In season 2 of Castle Rock, premiering on Hulu on October 23, Annie Wilkes gets a new look – and a new story. Though Castle Rock is set in the modern day, think of it as a prologue to the events of Misery. Lizzy Caplan plays a younger version of Annie. This is the story of how Annie Wilkes became a killer.
Until now, that smile has been most commonly been associated with Kathy Bates’ broad grin. Bates won an Academy Award for Best Actress for playing Annie in the 1990 movie Misery, based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel of the same name. (It remains the only Academy Award a film based on a Stephen King novel has ever won.)
Annie Wilkes is one of Stephen King’s most terrifying characters. The axe-wielding, novel-reading nurse may even be scarier than Pennywise, King’s famous shape-shifting, time-traveling force of evil in IT. As opposed to King’s supernatural villains, the terror of Annie lies in her humanity. She commits acts of atrocity with a cheery smile.
Here’s everything you need to know about Misery, Annie’s place in the Stephen King universe, and why you should be very, very afraid.
Who is Annie Wilkes, and what makes her so terrifying?
Annie Wilkes is the villain of King’s 1987 book Misery. She’s many things: a captor, a killer, an obsessed fan, and completely unforgettable.
When Misery opens, Annie is living in a remote cabin in Colorado, trying to escape her past.
Annie has a lot to run from: She’s been murdering people since she was 11. In her youth, Annie killed her father, former neighbors, a college roommate, and a hitchhiker. Then, she used her nursing gig as an avenue for murder. Annie would “put down” elderly people and babies.
Annie almost got caught while she was head nurse of the maternity ward in a Boulder, CO hospital, and several infants died under her care, bringing the total death count to about 70. She was tried for their deaths but acquitted.
Even before knowing the specifics of her history, Annie is a disquieting presence. “Having a conversation with Annie Wilkes is like hearing a song that’s out of key,” King writes of Annie in Misery. In just one sentence, King captures her unnerving character. Annie seems nice, at first — but something’s off. By the time Paul Sheldon of Misery realizes that she’s troubled, he’s already trapped in her house.
What is Misery about?
Misery is a taut, gripping, cat-and-mouse game set over a few weeks in a remote Colorado cabin. It’s also every writer’s worst nightmare.
Paul Sheldon is the author of a series of historical romance novels about the character Misery Chastain. Paul, unfortunately, crashes his car during a snowstorm in Colorado and breaks both legs.
That’s only the start of his bad luck. Paul’s savior is Annie Wilkes, who also happens to be his self-proclaimed “number one fan.” While Annie nurses him back to health, he lets her read his newest manuscript, Fast Cars.
Annie is enraged to learn that Paul plans to kill off Misery in his next book. That simply won’t do. Annie buys Paul a new typewriter and forces him to write a triumphant sequel, Misery’s Return. Unable to escape, Paul is at the mercy of Annie’s volatile whims, which include breaking his ankles and chopping off his foot. He’s completely helpless as she kills the policeman who comes looking for the “missing author.”
Paul has to face Annie on his own, then. After finishing Misery’s Return, Paul lures Annie into the room. He burns the manuscript and kills her.
What does Castle Rock add to Annie’s backstory?
Castle Rock introduces us to a younger Annie. At this point, Annie is working as a nurse and raising her daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher). Annie and Joy live an itinerant lifestyle, driving from state to state. Clearly, they’re running from something — but what?
Annie definitely appears to be mentally ill. However, unlike in Misery, where she’s completely unhinged, Annie is still trying to maintain equilibrium. She manages her mood with anti-psychotic pills, which she collects on the job.
How does Castle Rock connect to Misery?
Caplan saw her Castle Rock version of Annie as a direct precursor to Bates’ in Misery. “Even though the situations that she finds herself in are very, very different than anything you would imagine in just watching the film, I wanted to have our Annie feasibly be able to become that Annie in the future,” Caplan told Variety.
So, when developing the character, Caplan deliberately tried to emulate Bates’ performance. “I wanted to have a few shades to quite a few shades of her performance in my own just so it felt like our Annie Wilkes could grow into hers,” Caplan continued.
Where else does Annie appear into the Stephen King universe?
Is Annie based on a real person?
Not quite. In a 2006 interview with The Paris Review, King said that his struggle with addiction inspired Misery. “I was having such a tough time with dope, then. I knew what I was writing about. There was never any question. Annie was my drug problem. My ‘number one fan’. And she never wanted to leave,” King said.
But there is a real-life figure that resembles Annie. In 1984, Texas nurse Genene Ann Jones was tried and convicted for killing two children on the job. During the trial, it was revealed that Jones would frequently inject infants with a lethal amount of drugs, in order to be called a hero when she saved them. But she couldn’t always save them. Jones was responsible for up to 46 infant deaths.
See what we meant about Annie Wilkes’ humanity being the scariest part? Unlike IT, who lives (and hunts) in the realm of imagination, Annie could almost be real.