The ending of The Nun explained

Once upon a time in Romania, on the isolated grounds of foggy St. Carta, there were a thousand and one jump scares.

The Nun is the fifth entry in The Conjuring horror film series, an increasingly sturdy-looking cinematic universe based on the totally-not-made-up case files of paranormal warriors Ed and Lorraine Warren. Following up on two Conjurings, two Annabelles, and one witchy short film in The NurseThe Nun is chronologically the first chapter of the still-unfolding story, taking audiences back to 1952 for a heaping helping of historical religious horror. 

But The Nun is more than just a simple story about a Marilyn Manson lookalike terrorizing a creepy church. Far from it — without spoiling anything, this movie accelerates its way into pretty audacious territory by its final moments, laying down a web of connections to every Conjuring universe movie that came before it as it wraps up its own plot. If you were too spooked by the final showdown to pay attention to the "what" and the "why" — if you were, as Egon from the Ghostbusters would put it, "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought" — then relax. You're safe now. Not only can Valak not get you, but we took notes on the final showdown, and we're ready to break down what it all meant. Pop on your habits and your purple stoles, and we'll explain the ending to The Nun.

The foreshadowing

Like all well-constructed screenplays, The Nun seeds the ingredients for its climactic moments in the first act of the movie, setting up the dominoes piece by piece so they can all be satisfyingly bowled over.

Pretty much all viewers will notice that something is decidedly off about the abbey when Father Burke and the novitiate Sister Irene arrive, their mission being to investigate the case of a nun suspected of taking her own life. Their somber inquiry is aided only by Maurice, a.k.a. "Frenchie," a well-meaning French-Canadian expat who lives in the nearby village and discovered the dead nun's body. As for the nuns of the abbey, they seem to be of no help, being mostly out of sight when Burke and Irene arrive.

Aside from the utterly gorgeous architecture, the St. Carta abbey quickly reveals itself to be just a miserable location, with its isolated and forbidding nature making the 1950s setting feel more like the 1590s. As bad of a hotel as it turns out to be, the abbey feels even worse as an active place of worship. 

Beyond the utterly inhospitable (and nearly invisible) Mother Superior, who snarls at the visitors like the black-cloaked Emperor from Star Wars, the whole place seems… suspiciously empty. You wouldn't be wrong to wonder if the place is just abandoned at the time that the protagonists arrive. At first, it seems like sloppy filmmaking, but as things turn out, there's really dark magic afoot.

The God Squad

There isn't a whole lot going on with the plot of The Nun, which is frankly to its credit. As Burke and Irene's investigation unfolds, the movie keeps things simple, with the story basically proceeding in a straight line with minimal twists. 

It's apparent from almost the moment the protagonists arrive that horrifying evil has taken root within the abbey — an impression that becomes even more clear when Irene begins to come across some of the shellshocked nuns. Irene notices that some of the sisters are engaged in the practice of perpetual adoration — which is to say, constant, round-the-clock prayer, conducted in shifts, to keep the demon haunting the abbey at bay. She learns that ever since the bombs of war came to Romania, presumably knocking the nuns off their disciplined prayer schedule, the evil they spent centuries battling back has reasserted itself. By the time Irene arrives, they're fighting what appears to be a losing battle.

As The Nun's final act kicks in and the demon haunting the abbey grows stronger, Irene is enlisted by one of the more helpful nuns to help pray the devil away. In short order, the two of them are joined by an entire squad of nuns who enter the sanctuary meaning business, crossing themselves with some panache to pray like their lives depended on it. It's an awesome moment… but also completely fake, as it's shortly revealed that none of those nuns actually exist.

Stop believing

When Burke and Frenchie arrive at the abbey's sanctuary, fresh from their own encounter with a reanimated nun in the abbey's ice room, their presence snaps Irene out of an apparent reverie. She's not fighting off the demon nun with a group of other sisters. Instead, she's having an unprecedentedly complex vision, seeing what appears to be the last stand of the abbey's now-dead residents.

The revelation makes the hostile nature of the abbey much clearer to Irene and Burke, who now realize that they've been alone inside the place the entire time — with the exception of Frenchie, of course. It's revealed to the audience that the two nuns from the opening scene — one killed by Valak in the abbey's catacombs, and the other taking her own life — were actually the final two nuns in the abbey, trying to keep Valak from possessing a human form and entering the wider world beyond St. Carta's walls. With this revelation in mind, Irene and Burke realize that the nun whose death they're investigating didn't die in sin — she died as an act of sacrifice, killing herself as the last woman standing before Valak could establish dominion over her body and soul.

The other, more menacing residents of the abbey that the two have come across are naturally pawns of Valak, or even the demon taking different forms, in an effort to manipulate the Vatican's representatives at every turn. With this truth revealed, the final showdown revs up.

