What Does the Ending of 'The Queen's Gambit' Mean?

And what's next for Beth Harmon?

anya taylor joy the queen's gambit ending
(Image credit: Netflix)

Warning: Major spoilers ahead for the ending of The Queen's Gambit. Ask just about anyone with a Netflix login, and they'll tell you that the sexiest, most exciting TV show of the year is about competitive chess—though it's unclear whether that's due to the gorgeous '60s-era sets, the incredible cast, the fact that chess has low-key always been this exciting, or 2020's tendency to flip the entire world upside down again and again. Regardless, the one thing on which we can all agree is that The Queen's Gambit deserves every bit of its perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, every day it's spent in the Netflix top 10, and every trophy it will certainly win when the next awkwardly semi-virtual awards ceremony rolls around.

Beyond star Anya Taylor-Joy's piercing stares and chic outfits, the key to the miniseries' long-lasting success no doubt comes from its poignant ending: The final episode sees Taylor-Joy's character Beth Harmon reflecting on her past missteps and mistakes, then righting them to achieve her goal of becoming the best chess player in the world. Here's the deep meaning behind that inspiring ending, and what comes next for Beth.

How does Beth beat Borgov?

In the second-to-last episode, Beth goes head-to-head for the second time with Vasily Borgov (played by Marcin Dorocinski), a Russian grandmaster who she views as her biggest competitor and the last person standing in the way of her being crowned the #1 player in the world. That time, in Paris, she spends a wild night with her new French friend, Cleo, causing her to show up late and hungover to her match, and promptly loses to Borgov. She returns home in despair, cutting all of her remaining friends out of her life and slipping into another long-term bender.

In the final episode, however, Beth's childhood friend Jolene reappears to remind her how many people are rooting for her and demonstrate how Beth's addiction to tranquilizer pills impairs her abilities, rather than boosting them, as Beth has seemingly believed since she first learned to play chess as a child and, while on the pills, was able to visualize entire chess games on the ceiling of any room. At the climax of the series, Beth arrives at the Moscow Invitational clear-headed and with all of her friends ready to help at a moment's notice, all of which enables her to finally beat Borgov.

As if that wasn't a symmetrical enough full-circle moment, Beth also starts the final match with the chess move known as "The Queen's Gambit," in which a player sacrifices a pawn in order to quickly take control of the board. You know, like how Beth had to overcome the losses of her birth and adoptive mothers, her difficult childhood, and her substance abuse in order to be the best—you get it.

Does Beth stay in Moscow after beating Borgov?

After finally achieving her lifelong dream of taking down the Russian grandmasters, what's next for Beth? Why, a triumphant Devil Wears Prada-esque moment, of course. While being shuttled back to the airport in Moscow, Beth demands to get out of the car, leaving behind the cutthroat and highly regimented world of competitive chess (for the moment, at least) to wander instead through a park in which a group of old men are setting up long rows of chess boards. After the men mob her with their congratulations on her win, she settles in for a game.

the queen's gambit ending anya taylor joy

(Image credit: Netflix)

There's more symmetry here, of course: Beth's chess journey in The Queen's Gambit begins and ends with her playing against an old man on a shabby chess board—first against the janitor, Mr. Shaibel, in the basement of her orphanage, and later against these random Russian men in a Moscow park. The moment also offers an extra emotional coda to the show: After working so single-mindedly toward the win she finally achieved the previous day, Beth can finally take a moment to herself, wandering slowly through a park and playing a casual game of chess that won't make or break her career.

You wouldn't be blamed for shedding a tear or 20 at the powerful moment, since Taylor-Joy couldn't help herself, either. "Every time we finished that sequence, I would just burst into tears, because I was so happy for her," she told Refinery29. "She has found this sense of contentment. Where she wasn't in pain or fighting something so intensely."

As for whether ditching her ride to the airport means Beth is staying in Russia to keep competing against grandmasters and grandfathers alike (she's gotta take advantage of those Russian lessons somehow!), even the woman behind the chess champ isn't sure. "Whether she stays in Russia, whether she goes back [to America], whether she and Jolene travel around together for awhile, whatever it is—now that Beth is feeling more comfortable in herself and feels like she has a home within herself, I just hope that she's content," Taylor-Joy told the outlet.

Andrea Park

Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.