty and appealing just the same, she gave an absolutely convincing and masterful performance as herself in the outstanding 1990 Stephen King adaptation Misery.”
Annie and Joy call their vision of “New Jerusalem” the “Laughing Place,” a phrase that has roots in old Br’er Rabbit folktales, but is also referenced in King’s Misery. In the book, Annie retreats to her own “laughing place” when she’s depressed.
At this point it’s unclear whether Annie had a Sheldon-like hostage situation in her past, though there are clues that evoke King’s Misery. This first episode begins, after all, with a bloodied Annie running through the woods holding a filing box. On it is written “The Ravening Angel,” which could very well be the name of a romance novel. Later, a wheelchair not unlike the one Paul found himself trapped in rolls into her periphery. She also sees a haunting spirit, who asks, “Did you like it?”
A major setting in both King and Castle Rock lore, Shawshank was where both The Shawshank Redemption and a good chunk of the last season of Castle Rock unfolded. It was apparently evacuated and, eventually, repopulated following the events of last season. We see signs for it this season, and Joy sees reports about the repopulation on TV.
There are a few nods to the novella that gave birth to Pop Merrill. Firstly, there’s Ace’s vicious pup, which evokes the mongrel that’s in the supernatural series of photos that emerge from that story’s haunted Polaroid. Speaking of Polaroids, this first episode offers us a glimpse of Pop playing with one.
Yeah, this one’s a stretch, but laundries—especially ones this portentous—never bode well in the King universe. Could the Mangler find its way into Castle Rock as well?
What’s Annie heard about Castle Rock? Massacres! Kids vanishing into thin air! Both are references to last season, which included a few massacres and at least one child vanishing into thin air. He did return, though.
Same same but different: Stand By Me
Looks like The Body/Stand By Me will also get some love this season, as Joy finds herself a gang of friends that feel aggressively familiar. Her neighbor, Chance, has the same haircut as Wil Wheaton’s Gordie LaChance, while friends Timothy and Vera evoke Corey Feldman’s Teddy and Jerry O’Connell’s Vern.
19 is an ominous, prophetic number in King lore, so it’s not much of a surprise that Annie and Joy’s cabin is number 19.
As in Sun Dog, Pop Merrill still keeps his cash in a Crisco can.
Annie kills Ace with an ice cream scoop, which is both gross and a reference, as, in one of Misery’s saner moments, Annie makes Paul an ice cream sundae.
Chapter 2: “New Jerusalem”
It’s confirmed that the house Annie finds herself in following the worksite collapse is the Marsten House, where vampire Kurt Barlow holes up in ’Salem’s Lot. Here, it also evokes It’s 29 Neibolt Street, in how its rundown layout echoes the recent films, how it connects to the town’s sewer system, and how it serves as a playground for local deviants.
Genuinely curious about the beetle carving that can be found in the crypts. As of now, I can’t help but remember the “worm” creature that’s summoned in the Lovecraftian Night Shift prequel Jerusalem’s Lot.
Another It reference? The floating scrap that Annie follows after crashing into the sewer soars down the puddle in much the same manner as Georgie’s wax-and-paper boat does in the subterranean depths of the 1990 It miniseries.
Pop Merrill says the “satanists” that used to occupy the area “made a bad deal with the wrong hombre” and that “they burned for it.” If there’s one King character who would earn such a unique distinction, it’s Randall Flagg, who appears as a demonic charmer in The Stand, Eyes Of The Dragon, Gwendy’s Button Box, and the Dark Tower series.
Ace’s return from the dead feels less vampiric than it does Pet Sematarian. He looks the same, but something is clearly wrong.
Chapter 3: “Ties That Bind”
There’s no signs of Ace being a vampire by this point, but he’s building an army in much the same manner as Barlow did in ’Salem’s Lot. Here, we see a cop, a real estate agent, and one of Abdi’s buddies claimed and transformed by Ace.
This lumbering, undead version of Ace clearly remembers aspects of his former life, as we see him go to visit Pop in the hospital, but he’s also clearly not the Merrill he once was. He’s also not, well, rotting on the outside, like you’d see from one of Pet Sematary’s victims. In this sense, he evokes the possessed souls of The Tommyknockers and Desperation more than he does those of ’Salem’s Lot or the Sematary.
