The Queen’s Gambit heroine Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) isn’t a particularly weepy person. Beth — an orphan who can’t shake the spectre of her late mother’s mental illness — may be in constant emotional turmoil for most of the Netflix series, but she doesn’t cry. Beth doesn’t even shed a tear in the immediate aftermath of her beloved adoptive mother’s (Marielle Heller) abrupt death.
However, it is likely viewers will tear up at some point during the Queen’s Gambit finale, “End Game.” It’s an ending that proves those most at war with themselves can one day find peace within the borders of their mind. Even the woman who brought Beth Harmon to life, Emma’s Anya Taylor-Joy, couldn’t escape the emotion in that final message.
“End Game” marks Beth’s ultimate success following her most painful tactical loss. In penultimate episode “Adjournment,” American chess prodigy Beth heads to Paris for her first-ever match with Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski), the fiercest player in the world. After a night of drinking in the City of Lights, a shaky and hungover Beth is trounced by Borgov. Shattered, Beth finds herself in a mental health crisis for the remainder of the episode. Her days are dominated by her two addictions: sedatives and alcohol. Beth’s near-fatal mental health emergency only ends in the finale, when her oldest friend Jolene (Moses Ingram) stages an intervention. In “End Game,” a sober Beth travels to chess capital Russia — her dream throughout Queen’s Gambit — intent on a rematch with Borgov.
After a series of hard-won preliminary games, Beth and Borgov are the final match in the 1968 Tournament of Champions in Moscow. Following hours of play, Borgov calls for an intermission. This decision gives Beth the opportunity to realise so many of the people she met over The Queen’s Gambit actually want to rally around her. Her first crush, Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), her jilted exes, Benny (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), and various friends work for hours to help Beth figure out how to beat Borgov. During play the next day, Beth, totally sober, finally accesses the mental chess board she believed she could only see through a fog of sedatives. At one point, Borgov offers Beth a draw, which would leave her co-world champion. She declines, and it's the right decision.
Beth beats Borgov out-right, winning the entire tournament. She is the best chess player in the world. To close out her journey, Beth leaves the U.S. government-mandated car speeding her to the airport and walks to a Moscow park. There, she finds dozens of old men playing chess. They are spellbound by her talent and one man asks Beth to play a game, taking her all the way back to playing with Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) in the basement of her Kentucky orphanage. “Let’s play,” she says in Russian directly to the camera, ending The Queen’s Gambit for good.
“Every time we finished that sequence, I would just burst into tears. because I was so happy for her,” Beth’s portrayer Taylor-Joy told Refinery29 over the phone. “She has found this sense of contentment. Where she wasn’t in pain or fighting something so intensely.”
While the ending scene creates perfect narrative symmetry for Beth, some fans may wonder about the rest of her story — whether she will remain in Russia forever or make her flight back home. Taylor-Joy suggests that question isn’t the point of the finale. “Whether she stays in Russia, whether she goes back [to America], whether she and Jolene travel around together for awhile, whatever it is,” she began, “now that Beth is feeling more comfortable in herself and feels like she has a home within herself, I just hope that she’s content.”
Taylor-Joy hopes viewers will take that optimism into their own lives. “When you feel the loneliest, it’s usually because you can’t see past the end of your own nose,” Taylor-Joy said, considering the lessons Queens Gambit taught her. “You’re so wrapped up in your head that you’re convinced there’s nobody out there on the edge with you. But everyone’s out there on the edge with you
“If you open your gaze a little bit more, you’ll see that there are people who are willing to offer you a hand and want to be there to support you.”
Beth is reminded of this fact twice. First, when her friends call her before her final meeting with Borgov. The old men in the park show Beth the same admiration once again. After years of pushing people away, Beth finally welcomes this care as something she is worthy of receiving.
That’s why Taylor-Joy wants viewers to take a page out of Beth’s finale book. “You have to make friends with yourself,” she said. “You have to find a home within yourself. Otherwise, how on Earth are you supposed to accept love from other people if you won’t even give it to yourself?”