In 2018, Hulu introduced viewers to the world of Castle Rock, a show that remixes Stephen King characters and locations into something new and often brilliant. The first season told its own story but incorporated familiar places like Shawshank Penitentiary and familiar names like Alan Pangborn. Season two, which launched on October 23, gives us its own version of Annie Wilkes, one of King’s most iconic characters, but it once again contains references to much more than just one book or film. We’re here to break it down, episode by episode, week by week. Major spoilers follow, of course.
“Let the River Run” (Episode 1)
Well, this is the big one, of course. In season two of Castle Rock, Lizzy Caplan plays Annie Wilkes, a version of the same character from Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery and the 1990 Rob Reiner film of the same name, which won Kathy Bates an Oscar. This version of Wilkes isn’t keeping her favorite writer hostage (at least not yet), but the nurse is on the run from her past and her addictions, both of which push her into the town of Castle Rock with her daughter, Joy, played by Elsie Fisher. The Castle Rock Annie uses some of the same cheesy phrases as the King version (“dirty birds”) and seems dangerously overprotective of her daughter. As the end of the season premiere makes clear, she’s willing to do anything to keep her safe.
In the premiere, a Somali Community and Business Center is being built in the neighboring town of Jerusalem’s Lot, a very familiar name for King fans. It has been either a setting or a place mentioned in a dozen King books, most notably Salem’s Lot, which feels early on like it could be the second biggest reference point for this season of Castle Rock, especially with all the talk of witches buried under the ground (a main thrust of that book). The place first appeared in the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” collected in Night Shift, in which it is revealed that a cult of witches founded the town. It’s a prequel to the novel Salem’s Lot and the short story “One for the Road,” also included in Night Shift.
Also, the title of the episode is a reference to Carly Simon’s Oscar-winning song from Working Girl, which features a line about a “New Jerusalem.” That’s not a coincidence.
Just as in season one, the legendary prison is one of the first reference points for the second year of Castle Rock. It’s unlikely to be as prominent as the first year, in which the iconic institution from The Shawshank Redemption was a major setting, but it’s clever of the writers to include a shot of a sign that says “Shawshank State Prison 18 Miles” as Annie Wilkes drives into town. It lets viewers know that we’ve returned to the King multiverse.
The Opening Credits
Once again, Castle Rock drops a few references into its opening credits, a new one for season two that focuses more on Misery, of course, but drops in a few more sources that will clearly influence this season. We see a chapter page from Salem’s Lot; actual text from Misery; a ripped page from Dolores Claiborne; a shot of the words Misery’s Return, which is a book within the book Misery by fictional author Paul Sheldon; a blueprint of Shawshank; finally, a shot of the iconic words “They float, Georgie” from It.
Pop Merrill and the Emporium Galorium
The creators of Castle Rock used “The Sun Dog,” which was featured in the 1990 collection Four Past Midnight, for some of season one, and return to it this year for the characters of Pop Merrill (Tim Robbins) and his slimy nephew Ace (Paul Sparks). In “The Sun Dog,” Pop owned a shop called the Emporium Galorium, which has been reimagined for the show, along with an auto-body shop next door. Although Ace Merrill existed before his uncle …
Paul Sparks’s sociopath in Castle Rock is a variation on the character played by Kiefer Sutherland in Stand by Me, based on King’s “The Body,” and also a character in Needful Things. In the literary world, Ace died in 1991 after doing a stint at Shawshank. In the TV one, he died after Annie Wilkes shoved an ice-cream scooper down his throat. Well, at least for a little while.
Castle Rock Season One
At one point, Annie says to her daughter, “I’ve heard things. Massacres, kids vanishing into thin air.” Clearly this is a reference to season one of Castle Rock, which was about a kid who vanished into thin air, although it could also be a shout-out to a number of disappearing kids from the King multiverse.
Just as the creators of Castle Rock called back to King lore simply by casting Sissy Spacek and Bill Skarsgård (a.k.a. Carrie and Pennywise) in season one, it feels like a definite nod to King history to even include Tim Robbins on this show. He may not be playing Andy Dufresne, but it’s impossible not to think of arguably his most iconic role from The Shawshank Redemption, especially in this universe.
The Mellow Tiger
As Annie drives through town, there’s a shot of this bar, a central location from season one that comes straight out of King’s 1991 novel Needful Things, one of the strongest reference points of season one.
