A man who wants to be king is on his hands and knees, crouched down. It’s the day he’s been afraid of all year, and it looks like it’s the hour he’ll die. And yet, after seeing his life flash before his eyes, Dev Patel’s Gawain has never looked taller or less afraid of self-doubt than he does right now.
The character isn’t technically a knight yet, but when he throws away a magical green sash and tells his executioner, a Green Knight made of bark and flower, to do his worst, Gawain has reached the greatness he’s been striving for in King Arthur’s shadow.
Because of this, Ralph Ineson’s imposing emerald warrior bends down and whispers his approval like a kind grandfather. That’s good enough, Gawain. He adds, “Now, little knight, off with your head.”
I’m sure many people were shocked and maybe even a little confused by that abrupt last line. After all, did Gawain’s dream that he would take Arthur’s throne come true? And did the flawed hero we’ve been watching for two hours become a true knight in the same minute that the Green Knight tells us he’s about to die? How did all of this come about?
David Lowery’s moving and sometimes strange version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has a lot to unpack, but there’s a good reason why the best ending for poor Gawain is the one where he gets his head cut off quickly.
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The Green Knight Ending Explained
When The Green Knight wakes up from his sleep, he tells Gawain to get down on his knees so he can cut off his head. At first, Gawain agrees, but he is very worried, as he should be. The Green Knight doesn’t understand this. After all, a deal is a deal. “Let’s get to hacking!” I say the same thing every time I turn on my computer, which is what the Green Knight says. Just as he was about to hit him, Gawain stopped him and asked, “Is that all?”
“What should there be else?” The Green Knight gives a straight answer. Gawain gets ready to hit again, but then he runs away, finds his horse, and rides back home. At first, it doesn’t seem like much, but the story isn’t over yet. A montage is a series of short clips that are shown quickly.
When Gawain gets back home, he makes Essel pregnant. Arthur dies, and Gawain is made king in his place. Essel gives birth, but Gawain’s knights quickly take the baby away. He is now a king, and a king cannot marry a commoner.
Gawain instead marries a noblewoman, and the two of them raise the child together. But while Arthur was king, everyone just sat around and drank wine, and Gawain’s time asking doesn’t go as smoothly. After some time, there is a war, and Gawain’s son dies in battle. Gawain has lost all sense of honor and duty, and he becomes a cruel ruler. And Gawain keeps wearing that magical belt that his mother gave him.
At some point, the castle was surrounded by enemy forces. Gawain takes off his girdle when he realizes how bad of a leader he has been. His head falls off, just like the girl with the ribbon in that old scary story. Here, we’re all of a sudden thrown back to when Gawain is waiting for The Green Knight’s ax to hit. Everything we just saw was either a dream, a vision, or a fantasy.
Gawain now takes off the girdle and tells The Green Knight he’s ready. The Green Knight praises Gawain for his bravery and says, “And now, off with your head.” The implication is clear: Gawain will die, but he will die with honor instead of becoming the powerful but flawed king he saw in his vision.
Some people have been confused by the vision scene and by The Green Knight’s goals. In the movie, we can see that The Green Knight is not just a random person. Instead, it is strongly suggested that Gawain’s witchy mother has called him.
This is partly based on the story, where it turns out that The Green Knight is the Lord (played by Joel Edgerton), who has been changed by the evil Morgan le Fay into The Green Knight.
Lowery chose to make Morgan le Fay Gawain’s mother for the movie (even though, like Arthur, we never hear her name spoken aloud). “In the book, Morgan le Fay shows up out of nowhere and says, ‘I was behind everything,'” Lowery said. “She is important to the story, but you don’t see her until the last two or three pages. I wanted to stay away from that.
I didn’t plan for it to turn into a story about a mother and a son. All of a sudden, I was writing about my relationship with my mom and how I stayed with her and lived under her roof for much longer than I should have. I had something called a failure-to-launch syndrome, and she had to force me out in the end.”
How Did The Green Knight Play?
