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An Easter Egg Guide to the Start of Castle Rock: Season 2

The season's just-released first episodes are packed with a long list of Stephen King references and easter eggs.
  • Lizzy Caplan in Castle Rock (Hulu)
    Lizzy Caplan in Castle Rock (Hulu)

    The first season of Castle Rock didn't feature any major players from the Stephen King multiverse, but there were plenty of references to his many novels and short stories, many of which take place in or around the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Former Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) was directly lifted from the pages of the novels Needful Things and The Dark Half, while others like Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy) were a nod to iconic figures from the sprawling King canon. Season 2 promises expands the geography a bit, with the town of Jerusalem's Lot  playing a central role in the action. If that name sounds familiar, then the character of Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) will almost certainly ring a bell as the second season draws heavily from Misery and another of King's most popular novels: Salem's Lot.

    Both novels have already been adapted for the screen, with Kathy Bates delivering an Academy Award-winning performance in director Rob Reiner's Misery. Bates's terrifying Annie was the bookish, isolated nurse who took her obsession with author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) to disturbing heights. Meanwhile, vampire tale Salem's Lot received the TV miniseries treatment twice  — in 1979 and 2004. But as with Season 1 of Castle Rock, this season isn't a retelling of those stories. Instead, the Hulu anthology series draws upon the rich legacy of King's creepy oeuvre to tell an entirely new story. 

    Caplan's Annie Wilkes is at the center of the action in Season 2, so there are lots of nods to Misery, including her choice of vehicle (a Jeep Cherokee) and her distaste for obscenities. As you might expect, there are also plenty of "Dirty Birds" who are at risk of a dressing down. But Annie isn't alone during her stay in Castle Rock: she is accompanied by 16-year-old daughter Joy (played by Elsie Fisher, the breakout star of last year's Eight Grade). Joy is unaware of her mother's dark past, but the town will soon bring her secret to the surface.

    As has become custom for Hulu, the streamer is kicking off the season by releasing the first three episodes today (subsequent episodes will be released weekly on Wednesdays). Judging from the preseason promos and the just-dropped first  three episodes, there will be many references to King's novels, adaptations, and even the previous season of Castle Rock. Here's what we've been able to spot so far. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)

    Pre-season Promo

    A 14-minute promo is unusual, but Hulu wisely turned this one into a massive Stephen King Easter egg hunt, ending with a clip from Season 2. Radio stations match publication years of books (including Pet Sematary, It, The Mist, and Salem's Lot); Pennywise's red balloon floats by the car; and a roadside memorial for Church, the cat from Pet Sematary is visible. There is a commercial for Richard Bachman's "On Writing" program, with a reference to Paul Sheldon's birthday. Bachman is King's pseudonym, On Writing is a nonfiction book written by King, and Sheldon is the unlucky author who ended up tied to Annie Wilkes' bed in Misery.

    Official Trailer

    The full-length trailer is also brimming with hints about what to expect this season. Most of these references are covered below, but it's worth noting that not only is the song "I'll Be Seeing You" from The Stand, but a version by Liberace (Annie Wilkes' favorite performer) plays over the end credits of Misery. The infamous "Cockadoodie" wasn't uttered in the first five episodes made available for review, but thanks to this trailer we know that too is coming.

    Opening Credits

    Maps of Derry and Shawshank roll over from the Season 1 title sequence and are joined by overt nods to Misery and Salem's Lot — including a reference to Paul Sheldon's swollen thumb. The number 19 recurs throughout King's work but is most commonly associated with the Dark Tower series. Here it's the chapter number featuring the name of a very important location from Salem's Lot, Marsten House. The missing ‘n' typewriter key from Misery is alluded to as well. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it scarecrow wears a Castle Rock Rockets jacket and is a direct nod to the cover of King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Room 217 from the Overlook Hotel (the novel, not the Shining movie) and Pennywise's mouth also appear.

    Episode 1 - "Let the River Run"

    Reginald "Pop" Merrill (Tim Robbins): Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Bill Skarsgärd (It) were part of the Stephen King meta-casting extravaganza last year, and now Tim Robbins, star of the beloved The Shawshank Redemption, trades in his prison denim for a man with a dark past and a guilty secret eating away at him.  Merrill is mentioned in Needful Things and is featured in The Sun Dog novella (from Four Past Midnight). Pop still runs the Castle Rock junk shop, The Emporium Gallorium, but the stories diverge from there. It's unlikely he will meet his end as he did in The Sun Dog — a paranormal camera exploded while he was holding it. In Castle Rock, he has cancer, and if that doesn't kill him, his dodgy business dealings with his nephew Ace and subsequent feud with Abdi Howlwadaag (Barkhab Abdi) probably will.