“New Jerusalem” (Episode 2)
While the news that season two would feature Annie Wilkes as the protagonist led many people to presume that Misery would be the main touchstone for Castle Rock this year, it would appear that the world of Salem’s Lot is going to take that prize. After Annie finds her way out of the hole in which she fell at the end of the premiere, she ends up in a creepy, rundown mansion called Marsten House, a direct reference to the central location of King’s second novel, published in 1975. Sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Jerusalem’s Lot just as it did in King’s book, Marsten House feels like one of the most direct riffs on King lore that the series has yet produced. Later, when Pop refers to the history of the region and says, “Satanists made a bad deal with the wrong hombre and they burned for it,” he’s directly referencing the plot of the prequel, “Jerusalem’s Lot.”
In the flashback to when Pop adopted Abdi and Nadia, he gives them food and milkshakes from this classic King location, featured in The Dark Half, Needful Things, It, and “The Sun Dog,” as well as being name-dropped in season one of Castle Rock.
“Ties That Bind” (Episode 3)
“The Body”/Stand by Me
When Chance and two other friends go with Joy to find the body of Ace Merrill in Castle Lake, it’s very clearly a riff on the quartet that goes searching for a corpse in the short story famously turned into Stand by Me. There’s even some playfulness here with names, as one of the kids in the short story was named Gordon LaChance (turned into just Chance here) and another was named Vern (adapted into Vera here).
Castle Rock Season One
When the kids get to the lake, they reference the fact that the warden of Shawshank killed himself there, but “they found the body but not the head.” Of course, this is a reference to a subplot in season one.
When Ace returns from the dead to see Pop, he says he was in Derry, a common setting for King’s fiction. It appears in several of his most famous works, including Pet Sematary, 11/22/63, Needful Things, The Tommyknockers, and many more. It’s perhaps most famously known for being the place where things get intense every 27 years in a little story called It.
With Annie Wilkes being this year’s protagonist, the assumption was that she would kidnap someone and tie them to a bed à la her iteration in Misery. As they so often do, the writers subvert that a bit when they have Joy, Annie’s daughter, tie her mother to the bed in a way that’s very reminiscent of Paul Sheldon’s captivity in the King book and hit film.
“Restore Hope” (Episode 4)
We haven’t seen a familiar face from season one of Castle Rock until the arrival of Appleton, played by Aaron Staton (Mad Men). The pastor of the Church of the Incarnation seems to be a kind force early in the episode when he takes in and feeds Joy; less so when he’s revealed to be a part of Ace’s murderous cult near the end. The bigger question is whether this opens the door to other characters from season one? It would be great to have Jane Levy’s Jackie Torrance pop in and liven things up.
This could be a stretch, but Pinto isn’t exactly a standard surname, and it is a car model familiar to King fans. Not only is a Ford Pinto the center of activity for the climax of Cujo, but King notoriously bought one with the advance for his first published novel, a little story called Carrie.
The writers of Castle Rock are doing that thing they do where they slightly blur King mythology. While there really is an Emporium Galorium owned by “Pop” Merrill in the Kingiverse, it wasn’t that store that had a sign that read “Caveat Emptor” (“Buyer Beware”) to warn potential consumers. That sign hung in the notorious store that gave Needful Things its name, run by Leland Gaunt. The writers of Castle Rock regularly pepper their show with touches from King’s 1991 novel.
The Long Walk
As “Restore Hope” ends, the team behind Castle Rock plays “Molly Malone” on a loop behind the emotional confrontation between Nadia and Pop and its associated flashback. It’s a haunting song that recalls a passage from one of King’s best early novels, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, in which the protagonist remembers his mother singing the lullaby “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o.”
“The Laughing Place” (Episode 5)
The Laughing Place
The fictional utopia that gives this episode its title originally comes from the traditional folktale of the same name (most commonly associated with the Uncle Remus stories and Disney’s Song of the South), but it’s also referenced in both Misery and previously on Castle Rock. But this week we see more of its origin as a place that Annie’s father encouraged her to find, and that served as a source of betrayal in the end. In the source material, it’s a place that Annie says she goes when she needs sanctum, but is revealed to also be what she calls the location in which she stashes murder victims. In the show, it’s what leads Annie to accidentally kill her father, stab her new stepmother, and flee into the night with her half-sister. It’s worth noting that the book version of Annie killed her father, too, along with possibly dozens of other people before we meet her. Whether the show’s Annie committed murder between that awful day and when she got to Castle Rock remains unclear.
No. 1 Fan
The phrase “I’m your No. 1 fan” is very familiar to Misery fans. It was used heavily to promote the Rob Reiner film, thanks to Kathy Bates’s eerie, menacing delivery. In the show, it’s been repurposed as something that Annie’s father said to her when she was a kid, subtly connecting the show’s version of Annie to the menace and dread we remember from Bates’s performance. Annie’s father, Carl, is arguably a stand-in for the book/film’s legendary author Paul Sheldon: Here, he’s the writer, and Annie is his No. 1 fan, although Castle Rock adds an ironic twist in making one of King’s most famous readers into someone who struggles due to dyslexia.
