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10 Reasons The Punisher’s Frank/Karen Deserve a Warm, Cozy Ending

Daredevil and The Punisher are dead. Long live Kastle.
Frank and Karen talk in The Punisher season 1

Relationship: Frank Castle and Karen Page (Kastle)
Fandom: The Punisher (TV Series, 2017-2019) & Daredevil (2015-2018)
Where to Watch: Netflix
Time Investment: Up to 65 (one-hour) episodes for the full experience, or as few as 28 episodes if you zero in on Frank/Karen and leave out all the rest
Recommended for: Angst addicts who can never resist an anti-hero

Note: This post is intended for Kastle stans and those who don’t mind spoilers in the search for a new ’ship. If you’re a recent convert to Netflix’s Daredevil and/or The Punisher and prefer to remain totally unspoiled, turn back now!

I think we deserve

a soft epilogue, my love.

We are good people

and we’ve suffered enough.

“Seventy Years of Sleep # 4” by Nikka Ursula

If you like your TV relationships served hot and angsty, with a side of extra angst: Hi. Hello. Welcome. You’re exactly where you belong, because heartache is intrinsic to shipping journalist Karen Page (Deborah Anne Woll) and vigilante Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), a.k.a. Kastle, in Netflix’s gritty TV adaptations of Daredevil and The Punisher. Just comes with the territory. 

Part of that’s because Frank and Karen are two shattered people whose jagged edges fit perfectly together, yet resist acknowledging this truth out of a (justified) fear of being hurt again.

Another, possibly even bigger part of it is that we fans were never meant to get attached to these two Marvel comics characters as a romantic pairing in the first place. Not only did they not share a single scene in the comics, but they were always destined for different shows; Karen was originally introduced as a love interest for Daredevil (a.k.a. Matt Murdock) in the show bearing his name, while Frank’s Daredevil arc was designed first and foremost as a launching pad for his own spinoff series, The Punisher.

The fact that they teamed up in the second season of Daredevil and unexpectedly ran away with our hearts was a lark. Karen popping up as a guest star in two seasons of The Punisher? A minor miracle. Fate was bound to catch up to us, though, and it did. In late 2019, Marvel and Netflix abruptly cancelled both shows, leaving fans in a state of limbo as to whether Kastle would ever get an ending at all, let alone a proper one.

See, it’s like I told you: pure heartache. 

Still with me? Good. ‘Cause no matter what Marvel intended, shippers gonna ship, and we’re perfectly capable of taking things from here, thank you very much. Whether a revival ever happens or not, you can trust that Frank and Karen will live on, if only in fanon.

Given everything these two survivors have been through, all the odds they’ve defied together, who could blame us for our stubborn conviction they will one day enjoy the warm, cozy ending they’re owed? The “after” that they speak of with a mixture of mockery and wistfulness? Our beloved pair may believe a peaceful future is entirely out of reach for imperfect, undeserving humans such as themselves, but we’re not done with them yet.

Here are 10 reasons Frank/Karen are destined to be together, one way or another:

Frank Castle is a tortured anti-hero with exactly one (1) soft spot.

When we first lay eyes on him in Daredevil season 2, Frank Castle is in the middle of a murderous rampage, gunning down everyone in his path—or so it seems. Come to find out from a certain office manager snooping into his past (for work!), the ex-Marine’s targets are anything but random. Rather, he is methodically taking out everyone involved in the shooting deaths of his wife, Maria, and their two children, Lisa and Frank Jr., in a horrific, targeted attack in Central Park that left him for dead too. So while Frank’s not exactly a hero when we meet him, he’s not a supervillain, either. He’s a grieving father and husband whose thirst for vengeance is the only thing keeping him going.

In fact, when a run-in with the vigilante in red lands Frank under arrest and handcuffed to a hospital bed, it’s obvious that he’s given up the fight. That is, until a tall blonde lady with an insatiable drive for uncovering the truth walks into the room with his new lawyers and proceeds to completely undo him with her compassion. A lady who vows to discover why his family’s murders were covered up. A lady who helps him recover memories of happier times with Maria, Lisa, and Frankie. That woman, of course, is Karen Page, and she quickly becomes the Punisher’s Achilles’ heel.

With her, he is soft and chivalrous. With her, we see an echo of what Frank Castle must have been like in the “Before” period of his life. With her, we see potential for happiness in the After. It’s addictive AF.

Karen Page is a fierce heroine who goes hard for what (and whom) she wants.

