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The ending of 13 Reasons Why explained

Everyone's latest Netflix obsession 13 Reasons Why dove down a dark, winding path through the circumstances surrounding Hannah Baker's (Katherine Langford) suicide. And though most of the questions that burned in viewers' minds were answered in the last few episodes, the finale dished up more what-ifs than any of us were anticipating. Just what happened at the end of the first season, and what does it mean for the show's possible second? Let's dive in.

Hannah is dead

This seems like an obvious observation, given how unapologetically brutal Hannah's death was in the finale episode and how the entire series centers around her ultimate, unfortunate end. No camera shied away from the suicide scene (even if they maybe should have) or the heartbreaking discovery by her parents that their rescue efforts were too little and too late, and 13 Reasons Why wrapped with the event viewers saw coming. But there was an alternate ending in Jay Asher's 2007 novel of the same name, which serves as the source material for the Brian Yorkey-developed show, in which Hannah survives her suicide attempt. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Asher explained his initial motivations to keep the young girl alive, and why, in the fullness of time, he went against them.

"I liked the idea of 'We've learned something from this. And yet, here's a second chance.' Knowing as well that it was going to be difficult when Hannah went back to school to have to deal with those kids. It's not like everything's smooth now. In fact, it might be even tenser for her. But now there's Clay, played by Dylan Minnette, who's going to be upfront that he's there for her," Asher said.

According to the author, suicide is too serious an issue to skirt around, and he didn't want to risk romanticizing the issue by keeping Hannah alive and presenting the opportunity for others to make amends. Because in real life, things don't shake out that way. Asher reiterated that suicide isn't that simple. "No matter that there were missed opportunities for her. Those opportunities aren't there if you [commit suicide]," he explained.

In a perfect, always-sunny world, the ones we love would never die. But in 13 Reasons Why, Hannah's death was almost a necessity. Had the Netflix series chosen Asher's original ending and had Hannah lived to see a second season and smooth her troubles over with her flock of frenemies and outright foes, the message simply wouldn't be the same.

Alex might be dead

Viewers were totally freaked in the penultimate episode when police chatter revealed that a young male sustained a gunshot wound to the head, and we're willing to hedge a hefty bet that your blood ran cold at the thought of who it could be. The series waited to pull the veil and reveal the might-be-dead boy's identity: Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), last seen flicking his fingers through his closet, mulling over the fact that his father (Mark Pellegrino) cleared his obligations to depose in Hannah's court case. Damaged as he may be, considering he's the black sheep in his straight-laced militaristic family, and though he was an early catalyst in Hannah's death, Alex couldn't have killed himself, right? And if he didn't take his own life, was he murdered? The bleach-haired boy has a fairly large target on his back, one that equally troubled classmate Tyler (Devin Druid) may have fired at.

But Druid claimed he knows nothing about a potential plot twist. He did say he'd "hate to be the guy who shot" Alex, and there are a handful of hints that actually steer the narrative away from that conclusion. In his last moments onscreen, Alex mirrors one of Hannah's strange behaviors: he cleans his room.

A lovelier theory is that Alex survives his injury, regardless of who inflicted it upon him. Here's to hoping we see his face again in the second season.

Jessica's about to tell her father something important

Jessica (Alisha Boe) grapples with accepting what Bryce (Justin Prentice) did to her so many months ago at her "first party of junior year." Fed lies and constantly manipulated at the hands of wishy-washy boyfriend Justin (Brandon Flynn) in an attempt to protect his buddy's reputation, Jessica reaches a breaking point that culminated in a breakthrough in the finale. Weathered but with a subtle and newfound strength, Jessica sits down with Clay to discuss their next moves and choose the path they'll take at the metaphorical fork in the road. Though Clay's practically developed a sweet tooth in his yearning to serve Bryce his just desserts, he's willing to set his ambitions aside to help Jessica heal, even if that means destroying the tapes to bury the only evidence they have of her rape. Jessica tearfully tells Clay she isn't ready for a big reveal, but she then reaches out for his hand and tells him not to burn the tapes.

Clay is steadfastly ignoring any dormant pyromaniacal tendencies, but Jessica's done avoiding the truth. Her final moments onscreen show her shakily crying, telling her father "something happened" to her. Is it about what Bryce did to her (and later to Hannah)? For her sake, we hope the show saves the flames for scumbag Bryce's reputation, safety, and well-being. He has it comin'.