Leveled up

After the nuns of the abbey are revealed to be illusory, the climax of The Nun kicks into high gear. (In the immortal parlance of Bad Boys II, this is the precise moment when s*** just gets real.) Realizing the extent of her powers, Irene determines that her visions are nothing less than a gift from God. As a result, she is inspired to finally take her long-delayed vows and advance from a mere novitiate into a full-fledged nun herself.

It's at this point in the movie that the three heroes stop screwing around, get it together, and suit up to go and kick unholy ass. Frenchie posts up in a pew and polishes his stubby shotgun with all confidence, as though everything you need to know about battling demons can be found in the levels of a Doom game. Meanwhile, Irene takes her holy vows of service to the Lord with the help of Father Burke. Through this most sacred ritual, Irene transitions from the Catholic equivalent of a white mage into a full-blown wizard, ensuring her access to the most powerful sorcery the Almighty has to offer. If you've seen the movie, you know we're not really exaggerating — this is easily the film's most ridiculous and thrilling chapter. Hey, remember when these Conjuring movies tried to pretend all this wild stuff really happened?

Bloody Hell

After steeling themselves for the final battle against Valak, our holy heroes descend into the catacombs of the abbey. Here, Irene realizes the meaning of a vision she's been having since childhood. A message that she earlier mentioned had been occurring to her in dreams throughout her life — "Mary points the way" — turns out to be a set of instructions that are literally true, as she follows the pointing finger of a Virgin Mary statue over to a conspicuous fake wall. 

Using the square key from the movie's opening scene, the trio unlocks the hidden door to a secret passage, revealing an ancient church relic which is revealed to contain nothing less than the actual blood of Jesus Christ. Armed with the powerful weapon, the three go deeper into the catacombs to confront Valak, and hopefully close off the abbey's gate to Hell. 

Things go south when Irene literally stumbles onto a demonic pentagram, getting surrounded by a cadre of Valak's monstrous servants. She's briefly possessed by Valak, who is only driven out of Irene's body when Frenchie smears the blood of Christ onto her skin. The move drives the demon away, but not without a fight, as Irene and Valak then tumble into the water of a flooded room. Valak begins to overtake Irene again, holding her underwater and seemingly drowning her — until Irene unexpectedly spits the entire container of Christ's blood onto Valak's face, the relic that contained it having broken in the struggle.

Dun dun dun

When Irene spits the blood of Jesus onto Valak — which… seems like a mildly sacrilegious move — the demon-killing plasma spills into the water of the flooded room, thereby overwhelming Valak with all holy might. The demon effectively dissolves and disappears, with the demonic rift being sealed up in the process as well. Just like that, the evil has been banished. 

The movie proceeds to wrap up peacefully, or so it seems. Before they leave the grounds the next day, the trio bury the nuns of the now-empty abbey, restoring a degree of holiness to the desecrated ground. Frenchie then prepares to transport Burke and Irene back to the village. As he puts his wagon into motion, he rubs a hand across his neck, revealing a previously-unseen — and seemingly-new — sign of the inverted cross on his skin, apparently marking him as being possessed by something evil. That's right — looks like our heroes' victory isn't so certain after all, because Frenchie got bitten by Valak or something, and now he's got the mark of the dang beast. (Or at least a mark — while the upside-down cross is not necessarily a symbol of evil in real life, the movies of The Conjuring consistently treat it as an unambiguous threat.)

Full circle

After the reveal of what is essentially Valak's success over The Nun's protagonists, the movie abruptly cuts to a coda set some 20 years later, revisiting a scene from the very first Conjuring movie. It's revealed that the lecture the Warrens were seen giving in that movie about a possessed man named Maurice was, all this time, the same Maurice we know better as Frenchie — possessed by Valak. 

During the encounter, Valak manages to touch Lorraine in a resonant way, triggering within her the vision of Ed dying that haunted her all throughout The Conjuring 2. Turns out the visions the Warrens had of the demon nun in that movie all came from this encounter with Maurice, meaning their climactic battle was set in motion before the events of the first movie even happened. 

Just like that, the movie ties the whole series together, drawing a straight line from the events at St. Carta to the Warrens' final showdown with the demented demon, making The Nun and the two Conjuring movies a complete story about a 30-year struggle between the forces of good and evil. 

Despite this resolution, we still have one big question, mostly thanks to the casting of sisters Taissa and Vera Farmiga. Put simply — is Irene supposed to be Lorraine's aunt or something? They clearly look like family, and both have deep connections to the spirit realm — but the movie never tells us. There's got to be a connection, right? Eh, maybe we'll get that in Nun 2.