What happened to Beth Harmon at the end of Scott Frank’s chess drama miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit? The Queen’s Gambit chronicles the tale of chess prodigy Elizabeth Harmon, who takes it upon herself to navigate the male-dominated world of chess during the Cold War era while struggling with addiction, deep-rooted emotional trauma, and loneliness.
The finale of The Queen’s Gambit, “End Game”, marks ultimate success for Beth (Anya Taylor Joy), along with the inception of a new beginning. Haunted by her mother’s suicide and addicted to tranquilizer pills since a formative age, Beth, by the end of The Queen’s Gambit, is able to finally find peace within her sense of self. The events preceding the finale, as chronicled in “Adjournment,” follow Beth’s journey to Paris for her match with Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski), also a chess prodigy, and one of the best players in the field. The night before the match is a drunken haze for Beth, who is unable to resist temptation in the form of the attractive Cleo, and as a result, Beth effectively sabotages her chances. After the intervention and support of Jolene (Moses Ingram), Beth finds her way and travels to Russia, intent on a rematch with Borgov, and fulfilling her lifelong ambition of becoming a Grandmaster.
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In order to understand the ending of The Queen’s Gambit, one must reflect on the events of the climactic 1968 Tournament of Champions in Moscow, as well as the strategies employed by Beth that mapped her path towards victory. Here’s the ending of The Queen’s Gambit, explained, along with what happened to Beth after.
Elizabeth Harmon & Vasily Borgov Final Game Explained
The inspiration for the moves of the final games was drawn from a specific match between Vassily Ivanchuk and Patrick Wolff at the 1993 Biel Interzonal. Beth chooses to open with The Queen’s Gambit, hence the title of the series. This is a classic chess move that dates back to the Göttingen manuscript of 1490, and starts with d4 d5 c4, which is an unconventional beginning move for Beth, as she typically opens with e4 in most games. As the game progresses, Beth appears to be holding her own. Then on, Borgov proposes an adjournment, which requires him to write his next move on a piece of paper and seal it within an envelope. The next session is kicked off with the prepared move, ensuring that neither player has an advantage.
The reason why Borgov requests an adjournment could simply be chalked up to a long game and fatigue, as hinted by an interview tape in which he says, “I can fight against anyone but time.” An adjournment is also an opportunity to reevaluate one’s strategy and approach the game with a fresh perspective, which makes sense from a practical standpoint. During this time, Beth comes to the realization that she is, in fact, not alone in her endeavors, as everyone around her, including Townes, Benny, and Harry, along with others, help her control her substance abuse and work round-the-clock to find weaknesses in Borgov’s game. The next day, Beth is finally able to access a mental chessboard without the aid of sedatives, an indication that she has finally overcome the obstacles that limit her as a chess player, and as a person. While Borgov offers a draw, as losing is not an option for him, Beth refuses, as a draw is not an option either. Having envisioned a winning strategy in 19 moves, Beth beats Borgov, winning the tournament.
Harmon vs Borgov’s Real-Life Inspiration
The inspiration behind the Harmon vs Borgov match is a defining game between American chess prodigy and grandmaster Bobby Fischer and Russian’s Boris Spassky during the World Chess Championship in 1972. Fischer beat Spassky in the game and later went on to invent a chess variant named Fischer random chess, or Chess960. The creators of The Queen’s Gambit also based the story on chess Grandmaster Bruce Pandolfini, who lent his expertise in the depiction of believable high-level chess moves in the 20th century. Apart from this, Beth’s character is loosely based on the autobiography of Garry Kasparov, who also offered guidance in terms of the show’s worldmaking.
Queen’s Gambit’s Final Scene (Does Beth Stay In Russia?)
After winning the tournament, Beth leaves the U.S. government-mandated car that is bound towards the airport and walks towards a park in Moscow. There, she finds dozens of older men playing chess, who are spellbound by her talent and flock to congratulate her. An old man who remarkably resembles Mr. Shaibel, the first person to introduce Beth to chess at the orphanage, challenges her to a game. She accepts, and the show ends at this juncture, bringing about Beth’s narrative arc and character growth to full circle.
As an orphan, and someone who hailed from a turbulent household, Beth had immersed herself in the wonderful world of chess, which was introduced to her by Mr. Shaibel, who can be likened to a surrogate father-figure for Beth. Now, she sits opposite a similar elderly figure, ready to engage in a game outside of competitive chess, which is a sign of emotional maturity and the willingness to open up to people. While Beth opts to stay in Russia for the moment, it is not unlikely that she will travel back to the U.S. in order to reunite with her friends, especially now that she realizes that some people in her life are genuinely invested in her happiness and well-being.
What The Queen’s Gambit’s Ending Really Means
The objective of the chess move, Queen’s Gambit, is to temporarily sacrifice a pawn to gain control of the center of the board. This choice on Beth’s part ties directly to her past, as the gambit is a hedge of sorts, a sacrifice that one is required to give up early on in order to win the final game. Every person who cares about Beth, including her adoptive mother Alma, Harry, and Jolene, makes sacrifices for her, and in turn, Beth has to do the same, among which, the most difficult trade was to overcome her drug abuse. Chess, along with an addiction to pills, was a form of escape for her, wherein the former acted as a safety net, and the latter, if left unchecked, would have transformed into a deadly spiral. However, now that she is free of her dependencies, she is left with a sense of contentment, which spurs her to play chess in the park, which is an instinct purely based on passion, and not an obsession.
Now that Beth is finally able to establish a healthier relationship with the sport she excels at, she is able to let go of her pain, at least momentarily, and takes the first step out of her comfort zone by deciding to open up as an individual. An almost-perfect narrative symmetry is established by the end of The Queen’s Gambit, as it is established that no matter where she chooses to reside or travel, she has finally secured a feeling of homely comfort within herself. After years of pushing people away to protect her space, Beth welcomes love and admiration as something she is worthy of receiving. And that, in itself, indicates a road to recovery and happiness, which results in a cathartic ending for the show.
How The Queen’s Gambit’s Ending Compares To The Book’s
Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel, The Queen’s Gambit is as fierce and hopeful as the show’s, as it celebrates Beth’s journey into a person who embraces her own power. Tevis’ novel ends on an optimistic note, and the final game is immensely tense and climactic, especially the point in which Beth visualizes her victory in 19 moves, while it takes Borgov 15 moves to realize that he has been bested. As realization dawns on Borgov, he stands up and holds his king to her, and says, “It’s your game. Take it.” Before heading home, Beth stops at a Moscow park, much like the show’s ending, and plays a game of chess with an elderly man who is not aware of her fame as World Champion. Both in the novel and the show, Beth Harmon emerges victorious, feeling safe, loved, and contended, as she immerses herself into the world of knights, pawns, and rooks.
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