Endings to a long series are so bittersweet. You've went on this big journey with a character/characters and now it's finally coming to a close. Sometimes this close is terribly unsatisfying (*coughs* Castle and Divergent *coughs*) and other times it comes to a close in such a perfect way that you can't imagine how it could be any better. I have a lot of favorite series endings (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Harry Potter, and the Grisha Trilogy are honorable mentions), but these are what first comes to mind when I think of my top five. I also am going to talk about why these endings are so effective and how you can apply that to your story.
Warning: Spoilers galore cause we're talking about endings here. What did you expect?
5.) Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - 95% of the people reading this probably have no idea what this series is, but it's an indie video game serial that has phenomenal writing. It's about an FBI agent named Erica Reed who has the supernatural ability to see visions of the past if she touches certain objects. The series covers five serial killer cases as she tries to unravel the mystery of her abilities and finally catch her younger brother's killer. The series is a very rough ride for Erica as the killers attack everything she loves and as I approached the end I really wondered how this was going to turn out.
Why it was satisfying:
The Main Character's Change - Erica starts out as a very embittered and skeptical agent. She's very calloused because of the trauma she underwent when she failed to save her younger brother. She subconsciously punishes herself for this failure by not letting herself move on and burying herself in her work. She denies herself any help and believes that the spiritual can do nothing to aid her.
By the end of the series, she finds peace with the help of Mama Rose and she lets go of the awful guilt she has held onto for five years about how she thought her brother hated her for failing him. Because of her actions in the climax and all she's been through, she decides to let go of her career as an FBI agent and instead go into the world to find other people like her with abilities (called psions in the game) and help them.
The Villain's Death - Cordelia is Erica's foil. She lost a brother too, but she embraced her bitterness and let it carry her to do terrible things. She became obsessed over Erica, the one person she could find like her, and orchestrated events to make the two of them meet. She did this because she didn't want to feel alone and also because she wanted Erica to deal with her adopted brother, Keith, who killed both her own brother and Erica's brother.
Through Cordelia's cunning, she's tried to manipulate Erica into killing her brother for her, because she can't stand to do it herself because despite everything she still remembers the good relationship she had with him before he became the murderer he is now. In the end, she ends up locking herself and Keith in a room Erica can't stop her from killing Keith then herself.
Summary: Erica became an agent to uphold her father's legacy, but I don't think she ever felt true satisfaction in her life while doing that job. When she decides to finally let go of a part of her life that's been so prominent to embrace something she's tried to hide. She's finally found peace.
Does your character have to let go of an identifying factor for them to find peace?
Some of my favorite villain deaths are often ones that are caused by themselves instead of by the main character. Saruman caused his own death by how he treated Wormtongue. In the Lion King, Scar caused his own death by how he treated the hyenas. In Black Panther, Warmonger took the blade out of his chest when he could have lived. Cordelia backs herself into a corner where the only way she can stop the monster she created is to end it herself and she couldn't live with herself after doing that. Their own actions have come full circle and that causes their demise, not the main character dealing justice. They dealt the final blow to themselves.
Have you thought of having a character die because of their choices and not because the main character deals the final blow?
4.) Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion - Normally I can't stand when the main character dies in a series. When Tris died in Allegiant, I was so SO angry, because I felt like the series lost its spark. But in the case of this anime, it worked beautifully and made for a powerful ending.
In this story, the world is mostly occupied by the Empire of Britannia who oppresses and strips the identities away from the countries it conquers. Lelouch is an exiled prince of Britannia who was banished with his younger sister Nunnally to Japan renamed as Area 11. Lelouch seeks vengeance against his father who caused his mother's death and his sister's paralysis and blindness and creating a better world for Nunnally.
Lelouch uses his gift of strategy to ally with the rebellion and after a long journey they find out who he really is and this causes discord. Lelouch defeats his father and in the end feigns to take his place, to become the enemy of the world, and he has his best friend Suzaku deal him the final blow so the enemy of the world is defeated and the planet can finally be at peace. He gives the ultimate sacrifice for his sister and the globe.
Why it was satisfying:
The main character's goal was accomplished - In the first episode of the show, Lelouch states that he wants to make a better world for Nunnally and in the end, he accomplishes that goal, but not just for her but for all of the allies he's made along the way. Lelouch died to see his goals realized and he never got to enjoy them but he did accomplish it and gave happiness to millions.
The world changed for the better - I think part of what made Lelouch's sacrifice better than Tris's was at the end, characters mourned for Lelouch, but the story focused on what his sacrifice accomplished instead of his absence. It showed how many lives he's touched and how many people will remember him forever. It shows the peaceful lives the characters now live: Jeremiah's orange farm, Kallen going to school again, Nunnally becoming the kindhearted ambassador she wanted to be, and C2 being free.
