Netflix’s The Woods Ending Explained

Questions and theories raised by Harlan Coben’s latest crime drama, now on Netflix.

The Woods
Photo: Netflix

Netflix’s latest crime drama, The Woods, based on a novel by Harlan Coben, is a twisty turny tale which sees a horrible crime and a mysterious disappearance resurface 25 years later. It’s a six part series with each ep lasting just under an hour which builds to a strange, troubling and fascinating conclusion. Not everything in The Woods is clear, and not everything is cut and dried – that’s a very deliberate choice in a show that plays with our ideas of guilt and innocence and what lengths people will go to for the ones they love.

It’s a complicated beast, so here we break down the questions – answered, and unanswered – that The Woods leaves us with.

Needless to say MASSIVE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.

What happened in the woods in 1994?

Ad – content continues below

Creepy camp counsellor Malczak (Krzysztof Zarzecki) rounds up Kamila and Artur (Adam Wietrzynski) and takes them to spy on Daniel (Jakub Gola) and Monika (Kinga Jasik) having sex. He then encourages the pair to plan a kind of revenge for the night of the dance. They organise a bonfire, invite Daniel and Monika and then after Malczak suggests they all go skinny dipping, Kamila and Artur intend to run off with their clothes.

Only things go awry. After Kamila confronts Daniel and Monika, far from being penitent, Monika hits back at Kamila and calls her a ‘munter’. Yep. A munter. Hilarious because most Americans and plenty of Europeans (correct us in the comments) haven’t got the foggiest what a ‘munter’ even is. But also hilarious because in the dubbed version Monika calls Kamila ”a disgusting boring person” and not a munter.

There is nuance that’s lost here. A munter is not a disgusting, boring person. A munter is more like a minger. Or an uggo. Anyway, back to murders.

Monika taunts Kamila and she loses her cool. The girls fight, then in the heat of the moment Kamila strangles Monika until she loses consciousness. She releases her and Malczak goes to Monika. But instead of looking after her, he unexpectedly slits her throat, declaring that they are all in this together. 

Meanwhile, young Pawel (Hubert Milkowski) and young Laura (Wiktoria Filus) have snuck into the woods to have sex. They are interrupted by screams.

Why did Malczak kill Monika?

Ad – content continues below

In short, because he’s a murderer. We learn that he has killed before, via the box of trinkets and souvenirs including a lock of hair which he has hidden and Pawel discovers. In the box are things belonging to a woman who had been reported missing who we later learn he ‘butchered’. He’d paid particular attention to Monika in the past calling her beautiful. 

What was Malczak’s plan? 

He obviously can’t have known that the girls would fight and Kamila would strangle Monika. And if the altercation hadn’t happened and Kamila and Artur had just left with Daniel and Monika’s clothes, as planned, then Malczak couldn’t have got away with killing Monika, without being immediately under suspicion.

So it seems likely that the plan was just to get her naked, like the big perv that he is, rather than actually killing the kids. The fight and strangulation probably just presented an opportunity for Malczak to kill Monika and make the others complicit. Was he planning to kill the others? Hard to say, but after Kamila screams and Artur confronts Malczak so the others can escape into the woods it’s pretty clear the kids weren’t going to be complicit after all, so it’s reasonable to assume that Malczak might have killed the others too.

Who killed Daniel?

Ad – content continues below

Artur did, but he didn’t mean to. Probably. Artur is hiding in the woods and terrified when he hears someone approach. He presumably thinks it’s Malczak and jumps out and stabs the person repeatedly. Unfortunately it’s Daniel. Was it definitely an accident? Almost certainly (and it was very dark) but it’s also a very necessary plot point. Artur did have a motive for killing Daniel (he slept with Monika) so it would have been quite difficult for him to convince the police of his innocence.

What happened to Kamila and Artur?

Kamila and Artur escape the woods and go to the house of Bodgan (Przemyslaw Bluszcz) and Bozena (Izabela Dabrowska), Artur’s parents. They are joined by Kamila’s mum Natalia (Ewa Skibinska).

The adults keep the two hidden for 48 hours but it becomes clear something more permanent is necessary since Artur killed Daniel and Kamila strangled Monika. They decide it’s better to let the world believe they were killed in the woods. 

The two are sent away separately. Natalia tells her husband Wladyslaw (Roman Gancarczyk) that she’s leaving him – she intends to return for Pawel. Kamila and Artur contact each other every month.

Why not take them out of hiding once Malczak is convicted?

Ad – content continues below

Artur’s parents claimed a settlement from camp supervisor and father of Laura, Dawid (Jacek Koman) – it was a claim that absolutely destroyed Dawid and Laura after the insurance company ruled the incident was down to negligence on Dawid’s part. If they confess to NOT having lost Artur at all then they could be accused of fraud and have to give the money back. As for Pawel’s dad – well he doesn’t actually know where Kamila is or even that she’s still alive. And Pawel and Kamila’s mum? Well she’s dead, killed by Pawel’s dad (more on this later). 

Is Kamila still alive?

Probably. Though Laura’s father Dawid is absolutely insistent that Kamila is dead before he shoots himself, the very end of the series sees a possible reunion between Kamila and Pawel. 

