Set in the Stephen King multiverse, the Maine town of Castle Rock is the setting for this psychological horror thriller spanning ten episodes. It utilises various characters and settings from the authors work, and even actors who have appeared in movie versions of his books, resulting in a unique and richly detailed story which has been clearly influenced by the great author.
The story begins with yet another Shawshank prison warden, Warden Lacy, committing suicide. When his successor Theresa Porter takes over, she begins plans to reopen an abandoned cell block within the prison in order to cater for the growing number of inmates. As guards investigate the old block, they discover a young man (Bill Skarsgård, as creepy without his ‘It’ makeup as he is in it!) locked in an underground cage, with no record as to who he is or why he was down there. The only words he utters when asked his name are Henry Deaver, the name of a lawyer who’d had a troubled childhood in Castle Rock (glimpsed in a flashback right at the start of the episode) and is now living in Texas. As the kid gets moved to the main prison cells while they try to figure out where he came from, mystery and death seem to follow him. We discover in flashbacks that Warden Lacy was the one responsible for caging him and keeping him alive all these years, claiming that god had instructed him to do it. Eventually Henry Deaver manages to get the kid released into the community, but bad things continue to happen wherever he goes and he also appears to be drawn to the childhood home of Henry Deaver, where his dementia suffering mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek) and her new partner Alan are. Is this mysterious stranger actually the devil? Why did Warden Lacy tell him before he committed suicide that he must ask for Henry Deaver if ever discovered? And why, as we discover later on, has this kid not aged one bit in the last 27 years?!
The remainder of the season continues to slowly add details and backstory, adding a few more interesting characters along the way with very few clues that may provide a full answer to these questions. It’s wonderful story telling, continuing to provide mystery every step of the way and demanding that you pay close attention to absolutely everything. Towards the end of the season are two outstanding episodes which reward your attention, making you re-evaluate everything you’ve seen before and giving you a fresh perspective on the whole story. They focus on the two most interesting characters of the season, coincidentally played by actors who have previously starred in Stephen King movie adaptations. In ‘The Queen’, we focus on Ruth – walking us through conversations and scenes we’ve seen before in previous episodes but showing them the way she experiences them, which isn’t necessarily the way they unfolded for others. It’s an emotional representation of dementia, showing just how terrifying and tragic a deteriorating mind can be. Then, in the episode ‘Henry Deaver’, we focus on the kid and finally get to understand who he is, where he came from and the reason for everything that’s happened so far. We get a lot of answers, and whether or not you’d already got a pretty good idea of what was going on (I hadn’t), this is still a fantastic episode.
Overall, Castle Rock managed to keep me hooked, entertained, and at times confused, and I really can’t ask for more than that in a show. I’m not a reader of books though unfortunately, so wouldn’t have picked up on all of the Easter eggs dotted around the show for fans of Stephen King to enjoy. But I absolutely love the movies that are based on them, so I got a real kick out of revisiting the setting of Shawshank. I also love ‘The Shining’, so got an even bigger kick out of a final end credits scene where the niece of Jack Torrance, and an author herself, states that she’s headed out west to dig deeper into her family history. If we’re headed to the Overlook Hotel next, then I absolutely cannot wait for season 2!
In the UK, Castle Rock is available on Starz Play, which is an add-on channel for Amazon Prime.