'Castle Rock': Who Is the Kid in the Cage in Shawshank's Cell Block F?
Is he even a "man"?
Most Stephen King stories are more or less clear-cut adaptations where answers to a show or movie’s greatest mysteries can be found in books or short stories. But because Hulu’s Castle Rock is a completely original story, there’s no easy way to get answers to the biggest questions.
So who exactly is Bill Skarsgård’s peculiar man who was locked down in cell block F of Shawshank Prison for an undisclosed amount of time?
The first three Castle Rock episodes are tantalizingly light on concrete details, but you don’t have to be an evil-fighting police detective to know that something isn’t right with Skarsgård’s character, who’s sometimes referred to as “The Kid” or simply “Shawshank Prisoner.”
The main narrative thrust of Castle Rock kicks off with the horrific suicide of Shawshank Warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn). His successor (Ann Cusack) decides to reopen the long-abandoned cell block F, which has been unoccupied for some 30 odd years, where prison staff finds Skarsgård’s character in a special kind of cage.
Things only get weirder from there.
What We Know About the Kid in the Cage
Aspects of Castle Rock’s story present Warden Dale Lacy and former sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) as two noble protectors of the creepy town. Both are fighting for the side of “Good” in much the same way that a small gang of men defended Twin Peaks in that other supernaturally-charged mystery series. We’re led to assume that Skarsgård’s character represents the flip side to that: a being of pure evil that Lacy imprisoned to protect their town.
But who’s to say what’s the truth here?
In a conversation with Inverse, co-showrunner Dustin Thomason implied that the viewer ought to simultaneously feel sympathy and fear towards the Kid, saying, “Part of the early thrust of the season we’re presenting our characters and the audience with the inexplicable discovery of this kid in the bowels of Shawshank and leading the audience to draw their own conclusions about Bill’s character and whether he’s a force for good or evil. Whether he’s a victim, whether he’s a monster.”
Similarly, co-showrunner Sam Shaw said the same applies to Lacy’s character. He added: “His motivations for what part he has played in this clusterfuck is going to continue to be a question that we search for answers to.”
Good and evil often sound like a clear-cut binary, but it’s also one often filtered through a subjective lens. Lacy and Pangborn claim they’re the good guys, but what if they’re not?
What Are the Kid’s “Powers”?
In one of the first scenes from Episode 2, prison guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher) watches the security camera feed from inside Shawshank. He sees the Kid wander out of his cell and stare directly at a camera. Suddenly, lights across the prison flicker and he sees every other prison guard dead having been brutally murdered and with blood everywhere. Zalewski almost shoots another guard while prowling around in the dark looking for the Kid.
We quickly learn that Zalewski hallucinates the whole thing, but is it due to stress or some kind of magical influence from the Kid? Can he manipulate people’s perception at will?
Later on, the Kid warns his menacing new cellmate not to touch him, and before you know it, the guy dies from tons of cancer that seemingly invaded his body from nowhere.
We never really learn why the Kid has some weird fixation with Zalewski, but that may come to light further into the series.
Is the Kid the “Devil”?
Pangborn confronts the new prison warden in a hotel bar midway through Episode 2 and drones on about how he pulled over Warden Lacy years ago while on duty as a local police officer.
“That night, he told me he had finally figured out what was wrong with Castle Rock,” Pangborn says of Lacy. “He said he had always thought the devil was just a metaphor, but now he knew the Devil was a boy, and old Dale said he’d caught ‘em, had locked the Devil in a box.”
By Episode 2, we learn via flashbacks and narration from the deceased Warden Lacy that God answered his prayers and gave him a purpose. “He told me where to find him, how his prison should be built, how to put an end to all the horrors we’ve seen in this town,” Lacy said via a letter to Pangborn.
These signs seem to indicate that both Pangborn and Lacy at the very least believe that the Kid is the Devil incarnate. But given the Kid’s peculiar behavior — like a wounded child raised in captivity that doesn’t know how to behave in the human world — if he is the Devil, then he probably has no idea either.
One thing’s for sure: Bad things will probably happen if the Kid ever actually gets beyond the walls of Shawshank State Prison.
Additional reporting by James Grebey.