Stephen King: The Long Walk: Ending Interpretations

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Ending Interpretations of The Long Walk

The End

Garraty stepped aside. He was not alone. The dark figure was back, up ahead, not far, beckoning. He knew that figure. If he could get a little closer, he could make out the features. Which one hadn't he walked down? Was it Barkovitch? Collie Parker? Percy What'shisname? Who was it?

"GARRATY!" the crowd screamed deliriously. "GARRATY, GARRATY, GARRATY!"

Was it Scramm? Gribble? Davidson?

A hand on his shoulder. Garraty shook it off impatiently. The dark figure beckoned, beckoned in the rain, beckoned for him to come and walk, to come and play the game. And it was time to get started. There was still so far to walk.

Eyes blind, supplicating hands held out before him as if for alms, Garraty walked toward the dark figure.

And when the hand touched his shoulder again, he somehow found the strength to run.

  1. The Dark Figure Garraty sees is death. He's the last person walking, but he's so close to death, it doesn't matter. When the arm reaches out and touches his shoulder, I believe its the hand of one of the Soldiers or the major, but internally, he's breaking free of his reality and running towards death. He pays the finish line and the people trying to stop him no mind. He says at the end that he feels like he could run. Death would ease him of his pain and struggle and I believe that is what overcomes him...the comfort of death.
  2. I think Garraty died at the end. He, like everyone else, volunteered because he had a death wish but he was in denial of that fact. He was a closet homosexual so he wanted to die because of it (this was the 70s in a police state society remember). But admitting he had a death wish would be to admit he was gay and that thought angered him too much to accept. During the Walk, Garraty fell in love with McVries and when he died, that destroyed Garraty. He was ready to give up and sit down after that. But Stebbins, being so cocky and stubborn about winning, walked himself to death trying to beat Garraty. In the end, Garraty finishes the Walk reaching what he sought after all along: death.
  3. The Dark Figure represents the conglomerate ghosts of all the walkers who died. They must now walk this road forever.
  4. Randall Flagg from The Dark Tower, The Stand and other Stephen King novels is the Dark Figure.
  5. Garraty died long before the end of the walk
  6. I like to think that the dark figure is his father or his dead friends Calling to him to come to them. And that he dies walking.
  7. I like to think Garraty kept living his life, and that the dark figure at the end, that he runs to, is who he becomes after the Walk.
  8. Garraty went insane. He's just losing his mind and hallucinating.
  9. The Dark Figure is his mom. She was wearing a black coat in Freeport and Garraty's eyes are blurry.
  10. The Dark Figure was his (dead) father.
  11. The Dark Figure was Jan, his girlfriend.
  12. Garraty had become subsumed by the walk by the time he won it. He could never stop. The rules had become his reality. There was no time before the walk, and the walk would never end. He will keep on walking into death, and maybe even beyond it.
  13. I interpreted the dark figure as Garraty himself and that he has been chasing his mortality this whole time and once he sees the dark figure, he accepts death and "runs" to escape. I don't think he is going insane, he is just accepting his death. The dark figure could also be considered the personification of Death.
  14. A few of the inner circle that Garraty has become closest with talk about "seeing him on the other side," right before they die. Or also allude to the possibility that the other walkers could still be walking along with them, even though they are dead. That forever more, they whole existence will be this walk. Also, if you go back and read the last few pages, Garraty talks about seeing, "someone he knew, knew as well as himself, weeping and beckoning in the dark ahead". He says this even before he sees the Major, as he talks soon after about seeing the Major's Jeep coming at him on the road, and it being a capital offense, and that there should be no other vehicles on the road before he knows that it is the Major. The Major then gets off the Jeep and begins