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The Ending Of The Good Wife Explained

It was the slap heard 'round the world. The final moments of The Good Wife are memorable in part because of the controversy they stirred up among fans who were left unsatisfied, but the ending also built up to something bigger. Later, show creators Robert and Michelle King defended the climactic moment between Diane and Alicia as the appropriate ending for their series, as we'll get into.

Of course, the controversy around the slap is only part of the story when it comes to The Good Wife's ending. The show, which ran for more than 100 episodes and lasted seven seasons, created a legacy that also includes a successful spin-off. And to build that legacy, it had to tell consistently compelling stories about Chicago's legal world episode after episode. Although the ending was controversial, no one could deny that the show proved itself to be one of the best political and legal dramas on TV over the course of its run. 

The Good Wife ended where it began

In its very first moments, The Good Wife did a lot of work to establish the story it was trying to tell. The pilot follows Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) as she dealt with the news that her husband Peter (Chris Noth), who was then working as a State's Attorney, had a series of affairs. She puts on a brave face at a press conference but appears to be slowly unraveling as her husband comes under questioning from reporters. As soon as the two of them are alone together, she slaps him across the face. 

It's a slap that firmly establishes who Alicia is and communicates all the anger and frustration she's feeling as a result of her husband's carelessness. It's not just that Peter had an affair, it's that he left her with an enormous mess she now has to clean up. She has to find a job and a way to take care of her family without Peter's help.

Diane can slap, too

It makes sense, then, that as the show drew to a close, the creators wanted to invoke the slap that had set the series in motion. The final moments of The Good Wife's ending deliberately echo the first moments of the show: Peter enters another press conference with Alicia at his side to announce that he will be resigning as governor over allegations that he helped one of his donor's sons beat a murder charge. 

Alicia's behavior in this final sequence is deliberately different from her behavior in the show's first episode. This time, she's confident and barely paying attention, distracted by the sight of a sort-of-boyfriend that she believes she's spotted. She abruptly leaves the press conference to find him and winds up in a similar hallway to the one where she and Peter stood in the pilot. This time, though, Alicia is the one receiving a slap — from her boss and mentor Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). 

Alicia is slapped for betraying Diane

Just like in The Good Wife's pilot, we know fundamentally that the person being slapped deserves it. In Alicia's case, the slap comes after she attempts to undermine Diane's husband Kurt (Gary Cole) in the course of Peter's trial. She reveals that Kurt had an affair and attempts to make him look unreliable in order to help Peter's case. At that moment, Alicia decides to put her own interests above Diane's, and she ultimately causes her former mentor a lot of pain as a result. 

After Alicia gets hit, she wipes away a tear and quickly moves forward. She straightens out her suit, sets her face in a defiant glare, and prepares for whatever's coming next. In those small gestures, we see how far Alicia has come from where she was in the pilot. She's perfectly comfortable doing wrong now, and she knows how to use the power that she has to her advantage. Alicia doesn't need any help, not even from Diane, the person who was first willing to extend a hand to her.

The Good Wife creators defended the controversial ending

Although the final moments of The Good Wife offer some welcome parallels to the show's first episode, not everyone was pleased with the somewhat dark way that the show concluded. However, as Robert and Michelle King explained in an interview with Variety, that final moment was always part of the plan for how the show would conclude. 

"It felt right," Robert said after the finale aired. "We knew fans, a lot of fans, would be upset. The difficulty we had that was that everything that was tempting to do was tempting to do in a way that undercut the seven seasons of the show." 

"We're sorry if anybody's thrown by this, but we do think it will be more resonant for the show in the rearview mirror," Robert added. "You may want to return to the first episode — how did she change from the first episode?" 

Conveniently, the slap also led to The Good Fight, the eventual spin-off that focused on Diane's character (and is one of the best shows to watch on Paramount+). Not only did the slap neatly wrap up the arc that Alicia had gone through, it also set up the next arc to come.