Warning: This story contains major spoilers about After Life season 3.
If you haven’t already witnessed the heartbreaking wholesomeness of Netflix’s After Life, we recommend you watch it immediately—not least because we’re about to explain the perfect way it came to an end.
Indeed, the comedy-drama starring Ricky Gervais was warmly received when it was first released back in 2019’s pre-pandemic world. Following the life of recently bereaved Tony Johnson, we watch as the local news journalist struggles to move on from the warm, comfortable life he once had with his wife, Lisa, who died of breast cancer.
Despite his depression and determinedness to punish the world for his grief, his colleagues and acquaintances colour his life with their own quirks, determined to help and support him despite his negative outlook.
The third and final season was released in January 2022 with fans excited to see where Tony ends up, and while there were some elements of closure, the ending itself was open to interpretation.
Here, we explain what those final moments of After Life really meant.
What happened in After Life, season three?
One of the main storylines of season three revolves around Tony’s potential romance with Emma (played by Ashley Jensen), a local nurse who looked after Tony’s father before his death.
Still dealing with the fallout of his wife’s death and comparing every part of his relationship with Emma to his old life, Tony keeps her at arm’s length. And eventually, he decides to call time on the relationship.
As he encourages Emma to accept a date from an old school friend, we see them both find closure in the situation. Yes, it’s sad to not see them work things out, but it’s also encouraging to see them move on from something that ultimately couldn’t have served them on an even ground.
This rhetoric is one of the show’s key themes that make it so watchable. While it’s heartbreakingly sad, it’s also a beautiful portrayal of the many wonderful things we can still experience with the people around us—it’s all about mindset.
After Life‘s ending explained
In the final episode of season three, Tony reflects on his first meeting with Lisa at the Tambury fair where he joked to her about not believing in an afterlife, despite the fact Lisa wanted to believe in angels.
His friend Anne (played by Penelope Wilton) tells him that angels do live on Earth, and she believed Tony himself is hers. “If you want to be an angel you’ve got to do it while you’re alive. Be good and do good things,” Anne tells him.
Later in the episode, Tony visits a cancer hospice with his co-worker Lenny (played by Tony Way) where he comes across a sick young boy who takes to Tony’s dead-pan humour and sarcasm. Tony promises to come back and see the child every day until he’s better.
The child then says that he may end up in heaven, to which an emotional Tony tells him he believes in an afterlife, a beautiful full-circle moment which he hopes made up for his comment to Lisa when they first met.
The moment has a profound effect on Tony—he finally decides to cash in Lisa’s life insurance police which he’d been putting off. Collecting the AUD $284,000, he decides not to keep it all for himself, but rather give it to the people who’ve helped him process his grief, even at his ugliest moments.
It’s at this point that we realise Tony has stepped into a new phase of his life after Lisa. It seems he now understands that while being sad is a part of grief, the power of human contact, and better yet, helping people can be revolutionary. After all, kindness is “the real superpower,” he says.
In the final scene, Tony joins his friends at the Tambury Fair where he sees each of them in this new, hopeful light.
But as the final moments play out, it’s also clear that Tony has his own little bubble with his dog, Brandy, whom he says saved his life and quells his loneliness.
As he walks away, memories of Lisa accompany him. Eventually, Lisa’s shadow fades away, then Brady’s and finally, Tony’s.
Speaking to Digital Spy, Gervais revealed that while some might have interpreted the ending as Tony’s departure from the town, or his death, the moment was actually metaphorical.
“It’s just that life goes on, you know? When we’re all dead and buried, that field’s still there, the Tambury Fair is still going, that tree is still there, and it’s basically said that we all die, but not today,” Gervais explained.
“Whenever you are born, and whenever you die, it’s all over. So enjoy that bit, that tiny little bit.”
Diane Morgan, who plays Tony’s friend Kath also added: “I think some people will find it devastating. They’ll look at it, and they’ll go, ‘Oh, God, what does that mean?’ You know, and they’ll read all kinds of things into it.
“But hopefully, you’ve got to see that that’s it. Life goes on.”