The Ending of 'The Diplomat,' Explained

Is [spoiler] dead??

keri russell in the diplomat
(Image credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix)

Netflix's hit political thriller The Diplomat is a intricate and sensual political thriller, that balances its just-accessible-enough diplomatic machinations with the compelling marriage turned love triangle at its center. By the end of the season, a huge cliffhanger puts the futures of U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), her former ambassador husband Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell), and the rest of the world facing a possible World War III in the balance.

Read on for our breakdown of the finale and where the series is headed in a possible The Diplomat season 2.

Who ordered the attack on the British ship?

the diplomat ending

(Image credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix)

By the finale, we've learned that a Russian mercenary group led by Roman Lenkov was behind the attack on the British airplane carrier ship HMS Courageous. Though it first seems like Russia wanted to frame their ally Iran for the attack on the U.K., a Russian spy ends up contacting Kate directly and offering up Lenkov, letting her know his location for an upcoming family vacation in France. By the beginning of the finale, the U.S. and the U.K. have different plans for how to proceed: Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear) wants to attack the Russian Lenkov Group in Libya as retaliation, but President Rayburn (Michael McKean) has called it off.

Things change at the start of Episode 8, when Trowbridge suddenly supports the new plan he previously thought cowardly, where British Special Forces arrest leader Roman Lenkov himself in France. Kate and Dennison head to France to ask the French minister of the interior, Brielle Fournier (Micky Sébastian), for permission to use British Special Forces in the Lenkov arrest. Fournier refuses at first, but during a swanky engagement at the Louvre (see Kate's gorgeous red gown above), the French minister grants permission. However, Fournier lets it slip that she's surprised the U.S. would "so strongly lobby for an extrajudicial assassination." The mission isn't just an arrest; Trowbridge is going to have Lenkov killed.

Kate's immediately shocked, believing that UK Foreign Secretary Austin Dennison (David Gyasi) deceived her despite their great teamwork (and mutual flirtation over the whole season). When he catches up to her on a Paris street, he's just as surprised as he is, since they need Lenkov alive to figure out who hired him. But Kate has already worked through the dilemma: The only person who would benefit from Lenkov's death is the person who hired him. Trowbridge has faked an attack against his own country.

But why would the U.K.'s prime minister frame Iran for an attack against the U.K.? For votes. Trowbridge’s desperate to win an upcoming referendum—Scotland's voting for independence and if Northern Ireland and Wales follow suit, he'd be the prime minister that lost the United Kingdom. But if he became the PM who bravely enact vengeance upon Iran after they incited a conflict, Trowbridge could unite the country, win a slew of nationalist voters, and keep himself and his party in power. That twist turns Trowbridge from a fair but at times headstrong leader to the series' desperate villain, and ensures that Kate will have a lot of work ahead of her keeping him from starting World War III.

Who put a bomb In Merritt Grove’s car?

rory kinnear the diplomat

(Image credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix)

While Kate's off in Paris discovering Trowbridge's plot, Hal's back in London aiming for the soon-to-be-vacated Secretary of State gig. The husband and wife's marriage has been testy throughout the season; Hal keeps doing unsanctioned diplomatic scheming behind the scenes, and Kate is left picking up the pieces and wondering whether she has been doing the right thing or just falling into his plans (though sometimes it's both). The couple are in a rough patch at the beginning of episode 8, and there's added tension when Hal learns that Kate is going to the formal event with Dennison. Kate offers for Hal to come to Paris too, but he turns it down. So she offers him the opportunity to step in for her and give a speech at the international relations think tank Chatham House.

Public speaking is one of Hal's areas of expertise, and his talk on communicating to everyone in efforts of diplomacy—including terrorists and other bad actors—is a roaring success. Before the speech, Hal asks to waive the Chatham House Rule, which states that everything spoken there can be cited but not attributed to anyone, showing that he wants to be credited for his words. His speech especially works wonders on a Tory member of Parliament named Merritt Grove (Simon Chandler), who urgently requests a dinner with him. Hal tries to politely decline, and he offers to connect Grove instead to White House Chief of Staff Billie Appiah (Nana Mensah) instead. This is a huge overreach, since Hal isn't even a current U.S. ambassador, and it's the move that clues Kate in to his Secretary of State ambitions, and she demands that Hal doesn't meet with Merritt, deciding to end the marriage once and for all.