So Sir Gawain goes to the end of the world, and that’s what kills him? Is that it? The point of his hero’s errand, though, is kind of that it doesn’t do anything. The character played by Dev Patel wanted to show that he had something to say at the Knight’s round table, but he let his sword control him instead of his brain when he cut off The Green Knight’s head at the start of the movie.
The challenge wasn’t to hit the Green Knight with the hardest blow; it was to hit him with a single blow (anywhere!!) that would force him to come back a year later. Sir Gawain made the challenge harder for himself, and it killed him in the end.
The other part of The Green Knight’s game is that it seems like his mother, Morgan le Faye, was behind it all (played by Sarita Choudhury). As the Knight gets closer to the Round Table, she and her friends can be seen making the spell in another place. In reality, it seems like Morgan le Fay is testing her son to see if he will be a man of honor or one of shame.
Who Is The Lady Of The Manor Played By Alicia Vikander?
The green sash is supposed to save Gawain, which brings us back to Lord and Lady with Vikander and Edgerton. Gawain has lost the girdle and a lot of his honor by the time he gets back to their home after the quest. So, the people waiting in the house are there to tempt Gawain, not to test his virtue.
As Lowery says, Morgan le Fay plays a similar role in this version of the story as she does in the original. She is the mastermind, but she is disguised as a weak old woman. Think about how the blind woman Gawain always sees when Vikander’s Lady is around is wearing the same kind of blindfold that Gawain’s mother wore when she called the Green Knight. She is there to make sure that her son gets a second green girdle that will protect him magically.
This brings us to the seduction itself. Vikander’s Lady is in the story to see how good Gawain is. On-screen, she is determined to break it, which is why Vikander plays both Essel, the prostitute Gawain might love, and the courtly Lady, who easily convinces him that he doesn’t need to worry about wanting another man’s wife.
On the surface, the story might be about how hard it is for Gawain to follow the Chivalric Code, which says that men should try to be noble and that women are nothing but dead flowers and possessions for their lordly masters. In this way, Gawain thinks that most women look about the same.
He is beaten by multiple women on screen, starting with the pair of thieves who catch him and steal his first green sash and continuing with the woman who gives him another sash by appealing to his lustful desires.
But this way of looking at it misses the bigger ideas and the magic in Vikander and Edgerton’s home. Their castle is more than just a place to hide, and her Lady is more than just a woman who will try to seduce you. In the scene where she climbs on top of Gawain, she asks him if he believes in witchcraft and magic to stop his meek protests. He says, “Of course, like any good Middle Ages man.”
When she talks about magic and gives him a green sash like Gawain’s witchy mother did, Gawain stops trying to be good and gives in to the woman’s beauty and magic. He gives in to both his fear of dying and his desire for her, knowing that if he does, the magic she promises will save him from the Green Knight’s blade.
His mother and her coven set up this whole house as a trap to seduce and protect Gawain through his flaws. If you watch closely at the beginning of the movie, you’ll notice that one of the strange “sisters” who help Morgan call the Green Knight has the same hairstyle as Vikander when Gawain first comes to that house.
As Gawain’s mother changed into an old blind woman, another witch (who might be Gawain’s real sister) changed into the woman Gawain loves but is too stupid to marry. He won’t marry Essel because she is low-born, but he lets himself be swayed by her face when it belongs to a highborn “Lady,” even though that “Lady” is already married to someone else.
Gawain’s mother wants him to get the sash because it will keep him safe and let him go back to Camelot as a hero and Arthur’s rightful heir. Because of this, Gawain’s final choice is so important.
What Happens To Sir Gawain And The Green Knight At The End Of The Poem?
The Lord wants to make a deal. He will go hunting while Gawain stays at the castle. At the end of the day, the two men will trade whatever they have found. The winners trade their prizes over three days.
Who Was The Girl At The End Of The Green Knight?
The woman played by Sarita Choudhury has all the signs of a pagan witch. She doesn’t hide the fact that she doesn’t want to go to her kingly brother’s Christmas Day feast. Instead, she uses magic similar to Wicca to call a champion from nature. We know that she is working with the Green Knight, but it’s not clear right away why.