That Mind-Blowing 'Castle Rock' Twist: Let's Talk About How It Changes The Game For Hulu's Stephen King Series

Stephen King fans, if you haven't been keeping up with Castle Rock this season, now might be a good time to do an emergency binge-watch. Like The Leftovers, Hulu's streaming series — which is set in the ever-expanding King multiverse — may have alienated some viewers in its first season, even as it managed to serve up episodes of great television like the Sissy Spacek showcase, "The Queen." In the age of crowd-sourced show-solving, however, having some viewers fall away may have actually primed Castle Rock to do what The Leftovers did and get better and more wildly unpredictable in its second season.

So much of the buzz, these past few weeks, has been circling around HBO's Watchmen that it feels like Castle Rock has been operating under the radar. The two shows premiered the same week in late October and have been progressing on parallel tracks. Both of them remix pop culture behemoths and they scratch the same itch for twist-filled, character-focused, mythology-rich TV (Watchmen's showrunner, Damon Lindelof, also co-created The Leftovers). Yet Castle Rock has been overshadowed at the water cooler by its sexier superhero cousin.

This week, showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason took advantage of that by springing a whopper of a revelation on their unsuspecting audience. In season 2, episode 7, "The Word," Castle Rock blew the lid open on its own secrets, offering up the juiciest twist yet in a season full of them. It goes without saying that we are about to enter that camper in the woods, with the chamber known as the Filter, where the Voice of God whispers heavy spoilers.

The Kid is back. Bill Skarsgard's ageless reality-hopper, last seen grinning evilly in the dark of his cell below Shawshank State Penitentiary, has returned. What was supposed to be an anthology show turns out to have a much deeper connection between seasons. The return of the Kid frames the first season of Castle Rock in an entirely new light, as he throws back the hood over his face and stands revealed as the mysterious, light-bearing "Angel" that the Satanic cult of body-snatchers in Jerusalem's Lot once worshipped (when they weren't busy crucifying people upside-down on burning crosses).

Theories gain traction online so quickly nowadays that the Internet hive mind can usually spot twists like this coming on popular shows. After a while, it would almost be embarrassing if you called yourself a Game of Thrones fan and didn't know what R+L=J meant. A few intrepid Redditors may have already formed a general idea of the Kid's return on Castle Rock, but no one could have known the exact form it would take unless they were out there in the woods, really bending their ear toward the Schisma. "Do you hear it now?"

So how did we get here? Castle Rock started out season 2 looking like it was going to be a horror-infused remake of Yojimbo, with Annie Wilkes substituted for the ronin who wanders into town and starts a gang war. Lizzy Caplan offered a pitch-perfect take on Annie, as she might have been when she was younger, before the events of Misery. Kathy Bates won the Best Actress Oscar for that movie, so Caplan had big shoes to fill, but her performance has revived the character and made Annie the show's strongest anchor all season long. The premiere episode, "Let the River Run," offered up the first shocking twist of the season when Annie murdered the menacing Ace Merrill in her cabin kitchen ... with an ice cream scooper.

That's Ace Merrill, the Stand by Me character. Kiefer Sutherland played him in the movie, but now he's being played by Paul Sparks (Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards). Just when you thought Ace was dead and Sparks was only there for a one-off, the show went and delivered another twist by resurrecting him in its second episode. It also introduced the Marsten House from Salem's Lot, but if you were expecting vampires, Tim Robbins was there to quickly dispel that notion, as he informed a group of local bar patrons that it was Satanists, not vampires, who "made a bad deal with the wrong hombre" in the town's past.

This was a significant clue. It's a testament to the storytelling on Castle Rock that it could show Robbins rolling up on Shawshank this week, triggering a surreal blip of nostalgia for one of the greatest movies of all time ... and yet that wasn't even the most pressing emotion within the scene. The most pressing emotion was the suspense of seeing him revisit a key setting from the show's first season. Would we see the Kid again? Where was this was going?

Playing Pop Merrill (Ace's adoptive father and the junk shop owner from the novella The Sun Dog), Robbins is one of several venerable Stephen King screen alumni that we've seen on Castle Rock. Another is Sarah Gadon from 11.22.63. Gadon's character, Rita Green, was the center of her own twist when it was revealed that she was the real mother of Annie's "daughter" and that she was still alive out there, after Annie had tried to kill her.

Castle Rock's first season ended on an ambiguous note that some viewers deemed unsatisfying. With a lawyer for a protagonist (Henry Deaver, played by Andre Holland), the season structured itself as a supernatural court case, complete with a closing argument by the defense in its penultimate episode—where the Kid recounted his backstory and painted himself as an innocent person whose presence in the wrong reality had brought a disruptive energy to it.

Treating viewers as jurors and leaving them to draw their own conclusions based on the available evidence, the season finale nonetheless implied that the Kid was, in fact, evil and deserved to be locked up in a cage at the bottom of Shawshank. Wherever this guy went, death seemed to follow. In the woods, after Henry wrestled his gun away from him, we saw a flash of a monstrous face, seemingly flagging the Kid's true nature as that of a withered, inhuman creature.

Yet there was always the possibility that by locking him up again, Henry had, in fact, become the villain, scapegoating an innocent man and depriving him of his freedom. Because of this ambiguity, there was always the feeling, too, that Castle Rock's showrunners were taking a page from producer J.J. Abrams and being too coy about the contents of their mystery box.

Now we know that it was all part of their master plan (or at least ingeniously reverse-engineered to appear that way). The show has finally put its cards on the table, unmasking the Kid as a Satanic figure, like Leland Gaunt in Needful Things. Ace is his body-snatched priest; he, too, studies old home videos to get to know his host body. Meanwhile, Annie is being groomed to serve as the vessel for the resurrected cult leader, Amity.

It remains to be seen how the Somali siblings, Abdi and Nadia, and Annie's connection to her half-sister/surrogate daughter/kidnapping victim, Joy, will factor into all of this. I don't know about you, but I was getting a real Randall Flagg and Nadine Cross vibe from the "Angel," or Kid, and Amity on that cliff overlooking the lake. Seeing a hooded statue of the Kid erected in the middle of Castle Rock now has me as transfixed as the townsfolk. I almost wonder if this thing could be building toward a point where it will trade in Salem's Lot for The Stand and go full-blown, apocalyptic, good vs. evil on us.

That certainly would fit the show's original press release, which said that Castle Rock would be "weaving an epic saga of darkness and light." What we saw in the show's first season was a much murkier moral landscape where it wasn't always easy to know what was right and wrong. The second season pays off the first in spades, rewarding fans who stuck with Castle Rock and maybe inspiring the kind of word-of-mouth that will lure back other viewers.

"The Word" leaves us in a place where there are only three episodes left to go this season—and we have no idea where they will go, because the game has so thoroughly changed. That's a great feeling to have. It's thrilling to watch a show that so consistently zigs when you think it's going to zag.

The biggest question now is where Henry and the Kid are in the present day. Was Henry forced to relocate his holding place for the Kid when Shawshank reopened? Could an André Holland return be in the cards?

Affecting its own impression of the Kid, Castle Rock has climbed back up out of the hole in Shawshank and demands to be seen again by everyone. No longer just a King remix for the Hulu niche, it's must-see TV for King fans everywhere. All things serve the Beam and this show serves the Stephen King multiverse well.