Clay passed on the tapes

After what felt like an eternity, or at least a few dozen alternative indie songs on the show's oozy soundtrack, Clay reaches the last second of the last tape—and records a new side of his own. Struck with adrenaline and a boost of bad boy bravado, Clay treks to Bryce's house to slyly goad his confession. Et voila, Tape 14 (or Side 14, your preference) is born. Clay carries both his buzzing temperament and the slightly longer set of tapes to the office of Mr. Porter (Derek Luke) for what's intended to be a good ol' fashioned showdown. The pair play verbal tug-of-war, bouncing between arguments surrounding the notion that a living outsider can take the blame for someone's suicide. Mr. Porter affirms that what Hannah did was an internal choice, immune from extrinsic motivations. But Clay, hopeful as he is, believes that with love, gentle compassion, and open communication, suicide is completely avoidable. It appears Clay's the only one who's truly learned anything from Hannah's tapes, and now they're in the hands of someone who doesn't seem to care at all.

Mr. Porter has to decide what to do next

Who knew a high school counselor, a man literally paid to help others, would be the subject of Hannah's final tape? Hoping for a silver lining or even a single gold coin at the end of a faint rainbow, it's revealed that Hannah decides to make one last attempt at life. She reaches out to Mr. Porter, opens up that she's lost all feeling and all care for herself. "I need everything to stop," Hannah tells him. "People, life." But Mr. Porter (probably more appropriately named Mr. Worst Dude Ever) would apparently rather watch impastoed paint dry than actually feign concern for a girl desperate for a sign to stay alive, that things may get better. His phone rings off the hook, and his discussion with Hannah is mostly a thinly veiled bad-cop interrogation session in which he rattles off questions to pass blame to her, the victim. Did she physically resist? Did she verbally resist? Was there an explicit expression of consent?

And when Hannah places a tall order with him, hoping Bryce will be shackled in solitary confinement for the rest of forever, Mr. Porter tells her to "move on" from the incident since Bryce is a senior on his way to college and because Hannah doesn't want to speak with law enforcement. Yikes. But Hannah still holds a speck of hope, and waits for Mr. Porter to follow her out of his office into the hallway. She looks back through the glass, holds for a beat, and sees him answer his phone instead.

"Some of you care," Hannah says in her last tape, speaking directly after her non-conversation with Mr. Porter. "None of you cared enough. And neither did I. And I'm sorry." With his career hanging in the balance, what's Mr. Porter's next move?

Tyler's planning something sinister

A box full of guns and a dark room filled with photographs of the students spells massive trouble. Episode 12 showed Tyler making a shoddy hand-to-hand transaction in an alley, and we saw him slip what appeared to be a handgun into the pocket of his hoodie. The finale confirmed his illegally obtained weapon, plus a whole truckload more. Not only is Peeping Tyler a stalker, evidenced by the skin-shuddering photographs he took of Hannah and Courtney (Michele Selene Ang), he's also potentially a killer. Though his room appears just like that of any teenage boy, audiences get a full-frontal view of Tyler's treasure chest of weapons, one's he's apparently been stockpiling in preparation for a mass shooting.

A popular fan theory is that Tyler is planning to gun down the students of Liberty High, a notion made all the more plausible considering the finale's second big twist: Tyler's "hit list." Clearly comfortable behind the click of a camera, Tyler's last seen in the school's dark room, admiring a laundry line of snaps he took of Jessica, Bryce, Justin, Marcus (Steven Silver), Ryan (Tommy Dorfman), and more. But one photo is plucked from the bunch before the camera turns its eye: Alex's, hinting that either Tyler already murdered Alex or that he's no longer a target since he committed suicide. In any case, it's as heartbreaking as it is harrowing.

Sheri's in trouble

Seemingly sweet Sheri (Ajiona Alexus) had a massive hand in the death of a fellow Liberty student. After Sheri ran down a stop sign, she fled the scene and refused to notify police, even at Hannah's behest. Clay's sweet tutee and all-around gentle soul Jeff (Brandon Larracuente) blazed through the very same intersection without pressing his brakes because, well, there was no longer any indication he needed to. Consequently, an elderly driver struck Jeff, killing him on impact. Wracked by an apparent guilt for causing Jeff's death, Sheri ironically turns to Mr. Porter for guidance. Where he failed Hannah, he helps Sheri, encouraging her to come clean despite not knowing what kind of cards she's about to spread on the table. While the rest of the group bands together at Monet's to agree upon a pre-deposition game plan, Sheri rings the police and gears up to confess her involvement in the accident.

