‘The Underground Railroad’ Ending, Explained – Did Cora kill Ridgeway?


Based on the fictional novel by Colson Whitehead, Television Series The Underground Railroad is a moving story depicting slavery.

Set in the 1800s, the narrative pictures the horrors and adversity brought upon the enslaved African-Americans by the whites. The story follows a girl named Cora from the southern United States who runs away from Georgia plantation through an underground railroad, specially designed by abolitionists to move the slaves from the south to north America. The network was an attempt to earn back the freedom of the African-Americans race.

The 10 part series has been created and directed by Barry Jenkins for Amazon Prime Video. While the drama was captivating enough, its extensiveness might have aroused some questions in the minds of its viewers. We’ll try to solve them to the best of our knowledge.

Major Spoilers Ahead

Is ‘The Underground Railroad’ based’ a True Story?

Barry Jenkins’s television series The Underground Railroad is based on a historical ‘fictional’ novel written by Colson Whitehead. The series is set in an alternate reality which means it has taken its premise from history and created a fictional story of slaves, around it.

However, historically, during the mid-19th century, The Underground Railroad was created by abolitionists. It was used as a secret route and safe house for the enslaved African Americans. The network helped them to run away to free states in America and Canada.

Why was Cora Randall being hunted?

Cora’s mother Mabel ran off without her. Her white master, Terrance Randall punished Cora for it. It was when she was approached by a fellow slave Caesar with whom Cora runs from the Georgia plantation. However, during their escape, a group of slave catchers tries to attack them and in order to protect herself and Caesar, she hesitantly kills a white boy, committing a grave offense. (The incident was confessed by Cora herself in the Valentine farm where she lived for a brief moment).

The devoted slave catcher, Ridgeway has sworn to bring her back at any cost. In his lifetime profession, only one slave managed to run away from Ridgeway. It was Cora’s mother, and therefore the pursuit becomes extremely personal for him.

What happened to Caesar?

Caesar’s character was treated mystically from the beginning. His definitive eyes and an airy mystery around him suggested him to be a sort-of mage. Ridgeway caught him in South Carolina where Cora and Caesar took refuge under assumed names. The face-off scene between Ridgeway and Caesar ended as uncertainty. Nevertheless, the closing frame hinted that Ridgeway recognized him as he chanted, “Long way from home”, mentioning Caesar.

The end of the second episode pictures him in the underground rail network helping Cora to run away but his demeanor looked mythical. Cora later learns that Caesar was captured by Ridgeway and killed by the mob. Cora, however, hoped for his return, until the end.

What happened to Cora’s mother, Mabel?

In The Underground Railroad, Cora’s journey ends in episode 9. The last and the 10th episode play out like an epilogue portraying her mother and her story.

Cora ran away from the Georgia plantation, in order to find her missing mother. She thought Mabel could have used the underground railroad, but as told by a station master, no such name was ever registered. In fact, Mabel never ran away. She never used the railroad.

Mabel was devastated by the treatment of the slaves on the Georgia plantation. She was filled with despair. In an unconscious state, she walked into the woods, leading to a mental breakdown. When she regained her senses, she found herself in a swamp. Mabel was killed by a poisonous snake and her body was consumed by the swamp. It was for this reason that neither Ridgeway nor Cora was ever able to find her.

The Underground Railroad Ending Explained 2021 Television Series
Amazon Prime Video

The Symbolism of Okra seeds

Cora had thought that she will start a new home when she will find her missing mother. The Okra seeds will make their new settlement much like home.

African-American communities were brought in large numbers from their country. They were used as slaves and treated horrifically. All they had was their culture and their roots. These Okra seeds symbolized what was left. They already accepted that they had robbed their homes, but these whites would never be able to rob them of their values, their roots.

For a time being, Cora believed the same. She desired a spot to call it her home, a spot where she can sow these seeds. But in the end, she finally accepted that the whole country is her home now. Home is a feeling, an array of memories that remain with you forever.

Did Cora kill Ridgeway and his assistant Homer?

The Valentine plantation was raided by white Hoosiers, who feared the freedom of freed slaves. In the attack, Royal, Cora’s love interest, lost his life. But before Cora could escape the burning farm, Ridgeway got hold of her. He forced her to secret Underground Railroad, with which he has become obsessed.

While descending down to the closed Railroad station, Cora pushes Ridgeway off the ladder. They both fall on the ground, and Ridgeway gets seriously injured. This visual also connects to the opening scene of the series.

Ridgeway’s assistant, Homer, points a gun at Cora, only to figure that it is empty. Cora had the chance to kill Ridgeway twice but a visual of Caesar and Royal stops her from committing a crime she wouldn’t be able to live with. Memories of these two men save Cora from turning into someone like Ridgeway.

Cora spares Ridgeway and Homer. She leaves in a handcar along with another black girl. The visual and silence suggest that Ridgeway died in the end, and Homer becomes a slave without a master.

Ending Explained

Cora comes out of the underground railroad network. She plants her mother’s okra seeds, as a gesture of moving on with her life now.

On the road, she finds a black man named Ollie who is traveling to the west in his wagon. He gives Cora and the other girl shelter. They ride towards an uncertain future.

What’s left?

In a journey, a traveler travels alone. But he/she is actually never alone. Cora’s emotional journey was backed by hundreds of people she met on the path from Georgia to West. More than anything else, The Underground Railroad is a portrayal of her physical and emotional expedition.

Barry Jenkins and the original narrative, politically comments on the White Supremacy. The American Imperative philosophy followed by the slave catcher Ridgeway is disturbing and horrifying. But, so is reality.

At times, a viewer tries to hold back, to convince oneself that this is an “alternate reality,” a piece of fiction. But the state of our reality is no different. The similarity sends a chill down the spines. Picturing the hanged bodies of Africans, the narrative calls it, “The savagery a man is capable of when he believes his cause to be just.” For a time, I tried to persuade myself that it is fictional, but it isn’t. The world needs peace, and it begins with you. If you have come this far, I hope you go far beyond and understand the message The Underground Railroad hands to you.

I have tried my level best to cover most of the queries arising from a complicated narrative. Still, if you have any confusion, do write to us or comment in the section below.

The Underground Railroad is a fictional political drama Television Series created by Barry Jenkins. The tale is told in 10 episodes, of more than an hour each (except episode 7). It is based on the best-selling novel of the same name written by Colson Whitehead.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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