Castle Rock season 2's protagonist is none other than Annie Wilkes, the villain of Stephen King's novel Misery. Annie was famously played by Kathy Bates in Rob Reiner's 1990 film adaptation of the novel, and Bates went on to win an Oscar for her terrifying and hilarious portrayal of the Good Samaritan who turns out to be an unhinged killer. Castle Rock, however, isn't a direct adaptation of any particular King novel, but an original story set in the world that King created - and Lizzy Caplan's portrayal of Annie Wilkes has some major differences.
As an anthology series, Castle Rock season 2 starts fresh with a new story and characters - albeit in the same town as season 1. This time the action takes place in both Castle Rock and its neighboring town, Jerusalem's Lot (the setting of King's vampire novel Salem's Lot). After 15 years of roaming, a car crash strands Annie Wilkes and her daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher) in Jerusalem's Lot, amid a simmering conflict between the local Somalian community and shady business operator Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks).
The similarities between Bates and Caplan's versions of Annie Wilkes are immediately apparent, from their clothing to their hairstyles, but Castle Rock's Annie Wilkes is framed very differently within the story. Here's a comparison of the two takes on the character, and how they differ.
Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes in Misery
Based on King's 1987 novel of the same name, Misery stars James Caan as Paul Sheldon, a highly successful author who has built his career on a series of period romance novels about a woman called Misery Chastain. Having grown tired of the franchise, Paul killed off Misery in his newest novel by having her die in childbirth, and has just finished writing a new, original novel at his usual writing retreat: a hotel in Silver Creek, Colorado. While attempting to drive home in a blizzard, he crashes his car and is rescued by his "number one fan," Annie Wilkes, who saw the crash because she was stalking him.
Annie at first appears to just be a nice lady doing a good deed, but the film gradually reveals her true nature and chilling backstory. Annie was a maternity nurse who began killing the babies in her care, until eventually she was tried in court for their deaths. She was never convicted due to a lack of evidence, but keeps a photo album with newspaper clippings dating back to her very first crime: murdering her father at the age of 11 by pushing him down the stairs. She also murdered her college roommate, as well as other patients in her care, and ultimately plans to kill Paul as well in a murder-suicide. Annie has a litany of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder that causes her to suffer depressive episodes - especially when it rains.
The Annie Wilkes in Misery alternates between acting like a sweet middle-aged lady and having episodes of extreme rage triggered by everything from being cut off in traffic to Paul asking her to get a different kind of typewriter paper. Though she is obsessed with romance novels and falls in love with Paul, she doesn't appear to have any interest in sex and is disgusted by any kind of profanity, instead using words like "cockadoodie" to express her anger. She dresses very conservatively in heavy layers, always wears a cross around her neck, and loves little trinkets and Liberace records. So, how does Caplan's take on the character compare?
Lizzy Caplan's Annie Wilkes in Castle Rock
Annie Wilkes being the protagonist of Castle Rock positions her as a much more sympathetic character, though her dark past is teased from the very start of the series, when we see a bloodstained young Annie fleeing from something terrible she has done. However, unlike Bates' version of the character, Caplan's Annie is desperate to try and maintain her mental health, and has figured out a "recipe" of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs that keep her stable. She acquires this drugs by working in temporary nursing jobs at different hospitals around the country, raiding their pharmacies, and then fleeing before anyone finds out what she has done.
The reason Annie is so desperate to stay sane is her daughter, Joy. As should be obvious right away, Joy's name is the opposite of Misery, and Annie cares for her more than anything else in the world, desperate to keep her safe and protected - even if it means lying to her. It's implied from the very start that Joy may not actually be Annie's daughter; in a flashback, we see that young Annie ran away with baby Joy during the incident that left her covered in blood, and Annie also suffers hallucinations of a bloodied dead man.
On a superficial level, Caplan's Annie Wilkes has a lot in common with Bates' version: she wears lots of layers, including shirts under her nursing scrubs, and wears the same cross around her neck. She has a profound mistrust of men, and refers to Ace Merrill as a "dirty birdy" (one of her favorite phrases from the book and film). She also hates foul language, instead sticking to words like "oogy" and "cockadoodie," and saying "Christmas!" when shocked by something. But the biggest difference between Castle Rock's Annie and Misery's Annie is that in Castle Rock, Annie is terrified far more often than she is terrifying.
Annie Wilkes' New Backstory in Castle Rock
Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Castle Rock season 2, episode 5.
After being teased in brief flashbacks, Annie's history is finally revealed in episode 5, "The Laughing Place." As in the novel, Annie grew up in Bakersfield, California. However, instead of Paul Sheldon the author in her life was her own father, who used her home-schooling as an opportunity to have her edit and digitize his novel, "The Ravening Angel." Her father was unemployed and had a terrible relationship with her overbearing mother, a dental nurse from whom Annie learned vocabulary like "cockadoodie." Annie was dyslexic, something that her father's lessons couldn't fix, and so her mother hired a tutor called Rita to get her ready for the GED.
Rita became pregnant while teaching Annie, and one day Annie's mother drove into a lake with Annie in the passenger seat. Annie survived, and learned that Rita was actually pregnant with her father's baby. Yes, Joy is actually Annie's half-sister, not her daughter. After Annie's mother died, Rita moved in - much to Annie's anger - and Annie's father finally completed his novel, dedicating it to Rita instead of Annie. This was the last straw for Annie, who kicked her father down the stairs and left him impaled on the railings, before stabbing Rita and taking baby Joy (then called Evangeline) to the lake to drown her. However, when baby Joy laughed, Annie had a change of heart and decided to go on the run with her instead.
Will Castle Rock Redeem Annie Wilkes?
In Misery, Annie Wilkes is only ever seen as Paul Sheldon's captor, and as such cuts a terrifying figure throughout the film. However, in Castle Rock Annie is running scared - from her past, from Ace Merrill, and from her own mental illness. At one point in the show there's even a complete role reversal, in which Annie is tied to a bed and forced to take pills, just like she did to Paul Sheldon in the novel and film. Moreover, instead of being at the absolute center of the story like she was in Misery, she has instead stumbled into a town where evil things are happening that have nothing to do with her.
Unlike the Annie Wilkes of the novel and movie, Caplan's Annie has (as far as we know) only killed two people: her father, and Ace Merrill (who has since been brought back to life by some sinister force). She never committed the heinous crimes of murdering babies, and doesn't appear to harbor the same level of rage as Bates' Annie. She has been on the run with Joy since she was very young, and has been trying to stay on her medication during that time. Castle Rock is essentially a "what if" take on Misery, looking at what might have happened if Annie Wilkes had actually found a person she cared about.
A major theme in "The Laughing Place" is redemption. Young Annie unwittingly condemns her father's self-insert character for being a cheater, and says that she should make him even worse so that he's easier to hate - even though he tells her that most people are a mix of good and bad. She has similar strong feelings about Pinocchio, angry that he is redeemed at the end of the story despite being a liar. Now that we know the terrible thing Annie herself did, there's a possibility that Castle Rock will give her a chance at redemption as well - which would definitely be the biggest change from the Annie Wilkes that terrified audiences in Misery.