Of course, Hal doesn't react well to being sidelined (unless it's his idea), so he tries to meet with Grove anyway. Kate's Deputy Chief of Mission Stuart Heyford (Ato Essandoh) says he'll take the Grove meeting instead, and bring along aide Ronnie (Jess Chanliau) to take notes, but Hal insists on coming for a five-minute handover. The two groups arrive separately to the meeting, and Hal calls Stuart when they're right outside, asking for 30 minutes instead of five. As he handles Hal, Stuart sends Ronnie in first, but Grove is furious when he realizes Hal isn't there and storms out. Once Grove's out on the street next to his car, Stuart tries to get his attention from one direction, while Hal does from the other. Grove opens his car door, and the car explodes. 

The finale ends thirty seconds after the explosion, so we don't learn who planted the bomb and why they would attack a random Tory MP. But we can assume that Grove knew something about Trowbridge's plot, since the explosion is intercut with Kate and Dennison's realization that the prime minister was behind the Courageous attack. Earlier, once Kate learned about the meeting, she had put in a call Trowbridge's former aide Meg Roylin (Celia Imrie) to make sure that Grove wouldn't be drastically offended by postponing the meeting. That call could have tipped Roylin and Trowbridge off that Grove knew something and was about to spill. Also, Grove insisted that he didn't want to talk to the president's chief of staff or anyone from the U.S. embassy, which makes sense if he had dirt on their ally.

Is Hal dead? Are Stuart, Ronnie, and Merritt Grove dead?

rufus sewell the diplomat

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

This is the huge cliffhanger (besides the Trowbridge plot twist) that takes us into season 2, and the tears in Kate's eyes as she learns of the explosions don't bode well. Let's set the scene: as Grove opened his car door and set off the bomb, Ronnie was right next to him, so it's likely that she and Grove won't survive the blast. Both Hal and Stuart were a few doors down from opposite directions, so they could end up with injuries but not severely wounded. Though killing off all four of the characters would be a huge move, both Hal and Stuart are instrumental to the series and will probably only be sidelined for an episode or two in the hospital. (Also, if Stuart dies before he can patch things up with CIA Station Chief Eidra Park (Ali Ahn), I will be devastated.) 

Still, even Ronnie's death and Hal and Stuart's endangerment are enough to make the upcoming Kate vs. Trowbridge conflict personal. It will also force Kate to reckon with her relationship with Hal on another level, similarly to when he was kidnapped from the premiere's photo shoot. What will the next stage of their volatile relationship be, where Kate both needs and can't entirely trust Hal?

Will Kate become Vice President?

keri russell the diplomat

(Image credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix)

Early in the finale, Eidra learns from Billie Appiah that Kate is on the shortlist for the upcoming VP vacancy, making her the last person on team U.S. to know. Kate has never seen herself as a politician, but she seemed to be warming up to the vice president gig throughout the season. She also has a ton on her plate with Trowbridge's scheming, and she maybe wouldn't be able to have the same impact or focus on the PM in a much larger VP role. (Anyone with more international diplomacy knowledge, I'd love to know how her job would change.) However, even before the Trowbridge reveal, Kate had recognized that there needs to be someone up high who can rein in these world leaders' destructive tendencies (both the PM and the president) and stop them from making impulsive decisions. She would literally be perfect for the job.

Will Kate and Dennison get together? Will she divorce Hal?

david gyasi keri russell the diplomat

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

I should've expected for The Diplomat to be as sexy as it is, since showrunner Debora Cahn is a Homeland alum, but the chemistry between Kate and Dennison took me by surprise. It's hard not to root for them, especially when their diplomatic teamwork is so solid and uncomplicated related to her marriage with Hal. Before the explosion, it even seems like the ambassador and the foreign secretary's flirtation would actually lead to something more, when Kate leans on him after her fight with Hal over the Grove meeting. Unfortunately (or fortunately for anyone on Team Hal), Kate and Dennison don't cross the line by the time season 1 ends. Of course, that does mean there will hopefully be several more seasons of romantic tension.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.