"Well, Lelouch, the world's gotten a lot better since that eventful day. All the energy that was once expended on war has now been directed toward solving hunger and poverty. As expected all sorts of hateful and evil deeds have been blamed on you. Maybe that's because people find it a lot easier to accuse a person with a name rather than a piece of technology called Damocles. Perhaps that's putting it too simply. But whatever the reason the world is free of the past. It's finally able to move forward into the future now. I wonder if you're laughing right now about how everything went according to your elaborate strategy. Nevertheless there are stils plenty of problems we have to work out for ourselves. Even so ..."Summary: Up until watching this anime, I thought I'd always hate it when the main character died in a story, but Code Geass really changed my mind.
Have you considered the main character in your story dying?
3.) The Lord of the Rings - I don't think the ending of this epic fantasy needs a long explanation. Every self-respecting fantasy lover has read the books or seen the movies at least once, so we'll just hope right to the points, eh?
Why it was satisfying:
The Collective Goal Was Accomplished - The entire series circles around the collective goal to defeat Sauron and save the world from falling into darkness. So many characters put so much effort in so many different ways to see this goal realized. They sacrificed so much, they suffered so much, and some don't live to see the fruits of their labor in the end, but when you see the reunion of the Fellowship, Aragorn's and Sam's weddings, and the Shire again you know that all of this was worth it.
The Main Characters Found Peace - Aragorn finds the strength to be the King he was born to be and marries his true love. Sam marries Rosie Cotton and has a family. Eowyn and Faramir find solace in each other. You know that these characters are going to be okay in the world that they all worked so hard to save.
For some, this world has too many burdens for them to bear, which is why Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond, Gandalf, Bilbo, and Frodo leave it in the end. But you know that they are finally going to find the peace that they deserve. You know they're going to be okay.
Summary: I don't think these points need too much expansion but have you considered having a collective goal between characters? How will your characters find peace in the end?
2.) The Hunger Games - Again, if you are an avid YA dystopian lover you've read this book at some point or at least no what it is, so I'm not going to go into explaining it too much. I'll just say that I absolutely adore this series and one of those reasons why is because the ending is so beautiful.
Why it was satisfying:
The Villain's Death - This was another villain death that wasn't done by the main character's hand. I felt like it wasn't right for Katniss to kill Snow. Yes, he affected her life in many negative ways, but he was a scourge to all Panem, so it was right for the people to ultimately deal his fate.
The World Changed for the Better - So many people die in this series, but the story makes a point to show that all of their sacrifices were worth it. Panem is recovering from the havoc decades a tyrannical government inflicted upon them. Paylor is becoming president. She's a righteous ruler that will steer the country in a positive direction.
The Main Character's Change - At the beginning of the series, Katniss says to Gale that she will never have kids. She doesn't feel right in bringing life into this torn world and I think deep inside she feels like she isn't fit to be a mother because of her past. But at the very last scene, we see Katniss and Peeta with their two beautiful children and Katniss finally at peace with herself. I cry at that part every time.
Summary: Have you thought of having a character make a statement at the beginning of a series that completely changes by the end?
1.) Avatar: The Last Airbender - There's a couple of you out there that haven't seen this series, so I'll give a small explanation for this one. ;)
This series focuses on Aang, the current avatar, the only being in the world that can control all four bending elements and who is destined to be the peacekeeper of the world. Over the past one hundred years, the four nations have been ravaged by the empirical Fire Nation who seeks to dominate the earth. Aang has to learn all four elements to be powerful enough to defeat Fire Lord Ozai and restore the world to balance.
Why it was satisfying:
The Villain's Defeat - Aang is a gentle spirit at heart. Raised as a monk, he's always respected life, all life. In the series finale, Aang is extremely conflicted about killing Ozai. But he finds a way to take his bending away, which renders the Fire Lord powerless while Aang can still uphold his ideals.
The World Has Changed For the Better - Not everyone in the Fire Nation agreed with Ozai's plans as evident by citizens such as Zuko, Iroh, Jeong-Jeong, and Master Piandao. Over one hundred years, the world has gotten used to hating each other, but Fire Lord Zuko and Avatar Aang seek to bring the world to balance again. (For those of you who don't know there's a series of comics that chronicles this.)
The Characters' Growth - I could write entire blog posts about the character arcs in this show and I have (one's about Aang, Sokka, Zuko, Iroh, and others). But in the last scene of this show, the changes are the most evident when former enemies sit together in the Jasmine Dragon to enjoy tea and fellowship. It shows how far they've all come, especially when Aang and Katara finally express their love to each other in a kiss.
Summary: How have your characters changed from the beginning of the series to the end? Have some of your former enemies become allies?
Conclusion - If you haven't noticed already, some of the factors that make these endings so satisfying repeat themselves: a good villain death, character growth, showing the changes the characters made to the world around them. If you don't nail the ending of a series it can often leave a bad taste in a reader's mouth. (*cough* No pressure. *cough*) But with careful planning and attention, you can leave your readers with an ending they'll remember and savor in their hearts for years to come.
What are some of your favorite series endings? Do you have anything to add?
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