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All Castle Rock Season 2 Stephen King Easter Eggs From Misery, Stand By Me, and More
Castle Rock is back on Hulu for a second season, and while it’s the same old creepy Maine town of Stephen King lore, it’s also pretty much a whole new show. The series, which isn’t based on any single work by the legendary horror writer and is instead a sort of King collage, has taken the anthology route. And at least in the early episodes that screened for the press, there’s little sign of the events of Season One—no Henry Deaver(s), no alternate universes.
But instead of familiar faces, early episodes deliver a big treat: Misery’s Annie Wilkes. Though Season One included Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who came straight from King’s books, most of the show’s main characters were new inventions. But more of the major players come direct from King himself in Season Two, most importantly Lizzy Caplan’s starring role as a younger version of poor Paul Sheldon’s number one fan. But she’s not the only direct King connection from the new season: Here are all the King references and Easter eggs from the first three episodes. We’ll update this list as new episodes drop—but beware of spoilers below.
Episode One, “Let the River Run”
Caplan does a great job filling Kathy Bates Oscar-winning shoes, playing a young Annie Wilkes who travels the country with her daughter Joy (Eighth Grade star Elsie Fisher), living under an assumed name and taking fleeting nursing jobs in order to steal her antipsychotic medications. Wilkes’s favorite folksy sayings from Misery are in heavy rotation, as she tells Joy their endless travels are all in pursuit of their “laughing place,” and disparages other characters as “dirty birds.” There are echoes of Misery throughout the first episode—the whole reason they end up in Castle Rock is that they crash their car outside of town and Ace Merrill takes them in as renters at his motor lodge. And Joy also complains that she wants more drawing paper, just as Paul begged Annie to supply him with his favored typewriter paper in the book.
Though in Castle Rock he’s a mean landlord locked in a real estate war with his adoptive brother, in King-world, Ace is best known for his turn as the bully-in-chief in The Body and its film adaptation Stand By Me. But in his role as all-purpose local thug he’s cropped up in a few other King works, including the short story “Nona,” and he plays a significant role as the assistant to mysterious villain Leland Gaunt in Needful Things.
Shawshank Redemption star Tim Robbins is onboard as shady Castle Rock businessman Pop Merrill, uncle to Ace in King’s works and adoptive father to the aforementioned ne’er do well, his brother Chris, and refugee siblings Abdi and Nadia (none of whom seem to be based on original King characters) in the show. Pop only played a major role in one of King’s works, the novella The Sun Dog, which appeared in his 1990 collection Four Past Midnight, and in that story, as in Castle Rock, he owns a local second-hand store called The Emporium Galorium while also keeping fingers in various other sketchy pies. He’s dead by the time of Ace’s appearance in Needful Things, though not of the cancer that plagues Robbins’s Pop in the show, but he’s frequently referred to in that book as well, as Ace believes his uncle buried his fortune before his death and is on the hunt for it.
King-world veteran Tim Robbins place Pop Merrill in Castle Rock Season Two.
Castle Rock strays outside the town’s borders and into nearby Jerusalem’s Lot, another town that looms large in King lore. It’s the setting of King’s stories Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road, and his second-ever book, 1975’s ’Salem’s Lot. All three of those tales are vampire stories, and while there’s no sign of bloodsucking undead in Episode One, the show does tease the fact that the area has a colonialist history involving satanists—and occultism is a big part of the 1800s-set Jerusalem’s Lot, which serves as a prequel to the novel.
Shawshank State Prison
As Joy watches TV, she tunes into a news segment about the reopening of Shawshank Prison, which is of course the setting of King’s classic novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The prison played a major role in Season One of Castle Rock—and was the site of a pretty bloody massacre—but so far it’s only been mentioned this time around.
Near the end of the episode, Anne stops by Castle Lake in her efforts to dispose of Ace’s body. The Lake was a center of last season’s action—it’s where Warden Lacy committed suicide and where the inter-dimensional alchemy happened. But it’s also referenced in King’s novella Gwendy’s Button Box, which he co-wrote with Richard Chizmar. The story of a young girl who’s given the gift of a powerful and mysterious button-laden box takes place in Castle Rock, and makes more than one reference to the town’s lake.
Paul Sparks plays famous King bully Ace Merrill.
The Mellow Tiger
Local bar The Mellow Tiger is another familiar spot from Season One, and it also has its roots in King’s work. The Tiger appears in Needful Things, where it’s the site of a gory shootout.
Episode Two, “New Jerusalem”
The Marsten House
Early in the episode, it’s revealed that the creepy abandoned home connected to the crypt Annie inadvertently became stuck in is called the Marsten House. The property is an important part of Salem’s Lot—it’s Castle Rock’s local haunted house, and when Vampire Kurt Barlow comes to town, he adopts it as his lair. And as we see when Abdi’s pal gets attacked in the house this episode, something rotten is living in the Marsten House in the Castle Rock universe, too.
