The ending of The Punisher explained

Marvel's long-awaited Punisher series finally gave Jon Bernthal's version of Frank Castle room to shine—and a whole lot of people to kill. 

The Punisher may have made his debut over on Daredevil, and both shows share the character Karen Page (played by Deborah Ann Woll), but this story is all Castle. The Punisher finds himself in the middle of a government conspiracy that ties back to his time running black ops overseas, and it seems to be what ultimately got his family murdered. Now Castle has a chance for vengeance. Bloody, bone-breaking vengeance.

But when the screen finally fades to black, what actually happened? And what does it mean for a potential second season, or future Punisher crossovers? Here's the ending of The Punisher explained.

Quest for vengeance

The series opens with Castle tracking down the rest of the folks he thought were involved with his family's murder, only to eventually learn the web of betrayal goes even higher than he'd suspected. He starts working with David Lieberman, a.k.a. Micro (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to unravel the conspiracy, and the mission eventually sees them cross paths with Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), who's investigating an operation from Castle's tenure on the illegal black ops squad. Through a very tenuous alliance, they finally realize shady intelligence official William Rawlins (Paul Schulze) is really pulling the strings.

Rawlins managed Castle's black ops team, and is trying to clean up the mess—and any lingering evidence—by any means necessary. With a new target for revenge, Castle spends much of the series tracking Rawlins, finally breaking free after being captured and beating him to a bloody pulp. This is the man who pulled the strings to have Frank's family killed…so let's just say Rawlins' comeuppance is as brutal as it is richly deserved.

Of course, Castle's old comrade Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) also played his own role by working with Rawlins and betraying Frank—so Frank beats him to within an inch of his life and allows him to be arrested. 

Mission accomplished.

A new life

For a show that spent so much time with flying bullets and bloodied fists, it ends on a surprisingly quiet moment. With the U.S. government finally realizing that Castle helped bring down some deep corruption, he's given his freedom and a new identity: Pete Castiglione. After spending the past few years on the run in hiding, Frank can finally live a life in public if he chooses. He seems to be coming to grips with that realization in the show's final scene, as Frank attends one of the veteran support group meetings led by his pal Curtis (Jason R. Moore). Castle talks about what it's like being a soldier without a mission. Though that obviously works in a broad sense—he's talking to a room of veterans, after all—Castle is also referring to the fact that his quest for vengeance is over. He's free—and not knowing what comes next is the scariest thing of all.

As comics fans likely noticed, there's also a bit of history when it comes to the details of Frank's new identity. The name first popped up in the 1980s and 1990s comic runs The Punisher: Circle of Blood and The Punisher: War Journal as the Italian version of Castle before it was Americanized. It's something most casual fans likely wouldn't notice, but Marvel leaves no Easter egg opportunity unused.


The big surprise in the show's final episode was the Punisher's decision to actually let Billy Russo live following their final fight at the carousel. Russo got the drop on Frank and almost took him out, but you can never bet against the Punisher—Frank grabbed a piece of broken glass and stabbed Russo in the gut, then hit him enough times to leave him stunned, breaking his arm for good measure. Instead of killing Russo, Castle decided to drag his face across broken glass—Russo always prided himself on being a handsome guy and wearing fancy suits, so instead of death, Castle took his looks away and let him live.

For comics fans, this didn't come as a surprise—they already know Russo as the Punisher rogue Jigsaw. He was a mob hitman in the comics, disfigured after the Punisher tosses him through a window. They don't have as much connected backstory in the comics, but making them soldiers in the same unit served as a way to make a tangible connection between their origins on TV. The show started out as Castle's vengeance story, but any potential second season could find Jigsaw looking for his own revenge. Series showrunner Steve Lightfoot has teased they're "only halfway through" with Russo's story, and if he returns he'll be a "totally different guy." The Punisher works best when the mission is personal, and this could certainly fit the bill.

Micro's happy ending

Castle's partner Lieberman spent the better part of a year hiding out in an industrial basement after faking his death, only able to see his family via the surveillance cameras he planted before he left. He's been forced to watch his loved ones move on without him, living their lives as if he really were dead. Lieberman's wife and son are kidnapped and almost killed at different points, but they all survive—and, as Micro and Punisher's mission draws closer to its end, Lieberman is able to reconnect with his family and finally reveal himself. It's an awkward, but heartfelt, reunion. By the time the series wraps, they seem to be headed for some form of protective custody in the wake of the epic conspiracy that unraveled in Season 1. If nothing else, at least somebody got a happy ending.

Madani survives

Though Castle metes out justice as well as anyone, he did require a bit of help from the other side—specifically through an uneasy alliance with Homeland Security agent Madani, who initially needed Castle to testify to bring down the black ops conspiracy. She saved Castle from getting shot when Russo pulled his gun on him in the stairwell, and once again saved his life by taking Castle to her parents' house for medical care—as opposed to a hospital, where he would've been a target (and immediately arrested).

Madani tracked Castle and Russo to their final showdown at the carousel, and though she was shot by Russo, she gave Castle the opportunity to get the drop on Russo and win the fight. Castle got Madani medical attention, and she repaid his kindness by helping cut the deal for him to get a new identity and go free. As the season ends, she still has her job—and looks to likely move up the Homeland Security ranks after exposing the conspiracy.

So what's next?

More than any other Marvel show on Netflix, the first season of Punisher truly felt self-contained, using its 13 episodes to pick up the final threads of Castle's quest for revenge and put a period at the end of that story. It even ended with Castle unsure of what comes next. He doesn't have a mission, but that doesn't mean he can't find one if Netflix wants a second season. A future clash with Jigsaw holds a ton of potential, while there's always the opportunity to bring him into the wider world of The Defenders.

Showrunner Steve Lightfoot has said he hasn't heard anything about a potential second season, but considering every other Marvel show has scored a renewal, the odds are decent we'll see Bernthal sport his trademark skull armor again. Lightfoot said he'd be "excited" to continue the saga, and believes they could really do "anything" in Season 2—specifically mentioning Billy Russo. If and when that renewal order comes, viewers should brace themselves for the formal introduction of Jigsaw.