This Castle Rock article contains spoilers.
Castle Rock came to an end this week with a solid episode that gives us answers to some of our questions while leaving quite a few things left open to interpretation. I’ll be honest right up front that I’m still not sure about the Kid. Is he truly evil? Is he being manipulated by a darker force? Is this all in Henry’s head? The season finale doesn’t give its viewers the easy way out. Instead, we’re left to decide on our own through the evidence presented. I can only give you my thoughts on the mysterious events that transpired in the cursed town of Castle Rock over 10 episodes, but it’s quite possible that you’ll have a completely different interpretation. As showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason explained to EW, it’s really up to the audience to decide.
I, for one, like a messy ending that doesn’t give you every answer you want. “Messy” is perhaps the best way to describe the final moments of “Romans.” Although it starts off a bit slow, there’s a point in the season finale when it becomes all forward motion, full steam ahead to the credits. It’s the most efficient way to get to the truth about Henry’s involvement in his father’s death, the one question the episode does directly answer, while skipping past many of the other mysteries the show set up throughout the season, such as the origin of the Schisma and the voice of God.
Concerning Henry, we learn that he did, in fact, play a part in ending the reverend’s life, although the truth is more complicated than what some of the people in town would have you believe. While it’s true that Henry pushed Reverend Deaver off of that cliff, it’s in an attempt to save his mother, whom the reverend plans to kill “for her sins.” The sin in question is adultery, of course. Ruth has been trysting with Sheriff Pangborn and Matthew knows about it.
When the reverend tells Henry about his horrific plan, the boy decides to take action, running away from his father and deeper into the woods where the mentally ill clergyman says he can hear the voice of God. He reaches a cliff that looks over the frozen lake and then, in a nod to The Shining‘s climax, retraces his steps in the snow to throw his father off his trail. When the reverend reaches the cliff, Henry sneaks up behind him and pushes him off. The last we see of the reverend is his limp body on the ice.
We know that’s not the end of the story, though. Henry later wills Molly Strand through the shining to sneak into the Deaver house and pull the plug on the reverend’s life support, an event that Ruth witnesses from her bed but does nothing to stop. The reverend’s death is a relief to all involved, it seems.
Henry’s first attempt to kill his father is also what triggers the Schisma to transport him to the alternate universe. We know this because it’s only after looking at his crippled father down below that Henry can hear the screeching sound associated with the portal/voice of God. Then Henry is gone, the cliff left only with a memory to be unlocked years later.
Things aren’t as clear-cut when it comes to the Schisma/voice of God mystery. My best guess is that the Schisma is actually a “thinny,” a rip in the fabric of reality that appears in a few of Stephen King’s stories. These portals into other worlds were first given a name in The Dark Tower series, although they’re also the cause of the gruesome events in the novella “The Mist” in which monsters from another dimension (Todash space) cross into a doomed Maine town.
A thinny doesn’t just act as a portal, though. On top of the shrill soundwave it emits, it can also speak to people and lure them into passing through it and into parts unknown or to certain death. This break in reality can also twist a person’s mind, convince them to do what it wants. In The Dark Tower series, gunslinging protagonist Roland Deschain is tempted by thinnies at several points in his journey to the Tower. They tell him to give up his journey and “be at peace,” something he desperately wants.
In the case of the reverend and Warden Dale Lacy, it’s no coincidence that both men talk about searching for purpose in the service of God throughout the series, and the thinny tricks them into a false purpose: to trap the devil. The reason both men are tasked by the “voice of God” to build cages for the Henrys remains unclear. Why do they both interpret Henry as the devil?
One possible explanation is that the thinny is aware of the chaos each Henry could cause when in the opposite universe. We witness at several points how death follows the Kid, from the mass shooting at Shawshank to the massacre at the police station. It’s teased that little Henry also has this power and that it’s what eventually compels the reverend from the alternate universe to kill himself. It might also be what makes Officer Zalewski kill Alternate Molly, although that’s a bit more of a stretch since it doesn’t look like the policeman ever aimed his gun at her.
The thinny, being an inherently evil force, wants to keep each Henry trapped in the wrong universe in order to bring death and destruction to both versions of the town, so it convinces Lacy and the reverend to cage them. Of course, that still doesn’t explain how the Henrys got their powers in the first place, and I doubt we’ll ever get an answer to that question. My guess is that passing through the thinny activated the power lying dormant inside them (like how Carrie White’s first period activated her telekinetic abilities).
The Kid remains the biggest mystery of all. Since the season finale dropped on Wednesday, fans can’t seem to agree on whether the Kid was evil or a victim of forces beyond his control. I wrote in my own review that it was clear that the Kid had become a villain by the end of the episode. Some readers aren’t convinced, though. What I’ll say is that “Romans” never definitively goes one way or the other, switching instead between the victim and the villain from scene to scene.
The closest I can get to an answer is that the Kid was turned evil by his desire to escape his cage. We first see him act out when he compels Dennis Zalewski to shoot down his fellow guards at Shawshank, which leads to the Kid’s release. Zalewski, while frustrated with the other guards at the prison as well as the institution’s disregard for basic human rights, didn’t really strike me as someone who would commit such a terrible act. He was married, he had a child on the way, he hoped to be a lawyer once he helped close down Shawshank. It wasn’t until he fist bumped the Kid in a moment of kindness and reassurance that Zalewski began to withdraw and eventually pulled a gun on his coworkers.
