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The Ending Of Army Of The Dead Explained

While the plot of "Army of the Dead" does indeed center around a casino heist, it's hardly "Ocean's 11" in its complexity. Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) and his team have a seemingly simple task in front of them: walk through Las Vegas, into a casino, open the safe, remove the money, and fly out. No elaborate costumes, false identities, or fake storylines required. The only problem, of course, is that the city is filled to the brim with zombies.

But while the heist itself likely requires little explanation, the same cannot be said of many of the other elements in "Army of the Dead." What starts out as a grisly romp ends on much more of a somber note, and how the film gets from its raucous beginning to its rather grim ending involves a number of abrupt narrative shifts. It's understandable if you find it difficult to keep up with each one. Similarly, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, which becomes increasingly challenging as the team continues to split up. So if you're not entirely sure what becomes of every character by the end of "Army of the Dead," or how they get to where they end up, we've got you covered. 

Spoilers ahead.

Why did Geeta go into the city?

While Ward and his team infiltrate the quarantined city of Las Vegas to recover $200 million and make themselves rich, Ward's daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) has very different motivations. She tags along with her father's team in order to go find her friend, Geeta (Huma Qureshi), who had snuck into the city with the help of the Coyote, Lilly (Nora Arnezeder) the night before, but hasn't come out. Lilly explains that Geeta and her friends pushed deeper into the city against Lilly's advice.

But why did Geeta go into the city in the first place? It seems that the surviving citizens of Las Vegas were put into "quarantine camps," ostensibly designed to help contain the outbreak, but the film indicates that they're actually being used more as internment camps, and that the people inside are "political prisoners." It's hinted that the zombie virus is being used as an excuse to round up anyone who doesn't agree with (what is strongly implied to be) the Trump administration, as evidenced by a debate between real-life political pundits Donna Brazile and Sean Spicer. 

The only way out of the camps is via bribery, and many foot that bill by breaking into Las Vegas to collect cash. Geeta's plan is to "crack a slot machine" (presumably one that uses quarters and not tokens) and use the money to purchase freedom for her and her two kids. She mentions that she hopes to get $5,000, but since that translates to 250 pounds' worth of quarters, it seems unlikely she would actually be able to carry that much out.

What were the zombies planning?

Although Ward's team enters Las Vegas expecting to be met by a horde of mindless, stumbling "shamblers," what they find is something far different. While there are indeed plenty of traditional, slow-moving reanimated corpses clogging the city streets, there is also a different group of alpha zombies which are faster, intelligent, and organized. Lilly buys safe passage into the city from this second group by offering them a human sacrifice, trussing up abusive quarantine agent Cummings (Theo Rossi) like a Thanksgiving turkey and presenting him as a gift to the zombies.

Lilly says she has never figured out exactly what the alpha zombies are doing, and the movie doesn't explicitly say it, but we get a few clues. The first is that the people offered as sacrifices are not immediately eaten or turned by the zombies, but are taken to Zeus (Richard Cetrone), the Zombie King, to be turned into alphas. This suggests that he doesn't just want more zombies in general, but specifically more alphas. The second is when we learn that Zeus' queen is pregnant. Although we have no idea how two zombies are able to conceive a child, its inclusion in the film points to the idea that Zeus is intentionally building a zombie civilization. We can even assume that he will eventually form an actual army (hence the film's title) and venture out into the world to conquer other civilizations and bring them under his control. Unfortunately for him, Las Vegas gets hit with a nuclear bomb, wiping out the new race he is creating before they can even attempt to expand beyond the walls of the city.

Who were the past groups that Ward's team found?

As Ward's team pushes further into the ruins of Las Vegas and approaches the casino safe that holds their doomed prize, they come across the remains of other teams that appear to have been on the same mission. They deduce that this must not be the first time that Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) has hired a team to venture into the city and liberate his money from its high-tech tomb, only for them to ultimately fail in the endeavor. Ward's team is now Tanaka's last chance for success, considering that the government is getting ready to drop a nuclear bomb on the city.

At one point, while examining the remains of a team who met their end right outside the safe, Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) muses that the other teams are, in fact, their specific team, caught in an infinite time loop of death and failure. In fact, the skeletons they find do bear an uncanny resemblance to Ward's team, with much of their tattered apparel mimicking the living characters' clothing. Is this a hint that "Army of the Dead" actually is some sort of macabre "Tenet"-esque world, where timelines are braided together and characters unknowingly interact with past and future versions of themselves? 

Well, probably not. Most likely, the other teams were exactly that — soldiers recruited similarly to Ward's, promised massive sums of wealth upon completion of their mission, only to die horribly before ever winning their fortunes. Vanderohe's comment is meant more to foreshadow the ultimate failure and inevitable futility of their mission than to imply that the other teams were literally them.

