Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski have revealed why the surprise ending of John Wick 4 happens the way it does.
The movie, the fourth in the franchise, sees Reeves return as the titular assassin, who must once again fight for his life and his freedom from the High Table. Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Lance Reddick reprise their roles, while Bill Skarsgård, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Donnie Yen, and Rina Sawayama join the line-up.
It goes without saying, but a warning that the following will contain major spoilers for John Wick 4! If you haven't seen the film yet, turn back now!
If you're still reading, then you'll know what happens at the end of the film: John Wick dies. It seems impossible to imagine, but it's true – the Baba Yaga sacrifices his life in a duel to his old pal Caine (Yen), ensuring Caine wins his freedom and his daughter Akira's safety, while also technically winning the duel himself by killing the Marquis. That means Winston gets his hotel back and John is free of the High Table.
He dies from his wounds and is buried next to his wife, and his last word is his wife's name: Helen.
"We had the opportunity [to do another film] because the audience [response to] Chapter Three, and we were like, 'What was the why?'" Reeves told the audience at South by Southwest Film & TV Festival (via The Hollywood Reporter). "And when Chad and I was talking, the Why? was death – and it was John Wick's death. For him to get his peace, or freedom, in a way… that was the reason to make the movie. It can't just be, 'Let's do another one.' It was really about death, or a way of dying. We were really inspired by the Hagakure…" Stahelski added that the Hagakure is a code of ethics from Japan.
The Hagakure is also a book – a warrior's guide by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The title translates to 'hidden by the leaves.' Yamamoto was a retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, who ruled part of Japan, and the book is based on their conversations in the early 1700s. It's famous for the phrase "the way of the warrior is death."
"We kind of took the way of dying – or the way we live well to die well – as the theme," Stahelski said.
Reeves was also asked his favorite moment from the film, which turned out to be Wick's death. "If I just looked at it from [the perspective of] John – John Wick – maybe him at the end on the stairs," he revealed. "When he says 'Helen.' That, for me, after eight years of playing the role and after shooting the [massive fight on the other set of stairs], that part that was [a poignant link] to the past."
There was a plan to film a fifth movie back to back with Chapter 4, but Stahelski has said the franchise will "rest" after the fourth film. Considering John's death, it seems unlikely we'll get a traditional fifth movie, but Reeves will return briefly in upcoming spin-off Ballerina, starring Ana de Armas.
John Wick 4 is in theaters now. For much more on the movie, check out our spoilery deep dive on the John Wick 4 ending explained and our guide to the John Wick 4 post-credits scene.