John Wick: Chapter 4 is a marvel of filmmaking with a worthy claim to reside in the action film pantheon. But John Wick: Chapter 4 also features an ending few would have predicted. At least for this installment. But was that shocking conclusion all that it seemed? Or was something else going on? Even the people behind John Wick might not know the answer just yet, because the ending of Chapter 4 makes it possible for the franchise to have two very different futures.
Is John Wick Really Dead at the End of Chapter 4?
Throughout its first three movies the John Wick franchise repeatedly teased that its titular hero’s story would ultimately end in death. That promise continued in Chapter 4, as friend and foe alike—including the Elder, Koji, and the Marquis—told John Wick there was only one way for him to truly be free. John himself always agreed with the countless characters who said such a fate awaited him. The only thing he could possibly control was how he died, and in Chapter 4, John Wick decided he wanted to control his ending; he wanted to die a free man who stayed true to himself. He found a way to kill the Marquis that assured him, his old friend Caine, and Caine’s daughter would all be safe from the High Table.
But the price of their freedom was John’s life. The wounds he suffered on his way to the duel, combined with the three bullets he took from Caine during it, proved fatal. In his final moments, Baba Yaga asked his old friend Winston to “take him home.” He then sat on the steps in front of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur to watch one final sunset.
John’s “home” was a New York City cemetery plot next to the final resting place of his late wife, Helen. His gravestone simply stated “Loving Husband,” the epitaph he’d requested earlier in the movie. The story of John Wick, a loyal friend to the end, ended fittingly with his friends Winston and the Bowery King honoring him. Though the King wondered what awaited John in the afterlife, Heaven or Hell. And that’s how the ending of John Wick: Chapter 4 played out, with John Wick’s death.
Why Would the Franchise Kill Off John Wick?
No one who has paid attention to the John Wick movies can be surprised by the character’s death. Whenever Keanu Reeves’ time as the beloved assassin came to an end, it was going to end like this. “Actions and consequences,” after all. Being the ultimate merchant of death comes with the ultimate consequence. But John Wick’s death specifically made sense in Chapter 4 for two significant reasons that helped make the film special.
The first is that it made sense both narratively and emotionally. John Wick wasn’t beloved in the criminal underworld because he was its most legendary killer. People loved him because he was a good friend, the kind of human who engendered so much respect and loyalty someone like Hiroyuki Sanada’s Koji would risk everything to help him. Without those relationships, John Wick would have died long ago.
But the Marquis made it all but impossible for John to both live and be a good friend once he nominated Caine as his duel proxy. That showdown was to the death. John had to decide whether to protect Caine and Caine’s daughter or to protect himself. In the end, he chose the lives of his friend and an innocent child over his own in John Wick: Chapter Four. No surprise for a man who earlier in the film saved his would-be-killer’s dog even though it left him exposed.
John Wick believed eternal damnation awaited him, but the way he died showed why not everyone agreed. The most dangerous killer on the planet was no monster. It was his humanity that had always protected him as much as his formidable skills.
The second reason it made sense for John Wick to die in Chapter 4 is that a surprise farewell was the only way to maximize the emotional weight of the character’s death. Because the franchise had continuously promised John Wick would die someday, Lionsgate couldn’t have announced the movie would be Reeves’ last without essentially telling us how it would end. A shocking, unpredictable conclusion was the only way to do that without ruining the whole thing. By making sure we couldn’t foresee how Chapter 4 would end, the film maximized the meaning of his sacrifice and death. It was a perfect ending that captured everything that made John Wick an all-time great character.
And yet, none of that means this has to be the end. Chapter 4 also gave us plenty of reasons to think John Wick is still alive.
Is John Wick Actually Alive at the End of Chapter 4?
Caine and John Wick both thought those who cling to life die, while those who cling to death live. In the quiet moment before their duel, those words sounded like the meditations of philosophical warriors. It also captured their unavoidable plight. In clinging to life, neither had truly lived. They were mere servants to the High Table. It was only in embracing their potential deaths that John Wick and Caine had a chance to live.
But they might have been speaking in far more literal terms than we realize if John Wick faked his own death. “Clinging to death” might have been the only way he could truly live.
Just because the High Table honored the duel’s agreement and made John a free man doesn’t mean he suddenly became safe. John made untold enemies around the globe, many of whom would gladly murder him despite the High Table’s decree. It would also only take one scared member of that ruling criminal council to put him right back in the line of danger. So long as John Wick was alive, he was a threat to everyone, just as many would remain a threat to him. The one person that wasn’t true of was Winston, who owed everything to Jonathan. It’s why they might have even agreed to the ruse as part of their alliance against the Marquis.
It’s not like we actually saw John Wick die or viewed his actual corpse, either. We only saw him slumped over on those steps, followed by a gravestone. We don’t know if his coffin was empty. And if he didn’t actually die, Winston’s answer to the Bowery King’s question about whether John was in Hell or Heaven would also be dripping with delicious irony. In that instance, Winston doesn’t have the faintest clue because John is in neither – he’s alive and living in secret.
And if Baba Yaga is still alive, John Wick: Chapter 5 is still a possibility. The question is, why would a man who fought so hard to be free willingly come out of hiding and put himself back in danger? There are multiple reasons, including the one that makes us believe he’s dead.
Why Would John Wick Come Out of Hiding If He’s Still Alive?
John Wick’s true nature isn’t that of a killer, as the Marquis and so many others before him said. John’s true nature is that of a good friend. If any of his friends are ever in danger, he seems all but certain to come to their rescue even if that means ruining the peace his would-be death grants him. As we just saw with Caine, he values their lives and the lives of their family members more than his own.
It’s also possible the very same people he’s hiding from could also learn he’s still alive and go after him. That would put him right back on the run fighting for survival. John Wick killed a lot of people and made countless enemies, many of whom want revenge, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for any of them to believe Baba Yaga didn’t die.
Or, you know, someone, somewhere in the world, might harm a dog. John Wick isn’t going to stay hidden if that happens.
John Wick: Chapter 4 gave its hero a perfect sendoff with an ending that captured the best of the character. John Wick might truly be dead just as much as he might truly be alive. And that’s the point. We know the future of the John Wick franchise will go on, but it might only include John Wick if Keanu Reeves decides he wants to wear a kevlar black suit again.
We’ll be happy with whatever he decides. If Chapter 4 was his last one, it was a hell of an ending. But we’ll never be upset to hear John Wick say he’s back.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.