In the comics, Karen Page is Daredevil’s love interest, period. She’s a beautiful mess who lives (and dies) as Matt Murdock’s damsel in distress, epitomizing the “normal” sort of woman he wants to want. In Daredevil and The Punisher, though, she is strong and capable and all too human, and never more so than when she’s sparking against Frank. His methods may horrify her, but she refuses to write him off as a lost cause because she recognizes that they are, on some level, the same.

Karen’s soul-deep understanding of Frank and her need to prove to him (and herself) he’s not a monster is what leads her to dig into his past in the first place. She learns about his heroism in the military and spots all sorts of red flags in the official reports of how his family died. And when her job as Nelson and Murdock’s office manager dissolves along with the legal firm itself, she’s able to leverage all that dogged research into a brand-new career as an investigative journalist at The Bulletin newspaper. Like a BOSS.

Karen and Frank sit in the courtroom for his trial in Daredevil season 2

Karen doesn’t need Frank any more than she needs Matt Murdock or Foggy Nelson. She cares about them, and her life is better when they’re in it, but she’s a survivor. That’s as clear from Daredevil season 1 as it is in season 3, when we finally learn exactly what trauma drove her from Vermont to Hell’s Kitchen. The fact that she can still find it in herself to be “all heart,” as Frank puts it, is a testament to her indomitable spirit. 

Does she have a nose for trouble? Sure. But she has a knack for getting herself out of it too. And if Karen gets rescued sometimes, well, she does a fair bit of rescuing herself, literally shielding civilians from danger with her body without a second thought. For his part, Frank immediately discerns Karen’s integrity and bravery, and admires her fact-finding and self-defense skills in equal measure. The way he reverently calls her “ma’am” says it all. 

What it comes down to is this: Karen Page is a kind-hearted badass in a pencil skirt, and Frank is the only one who regularly appreciates that she contains multitudes. Cue the heart eyes.

In a perfect world, they’d never have met.

Here’s the thing: Frank and Karen’s relationship is built on the bittersweet knowledge that they are not meant to be. In some alternate universe, Frank is still happily married to Maria and raising their kids, and Karen never knows the pain of burying a brother whose death she feels responsible for. 

Weirdly enough, this heartbreaking truth only makes shipping them more compelling. This tension between them will never, ever go away, and they wouldn’t want it to. Honestly, Romeo and Juliet ain’t got nothing on the forces of the universe trying to keep these two apart, and aren’t we all suckers for star-crossed love stories?

The darkness in him calls to the darkness in her.

Karen and Frank speak in his hospital room in Daredevil season 2

Far from a meet-cute, Karen and Frank’s first interaction takes place in a hail of bullets. Before Karen officially meets Frank in his hospital room, she finds herself in his gun sights as she tries to protect one of Nelson & Murdock’s sketchy clients from his vengeance. Not exactly the best first impression, and most people would come out of that agreeing with the consensus: Frank Castle is a psycho murder. 

Instead, Karen approaches him with a curious mind and an open heart, and quickly realizes there’s more to him than meets the eye. Once she learns more about his family’s tragic deaths and the guilt he carries about it, she becomes his staunchest defender, pleading his case with points like: “Just for a minute, try…try to be Frank Castle. To be solely fueled by…by a single cluster of seconds. One moment in–in your entire life…” Little moments like this make it clear that Karen doesn’t simply sympathize with Frank—she understands him, she relates to him. 

Frank senses this too. He listens intently as Karen tells him a story about wanting to take off in a spaceship as a kid. He makes offhand comments like “The only thing that surprised me is that you didn’t plug me” and “Maybe it’s not your first rodeo” after seeing her expertly handle a gun. The rest of the world tends to underestimate Karen, but he never does.

Both of them know what it is to feel responsible for their loved ones’ suffering; they’ve both made mistakes for which they cannot atone. Their guilt and sorrow torments them, but the unique understanding they share also brings them closer. And that for all that they see morality in shades of grey, they each live by a code of honor. 

Okay, sure, Karen works to expose bad guys in the newspaper while Frank prefers to put them in the ground, but they are both pragmatic enough to recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to save Hell’s Kitchen. Referring to the Punisher’s gruesome tactics, Karen tells Matt: “Right or wrong, you can’t deny that it works.” On the other hand, thanks to Miss Page, Frank begins to see the value in letting his enemies live to face the consequences of their actions. It’s a balance that works for them.

They banish each other’s loneliness.

“I sometimes think that that’s all life is…we’re just fighting not to be alone.”

