Castle Rock is a show saturated by everything Stephen King, to the point that it's perhaps the closest thing we'll ever have to a King novel not written by the master himself. Themes and tones prevalent in King's expansive body of work hover in Castle Rock's shadows and drive the show's still-mysterious story, to be sure, but his fingerprints are also embedded deep in its details.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for the first six episodes of Hulu's Castle Rock below.**
Because Castle Rock is an original story from co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason that simply utilizes familiar King locations and characters, you can watch Castle Rock having never even heard of Stephen King (which would, frankly, be a bit hard to believe) and still have a great time. If you're a longtime King reader, though, or even a longtime viewer of King-based films, you're going to find a few Easter eggs along the way, even if you're not trying. It's just how the show is built, from character names to local restaurants to seemingly throwaway lines that have a deeper meaning for the King faithful.
So, now that we're a few episodes into the new Hulu series, we thought it might be time to compile a handy guide to all the King references hidden in the show so far, from street signs to knickknacks clustered on a table. There will no doubt be more, and we'll no doubt revisit this territory as we find them, but for now, here's every King Easter egg we found — aside from major characters and settings because those are less like Easter eggs and more like plot points — from the series premiere "Severance" to the sixth episode, "Filter."
Did we miss anything? Do you have a favorite reference? Let us know in the comments!
New episodes of Castle Rock arrive every Wednesday on Hulu.
The Curse of the Shawshank Wardens
As Alan Pangborn points out to Henry Deaver, "carrying the keys" is not easy work, and it's taken a particularly hard toll on the wardens at Shawshank Penitentiary. One of the very first scenes in the series shows us just-retired Warden Lacy's (Terry O'Quinn) particularly inventive and deeply unsettling suicide — but he's not the only Shawshank warden to ever take his own life.
When Warden Porter (Ann Cusack) first walks into her office, one of the guards is quick to point out the bullet hole left in the wall by Warden Norton. Warden Norton was in charge of Shawshank back when Andy Dufresne escaped in King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which was later adapted into the film The Shawshank Redemption. Carrying the keys definitely got to him, and he killed himself rather than face corruption charges.
Shawshank and Mozart
Shawshank is one of the key settings of Castle Rock, and also perhaps the single most identifiable Stephen King location, so it makes sense that there are numerous nods to its history embedded in the show, including a musical one.
Viewers of The Shawshank Redemption will remember the day that Dufresne locked himself in the warden's office and played a piece from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro over the prison's PA system until he was stopped and locked in solitary. For Andy, it was a moment of serenity and beauty in a harsh place. Warden Lacy plays the same piece of music just before killing himself, looking for serenity and beauty in a different kind of moment.
Three familiar names
Family names recur often in Stephen King novels, and Castle Rock continues that tradition by ensuring several memorable surnames are carried on by its characters, three of whom have a direct connection to King's Castle Rock-based novella The Body, later adapted into the film Stand By Me.
When we first meet Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), he's defending a woman on death row named Leanne Chambers (Phyllis Somerville), who's been accused of killing her abusive husband, Richard. Then when we meet Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), she's buying drugs from a young man named Dean Merrill (Charlie Tahan). Finally, in Episode 4, "The Box," Henry is investigating the address of a man named Vince Desjardins, only to find his brother Josef (David Selby) at the house instead. Richard Chambers, John "Ace" Merrill, and Vince Desjardins were all members of the gang of bullies that plague our heroes in The Body, and even if they haven't necessarily survived to be part of the series, their names clearly have.
Two prisons, two mice
One of the earliest indications that something is particularly wrong with The Kid (Bill Skarsgård) — aside from having been locked in a cage for God knows how long — comes as he watches a mouse scurry out of a hole in a Shawshank hallway. At first, it seems he's only following the critter's path with his eyes, but then it's almost like he's guiding the animal right over to a trap, where its neck is snapped as it goes for a piece of cheese.
The mouse isn't a direct reference, but this moment is pretty clearly a nod to King's The Green Mile, a novel set largely in a different prison but also featuring a mouse. In that story, the mouse, Mr. Jingles, is brought back to life by prisoner John Coffey's supernatural healing abilities after another prisoner stomps on him. Clearly, The Kid had other ideas.
"Remember the dog?"
Castle Rock is one of King's most popular fictional settings, featuring in many of his most beloved stories. Nearly all of those Castle Rock-based stories get a shoutout at some point or another early on in Castle Rock. In a voiceover near the beginning of Episode 2, Warden Lacy asks if we "remember the dog," and later in the same episode Henry Deaver (Andre Holland) finds a newspaper clipping referencing the same dog.
