Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby on the final season of Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby on the final season of Peaky Blinders

The Series Finale of ‘Peaky Blinders,’ Explained

It’s been three months since we whispered, “In the bleak midwinter.” and bid our beloved Shelby family goodbye, yet several questions still surround Peaky Blinders enigmatic final episode. If you’re reading this, then I’m under the assumption that you’ve caught up with all six episodes of Series Six, so without further ado, let’s get into it.

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Set in the grimy and lawless streets of post-World War I Birmingham, Peaky Blinders follows the lives of the Shelby Family, mainly, its patriarch and boss, Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy), who aptly describes himself as an “extreme example of what the working man can achieve.” From ruling the kingdom of Small Heath to entering politics, the series’ six seasons (and over ten year-run on television) show Tommy’s descent towards a spiral of corruption. 

What happened in Series 6

The final season picks up where the fifth season left off. Viewers learn that the IRA prevented the planned assassination of real-life fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), which ultimately led to the demise of fan-favorite Aunt Polly, played by none other than Helen McCory (who sadly passed away before the premiere of the much-awaited season and for whom its first episode was dedicated to). Her son, Michael (Finn Cole), blames Tommy, and the show jumps to 1933 where Tommy is now in negotiations with both the IRA, Michael, and his wife’s uncle, Jack Nelson (James Frecheville), who is based on Joseph Kennedy, Sr.  

As Tommy sets up his plans, we learn that his daughter Ruby is sick. From here, the show incorporates various supernatural elements as Tommy seeks a Gypsy cure, due to his strong belief that someone has cursed his child. Ruby ends up succumbing to her tuberculosis in the third episode, “Gold,” with Tommy arriving too late and not having had his chance to say goodbye. Later on, his physician Dr. Holford informs him that due to his exposure to Ruby, he now has an inoperable tumor, which gives him only around 18 months to live. This forces Tommy to believe that he is an ordinary man who has now finally met a foe he quite literally cannot defeat.

The Finale

The Shelbys have, of course, suffered several heartbreaking losses through the years because of Tommy’s ambition. There was his brother Finn (Joe Cole), his first wife Grace (Annabelle Wallis), and then his Aunt Polly—the unwritten laws of screenwriting only demand that as compensation, the antihero must die and complete his arc. But not Tommy Shelby. 

After having settled his affairs and given his family ambiguous farewells, the finale reveals its final twist: Tommy Shelby isn’t dying. Upon deciding that it’s time to end it all and kill himself in a caravan with his most prized possessions (photos of his brothers and sister, his Aunt Polly, Lizzie, his children, and *sob* Grace and a lock of her hair), he is visited by Ruby’s ghost, who tells him the truth. When he wakes, he finds a newspaper he’d meant to use as kindling for his fire and it is revealed that Dr. Holford had been a spy for the Mosleys. True to his old self, Tommy goes after Holford and as he points his gun at the pleading doctor, we hear a clock tower chime at eleven. 

“The eleventh hour,” Tommy whispers, almost to himself. “Armistice. Peace at last.”

He then walks away and we later see him burning the caravan he’d intended to die in as he rides away on a white horse.

Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders
(Netflix)

But what does it all mean?

Peaky Blinders is like a book in that it’s filled with symbolism, mysticism, and to some extent, historical context. Let’s break all this down.

The Supernatural Elements:

Throughout Series Five, Tommy’s first wife, Grace, makes several appearances as a ghost, while in the final season, the camera often pans to an old painting of her that Tommy keeps by a stairwell to signal that something ominous is about to happen. She isn’t the only ghost who follows Tommy around. At some point during the final season, Tommy reveals that Aunt Polly still visits him in his dreams, and before shooting her son Michael, he declares that she will visit him no more. Still, when Ruby appears before him after finally deciding to end his life, he first asks if Polly had sent her. Through this goodbye, he is able to make peace with his ghosts, which he would later mark with the burning of all his tokens of them in the caravan.

WWI & Historical Elements:

The Great War plays heavily into the plot of the show, especially its first few seasons. Together with his brothers, Danny Whizz-Bang, Freddie Thorne, and Jeremiah, Tommy had been a tunneler, and following the events of the war, had suffered from PTSD. During John’s funeral in Series Three, he recalls a moment when they were cut off from the retreat, without any ammunition, and were left with no choice but to wait for the Prussian cavalry to come. It never did.

“[W]e were spared. The enemy never came. And we all agreed that everything after that was extra. And when our time came, we would all remember.”

This is essentially the driving force behind why Tommy keeps punching above his weight, regardless of repercussions: he is living on borrowed time. He isn’t supposed to be around anymore—the hauntings following him (of the war and his deceased wife) are constant reminders of this. 

At some point in the finale, after having killed the IRA members who’d caused Aunt Polly’s demise, the eldest Shelby brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson), sits just outside the Garrison and tells his men, “Leave us [Uncle Charlie]. We’re still in France.” Again, reminding us that even after all these years, the trauma of the war remains. 

And so, when Tommy decides to spare Holford after hearing the clock tower strike eleven, reminding him of the Armistice which signaled the end of World War I on the eleventh of November 1918, it was him finally ending the war and marking his return from the “underground.”

Tommy Shelby in front of a war zone in Peaky blinders
(Netflix)

The White Horse Imagery, Explained

Following the confrontation with Holford, we watch as the caravan burns and Tommy rides away on a white horse. This, of course, parallels him first entering the show atop a black horse, which in a way, may be a hint at a path towards the good. 

In an exclusive interview with Deadline, which was released just hours after the finale had aired, showrunner Steven Knight only had this to say regarding the matter: 

“The way I like to think of it is that he began the series as dead inside, as were a lot of people after World War I, and then slowly he sort of thawed out. But it’s a painful process because as the feeling returns, it’s painful. So that’s what we’ve been witnessing; that’s why I wanted to end it on the 11th hour and peace at last. In other words, his first world war ended when he fired that shot and didn’t kill the doctor.”

Unanswered Questions

Prior to the release of the final season, plans for a movie had been announced and the finale perfectly set up what is presumably to come. There is, of course, a possible takedown of the Mosleys, a power struggle between Duke (What did Tommy whisper in his ear during that last supper?) and Finn Shelby, and a question as to what, ultimately, happened to Arthur. We may see all of this unfold around the timeframe of World War II. 

All six seasons of Peaky Blinders are now available on Netflix, while the follow-up movie is set to begin preproduction in 2023. 

Did you like the Peaky Blinders finale? Let us know in the comments below. 

featured image: BBC


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Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.