“Wanna go look for a dead guy?” Chance asks Joy, a line that evokes the plot of The Body, in which four pals go and look for, well, a body. We also learn that Timothy, who wears big glasses like Corey Feldman’s Teddy Duchamp, comes from an abusive household… just like Teddy Duchamp. Chance, meanwhile, has been emancipated from her family, which is something Gordie LaChance would have just fuckin’ loved.
When Joy goes for a swim, she hears a noise that should be familiar to viewers of the first season: the schisma, a Castle Rock creation that serves to “reconcile” the branching timelines and universes flowing throughout King’s work.
Also familiar to viewers of the first season? Why nobody ever found the head of Warden Lacy. The Stand By Me kids don’t know that, though.
When Joy ties up Annie, she does so in a way that evokes 1992's Gerald’s Game as much as it does Misery, in which Paul was bound to the bed more by his injuries than he was restraints (though those came later). Annie is tied to the bedposts with rope, and, like that book’s Jessie, relies on a glass of water to help plot her escape. Though Annie doesn’t need to go to the lengths Jessie does to cut herself loose, the act still results in plenty of blood loss.
Sounds like the Marsten House’s original proprietor, Hubie, is the same monster here as he was in King’s novel, having killed his wife, Birdie, before killing himself in the haunted abode.
Chapter 4: “Restore Hope”
So far, the only prominent character to bridge both seasons of Castle Rock is Aaron Staton’s holy man, who here falls prey (pray?) to Ace’s machinations. Welcome back, Appleton! Sorry you’re (un)dead.
Appleton’s conversion here is likely to mirror, at least to some degree, the conversion of ‘Salem’s Lot’s Father Callahan, who falls victims to the vampiric hordes in that book. Callahan, however, isn’t converted in quite the same way as his cohorts and, despite being changed, skips town. Constant Readers, however, know that that isn’t the last we see of him. Could Appleton follow a similar route? Here, he seems to be as under Ace’s sway as the rest of the converts.
Just like in King’s book, Annie retreats to junk food—lots of junk food—when she’s feeling blue.
The Ravening Angel disc reads September 7, 2004, a date that, from what I can gather, holds no real-world significance. Initially, however, I accidentally researched September 4 of that year and discovered that that was the day King threw the first pitch at Fenway Park. Not only was his pitch preserved onscreen in the Jimmy Fallon vehicle Fever Pitch, but it also occurred during the Red Sox season that King and writer Stuart O’Nan chronicled in their 2004 best-seller Faithful.
One other thing: It was on September 21, 2004, that King released the seventh and final book in the Dark Tower series, so take that however you like.
Pop’s got a whole load of correspondence tucked away in his files, and on it are some familiar names. Alan Pangborn, a major figure in King’s Castle Rock who also played a prominent role last season, has his name on some letters, as does Dale Lacy, Terry O’Quinn’s late warden of last season. In episode three, Chance and co. reflect on how nobody ever found his decapitated head.
Caveat emptor is Latin for “buyer beware,” and the phrase pops up a few times in Needful Things, most prominently on the side of one character’s otherworldly carriage.
Chapter 5: “The Laughing Place”
A great actress who I’m glad is sticking around beyond this episode. King fans, however, may recognize her as 11.22.63's Sadie, one half of one of the author’s most resonant love stories. Her romance here didn’t end quite so well, though we’re not sure Carl Wilkes was all that desirable of a partner.
Carl describes Annie as his “number one fan,” which is exactly how the Annie of King’s Misery describes herself to Paul Sheldon. If we’re assuming this timeline exists on the same one as King’s (we’re not? I don’t think?), that certainly spins Annie’s relationship to Paul in an entirely different direction.
On the far right is what appears to be a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the template, more or less, of ‘Salem’s Lot. On the left there’s something called Vampire Slayers by Martin H. Greenberg and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, which sounds like it’d be a lot more helpful if what we the Lot was actually consumed by vampires and not bodysnatchers.
