Season 2 of Castle Rock, Hulu's Stephen King-derived anthology series, follows one of King's most memorable creations, Misery's Annie Wilkes, the unhinged nurse who famously "hobbled" author Paul Sheldon. It's a different version of Annie — she's younger (played by Lizzy Caplan), has a daughter named Joy (Elsie Fisher), and has not yet settled in Colorado, where the 1987 novel and subsequent 1990 film adaptation were set — but she has the same peculiar manner of speaking and violent temper as the Annie Wilkes so memorably portrayed by Kathy Bates in the movie. Castle Rock's Annie travels around the country with Joy, stealing anti-psychotic medicine from hospitals and never staying in any place for too long, because they're on the run from something that becomes clear as the season unfolds. The story starts when Annie crashes her SUV just outside of Castle Rock.
Misery was set well outside of the show's Castle Rock, Maine, region, so it took some outside-the-box thinking for executive producers Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw to get her there. Thomason told TV Guide that Annie Wilkes-in-Castle Rock was one of the first ideas they had for the show. They chose not to do it in Season 1, but for the second season they decided to send her on her journey from her hometown of Bakersfield to the East Coast. "It was always the idea that we were going to take, if we could, this big, iconic villainess and try to redefine her story in Castle Rock," Thomason said.
The show goes much deeper into the character of Annie Wilkes than even King went, because the story is told from her perspective. "Point of view in Stephen's stories is so important," Thomason said. "In Misery, it's really all Paul Sheldon's point of view. So we really were fascinated by the idea of what happens if you turn that on its end and give her a point of view, and what story emerges out of that. What are her struggles? And that was kind of the basis of the story." The show give Annie an origin story and makes her a more complex character, so that even if she's not exactly sympathetic, you understand what made her the way she is.
Castle Rock Season 2 is set after the events of Season 1 and isn't directly connected to that story, but it may intersect with that story in surprising ways. "I hope that part of the joy of this season and seasons to come is sort of waiting for those moments of connection and starting to understand how they all sort of weave together," Thomason said.
The world of the show gets bigger in Season 2, which is set in Castle Rock and nearby Jerusalem's Lot. The production returned to Orange, Mass., which stands in for Castle Rock, and also expanded into Gardner, about a half-hour away, which serves as 'Salem's Lot. Thomason said that Gardner is more of a city than Orange is, in the same way that 'Salem's Lot is bigger and has a higher population density than Castle Rock does. 'Salem's Lot is home to a Somali community that plays a pivotal role in Season 2 of Castle Rock. The tension between the town's Somali residents, who came there as refugees starting in the '90s, and some of the town's white residents, who have lived there for generations and resent the newcomers for doing better than them, gives the season a sociopolitical angle that's becoming one of Castle Rock's signatures.
"The death of the American small town is definitely a kind of core idea of Castle Rock," Thomason said. "In Season 1, it's the private prison supporting the town and being the only employer. In Season 2, and this is a [true thing] about Maine, which is that there are these pockets of Somalis who live in these small towns in Maine and they've turned these kind of dying small towns into these vibrant city centers full of culture and economic opportunity. And so to me that was kind of a fascinating idea to kind of look at how, in the whitest state in America, people experience that fact."
Castle Rock premieres Wednesday, Oct. 23 on Hulu.