[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the finale of Castle Rock, "Clean." Read at your own risk!]
Throughout its second season, Castle Rock treated audiences to a grim new history of Annie Wilkes (portrayed by Lizzy Caplan in this iteration), and it was a dirty bird of a ride indeed. Sure, there were other Stephen King relics that got some new life during this stretch — particularly when it came to Pop (Tim Robbins) and Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks) — but Annie's grisly past was the natural centerpiece of Season 2, and Wednesday's finale treated it as such. After putting a pin (and some dynamite) in the uneven ghost cult plot, "Clean" finally bridged the gap between its new version of Annie Wilkes and the one we came to know and loathe in King's Misery (an Oscar-winning role for Kathy Bates in the 1990 adaptation of the book).
In the finale, Annie joined forces with Pop, Nadia (Yusra Warsama), Abdi (Barkhad Abdi), and Chance (Abby Corrigan) to rescue Joy (Elsie Fisher) from being permanently body-snatched before freeing the fellow townsfolk from their colonial zealot queen. Before Annie and Joy could set off for a new life, though, Annie tried to cheer Joy up by reading from a random book she found, and it just so happened to be Paul Sheldon's Misery's Quest, the story that would inspire her deadly obsession in Misery. Later, we got to see her take a seat at the author's public event and menacingly declare that she was his "number one fan," a phrase that would ultimately haunt him. Paul Sheldon would indeed dedicate a book to Annie Wilkes before it was all said and done, and she was well on her way to making that happen.
Castle Rock could've easily side-stepped such a direct connection to Misery. It was probably enough to see her develop an intense connection to favorite stories as a result of her unorthodox upbringing, and the genesis of her disgust for profanity and sexuality was also made plain by the flashbacks to her relationship with her mother. It also explained plenty that she spent her whole adult life on the run after kidnapping Joy and thus never truly received treatment or proper medications for her very serious mental illness. Yet, there was still something intensely satisfying about seeing her pick up Paul Sheldon's book for the first time and become so attached to the story of Misery Chastain; her "good beginning" review was also a clever wink to what we'd just experienced with her story. By the end, it felt like the missing piece had been placed as we watched Annie Wilkes' face darken during her first in-person encounter with Paul.
It was already likely that she would survive the undead army that she accidentally awakened in Castle Rock — it would be too much of a source material deviation to have her die off before she could torture poor Paul Sheldon, after all. Joy's outcome also seemed written, since there was no indication in the original story that Annie ever had a daughter (er, a sister whom she adopted after murdering her parents), let alone that the girl was still alive and was close to her during her brush with her favorite author. Annie was convinced Joy was an imposter and took her out to the lake to finish what she'd started all those years before when Joy was still baby Evangeline, submerging the child in water until she was done. We then watched as Annie discovered Joy's gloomy behavior was a byproduct of her secretly seeking emancipation from her, and she ran out to revive her. Thanks to the drugs she'd put in Joy's ice cream, the kid had no memory of Annie drowning her, so the two were finally free to enjoy their own little "laughing place" together.
However, the empty seat beside Annie at the book signing indicated Joy's survival was a figment of her imagination, and Annie's expression proved she would always be just one perceived slight away from hurting someone else the way she did her father, his mistress, and even her own child. She might have maligned the world at large for being dangerous and full of scoundrels, but Annie was always the real threat, especially to people she loved (read: wanted to control). That last shot made it clear that Paul was next... and now if you'll excuse us, we're warming up our copy of Misery to continue enjoying the story from here.
Castle Rock Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Hulu.
Edit: An earlier version of this article indicated that Joy survived the drowning attempt.