Warning: Major spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why season 4.
The graffiti first appears in episode 2, "College Tour," when the admin doors are tagged with the words "Monty was framed." Last season, Monty (Timothy Granaderos) died in prison after being framed for the murder of Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice). In actuality, Alex (Miles Heizer) killed Bryce, but his friends helped cover up his role in the murder. Instead, they pointed the finger at Monty, who was guilty of viciously sexually assaulting a fellow student.
The coverup of last season becomes the focus of the final season. The students of Liberty High are dealing with the fallout of this fatal mistake that left Monty dead. This graffiti is another mystery the kids of Liberty High have to solve so that their lie isn't revealed.
Jessica (Alisha Boe) and Alex are pissed about the graffiti, while Zach (Ross Butler) seems to respect whoever did it. Monty's sister Estela (Inde Navarrette) becomes a natural suspect and Tony (Christian Navarro) literally showing up to school redhanded doesn't make him look innocent.
But those are all red herrings to keep the focus off the real culprit. Clay (Dylan Minnette) is drawing the graffiti. Below, we look at the episodic clues that lead Clay and the audience to discover it is him who is drawing those symbols and why.
Episode 2: Graffiti At Liberty High
Clay seems more nihilistic than ever, unable to sleep or to focus on anything. He says he's "losing time" and though he is seeing a therapist, it appears he needs additional help for the mental health issues he is suffering from. He's getting FaceTime calls and texts from Monty who died in prison in the final moments of last season. We don't see it, it happens offscreen, which begs the question if it really happened. Could Monty be calling Clay or is this a figment of his imagination? Like Hannah (Katherine Langford) before, is Clay being haunted by the memory of his late classmate?
Clay starts seeing spray painted symbols everywhere he turns including a red smiley face painted inside his locker. After finding a paint can on the bus, he find another one in his backpack. He's paranoid and believes someone is trying to set him up and after all these years, it's easy to believe that is the case.
New kid Winston (Deaken Bluman), who had a sexual relationship with Monty, becomes another possible suspect as he gets chummy with Tyler, who took photos of the graffiti before it was washed away. It wasn't just the message that was one those doors, but an odd symbol: a "V" with a squiggly arrow halfway through the letter.
It's hard to decipher what this symbol, which we have never seen before, actually means. It's also hard to know if Winston recognizes this symbol from somewhere. But when Clay sees the symbol later in the episode, it seems to spark a panic in him. Like most things in his life right now, he can't explain why.
Episode 3: Graffiti In The Woods
During the senior camping trip, Clay has another unexplainable moment. Someone kidnaps him and throws him into a hole. There he has a vision of Monty who tells him the graphic details of his death. Clay asks for forgiveness, but Monty tells him, "I'm not who needs to forgive you."
While trapped in that cave, Clay sees the same arrow symbol chiseled into the rock. He also finds a rope that allows him to climb up. Again, he seems to have lost time. These time gaps make it hard to trust Clay, whose reality seems so different than everyone else's.
Episode 7: Graffiti On Clay's Bedroom Ceiling
Halfway through the episode, which starts with Clay in the hospital where the doctors are concerned he may harm himself, he sees the symbol spray painted on his bedroom ceiling. It causes him to question himself, but he manages to make it through his college interview where he talks about his unwavering support for his friends.
"I'm really trying to do the right thing. I am," he says. "Even when it's not clear what that is." He's trying to figure out what is good and what is moral on his own, which has left him struggling to find himself. He is so dedicated to those friends that he is beginning to disappear. While he is fighting for his friends, his subconscious is struggling to be heard. It's then there is a question of whether it's coming out in ways he may not even know yet.
Episode 8: Clay Painted The Graffiti
The episode begins with Clay's dream in which he imagines he's in a sci-fi movie where children are forced to grow up too soon. In it, he sends a young soldier to war and they die. A metaphor for how these lies and coverups have made him feel. Now that his friends are starting to drop off he's becoming more and more paranoid that they will be found out.
After a protest against Liberty High becoming a police state turns violent, Clay leads a rebellion to fight for a safer school, which looks similar to events happening in the real world. Students are beaten by cops in riot gear and a car is set on fire. Clay tells his therapist that he doesn't know who did it, but there is footage of him lighting it in fire. A sign that Clay is unaware of what he's capable of.
In the final seconds, Clay realizes he’s also been the one doing all the tagging. We watch Clay spray paint the symbol on the door in the middle of the night and know the he is the one who has been terrorizing him and everyone else this season.
Episode 9: The Real Meaning Of The Graffiti Symbol
Clay is worried that his secrets will be exposed. His actions like the graffiti are a result of his suppressed trauma, which he's only now starting to work through. His therapist wants him to tell his friends what has been going on, but Clay isn't sure. "I keep secrets from my friends," he says. "But also for my friends."
Admitting to them what he's been doing means that he'll have to tell the school why he was doing them. That dealing with the trauma of covering up a murder led him to experience dissociation. Clay tells his parents about the vandalism being his doing in hopes he can gain their trust back and stop an investigation that could lead to Alex being found out.
Prom was supposed to be a cover, but it leads Clay to have an epiphany about his school days, which were mostly horrible, but it had its good moments. (Honestly, would have fooled me.) "I'm just trying to be here now, before it's gone," he says.
The mystery behind the graffiti wasn't really about the graffiti. We never learn what that symbol meant to Clay, which is infuriating, but it's likely that Clay didn't know what the symbol meant either. In reality, the graffiti was just another sign that Clay was in badly need of help. And finally, in the end, he gets it.