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”
Who is…? Annie Wilkes
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.
Who is…? John “Ace” Merrill
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).
Who is…? Reginald “Pop” Merrill
“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.
Where is…? Jerusalem’s Lot
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.
Stunt casting: Tim Robbins
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.
Musical cue: “Let The River Run”
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.
Visual cue: Piggies
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.”
Same same but different: The Laughing Place
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.
Extended universe: Misery
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?”
Extended universe: Shawshank Penitentiary
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.
Extended universe: The Sun Dog
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.
Extended universe: Laundry machines!
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?
Extended universe: Massacres, kids vanishing into thin air
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.
Extended universe: 19
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.
Visual cue: Crisco can
As in Sun Dog, Pop Merrill still keeps his cash in a Crisco can.
Same same but different: Ice scream
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”
Extended universe: Marsten House
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.
Visual cue: Beetle
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.
Visual cue: Georgie’s boat… sorta
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.
Whither Flagg? The wrong hombre
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.
Same same but different: Sometimes dead is better
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”
Same same but different: Building an army
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.
Same same but different: That’s not Wayne’s basement
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.
Same same but different: Bizarro Stand By Me
“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.
Extended universe: The schisma
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.
Extended universe: Don’t lose your head
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.
Same same but different: Misery meets Gerald’s Game
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.
Extended universe: Hubie Marsten
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”
Who Is...? Appleton
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.
Same same but different: Father Callahan
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.
Visual cue: Junk food
Just like in King’s book, Annie retreats to junk food—lots of junk food—when she’s feeling blue.
Oops: September 7, 2004
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.
Extended universe: Pen pals
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.
Extended universe: Caveat emptor
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”
Who is...? Sarah Gadon
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.
Same same but different: Number one fan
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.
Visual cue: Vampires
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.
Same same but different: Death by car-plunge
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.
Same same but different: Reading comprehension
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.
Stay tuned for Easter egg breakdowns for the following episodes as they arrive…