From the moment Bill Skarsgard’s gaunt face appeared in Castle Rock teasers nearly a year ago, I was voting for Pennywise. There’s no way the actor would sign on to another Stephen King-related project so soon, I reasoned, unless he was playing the evil, eternal shapeshifter from IT in some form again. Fast forward to today, in the wake of the enigmatic series’ first season finale–an at times vague hour that was both shiver-inducing and frustrating–and I still don’t know whether I’m right or not.
Since the series debut earlier this summer, fan theories have overtaken the internet, with viewers guessing that the Kid, Skarsgard’s unnamed, nearly silent, apparently ageless character, is either Pennywise, Randall Flagg (the lead antagonist of The Dark Tower and The Stand), the devil incarnate, or some mirror version of protagonist Henry Deaver (Andre Holland) himself.
So seriously, who is the Kid?
This is the tough, uneasy question around which the series’ entire debut season evolves, and the answer is just as tangled and tricky. As with many great existential horror stories before it, Castle Rock’s conclusion requires a choice between faith and logic–or in this case, between the Kid’s incredible story and the mounting pile of evidence (and bodies) that works against it.
If you believe the Kid himself (Bill Skarsgard), he is an alternate version of Henry Deaver who accidentally crossed over into the prime Castle Rock timeline in what we perceive as 1991. This Henry, played by Skarsgard with a warmth that’s disarming after so many episodes spent focused on his hollow stare, is happy. He’s an Alzheimer’s researcher who is trying to start a family until Scott Glenn’s Alan (who in this timeline absconded with Sissy Spacek’s Ruth, leaving town and taking Henry with him when he was a child) calls to tell Henry that his father has died. In this timeline, Henry’s dad is the paranoid Warden Lacey of it all, while the Kid/Henry himself seems to be–if his lingering around the grave in the finale is any indication–a surviving version of the stillborn child our Henry referenced earlier in the season.
At any rate, the Kid seems to think that he’s been displaced into the wrong timeline thanks to whatever force is behind the “schisma,” that mystical sound that select people keep hearing in the woods. When he crossed over, Warden Lacey (Terry O’Quinn) found him and, believing him to be the devil and the cause of Castle Rock’s misfortune, trapped him in a hole in Shawshank prison for 27 years. The Kid is certainly responsible for dozens if not hundreds of gruesome deaths over the course of the first season, and if you believe his story (as intuitive Molly did), this is merely a disturbing side effect of his quantum displacement.
However, “Romans” sews seeds of doubt about this story that see it through to its disturbing conclusion. When Henry and the Kid get stuck in a jail cell, the latter purposely leads a group of violent inmates into the cell next door after guiding them there with a virtual Rube Goldberg machine of unlucky circumstances. He then, with just a meaningful flicker of his eyes, instigates a massive brawl and shootout that kills everyone around the two men, leaving them unharmed. Where his past involvement in tragedies and violence seemed at times somehow accidental, framed as a source of confusion or anxiety for the Kid, this time he seems to revel in the mayhem.
And then there’s that pesky monster shot. In the series’ final present-day scene, Henry confronts the Kid in the forest, a location the Kid apparently chose because it’s where he crossed into this timeline in the past. When Henry gains the upper hand, the Kid lets out an otherworldly howl, and his face briefly transforms into an inhuman mask. This is all the evidence Henry needs, and in a cut to the future, we see that he’s become the new Lacey, visiting the Kid at the now-deserted Shawshank where he’s secretly locked him once more in his original cage.
All of this evidence is complicated even more by two relatively under-the-radar moments in the finale. First, Ruth (Sissy Spacek) stands on a bridge, poised to hurtle herself off of it. When Molly (Melanie Lynskey) intervenes, Ruth mentions that the two have lived through this moment many times before and will many times again. This is in line with past statements she’s made, and could easily be a sign of her sundowning lucidity. Except that this time, Molly tells her a fragment of the Kid’s story about her alternate life, to which Ruth responds “First time you’ve said that.” If this doesn’t indicate that there’s something to the Kid’s string theory narrative (which was actually first introduced by C.J. Jones’ Odin in episode six), her later question may. “Where’s the queen?” Ruth asks Henry when they meet the next day. She’s unable to find one of the chess pieces that acts as her Inception-esque totem when she loses time. We know that she left it when she reunited with Alan at the end of “The Queen,” but until this moment, viewers likely assumed this was a memory. If the queen is really gone, who’s to say where or when in the universe(s) we are?
Back to the Kid: there are a few possibilities. Either he’s some immortal evil being or a cursed soul who wandered too far from his original timeline and paid the price, or else something else entirely. Just as he tells Henry in the final scene, there are doubts. I can’t imagine Castle Rock’s showrunners would invest in a mind-blowing hour of mythology as they did with “Henry Deaver” and then invalidate it in the very next episode. The penultimate episode’s forest scene in particular, which teased other climactic, horrific moments in Castle Rock history, felt too rich with potential to be a one-off moment.
Henry must feel these doubts too since the Bible verse the episode title refers to–”The wages of sin is death”–sits in stark contrast to his inability to kill the Kid. If he were positive that the Kid was the devil (or some incarnation thereof), wouldn’t he have ended the cycle of violence permanently, as he did with his psychotic father? On the other hand, we’ve got the aforementioned death and destruction, a canon-significant 27-year cycle, and a vision of Castle Rock that seems decidedly less dreary with the Kid locked up. Perhaps what matters most is that Henry has been ground down to the man we see at this moment, ruled by the same superstitious fear that he scoffed away at the series’ start. We’re left with no sure answer. Instead, we get the Kid’s brittle, shadowy grin and glistening eyes, and the echoing roar of the “voice of God.”