Hulu’s Castle Rock has become a slow burn for fans of Stephen King. The series tells the story of a cursed town haunted by its past, and secrets that refuse to stay buried. Some viewers are unsure where the show fits into the Stephen King Universe. Is it a collection of loose Stephen King adaptations? Or is there a more nuanced connection between the series and the work it's referencing? We’ve cataloged all of the Stephen King references in Castle Rock, and when you observe them altogether you’ll see the series dutifully drops Stephen King trivia into each episode, all while building on the author’s dense mythos.
The Stephen King references in Castle Rock tick all the boxes when it comes to winking at the audience. There are characters who share names with major players in Stephen King's oeuvre; visual references; and some outright plot points taken directly from Stephen King’s work. Aside from simple references, many of the author’s thematic elements are on display, creating a kind of conversational parallel between Castle Rock and the rest of Stephen King’s work.
Read on, but beware of spoilers ahead.
Episode 1 - 'Severance'
The most overt and straightforward references to Stephen King's work pile up in Castle Rock's pilot episode, with many being simple name checks of places appearing in the author's work. There are also a few sly nods to previous King adaptations.
- Castle Rock - The town serves as a major King touchstone. Castle Rock, ME, has appeared in and been referenced in no less than 33 pieces of King's work. Most notably, The Dead Zone, Needful Things, and The Dark Half take place in this small, cursed town.
- Shawshank Prison - Much of the series's early action revolves around Shawshank Prison, a well-known place from the film The Shawshank Redemption. Aside from the prison's overwhelming presence, a big reference to the film occurs when a guard shows the new warden her office and begins to say, "And you can even see the bullet hole where the previous warden -" before he's cut off. He's referring to the warden named Norton who kills himself in The Shawshank Redemption after the press reveals his acts of fraud.
- Sissy Spacek - Though she's only had one previous appearance in a King adaptation, it's a substantial one. Brian De Palma's Carrie not only proved to Hollywood how King writes the perfect works to adapt, recycle, and reuse, but it introduced audiences to Spacek's wildly expressive face. Casting her in Castle Rock anchors the series to the King-verse in a real way.
- Alan Pangborn - Sheriff Pangborn has popped up in a few different King stories, all taking place in Castle Rock, ME. He defeats Leland Gaunt in Needful Things; he helps Thad Beaumont stop his evil alter ego in The Dark Half; and he appears in the novella The Sun Dog.
- The Death Of Reverend Matthew Deaver - Henry Deaver's father froze to death, similar to Jack Torrance in The Shining.
- The Misfits - The audience meets Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy) as she listens to "Dig Up Her Bones" from the Pet Sematary soundtrack.
- The Fireman's Axe - There's a fireman's axe hanging on the wall near the warden's office in Shawshank, another reference to The Shining.
- Leanne Chambers - Henry Deavers debuts as a lawyer who's trying to free a female inmate named Leanne Chambers from death row. Chambers doesn't appear in any of King's previous works, but her surname does. Chris Chambers is a character in the novella The Body and film adaptation, Stand By Me; moreover, Jake Chambers appears throughout The Dark Tower series.
Episode 2 - 'Habeas Corpus'
Many of the Stephen King references in episode 2 of Castle Rock are more visual than the place-specific references occurring throughout the author's oeuvre.
- The Opening Credits - This sequence features a series of pages ripped from different books and stacked with King references. There are pages from The Green Mile, Misery, It, and The Shining, giving the audience the biggest touchstones for the series. Another major reference in this sequence entails Thomas Newman - a composer who worked on the series. His first Academy Award nomination came from his work on The Shawshank Redemption, and he later composed music for The Green Mile.
- Cujo - Henry Deaver reviews an article about a "rabid dog," which is an obvious tip of the hat to one of King's most well-known books.
- The Castle Rock Strangler - While trying to sell a house to a standoffish couple, Molly Strand mentions how the Castle Rock Strangler killed someone in her house, but it's no big deal. In The Dead Zone, Frank Dodd works as a deputy sheriff while also sexually assaulting and strangling women throughout Castle Rock.
- M. Strand And Associates Real Estate - The sign for Molly Strand's real estate company gives a big wink to the audience with its slogan along the bottom, "Live Like A King!"
- The Body On The Tracks - Sheriff Pangborn mentions something had happened "the fall after they found that boy's body on the train tracks," which is the central plot of the novella The Body, which inspired the movie Stand By Me.
- The Bloody Bathtub - In a quick rundown of all the awful happenings in Castle Rock throughout the years, there's a shot of a body in a bathtub, which recalls one of the most terrifying scenes from The Shining.
- The Mellow Tiger - The bowling alley and bar serving as the main local haunt for Castle Rock's beer drinkers and hell raisers gets mentions in a few pieces of King's work, but its most notable appearance is in Needful Things.
- Nan's Luncheonette - The audience doesn't get to see this diner turn into a "f*ck club," but it appears in most of King's works that make a pit stop in Castle Rock, including Needful Things, The Dark Half, The Sun Dog, and It.
- Molly's Yellow Coat - In one of the most oblique visual metaphors of the series, Molly wears a yellow coat matching the same hue of the coat worn by Georgie in It, during which Pennywise the Clown pulls him into the storm drain.
Episode 3 - 'Local Color'
Episode 3 takes the audience back to 1991 for a glimpse into Molly's dreams and the creepy trailer park governed by a group of teen drug dealers. The references are as oblique and hazy as the episode itself.
- The Ramones - In Molly's flashback to 1991, we see a poster for The Ramones on her wall. The band is famously one of Stephen King's favorite bands, and they recorded the title track for 1989's Pet Sematary.
- Children Of The Corn - When Molly goes on a sojourn to buy Ambien, she steps into the surreal world of the Timberland Motor Court, a trailer park filled with weird, mask-wearing kids. While the kids aren't worshipping "He Who Walks Behind the Rows," they are just as creepy.
- The Gazebo - While discussing her plans for beautifying Castle Rock, Molly says she wants to build a gazebo. The thing is, though, Castle Rock already had a gazebo, and it got blown up at the end of Needful Things.
Episode 4 - 'The Box'
"The Box" is another episode peppered with "blink and you'll miss it" references to Stephen King's work. To an unsuspecting viewer, the references don't appear interesting, but if you know what you're looking for, you'll see the author's influence all over the place.
- The Desjardins - During Henry's research into his disappearance and his father's death, he stumbles upon Joseph Desjardins's home. His brother, Vince, was a member of Ace's antagonistic crew from The Body; Ace also plays a major part in Needful Things. It's possible that by the end of Castle Rock, we'll see how it directly ties into what King referred to as the "last Castle Rock story." Aside from Vince, the Desjardins name appears in Carrie when it's attached to the titular character's physical education teacher.
- Maple Street - While driving to see Matthew Deaver's body in a relocated cemetery, Henry and Sheriff Pangborn turn onto Maple Street. This street name looks innocuous, but it's a direct reference to King's short story, "The House on Maple Street," from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. The story involves four brothers and sisters conspiring to send their stepfather to space - so this is more of tip of the hat than a clue for things to come.
- The Grim Reaper - In The Kid's prison cell, there's a ton of graffiti referencing the Grim Reaper. While this looks like ho-hum prison graffiti to the casual viewer, it's a nod to King's first short story, "The Reaper's Image." Published in 1969, the story is about a magical item named Delver's Mirror, which allegedly contains an image of the Grim Reaper that drives viewers mad.