Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. In this entry, we chase the ending of John Wick: Chapter 3.
A dog’s death can destroy an audience. This is not new information. We’ve all experienced the sensation. We’re scooched down in the bottom of our seat. There’s a big bucket of popcorn in our lap, and we’re munching away as some masked slasher vivisects one teenager after another. Then comes the moment when the killer turns his sharp instrument on the household pet. Oh, hell no. This demon has got to die.
I’m not here to psychoanalyze the intense anger that arises when a fictional animal is slaughtered compared to the blase reaction to the faceless goons obliterated at the end of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s barrel. I get it. A dog is an innocent life with no ill will, and beaming with unconditional love no matter what horror you are as a person. A dog is just here for pets and nuzzles. Seeing a puppy murdered on screen is hurtful. The cutie didn’t do a damn thing to deserve such an end.
Watching John Wick eradicate villains using guns, knives, bats, axes, swords, cars, books, pencils, and his bare hands throughout three movies is the cathartic release of rage animal lovers have wanted ever since they saw their first pitiful cinematic hound parish. Keanu Reeves is not just avenging his wife’s Daisy, he’s repaying the pain of Pippet from Jaws, Max’s Australian shepherd in The Road Warrior, Hooch from Turner & Hooch, and Sam in I Am Legend. The absurd pile of corpses beneath Wick’s feet makes perfect sense.
All on account of a puppy? Duh. Such fury and gratuitous violence have rarely felt so justified. By the time we reach the climax of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, a healthy audience member might want peace for our “hero,” but for the person who feels more pain for Marley than Me, there should never be an end to the Baba Yaga’s vengeance quest. Alfie Allen let the rampage out of the bottle in 2014, and it will never be contained.
Chapter 3 does not offer a resolution to John Wick. He had a few years out of the game. He knew love. He knew happiness. His sole mission in life now is to live so that he can enjoy the memory of that bliss experienced beside Helen (Bridget Moynahan). He will never know such warmth again, but he had it once, and that’s enough.
To keep his life and that memory, Wick vows to The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) that he will remain in service to The High Table. His first task back in the fold? To kill Winston (Ian McShane), The Continental manager that gave him that precious one-hour headstart at the end of Chapter 2. The High Table has its rules, and Winston failed to abide by them. As such, he’s got to go.
Wick makes his way back to New York City, but when he finds himself face-to-face with Winston, he discovers that he can’t end his life. When The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) witnesses this failure of action, they deconsecrate The Continental. Hunting season is announced within its walls, and two busloads of High Table goons arrive on the premises to eradicate all that reside within. Despite their advanced body armor and impressive gluttony for punishment, John Wick, Charon (Lance Reddick), and the few remaining Continental employees decimate the soldiers.
Zero (Mark Dacascos) cannot bear the idea of another eliminating John Wick. He’s the worst type of toxic fanboy. He believes he and Wick are the same and desperately needs to prove his worth to his idol before sending him off to the promised land. Wick cares not for his wants or desires. He’s but another pest to squish. Zero watches from afar while Wick battles his students hand-to-hand, face-to-glass.
When Wick hits a point of unimaginable exhaustion, Zero suddenly feels comfortable with confrontation. The fight is gnarly. Many points of impact are scored by both parties, but ultimately Wick plants a sword in Zero’s chest. He musters a few last words for his hero, “I’ll catch up with you.” Wick turns his back to the geek and mutters, “No, you won’t.” Zero tips over and dies while Wick goes looking for Winston.
The Adjudicator and Winston conduct a parlay on the roof of The Continental. They agree that Winston can remain as manager of The Continental as long as he continues to serve Under the Table. The Adjudicator mentions that John Wick remains a problem. Wick arrives, and Winston responds to The Adjudicator’s concerns by firing several shots into the chest of John Wick. The Baba Yaga falls backward over the roof and tumbles downward, catching a break here and there thanks to well-placed awnings and fire escapes. He hits the street and appears to be dead.
Charon nods to Winston and acknowledges his boss’ power move as “Well played.” The Adjudicator makes their way to their car and notices that John Wick’s body has vanished off the concrete. When they confront Winston over this matter, he acknowledges that Wick’s survival is improbable, but that he’ll take care of it nonetheless. The Adjudicator says that he better, for all their sakes.
John Wick: Chapter 3 concludes with the Tick Tock Man (Jason Mantzoukas) carrying Wick’s barely-breathing body into the sewers via shopping cart. He dumps Wick at the feet of a slashed, sliced, but living Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) who did not expire as a result of Zero’s seven cuts. The King lives, and he enjoys decapitated crocodile heads, golden thrones, and Fanta soda on an even playing field.
John Wick lays shivering and bleeding in a concrete Hades. The Bowery King asks him to raise a hand if he dares to keep on living. Wick raises that hand, exposing his severed ring finger taken from The Elder. The King mocks the dismemberment, and Wick responds by shakily extending his middle finger. He may be down for the count, but he’s not out of the fight. The two outcasts are beaten. They’re bloody. They’re pissed. The High Table has ruled long enough. Together, these vessels of anger will bring the whole damn criminal empire down.
Moments before The High Table’s goons arrived at The Continental, Winston quoted Roman writer Publius Flavius Vegetius, “Si vis pacem, para bellum” which translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Harmony is only achieved through dominance. The bigger stick always prevails. War is necessary.
If the producers are looking for another badass Latin phrase to crib for a John Wick: Chapter 4 subtitle might I suggest “Vincit qui se Vincit” meaning “He conquers who conquers himself.” The ending of Chapter 3 is a horrendous cliffhanger for our boy Jordani Jovanich. He’s reduced to nothing more than a heap of pulped meat and ferocity. Wick must confront that demon within. The beast may never be tamed, but hopefully, at some point, he’ll cure the poisonous void left by Helen and Daisy.
The John Wick we meet in Chapter 4 will be a totally exposed nerve. All pain. All mean. The Bowery King does not hold the leash. He’s merely chumming the water, steering his shark to the shallows where Wick will eat happily on The High Table. The Adjudicator will meet his teeth. Charon will get caught in his gullet. The Elder and his peers will reap what they sowed. And, yes, Winston needs to answer for that rooftop betrayal.
Did the Continental manager betray his friend? Was Winston aiming for that bulletproof suit? Did he know about all those well-placed awnings and fire escapes? Maybe, maybe not. The truth doesn’t matter. John Wick came back to the life after his puppy was killed and until his dying breath, his resulting hatred must be aimed at someone. Winston may be able to talk himself out of a bullet, but he’ll need to find another target to place before Wick. The High Table has a lot to fear, and they need to crumble under Wick’s unstoppable violence. If they do, though, there should always be another set of prey to sic Wick upon. The dog died. Everyone must answer for it.
The John Wick franchise can only end in two ways: 1) In perpetual cliffhanger. 2) Wick conquers the Beast inside and meets his end free of a violent heart. The first possibility has a grotesque satisfaction to it. We are all mad about all those dead dogs in cinema. That anger is continuous. The second possibility requires love to return to John Wick. Not necessarily gifted from a human. His new dog friend might be enough, but he better give that puppers a name to start the healing process. Vincit qui se Vincit.