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The ending of The Old Guard explained

If you like action movies and you also like genre stories that dig into one key conceptual hook and its many implications along the way, The Old Guard is a film for you. Gina Prince-Bythewood's adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez's bestselling comic book of the same name arrived on Netflix in 2020, and brought with it Charlize Theron in full warrior mode, an intriguing premise with a lot of potential, an incredible ensemble cast, and all-out action wrapped around a little dose of magic.

The comics and the film both follow the title characters — a group of immortal warriors who've become mercenaries in the modern world — as they grapple with two key discoveries at once. The first is that there's a new member of their ranks, and the second is that someone seems to have discovered their secret. Together, these two challenges create a war like no other for the Old Guard, one that builds storytelling layers right up until the end. That's why we're here now. From how it wraps up to where it might go next, this is the ending of The Old Guard explained.

Spoilers ahead for The Old Guard.

Other powerful threats

The chief threat during The Old Guard is Merrick, a pharmaceutical tycoon who becomes convinced that Andy and her crew are the key to opening up all sorts of pathways to curing disease, slowing the aging process, and perhaps even stopping death. Merrick has vast financial resources, tremendous tenacity, and the help of Copley and his enormous capacity for research. He also has Booker's help, and with all of that at his back he's very nearly able to capture and incapacitate every single member of the Old Guard. Even if he doesn't actually crack the code of their strange gifts, Merrick's actions throughout the film prove that the Old Guard can be caught, can be restrained, and can perhaps one day even be defeated for good.

Of course, by the end of the film Merrick has fallen out of his own skyscraper with an axe in his neck, so he won't be coming after them again any time soon. That said, as Andy notes near the end of the film, it's almost impossible to stay hidden in the modern world they live in. If Merrick was able to track them down and deploy his wealth to very nearly cage them all, who's to say an even wealthier business tycoon somewhere can't do the same, particularly after they learn about what Merrick went through? All it takes is one person on the inside of his company who's willing to say what they know.

Other lost immortals

Early on in Nile's travels with the Old Guard, she reveals that she's been having dreams of a woman locked in an iron coffin in the ocean. That's when the other members of the Guard reveal the story of Quynh, Andy's first companion who was sentenced to die by drowning in the Middle Ages, before Nicky, Joe, or Booker came along. This tragedy, which seems to have informed a great deal of Andy's own outlook over the years, was of course compounded by her immortality. Because she couldn't stay dead, she was condemned to drown over and over again.

By the end of the film, we learn that Quynh is still alive, and she's escaped her watery prison. Though we have no idea how long she was down there or how she got out, it's clear that her immortality outlasted numerous deaths. What isn't clear is whether Quynh is the only immortal who's ever suffered such a fate. Nile dreams of her, which suggests that she and the others could dream of any other lost immortals out in the world, but Nile also mentions that at first she only caught Quynh in "flashes," so what else could their dreams only be partially telling them? Immortals are obviously rare, but that doesn't mean there aren't others who've met similar fates. Perhaps Quynh, with her own tortured history, has a better connection to that side of their gifts.

Nile's former life

When we first meet Nile, she's an American Marine just trying to do her best who discovers quite by accident that she's immortal. Much of the film's emotional core is devoted to Nile coming to terms with her abilities and the massive implications they have, including what it means for her relationship with her loved ones. As the other members of the Old Guard explain, if she tries to keep in touch with her family, if she stays with them until they die, they will grow to resent and hate her.

Still, Nile persists in her desire to keep in contact with her family, to the point that Andy even relents and gives her back her phone. In the end, Nile chooses her new family of immortals, but reveals in the final scenes of the film that she still has her phone, and therefore still has a lifeline to her family even though Copley has promised to make it look like she was killed in action in the Marine. Though Nile seems content with finding her way as an immortal, it's very possible that phone will call to her again, even after her family learns of her death. It's possible she won't be able to resist, and will open a box that she finds very hard to close.

New layers of privacy

From the beginning of the film, it's clear that the Old Guard values their privacy, in no small part because they don't want anyone asking questions about their agelessness. Andy goes so far as to offer to take a photo for some tourists just so she can delete a picture she happened to be in the background of, and she also points out that they have a policy against taking repeat jobs in case people get wise.

Then, of course, Copley reveals that he's been doing research on them going back decades, complete with photographs, old ID cards, news clippings, and much more. In response, Andy notes that it's harder and harder to be invisible in the modern world. As penance for his attempts to sell them off to Merrick, she tasks Copley with becoming their new eraser of sorts. He will be in charge not just of helping them coordinate new missions, but of erasing every trace that they were there in the first place. Whether that means he's now been drafted into literally erasing history wherever he can or if it just applies to the present is unclear, but by the end of the film, the Old Guard has a new and powerful layer of secrecy in their corner.

Booker's exile

Though Merrick is the chief villain of The Old Guard, he's not alone in his journey to capturing the crew and learning their secrets. He has help from Copley, of course, who does copious research to determine what they're really looking for, but arguably the most important ingredient is the participation of Booker. Andy and her crew very nearly go down because her best friend and fellow immortal decides it's worth it to turn them all over to medical researchers in the hope that one day, they'll learn why they live so long, and how to finally die if they so choose.

By the end of the film, Andy has found new purpose in life after her struggle with Merrick, and while she shares a part of that with Booker, the group still votes to punish him by exiling him from the team for a century. Booker's immortality means that he will essentially be alone for all that time, but of course the film's post-credits scene reveals that Andy's old partner Quynh has tracked him down, presumably to use him to get to Andy again. Booker already betrayed the Old Guard once. With a potential unstable immortal now hunting him down, will he do it again?

Andy's survival

The members of the Old Guard know that they can die. They just never know when. Each time they go down in a fight could be the last, but none of them has any idea what triggers that final death, or what the signs are.

Near the end of the film, Andy realizes that she has lost her own grip on immortality when Booker's shot to her stomach refuses to heal. Though she's apparently now vulnerable enough that she could be killed by conventional means at any time and even naturally die, Andy is at peace by the end of the film. She sees her newfound mortality as a tradeoff for Nile's emergence as the first new immortal among them in ages. Seeing her young sister in arms fills her with a new sense of wonder, and seeing Copley's research into her past reveals to her that she has a purpose she can still serve while she lives.

So, with all of that in mind, how much longer does Andy actually have left? Will she age conventionally and die in a few decades? Booker seems to think that's the case, though when she says goodbye to him she tells him to "have a little faith." Is it possible that her lingering gifts could prolong her life, or even make her somewhat harder to kill than a normal human? We don't know, but Andy's definitely not done testing her limits.

Quynh's plan

There are numerous ways in which The Old Guard sets things in motion for a sequel, but the most thrilling arrives in the mid-credits sequence, when Booker goes back to his apartment and discovers a mysterious woman waiting for him. Though he's never met her, we know immediately that this woman is Quynh, Andy's long-lost original partner, who was left to drown over and over again at the bottom of the ocean and was never heard from again until now.

Quynh's return only takes up a matter of moments at the very end of the film, so there's still a great deal we don't know about her. What we do know is that she's been through a lot. She suffered a kind of torture that mortal humans can only imagine, and it probably hasn't done anything good for her mental state. It's also probably fostered the feeling that Andy abandoned her, or at the very least didn't work hard enough to get her back.

Then there's the fact that she went to Booker instead of seeking Andy out directly, at least at first. Will she use him as a weak point to gain leverage in some kind of vengeance scheme, or is she after something else? Hopefully a sequel will materialize and fill us in. Or you could just go read The Old Guard: Force Multiplied right now.

Renewed purpose

The members of the Old Guard know quite a lot about how their immortality works. They know that it is finite, though none of them know how finite. They know that they dream of each other when they're apart, and they know that they are rare. What they don't know is why they've been given these strange gifts and others haven't. By the end of the film, though, Copley has shown them why. In the course of his research into the Old Guard, he discovers that Andy and her crew have a somewhat magical effect on people they save on missions. If they rescue someone, that person's descendants will do something great for the world, creating a cumulative good that multiplies the longer they stay alive. This discovery is perhaps the most important driving factor in the entire film, because it confirms for Andy that she still has something worth living for. The world might be getting worse, but she has a palpable power to make it better, and so the crew sets out at the end with a renewed sense of purpose, even as they're still searching for certain answers even Copley hasn't found.

Searching for more answers

Throughout The Old Guard, the crew makes it clear that they've never really known why they're immortal. This plagues them all, but eats at Andy in particular, because she's been around for the longest by far. She's seen millennia pass her by, and she's no closer to understanding why she was chosen to just keep existing. Then comes Copley, and his revelation that her impact on the world has been exponentially good. As long as she keeps fighting and giving people second chances, they go off and spawn generations of people who do more good for the world. It's suddenly quantifiable, and it gives Andy the drive she needs to go on.

Near the end of the film, Nile notes that "maybe this is the why" of their immortality, and while Andy is satisfied with that, it's interesting to note that there are still unanswered questions. It's still not clear why them, why they were chosen out of billions of lives to live this long. It's also not clear why some of them can go on for millennia while others get snuffed out, or why people like Quynh are made to suffer. At the end of The Old Guard, one great Why has been answered, but there are many more left to explore.

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