All of the characters in Daredevil and The Punisher’s shared universe are lonely, yet few seem quite as isolated as these two. Outside his vengeance, Frank has nothing to tether him to the world, and he works hard to keep it that way. The first episode of The Punisher finds him doing hard manual labor for a construction company all day before coming home to a tiny, dimly lit room where he eats dinner out of a can and reads for a bit until he can get up and do it all over again.

Karen isn’t functioning much better. She suffers from nightmares after killing Wilson Fisk’s right-hand man, Wesley, in self-defense, haunted by the possibility that the Kingpin will learn she’s responsible and take her out. She’s desperate for connection but never quite finds it with her Matt or Foggy, what with all the secrets and outright lies between them. She throws herself into her work to the exclusion of everything else, but long hours in the office can’t mask the fact that her life’s pretty empty otherwise.

That all falls away when Karen and Frank cross paths again in The Punisher, months after their teamup in Daredevil. She wants to be mad at him for staying away for so long, but she can’t hide her pleasure at seeing him whole and unharmed for once. Put ’em in a room alone together and their eyes light up and they get smiley, quippy, flirty, demonstrative.

Karen swoops in for hugs and reaches for him without hesitation when he’s injured, while the always guarded Frank relaxes as much as he ever can, melting into her embraces and once even kissing her cheek in farewell. And who could forget the way they instinctively curl toward each other after the bomb detonates? Or how, later, they seek comfort together in the famous “elevator scene” before Karen urges him to make his escape?

They’re honest. They never lie.

Frank and Karen are scrupulously honest and upfront with each other. When Karen’s horrified by something he’s done, she lets him know and does not hold back. She knows she can be fully herself with him, without the fear of rejection that normally dogs her. When Frank intuits her complex feelings for Matt Murdock, he urges her to hold onto love “with both hands” by offering a glimpse of own shredded heart. He recounts glorious, fiery love he shared with Maria and his certainty that he’ll never feel that way about anyone again. He’s wrong, of course, but the vulnerability he shows Karen in that diner speaks volumes.

This is not to say Frank doesn’t sometimes attempt to use brutal honesty as a shield. Traumatized and convinced he’s the reason his family’s dead, Frank’s instinct is to push away the people who mean the most to him nowadays, and of course Karen’s at the top of that short list. Any chance he gets, including The Punisher season 2’s hospital scenes redux (now with 100% more touching!), he tells Karen she should “walk away” or that she can’t go down his dark path with him. He believes, with all his heart, that she’s too good for him, so to his mind, he’s just being straight with her.

What he doesn’t seem to grasp, though, is that Karen’s used to being shut out by the people she loves, after the way her dad cut her out of his life following Kevin’s death. What’s more, she understands Frank’s urge to protect himself from more loss because she’s been there too. She’s unfazed by his weak-ass attempts to keep her at arm’s length because she’s used similar tactics to prevent friends from learning about her past and getting pulled into her dangerous orbit. Karen gets it, and that’s exactly why she won’t stand for it from Frank.

“You think you can scare me off that easy?” she asks him incredulously in one scene. “You know better than that. Besides, I don’t think you really want me to go.” He doesn’t deny it.

Daring rescues are how they show affection.

The Punisher as an avenging angel may have been born out of Frank’s immense grief and rage over the murder of his family, but his evolution into a hero begins when he lets people get close to him again, namely Karen Page.

It makes sense, then, that Frank would take her safety personally, but it’s more than that—deeper than friendship or a sense of responsibility. When she’s in trouble, he goes into berserker mode, completely panicked and unable to focus on anything but getting to her, ensuring she’s safe. He throws himself in front of bullets meant for her on multiple occasions. He offers to trade his life for hers in a confrontation with a suicide bomber. Most tellingly, for him: He puts his freedom on the line in the mission to neutralize a threat against her, blowing his cover as “Pete Castiglione” by getting caught on camera, which in turn triggers national headlines about his return from the dead. Gestures don’t come any grander.

Not to be outdone by his action-hero stunts, Karen saves him right back whenever an opportunity presents itself. Not only does she put her body between him and the cops (even trusting him to hold a gun to her head to fake a hostage situation), but she helps break him out of the hospital so that he can evade police custody once again. If her urge to protect him originates from a place of outrage at the way was mistreated by the officials covering up his family’s deaths, there’s no question that by the end of the series it springs from a much deeper place: her heart. Frank recognizes it, too, telling her that he knows she’d “throw everything away” for him and he can’t let that happen.

So, yeah, they prove they’re willing to die for each other before they can admit they already live for each other, those stubborn fools. (I adore them.)

They speak their own language.

