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The Green Knight Ending Explained & Plot Summary

How many times have we read or heard about the story of King Arthur and his famed Knights? About Genevieve and her betrayal? Well, this time, we are talking about a movie also related to King Arthur. More specifically, it is about Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew. The film is also titled “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” It was released in 2021 and written, directed, and produced by David Lowery. The lead role of Gawain is played by Dev Patel. The movie is based on Gawain’s quest to face the Green Knight and thereby prove his courage. It is based on a 14th-century chivalric poem of the same name. It came to be known as one of the most popular Arthurian stories. But the newest take on the folktale of the Green Knight is bound to be different, and we are here to explain the whole story and the ending of the movie to you.

The film also stars Alicia Vikander (Essel and the Lady), Sarita Choudhury (Mother), Sean Harris (King), and Kate Dickie (Queen). Joel Edgerton plays the role of the Lord, Ralph Ineson is the Green Knight, and Megan Tiernan is Gawain’s Queen. Other actors include Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, and Emmet O’Brien. The movie was released worldwide on 29th July 2021.

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The Plot of The Green Knight:

The story begins when Gawain wakes up in a brothel with his lover, Essel. It is Christmas morning. He is scolded by Morgan le Fay, his mother, after he returns to Camelot. Gawain then attends a feast at the famed Round Table with his uncle the King Arthur. On the other hand, Morgan is doing some sort of sorcery. Green Knight crashes the party and exclaims a quest: anyone present can try and defeat him with whatever maneuver, but he should be ready to receive the same thing next year on Christmas at the Green Chapel. The person accepting the challenge is none other than Gawain. In a surprising turn of events, the Green Knight doesn’t attack. He just gets on his knees and exposes himself. Gawain decapitates him.

Green Knight

Dev Patel as Gawain (Source: Everett Collections)

The Green Knight just rises and holds his severed head. He reminds Gawain of the agreement before leaving, laughing like a maniac. In the course of the next year, Gawain’s story becomes a legend. But he does nothing much except spending his days drinking. When the time comes, he leaves the castle with his mother’s magical green axe and girdle. Apparently, until he is wearing them, he cannot be killed. Unfortunately for him, some scavengers steal his horse, axe, and girdle. Can he survive his quest and return home to Knighthood?

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Winifred, the Lord, and the Lady:

In his pursuit of the thieves, he comes across a forsaken cabin and sleeps there. Winifred, a ghost who resides there, wakes him up and requests him to bring him her head from a nearby spring. When he returns with the skull, he finds her body on the bed. The next day, he suddenly retrieves his axe.  And then he befriends a fox. He reaches a castle inhabited by a Lord. He stays there for a while, while the Lord’s wife comes on to him. The Lord and he also make a bet to share whatever he finds, and in return, the Lord will gift Gawain any animal he kills in the day. Apparently, his girdle was with the Lady, but in exchange for that, he needs to make love with her. He does so, but an old and blind woman comes to know of this.

Green Knight

(Source: Everett Collections)

Gawain escapes the castle but comes face to face with the Lord in the forest. He releases Gawain’s fox and kisses him to make good for his Lady’s moves.

The End of the Quest:

When Gawain reaches the very last part of the quest, in front of a stream, the fox requests Gawain to stop the quest. But Gawain refuses to do so and goes on to the chapel. The Green Knight, who was sleeping since last Christmas, wakes up. He swings his axe twice, but before the third one, he shows Gawain a vision. Apparently, Gawain would have been crowned King after Arthur, but he would have ended up being tyrannical. So when he wakes up from the vision, he removes the magic girdle and accepts the Green Knight’s final, real blow.

Dev Patel

A Still From The Movie (Source: IMDb)

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Story of The Green Knight: Explained

As per the bet between the Lord and Gawain, Gawain has to share with the Lord of Edgerton whatever he found in his castle. But instead of giving him the girdle, Gawain proudly kisses the Lord on his mouth. If we go back to the poem, this moment is of crucial importance. Because at the end, it is revealed that the Green Knight of the Green Chapel is none other than Lord Edgerton! If you know a bit about Arthurian legends, you might remember that Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s half-sister was also a very cunning and excellent sorceress. Her rival was Merlin himself. It was Morgan, who was the old blind woman. Overall, this whole trap was never for Gawain. She just wanted to scare Queen Guinevere to death when the Green Knight would come back to life.

Morgan’s Plan:

In the movie, it was made clear that The Green Knight was indeed summoned by Gawain’s unnamed mother. According to all fables, it is supposed to be Morgause before Morgan Le Fay became the ultimate villainess. Bt the movie doesn’t give her name. She doesn’t go to a party with her brother and uses dark magic to summon the Green Knight. The director-writer, Lowery, said that they haven’t given any characters names, except for Winifred, Essel, and Gawain of course. Morgan is, indeed in this story, Gawain’s mother. In the actual poem, Gawain volunteers himself to save Guinevere. He was never supposed to be the pawn.

Green Knight

(Source: Everett Collections)

In Lowery’s Green Knight, Morgan wants her son to be the King – just as in the Arthurian legends claim that Mordred would kill Arthur. However, there are also some minor pieces of evidence in the movie about Mordred, although the character is not present for real. Then comes the question of the Lady of Edgerton. Apparently, the entire scene there was just to tempt and test Gawain’s virtue. In the movie also, it is hinted that the old lady is Morgan herself – they wore the same sort of blindfold. In this test, Gawain also fails in his virtue test when he stops resisting the lady’s temptations.

Another thing to pay attention to is that the Lady has the same sort of hairstyle that one of Morgan’s summoning sisters did. What does that mean? Maybe the Lady was Morgan’s acolyte, or fellow coven-sister, or her sister – whatever. But there is definitely a link. Morgan, thus, helps his son be safe in many ways so that he can return to Camelot as a Hero. This makes his decision much more important.


With the Lady (Source: Everett Collections)

The Ending of The Green Knight: Gawain’s Choice

As said before, the Knight shows Gawain what his life would be like if he escaped. It doesn’t matter if he escaped through magic or because he ran away, but he will claim that he won against the Green Knight. He ends up marrying a woman he doesn’t care for and abandons the one woman he loves, and steals their son from her. The same son dies on the battlefield. For the rest of his life, he hides behind his crown and becomes a shadow to his uncle’s golden reign. In the end, he is beheaded for his tyranny. Throughout the film, Gawain has tried to be chivalrous and virtuous to earn the title of a king – but in the end, he was anything but that.

The Green Knight Ending

The Green Knight (Source: IMDb)

He demanded payment from a dead girl instead of helping her out from his chivalry, he got back his girdle through adultery – those are not signs of a truly virtuous man. Her mother knew this. This is why she took the shape of the fox to warn her son one last time. We are sure about this because it is his mother’s voice that comes out of the fox and warns her child. Gawain realises his fatal flaw at the very end of his life – which is why he takes off his magical girdle and faces death chivalrously. And hence, the Green Knight addresses him as the little knight, and the screen goes black signaling the ending of the movie.

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