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Throughout its marketing, Castle Rock appeared to be a huge amalgamation of King’s works into one massive universe that we’ve seen become increasingly popular in both film and television. Yet I’m not too sure what the overall connection is besides the infamous locations and occasional Easter Eggs as Castle Rock has mostly invented its own story. This central story is completely new and most of the revelations of the show’s main mystery come within the final two episodes. This has made the show quite the difficult watch with a real slow burn in its storytelling and mixed success in its characterisation of its central characters with a lot of diversions to peripheral characters who don’t really make much impact or further the narrative much either. However, the series is wonderfully shot with high production values, assured directions, and well-tuned performances from a talented cast. The series’ high point, the seventh episode “The Queen,” is one of the greatest episodes of television I’ve seen this year with a unique and well-realised premise that’s very emotionally affecting and brought to life by the wonderful Sissy Spacek who is, in fact, the original Carrie from the Brian De Palma classic.
In the previous episode, Spacek’s character Ruth confessed to her grandson that she no longer lives her life in a linear format as she constantly slides between different times of her life and finds herself reliving her own memories again and again. Ruth had up to then been seen incredibly disorientated in most of her screen time due to a dementia diagnosis that she’s been struggling to deal with. Her reality is given its own spotlight here and it gives the most emotionally resonant material the season has given us as we watch Ruth suffer through her own bad memories whilst trying to find herself again with the chess pieces she has laid out as her form of breadcrumbs to help her get back to her own life. There are moments of levity, of course, as we see Ruth shine with her son Henry that make the episode all the more poignant, with Spacek such an expert at showing the wide range of emotions Ruth undergoes in each significant part of her life and how determined she is to get back to her current life. We feel great empathy as we see her new reactions to her old memories as she confronts her husband that she’ll finally leave him and won’t be the passive woman that she was, yet this is all in vain as she can’t escape what has already happened and she is left to face the poor decisions she has made without any relief.
This is an incredibly sad episode that shows the nightmarish scenario it is to be trapped within your own weaknesses and the climax of the episode with Ruth attempting to kill the man she believes to be behind this, yet in her own disorientation shooting and accidentally killing the man—Scott Glenn’s Alan Pangborn—she loves is a bittersweet conclusion to this loving yet flawed woman’s confused reality being someone who, throughout all her sense of conviction, never broke out of her own limitations. The episode’s final moments are truly heartbreaking in that Ruth shifts back to the time in her life when Alan first made his feelings apparent and rather than be her passive self, she wholeheartedly embraces him to the bleak strokes of Max Richter’s "On the Nature of Daylight" as she finally gets to break out of her past mistakes and forget about all the tragedy in one brief moment and can neglect that she, as queen, has taken out her own knight.