walking towards Garraty to award him his first wish, and then the dark figure is said to be next to Garraty, and the figure puts his hand on Garraty's shoulder. At least with this information, it could not be the Major, as well as anyone else that Garraty knew, since they would not have been allowed on the road with him, or else they would have been shot (since he saw the figure before the Long Walk was officially over). Also, this figure is said to know him as well as he knew himself. This explanation, as well as the fact that the figure touched him on the shoulder (in most stories, Death takes its victims through physical contact) leads me to believe that it could only be Death. As to why this makes the most sense, in my opinion, it further points out that even though Garraty bested all the competition, and was the clear winner with any wish he could fathom, in the end, he ended up in the same place. I believe it was meant as more of a lesson to readers that in the end, everyone dies, and even if you have everything (as the prize of the competition is), you can't take any of it with you. Literally, he achieved everything, yet has nothing. Garraty finding the strength to run, is just him passing over to the other side.
  15. The dark figure was his soul, because Garraty had given up at the end, thinking Stebbins was going to win. His soul was leaving his body i.e. he was on the edge of death, which was grabbing his shoulder. But understanding that he didn't have to die, he ran to get his soul back.
  16. The dark figure represented the ghost of every boy who died on the road, and Garraty, in that second was dying (I feel that this was foreshadowed in characters saying "no one is a winner") I think when it said he suddenly had the strength to run I think that was his soul leaving his body.
  17. The dark figure represents Garraty's will to reject the whole idea of The Long Walk. When the Major places his hand on Garraty's shoulder a second time, he sprints away from the Major as if to say, I don't want the prize. He gathers the strength to rebel, even though he knows he will get squaded.
  18. McVries represented Garraty's humanity. His soft naive side, his innocence. Garraty wanted to be killed first because he didn't want to lose that part of himself but it was necessary to win. Stebbins was his cynical and calculating "bad/selfish" side. He had to out walk both sides, to shed them, and become someone else to win.
  19. Garrarty has lost his mind. The figure is perhaps the devil himself (temptation?) or the angel of death. He'll walk on and on and on, alone, until he too collapses and dies... like Stebbins.
  20. The dark figure was McVries. When Garraty was telling the story about Gwen the famous Lady-Fair, a wave of dizziness overcame him. I think Garraty dreamed or hallucinated McVries' death. When Garraty snapped out of his trance, he was still walking with Stebbins. If Garraty had stopped for a minute to save McVries, then Stebbins would have been about 700 feet down the road, but they were still side-by-side. When it said that Garraty stared blankly at Stebbins, I think that's when Garraty was returning to reality, as Stebbins stared back at him curiously. McVries must have walked ahead when Garraty "dozed". McVries was beckoning him to catch up but all Garraty could see was a dark figure. Garraty was hallucinating the Major and his Jeep and the hand on his shoulder. When Garraty found the strength to run, I think he died.
  21. Garraty killed Stebbins. By placing his hand on Stebbins shoulders, he surprised Stebbins. It had the same affect as screaming "BOO!" in his ear. Stebbins had some adverse effect, something like a heart-attack or stroke (blood pressure spike!)
  22. I believe the Dark Figure is supposed to symbolize the rabbit. Stebbins described the rabbit used in dog racing. They started using real rabbits to get the dogs to run, but eventually the dogs were trained enough so they could could use a fake rabbit. Stebbins also calls himself the rabbit. I believe that he is the first rabbit, the real one, that gets everybody to chase him. The Dark Figure that Garraty sees at the end isn't real. It's a hallucination that symbolizes the fake rabbit, the rabbit that doesn't actually exist but nevertheless Garraty runs after it, because he is now trained to chase just like a racing dog.