"The dog" is clearly Cujo, the massive Saint Bernard from the novel and film of the same name who went rabid in Castle Rock and killed several people before he was put down.
During the same speech, Lacy also asks viewers if we remember "the strangler," a killer who terrorized Castle Rock in its troubled past. The strangler in question is Frank Dodd, a former Castle Rock sheriff's deputy in King's novel The Dead Zone. Dodd was a sadist and serial murderer who killed himself when the psychic powers of the novel's hero, Johnny Smith, implicated him. In the film adaptation, this famously happened with the aid of a pair of scissors. In Episode 4, Dodd gets another mention when Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) mentions to a couple she's trying to sell the Lacy house and that she lives in the house where the strangler died, and she sleeps fine.
When Henry visits the Lacy house and finds a file folder full of old newspaper clips, references to Cujo aren't the only things he finds. He also discovers a clip referencing a body found by the train tracks, something Lacy also mentioned in his voiceover. The body was Ray Brower, the catalyst of King's novella The Body. As it happened in the novella, the news clipping indicates that the boys who went searching for Brower's body ultimately called in an anonymous tip to let authorities know where it was.
The Oddity Store
As Henry goes through Lacy's file of clippings, the first clip he really studies might actually be the most devastating. It's a story about a shopkeeper named Leland Gaunt, who remained missing after his "Oddity Store" caught fire. The store is Needful Things, the centerpiece of King's 1991 novel of the same name (which at the time was billed as "The Last Castle Rock Story"). Gaunt sold Castle Rock residents the things they desired most in exchange for their souls and for small favors that would ultimately rip the town apart. In the novel, Alan Pangborn (played by Scott Glenn in the series), the now-retired sheriff, was Gaunt's chief adversary while he wreaked havoc on the town. Pangborn did his best to set Castle Rock right, but by the time Gaunt escaped — in a flying carriage led by a horse with glowing eyes, no less — the town was ablaze and in the midst of a riot.
It's clear from this clipping that a lot of Needful Things' catastrophes also happened in the Castle Rock universe. Hopefully, we learn more about it eventually.
As we've already seen, names in Castle Rock often bear some relation to past Stephen King characters whether they're direct correlations or not, and Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy) might turn out to have one of the most significant names in the series.
Jackie Torrance immediately calls to mind Jack Torrance, the alcoholic writer who goes mad and tries to murder his family in King's novel The Shining. Jack Nicholson portrayed the unhinged Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of King's work (which King famously hates). It's not clear yet if Jackie, Castle Rock's self-appointed historian, has any direct connection to Jack or his gifted son Danny, but there are still plenty of episodes left for us to find out.
UPDATE: In Episode 5, "Harvest," Jackie meets The Kid at Molly's office and decides to take him out to relax in her taxi and smoke a little pot. Of course, she does all the talking, and in doing so reveals that her namesake is indeed Jack Torrance, who she identifies as her uncle. As she describes it, her uncle "flipped his lid and tried to axe murder his wife and kid at some fancy ski resort." Her parents never talked about it, despite Jackie's interest in such things, so she changed her name from Diane to Jackie, "just to piss them off."
Shawshank on Redemption
Say the word "Shawshank" to someone and they'll likely say "Redemption" right back to you. The film set at Shawshank prison, The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is just that beloved and culturally relevant, so it's no surprise that amid all the other nods and winks embedded in the prison, Castle Rock would also throw in a more direct reference.
In one shot in Episode 2, one of the prison's towers can be seen above a street sign that shows us Shawshank is located on Redemption Road. That's a nice nod in itself, but it's even more clever that the shot, when viewed from top to bottom, can be visually interpreted as spelling out "Shawshank Redemption."
The origin of "Castle Rock"
"Castle Rock" is now almost always associated with Stephen King, but the name for his iconic town didn't come out of thin air. King was inspired by William Golding's 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies, a story about a group of schoolboys who form their own attempt at violent society after being stranded on a deserted island. In organizing themselves, the boys name a mountain on the island "Castle Rock" and claim it as a kind of fortress. In Episode 2, The Kid is placed in a cell with a violent neo-Nazi who just so happens to be reading The Lord of the Flies.
Castle Rock's pet cemetery
As we all know, sometimes things in Stephen King stories don't stay dead when they're supposed to, and apparently at least one resident of Castle Rock is all too aware of this.
