The new Hulu series Castle Rock doesn’t adapt any single Stephen King story directly, but instead takes place in a world of interconnected short stories and novels set within the author’s favorite creepy Maine town. As such, each episode is loaded with references to many of the King characters, books, and films that you know and love. We’re here to break all of them down, episode by episode.
In one of the most significant King references woven throughout Castle Rock, much of the season’s action takes place at Shawshank Penitentiary. The legendary facility first appeared in King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” and later, famously, onscreen in Frank Darabont’s 1994 film adaptation starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
A former Castle Rock sheriff, Pangborn has appeared in the Kingverse quite a few times, playing major roles in The Dark Half, Needful Things, and the short story “The Sun Dog,” and he’s been referenced in several other works. He’s a King legend of sorts, played by Ed Harris and Michael Rooker in previous films, and now played by Scott Glenn in the Hulu series.
When we first meet Henry Deavers (Andre Holland), he’s down in Texas trying to get a woman named Leanne Chambers (Phyllis Somerville) off death row. She isn’t a King character directly, but her name should ring several bells: It’s the same surname as Chris Chambers from “The Body” (a.k.a. Stand by Me) and the legendary Jake Chambers of The Dark Tower fame.
When the new Shawshank warden T. Porter (Ann Cusack) is getting her tour of the prison, you can hear someone say, “You can still see the bullet hole where Warden Norton …” before getting cut off. Of course, fans of The Shawshank Redemption will remember that the villain of that film put a bullet in his own head after Andy Dufresne escaped and tipped off police about the warden’s crimes.
Is it really a coincidence that Castle Rock cast the man who played Pennywise the Clown in last year’s It? Even if so, as the creepy kid found in the water tank at Shawshank, Skarsgård’s presence adds another layer of menace to the show because of the monster we’ve already seen him play.
Sissy Spacek and other King veterans
Skarsgård isn’t the only performer on Castle Rock to appear in previous King works. Melanie Lynskey was in Rose Red, Frances Conroy was in the recent TV version of The Mist, and, of course, Sissy Spacek was in a little movie called Carrie.
The Green Mile
Although King’s 1996 novel didn’t take place in Shawshank, Castle Rock sneaks in a reference when the Kid watches a mouse scurry across the prison floor. In The Green Mile book (and Darabont’s 1999 film starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan), a prisoner uses his supernatural powers to revive another prisoner’s pet mouse. Perhaps a sign of the darkness to come, the critter in Castle Rock suffers a much worse fate.
That King style
This isn’t a direct reference, but the plot of the premiere episode is classic Stephen King in several familiar ways: past sins coming to the surface, childhood trauma driving the plot, and a possibly supernatural evil about to overtake the God-fearing people of a quaint New England town.
The opening credits
The opening-credits sequence is loaded with visual nods to King, including a torn chapter page for The Green Mile and snippets from other King classics, including Misery, It, and The Shining.
“Remember the dog? The strangler?”
Warden Lacy’s narration is packed with King references. “The dog” is obviously referring to Cujo, and “the stranger” nods to the one-and-only Frank Dodd of The Dead Zone fame.
“It was the fall after they found that boy’s body out by the train tracks.”
As Lacy recounts the story of a high-school mascot who killed himself, he also references the plot of King’s short story “The Body,” which was adapted into the 1986 hit film Stand by Me.
Castle Rock’s past tragedies
Lacy then explains how his house — every house in Castle Rock, actually — is “stained with someone’s sin.” We see a suicide in a tub with bloody water streaming down the stairs, recalling similar imagery from The Shining. We also see a woman killing a man by funneling carbon monoxide into their home as she sits in her car. It’s kind of a stretch, but carbon monoxide played a major role in King’s Christine. Both of these feel like tonal references to classic King works, if not direct ones.
Old newspaper clippings
When Henry rifles through the newspaper articles in Lacy’s office, there are at least three that reference King works directly: “Shopkeeper Missing After Oddity Store Fire” (Needful Things), “Anonymous Tip Led to …” (Stand by Me), “Rabid Dog Tears Through Town” (Cujo).
If the name Torrance doesn’t mean something to you, there’s a little movie called The Shining that you need to watch. Here’s the burning question of the moment: Is Jane Levy’s Jackie related to Danny? We don’t know yet, but it’s a possibility.
The Nazi in the cell with the Kid has the numbers of the white-power movement tattooed on his face, but they also call to mind the great “1408,” a King short story turned into a 2007 film with Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack. Sure, this one may be accidental, but you should still read “1408.”
Alan Pangborn basically recounts the setup for King’s 1983 novel as he digs up a dead stray dog, which Ruth Deaver believes has come back to life.
The Mellow Tiger
The bar where Henry speaks to Jackie and passes the note to Shawshank prison guard Dennis Zalewski comes straight out of Needful Things, the 1991 novel that’s the biggest King reference point for the series so far.