“The Ward” (Episode 7)
This is more of a deviation than an Easter egg, but it feels like some clarity is in order: There’s a book called Salem’s Lot, King’s second, published in 1975, and two short stories set there as well, a sequel called “One for the Road” and a prequel published in Night Shift called “Jerusalem’s Lot.” While that short story offers a detailed history of a Puritanical settlement beset by evil, it is not this story. In fact, the short story details events that led up to the abandonment of Jerusalem’s Lot in 1789, 180 years after the action of what the writers of the show have concocted in 1619. While there is cult activity in the short story, it is not a direct parallel to Castle Rock, just another case of the team behind the show using the mood and concept of a King original but then making something new from there.
The Dark Tower
As Ace/Augustin surveys the murals being painted in the Marston House, there’s one that looks a great deal like a Dark Tower. If you think this is a stretch, you should know that King tied together the world of The Dark Tower books and that of Salem’s Lot directly when he brought a character from the latter, Father Donald Frank Callahan, into the final three books of the series. Many characters from the world of Salem’s Lot are mentioned in The Dark Tower books, as well as places, including the Marsten House.
Pop goes to visit his brother, a man named John Merrill, in jail. He’s a creation of the Hulu show, but there are echoes of the version of this character we’ve seen before in “Ace.” In “The Body,” which became Stand by Me, John “Ace” Merrill was the antagonist, later played by Kiefer Sutherland. What’s interesting is that King’s John Merrill also spent time in Shawshank, as revealed in Needful Things, which is basically the main inspiration for Castle Rock. So the two John Merrills of the show feel like they both were inspired by the one of King’s fiction.
The first major revelation of season one of Castle Rock was that Warden Lacy was keeping a kid he thought might be the devil in a hole in Shawshank. We learn this week that Ace has recently visited that hole, which looks almost the same as it did in season one, except it’s empty! The first season ended with at least one version of the Kid in that cell, watched over by Henry Deaver in much the same way Lacy did. Where did Henry go and how did the kid escape?
There can’t be a kid in clown makeup holding a balloon and it not be a reference to It, right?
The big reveal at the end of this week’s episode is that the hooded figure that transformed the life of Amity Lambert back in 1619 and led to all this chaos was none other than the same kid who drove the action of the first season, played by Bill Skarsgard! You can’t stop the devil.
“Dirty” (Episode 8)
The Misery Sledgehammer
When Annie spots the sledgehammer in the corner, it’s impossible not to think of one of the most terrifying scenes in film history — the moment in Misery when Annie Wilkes takes a sledgehammer to the ankles of Paul Sheldon. The way the show lingers on the weapon and then how Wilkes swings it into her enemy’s head is a clear nod to that cringe-inducing moment.
“Caveat Emptor” (Episode 9)
The Mellow Tiger
By now, the characters of Castle Rock have been to the Mellow Tiger enough that it’s almost more of a show Easter egg than a King one, but it deserves a spot for an episode pretty light on references. When Evelyn is questioned by Pop and the gang, she says that she was at the Mellow Tiger when people started shooting. The Mellow Tiger was a location used in the show’s main touchstone, Needful Things.
“The Body”/Stand by Me
Nadia says they’re going to escape by the train track, which they used to run across to escape from Ace. Of course, Ace was the antagonist in “The Body” too and it’s impossible to think of kids fleeing a train on film and not think of Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me. A lot of the references this season have been very indirect, more tonal than literal, the way balloons remind us of It, trains reminds us of Stand by Me, and …
When Annie Wilkes ties someone to a bed and threatens them with a blunt instrument in the world of Stephen King, everyone flashes back to Kathy Bates hobbling James Caan in Misery. What she ends up doing to Jamal — needles in the eyes — is a lot more permanent than the crippling sledgehammer technique used by Annie on Paul in the book and movie.
“Clean” (Episode 10)
After Annie Wilkes escapes from Castle Rock, the writers of the show of the same name tie her back to her inspiration more directly than ever before by introducing their protagonist to the world of Paul Sheldon. Staying at a motel, Annie stumbles upon Misery’s Quest by Sheldon, part of the series “The Adventures of Misery Chastain.” Of course, everyone knows that Annie will become Sheldon’s No. 1 fan, and she even says as much in the poignant, heartbreaking final scene.
When Annie and Joy stop at a gas station, Annie spots a bulletin board displaying a “Missing” poster for Andre Holland’s Henry Deaver from season one. The last we saw Henry he was monitoring the Kid in Shawshank. The Kid is gone, and now Henry is missing. One wonders if season three will drop clues that fill in exactly what happened to him. (Note: Castle Rock hasn’t been renewed yet, but our fingers are crossed.)