In Episode 2, "Habeas Corpus," Henry finds Alan outside one night, digging up a suitcase. When Henry questions him, Alan explains that the suitcase contains a dead dog, the "neighborhood mutt," which was killed by a truck on New Year's Day. Henry's mother, Ruth (Sissy Spacek), who's dating Alan, loved the dog, and "got it in her head" that it might still be alive, so she asked Alan to dig it up and check. It's unclear if Ruth believes this simply because of dementia or because she actually worries the dog could rise from the dead, but either way, it's pretty clear this is a reference to King's novel Pet Sematary, which features dead pets (and other things) who really can come back from the grave.
Castle Rock and Shawshank aren't the only prominent places name-checked in Castle Rock. In the series' second episode, Henry visits The Mellow Tiger, the bar where all of Shawshank's guards drink. There, the bartender tells him Mellow Tiger is the only place to get a beer for miles, and, now, the only place to get a burger since Nan's Luncheonette closed. Nan's, according to Jackie Torrance, closed down because Nan had organized a "swinger's party" in the back room and was ultimately forced out because of it.
Both establishments, Mellow Tiger and Nan's, appear in King's Castle Rock novel Needful Things. Nan's is also mentioned in the novels The Dark Half and IT (set in another fictional King town, Derry), as well as the novella The Sun Dog.
Stephen King's favorite music
In Episode 3, "Local Color," we get a flashback to Molly Strand's teenage bedroom. The walls are adorned with numerous band posters, including the Violent Femmes and The Ramones. It's not exactly a direct reference to any particular King work, but The Ramones are well known as one of King's favorite bands, getting shout-outs in his fiction as well as in his nonfiction classic On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The band also recorded the song "Pet Sematary" for the film of the same name, which played over the closing credits.
This town needs a gazebo
In "Local Color," we also learn of Molly's plan to promote development in Castle Rock, which includes a giant model she's put together as a kind of proof of concept. While discussing the model with Jackie, she puts in one of the finishing touches: A gazebo — because according to Molly, "every revitalized downtown needs a gazebo."
She might be right because it turns out Castle Rock once had a gazebo. It was destroyed, along with much of the rest of downtown, during the explosions and fires at the end of Needful Things.
King's short fiction
Castle Rock is a show so packed with detail that there are levels even to its Easter eggs. Some are direct references to the town's past that may have a part to play later, while others seem more like peripheral nods to Castle Rock history. Then there are the Easter eggs that act as brief winks in the general direction of King's fiction.
In Episode 4, "The Box," we see two references that fit neatly into this last category. One comes as Henry and Alan are driving and pass a sign for Maple Street. While Maple is certainly a common street name in American towns, there is also a King short story called "The House on Maple Street," collected in the anthology Nightmares & Dreamscapes, though it has no real connection to Castle Rock. The other comes when we see The Kid sitting in his graffiti-laden cell. On the wall behind him is the inscription "The Reaper is Watching You." Now, this is quite possibly a direct reference to The Kid's apparent supernatural abilities, but it's also a nod to "The Reaper's Image," one of King's earliest published short stories, about a haunted mirror that shows an image of the Grim Reaper to those who look into it.
More of Stephen King's Maine
Since the series is set in (and named for) King's most famous fictional town and much of its action also takes place in King's most famous landmark (Shawshank), it was really only a matter of when, and not if, we'd hear about the rest of King's fictional map of Maine. Episode 5 gives us more of that very early on.
As a wide shot tracks over the town early in the episode, we hear a news report about the wildfire blazing in Castle County, and the anchor mentions "Castle View." This is a nearby town referenced in several King stories, including Needful Things, Lisey's Story, and most recently his novella Gwendy's Button Box, a Castle Rock-based story co-written with Richard Chizmar.
Then, after The Kid is paroled and Henry is looking for something to do with him, a doctor mentions she can possibly set the Kid up at Juniper Hill. Juniper Hill is an asylum near King's fictional town of Derry, and has been featured in several novels, including IT (where Henry Bowers is sent after he murders his father and is framed for the other murders in the summer of 1958), Needful Things, and Gerald's Game (Raymond Joubert, aka The Space Cowboy, was a patient there).
More Shawshank shout-outs
As more of Castle Rock's story unfolds behind the walls of Shawshank Prison, we're bound to get more references to King's original story about the place and the film it inspired. In "Harvest," we got two.
When Warden Porter is on the phone with her boss, who is tearing her a new one over the Zalewski debacle, the voice on the other end of the line refers to the Kid as "The Count of Monte Cristo." This is both a reference to the false imprisonment of that character from the Alexandre Dumas novel of the same name and a reference to one of The Shawshank Redemption's funniest scenes, in which the inmates discuss The Count of Monte Cristo while sorting books in the prison library.
