[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Castle Rock” Season 1, Episodes 1, 2, and 3.]
Let’s get two obvious Stephen King references out of the way now: “Castle Rock” actors Bill Skarsgard and Sissy Spacek are tied to the previous King film adaptations of “It” and “Carrie,” respectively. People have been talking about their connection since casting was announced, but that doesn’t mean everyone realized it while sampling the first three episodes of Hulu’s new anthology series (available now). It’s not essential to the plot, after all.
Of course, neither is the song playing in Dale Lacy’s car as he makes his fateful drive to the quarry.
“I’m sure a lot of people will recognize the aria Terry O’Quinn is listening to when he’s driving off to his death,” Sam Shaw told IndieWire, sitting next to his fellow co-creator Dustin Thomason. “It’s an aria that Andy Dufresne plays when he locks himself on the roof [in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’].”
Not all easter eggs are created equal, but in “Castle Rock,” they all serve the same purpose: “We really didn’t want any of them to take you out of the story,” Thomason told IndieWire. “They can enhance or contextualize the story you’re watching, but they don’t feel like a big dash of hot sauce on top of your eggs.”
Patrick Harbron / Hulu
In an original story based within the Stephen King multiverse, it can be hard to tell if certain cuts are too deep for viewers to appreciate. Shaw said certain references stem from choices made by their director, Michael Uppendahl, and “exist at the level of framing the shots.”
“We go back and forth,” Thomason told IndieWire. “Like, is that an incredibly deep cut that only we are going to care about, or is it so obvious? There’s no real answer to that question.”
It depends on the viewer. For those with an intimate knowledge of the King of Horror’s work, episodes might feel stocked with easter eggs. But for those just looking for a spooky good time, the story rolls on uninterrupted.
“If you remember the scene where [Henry] goes to see Frances Conroy — Terry O’Quinn’s widow — and he’s searching through the office, he finds a folder full of newspapers,” Thomason said. “All those newspapers are in some way connected to the King universe, but they’re pretty fast and oblique. To us, it’s a way […] not of just doing fan service, but of telling people who do know the books you still exist in that world. This isn’t a totally external world, even if you’re not going to get the story of ‘Needful Things’ played out and dramatized on TV.”
Even Henry, the lead character played by Andre Holland, is inspired by Stephen King without being a direct reference to any one book.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about aspects of some Stephen King protagonists as we were constructing him,” Shaw said. “Stephen King is clearly fascinated by crime and punishment in stories about prisons. It’s the closest thing we have to true life horror stories or monster stories or stories about people we decide to call monsters for cultural reasons. There are reasons he keeps returning to that subject matter. Death row is obviously fascinating to him, so it wasn’t an accident that we made Andre’s character a death row attorney. […] There are some reasons for [these decisions] that have implications for the later part of the story, and we kind of can’t talk about that.”
Similarly, in the third episode, there’s a character whose name will mean a great deal to anyone familiar with King’s popular work, but the motivations for that choice remain unclear… for now.
“If you watched through [Episode 3], the fact that Jane Levy’s character is named Jackie Torrance and exactly what that means and how that connects her to Jack Nicholson’s character [in “The Shining”] is something we’re going to explore over the course of the season, but that was again carefully constructed so as not to be obtrusive,” Thomason said.
There are references that have already paid off. Here are the rest Shaw and Thomason chose to highlight in the first three episodes.
- When Dale Lacy asks about “the strangler” and “the dog,” Thomason said “he’s referring very obliquely” to “The Dead Zone” and “Cujo.”
- And when “he talks about the kid being found out by the train tracks [it’s] a reference to the bodies found in ‘Stand by Me,'” Shaw said.
- One of the more obvious easter eggs is when the guard welcomes the new Shawshank warden to her office and mentions how you can still see the bullet hole where Norton killed himself — that’s from “The Shawshank Redemption,” but wouldn’t they have repaired that by now? Shaw joked, “The state cut funding — although spackle isn’t very expensive…”
- Keep a close eye on a certain video in Episode 5, as well as a Sissy Spacek standalone episode later in the season.
“Castle Rock” releases a new episode each Wednesday on Hulu. The first three episodes are streaming now.