WARNING: Minor spoilers for Doctor Sleep.
The new Doctor Sleep movie addresses Wendy Torrance’s death, revealing what exactly happened to her after The Shining. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep is based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel, and serves as a sequel to both book and movie versions of The Shining.
Portrayed by Shelley Duvall, Wendy Torrance is a timid and anxious character in The Shining. When she moves to the Overlook Hotel with husband Jack (Jack Nicholson) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd), supernatural events slowly change the familial dynamics. The narrative implies that Wendy has experienced abuse, and she’s further victimized when Jack spirals out of control and chases her with an axe - one of The Shining’s most famous and frightening sequences. Wendy and Danny survive in The Shining, and their psychological trauma connects to Doctor Sleep’s premise about addiction and recovery.
Wendy’s fate was first revealed in the novel Doctor Sleep: she dies in 1999 from lung cancer. In the movie adaption, however, Flanagan holds back on specific details to create suspense. Doctor Sleep begins in Florida, with Wendy and Danny living a new life without Jack. Here, the premise is established, as a local girl is kidnapped and Danny sees the Room 237 ghost at the family home. Wendy’s early scenes in Doctor Sleep imply that she’s doing her best to move forward, and help set up the narrative transition that focuses on Danny’s alcoholism as an adult.
Doctor Sleeps builds to a climax at the Overlook Hotel, where Wendy’s death is referenced by character dialogue. Adult Dan converses with a ghost bartender who calls himself “Lloyd” (the same name as The Shining’s bartender), but the character is clearly the spirit of Jack Torrance. The two men discuss alcohol, or “medicine” as "Lloyd"calls it, and Dan states that Wendy died when he was only 20. He shames his father for not wanting to know more details about Wendy and the damaged he caused.
Wendy appears in early Doctor Sleep scenes, and also during scene re-creations from The Shining. As Dan roams the Overlook Hotel, he comes to the exact spot where Jack broke through a door and terrorized Wendy with an axe. Essoe briefly appears as the frightened Torrance mother, and Adult Dan proceeds to address the emotional trauma that he’d kept locked up for so many years. The ironic twist is that both The Shining (the novel) and Doctor Sleep (the movie) include big Overlook Hotel explosions; the cause of Wendy's cancer, presumably, and the foundation for Dan's symbolic strategy that connects to his father's fate in the original text.