    John "Ace" Merrill (Paul Sparks): The role of Ace Merrill was played by Kiefer Sutherland in Stand by Me, and while he doesn't have the same bleach-blond hair, he's still a nasty piece of work in 2019. In the King books, Ace appeared in The Body (which the film Stand by Me was adapted from) and as a villain in Needful Things, in which he went up against Sheriff Alan Pangborn. In this universe, Pangborn is dead, but the first episode shows how far Annie will go when her daughter is threatened. Who knew an ice cream scoop could be used as a deadly weapon?

    Carly Simon's "Let the River Run": After watching this episode it will be impossible to get the Academy-Award winning Carly Simon song out of your head. No, Stephen King didn't write Working Girl, but the lyric "Come, the New Jerusalem" is incredibly potent for this story. 

    Kelvin Gas Station: This is an Easter egg nod to executive producer J.J. Abrams, as Kelvin is the name of his grandfather, whom he's payed homage to in the past via spaceships in Star Trek, a character in Lost, and numerous gas stations (including in Super 8). There is also a magical mystery box, which is a signature Abrams device.

    Pig Earrings: Annie Wilkes loves pigs. She called her pet pig Misery, after her favorite book character, and during the opening sequence, Annie wears pig earrings, socks, and a nursing uniform bearing this animal. So far, Sheldon and Misery have not been mentioned, but this nod is a reminder of her obsession.

    Haunted Land: The new Somali Mall in Salem's Lot is being built on land that was remarkably cheap, most likely because of the stories about witchcraft. The end of the episode proves it's more than just whispered folklore and the witches that are referenced in Salem's Lot are more than just local ghost stories.

    Typewriter: The sound of a typewriter accompanies Annie's hallucinations, which recalls her troubling relationship to this object in Misery. Is there a similar tale of obsession behind this eerie sound effect (and the bloody man she sees in her vision)? In the novel, Annie had killed her father. Did this version of the character do the same?

    A wheelchair: Paul Sheldon's mode of transport is seemingly moving by itself until it is revealed otherwise. Annie needs pills to temper these hallucinations.

    Episode 2 - "New Jerusalem"

    Yellow Coat: Annie's raincoat looks like it came from the Georgie Denbrough closet of It wet weather attire, but luckily for Annie, she falls into a previously undiscovered grave site of persecuted witches and not Pennywise's lair.

    The Marsten House: This is a major location in Salem's Lot, and one that is steeped in violent history (which Ace mentions in the following episode). As with the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, this building is evil incarnate. In the novel Salem's Lot, original owner Hubie Marsten was a serial killer who murdered his wife and then himself. Many years later, author Ben Mears returned to write at his former abode, only to discover a man going by the name of Kurt Barlow had moved in. Kurt was actually a vampire looking to turn others in the town into the undead.

    While there are no signs of vampires so far in the TV show, strange and creepy things are afoot in this residence. Annie escaped the grave site by ascending the Marsten House stairs, which also appears to be how Ace Merrill returned to the land of the living.

    The Mellow Tiger: This bar was featured last season and is a significant location in Needful Things.

    Romance Novels: While waiting for Joy in the hospital, Annie tries to read a romance novel to distract herself. It isn't one of the Misery series, but this version of the character still has a penchant for the genre.

    A car with a mind of its own: An alarm goes off, seemingly without human contact and this eerie scene draws on the possessed car of Christine (though it isn't a red Plymouth Fury).

    Episode 3 - "Ties That Bind"

    "Want to go look for a dead body?" Joy's new friends ask if she wants to join their search party. Ace is missing, presumed dead, making him the subject of this hunt. Considering Ace's role in The Body, it's a moment of Stephen King story symmetry. Instead of looking on the train tracks, the four teens take a boat out on creepy Castle Rock lake.

    Head in the lake: In the Season 1 opening episode, former Shawshank warden Dale Lacy (Terry O'Quinn) killed himself by driving into the lake. His head was never found, and the teens are now on the lookout for this macabre trophy.

    Hiding meds: Joy resorts to the emergency protocol with her mother, tying her to the bed and ensuring she takes her medicine. However, just as Paul Sheldon faked taking his meds in Misery, so does Annie. The image of her tied to the bed is a role reversal for this character, but luckily for her, there are no mallets involved — she does end up self-dislocating her shoulder as she attempts an escape.

    Shawshank Penitentiary: Shawshank played a big role in Season 1 as it's where The Kid (Bill Skarsgärd) was being held captive. It was also the scene of a massacre. So far it has only been mentioned in passing by one of Joy's new friends, as her dad was transferred after this bloody incident. They also passed a sign for the infamous prison before Annie crashed the car in the first episode.

    And that's just what we spotted in the first batch of episodes! What did we miss? Weigh in on our forums.

    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Castle Rock, Hulu, Elsie Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, Paul Sparks, Stephen King, Tim Robbins