The very tense, very enigmatic sixth episode of Hulu’s Castle Rock, “Filter,” is up today, which means we’ve passed the halfway point of the Stephen King-inspired supernatural thriller. Here’s what has happened so far—and why you should tune in for the rest.
What we know to be true: In a chain of events that transpire after Shawshank penitentiary Warden Dale Lacy dies by suicide, a nameless prisoner known only as “the Kid” is discovered caged in the prison’s sub-basement, beneath a fire-damaged wing that hadn’t been used in 30 years. When the Kid finally speaks, the first thing he says is “Henry Deaver,” naming a man who left Castle Rock with tons of personal baggage (more on that below) years ago, but who also happens to be a defense lawyer. Henry is summoned to his hometown—by an anonymous caller who turns out to be disgruntled prison guard Dennis Zalewski—to take the case.
The story segues into act two when the Kid is released from prison and into Henry’s care. His ability to manifest malevolence is rapidly amplified by his presence in Castle Rock, which already has a towering reputation as a place where bad things happen. In episode six, Castle Rock dropped some big hints that the Maine town may also be a place where time isn’t always linear, and where different versions of reality might sometimes get twisted together. “Filter” also suggested the Kid might be morphing into someone who’s been dead for years—someone who’s still quite comfortable in the Deaver house.
Henry Deaver (André Holland) As a child, Henry went missing for nearly two weeks, following an incident in the snowy Castle Rock woods that injured his father, the Reverend Matthew Deaver, so badly the man passed away days later. Ever since, it’s been widely assumed around town that Henry faked his disappearance because he had something to do with his father’s death. For his part, Henry can’t really remember much about his youth, and he definitely doesn’t remember what happened that fateful night. Though he loves his mother, Ruth, he’s long since fled to Texas, where he’s become a lawyer specializing in defending Death Row inmates. It’s been strongly suggested that Henry’s hazy past has something to do with his newest client, mysterious Shawshank prisoner “the Kid,” but as of episode six, Castle Rock has yet to connect any actual dots on that front yet.
Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek) On a show that spends a lot of time concerning itself with evil, Ruth—lover of the outdoors, greatly fond of Viking legends—seems to be one of the few purely good souls. She and her late husband, the Reverend Matthew Deaver, adopted Henry as a 5-year-old after losing a baby in childbirth. Though she’s found love with former Castle Rock sheriff Alan Pangborn, she’s suffering from the early stages of dementia. The biggest indicator is when Ruth loses track of time; she’s most often unsure of when she is. Henry and Alan don’t agree on much, but they do share a concern for Ruth’s well-being, especially when she jumps off the very bridge that Castle Rock is re-naming in Alan’s honor. She stashes chess pieces around her home as a trick to remind herself to stay in the present, but Ruth—like everyone in Castle Rock—can’t stop the past from creeping in.
Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) The former town sheriff, now retired, has his post-Needful Things (among the other Stephen King tales he’s appeared in) life filled in by Castle Rock, which imagines that he’s been in love with Ruth for decades. For many years, he kept his distance out of respect for Matthew, but they’ve since become a very sweet couple, something that Henry doesn’t understand at first. Alan is the person who found young Henry in the woods after he went missing—but he distrusts him because Matthew told him on his deathbed that “Henry did it,” implicating his own son in the accident. Alan was also friendly with former Shawshank warden Dale Lacy, who decapitates himself quite dramatically in Castle Rock’s first episode. Alan knew about the Kid when Lacy first stashed him beneath the prison—in fact, he had a chance to intervene but allowed it to happen—as well as Lacy’s belief that the Kid was the Devil.
The Kid (Bill Skarsgård) Even after six episodes, we still don’t really understand what’s going on with this guy, who was kept in a cage in Shawshank’s basement for 30 years but never aged. (One thing is certain, he is not a demonic clown.) Sprung from Shawshank after prison guard Dennis Zalewski committed a mass shooting against his co-workers—a tragedy viewed by the prison board as a PR disaster more than anything else—the Kid doesn’t speak much and (in keeping with Castle Rock’s themes of memory loss) doesn’t seem to know who he really is. Now that he’s newly sprung from Shawshank, we’ve seen him lurk around a child’s birthday party and use his sinister osmosis to cause the parents to rapidly spiral into violence; stand on a rooftop in downtown Castle Rock and soak in all the despair, as well as the wildfires that are burning just outside of town; unleash deadly chaos during his brief stay in Castle Rock’s psychiatric hospital; and skulk around the Deaver family outbuilding where all of Matthew’s random stuff is stored, including old suits and weird videotapes of Henry tromping around the woods.
