The Great Season 3 Ending, Explained: Does Archie Die?

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The third season of Hulu’s period comedy-drama, ‘The Great,’ is set in the aftermath of yet another conflict between Catherine and Peter. He has done something unforgivable, but her love for him stops Catherine from killing Peter. They both agree that there are some problems in their marriage that need to be sorted out unless they want to get stuck in an endless cycle of loving and wanting to kill each other.

Meanwhile, things heat up under Catherine’s reign as she tries to mold Russia into the country she always hoped it would be, but things don’t turn quite as she had imagined. By the end of the season, Catherine goes through a tumultuous arc that tests her emotionally and politically, making her wonder if she was ever fit to rule in the first place. Here’s all that happens in the end and what it means for Catherine the Great’s reign. SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Great Season 3 Plot Synopsis

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While Catherine didn’t kill Peter, she did stab his lookalike, which creates trust issues in their marriage. As they try to start anew, Peter restrains his volatile urges for violence and tries to be the husband that Catherine wants him to be. However, as she gets more indulged in court matters, Peter feels sidelined and useless. He is excited about Peter getting ordained, but Catherine stops this, which makes Peter wonder if he’s a good father. Meanwhile, Hugo and Agnes stir up trouble to get Peter to attack Sweden so that they can take back their country.

In the meantime, Catherine tries to develop new laws but is opposed by the nobles at every turn. It looks like they are too comfortable in the way things were, and even the serfs feel uncomfortable with the freedom that Catherine wants them to have. Ordaining Paul is another matter that keeps her at odds with Archie, and to teach her a lesson, he brings Pugachev into the mix. Meanwhile, Peter dies by falling into a frozen river, and Catherine finds herself unable to cope with the loss.

The Great Season 3 Ending: Does Archie Die?

When Catherine became the Empress, Archie realized he had no option but to find a way to work with her. He knew Catherine was progressive and wanted to remove the Church from the equation, which is why it was important for him to stay close, monitor and influence her. Every time she tries to do something to veer away from God and religion, he makes her see the hold that the Church has over people and why Catherine needs to stay in line with it.

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Ordaining Paul is one of the things where Catherine and Archie come into conflict. Ordaining means telling people that God has chosen Paul to be the ruler of Russia, just like Peter and the ones who came before him. However, Catherine believes in meritocracy and doesn’t want to put something on her son when she doesn’t even know if he’ll be cut out for the job. Archie points out that ordaining her son is not just for the Church but also her own political good, but Catherine refuses to budge.

When all else fails, Archie creates a scenario that forces Catherine to see the error of her ways. He sends Pugachev out into the country to pose as Peter III and rile people against the Empress. He fans the fire as Pugachev turns out to be excellent at the job. However, things get out of hand when violence erupts throughout the country, and the simple ruse turns into a rebellion.

Time and again, Archie tries to propose a deal with Pugachev to Catherine, hoping to have Paul ordained as part of it. However, in the end, Marial betrays him and tells Catherine everything. In anger, the Empress orders Archie to be stripped of his position, beaten, and buried alive. Before that, she has him sign a proclamation to bring the Church behind her, strengthening her claim on the throne. She also has him sign a document that would free all the serfs under the Church and allot them the land that the Church holds.

This allows her to give millions of serfs their freedom without involving the nobles. This experiment would enable her to see how the serfs react to their newfound freedom in a controlled environment and hopes that it would guilt the nobles into freeing their serfs. Meanwhile, Archie is buried alive and would have remained so if not for Marial. When she told Catherine about his betrayal, it was to elevate her own position. It works in her favor, but Marial never wished for her cousin’s death. So, when the guards have left, she digs the grave and is relieved to see that Archie is still breathing. He isn’t dead.

How Does Pugachev’s Rebellion End?

Archie paid Pugachev to speak out against Catherine, but none of them imagined that his words would echo with the general populace and turn into something much bigger and dangerous. As he went around spouting lies and hatred against Catherine, Pugachev saw a wave of support and devotion from the people. He realized his words held power, and by posing as Peter III, he could actually rally the people behind him and make a move for the palace. The simple lookalike had the chance to become the Emperor of Russia.

Had it been anyone else, they would never have been able to claim the throne. But Pugachev looked too much like Peter so that he could get away with it. In the final episode, he is caught, and instead of killing him, Catherine decides to send him on a trip across the country, where he would retract his words and reveal that he is not Peter but a double. Before the plan can be put into motion, Archie has Pugachev killed, which means that Catherine has a much bigger problem at hand.

It was agreed earlier that killing Pugachev without clearing the air with the people could turn him into a martyr. With him alive, the rebellion was concentrated and could be contained. With him gone, the uprising would branch away, which would be much more challenging. The power vacuum created by Pugachev’s absence would mean that other nobles could try to take his place, challenging Catherine’s legitimacy and making things even more difficult for her.