Why did Martin sabotage his whole team?

Although we have more than a few questions regarding the soundness of Martin's (Garret Dillahunt) logic in betraying Ward and the rest of the team in "Army of the Dead," we are at least clear on what he was trying to do. While Ward and the rest of the team were under the impression that the most valuable thing in Las Vegas was the giant pile of cash in the casino vault, Martin knew better. His secret mission was to bring back the head of an alpha zombie for Tanaka, giving his boss the ability to create his very own army of the dead.

What Tanaka planned on doing with his zombie army is never specified, but it seems safe to assume it wouldn't have been anything good. The fact that Martin is fully on board just speaks to his callousness, since he doesn't think twice about all the people said zombie army could hurt, as well as his greed and hunger for power. So it's not shocking that, once he has what he wants, he doesn't hesitate in betraying the whole team and attempting to leave them behind, eager to collect the spoils of the mission all for himself. Ironically, this lack of basic human decency turns out to be his downfall, since if he'd had some backup, he possibly could have avoided becoming zombie tiger food.

Which members of Ward's team don't make it out of Vegas?

Despite its disastrous end, you can't say that Ward didn't plan his heist well. His team was solid, composed of himself; Dieter, an expert safe cracker (Matthias Schweighöfer); Marianne Peters, a helicopter pilot (Tig Notaro); Lilly, the guide; his trusted zombie war allies Maria (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick); additional sharpshooters Mikey (Raúl Castillo) and Chambers (Samantha Win); and Tanaka's head of security, Martin. At the last minute, his daughter Kate strong-armed her way onto the team, and Lilly recruited the deplorable Cummings.

Cummings was the first to fall, with Lilly shooting him in the leg and leaving him as a sacrifice for the zombies. He was turned into an alpha by Zeus, and later killed by Kate. Chambers was next to go, after being abandoned in a zombie-packed building by Martin, although she fought valiantly and took out scores of the undead along with her. The rest made it into the vault, and seemed like they might make it out, until they were betrayed and locked in by Martin. That decision came back to bite him, literally, when Martin was shredded by a zombie tiger.

As for the others, Maria got her neck snapped by zombies when they broke into the bank vault, and Mikey blew himself up after getting bitten while trying to escape, taking a slew of zombies with him. Dieter held his own for a while, but ultimately sacrificed himself to save Vanderohe, shutting him in the safe as he was swarmed by zombies. Lilly provided a distraction long enough for Ward and Peters to escape on the helicopter, only to be rewarded for her trouble with a pole through the chest.

Does anyone make it out of Las Vegas?

Against all odds, a few members of Ward's team make it out of Sin City, although some of them don't last very long afterward. After trying to take on the Zombie King by himself, Vanderohe is nearly killed before being saved by Dieter, who sacrifices himself while shutting Vanderohe in the safe. Vanderohe waits there for some time, and eventually climbs out after the nuclear blast. He walks to an abandoned house, then takes a car to an airport and boards a plane to Mexico — only to realize while in the air that he's been infected by the zombie virus.

As for Ward, he's bitten by Zeus when the Zombie King leaps onto the helicopter. During their struggle, Peters is shot in the shoulder, impeding her ability to fly. She does her best to keep flying, but between her injury and the aftershock of the nuclear blast, the helicopter proves too much for her to manage. She ultimately crashes in the desert, and is killed on impact. Geeta is also on board the helicopter, but we never see her after the crash, implying that she likely dies. Kate is the only one who survives relatively unscathed. Ward gives her the small pile of cash he's managed to hold onto, but then begins to transform into a zombie and is shot in the head by a tearful Kate, the last one standing.

What happens to the money?

For a heist movie, "Army of the Dead" really manages to sidestep the typical victorious ending, in which characters metaphorically swim around in their newfound wealth like Scrooge McDuck. While they're successful in breaking into the safe and locating the cash, and even manage to load quite a bit of it into black duffel bags, they're destined not to get very far with it. Much of the money remains in the safe, shut in with Vanderohe until the end of the film. The others try to take the money with them at first, but either abandon it or are killed while holding it, until by the time Ward and Peters fly off in the helicopter, they don't have a single bag. Most of the money either gets destroyed in the bombing of Las Vegas, or is entombed forever in the safe.

However, Ward does manage to take a small stack of bills, which isn't much compared to the fortune in the safe, but is still likely somewhere around $50,000. He passes it to Kate before he dies, telling her to use it to buy freedom for Geeta's kids. And Vanderohe makes it out with three bags, likely holding somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, which he uses to charter a plane to Mexico City. Unfortunately, he realizes mid-flight that he's been bitten, meaning the rest of what he managed to take for himself is likely not going to do him much good.

How did Vanderohe survive the nuclear blast?