Grown up Pawel (Grzegorz Damiecki) wanders through an orchard populated by nuns raking leaves and clipping trees with small fire lights everywhere. It feels like a mythical setting – beautiful and strange. Perhaps it’s real and Pawel will finally see his sister – as the show ends he approaches a nun with her back to us and calls out ‘Kamila’ – the nun turns and we half see her face. This could well be her but we wouldn’t rule out the possibility that this is a fantasy given the cinematography.

Who killed Artur?

That would be Dawid. We learn that Artur isn’t dead and has been in hiding using a false name but we learn this because his body is found. Pawel identifies him from the scar on his arm but his parents say it can’t be him (see above) which leads to a dead end. Pawel steals hair from Artur’s mother and the DNA shows it definitely is Artur.

Ad – content continues below

Why Dawid killed him is a little more oblique. Dawid and Laura’s lives were ruined after the disappearance at the camp. They’d also both been subject to severe anti-semetic abuse. Dawid is shown to have streaks of violence which he demonstrates to a nurse and later his own daughter. And of course he shoots Pawel and then himself after Pawel questions him. We also learn that Pawel saw Malczak giving Dawid a blow-job in the woods and that Dawid was always afraid that Pawel would spill the beans, though he never did. 

Dawid tells grown up Laura (Agnieszka Grochowska), “We should have stayed in the woods” and the implication seems to be that the events of that night ruined his life, even though he wasn’t the one responsible.

Who’s blackmailing Pawel?

That would be the rather despicable journalist Krzysztof Dunaj-Szafranski (Cezary Pazura) whose son is one of the defendants in the rape case Pawel is prosectuing. Dunaj-Szafranski vandalises his car, threatens to accuse him of euthanizing his dead wife and exposes his sister-in-law Gosia (Magdalena Czerwinska) who has been embezzling his late wife’s charity, implying that Pawel is also involved, or at the very least knew of the fraud.

What happened with Pawel’s wife’s charity?

It’s a charity to support Cancer patients. Gosia steals money to invest in property with the idea that she will make a profit and be able to pay back the debt. Unfortunately it’s a scam. The person who brokered the deal was Ming Li which sets off immediate alarms. Pawel learns that it was Ming Li who paid Laura’s colleague to email a story to her which so closely mirrored her experiences in the woods that night – she and Pawel had snuck off to have sex when they hear screams coming from the woods (the screams would have come from Kamila, who had just witnessed Monika’s murder, we later learn). 

Ad – content continues below

Ming Li, Pawel says, is a ‘money mule’. Who was paying Ming Li to do these things? Probably Dunaj-Szafranski who has the money, who likely sent the private investigator to talk to Malczak in prison (which is how it would be possible to compose the story) and who has been very clear that he will go to any length to save his son – a major theme in the show.

At the end of episode six Pawel decides to take the fall for Gosia and save his wife’s charity. He files the indictment for the rape case (by the end he has a witness and the tape of the rape so it’s fairly certain the perpetrators will go down), but then resigns. He feels like if he takes the case to trial the scandal over his wife’s charity could overshadow proceedings.

Pawel takes the rap for stealing the money, tells the press he will pay it back after serving his sentence and states that Gosia is innocent. 

Who do the bones found in the lake belong to? 

Initially Pawel thinks they could be Kamila’s but it’s later discovered that the bones belong to a woman who has given birth and is a lot older than Kamila would have been. But just because the bones are not Kamila’s does not mean the owner isn’t related to Pawel, he realises. He gives his DNA to be compared and while the exchange when he’s told about the result (by his assistant) is a bit vague, it seems that, yes, these are the bones of Pawel’s mother.

What happened to Natalia?

Ad – content continues below

For years Pawel had assumed his mother had abandoned him but after Bozena, Artur’s mother, reads Pawel a letter sent to her by Kamila all those years ago revealing that Natalia had stopped coming to see her, he understands that she was killed. Bozena speculates that it was Pawel’s father who killed his mother.

What about Pawel and Laura?

Reunited 25 years later, it becomes clear they still love each other. But while Pawel’s wife has died, Laura is still married, and while her husband can tell Laura has feelings for Pawel, he asks her not to leave him.

In an emotional end to the series Laura and Pawel visit the woods which changed their lives irrevocably. Pawel asks Laura if this could be a second chance for them but Laura, through tears, shakes her head, no. They leave separately. 

The incredibly stoic Pawel will now presumably serve a jail sentence for the embezzlement he didn’t do, leaving his daughter with Gosia and her husband. He has quit his job and won’t be able to return to the legal profession but says he will concentrate on working on his wife’s charity.

Where does that leave us at the end?

Ad – content continues below

Artur is dead, removing the concerns his parents had over accusations of extortion. Malczak is in prison for the murders and while he says to Pawel “two is not four!” when he realizes Pawel knows that Artur didn’t die in the woods, Pawel explains to Laura that it wouldn’t affect his sentence since he still took human lives. 

Kamila is probably alive but she almost certainly couldn’t reveal herself without extensive questioning. Besides if she’s been living in a convent for 25 years she might not want to. The convent setting seems to be symbolic of penance and redemption. She’s repented over what happened to Monika.

Artur too, has paid the price with his own life. Pawel has sacrificed himself for his sister-in-law, and Laura and Dawid paid many times over for the events in the woods, becoming responsible for all of the settlements for the families involved. Later Dawid becomes a killer and then takes his own life. Most of the main characters get some kind of resolution in the rather lyrical closing moments of the show.

The Woods is available to stream now on Netflix.