Boy, Castle Rock characters sure do love suicide-by-driving-off-a-cliff-into-water. Former Shawshank warden Dale Lacy offed himself in similar fashion at the beginning of season one.
Our Castle Rock critic, Emily L. Stephens, pointed out in her excellent review that Rita’s job here mirrors that of Johnny Smith’s in The Dead Zone’s Kittery detour. There, he’s tasked with helping a kid named Chuck Chatsworth overcome his reading blocks.
Chapter 6: “The Mother”
King’s Misery is, in not-so-subtle fashion, a book about addiction and the ways in which it can make you feel held captive. He got clean of drugs and alcohol in the years following the book’s release, and much of his subsequent work, from Four Past Midnight to Doctor Sleep, has both focused on recovering addicts and themes born from the 12-step process. Here, we see Rita in a meeting not unlike the ones King’s characters (and the author himself) have attended.
In The Shawshank Redemption, both Brooks and Red find themselves working in a grocery store upon their release from prison. Rita, too, is bagging groceries and wrangling carts as she tries to rebuild her life.
Customary nod to 19 (and 16, which is almost 19).
It’s confirmed here that Chance’s full name is Georgia LaChance, which feels...a bit much? The Stand By Me connection was clear without so directly invoking Gordie LaChance. It’s a “Jackie Torrance” situation all over again.
There’s perhaps no Castle Rock character who casts as large a shadow in King’s work as George Bannerman, and not just because he was described as being a rather big man. The one-time sheriff is mentioned in just about every story set in the town, but he only features in two: The Dead Zone and Cujo, in which he’s one of the titular dog’s victims. Alan Pangborn, a major character last season, took over the job, but Bannerman’s spirit lives on in The Dark Half, Needful Things, and latter-day books like Gwendy’s Button Box and Elevation.
Anyways, all this is to say that the “Steve Bannerman” from CPS is probably his son, grandson, or some other relative.
Chapter 7: “The Word”
I’m sorry, I mean Satan. Not really an Easter egg, but it feels worth it to mention that Bill Skarsgård here reprises his role from the first season, in which he was a vulnerable weirdo held captive in Block F of Shawshank Prison by now-deceased warden Dale Lacy, who was correct in believing him to be the devil.
What’s interesting about this in the larger realm of King—and more specifically in the way Skarsgård’s character is navigating this anthology—is that it posits him as the show’s very own Randall Flagg. No, he doesn’t have the swagger of Flagg, but, like The Walkin’ Dude, he’s ageless, tied to the underworld, and everywhere. Also, scroll up and read my episode two notes—I (kinda-sorta) called this.
I previously mentioned King’s Night Shift prequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” and there’s a few ties here. Though they take place in different times—the short story unfolds in the 18th and 19th centuries, while we’re swept back to the 1600s here—they both posit that the terrors of ‘Salem’s Lot date back hundreds of years. They also both concern a perversion of Christian iconography, mainly in the use of upside-down crosses.
King fans will see several familiar names in Pop’s ledger, which is fun so long as you can shake off where they each exist in the timeline of King’s work. There’s John Delevan, who recounts his punishing debt to Pop in The Sun Dog. Gwendy Peterson, meanwhile, is the titular star of Gwendy’s Button Box, a recent novella King co-wrote with author Richard Chizmar (Chizmar just released a follow-up of his own this month). Andy Clutterbuck is a Castle Rock cop who appears in a handful of King works, including Needful Things and Lisey’s Story. And John Despain you might remember from The Body, the novella upon which Stand By Me was based. Sonny’s gas station is also featured in King’s universe.
I thought the mayor’s oddly specific mention of Thanksgiving, 1992 might hold some meaning, but all I could find is that King’s Dolores Clairborne came out in November of that year. Shrug.
There’s 38 people in Ace’s squad. That’s 19 twice.
As Emily points out in her review, John Diehl, who here plays Ace and Chris’ incarcerated dad, previously entered King’s dominion in 1997 with The Revelations Of ’Becka Paulson, a King adaptation featured on The Outer Limits.
“Look at that car!” the emcee yells, as if we weren’t going to notice the 1958 Plymouth Fury that King used as a possessed killing machine in Christine. How hard can we roll our eyes here?
