castle rock filter

“People think we’re just one of those dead towns they heard about: a run of bad luck, worse judgement, broken promises. We know different, don’t we? It’s not luck. It’s a plan…and not God’s, either. Remember the dog? The Strangler? Sure, you do. How ’bout all the others that didn’t make headlines?”

So goes Shawshank Prison Warden Dale Lacy’s (Terry O’Quinn) voice over introduction to the second episode of Castle Rock (titled “Habeas Corpus”). But just what the hell is he even babbling on about in this string of vague references?

Like so many Stephen King-related tales, this may lead us to the Dark Tower. However, the road to get there is a bit long and winding, requiring us to explore the show’s various references and Easter Eggs.

Major spoilers lie ahead.

Entry Level Easter Eggs

“The dog” is clearly Cujo – King’s iconic rabid Saint Bernard – who was bitten by a rabid bat and then went on a kill-crazy rampage, trapping Donna and Tad Trenton in their Ford Pinto, after killing its abusive mechanic master, Joe Cambers, and his alcoholic next-door neighbor, Gary Pervier. During this bizarre standoff between beast and automobile at Cambers’ garage (where the Pinto breaks down in Joe’s dooryard), Cujo subsequently mauls Castle Rock Sheriff George Bannerman, before Donna drives the splintered handle of a broken baseball bat through the animal’s skull.

As for “The Strangler”, Frank Dodd was the son of Henrietta and Billy Dodd, and served as a deputy sheriff under Bannerman – as The Dead Zone was technically the first Castle Rock novel, published two years prior to Cujo. Frank was secretly responsible for several rape/murders of various women, and even assisted Bannerman in the investigation, successfully deterring the Castle Rock PD from ever suspecting him. It wouldn’t be until Bannerman enlisted the aid of local psychic Johnny Smith to hunt the Strangler that Dodd was finally caught. Knowing the cops were closing in, Dodd slashed his own throat and hung a sign around his neck, lettered in lipstick: I CONFESS.

Strangely enough, there’s been no mention of Thad Beaumont yet in Castle Rock; The Dark Half’s reclusive author, whose pulp pseudonym George Stark began killing the folks responsible for his fictional death. Stark’s murders were investigated by Bannerman’s successor, Alan Pangborn, who’d taken over as Castle Rock’s Sheriff. Though Thad resided in Ludlow, Pangborn inherited the case because a few of the brutal deaths fell under his jurisdiction. Pangborn would eventually come face-to-face with Stark’s wrath, as Thad struggled to destroy his parasitic double.

castle rock filter alan

Alan Pangborn and Needful Things

The Dark Half wouldn’t be the last we’d hear from Sheriff Pangborn, as he was also the protagonist in King’s “last Castle Rock novel”, Needful Things. Published in 1991 – which, not coincidentally, is when Castle Rock’s Henry Deaver (André Holland) went missing as a boy for eleven days in the woods before being discovered by Pangborn on Dark Score Lake – Needful Things was supposed to mark an end to the town’s existence, as mysterious stranger Leland Gaunt (who could possibly be The Devil Himself) sets up shop in the middle of the sleepy Maine hamlet, with the titular store that sells anything the Rock’s residents desire (at a rather costly spiritual price, of course).

However, Pangborn’s inclusion in Castle Rock – where he’s portrayed with sinewy charm by Scott Glenn – calls into question where the show falls on the timeline King laid out in the books. Constant Readers will recall that, during Needful Things‘ bombastic conclusion, the municipality is virtually destroyed thanks to the violence and bombings that Gaunt’s presence stirs up. Utilizing sleight of hand he learned during his days studying to be a magician – something this iteration of Pangborn casually mentions at one point – Alan steals the valise that houses the souls of Gaunt’s customers, just before the shopkeeper’s vehicle transforms into a horse-drawn wagon and whisks the demon away into the darkness.

There’s some lip service in the series paid to Castle Rock disincorporating, thus removing itself from the Maine map and causing many of the local businesses to exit the haunted hamlet. Thus begins struggling, psychic real estate agent Molly Strand’s (Melanie Lynskey) quest to revitalize downtown, hoping to reattract commerce and inject new life into a failing Castle County. Yet this doesn’t answer how enough of Castle Rock is left standing in the ’91 prologue of this new series, as even the soaring aerial shots that open the pilot (titled “Severance”) don’t contain many traces of the mass destruction detailed in King’s text.

Castle Rock Episode 4

27 Years

It’s arguable that the most identifiable town King created isn’t even Castle Rock anymore. Due to the ‘80s bestseller status, ‘90s television phenom, and now two-part aughts box office smash of IT, Derry may have overtaken the Rock as King’s most recognizable Maine community (though this writer won’t rest until Insomnia finally gets its proper due). However, this new series may change all that, as it possibly aligns the two invented New England abodes with a common thread: an ancient subterranean evil (played by the same actor, no less!).

Bill Skarsgård – who also threw on the grease paint as Pennywise the Clown (AKA Bob Gray) in Andy Muschietti’s ‘17 take on IT – now has the market cornered on portraying all-knowing, virus-like evils in filmic King adaptations. In Castle Rock, Warden Lacy believes that Skarsgård’s “The Kid” may be responsible for all the awful events that have plagued the town over the years. Once he’s uncovered – in a secret cell buried beneath an abandoned Shawshank ward (that’s been empty since a devastating fire in ’87) – more awfulness transpires that nobody (especially his new Civil Rights attorney, Henry Deaver) seems equipped to stop. The star witness in the Kid’s case – guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher), who’s disgusted by the wanton brutality employed by the prison – goes on a shooting rampage after the convict seemingly infects his mind. After Warden Lacy’s interim replacement (Ann Cusack) releases the boy following the ensuing PR nightmare, his mere presence causes an ostensibly happy man to murder his whole family.

Yet beyond the performer playing both roles, another element unifies “The Kid” with Pennywise the Dancing Clown: the interval in which they emerge from their lairs: 27 years. That’s how long Pennywise hibernates before crawling back to the surface of Derry to feed on the fear and flesh of its children.

According to Alan Pangborn, the last time he saw the prisoner was in Lacy’s trunk in ’91, before the Shawshank honcho built the boy his very own bear cage in the penitentiary’s lowest levels. It wouldn’t be until 2018 that the Kid would rise from his depths, and seemingly not by accident. At the end of episode five (“Harvest”) the prisoner says to Pangborn (at gunpoint, no less) “you have no idea what’s happening”, cryptically alluding to the notion that there’s some sort of grand design at play. Whose plan is unfolding before our eyes in this ten-part piece of fan fiction? That has yet to be determined, Constant Readers, yet something tells me Lacy’s right about one thing: it’s certainly not God’s.

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