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How It Ends Ending Explained- What Caused The Disaster And Who Survives

Another Netflix sci-fi movie is trending. This time it is 2018’s How It Ends, starring Theo James, Kat Graham, and Forest Whitaker. When this film first came out, it wasn’t particularly well-received. Now, after four years and a looming Russian threat, this movie is finding a new audience. Here’s everything you need to know about the ending and the disaster that started it all.

Courtesy of Netflix

The world ends the day after Will Younger(James) and his girlfriend find out they are having a baby boy. Unfortunately, he had flown to Chicago to ask her father, Tom(Whitaker), for her hand in marriage when all hell started breaking loose. They have a tense relationship as Tom worries Will can’t provide in the same way he has despite Will’s current success. When a mysterious catastrophic event happens in Seattle, where Sam and Will live, the two men are forced to work together and drive across the country to save Sam.

As reports begin flooding in about seismic events, communication, and power outages sweeping the country, it becomes clear this is no minor earthquake. All flights have been grounded, and Will and Tom have no choice but to strike out by car. Will is terrified for his girlfriend, and Tom is a man of action who served in the military for decades.

What is the apocalyptic event in How It Ends?

While the disaster that hits Seattle is never explicitly explained, there are several clues that could hint at a possible event. Military planes fly over Chicago in a hurry to get somewhere, making it seem very likely that whatever happened was likely an act of war. Moreover, a military blockade is set up that Tom and Will talk their way through. A foreign enemy or terrorist probably coordinated a devastating attack on US soil. With the recent Russian hacker threats, it is not just possible but probable that power plants and communication systems were infiltrated simultaneously.

It is more plausible that multiple weapons were deployed, including bombs and EMPs, because one single event would not destroy the entire system. In the United States, the power grid is not one giant interconnected grid but rather a group of regional grids that service areas. If power plants in California were shut down, they could not get power from the Midwest, for example, because they aren’t connected adequately. This means it is possible that whatever happened to the West Coast had little bearing on the rest of the country unless multiple attacks across the US happened. Since we saw Chicago also lose power, the assumption is multiple strikes in various areas occurred. Presumably, these would be in critical locations and on specific targets.

If the power plants that were attacked were nuclear, however, it could have a cascading effect that would not just cause power outages but also nuclear meltdowns. These single events would be catastrophic in the region. Think Chernobyl and Fukushima plants in Ukraine and Japan. Specific attacks on these sorts of critical infrastructures would not just stop power but would also affect the environment. Both cyber attacks and bombings could account for the seismic activity and weather changes we see in How It Ends.

When Tom and Will stop to heal and fix their vehicle, they hear news reports on a ham radio speculating that there was a nuclear bomb that hit somewhere in the US. Someone also questions that this is the beginning of World War III. We never get any definitive proof either way, but all signs point towards some act of war. If a nuclear bomb targeted Los Angeles, that could create EMPs across the entire region. EMPs or Electromagnetic Pulses are most likely caused by nuclear weapon deployment or solar flares. EMPs would also disrupt birds and cause the lights in the sky.

The radio chatter that we hear sporadically could all be paranoid ramblings, but it might also be anecdotal accounts of what was happening. After Will manages to get to Sam, his neighbor explains that he is a software engineer who has seen exactly this sort of war game scenario and speculates that someone attacked the United States, and it is only the beginning. He sounds paranoid, but that doesn’t mean he is wrong. The ending of How It Ends never spells out what or who exactly attacked the US, but it seems highly likely it was an act of war.

How It Ends
Courtesy of Netflix

The Ending of How It Ends

Will, Tom, and Ricki(Grace Dove), who agreed to travel with them, manage to avoid being robbed, beaten, killed, and stopped by authorities, only to drive right into a massive forest fire. Tom has a severe rib injury resulting in a collapsed lung. After Ricki is forced to shoot the tires out of a car chasing them and the passengers all die, she leaves the group.

The two men pass numerous car crashes and tragedies and eventually get stopped heading into Seattle by a group on motorcycles who try to take their car. Having learned a lot from Tom in a very short period of time, Will is no longer trusting. He runs several men over, and Tom shoots others but succumbs to his injury and dies. Now alone, Will burns the car with Tom’s body as a respectful memorial to the man who became his friend. He traveled by foot until a family picked him up and agreed to take him as far as possible.

Will guides them to his father’s house and offers a trade for their jeep. He agrees to give them everything, including the car in the garage, in exchange for their jeep, which he needs to continue to Sam. Heading into the city, he finds what appears to be the aftermath of a significant explosion. The air is toxic, ash rains from the sky and large portions of the city are on fire or buried in rubble. However, his apartment complex is mostly intact, and he finds a note from Sam explaining she is in another location.

Will drives to the new address and finds Sam with a neighbor who kept her safe. It would be a happy ending if the neighbor didn’t view Sam as a commodity like water and gas and didn’t want to give it up. He saved Sam because he secretly hoped they could forge a life together. When Will returned, he tried to take him out into the woods and shoot him. Luckily Will has learned a lot from his time with Tom and shoots the neighbor before he gets shot. Will and Sam drive North hoping to reach Canada as a massive cloud of ash, smoke, dirt, and fire descend on them. As the film ends, it appears the smoke falls back, indicating they might survive after all.

What does it all mean?

Although How It Ends is about a world or at least a country destroying event, it is really about the breakdown of society. Before even twenty-four hours have gone by, civility has started to deteriorate. At the gas station on the way out of Chicago, one woman and a group of men become belligerent with Will. Our group is attacked multiple times on the road, including one violent ruse culminating in a lethal car accident and Ricki choosing to leave the group.

The family who picked up Will were good people. They helped him when they didn’t have to, and in exchange, Will helped them. Tom and Will’s relationship grew as well. Society’s weaknesses are exploited in events like this. The world falls apart instead of coming together, and most people revert to their baser instincts. They fear everything and everyone and survive at all costs. The two men become heated discussing what caused all this, but it only highlights the difference in philosophy. One chooses fear and scare tactics, while Will wants to focus on hope and progress. That is the true message of How It Ends. We don’t see if they drive out of the fire because it doesn’t matter. Life and hope always find a way, and as long as people like Will exist, everything is not lost.