4 Alternative Theories of Castle Rock’s Shawshank State Penitentiary That Will Make You Question Everything You Thought You Knew
A series made for the Reddit age in much the same fashion as Showtime’s Westworld, Castle Rock loves to tease and confuse us with Easter eggs all while distracting us from the real story.
Last week Hulu dropped three episodes of its much anticipated horror anthology Castle Rock, based on the collective works of Stephen King and it was everything we hoped it would be. It was atmospheric, intensely creepy, and filled to the brim with sneaky, sly, and just weird people. No one in this town is normal. They all have scars a mile wide and whether those are emotional or physical is irrelevant. The set was so lovingly crafted that page after page of this prolific novelist’s stories were transported straight into our uneasy family rooms. Three episodes in and we know very little concrete information beyond the town is incredible, casting is genius and the acting is Emmy worthy. Bill Skarsgard’s mysterious inmate says hardly anything for three episodes and yet his haggard appearance and hollowed eyed stare propel the story forward in a way that no amount of exposition ever could. With all that is left unaswered the series is sure trying hard to convince us of many truths. Namely Henry is good, “The Kid” is bad and everyone else is locked in a battle for their souls. What if that is all a misdirect though and we are just waiting for the prestige?
1. Children of the Corn were actually trailer park residents with really bad parents. The obvious nods to the masks the children wore in the mock court scene in which Molly Strand has gone searching for more narcotics to quiet her “shine” were abundant. These children are giving off Lord of the Flies vibes big time and there lack of parental direction is one of the most horrific elements of the three episode premier.
2. Henry Deaver is a killer and has been atoning for his crimes for his entire adult life. He killed his father twice on that fated cold night when his Dad took him out in the forest. He pushed his father over the cliff and then again when he basically took over young Molly Strand’s body and removed his respirator. We don’t know why he wanted his father dead but it is likely his father was not the pure pastor he portrayed. This may very well steer into predictable incest-land where the good preacher was doing unspeakable things either to young Henry or his poor mother. It would explain his almost single-minded focus on helping only death row inmates despite very little financial or personal success. Next week’s episode will give us much more insight on the forgotten days and what really took place. He could also be our antagonist from day one hiding in plane sight. “The Kid” and Henry are meant to get together to face off and not to team up. King is famous for the “Kansas City Shuffle” or red herring style of story telling and I would not put anything past him.
3. The walls of Shawshank State Penitentiary are pure unadulterated evil. We know from “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and the Tim Robbins, Martin Freeman led movie Shawshank Redemption that the warden at Shawshank is bad news. Many would go as far as saying he is pure evil himself. Perhaps Shawshank State Penitentiary makes people evil. The walls of the building itself vibrate with a kind of malevolence that gets inside all who have power there. It would certainly explain Warden Norton’s behavior and could explain what happened with the caging in the water cooler. If there is an outside force whispering in the ears of those who live and work there it could employ all kinds of techniques to manipulate and persuade people to do its bidding. Warden Lacy gives the appearance of being a kind, moral man despite the caging. His wife (Francis Conroy) even alludes to both the couples desire to keep his work out of their personal home and his belief in redemption which he calls grace. Unless he is hiding one mother of a heinous secret he is a good man who has either been corrupted by the prison or something that lives there or he is convinced that he is in a life or death struggle with the Devil himself. Given the way he kills himself it is likely he realized has been doing something terrible forever and simply can’t live with himself anymore. A man that righteous would not simply walk away from a charge as important as saving the town (world) from evil. He purposely gave “The Kid” Henry’s name knowing he was a defender of those imprisoned. In Warden Lacy’s narration he tells of all the blood spilled in Castle Rock and his own house. This is a haunted man who now realizes he has been doing work for the Devil as opposed to against the Devil.
4.”The Kid” (Bill Skarsgard) is not the evil entity we are led to believe but in reality something completely different. This one has many possibilities and all of them fairly horrific. This is also the theory that requires the largest divergence from what is generally believed at the moment. You have to buy in completely to the theory above as it relies heavily on Warden Lacy being used for nefarious purposes. It is still possible for the warden to be acting on his own free will in kind of a Purge sort of way where he allows himself to vent off the worst of his sadistic urges by kidnapping Skarsgard but more likely this is something he was tricked into. Warden Lacy appears to have had a major change of opinion on the mystery man and seems to giving him the name of a man who would fight to free him. The mysterious inmate is either just a random person who was kidnapped and held hostage all this time by Warden Lacy or he is the opposite of evil and is an angel. The evil within the prison/town is so intent on keeping its power and control it convinces the warden to hold hostage the very thing that could impact the town the most for good. We see the Warden build a cage and initially house “The Kid” in the water tank when Warden Lacy is much younger and yet Skarsgard does not age a day. There must be something supernatural keeping him from aging all this time. The other large question is how could Warden Lacy capture and cage someone so much younger and possessing of such evil power? If “The Kid” either does not know he is an angel, or knows and chooses to be a martyr rather than hurt the warden the theory would fit. One other really horrible possibility exists and he could be Randall Flagg better known as the Man in Black from The Dark Tower stories. He is known to be supremely patient and content to play the longest game in history to get what he wants. He evidently has the ability to “glammer” the guards so that fits as well, or it could be the prison acting out.
Whether you agree with any of the possibilities above you have to admit it is fun to imagine what could be. With Westworld wrapped for the season and Channel Zero and American Horror Story not returning for several more months this is the needed obsession we all had hoped for.
If you are a fan of any of King’s previous work you know all the stories have similarities. Childhood traumas, supernatural elements often abilities in some of the characters, past wrongs coming to roost and good people who find themselves in terrible situations with no idea how it happened. His cinematic work is no exception and unfortunately not all his scripted work has been as well received as the bulk of his work. The brilliant but much under-appreciated Kingdom Hospital was a series before it’s time. Written by Stephen and Tabitha King and Richard Dooling and adapted from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier’s miniseries it ran just three seasons from 2007-2010 and featured much the same eerie imagery, mysterious appearances and longstanding folklore. It had many similarities with Castle Rock as there were odd people everywhere working desperately to solve a mystery and save good people. All thirteen episodes are available on Amazon right now and they are well worth your time while you wait for next week’s Castle Rock. Let’s hope with JJ Abrams on board things will not go down the same abandoned road. If an anteater shows up at some point in Castle Rock you know we are in trouble.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.