'The Outsider' Ending Explained: What Happened at the End of the HBO Show?

The Outsider Episode 10 (titled "Must/Can't") brought the HBO Stephen King adaptation to an end in a typical slow-burning way, after a literally explosive beginning that saw the Jack Hoskins (played by Marc Menchaca) story come to a dramatic head. The season finale also saw El Cuco finally defeated (for now).

What happened at the end of The Outsider?

The Outsider finale pick up straight from the end of the previous episode, with Frank, controlled by El Cuco, picking off the cast with a sniper rifle. In this opening, the following characters lost their lives, following on from the death of Alec Pelley (Jeremy Bobb) in Episode 9:

  • Seale Bolton (Max Beesley), shot in the stomach
  • Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil), shot as he tried to drive away for help
  • Howard Salomon (Bill Camp), who died after Frank exploded his van.

Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), however, was able to stop the killing by daring Frank to shoot her. This allowed his conscience to overpower the influence of El Cuco, and gives Frank just enough autonomy to get himself bitten by a rattlesnake, and then when that does not kill him he kills himself with his gun.

With Frank now dead, Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) and Holly head into Bear Cave to track down El Cuco himself. The creature has taken Claude Bolton's (Paddy Considine) form and moved into the cave because it loves to feed off the misery of its victims, and this cave is a site of trauma for Claude as a place where there was a cave-in that killed a number of his relatives.

Ralph and Holly try to ask El Cuco some questions, though he does not give them the answers they need. Ralph wants to shoot him, but knows that it will trigger a cave-in similar to that which killed the Boltons. However, that does not stop the real Claude entering the cave and deciding to shoot the monster that has taken his form.

Everyone, however, survives this cave-in and return to where El Cuco lies to make sure he is really dead. Holly makes doubly sure the creature has been killed by driving a large wooden stake through his body.

the outsider ending explained
'The Outsider' see Ralph and Holly defeat El Cuco HBO

However, when Ralph returns on his own to the body, he discovers that El Cuco is not in fact dead. He tries to convince the monster to kill itself rather than become a tourist attraction as the first actual monster ever discovered. But when that does not work, he resorts to beating its head in with a heavy object.

Though this certainly seems to be the end of El Cuco, the show never confirms whether the creature is really dead. There has been much speculation as to whether the monster can ever really be killed, and The Outsider Episode 10 never fully confirms whether Ralph has succeeded in ending its life.

One thing that definitely does end, however, is the case against Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) which has been ongoing since the start of the HBO series. Ralph and Holly realise that no one will ever believe the true supernatural explanation of who killed Frankie Peterson (Duncan E. Clark), so they get key people in the case to corroborate a story that gives Terry an alibi, exonerating him from the murder.

Ralph and Holly then say their goodbyes to each other, but this might not be the last time they team up. We see Ralph tell Holly he would love for the pair of them to work together again, one of the moments in The Outsider Episode 10 that seems to set up Season 2.

Another sequel set-up we get comes in a mid-credits scene that sees Holly looking up the Terry Maitland case on her computer with a scratch on her arm. As this scratch has throughout the show been a sign that El Cuco is able to take someone's form, this suggests that either Holly has had another encounter with El Cuco after she left Ralph, or alternatively that the Holly we have seen all this time was not the real one after all.

So far, The Outsider Season 2 has not been announced by HBO, though in promotional materials for the show the episode has been called the "season finale" not the "series finale," suggesting the network is up for more episodes of the Stephen King show.

The Outsider is streaming now on HBO Go and HBO Now.