The greasy spoon that turned into a “fuck club,” as Jackie told Henry, appears in several King stories including The Dark Half, Needful Things, “The Sun Dog,” and It.
The flashback to 1991 includes a poster for one of King’s favorite bands. (Was Molly Strand also a fan of the theme song they wrote for Pet Sematary?)
Children of the Corn
The creepy mask-wearing kids from Timberland Motor Court sure bring to mind the terrifying creations of one of King’s most famous short stories, which was adapted into the 1984 horror movie.
Far from a direct reference, but the revelation that the Kid only eats Wonder Bread brings to mind one of King’s devilish creations, Raymond Andrew Joubert from Gerald’s Game. Joubert’s van included a sandwich on the front seat, as viscerally described by King in his 1992 novel: “The thing poking out from between the two slices of Wonder Bread was pretty clearly a human tongue.”
Henry Deaver’s investigation into his own disappearance brings up the name Vince Desjardins, who had a felony and lived near the spot where young Henry disappeared. The name should ring a couple bells. Vince himself was a part of Ace’s gang in “The Body,” and one could easily see him living in a dilapidated home on the edge of Castle Rock after the action of that short story or the Stand by Me adaptation. And, of course, Rita Desjardins was the name of Carrie’s P.E. teacher in Carrie. It’s never been fully clear if she’s related to Vince, but probably?
The Dodd House
While Molly shows the Lacy home to potential buyers, she tells them that a serial strangler died in her house (and she still sleeps like a baby!). It’s almost certainly another reference to Frank Dodd, the legendary strangler of The Dead Zone. Does Molly actually live in the Dodd House? No wonder she’s got so much psychic mojo.
Blink and you’ll miss the fact that Alan and Henry turn down Maple Street as they’re headed to Matthew Weaver’s relocated body. While it could just be a coincidental name, it’s likely a reference to “The House on Maple Street,” a short story from King’s Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
Grim Reaper graffiti
There’s a bunch of graffiti in the Kid’s cell (what does “G.F.B.D.” mean?), but only one stands out as an obvious reference. One of King’s earliest short stories, “The Reaper’s Image” — originally published in 1969 in Startling Mystery Stories and later in the short-story collection Skeleton Crew — tells the tale of an antique mirror haunted by the image of the Grim Reaper.
While Jackie Torrance talks to the Kid about her past, she mentions that her uncle was a writer who tried to ax murder his whole family. Of course, that’s a nod to The Shining, but the writers of Castle Rock gild this particular Easter egg: She also reveals that her name is an homage to Jack Torrance. Her real name is Diane, but she changed it in her uncle’s memory.
Cujo & Pet Sematary
The dog that barks at Ruth, leading her to jump off the newly dubbed Pangborn Bridge, is bound to remind people of Cujo, although that was a Saint Bernard. Given the fact that Alan and Ruth have already wandered into the reanimated dead world of Pet Sematary, it’s more likely that she thought the barking dog was the one she already buried.
The asylum where the Kid may end up after being released from Shawshank is an even more consistent fixture in King’s stories. Juniper Hill has appeared in It, Needful Things, Bag of Bones, 11.22.63, The Dark Half, and many, many more.
Capt. Byron Hadley
In The Shawshank Redemption, the sadistic guard played by Clancy Brown had the surname Hadley. Castle Rock doesn’t reference him directly, but it sure loves nodding to familiar names: The cheesy video that the Kid watches as he prepares to be released ends with its host saying, “I’m Lou Hadley, who are you?”
“Filter” (Episode 6)
This is definitely the biggest stretch, and it’s probably just a strange coincidence, but stick with us because it’s an amazing Easter egg if it’s somehow intentional. When Alan Pangborn is wandering the salvage yard in Syracuse, there’s a shot of a school bus with “MB 117” on it. In 1811, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his 117th opus, so it contains the coding “Op. 117” in most iterations of its title. Guess what it’s called? “King Stephen.”
Carrie and Firestarter
For an episode light on references, it’s a good time to discuss overall thematic touchstones for Castle Rock in light of what we learned from “Filter.” We’ve spent a lot of time dissecting references to names like Torrance and Shawshank — not to mention how the show’s narrative owes a debt to famous King works, including Needful Things and The Stand — but “Filter” reminds us most of King’s stories of misunderstood, superpowered children. The religious fundamentalism of Carrie is echoed in the subplot about people trying to hear the voice of God, and Firestarter is recalled when we hear the radio report of Juniper Hill going up in flames, almost certainly at the hands of the Kid.