In the flashback to Abdi and Nadia’s early days in Maine, Pop gives them a crash course in American cuisine via fries and a vanilla milkshake. The label on the food’s packaging reads “Nan’s To Go”—which seems like a reference to the diner Nan’s Luncheonette. The eatery has been referenced in Castle Rock-set works like “The Sun Dog” and Needful Things, and it also cropped up in Season One, when Jackie told Henry that Nan’s was shut down. but it’s possible that the restaurant has taken on a second life as a fast food joint.
The name “Bonsaint”
This is a very slight reference, but in his phone call with Pop about Ace’s whereabouts, Chris Merrill says that his brother was supposed to meet him “at the Bonsaints.” The show doesn’t explain just who or where that might be, but Bonsaint is a pretty King-ian last name—he gave it to a prisoner in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the main narrator of his short story “N.”, and the chief of police in the King co-written 1998 X-Files episode Chinga.
Joy (Elsie Fisher) and her three new friends set off in search of a dead body.
Episode Three, “Ties That Bind”
“Wanna go look for a dead guy?”
If the story of four young pals heading off into the woods in search of a dead body sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the plot of Stand By Me. In Castle Rock, the kids in question are Joy, her new neighbor Chance, and two of their friends, and the body they’re in search of is Ace Merrill’s—who happens to be the bad guy in Stand By Me. They may not actually find his body because it’s busy being reanimated and killing people, but it’s still a pretty clear callback.
When undead Ace stops by Pop’s hospital room, he explains his disappearance by saying that he was in Derry. The town is perhaps the most famous of all of King’s fictional communities—it’s the setting for books including It, Insomnia, and Bag of Bones.
We saw the Marsten House in Episode Two, and this time around Ace tells us its backstory. In Castle Rock as in the books, Hubie Marsten is a mobster who killed himself and his wife in the home amid rumors that they were involved with the occult. In the book, it’s implied that aside from his work as a gangland contract killer, Hubert Marsten was behind the disappearances of four children in town, so it’s no wonder his house is creepy.
A hug, then a stab in the back
When Joy becomes convinced that her mother is experiencing a severe mental break, she lures her in for a hug and stabs her in the back with a hypodermic needle, sedating her. It’s very similar to another scene from a messed up Stephen King mother-daughter relationship—the 1976 film adaptation of Carrie. After Carrie returns from her blood-soaked prom, she hugs her mother and prays with her, only for Mrs. White to stab her telekinetic daughter in the back just as Joy jabbed Annie with the needle.
But once Annie is tied to her bed, many of the references switch to Misery. Joy force-feeds her her medication and reads her romance novels, foreshadowing Annie Wilkes’ misdeeds to come.
Annie’s water glass
After being tied up by Joy, Annie manages to gruesomely escape her bindings with the help of some broken shards of a water glass. It’s a scene reminiscent of Jessie Burlingame’s escape in Gerald’s Game, but Annie was lucky enough to make her breakout without having to go to the lengths Jessie went to: Jessie, shackled to her bed in handcuffs, had to skin her own hand in order to get free.
Episode 4, “Restore Hope”
When Nadia is combing through Pop’s paperwork, there’s a familiar name on one letter—Alan Pangborn’s. The former Castle Rock sheriff was a major character in Season One of the show, but he’s also an original King creation, who appeared in books The Dark Half and Needful Things.
Inside Pop’s Emporium Galorium is a sign reading Caveat Emptor, or “Buyer Beware.” That sign hung in a different shop in King’s works, the titular antiques store from Needful Things. While the message gels with Pop’s general crotchety-ness on Castle Rock, it had a bit more meaning in its original context, which was a business that sold trinkets in exchange for the buyer’s immortal soul.
Young Annie Wilkes and her father in Castle Rock Episode 5.
Episode 5, “The Laughing Place”
“Number one fan”
This episode is loaded with Misery references, which makes sense, since it tells Annie Wilkes’ deeply depressing origin story. Its title, which, the episode explains, comes from the Br’er Rabbit stories, crops up in King’s novel. In the throws of severe mental illness, Annie disappears to what she calls her “laughing place.”
“Sometimes I do laugh when I go there,” she tells Paul in the book. “But mostly I just scream.”
In the episode, Annie’s dad is a writer of steamy historical fiction, just the kind of books that Misery hero Paul Sheldon pens, and Annie even calls herself her father’s “number one fan.” In the novel, Annie insists over and over that she’s Paul’s “number one fan.”
The toy turtle
Shortly after moving in with Annie and her dad, Rita plays with baby Evangeline/Joy by dangling a turtle-shaped rattle. In King’s Dark Tower series and It, our universe came into existence after being vomited up by Maturin, a kindly ancient turtle (yes). Coincidence? Probably not.
Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.