Sharp-eyed viewers will note a few moments in “Filter” where the Kid has started to mimic the late Reverend Deaver, including confusing Ruth by wearing a suit she thought her husband had been buried in, and deliberately removing his shoes (an ironclad Deaver house rule when Matthew was still around) when he returns from the hospital at the end of the episode. To paraphrase that eerie video shown to Shawshank prisoners who are about to be released—he’s clearly starting to “reframe his narrative” and be whoever he wants to be, now that he’s roaming free.
Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) Castle Rock’s most earnest real estate agent is also a pill addict, but she does it for a reason: the soothing relief of painkillers helps mute her ability to psychically hear the “noise” of everyone around her. She has a particularly strong connection with Henry; when they were kids, she could feel everything he felt, including his hatred of his father—a force so strong that it apparently guided young Molly to detach Matthew’s respirator and ultimately cause his death while Henry was still missing. Though their reunion as adults was awkward at first, they soon became allies (and hooked up, it’s implied), though Henry doesn’t really understand or want to understand her abilities—and he, understandably, freaks out when she tells him how his father really died.
Other key characters: Aside from the now-deceased characters we’ve already mentioned who played a key role in Castle Rock’s past events—notably Warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’ Quinn) and Reverend Matthew Deaver (Adam Rothenberg)—the Castle Rock present also includes Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy), the local true-crime buff who changed her name from “Diane” to better capture the spirit of her murderous uncle. So far, Jackie hasn’t had much to do other than be Molly’s friend and occasional assistant, as well as subject the Kid to a recitation of Castle Rock’s gruesome history (not realizing, of course, that he’s probably linked to all of it). Also in the current timeline, we’ve just met Wendell (played by It’s Chosen Jacobs), Henry’s video game-loving teenage son, who arrives in town from Boston to visit the ailing Ruth, as well as spend time with his oft-absent father.
Some of the pressing questions posed by episode six’s cliffhanger will surely be answered immediately for story reasons. Like, how’s Henry going to bust out of that creepy soundproof chamber? And what terrible thing happened at the Deaver house while Alan was off trying to track down Lacy’s car, having been told by the Kid that he could help Ruth overcome her illness if he just had that vehicle back? These answers will surely tie into the larger plot somehow, but here’s what we’re also wondering about:
- Where did Lacy first find the Kid, and what convinced him that the Kid was the Devil?
- If the Kid’s not the Devil (he says he’s not, anyway), who is he? There are a ton of theories out there that tie into Stephen King’s works beyond Castle Rock, imagining that the Kid may be connected to sinister Needful Things shopkeeper Leland Gaunt or perhaps even recurring King villain Randall Flagg. Or, he could be a completely new character that’s specifically tailored to Castle Rock’s own tragic mysteries.
- Is there a specific connection between Lacy and Reverend Matthew Deaver?
- Thanks to episode six, we now know that Matthew forced Henry on long treks through the woods as part of his obsession with hearing “the voice of God.” So what exactly happened the night Henry went missing? Who caused Matthew’s injuries? And where was Henry kept during the time he was gone (that weird shed behind the Desjardins’ house, or maybe in Lacy’s basement)? Who else was involved?
- Obviously, we’ll need to learn more (a lot more) about Matthew’s theory of the “schisma,” or “the music of the spheres,” as explained by the deaf man and his interpreter that Henry meets in the woods. Scientific babble about “nano-scale turbulences” aside, the real takeaway was that the sound is caused by “other heres, other nows” clanging together: “All possible pasts, all possible presents. Schisma is the sound of the universe trying to reconcile them.” How will this play out in the story—and will Henry’s ringing ears be the key to everything?
Though Castle Rock draws inspiration from Stephen King’s settings and characters—as well as his general slow-burn, psychological-horror vibe—you don’t really have to be a King scholar to enjoy watching. The Easter eggs are cool, with references to works like Cujo and The Dead Zone sprinkled here and there, but the sneakiest ones (like the multiple references to grown-up characters from the story that Stand By Me was based on) will probably fly right by anyone who isn’t specifically looking for them. (The corniest, most over-the-top reference so far, the “Jackie Torrance” thing, is acceptable only because she named herself that.)
Castle Rock’s somewhat glacial pace may be a turn-off for viewers who are expecting a full-on horror tale—a few stunning “OMG!” moments aside, the show has been mostly focused on building mood, atmosphere, and dread, slowly introducing characters and the key components of the show’s “mystery box”—hat-tip to producer J.J. Abrams. But the pitch-black puzzle it’s putting together is incredibly intricate and fascinating, and the cliffhanger ending of episode six suggests big things are about to happen. With only four episodes left, they’re going to start happening fast.
Castle Rock airs Wednesdays on Hulu.