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Catherine tried to disperse the rumors by forcing Pugachev to tell the truth, but when he dies, she realizes she cannot fight the rumors. So, she embraces them. She tells Maxim to go out and spread the story about how he killed Pugachev with his hands. She sends Velementov to a different part of the country to tell the real story of how Peter died. She sends Petrov to Moscow, where Pugachev’s followers had gathered in numbers, to spread a different rumor and then crush the rebellion with the force of a thousand cannonballs. In addition to this, she spreads other stories about the different ways in which Peter died. One of those rumors is that she is Peter the Great’s daughter.

One single rumor could become the truth, but a thousand versions would mean that the rumors would stay stories and gossip, nothing more. This would keep Catherine in control of the narrative, and then when the time comes, she could use it however she wanted. Apart from getting Pugachev and Peter out of the way, Catherine also wanted to quell a rebellion like this forever. She didn’t want to go through the same question of legitimacy all over again, so she devised another plan. She knew the hold that the Church has over people, so she makes Archie sign a proclamation that would ask people to look for an omen to suggest that Catherine has been made their Empress by the grace of God.

Previously, her royal astronomer told her that a comet was scheduled to pass by the Earth and would be visible with the naked eye. He knew such things were taken as omens, so he wanted to clarify that with scientific facts. He wanted people to become aware of astronomy. In an ideal situation, Catherine would have gladly obliged, but she has a country to control, so she uses it for her own good. The public doesn’t know about the comet, so telling them that a sign from the heavens is about to come is the surest way of convincing them that her reign is the will of God. Once that’s established, no one can challenge her legitimacy.

Why Does Catherine Cut Her Hair? What Does Her Dance Mean?

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Catherine emerges from her emotional haze after clearing up the immediate mess in her reign. In the final scene, we see her dressed in black. She has cut her hair, and as the comet passes and the people cheer for her, she dances her heart out. What does this signify? From the beginning, Catherine believed she was destined to rule Russia. She thinks it is her destiny and that everything in her life has led to her becoming the Empress.

She is young and naive, well-intentioned as she might be. When the coup succeeds, and she finally has Russia’s reins in her hands, she discovers that the task is not as easy as she’d imagined. It is a different thing to get the throne; it is a completely different task to win over the people and make them see the new way of things. In the third season, the situation gets so out of hand, especially after Peter’s death, that Catherine starts to wonder if she had been wrong about destiny. If she was never meant to be the ruler of Russia, and by forcing it on the country, she has plunged it into chaos.

When the question of ordaining Paul is posed, Catherine argues that a ruler is not chosen by God but should become one by meritocracy. However, as her own reign collapses in front of her, she is forced to wonder if she was ever good enough to sit on the throne. Even with all the power in her hands, she is unable to achieve anything she’d set out to do, which is what makes Orlo question her as well. He accuses her of getting distracted, of being caught up in her fantasy, and of not doing what is needed of her. He wonders if he backed the wrong horse and if Catherine was just as inept at ruling as Peter.

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With Peter’s death, Catherine questions this even more, leaving it all to fate. She starts playing Russian roulette, believing that if she is meant to die, she will. If not, she will survive whenever she picks a gun and pulls the trigger on herself. As luck would have it, she survives every single time. The one time she picks up the loaded gun, a man barges into her room and tries to shoot her. Instead of shooting herself, she uses the gun to shoot the intruder. This surprise jolts her awake, and she starts to wonder if she really has been chosen by God.

Ultimately, Catherine decides that getting chosen by God is not the only criterion for being a good ruler. She will have to work for it. She will fail and fail again, but eventually, she will learn the ways of the court and get better at ruling the country. Before Peter’s death, she had been tethered. She felt constrained, and even though she tried to keep him out of the court, he would creep into it somehow. He would also constantly undermine her authority, making fun of the new rules she wanted to enforce and breaking them just when she said they applied to everyone. Orlo had pointed this out to her before. He told her that Peter would hold her back. Peter needed to go for her to become the ruler she wanted to be.

In the final scene, Catherine wears black because she is in mourning. Before this, she had been through denial, refusing to accept Peter was gone. Then she fell into depression, putting her own life at risk on several occasions and not caring whether someone like Elizabeth would take the throne away from her. Eventually, however, as her head clears and she becomes sensible of her situation, she accepts this new reality. Losing her husband will never not hurt, but that is no excuse for her to abandon her great love: Russia. Wearing black signifies that she has accepted Peter’s death; she’ll mourn, then move on and do what needs to be done for the country.

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In the same vein, cutting off her hair and dancing like no one’s watching is another sign of her truly coming into her own. When she took the throne, she was the naive child bride, who people thought had reached out for something that wasn’t meant for her. People easily manipulated her, and she never got to do what she really wanted. She was fallible, and one strong leadership on the part of someone with even a fraction of claim on the throne could rise against her and take everything away from her.

At the beginning of Season 3, Catherine acknowledged she had no idea how to get things done and wanted to be schooled in the ways of the court and politics. She’d never thought about ends justifying the means part of the job. She thought she could change people because she believed in the goodness inside everyone. By the end, however, she learns that she will have to be ruthless, calculating, conniving, and even lying if that’s what it takes to save her country. She doesn’t need people to love her; she needs them to fear and follow her. She has accepted that part of herself and is ready to take the country forward.

Read More: Is Peter Dead? Did Nicholas Hoult Leave The Great?