Bryce is in trouble, too

And we return to the belligerent buffoon Bryce. Two-time rapist who unknowingly implicated himself for his crime against Hannah, Bryce is in deep danger. Or, to quote Brittany Snow's character from 2007's Hairspray, he's in a "hotbed of moral turpentine," and that's putting it lightly. Bryce lays his knuckles into sweet Clay's face in Episode 12, but the closing installment of Season 1 seems to promise the world will hit Bryce back. Tape 14, Bryce's confession, will "blow up the world," according to Tony (Christian Navarro). And Clay's totally down for an explosion that would put Michael Bay to shame. But will it be enough to convict Bryce?

Justin's on the run

Hear us out: Justin isn't exactly America's sweetheart, the poster child for a perfect boyfriend (let's not revisit the night of Jessica's party and his actions in the months proceeding), or that great of a friend, but the end of 13 Reasons Why saw a shift for him. In a moment that had fans throwing their fists in the air a la Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, Justin confronts Bryce, brutally severs their twisted ties, and leaves town. However, his scene of self-assurance comes after an avalanche of despair. After confessing to a suicide attempt, Justin pleads with his now ex-girlfriend Jessica to let him back in her life. But rather than shacking up once more, she insists what she truly wants is to never see Justin again in her life. It definitely taints Justin's "you're no good for me" sequence that splinters his relationship with Bryce, but hopefully it doesn't weigh him down more than the bottle of vodka and the handgun he has tucked in his backpack.

Lainie Jensen's in hot water

Clay's mom (Amy Hargreaves) once thought her son had little to do with Hannah's death. After all, Clay did repeat time and again that he was nothing more than a co-worker, a mere acquaintance to Hannah, when in actuality, he was deeply in love with her at the time of her death. But now that Lainie knows Clay's a key player in the court case, something of a spiritual witness to Hannah's death, and perhaps a suspect in her suicide, the already unsteady lawyer finds herself in a legal tight spot. With a son on one side of the depositions-and-proceedings battle and her briefcase firmly planted on the other, Lainie's got some major thinking to do. Will she stick with what's easy or commit to what's right? The cards (and an insane conflict of interest) are in her hands now.

The Bakers will finally learn what happened

At the heart of the series are the salt-of-the-earth Bakers (Kate Walsh and Brian d'Arcy James). Juggling a second-best pharmacy/convenience store and attempting to come to terms with the death of their daughter, the married Mister and Missus are perhaps the most poorly treated characters in 13 Reasons Why, second to Hannah herself. Throughout the entire first season, the Bakers are blindly palming the air in hopes of plucking a piece of evidence from the nothingness. What they don't realize, and what no Liberty kid tells them, is that Hannah's goodbye exists, and it answers all the questions that keep them up at night. Finally, Tony rises to the occasion. Among rows of actual medicine, Tony delivers the remedy to the Bakers' pain: a single thumb drive containing 14 individual recordings of Hannah's tapes. Tony laments for holding onto the secret for so long and regrets not informing them sooner, but hopes they can find some kind of solace in Hannah's final words, in perhaps coming to understand why they lost her. Plus, it gives them a ton of leverage in the legal battle.

The second set of tapes is out there somewhere

While most of the central Liberty High gang are tied up in depositions in the closing episode of the first season of 13 Reasons Why, three are attempting to patch up old heartbreaks and start anew. After Tony unpacks his burden with the Bakers, he and Clay, along with former friend Skye (Sosie Bacon) and Tony's beau Brad (Henry Zaga), go for a drive—and they make use of the radio over Tony's favorite cassettes. But just because the tapes are no longer in their possession and their work is seemingly done doesn't mean Hannah's influence is suddenly less reaching. There's another box of tapes hidden in their small town.

Hours before her death, we see Hannah mailing another box of recordings out, meant to be delivered to Justin, and we know she hand-delivered another 13 to Tony's house. Justin's package made the rounds through Liberty High, landing on the doorstep of each reason why, and are now sitting with the crooked Mr. Porter. And though Tony's wiped his conscience of his set, he hasn't washed his hands of them. When speaking to the Bakers, Tony reveals that he's still holding onto the originals. "I have the original tapes, and for reasons you'll come to understand, I have them hidden somewhere very safe," he says.

Okay, that raises a dozen and one new questions. Where is "somewhere"? Are the first 13 even in Tony's house? Did Hannah give Tony secret instructions on mailing his collection to someone else? Could they be sitting in the house of some bigwig lawyer, an indication of Hannah's (or possibly Tony's) suspicion that her parents would pursue legal action post-death and that they wouldn't be able to do it alone? For a series that soaks its viewers with drippy mystery, its finale sure sprays us with another round of unknowns, leaving us all hoping for a dry towel and some concrete conclusions.