13 Reasons Why Season 4 Ending Explained: Who Survived The Netflix Drama's Final Season?

Brandon Flynn, Dylan Minnette, Alisha Boe and Christian Navarro in 13 Reasons Why
(Image credit: (Netflix))

WARNING: Spoilers are ahead for the final season of 13 Reasons Why. If you’d like to watch the last ten episodes of the drama play out yourself on Netflix, head there first.

Anyone else looking on their high school experience a lot more fondly after the conclusion of 13 Reasons Why? It seems that everything that can go wrong happened in the halls of Liberty High since Hannah Baker’s tragic suicide tapes set things off in the first season of Netflix’s hit drama series started in 2017. Although the series was not initially planned to continue past the story of Jay Asher’s best-selling novel, showrunner Brian Yorkey managed to create a full-fledged storyline that dived much deeper into the underbelly of teen mental health, sexual assault, sexuality and violence through the eyes of Dylan Minnette’s Clay Jensen.

13 Reasons Why may leave a legacy of being overly ambitious since the show explored a lot of timely topics throughout its nearly 50-episode run (including this season’s incredibly timely exploration of police brutality). The teen drama has had more than its share of controversies memorably with Netflix’s ultimate decision to edit out a key scene in the series. The last season seeks to give fans closure to the plot lines as the teens gear up to graduating high school. In true tradition for the series, not everyone made it out alive. Let’s talk out the ending:

Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley in the 13 Reasons Why season four finale

(Image credit: (Netflix))

Justin Foley’s Tragic Conclusion In 13 Reasons Why

The most shocking and heartbreaking element of 13 Reasons Why’s finale was how Justin Foley’s storyline wrapped up. The character began as another high school jock characterized by hanging out with the boys and breaking the hearts of his past girlfriends’ Hannah and Jessica. As the series went on, Justin’s arc began to hold more meaning as it revealed his troubling home life and heroin addiction. The high schooler was veering toward homelessness when Clay took him in, his family later adopted him and he decided he would get clean.

The fourth season starts on a high note for Justin when he leaves rehab serious about staying on track by attending his support group meetings. But then he learns his mom has died of a drug overdose and enters relapse. The huge tragedy of this season comes during prom, when Justin collapses on the dance floor. Justin is rushed to the hospital and tests positive for HIV-1, which has already progressed into AIDS. He had contracted the condition when engaging in sex work during his time on the streets.

Justin Foley death scene, 13 Reasons Why

(Image credit: (Netflix))

The death was instantly met with major backlash from fans – especially since the show did not spend time to properly educate its viewers on HIV/AIDS. (Not unlike the much-disputed school shooting sequence at the end of Season 2.) 13 Reasons Why star Dylan Minnette has recently explained why he felt Justin’s death was a fitting note for the series to end on with these words:

[Brandon Flynn] and I both felt that it would have the biggest emotional impact on the series given Justin's entire arc. Of course it's devastating and tragic and we know that people would love to see him survive, but I think that's what makes it all the more powerful. Obviously it's the most depressing move the show could make, but I feel like it's also in line with the show to make that choice in the last episode, to make the most devastating choice. It feels really poetic because the biggest arc of a relationship that Clay has had in the show is with Justin.

It would have been more out of character if 13 Reasons Why ended without dividing more of its audience, right? Anyway… aside from Justin Foley’s death, the series wrapped up a ton of major loose ends we went into curious about too.

Bryce Walker funeral, 13 Reasons Why

(Image credit: (Netflix))

The Case Is Closed On Bryce Walker’s Murder

Going into Season 4, the main plot line being teased was the matter of the secrets surrounding Bryce Walker’s murder. The prior season focused heavily on the reveal that Alex Standall had killed the rapist and the late Monty was framed for the crime. Since Monty’s ex Winston had been with Monty on the night of Bryce’s murder, he was the sole person with evidence against the case. However, in the final season Alex ends up forming a brief romantic relationship with Winston that later has the character decide to keep his lips sealed about Monty once Alex admits to murdering Bryce.

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen in season 4 of 13 Reasons Why

(Image credit: (Netflix))

Where The Finale Of 13 Reasons Why Leaves Clay Jensen

The finale of 13 Reasons Why has Clay Jensen facing the inner demons head on leftover from the past three seasons of the show. Much of the final episodes revolves around the intense anxiety and weight the high schooler feels about all the secrets he has kept, including Bryce Walker’s murder. His mental health erupts into the formation of dissociative personality disorder as two separate personalities begin to emerge in the teen. This is shown through the character forgetting lengths of time when he turns to violent and hateful actions. Once Clay turns to therapy, the audience learns he was behind the graffiti that said “Monty was framed” and he was behind setting the car on fire during the school walkout.

His ending is certainly ridden with tragedy with the death of his “brother” Justin Foley, but the event also allows him to realize how he can make a positive impact on someone once he finds out Justin’s college letter praised Clay helping him get him back on his feet. His graduation speech sums up the character’s journey through throwing away his “hate” despite his pain and hammers home the series’ message of high school being life and death as much as anything else.

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen with Hannah Baker's tapes in 13 Reasons Why finale

(Image credit: (Netflix))

How The Ending Connects With Hannah Baker’s Tapes

With all the drama that has occurred since Season 1, as fans we may be asking ourselves how the series could veer so far from the intention of the original: to tell Hannah Baker’s story. The show first grabbed viewers attention through the voice of Katherine Langford’s character as she explained the circumstances that lead to her suicide through a series of cassette tapes. Season 4 does circle back to the tapes when Clay receives them in the mail from Hannah’s mom. In an effort for Clay to finally move forward from his whirlwind high school years centered on tragedy, he buries the tapes with the other students at the first location he started listening to them.

The moment is a metaphor for closure, along with an additional scene featuring Hannah Baker walking toward him during graduation who he envisions before a meet-cute with a girl named Heidi also attending Brown signals a hopeful new chapter for Clay in his college years.

Alisha Boe as Jessica Davis in 13 Reasons Why

(Image credit: (Netflix))

What Happened To The Liberty High Teens After Graduation

The remainder of the Liberty High students involved in 13 Reasons Why have happy endings to boast. After writing a college essay focused on her reclaiming her sense of self after her rape, Jessica is admitted to Berkeley. Attending with her is prom king, Alex, who found love with Charlie and Tyler Down, who has also come to terms with his horrible sexual abuse and run-in with gun violence and is dating Monty’s sister. Tony has a full ride at the University of Nevada and turns out Zach wants to pursue his hidden dream in music instead of continuing his sports career.

It’s been quite a ride, Liberty High. What did you think of how things ended on 13 Reasons Why? Vote in our poll below!

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.