Through his touch, the Kid seemed to feed that desire in Zalewski’s mind to make things right, to be a better person, and perhaps even to punish himself for being complicit in the day-to-day treatment of the prisoners by not speaking up. That Zalewski decides to take drastic measures to stop Shawshank, a place I also agree can fuck right off although not by such horrible means, is a result of the Kid’s influence inside his head, the same influence the Schisma/thinny has on some of the other characters.
Zalewski couldn’t hear the Schisma, though. So what was the connection between the Kid’s powers and the thinny’s? Here’s where things get really confusing. After the Kid creates a riot inside the police station that leaves several officers as well as Rory Culkin’s Willie (and WHO PUT THAT SCREWDRIVER THROUGH ODIN’S EAR?) dead, it’s very clear that he knows how to wield his power and is happy to use it to escape. Up until that point, the Kid’s power had been portrayed as something closer to a curse. Even as he watched a birthday party devolve into a murder scene earlier in the season, we were left to question whether he meant for those things to happen or if death just followed him wherever he went.
The answer is more complicated than whether he did or didn’t want to get those people killed. It’s more likely that the Kid eventually realized that his power was his ticket back to his own universe and he decided to use it. He was so desperate to get home, back to his wife (who may have been pregnant in “Henry Deaver”), that he was willing to give into his power, to become the monster everyone expected him to be. The Kid was a victim who was turned into a villain through years of abuse. What will really keep you up at night is whether the Kid was acting of his own accord or on behalf of the Schisma in the end, tricked into sending Castle Rock into chaos by a false sense of hope.
I have to say that part of the mystery behind the Kid may actually be a result of the ill-defined rules surrounding his power. At times, the Kid seems to be able to influence others by simply being around them. On the other hand, Lacy and Henry both wear gloves around the Kid and refuse to touch him. The one time Lacy does touch the Kid is what leads to his gruesome suicide in the woods. Something even more freaky happens inside the warden’s home when ill-fated couple Gordon and Lilith find Lacy’s paintings of the Kid in the basement. Not long after finding the freaky portraits, Gordon murders the first two guests of his true crime bed and breakfast (which Jackie Torrance totally thought of first!) and Lilith helps dispose of the bodies.
So, even the mere image of the Kid is enough to get you to start chopping people up? I’m sorry, but the rules don’t really make sense — or rather, Castle Rock is happy to throw as much at viewers as it can to further blur the facts. Not that there aren’t King villains who have this sort of strange influence over others (Randall Flagg and the Crimson King come to mind), but the way their powers work aren’t quite as hard to figure out. We’re not even sure if the Kid has some kind of supernatural origin…
While there’s really no reason to doubt the Kid’s story — that he became trapped in this universe while trying to help Henry escape from his own — the episode’s climactic moment in the woods even throws that into question. Why the hell did the Kid’s face change like that? We only see the Kid’s wrinkled face for a second, right after Henry tackled him to the ground, but it’s enough to convince Henry that he needs to put the Kid back in the vault.
Regardless of whether this sudden transformation means that the Kid really is a monster — or at the very least, a supernatural creature — or not…is that the reverend’s shrieking face? It might be due to the somewhat questionable CG used in the scene but it really looks like the Kid’s face suddenly turns into the reverend’s (although more wrinkled and dead). This is another point when the show just seems to throw something at the audience just throw us off the scent. It could be that Castle Rock wants to avoid answering any questions about the Kid, or could it actually be a clue as to what’s happening to Henry in the final minutes of the finale?
Where It All Started
The episode abruptly time jumps to one year later. We never see what happened after Henry got hold of the gun, but we know that he eventually got the Kid back into the vault where Lacy and Alan believed he belonged. They might be right since Castle Rock seems to be at peace once again, which must bore the hell out of nostalgic and morbid Jackie.
Henry has reunited with Wendell and they seem closer than ever. He’s also left his career as a death row lawyer behind, opting to specialize in real estate law instead. Molly took Henry’s advice and has moved away from Castle Rock to start a new life elsewhere (she’s staying with her grandma). Ruth has passed, buried with the man she loved. (I really wish we’d been able to spend more time with Ruth in the finale. Sissy Spacek is the series highlight.) Jackie decides to take up horror writing and has a particular taste for scenes involving axes. (There’s actually a lot to unpack regarding Jackie’s mid-credits teaser, but that’s for another time.)
The episode’s final scene takes place inside the vault where Henry has assumed his father and Lacy’s role as the devil’s keeper. It’s shocking to see Henry inheriting his own father’s sick legacy. Does Henry remember his own captivity? Has he dealt with his own trauma? It seems that Henry has instead given into the same cycle of abuse that transformed the Kid, except now he’s the one with the cage and the leather gloves and the secret. Henry has become the jailer.
Whatever you choose to believe, Henry has chosen to believe what Lacy and the reverend believed, that the devil is a boy and that he must be caged. Henry may think he found purpose out in the woods, but might it be something else (something with the face of his father) whispering in his ear? The Kid smiles as the story ends because he knows the answer but he’s not telling.