Avatar: The Way of Water ending explained: your biggest questions answered

Avatar: The Way of Water
(Image credit: Disney)

Avatar: The Way of Water, James Cameron's long-awaited return to Pandora, has finally arrived on the big screen. Set over a decade after the events of 2009's Avatar, the movie picks up with human-turned-Na'vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) living in domestic bliss with their four children, the war with humanity a distant memory. That is, until the RDA returns – with some familiar faces in tow.

The sequel sees Jake and his family explore the underwater world of Pandora, as they attempt to make a new home with the Metkayina tribe, led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet). The movie's action-packed finale is a lot to take in – in 3D, no less – so you'd be forgiven for having a few questions. We've done our best to answer them, as well as re-capping the climactic plot points.

Warning: major spoilers for the Avatar: The Way of Water ending ahead, so turn back now if you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to know anything in advance. 

Avatar: The Way of Water ending explained: a recap

The movie's dramatic finale starts with an epic battle between the Metkayina tribe and a group of RDA (Resources Development Administration) humans led by Colonel Miles Quaritch.

Quaritch teams up with Captain Scoresby and his crew of Tulkun poachers to hunt one down near the Metkayina settlement in order to lure out the tribe and therefore Jake. Jake realizes this is a trap and tries to convince them not to fight.

The Metkayina has informed the Tulkun about the RDA's imminent attack, but Lo'ak, accompanied by the other kids, goes to warn Payakan about the encroaching poachers as Payakan is an outcast and won't have been told by the rest of the herd. While he is out at the Three Brothers Rocks, he notices that Payakan has already been attacked. Quaritch and co. capture Lo'ak, Tuk, and Tsireya.

A battle ensues. Kiri connects to the Spirit Tree and uses her powers to attack a submarine by controlling the marine life with her mind. Neteyam rescues Lo'ak, Tuk, and Tsireya and they go to save Spider, who's still in the clutches of the humans, although doing his best to fight back). 

The conflict badly damages the RDA ship, and the humans begin to evacuate the sinking vessel. After being rescued by Neteyam, Tuk and Tsireya go back to the ship to find Kiri, who is still on board. However, Quaritch pre-empts their plan and captures Tuk. 

Meanwhile, Lo'ak and Neteyam find Spider, and the three escape from the ship – but Quaritch shoots Neteyam and he is badly wounded. Lo'ak and Spider manage to drag him back to their parents, but Neteyam dies of his wounds. 

Jakes goes back to the sinking ship to save Tuk and Kiri. He manages to free Tuk, but Quaritch has Kiri at knifepoint. Suddenly, Neytiri appears, holding a knife to Spider's throat – she threatens to kill Spider, telling Quaritch that he owes her the life of his son after he killed Neteyam. Neytiri scratches Spider with the knife, scaring Quaritch, who releases Kiri. 

A fight ensues between Jake and Quaritch on the sinking, burning ship. Meanwhile, Neytiri and Tuk are sucked down below the boat, and Jake becomes trapped with Quaritch. They fight hand to hand and Jake eventually strangles Quaritch who begins to float to the bottom of the sea.

Separated from Jake and Neytiri, the kids set out to look for their parents. Kiri connects to the Spirit Tree, while Lo'ak swims to find a badly injured Jake. Spider finds Quaritch, who is about to drown, and decides to save him after he stopped Neytiri harming him. 

Just when things are starting to look desperate for Neytiri and Tuk, the water around them becomes illuminated and Kiri appears. She has a pair of wings with her that allow prolonged underwater breathing, which she gives to Neytiri, and then leads her and Tuk out of the sinking ship. Lo'ak coaches Jake to help him hold his breath underwater and leads him out of the boat wreckage. Payakan is waiting outside and helps them out of the water, and the family is reunited.

Meanwhile, Spider drags Quaritch out of the water and he offers to take Spider with him. Spide refuses, and Quaritch flies away on an Ikran. Spider reunites with the Sullys. Neteyam gets a sea burial at the village. The Sullys plan to move on elsewhere. Jake and Neytiri connect to the Metkayina's Spirit Tree and see visions of Neteyam, both in flashbacks to his childhood and now. Jake vows to stop running and take a stand against the RDA to protect his family.

Who dies in Avatar: The Way of Water?

Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

While there are plenty of unnamed casualties in the final, climactic battle of Avatar: The Way of Water, the only major character to meet a tragic end is Neteyam, Jake and Neytiri's oldest son. Colonel Quaritch shoots him when he and Lo'ak are rescuing Spider from the RDA ship, and he dies from his injuries shortly afterward. 

What happens to Neteyam after he dies?

Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

The Sully family gives Neteyam a sea burial in the Metkayina tradition. His body is sent to the bottom of the ocean where it's absorbed into a seabed of anemones. As Tsireya says earlier in the movie, "the way of water has no beginning and no end," and Neteyam's water burial sees him become one with the energy of Pandora. 

What happens to the Sully family?

Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: Disney/20th Century Studios)

The surviving Sullys – Jake, Neytiri, Lo'ak, Kiri, and Tuk, with Spider in tow – are set to move on from the Metkayina tribe. The movie ends with Jake's voiceover saying that he's learned the best way to protect his family is to fight rather than run, so it looks like we may see them return home to the forest in Avatar 3 to face the RDA head-on.  

What's going on with Kiri? What are her powers?

Sigourney Weaver in Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Kiri is the biological daughter of the avatar of Dr. Grace Augustine and she was adopted by Jake and Neytiri after Grace died in the first movie. She doesn't know who her father is – could his identity explain her mysterious powers? There's some Anakin Skywalker-syndrome going on here.

When Kiri connects to the Metkayina Spirit Tree, she is able to control other things in the ocean – in the battle against the RDA, she is able to control marine wildlife with her mind to attack a submarine, as well as using her powers to save her mother and sister. She is also able to hold her breath underwater for much longer than her siblings. When she's attached to the tree earlier in the movie, she has a seizure, and human scientist Norm tells Jake that he thinks she may have epilepsy. Kiri, on the other hand, thinks she has a connection to Eywa, the Na'vi deity.

Did Colonel Quaritch survive?

Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios/Lightstorm)

After Quaritch and Jake fight amidst the sinking ship, it looks like it might be the end for Quaritch – Jake strangles him until he passes out, and his body begins to sink to the ocean floor. However, Spider grabs hold of him and swims to the surface with him, dragging him out of the water. Quaritch regains consciousness and flies away on an Ikran, so we definitely haven't seen the last of Jake Sully's nemesis. 

What's next for humanity?

Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: Disney/20th Century Studios)

The Resources Development Administration (RDA) returns at the start of Avatar: The Way of Water with the intention of colonizing all of Pandora to make it humanity's new home, as Earth is on the brink of becoming inhabitable. They have built a walled city called Bridgehead on Pandora, and everything humanity is doing is being funded by Amrita, a valuable substance being harvested from the Talukun that stops humans from aging. 

Although the RDA who attacks the Sullys and the Metkayina were defeated in the movie's final battle, there are still plenty more left military personnel at Bridgehead, so we haven't seen the last of humanity on Pandora.

Want more on Avatar: The Way of Water? Check out our pieces on the Avatar: The Way of Water frame rate explained.

Entertainment Writer

I’m an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering everything film and TV-related across the Total Film and SFX sections. I help bring you all the latest news and also the occasional feature too. I’ve previously written for publications like HuffPost and i-D after getting my NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism.