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The Ending Of The Queen's Gambit Explained

Contains spoilers for Netflix's The Queen's Gambit

The title of Netflix's latest critical hit The Queen's Gambit is a bit misleading, but only because the series is not a true gambit — much like the chess moves its named after. Instead, from beginning to end it watches like a clear and decisive win for the streamer. 

Directed and executive produced by Godless helmer and Logan screenwriter Scott Frank and adapted from Walter Tevis' 1983 novel of the same name, the seven episode mini-series follows the life of an orphan chess prodigy. Set during the Cold War era, the story traces the chess genius from the young age of eight to her young adulthood. The film, which is co-written by Frank and fellow executive producer Allan Scott (The Witches), stars the New Mutants actress Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a brilliant chess player caught in a world of sexism and addiction on her way to becoming a global chess champion.

 In the late 1950s, Beth is left in the care of a Kentucky orphanage where she and the other children are introduced to a steady and addictive cocktail of tranquilizers provided as a sedative by the institution. She's also introduced to her own impressive chess talents, which she takes on the road with her at increasingly prominent competitions. In a post World War II world, chess is a man's game, but Beth soon discovers she can't only keep up, but she's outpacing them. After years of winning (and breaking) the hearts of her many competitors who fall victim to her astonishing skill, Beth meets her true match. Russian Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski) is a world chess champion and he's the final hurdle to the prodigy reaching her true potential as a Grandmaster — if she can beat her drug and alcohol addiction first. 

So how does Beth fare against her biggest rivals, including her self? Here's the ending of The Queen's Gambit explained. 

Beth's history of substance abuse clouds her judgement and ability to play

In the limited series' penultimate episode, Beth is in Paris facing her ultimate challenger, Borgov, to whom she lost a game held in Mexico earlier in the season. Despite her unparalleled talent, the young woman falls to her opponent again, a loss that delivers a crushing blow to her seemingly unstoppable run and sensitive psyche. While Borgov is likely the only person at this point in Beth's career that could take her out, viewers understand that it's perhaps not his skill that defeated Beth. The night before, the young chess player had spent a night out around the town, and woke up a painfully hungover mess. The loss causes Beth — whose abuse of narcotics and alcohol has only intensified with time — to break down into a near-death mental health episode. 

At her lowest point and feeling more alone than she ever has, Beth's best friend Jolene (Moses Ingram) intervenes and helps her reclaim herself from the game and her mental health issues. That's when things in the finale, "End Game," take a dramatic and hopeful turn as a now sober Beth prepares to once again take on Borgov. A long-held dream as the capital of chess, Beth goes to Russia where she prepares for a rematch. Only this time, there's no drugs clouding her mind, helping her finally see that she is not some mad creative genius and that her brilliance is not a result of her addictions, just her intellect and strength. 

She'll soon discover that she was never quite alone in her long journey to greatness, as a sea of familiar faces eventually come to support Beth's second go at winning against Borgov in the final match of the 1968 Tournament of Champions. 

A sober Beth Harmon is finally ready to play the greatest game of her life

Now in Moscow and face-to-face with Borgov, Beth quickly discovers that their first match was something of a trial run. For hours the two face off, with Borgov eventually calling for a break, allowing Beth to see who has come to support her. Former competitors, past partners, and friends have all gathered to see her through the end, proving that she was never as lonely as she thought. When she returns the next day to continue their game, a totally sober Beth is ready to take on Borgov and win. This time, Borgov offers the chance to call a draw and make them both co-world champions, but Beth turns down the suggestion and plays on, taking down her challenger and winning the tournament. 

Next, while on her way to the airport, Beth gets out of the car and wanders over to a Moscow park where a group of older men are congregatted, all playing chess. Impressed by her wherewithal and skill, one asks Beth to play. It's a simple request that reminds her of her humbler roots where she first learned to play chess in the basement of the Methuen Home for Girls with the custodian Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp). In tune with the rest of the film's face-focused shots, Beth looks at the camera and declares in Russian, "Let's play."

The ending of The Queen's Gambit is a message of hope and support

In chess, the Queen's Gambit is a popular three-move game-opener that sees the white player sacrifice the Queen's pawn — or the pawn that sits directly in front of the Queen — for control of the center of the chess board. The move can have a number of variations and is a combination of vulnerability and board prowess, perfect for the white player who likes to keep the pressure on black and maintain an advantage. The approach isn't just the title of the series, but a metaphor for Beth's life, according to Taylor-Joy. 

"Every time we finished that sequence, I would just burst into tears because I was so happy for her," the actress told Refinery29. "She has found this sense of contentment. Where she wasn't in pain or fighting something so intensely."

The finale is ultimately an optimistic ending to a tumultuous journey, and one that sees a leading character finally find a home, health and happiness. It's a message that Taylor-Joy hopes translates to viewers. "When you feel the loneliest, it's usually because you can't see past the end of your own nose," she said. "You're so wrapped up in your head that you're convinced there's nobody out there on the edge with you. But everyone's out there on the edge with you." 

As for what happens to Beth following the finale, the Queen's Gambit star says it doesn't really matter where she goes now that she's gotten what she needs. "Whether she stays in Russia, whether she goes back [to America], whether she and Jolene travel around together for awhile, whatever it is — now that Beth is feeling more comfortable in herself and feels like she has a home within herself, I just hope that she's content."