The Killer: Ending Explained (In Detail): Why He Did Not Kill The Client?

Find out why The Killer ended not with a hail of bullets from The Killer but with a muted conversation
The Killer: Ending Explained (In Detail): Why He Did Not Kill The Client?

David Fincher and Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriter of Se7en, paired up twenty-eight years after their breakout collaboration to present the ambiguous story of a professional assassin (Michael Fassbender). Expectations were understandably high, and the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival before opening theatrically in the West and then moving to Netflix.

The Attempted Hit

Much of the beginning of The Killer follows the routine of the unnamed assassin as he prepares to take down a high-profile target in suburban Paris. Fincher focuses on the minutiae of his day, from his callisthenics warm-up to the stroll he takes in the street below before parking himself in a park, munching on a McDonald’s burger. Back in his street-facing rental space, The Killer prepares to take down his target, only to accidentally kill the target’s companion. He flees Paris, making for the Dominican Republic, the safe haven he retreats to between assignments. There, he finds his partner in a terrible condition in hospital and is told that his employers sent people to look for him. When he was nowhere to be found, his partner was interrogated and tortured.

This sets up the second act of the film: The Killer is now hunting down his employers, guided by the one thing his profession is normally bereft of – emotion.


After some interim information acquisition in the Dominican Republic, The Killer moves across the vast United States, hunting down each and every individual involved in the attack on his partner. His first stop is to sort out his handler Hodges (Charles Parnell), who holds all the information The Killer needs. When Hodges is not forthcoming, The Killer kills him and gets the information out of his pliant office assistant (Kerry O’Malley), who then becomes the film’s sole empathetic kill, something The Killer prides himself on never having executed.

The Killer then engages in fisticuffs with a man known as The Brute (Sala Baker): he batters and gets battered, and also finds himself evading a ferocious dog before finally shooting The Brute and setting his house on fire with a Molotov Cocktail.

The Killer’s penultimate stop is to take care of The Expert (Tilda Swinton), whom he confronts in a gourmet restaurant in New York. Appearing to accept her fate, The Expert offers to share her last meal with The Killer, before exiting the restaurant and making for a park, where The Expert slips. When she asks to be helped back to her feet, The Killer shoots her at point-blank range.

The Final Job

The Killer seeks out his final prey, travelling to Chicago to kill Henderson Claybourne, the man who ordered the Paris hitjob and then took up Hodges’ offer to clean up the trail, which chiefly requires The Killer to die. The Killer tails Claybourne and stakes out his home, surprising him one evening and then surprising the audience by not killing him.

On one level, it is clear that The Killer has come to terms with the transactional nature of his line of work. That is what is the best thing about it. But he has also recognised the unwanted attention Claybourne’s murder might bring: unlike the other hits he has carried out, this is a man at the top of the food chain, one whose disappearance for merely a few hours would be enough to cause alarm. His death would severely impact The Killer’s personal well-being: he has proven that no one enjoys complete safety. His presence in Claybourne’s home alone is evidence of that.

Letting Claybourne go is also a sign that The Killer’s rage has abated, that he no longer seeks retribution the way he did when he took down his earlier targets. Perhaps he even sees value in Claybourne as a future client, given his dispassionate conversation with the man.

The Killer returns to his partner’s side in the Dominican Republic in the film’s final frames, he’s seen content at having accomplished his self-appointed mission and enjoying the comfort of the one relationship he actually appears to enjoy.

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