‘Hannibal’ Ending Explained: What Exactly Happened to the Murder Husbands?

     June 5, 2020

hannibal-season-2-hugh-dancy-mads-mikkelsen-sliceIn case you were wondering: Hannibal holds up. For three glorious, bloody, revolting, and beautiful seasons, showrunner Bryan Fuller dazzled our eyes and turned our stomachs, drawing us, alongside poor Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) into the world of Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen).

With the series now streaming on Netflix (it was previously available only on Amazon Prime), one of broadcast television’s wildest shows ever is now ready for new fans to discover and for established Fannibals to reappreciate. And when they reach the end of Season 3, they will undoubtedly share the same thought: “What the damn hell?”


Image via NBC

What now serves as the final episode of the series (though for years, discussion about the possibility of another season has been fervent), is as knotty as the episodes that preceded it; Fuller designed it to serve as both a season finale as well as a series finale, should the show be canceled. But the focus remains on one of Hannibal‘s most important threads: The relationship between Will and Hannibal.

Though, while the relationship between Will and Hannibal is key, it’s not the title character whose journey matters most here. Hannibal, as is his way, is primarily interested in unlocking whatever is inside the object of his “compassion” — though, as Will points out, “If you’re partial to beef products, it’s inconvenient to be compassionate toward a cow.” Over the seasons, Will’s transformation under Hannibal’s influence, Fuller has said in interviews, is a major motivating factor in his final choice in “The Wrath of the Lamb.” But we’ll get to that in a bit.

In “The Wrath of the Lamb,” Will and Hannibal have a third dance partner, as they have all season: The finale is essentially a pas de trois between Graham, Lecter, and Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), otherwise known as the infamous Red Dragon. The bulk of the episode focuses around the FBI’s efforts to finally apprehend Francis, after the crack forensic team of Jimmy (Scott Thompson) and Brian (Aaron Abrams) determines that Dolarhyde had faked his own death with the help of the blind Reba (Rutina Wesley), an available corpse, and a shotgun.

The solution they come up with is to tempt Dolarhyde with the possibility of murdering Hannibal, but that of course requires Hannibal perhaps fake-escaping, as bait for the killer at large. But when Hannibal does escape for real, the only other survivor on the scene is Will — and Will willingly joins him.

The two men arrive back at Hannibal’s lovely cliffside hideaway (the cliffside aspect of which will of course become very important very soon), where Dolarhyde eventually tracks them. And the ensuing battle of guns and knives, a bloody fight to the death that includes the fantastical element of Francis fully embracing the Red Dragon within, wings and all, ends in Dolarhyde’s death. But in this fight to the death, the other two men have definitely sustained life-threatening damage, and so when they ultimately embrace at the edge of the world, their fates feel very uncertain.


Image via NBC

And their fates get even more uncertain, because Will lunges them off the cliffside into the water below. Will’s decision to throw himself and Graham off the cliff, Fuller told Variety, was in some way an effort to do some good. “He’s asking Bedelia, ‘is Hannibal in love with me?’ and Bedelia is saying ‘is this a ‘can’t live with him, can’t live without him?’ And essentially it is, and that’s sort of the conclusion Will comes to at the end, ‘I can’t live with him, I can’t live without him. This is the scenario where the least amount of people can die,’ meaning, ‘the two of us.'”

But it’s also a tender moment between the two men, while also representing a triumph for Hannibal, who has finally given Will what he’s always wanted — the opportunity to see beauty in death. While the show’s beloved “murder husbands” (as dubbed by the fandom) never kiss, there’s no denying that the two men fall off that cliff closer than they have ever been before.

And then there’s one more twist! Taking a page from the MCU (though the MCU would probably appreciate not being brought into this), a post-credits sequence reveals that poor Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) has served up for dinner, literally. (This is literally one of the most upsetting scenes I have ever seen in my entire life.)


Image via NBC

While the ending is filled with ambiguity, ever since it aired as the presumptive series finale Fuller has been more than vocal about the answers to important questions. For example, who has served Bedelia her own leg, on a table set for three? In an interview with ScreenCrush Fuller let it slip that the dish, as designed by food stylist Janice Poon, had “to look like the most beautiful dish Hannibal Lecter has ever prepared.”

This means, of course, that Hannibal survived his fall off the cliff and caught up with his former companion — for, as Will prophesized earlier in the episode, a free Hannibal means that for people like Bedelia, “meat’s back on the menu.” (Is Will a secret Lord of the Rings fan? Who knows.)

It also means that, should the fates allow (and far less likely things have happened in recent years), a fourth season or reunion film has plenty of material to explore. As Hannibal has taught us for some time, you can’t keep a good serial killer down.

All three seasons of Hannibal are streaming now on Netflix and Amazon Prime.