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The ending of Doctor Sleep explained

For decades, The Shining stood alone as a terrifying story of a haunted place and haunted people. Stephen King's 1977 novel still ranks as one of his most popular and celebrated works, its legacy enhanced by Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation. Kubrick's iconic film twists many of King's core themes, but also managed to develop its own status as a horror classic. 

With this powerful horror legacy in mind — a classic novel made into a classic film — King published a sequel to The Shining, titled Doctor Sleep, in 2013. Now, director Mike Flanagan — already skilled at horror adaptation thanks to Gerald's Game and The Haunting of Hill House — has taken King's novel and brought it to the big screen in a way that both honors the author's original version of The Shining and manages to reconcile it with Kubrick's own distinct vision of the Overlook Hotel. The result is a film that's somehow a sequel to two divergent stories at once, with its own complex mythology and a multilayered ending. We're here to break it all down. This is the ending of Doctor Sleep, explained.

Abra's darkness

Much of the lore established in Doctor Sleep is focused on building up the "raw power," as Rose the Hat puts it, inherent in Abra Stone. At one point, while discussing Abra's power, Rose goes so far as to say that trying to dampen Abra's gift with medication would be to "put Saran Wrap over a searchlight." 

Abra spends much of the film getting to know the extent of her own strength, and it's clear that on some level she's quite pleased with the things she can do. Once she understands who the True Knot are and what Rose wants, Abra goes so far as to stage an elaborate trap in her bedroom, which terrifies Rose and leaves her severely wounded, despite only appearing in Abra's house in astral form. To add to the horror of the scene, it's clear that Abra enjoyed hurting Rose, and she even brags about it to Dan later. 

During their final encounter at the Overlook Hotel, Rose tells Abra that she reminds her of her younger self, because there's a darkness in Abra that hasn't reached its full potential yet. It's something Rose says in an attempt to distract Abra, but it's nevertheless also apparently true. Will the darkness start to take her over as she ages, or will she be able to handle it? As we see from the look on her face in the final shot, the film makes it an open question.

Abra and the Overlook ghosts

One of the earliest scenes in Doctor Sleep establishes that even after he and his mother escaped the Overlook, young Danny Torrance was haunted by the ghosts who attacked him there. They followed him from the hotel to his home in Florida, and continued to attempt to feed on him until Dick Hallorann taught young Danny a trick that would allow him to lock the ghosts away in boxes. Dan has kept the Overlook ghosts locked away in his own mind for years, but must finally unleashed them on Rose the Hat. 

The film's final scene makes it clear that, while the Overlook is gone, the ghosts are not. The woman from Room 237 has returned to haunt Abra Stone's bathroom, trying to feed on her shine now that she can't feed on Dan's. Abra clearly knows how to deal with the woman thanks to Dan's mentorship, but what about the rest of the Overlook ghosts? Will they find Abra? Will they dare come after her? Will they chase other shining children down? Abra seems to have the biggest shine around, but if she has to deal with them all, what kind of toll will it take?

Others who shine

When Dan and Abra meet in person for the first time, they discuss the shining in detail, and Dan explains that a lot of people have a little bit of a shine, but he's only met a handful in his life who knew they had a gift and understood how to use it. Abra is one of those people, of course, and so is Dick Hallorann. Brad Trevor, the "Baseball Boy" Abra has a vision of just before he dies, is another with an uncanny gift that he is only just beginning to understand when he's murdered by the True Knot. 

The film makes it very clear that Abra's powerful shine is the reason the True Knot is defeated, because she was able to figure out who and what they were in a way that no one else necessarily could. Now that she's defeated the Knot, with Dan's help, it stands to reason that she won't simply stop using her power for good. Though there's darkness in her, there's also tremendous light, and it's easy to imagine her using her mighty gift to track down others who shine — particularly children — and make sure they're safe from the places and things that want to eat what shines.

Other Knots

As Doctor Sleep begins, the True Knot is introduced as a close knit, relatively small group of psychic vampires who roam the country under the radar and find themselves slowly running out of substantial "steam" (their word for the essence of people who shine). By the end, only Rose the Hat is left, and in a confrontation at the Overlook, Dan taunts her by proclaiming her to be the last one standing. Rose responds that she's not the last one. She's "just the prettiest."

It may have been an empty boast designed to scare Dan, but what if Rose is right about people like her? Are there still other Knots out there in this world, roaming the landscape in search of steam? Are there more places like the Overlook that will eat what shines? Are there would-be Knots that are only just beginning to learn how to consume steam, coming together in new ways? More importantly, will people like that be able to stay alive in a world where steam is harder to come by? Abra Stone will probably find out one day.

The site of the Overlook

In Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, we learn very early on that the Overlook Hotel was built atop a a Native American burial ground, setting the stage for a legacy of violence that carries on throughout the hotel's history (and illustrating the movie's themes about the genocide of indigenous people). Of course, that violence seems to culminate in Jack Torrance's rampage. In Stephen King's original novel, the Overlook burns down at the end of The Shining, but the film leaves it standing, seemingly waiting for the next caretakers.

