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Netflix’s Katla Ending Explained- Icelandic Folklore And Which Grima Survived?

Netflix’s first Icelandic science fiction series, Katla, premiered quietly recently and has already gotten good buzz. The part fantasy, part horror, part sci-fi thriller is a potent mix of Scandanavian folklore and emotional drama.

Before the pandemic, Netflix had been steadily building its international offerings. During the pandemic, that effort was doubled because picking were slim. Those efforts have paid off with a glut of exciting and unique films and series that a Western audience may not have enjoyed otherwise. Katla is one such example. It is creepy, bold, and profoundly emotional in all the best ways. It also delivers a fantastic cliffhanger that sets up Season 2 without leaving us feeling cheated like NBC’s recently canceled Manifest. Hopefully, Netflix will pick up Manifest and Katla for future seasons. They should realize science fiction fans are a devoted group, and they have a ready-made audience.

Katla, which curiously means slaughter in Hindi, is the story of a tiny, mostly abandoned town on the edge of an active volcano called Vik. Hardly anyone still lives there, except for Grima, her husband and father, a small group of townsfolk who have refused to leave their home, and a contingent of research and rescue workers. The ash-filled sky makes farming extremely difficult and has left Grima with a compromised respiratory system. When doppelgangers begin appearing, the town must decide if the volcano is producing clones, reanimating the dead, or if something even more meaningful is happening to the people of Vik. Here’s is everything you need to know about the crazy ending, Grima, and the folklore that influences it all.

Where did the ash people come from?

The ash people or imposters came from underneath the glacier. A fellow researcher of Grima’s, Darri, who also had his dead son Mikael return, believed a meteor underneath the glacier is the source of the ash-people. He thinks the meteor contains some sort of magical properties that allow it to bring people back from the dead and other places. Not all of the ash people were dead. Darri and Rakel’s son Mikael was dead. Grima’s sister Asa was presumed dead after being missing for two years(this is later confirmed when the real Asa’s dead body shows up). Still, Gunhild, who is the first to appear, has an alive counterpart living with her son in another city.

The two Gunhilds share similar history and memories of their young adulthood, including a pregnancy that looks to be a hidden secret. The ash Gunhild is twenty years younger than the real Gunhild, though. None of the ash people recollect where they came from or how they got there; their appearance near the volcano leads Grima and Darri to believe they came from the same place as the meteor below the glacier. The final moments of Katla Season 1 confirm that the imposters are actually stone-like monuments “come to life” in the earth. They are like Gollums, who the meteor has activated for a purpose that we can only guess at now. We know there are tons more animated, and they are headed for town and even more still untapped in the ground.

Who are the imposters?

Most of the imposters seem to be relatively benevolent. Their only purpose is to help the loved ones who conjured them to move on. Ash-Asa helps her sister find closure and drowns herself in the ocean; Gunhild has manifested to help Thor move on from his long-lost love. Even the ash-Grima doesn’t harbor any ill will toward her real counterpart or anyone else. A rare exception is ash-Mikael, the eight-year-old son of Darri and Rakel, who has a murderous streak.

The real Mikael died several years ago in a car accident, and the couple has not healed since. They both are broken, and their marriage has suffered as a result. Maybe he is the lone violent imposter because his purpose was to heal his mother and father’s relationship, and when his mother ran with him and then abandoned him, it went against his prime directive? It might also all be about the folk stories the town still talks about.

The imposters are manifestations of the people who think about them. The people who miss loved ones conjure versions of their family members or loves based on memories. Unresolved decisions can also create them. This is probably why ash-Gunhild was created. The real Gunhild made her because she felt guilty for her son’s genetic illness. This is why they have a minimal purpose beyond what they were formed from. This is why ash-Asa and ash-Gunhild aren’t evil, but Mikael is. Darri had negative thoughts about his son, and thus his son came back with those traits. The white feathered raven proves that animals could be resurrected as well.

The Scandanavian folklore that influenced Katla.

The Vik hotel owner tells several different stories, which all seem to be coming true. The first was a story from 1311 when Katla erupted, and a young girl and her dog went missing for two days. They came back unscathed, but the local referred to the girl as a changeling. They say she is now an offspring of the “hidden people.” That could be ash-Asa, who went missing until her body was finally found, or ash-Mikael, who definitely has some darkness to his returned self.

The next story is from 1625, when a boy mysteriously returns to town after his mother abandoned him. The farm maiden left her infant son to die in the cold and regretted it ever since. For years she would be haunted by an infant who appeared frozen to death. One year she rescued the baby before he froze to death and took him home. Unfortunately, this baby was not her child, and when he was thirteen, he killed her. Considering how ash-Mikael acted toward his parents and the older couple he killed, this story is eerily similar.

The meteor and the volcano inspired each of those stories, and it is creating even more stories. Iceland has authentic folklore about its volcanos. The volcano Katla has a tale attached about a housekeeper at a nearby monastery who had magical pants that allowed anyone that wore them to run very fast. She also had a nasty, vengeful streak that made her mean and terrifying to everyone in town. When a shepherd lost one of his sheep and borrowed her pants without her approval, she killed him and left him in acid. When the townsfolk found out, they threatened to execute her, and she took her pants and ran to the volcano, which then erupted wildly. Her magical abilities were blamed for the violent eruption.

Which Grima survives in the ending of Katla Season 1?

The two Grima’s decide to play Russian Roulette instead of the real Grima living automatically. The real Grima was depressed and moody to her husband and father. In all likelihood, it is her husband’s feelings about “losing” her to grief that caused the ash-Grima to be formed. The ash-Grima is loving and affectionate, while the real Grima is sad. Counting the gun clicks, it can be determined that the real Grima survived and has chosen to live on happily, having found closure with her mother’s suicide and her sister’s death.

Whether it is real folklore, changelings, or something darker we will have to wait until Katla Season 2 to find out. The rich and emotional story is a perfect example of the kind of easily bingeable sci-fi fare that Netflix has curated. You can find Katla right now on Netflix along with a host of other amazing series like Germany’s Dark, and Denmark’s Equinox.