From the time Frank utters the fateful words “I want to talk to her alone” in Daredevil, it’s him and Karen against the world. She’s the only one he’ll listen to in the hospital, or in jail awaiting trial for murder. When he tells her “You were never in any danger” and that he didn’t commit an assassination that everyone assumes he did, she believes him. Is it any wonder they quickly develop a shorthand? 

After joking (joking!) about loving a song on a cassette tape that Karen inherited along with her car, Frank later uses that same song to send her a message, letting her know he’s going to help her escape her kidnapper. Months later, the two of them use another inside joke about her ever-present handgun to outmaneuver a terrorist who’s using Karen as a human shield. And then there’s that elevator scene, a nearly wordless exchange that nevertheless speaks volumes about what they mean to each other.

Everyone else knows they’re in love.

From teasing digs (“Your girlfriend’s on the radio”) and knowing remarks (“You two have a connection—I know that”) to needling questions (“Why do you care so much about Frank Castle?”) and cutting comments (“Maybe you should judge Frank; he’s a killer”), just about everyone in their lives has signaled they’re aware of Frank and Karen’s unlikely bond. Then again, their public displays of affection—her defending his honor as vigorously on public radio as she does in private, him facing down goons for her over and over—are rather hard to ignore. 

If anyone is oblivious to the depth of feelings involved here, it’s probably only Frank and Karen themselves. She doesn’t believe she deserves to be loved because of the tragic mistake lurking in her past, while he is sure he’s already loved and lost his one and only. That just makes it more delicious when their loved ones point it out, since they, like us, simply want to see them get a well-deserved second chance at happiness.

Nothing could ever change how they feel about each other.

A weaker relationship would crumble under the weight of such heavy baggage, but theirs is rock solid. Take the hospital scenes (or really, “hospital episode”) in The Punisher season 2, their final onscreen moments together. Even when they both fear Frank accidentally killed three innocent women in a shootout, Karen’s faith in him doesn’t waver. “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what you did,” she blurts out defiantly. “It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

She doesn’t quit there, either, but presses him to acknowledge for the first time that he feels the unbreakable bond between them too. “What if there’s a better way?” she asks, completely vulnerable. “What if there is? What if you and I, we’ll figure it out together? … You cannot keep loving people in your dreams. … You could choose. You could choose to love something, someone else, instead of another war.”

Now Frank, still mired in guilt and grief and scared out of his mind that he’ll destroy Karen’s life, can’t yet surrender to the deep and abiding love he clearly has for her. He lashes out, hard, rejecting the idea that he could ever have a “warm, cozy ending.” There are tears in his eyes as he does so, though, and he doesn’t say anything about not returning her feelings. He also can’t seem to stop himself from rising slowly from his hospital bed to try to smooth things over, to just breathe with her for a moment, as they like to do. It’s the elevator scene all over again. They’re interrupted shortly thereafter, but you have to wonder if he’d have given into an urge to kiss her. (All signs point to YES.)

Our favorite vigilante and his eager accomplice may not be ready to run away together (yet) by the end of the canon, but they make a couple things clear: Their mutual pining continues unabated, and absolutely nothing—not murder, not self-sabotage, nothing—can change how they feel about each other.


Marvel and Netflix may have abandoned Karen and Frank in a state of perpetual yearning, but they’re ours now. Slow burns are all well and good, but the impossible-to-tamp-down feelings simmering between Frank and Karen were always bound to boil over sooner or later. Now the fans get to decide how and when that happens, and honestly? It’s probably actually better this way.


The Kastle Shipper Track

When you’re in the mood to dive into the Frank/Karen saga, you have two options:

For Frank and Karen’s complete character arcs, watch:

  1. Daredevil, Seasons 1-2
  2. The Punisher, Season 1
  3. The Defenders miniseries (if you’re a completionist; it’s pretty skippable)
  4. Daredevil, Season 3
  5. The Punisher, Season 2

To skip to the good stuff, zeroing in on Karen and Frank’s relationship arc, watch:

  1. Daredevil Season 2
  2. The Punisher Season 1
  3. Daredevil Season 3: Episodes 1, 10 & 13 (for Karen’s backstory and state of mind)
  4. The Punisher season 2, episodes 1, 11 & 13 (for Frank’s state of mind and one glorious reunion)

Kastle Fandom Recs

Fic

Vids

P.S. If you ship Kastle, might I also recommend watching the NBC drama Good Girls? Something tells me you’re the type to appreciate Beth/Rio (a.k.a. Brio) ‘ship.

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