‘RWBY’ references in Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’ explained

Renowned novelist Stephen King wrote Doctor Sleep — the sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining — in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2019 that King’s masterpiece received a live-action adaptation, starring Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat and Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone. Coincidentally, Monty Oum’s anime-influenced series RWBY — a two-dimensional, toon-shaded fantasy adventure — debuted in July 2013, starring Lindsay Jones as Ruby Rose, Kara Eberle as Weiss Schnee, Arryn Zech as Blake Belladonna and Barbara Dunkelman as Yang Xiao Long, the titular foursome whose first initials spell out “RWBY.” On the surface, these seemingly unrelated stories have nothing in common, but there are actually several references in Doctor Sleep that indicate connections to Oum’s hit web series.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ Doctor Sleep, directed by Mike Flanagan, released on November 9, 2019. Following its premiere, one observant RWBY fan spotted many clever references in Doctor Sleep and shared their analogy on Reddit, where the comparisons were well received. On the RWBY subreddit, Doctor Sleep had been mentioned many times in passing, namely because the Rooster Teeth production had several items of merchandise featured somewhere in the background. Obviously, the following observations are extremely spoiler-y, but if you haven’t seen Doctor Sleep by now, you probably never will.

First, the original uploader — u/rbdaviesTB3 — noticed that Abra Stone (Curran) was canonically a huge RWBY fan. She has two posters hanging in her bedroom (Volume 4 and Volume 5) as well as a large print of Emerald Sustrai next to her bedroom window. For context, Emerald was an associate of Cinder Fall and the former partner of Mercury Black, who becomes a member of Salem’s Inner Circle (Salem being the primary antagonist of RWBY). More often than not, the RWBY posters are nothing more than background decorations to give Abra’s bedroom a more personable feel, but the Emerald poster appears in focus much more frequently. From this, we can make the assumption that Emerald is Abra’s favorite RWBY character.

Warner Bros.

Early on in the film, the camera focuses on an Emerald figurine beside Abra’s bed, confirming the prior assumptions that Emerald is Abra’s favorite and making it a known fact. Rather than focusing on the figurine to promote the franchise, rbdaviesTB3 suggests that these filmmaking choices were intentional. They wrote, “In the novel of Doctor Sleep, there is a crucial scene where Abra confronts antagonist Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) in a psychic connection of minds. In the novel, Abra assumes aspects of a fictional character she admires to fight Rose off – Daenerys Targaryen, a figure she associates with female badassery.” Well, the same scene transpires in Flanagan’s adaptation, expect Abra adopts the persona of a blue-haired, faceless ‘entity’ to frighten Rose the Hat. The Redditor further explains, “When that confrontation occurs, Abra’s appearance has indeed changed, but not in the way described in the books. She appears to Rose with her eyes fused over with skin for a more terrifying appearance, but more notably her hair has changed… to a metallic blue bob-cut.”

In that moment, Abra may not scream “Emerald,” but the likeness is certainly there and an intention to associate Abra with Emerald is glaringly obvious. From this, we can assume that Abra admires Emerald and looks to her for inner strength and bravery. Emerald Sustrai can be compared to Daenerys Targaryen as a symbol of empowerment and self-preservation against a perceived threat.

Notably, while this could all have been a marketing ploy to promote another Warner Bros. franchise, the references still demonstrate a grasp of pop-culture symbolism where characters and imagery have deeper meanings outside of their own universes. Additionally, Emerald felt like the perfect match-up for Abra due to their shared ability to modify the sensory information in a person’s head while their brain is processing it — thereby causing hallucinations. Live-action Abra and Emerald have identical skin tones, whereas Abra is Caucasian in the novel, thereby marking up another similarity between them and likely suggesting that Emerald was the closest match to Abra from the entire RWBY cast.

If you haven’t seen Doctor Sleep yet, first of all: where have you been for the last three years? Seriously, even non-RWBY fans will enjoy Flanagan’s take on King’s widely successful novel and the hidden references are like a fun Easter egg hunt.