Here’s another one that’s not direct to “Filter,” but something that needs mentioning. Castle Rock takes place in 2018, and we know that Alan Pangborn first spotted the Kid in Warden Lacy’s trunk in 1991. Is it a coincidence that it’s 27 years, a number that should instantly ring a bell for It fans? The evil force that takes the form of Pennywise in that hit book and film returns every — you guessed it — 27 years. What if the Kid is a manifestation of that force? Bill Skarsgård playing the Kid seemed like little more than a polite nod to the hit film, but what if he’s essentially playing the same evil life force? He might want to worry about getting typecast as the embodiment of evil.
The Crimson King
Another episode light on explicit references, “The Queen” still contains a few thematic nods to King’s works without being too overt about it. As reader Nathan Bernhardt pointed out on Twitter, it’s likely not a coincidence that the chess pieces that Ruth Deaver uses to anchor herself in time and space are not black-and-white but red-and-white. It allows for several shots of a red, or crimson, king — and anyone who has read The Dark Tower saga knows the importance of that epic’s villain.
The dog that seems to be haunting Ruth Deaver has drawn allusions to Cujo and Pet Sematary in past episodes, but when Ruth awakens to find the dog sitting on her bed and her hand bloodied, it’s impossible not to think of the heroine of Gerald’s Game. She too was stuck in bed, with a dog in the room and a horrifically mangled hand.
Elvis “the King” Presley
With all the versions of “Blue Moon” to choose from, is it truly just a coincidence that the creators of Castle Rock went with the one by Elvis Presley, a.k.a. the King? Perhaps, but it could be a thematic call to the chess pieces that tie Ruth’s fractured mind together, not to mention the surname of the man who created this world in the first place.
“Past Perfect” (Episode 8)
“The Murder Capital of 1991”
This description of Castle Rock, made by the new proprietor of the creepiest B&B on Earth, is a nod to when Matthew Deaver died and when the Kid was first seen in Warden Lacy’s trunk, but it’s also a sly reference to the 27-year cycle of evil in It, and possibly even the publication of Needful Things that year, given how influential it has been on the series.
Sure, everyone puts balloons on For Sale signs, but is it even remotely possible to see those helium-filled orbs in this universe and not think of Pennywise the Clown?
The Dead Zone
The last name of the ax murderer that inspired Gordon’s creepy mannequin recreation sounds a little familiar, no? The Dead Zone is one of the most commonly referenced King works in this series, and that book contains a character named Bruce Carrick. (He’s the owner of Cathy’s Roadhouse.)
How would you put an ax in a scene with a character named Jackie Torrance and not consider it a nod to The Shining?
The Dark Tower
The ninth episode’s revelation that the creepy dude we’ve been calling the Kid is really an alternate-universe version of Henry Deaver has to recall the expanding narrative of The Dark Tower saga, which included the concept of the multiverse, a series of alternate realities, one of which even includes a writer named Stephen King. For more on this complex idea that clearly inspired the narrative of Castle Rock, read this.
A few familiar businesses can be spotted as “Henry 2” comes back to Castle Rock, including local watering hole The Mellow Tiger. We’ve highlighted that spot before, but there’s also a shot of something called Claiborne Creamery. Stephen King fans will recognize that surname: It’s a nod to one of his very best books.
“The Man in the Black Suit”
This short story was originally published in the New Yorker and later in Everything’s Eventual. It includes a character who writes for a paper called the Castle Rock Call, which you can spot as Henry 2 comes back into town in this episode. It’s a phenomenal short story, one of King’s best, and it won the O. Henry Award for Short Fiction in 1996.
The Dark Half
Those damn birds in the woods! Every time Henry and/or Molly flash to what feels like the space between universes — or a version of the Todash Space for Dark Tower fans? — they see dozens of birds in the sky. Anybody who’s read The Dark Half will never forget the birds.
We haven’t mentioned this one yet, but the great use of score in “Henry Deaver” brings it to mind: Thomas Newman, a 14-time Oscar nominee who got his first Academy Award nod for The Shawshank Redemption (and did some work on The Green Mile) does the score for the opening credits. It’s not exactly a direct King reference, but he likely was called because of his connection to one of the most popular films based on his work.
The Dark Half
All those birds! When the birds start attacking Henry Deaver’s car, we are once again reminded of King’s The Dark Half and its deadly feathered foes.
In the final scene, Jackie Torrance is writing a book about her experiences called Overlooked, which is, of course, a reference to The Overlook Hotel.
The Dead Zone
When The Kid is in the cemetery, there’s a shot of a tombstone with the name Fisher on it. Roscoe Fisher was the deputy sheriff of Castle Rock in The Dead Zone.
Molly says that The Kid is at Harmony Hill Cemetery, which is where Mike Ryerson dug up Danny Glick in Salem’s Lot.
In the epilogue, Henry Deaver counsels a man about his case involving Wilma Jerzyck’s azaleas. She’s a character from Needful Things, which is basically the Rosetta Stone of Castle Rock.
Jackie Torrance has a sticker from the radio station on her laptop. It’s a real Maine radio station that happens to be owned by Tabitha and Stephen King.