I think the one with the most evidence is the first one. Below are the excerpts to back it up

The dark figure beckoned, beckoned in the rain, beckoned for him to come and walk, to come and play the game. And it was time to get started. There was still so far to walk. Garraty: Goodbye, Scramm, good trip, good rest. Scram: "Good rest?" Scramm smiled a little. "The real Walk may still be coming." Reference to the Flying Dutchman, the legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. Just that Olson reminded him of the Flying Dutchman, sailing on and on after the whole crew had disappeared. Stebbins: If there are such things as souls, his is still close. You could catch up. Garraty: maybe this is some crazy kind of immortality. Garraty: Do you think we could live the rest of our lives on this road? Baker: Another time, another place Baker: Maybe I'll see you, man Forever: Garraty thought he looked like he could go on forever. Just go on dancing with me like this forever, Garraty, and I'll never tire. We'll scrape our shoe on the stars and hang upside down from the moon. It seems like we've been walking forever, doesn't it? I told them I felt prepared to go on forever. With the fog it was impossible to see the top. For all we know, it might just go up forever, Garraty thought. "I feel like I could walk forever," Scramm smiled gently. "Not me. I feel like I could walk forever." The entrance ramp seemed to go on forever, It seems like we've been on this road forever. It was Olson's hair getting ... getting that way that made me think of it first, but ... maybe this is some crazy kind of immortality. Musketeers forever They walked on, somehow in step, although all three of them were bent forever in different shapes by the pains that pulled them. Boy, I'd never do this again in a hundred thousand years. The next world: Percy who had tried to sneak into the woods and had snuck right into the next world instead. I think we all might take a moment or two to stop and think about whatever kind of sex life there may be in the next world. Just go down in a dreamy, slow-motion half-knowingness, and wake up dead. You'd just wake up in eternity. Just one step too slow-Eternity. "I hope it won't be dark," Baker said. "That's all I hope. If there is an ... an after, I hope it's not dark. And I hope you can remember. I'd hate to wander around in the dark forever, not knowing who I was or what I was doin' there, or not even knowing that I'd ever had anything different." The Walking Dead and Ghosts: "He's been walking dead all day. They walked through the rainy dark like gaunt ghosts, and Garraty didn't like to look at them. They were the walking dead. And Baker made a sweeping gesture at the deserted road as if the Walk was still rich with its dozens. For a chilling moment Garraty wondered if maybe they were all there still, walking ghosts that Baker could now see in his moment of extremis. Stebbins was a ghost again, not even visible in back of them. Baker and Abraham were playing a word game called Ghost. The comforting sough of the wind in the pines had become a hundred mad ghosts, flapping and hooting. a ghostly green sign came out of the darkness: INTERSTATE 95 AUGUSTA PORTLAND PORTSMOUTH POINTS SOUTH. He grinned-a ghostly imitation of his old cynical grin. It hung over the hills in ghostly limp banners. Coming back to haunt: "I've been talking to everybody," McVries said. "Well, just about everybody. I think the winner should do something for her." "Like what?" Garraty asked. "That'll have to be between the winner and Scramm's wife. And if the bastard welshes, we can all come back and haunt him." Aging There are a lot of references to how the walkers are aging fast. There are a lot so it has it's own web page.
The following is taken from this post on the Stephen King subreddit. I just finished reading this book for the first time and I'm not sure if I'm being silly or what but the entire time I was reading the book, I couldn't help but think that the entire book was a metaphor for ... life. We are all on The Long Walk. There is no explanation for how or why the walk exists, it just simply does. At the end of the story, the figure is Death and it is only rightfully so that Death was near the finish line. As Garraty walks and makes connections, positive or negative, it's a representation of our own connections we make in life. All the people we meet, and all of the strangers that are watching their Long Walk are society itself, never knowing them fully but still seeing them and passing them by. There are billions of people we will never meet. Before the end, Garraty sees his mother and girlfriend, representative of his life flashing before his eyes as he nears death. Jan also represents our love and memories that we discover and make along the Walk. And what keeps pushing us forward. All the deaths of the men in the book represent that, as we get older, the people we know (older than Garraty, if I remember correctly) pass away around us. It makes us afraid of Death because we never know where they go when they die. But as Garraty gets closer to the finish line, he accepts Death more and more, multiple times. The wear and tear of their bodies as the story goes on is the aging that's going on. The breaking down of our own bodies as we age. Some people get it worse than others, shown in detail in this story. So who is the Major and Squads in all this? I think the Major is the reason for existing. In the beginning he's there before we really understand anything, and at the finish line, he appears multiple times throughout our Walk, and he's at the finish line, which we never see Garraty cross. Because we don't know our true reason for existing on this earth before the Walk ends. The Squads are the causes of all deaths that we witness as we age. Accidents, pet deaths, sicknesses, our grandparents dying of old age, mass shootings, etc. All the deaths we witness as we grow up. None of this is objective, but I couldn't help but feel this story was a metaphor of someone growing up and learning to accept their death. McVries said “no one wins” because in life, everyone dies. No one could say the reason they were on the Walk because there is no reason we begin our own lives, not in our control. Even the most cunning and educated of them all, Stebbins (who represents the healthy people, physical mentally and financially) meets his end. We are all on The Long Walk, and we will all feel that hand on our shoulder.
The following content is taken from this post on The Long Walk subreddit by Carbon_Blob Here's an interesting article about people in extreme survival circumstances. At the end of TLW, Garraty famously sees a dark figure beckoning him to come and walk, to come and play the game. I have argued here that there are textual clues that suggest the figure is Garraty himself, helping himself stay alive. From the article: Shackleton wrote, "during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three".[1] His admission resulted in other survivors of extreme hardship coming forward and sharing similar experiences. Now later in the article, it says that this phenomenon was incorporated into a number of literary works, one of which King would certainly have read: Lines 359 through 365 of T. S. Eliot's 1922 modernist poem The Waste Land were inspired by Shackleton's experience, as stated by the author in the notes included with the work. It is the reference to "the third" in this poem that has given this phenomenon its name (when it could occur to even a single person in danger). In fact, book 3 of King's magnum opus, The Gunslinger series is called, you guessed it: The Waste Lands (subtitled "Redemption") is a dark fantasy novel by American writer Stephen King. It is the third book of The Dark Tower series... The book derives its title from the T. S. Eliot 1922 poem The Waste Land, several lines of which are reprinted in the opening pages. Here are the pertinent lines from The Wasteland. Sound familiar? Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another one walking beside you Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded I do not know whether a man or a woman -But who is that on the other side of you? So what? So Garraty is in extremis. If he quits, he dies. He's worse off than Shackleton by far. That's saying something. If you've never read Endurance, is suspect you'll find it a great read. And who shows up to carry him over the finish line? The Third Man Raymond Davis Garraty
Date Created November 7, 2018
Last Updated July 21, 2023