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The ending of Aquaman explained

Like a splash of cold water in the face, Aquaman has arrived, shocking fans awake with an unrelenting bombardment of action sequences, eye-popping visuals, and unexpected music choices. It's a bold, dramatic departure from the style of previous DC Extended Universe films, and fans are drinking it up around the world.

But there's also a lot to digest in Aquaman, as the movie gives fans a crash course on ten thousand years' worth of Atlantean history and mythology. Keeping track of what's happening can be a real challenge, even for fans who have read 75+ years of Aquaman comics… and for those who haven't, forget it!

Don't worry, though — we're here to help you keep track of all those lost tribes and strange artifacts and weird merman names. So grab your life preserver and keep your head above water, because here is a spoiler-filled explanation of the ending of Aquaman.

Enter the lost world of… The Warlord!

Arthur and Mera's search for the legendary lost trident of King Atlan took them to some exotic locales, perhaps none more unexpected than the center of the Earth itself. But long time comic book fans know that if there's one place you should always expect the unexpected, it's Skartaris.

So, what's Skartaris? Well, in the DC comic The Warlord, it was revealed that Skartaris is a prehistoric jungle world accessible through portals that connect it to Earth. After the destruction of Atlantis, a band of refugees traveled through one of these portals to Skartaris and founded New Atlantis.

Though Aquaman didn't run into any of the descendants of New Atlantis during his brief time on the other side of the portal, it would make sense if the final resting place of Atlan's trident was actually Skartaris, as it would explain the fate of the "missing tribe" — which opens the door to a whole new world of adventure, quite literally.

The Trident's powers

Once Arthur finally got his giant mitts on Atlan's trident, fans got to see a surreal sequence where it seemingly lit up the nervous systems of a bunch of random sea creatures. There was no explanation as to what was actually happening, leaving many to wonder just what exactly this mythical trident actually does, other than spark up what appeared to be a bonus level from Tetris Effect.  

Earlier in the film, it was said that the trident gave Atlan command of the seas. It stands to reason, then, that the trident essentially enhances Aquaman's natural ability to speak to fish, amplifying it to the point where he can exert his will and actually control them. That would explain how he was able to command the kraken, as well as the shark mounts used by King Orm's forces. Heck, it even seemed to extend to the trench-dwelling Atlantean descendants who had devolved back to a fishier form.

And that raises some other questions…

Unite the Seven

Besides giving him the ability to command the creatures of the sea, the trident of Atlan was also supposed to serve as the ultimate trump card, granting Arthur the title of King of Atlantis. Yet, when he showed up with the trident to try and stop the Atlantean civil war, surprisingly few people on either side of the battle seemed to actually notice or care.

That may have been because of his iffy tactical decision to stop everyone from killing each other by terrifying them all with a gigantic legendary sea monster from a nightmare. That doesn't seem likely to win over many friends.

Beyond that, though, it's clear that his goal of uniting the seven tribes of Atlantis is going to take a whole lot more work than just raising aloft the underwater equivalent of Excalibur. As a wise man once said, "Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony." Becoming king isn't the end of Arthur's work, it's just the beginning — trident or no trident.

Political ramifications

You have to hand it to Princess Mera. Not only did she save Atlantis and the surface world, she also managed to free herself from an unwanted political marriage by ditching the ambitious and scheming Prince Orm for the much more suggestible — and dumber — Arthur. It was a brilliant maneuver from the real power behind the throne.

And Arthur is going to need Mera's political acumen, because he is way out of his depth, no pun intended. As we saw when a bunch of fans approached him at the bar for a simple selfie, he's barely capable of navigating normal human interactions, much less the kind of political niceties it will take to truly unite the disparate tribes of Atlantis. And then there's the even more daunting task of trying to get Atlantis and the surface world to work and live together in harmony.

Much was made of Aquaman's unique ability to bring the surface world and Atlantis together. But you have to be able to do more than talk to fish to get that done — you have to talk to people. And so far, that doesn't really seem to be his strong suit.

Black Manta lives…

Did anybody really think Black Manta was dead just because his head exploded and he fell hundreds of feet into the angry ocean, bouncing off every single outcropping of rock in Sicily on the way down? Of course not. Considering the lengths director James Wan went to shoehorn Manta and his origin story into a film that didn't need him, there's no way he was going to be written out that easily.

So, what can fans expect from Manta in future Aquaman films? Well, comic book readers know what to expect, and it ain't pretty. Way back in the 1970s, Black Manta was at the center of one of the most shocking storylines in comics history, as he finally gained his revenge on Aquaman by murdering Arthur and Mera's infant son.

So, will the movies get that dark? Considering the lengths DC and Warner Bros. have gone to lighten up the DC Extended Universe after Zack Snyder's doom and gloom aesthetic nearly sank it, it seems unlikely that they would go straight to killing babies. One way or another, though, expect Black Manta to hit Aquaman where it hurts the most: his family. After all, unlike Manta, Arthur still has a living dad. Manta simply needs to find him.

...and Stephen Shin is with him

During the mid-credits scene, Black Manta is rescued from his watery would-be grave by Dr. Stephen Shin, who had already appeared earlier in the film spouting conspiracy theories about the existence of Atlantis — theories dismissed by the rest of the surface world, even though they were 100% correct. Now, with Manta's help, it seems as though Shin is about to get the proof he needs to validate his life's work.

As you probably guessed, Shin is also a character from the comics. A friend to Tom Curry and his young son Arthur Curry, Shin helped train Aquaman. But when Arthur wouldn't reveal the location of Atlantis, Shin turned on him and tried to kill him. Will things play out similarly in the movies? With Black Manta and Dr. Shin working together, not to mention the continued danger of Prince Orm and the existence of Skartaris, one thing is for sure: Aquaman 2 will have no shortage of plotlines to choose from.