The Essex Serpent Book Ending Is Quite Complicated

Forget the mythical water beast. It’s all about that love triangle...

by Rachel Mantock
Originally Published: 
Tom Hiddleston in 'The Essex Serpent'
Apple TV+

Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Essex Serpent book and TV show.

Premiering on Apple TV+, the new six-part series will co-star Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes, alongside familiar faces from Harry Potter, Adult Material, and The Girlfriend Experience. The much anticipated TV adaptation of Sarah Perry’s book of the same name — The Essex Serpent was a best selling historical novel that gained a loyal following. Published in 2016, Perry’s second novel follows protagonist Cora Seaborne, a recently widowed wealthy woman, who’s just escaped an abusive marriage after her husband dies. The screen adaptation is set to follow the original plot, more or less. But how does The Essex Serpent end? Here’s what you need to know.

Cora leaves her affluent London life for an obscure Essex village (Aldwinter) to take up palaeontology. Soon, she’s convinced the area has always been haunted by an ancient sea serpent. The village’s folktales revolve around said serpent — known as the ‘Blackwater Beast’ — and is said to have been awakened by an earthquake.

Towards the end of the novel, an ominous all-consuming stench takes over Aldwinter. By this point, the locals are convinced it’s related to the Blackwater Beast. Heading to the shore for answers, they’re met with giant rotting fish flailing across the seafront. Temporary relief sets in as the dead fish are a feasible explanation for the mystery smell.

At this stage, there’s also tension and conflict among Cora and the group she’s formed to explore her serpent theory, including: Luke; Katherine; the Ransomes; and Will, her love interest. Herein lies the complication: Will is married, and his wife, Stella, is ill.

Stella’s mental health deteriorates towards the end of the book, where she becomes preoccupied with a link between her own impending end (she has tuberculosis) and “the beast”. A suspected Blackwater Beast sighting proves to just be an old boat, but brings Will and Stella back into each other. Cora moves back to London alone, but writes to Will often, even though he never writes back. The book ends with a letter from Cora to Will, telling him she loves him and that she hopes he’ll join her in London eventually.

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