The movie version of Doctor Sleep reveals that after the Torrance family incident, the hotel was boarded up and left to rot, as Dan puts it, but the ghosts don't cease to exist. That legacy of violence and terror is alive and well, and comes to the fore when Dan and Abra go back to the Overlook to "wake it up." 

The hotel burns to the ground at the end of Doctor Sleep, but the ghosts don't die with it. At least some of them are still present, trying to follow Abra Stone instead of Dan. With that in mind, what happens to the site of the Overlook itself? What will the owners of the land do with it now that the rotted old hotel is gone? Will it be turned into a mobile home lodge, as it is in King's novel? Will it be preserved as a heritage site in an effort to calm down the negative energy there? Will the peace be maintained?

Breaking the cycle

While the film doesn't explore the future of the Overlook site too deeply beyond Abra's explanation that it burned to the ground, the answer to what might happen in the place where the hotel once stood might be found in the way Dan Torrance dies. Dan understands that the old hotel needs to die, and in a nod to Stephen King's original ending for The Shining, he does it by cranking the hotel's faulty old boiler up until it explodes. 

Both King's novel and Kubrick's film explore the cyclical nature of violence, though Kubrick's is arguably more tied to places and systems than it is to the individual people involved. Either way, Doctor Sleep is about redemption, about breaking the cycle and paying the debt that Dick Hallorann reminds Dan he still owes. By sacrificing himself in the Overlook and destroying the structure for good, Dan is hoping he can break the cycle of pain, just as he's hoping that Abra will remember how far he went for her, and pay that forward to the next person who needs help. This act does not remove the ghosts from the world. It doesn't wipe away evil, but it does serve to outshine it, and that's something Abra can now carry with her in a world without the Overlook.

Dan and Jack

Dan Torrance is well aware of the imprint his father made on him. He was so traumatized by what happened at the Overlook that he didn't talk for some time afterward, until Dick Hallorrann taught him how to deal with bad ghosts, and he ultimately took up his father's alcoholic habits later in life. In one of Doctor Sleep's most moving scenes, he dedicates one of his sobriety anniversaries to his father, who'd once tried to get better and failed. 

This conversation between Dan and his father's memory comes to a head in one of the most stirring scenes in the film, when he meets the ghost of his father — now "Lloyd" the bartender — in the Gold Room at the ruined Overlook. They have a direct confrontation over a glass of whiskey that Dan refuses to drink, while his father's ghost fumes over the life he claims his family stole from him. Dan must turn to other matters before he can confront his father further, but his defiance is a clear rejection of Jack Torrance's own destructive path. 

With the Overlook gone, is Jack Torrance able to find peace? He does find a version of it in Doctor Sleep the novel, but Doctor Sleep the film leaves that question open. Was he beyond saving, or did Dan free his father by burning the hotel?

How long can Dan stay?

Though much of its story is taken directly from King's novel, Doctor Sleep also functions as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of The Shining in a very direct way. Kubrick's film killed off Danny's shining mentor Dick Hallorann, so in Doctor Sleep the movie Dick appears only as a ghost, popping up in Danny's life every so often to give him counsel and check in on him. 

Midway through the film, as Dan tries to shrug off Abra Stone's pleas for help with "the Baseball Boy," Dick shows up in an empty room at the hospice to confront him, and lets him know that it will be the last time he can visit him. For Dick, the real world is a "dream" where he has no real conception of time, and apparently the number of visits he can pay to it is finite.

At the end of the film, we see that Dan has taken on the same role in Abra's life that Dick's ghost took in his. He pops up to talk with her, get updates on her life, and generally help her out shortly after the Overlook burns out. As Dick explains to Dan, though, his time returning to the Earth is apparently finite, so how long does he have? He was younger than Dick when he died, and his shine was stronger, so perhaps that helps? Hopefully he'll be around at least through the rest of Abra's childhood in case she needs more guidance.

Other victims of the True Knot

Though Rose the Hat sees a certain darkness in her, Doctor Sleep makes it clear that there's inherent goodness in Abra Stone, and one of the ways it does that is through her treatment of Bradley Trevor, the "Baseball Boy" whose murder she witnesses. Abra is determined to track down his body, to the point that she's willing to subject herself to reliving Brad's trauma at the hands of the True Knot to do it, and she begs Dan Torrance for help. At one point Abra is so concerned with Brad that she even pleads with Dan to find him just so the boy can have a proper burial, regardless of what the True Knot might do in response. 

This suggests a compassionate side of Abra Stone that mirrors Dan Torrance's own gift as "Doctor Sleep" in the hospice. As he guides dying people over into the next life, so too might she guide the spirits of those killed by the True Knot to their final resting place. We don't know the full extent of her future as a shining person, but it's easy to see her using her gift to track down the hidden victims of the True Knot, and bring them a little closer to the light.