We never learn exactly why Vanderohe remained in the safe for so long after Dieter shut him in. Perhaps he passed out, or perhaps he was waiting until he could be sure the zombies outside were gone, or perhaps he was counting down the minutes until the nuclear blast. Or perhaps it just took him a while to figure out how to get out. Whatever his motivation for riding out the nuclear strike in the safe, it saved his life ... at least for a little while, until he realized he'd been doomed by a zombie bite all along.

Ironically, knowing that Vanderohe and his bags of money could successfully weather a nuclear blast inside that safe, it becomes clear that if Tanaka's intent was indeed to just recover the money, he could have waited to send in a team until after the strike, when all the zombies were dead. That really would have been the simple in-and-out mission he initially pitched to Ward.

What did Tanaka want to do?

Tanaka is a bit of an enigmatic figure in "Army of the Dead." All we know about him is that he's a billionaire who owns at least one casino, and who is famous enough that Ward recognizes him the minute he walks into his diner. He says that insurance has already paid out the money that was in his safe in the casino, but the story he feeds Ward is that he wants the cash anyway, essentially doubling his insurance payout with very little effort on his part. However, we later learn from Martin that the entire heist scheme is a ruse to get Martin into the city, in order to steal a zombie head so Tanaka can create more of them — an entire army, in fact.

Martin calls them "the ultimate WMD," or weapon of mass destruction. And while at first it's a little unclear whether it's just Martin's plan to sell the head to the highest bidder or deliver it straight to Tanaka, he clarifies later to Lilly that Tanaka never cared about the money. Tanaka's only interest was in the zombie head, giving him the ability to create his own zombie army. We never learn what Tanaka was building an army for, or whether he had any personal goals of conquest at all. Perhaps he simply wanted to be in possession of the world's greatest superweapon for the purposes of power and profit, and didn't care what happened because of it.

What was the difference between the three types of zombies?

Most zombie movies tend to only have one type of undead monster, but "Army of the Dead" actually has three. The first is the original zombie, Zeus, who functions as the Zombie King throughout the film. This is likely the same zombie we meet in the opening scene, who escapes his military convoy, although that zombie's hair is shorter, suggesting that zombies are actually still alive in some strange way.

When Zeus bites a person, they become an "alpha," which are the intelligent, fast-moving zombies that make up most of the encounters in "Army of the Dead." These zombies are organized, as evidenced by their hierarchy and varying roles within their society, and also understand their own weaknesses, which is why they don't stay out in the sun to dry out like their mindless progeny.

When the alphas bite someone, those people become "shamblers," the typical slow-moving instinct-driven creatures we typically find in zombie movies. Shamblers can only make more shamblers, and aren't capable of complex thought or organization. They also don't have any awareness of their own needs, leading to many of them remaining in the sun for so long that they desiccate, making them seem dead. However, Lilly says that when it rains and the dried shamblers receive some hydration, they'll reanimate for a couple hours, begging the question of why a scene that cool wasn't in the movie.

Are there still zombies out there?

Although "Army of the Dead" ends with Las Vegas turned into a pile of rubble, the film does leave the door open for zombies to remain in the world in any of several ways. First, as evidenced by the quarantine camps and the news coverage, there's the possibility that the virus has already spread beyond the borders of Las Vegas. The film doesn't give any hard evidence of this, but it's clear that the government is concerned about it. The second is Zeus' mysterious origins; since we don't know where he came from, it's always possible there might be more like him.

But of course the last, strongest bit of evidence that zombies still exist in the world of "Army of the Dead" is the reveal at the end of the film that Vanderohe is himself infected. Of course, there's always the possibility that he could be killed or contained while on the plane, so that the virus doesn't spread beyond him. But given that "Army of the Dead" is already headed into franchise territory, Vanderohe's story being neatly cut off seems unlikely.

What are the possibilities for a sequel?

Plans have already been greenlit for an "Army of the Dead" prequel following adorable safecracker Dieter, called "Army of Thieves," and an anime series tracing the early days of the outbreak, called "Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas." But we can't rule out a sequel, despite the film's high body count by the end, and the ending leaves the door open for several possibilities.

The first is obviously continuing Vanderohe's open-ended storyline once his plane lands in Mexico. Perhaps he becomes the new Zombie King, or maybe he defies the odds yet again and figures out how to stop his infection from spreading. This seems to be the most clearly defined path toward setting up a spinoff storyline through an established character, following a new zombie outbreak.

Another option is following Kate after she frees Geeta's children from the quarantine camps. Maybe she fulfills her father's dream of opening a food truck, only to once again be pulled back into the zombie wars. A sequel could also branch off onto a new path entirely, following a different group of characters through a new zombie outbreak, once they realize that what happened in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas after all.