Sherlock: explaining His Last Vow’s final moments

Sherlock's series 3 finale has provided a massive talking point for speculation among fans. Rob looks at the options, with huge spoilers...

This article contains major spoilers for His Last Vow.

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

– Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle

While we may not be able to eliminate any options from the latest water-tight giving-nothing-away Sherlock TV cliff-hanger, we can look at the realistic options and gain a better understanding. So, in the spirit of The Great Detective, let us look at what we know about the twist at the end of series three:

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Some GIF footage of one Jim Moriarty has surfaced all over Sherlock’s world; every screen in London at the least is displaying the replaying footage of his animated face and the maniacally repeated words ‘did you miss me?’

After the credits, in our world, we saw a very much alive Moriarty talking to camera delivering the same words. If this footage is to be considered canon, it can be taken to confirm that Moriarty will be around in the next series. However, we should be open to the idea that this is not canon in the world of the show and that it could just be a tease for the fans. 

So how did Moriarty come to be on those screens? Let’s look at the options…


Option 1: Moriarty actually faked his suicide

“They did not fake suicide at each other. Imagine how stupid you’d feel if you bumped into each other! ‘What, you too?!’ He’s dead.”

– Steven Moffat (Series co-creator and writer of His Last Vow)

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Rule one: The Moff lies. We should know this by now after years of his expert batting-away of speculation, as well as the fact it would be pretty weird for any television producer to drop big spoilers to the press.

With that in mind, let’s consider how Andrew Scott’s Moriarty could have faked it. With a convincing fake gun, an accompanying sound effect and a blood pack on the back of his head that would split and spill when he hit the floor, Moriarty could indeed have created the illusion of blowing his brains out.  So this option cannot yet be eliminated.

The only worry being that, while this ruse might be enough to fool an ordinary person, could it really fool Sherlock Holmes?  Isn’t he an expert with guns and spotting fakes? Wouldn’t he know fake blood when he saw it too?

For this option to work, Sherlock would have had to either massively lose his skills of deduction for a few minutes or had reason to go ahead with the jump anyway.

Before the revelations of The Empty Hearse, we were to suppose that the lives of Watson, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade were all at risk if Sherlock didn’t throw himself off that roof regardless of whether he had spotted the first ‘fake’ suicide. But now?

Something about this option just doesn’t sit right. 

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Clue that supports this option: We never see the hole in Moriarty’s head.


Option 2: Beyond the Grave

“If you’re good at anticipating the human mind, it leaves nothing to chance.”

– Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) in Saw V (despite being dead)

Don’t forget that the post-credits clip of definitely-alive Moriarty could just be the latest teaser from the BBC Wales team. Remember that epic The Day of the Doctor trailer which featured all the Doctors and ended with Matt Smith sonic screwdrivering the sky? That wasn’t footage from the episode, or even in the same setting as the episode, it was just an entertaining a tease of what was to come. We should be open to the suggestion that this clip of Andrew Scott serves a similar purpose and that Moriarty isn’t actually alive.

With that in mind, anyone who has followed the Saw franchise after the fifth instalment will know that evil masterminds have a history of setting unfathomably intricate plans into motion before their death to entertain viewers and stump their enemies for years to come.

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It’s entirely possible that Moriarty filmed and plotted a final challenge for Sherlock in his final days, to be set in motion by his followers in the event of Sherlock somehow escaping the rooftop unscathed.

It could make quite thrilling telly for Sherlock and Watson to face off against a villain who has thought out every eventuality and cannot be confronted or stopped.

Clue that supports this option: Moriarty’s ‘miss me?’ messages comprise entirely GIFs and pre-recorded audio.


Option 3: A trap for Sherlock by someone else

“Dalek: A scenario was devised from the memories of your companion.

Sontaran: A trap the Doctor could not resist.”

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– Alliance of villains in The Pandorica Opens (Doctor Who episode written by Steven Moffat)

Much like Moffat and Gattis’ other leading man, Sherlock has made a number of enemies during his televised adventures, and many more in the cases we are only given a tease of.

It’s also publically known in the world of the show that Moriarty is the man who ruined Sherlock’s reputation and led him to spend two years out of the public eye.

Sherlock had also just shot one of the most powerful people in the country, if not the world, which is bound to make him some new enemies. “Coincidence? The universe is rarely so lazy” a mind palace-Mycroft reminded Sherlock in The Sign Of Three, so there must be something in the fact that this new challenge, grounding Sherlock in the UK for the foreseeable future, popped up just before Sherlock disappeared off the radar and out of reach for any pissed-off baddies or henchmen seeking revenge.

If you wanted to stop the government sending Sherlock away so you could seek vengeance on him for shooting your boss in the head/stopping your evil plan/telling your husband you’re a spy/revealing  your pole-dancing past on Youtube/fake proposing  to you, one sure-fire way to get him to stay would be the  threat of Moriarty’s return.

Seeing Sherlock convinced that Moriarty is back, only to have the whole situation revealed as a trap for him, would be a fantastic twist in Series 4 and possibly juicy enough to be the next big cliff-hanger.

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Clue that supports this option: Moriarty was on Magnussen’s list of pressure points for Holmes, could he have had henchmen waiting to exact revenge?


Option 4: The Holmes Deception?

“Your loss would break my heart”

– Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) in His Last Vow

It was made fairly clear that Mycroft didn’t want Sherlock endangered on a covert mission again; he expressly said earlier in the episode that he wanted his little brother to turn down the job offer he later forced upon him.

Again, if you wanted your bosses not to send Sherlock away, you would only need to tease Moriarty’s return and the back-tracking among panicked politicians would begin.

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Sherlock’s parents have also been established in this series, and the other brother teased as a future plot point – could we be seeing the beginnings of a conspiracy surrounding the Holmes family? Perhaps Moriarty’s reappearance was a conspiracy dreamt up by Mycroft and Sherlock together to save the latter’s life? It wouldn’t be the first time those two have colluded on a secret plan…

Clue that supports this option: Sherlock’s mother established as a genius mathematician – might she have rigged that impossible simulcast?


Option 5: The Hooper Conundrum

“I’ve moved on”

– Molly Hooper in The Empty Hearse

Having heard that her long-time crush was going on a suicide mission, plucky morgue-worker Molly Hooper set in motion her grand plan to bring him back.

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…. Yeah, I think we need to stop.


The only thing we know for sure is that Moriarty has somehow appeared on all the screens in the land, and it’ll surely be another cracking series opener when we do eventually find out. With another impossibly long wait to hear the truth, all we have for now is speculation and rumours. To the comments section!

Read our spoiler-filled review of His Last Vow here, and the post-screening Q&A with Steven Moffat, Lars Mikkelsen and more, here.

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