Andy, you’ve been missed.
Cool mask, kid. Small reference, but it reminds me of the unnerving sequence in King’s It when Mike’s marching in a parade and sees Pennywise pop up at every corner.
Chapter 8: “Dirty”
Derry, if you’re a Castle Rock fan and somehow unaware, is the setting for Stephen King’s It, as well as novels like Insomnia and Dreamcatcher. Could this be a hint as to where the show will venture in a potential third season? Lest we forget, the first season foreshadowed the ‘Salem’s Lot connections of this season via a road sign.
The idea of an entire town succumbing to a supernatural force is present in a few King novels, including ‘Salem’s Lot and The Tommyknockers. The vast emptiness conveyed in this episode owes plenty to ‘Salem’s Lot’s daytime vacuity, while the concept of a mass migration of the possessed speaks more to The Tommyknockers and, to a degree, Storm Of The Century.
The waterlogged ghoul that is Annie’s dead mother bears a resemblance to The Shining’s Mrs. Massey, the Room 217/237 occupant who continues to haunt Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep.
In this episode, we learn that, despite being murdered before getting possessed, the spirit of the human vessel still lives on in the possessed body. This, in itself, isn’t very King-like—one of the best and cruelest parts of King’s work is that his corrupted souls are inevitably lost to whatever supernatural force has consumed them; there is no coming back. The closest analog to Chris’ situation is probably Dreamcatcher, in which a character is cognizant within his possessed body though not able to control it.
Annie’s weapons of choice here are consistent with the tools she uses to torture and maim Paul Sheldon in the film adaptation of King’s novel: A butcher’s knife and a sledgehammer. This dude got off lucky—a hammer to the head’s a lot better than a hobbling.
Chapter 9: “Caveat Emptor”
It’s a trope that extends well beyond King, but the concept of a string of ragtag survivors banding together against an encroaching horde is something we’ve seen in plenty of his stories, from ‘Salem’s Lot to Cell to the short story “Trucks.”
Annie tells Jamal that she’s as “reasonable as they come,” which makes me feel the writers are familiar with King’s On Writing quote about how Annie “may seem psychopathic to us, but it’s important to remember that she seems perfectly sane and reasonable to herself—heroic, in fact, a beleaguered woman trying to survive in a hostile world filled with cockadoodie brats.”
Annie ends up taking out Jamal with a pair of syringes, but first she considers attacking the bed-bound man with a hammer, which summons Misery’s iconic hobbling.
There were another group of Castle Rockians who squared off against a roaring locomotive, though they weren’t having nearly as much fun as Abdi and Nadia apparently did as kids.
Pop doesn’t succeed in blowing himself up, but, even if he had, he wouldn’t be the first King character to self-sacrifice himself via explosion. The Shining, Desperation, and The Stand (not quite self-sacrifice, but deal with it) all feature characters with similar intentions.
If you’re wondering why the show lingered so long on a typewriter when Ace’s gang stormed the Emporium Galorium, well, look closer. Underwood is a real typewriter brand, but it also shares a name with one of The Stand’s most memorable characters: would-be rock star Larry Underwood.
Chapter 10: “Clean”
This week, Annie discovers the work of Paul Sheldon, the author of the Misery franchise that she’ll eventually torture to near-death. The three different books she reads—Misery’s Quest, Misery’s Lover, and Misery’s Paradise—are all volumes established in King’s novel. When she attends his book signing, she declares herself to be his “number one fan,” a phrase that also haunts King’s telling.
We learned of this to some extent last season, but Pop clarifies that Castle Lake is “a door to other heres, other nows, other dimensions.” This could make it, in the parlance of King, home to a “thinny,” which are essentially tears in the fabric between worlds. Thinnies emit a warbling sound not unlike that of the schisma.
Henry Deaver, who we last saw overseeing The Kid’s continued confinement beneath Shawshank Prison, is missing! A poster featuring his mug was hung up outside a gas station in Canada, and a closer look reveals that he disappeared near Castle Lake on July 7, 2019. It’s unclear what happened, but it likely has something to do with The Kid being on the loose once again. Maybe we’ll find out next season?