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Why The Karate Kid's Original Ending Was So Important For Cobra Kai

Contains spoilers for Cobra Kai seasons 2 and 3.

The hit Netflix series Cobra Kai has done just about everything right during its first three seasons. The Karate Kid spin-off, which catches up with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and his arch-rival Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) after more than three decades, is one of the best shows on television right now, thanks to its delicate blend of humor, drama, heart, and face-kicking karate action. There's a ton of credit to go around. Zabka, Macchio, and Martin Kove as the sinister sensei John Kreese have slipped very comfortably back into their old roles, and the series' young players — particularly Xolo Maridueña as bullied-teen-turned-karate-champ Miguel and Mary Mouser as Daniel's daughter Samantha — have been fantastic. But you've got to hand it to the show's writers, who give that cast a ton of interesting storylines and compelling individual scenes while including plenty of narratively astute callbacks to the film series.

Kreese's reappearance at the end of season 1 was bound to provide an interesting wrinkle or two to the story, but it turned to be a great deal more significant than that — as he has not-so-gradually metamorphosed into the series' main antagonist, literally taking over Johnny's Cobra Kai dojo and manipulating his more volatile students into acts of vandalism, harassment, and violence against Daniel and his pupils. Fans of The Karate Kid know Kreese as a steely badass who takes his own "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy" credo to heart and has no problem instructing his students to cheat in order to win. But his Cobra Kai turn toward abject, unrepentant villainy might have surprised those fans who never caught the flick's 1986 sequel, The Karate Kid Part II. That film's opening scene was originally meant to be the first movie's closing scene — and in it, it's made crystal clear that Kreese isn't just ethically challenged but a complete moral vacuum.

The Karate Kid's original ending made Kreese a true villain

The Karate Kid's original ending, which ultimately opens The Karate Kid Part II, takes place immediately following Daniel's victory over Johnny at the All-Valley Under 19 Karate Tournament. While Daniel and his beloved mentor Mr. Miyagi are in a celebratory mood, Johnny and Kreese are anything but. From across the parking lot, they observe Kreese heartlessly needling Johnny over his second-place finish, and when Johnny attempts to stick up for himself by saying that he did his best, Kreese calls him a loser, snapping his runner-up trophy in half. "You know, you're really sick, man," Johnny says — and that's when Kreese takes the altercation between himself and Johnny, a 17-year old boy, way too far.

He grabs Johnny and puts him in a headlock, continuing to choke him over the protests of the other Cobra Kai students and prompting Daniel's sensei Mr. Miyagi to intervene. He tells Kreese to let Johnny go, and when the boy's teammate Tommy agrees, Kreese backhands the kid, knocking him to the pavement. Kreese then tells Miyagi to butt out, using a shockingly racist term and telling him that he's next if he persists.

Miyagi frees Johnny, and Kreese assumes a fighting stance. Of course, Miyagi manages to get the best of the guy — not through superior fighting skills, but by capitalizing on his opponent's own volatility. Kreese attempts to strike Miyagi twice, but Miyagi simply sidesteps each blow — and each time, Kreese's fists instead meet with car windows. His fists sliced to ribbons, Kreese falls to his knees — and Miyagi, after taunting Kreese with his own words about never showing an opponent mercy, feigns getting ready to strike a death blow before comically honking Kreese's nose and letting him go. When Daniel asks why he did so, Miyagi utters a telling line: "For person with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death."

Kreese shows no mercy on Cobra Kai

The incident helps to explain why, when Kreese appears in Johnny's dojo after Miguel wins the All-Valley Under 18 title for Cobra Kai at the end of season 1, Johnny is immediately on guard. And even though the ever-manipulative Kreese is able to talk his former student into allowing him back into the fold, it's a decision that Johnny comes to regret almost immediately. Kreese promptly begins to steer Cobra Kai's students away from Johnny's developing philosophy (which could be described as "ethical badassness"), and toward his own win-at-any-cost, your-opponent-is-your-enemy approach — resulting in a quick and dramatic escalation of the conflict between some of Cobra Kai's more volatile students and their Miyagi-do rivals.

Kreese's utter inability to accept defeat even leads to his most heartless gambit: When Johnny unequivocally rejects his old mentor, Kreese employs underhanded tactics to take over the Cobra Kai dojo and leave Johnny out in the cold. Even then, though, Kreese's penchant for manipulation allows him to believe that Johnny will eventually come crawling back. To Johnny's credit, he never does.

Kreese simply seems to revel in being an agent of chaos and in instilling that same tendency in his young charges. At the ending of Cobra Kai season 3, his machinations culminate in Cobra Kai's students mounting an attack on Miyagi-do at the LaRusso home while Daniel and his wife Amanda are at a Christmas party. When Daniel confronts Kreese at the Cobra Kai dojo afterward, Kreese comes within moments of actually killing Daniel — he even ominously says that it's time for Daniel and his late mentor Miyagi to "reunite" — and when we recall that long-ago incident in which he very nearly choked Johnny to death, we believe that he's more than capable of following through on that threat. Indeed, Kreese has become one of the scariest villains on the small screen — and even though he, Johnny, and Daniel have agreed to resolve their differences at the upcoming karate tournament, we have a feeling the slimy sensei won't exactly keep his word.