Later, we get one more apparent reference to that same scene when Molly discovers that The Kid has made a figure, carved from a bar of soap, standing on the bridge in her display. While sorting books for the prison library in The Shawshank Redemption, Red (Morgan Freeman) pulls out a book on soap carving.
A royal motto
When Molly and Henry leave the Strand real estate office after setting a bed up for The Kid, we see that Molly's company motto is "Live Like a King!" This is, of course, a play on the town's name, right down to the little drawing of a castle, but it's also a nod in the direction of Castle Rock's creator. It's not a direct reference, but it's fun to see these little King tributes even in the production design.
Alan Pangborn, Magician
During his speech at the ceremony dedicating the town's bridge in his name, Alan Pangborn says that as a child he wanted to be a magician, and relates that to his life in Castle Rock as a lawman.
This is something carried over from King's novels, and it even has a major role to play in King's "last Castle Rock" story, Needful Things. When confronting the villain Leland Gaunt for the final time, Alan tries to distract him by pulling out a magic trick in the form of a bouquet of paper flowers. The trick lets off a bright light, which ultimately reveals Gaunt's true form and causes him to flee the town.
The voices of Castle Rock
According to Molly, her psychic power has taught her that "everyone broadcasts at their own frequency," but when she listens to The Kid's thoughts, it's like hearing "the pain of everyone in this town all at once." When she finds The Kid on the roof of the old shirt factory, she can hear the town's violence through him, including a voice saying "wanna see a dead body?" This is yet another reference to King's Castle Rock novella The Body, which is about a group of kids who set out to do just that.
At the end of Episode 5, when Alan realizes The Kid is loose in the town and is roaming around Ruth's house, he goes to confront him, and we get a flashback to when Alan pulled over Warden Lacy with The Kid in his trunk. Alan reveals that it's been 27 years since that night, and The Kid hasn't aged at all.
While it might not end up having any direct connection, fans of King's novel IT will remember that 27 years is the feeding and hibernation cycle of the titular creature. This is particularly noteworthy when you realize Bill Skarsgård is playing both The Kid and IT in the form of Pennywise right now.
In "Harvest" we got a brief mention of Juniper Hill Asylum, the fictional mental health facility of Stephen King's Maine, but in "Filter" we actually get to pay it a visit when Henry drops The Kid off there.
Juniper Hill, in case you might not remember, is an asylum where several King characters have been sent after criminal acts in Maine, including former Castle Rock resident Nettie Cobb (who ultimately died in the chaos of Needful Things), and Charlie Pickering from Insomnia, who was sent to Juniper Hill after trying to burn down a women's shelter in the fictional King city of Derry.
Perhaps coincidentally, The Kid and several other Juniper Hill patients escape the facility after a fire breaks out. Perhaps Pickering was in residence?
"Other ears, other nows"
In the most pivotal scene in "Filter," Henry gets lost in the woods and meets Odin (CJ Jones) and Willie (Rory Culkin), two apparent drifters who finally begin to explain the ringing in Henry's ears, as well as Henry's father's search for a strange sound in the woods outside Castle Rock. Odin, who is deaf and also holds various degrees in the study of acoustics, explains to Henry that he's discovered what he calls "schisma," or "the sound of the universe." Odin, through Willie, explains that this schisma reveals "other ears, other nows" and "all possible pasts, all possible presents."
Now, we don't yet have a greater explanation for schisma because of the cliffhanger ending of the episode, nor have we seen the full extent of what it can do, but this is clearly a big part of what happened to Henry when he disappeared as a child. From context clues, we can glean that he was transported to an "other now," whether by access to the schisma or something else. However it happened, or why it happened, he has a stronger connection to the schisma than most humans.
So, where's the Stephen King connection? As far as we can tell right now, there isn't exactly a direct one, but this sounds an awful lot like a "thinny," a place where the barrier between worlds is thin, a concept first introduced and explained in King's fourth Dark Tower novel, Wizard and Glass (though they are also retroactively attributed to events in The Talisman and King's novella The Mist). Thinnies look almost like mercury, fluid and shimmering, and most importantly for our purposes they emit a strange sound that has been compared to someone playing the saw as a musical instrument. The sound can infect the minds of those who hear it and has been known to drive people mad. If you walk into a thinny, there's also a chance you will end up in another universe.
Odin's explanation of what the schisma is also calls to mind a line spoken by the boy Jake, one of the main characters in The Dark Tower saga who traveled from our world into a parallel universe: "Go then, there are other worlds than these."