2013’s ‘White House Down,’ directed by Roland Emmerich, is an action thriller film revolving around a terrorist attack on the Capitol. The film features Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among others. President James Sawyer puts forth a Middle Eastern Peace Plan that proves to be controversial among officials. Following the proposal, a group of terrorists attacks the White House, taking numerous politicians and civilians hostage and endangering the President’s life. Now John Cale, security personnel, must find a way to protect The President and keep his young daughter safe.
If you’re curious to see where this hostage situation leads President Sawyer and John Cale and what it means for the country’s political climate, here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘White House Down.’ SPOILERS AHEAD!
White House Down Plot Synopsis
Determined to bring change into the world during his presidency, James Sawyer spearheads his Peace Plan to withdraw American military forces from the Middle East. Meanwhile, John Clare, House Speaker, Raphelson’s security personnel, applies to be a Secret Service Agent and procures passes to the White House Tour for his daughter. On the day of the tour, Deputy Secret Service Agent Carol Finnerty interviews John but rejects his application after deeming him underqualified for the job.
Afterward, John and his daughter, Emily, tour the building with their group. Shortly after, a bomb sets off in the middle of the White House. As chaos ensues, John finds himself restricted to a room by the guards, unable to look for Emily, who wandered off to the bathroom earlier. As the terrorist group continues to take over the building, led by Emil Stenz, Walker, and his men, try to safely escort Sawyer to PEOC, the White House Bunker under the library.
By now, Stenz’s men have taken John’s tour group hostage, with John managing to escape their clutches. Outside the PEOC bunker, Walker kills Sawyer’s guards, revealing his involvement in the terrorist attack. However, before he can harm Sawyer, John passes by the library and overhears Walker on a radio he picks up from a terrorist. After John helps Sawyer escape from the terrorists, the latter plans to contact the SEAL using a satphone.
Meanwhile, the terrorists find Emily and take her hostage. Simultaneously, Carol safely moves Raphelson to the underground Pentagon command center. After John and Sawyer establish communication with Carol, she advises them to escape through the secret tunnels. In the meantime, the Vice President considers attacking the Capitol to bring the situation under control at the risk of hurting the civilians and Sawyer.
Guided by Carol, John, and Sawyer maneuver through the White House to the basement, dodging terrorists left and right. Upon arriving at the tunnels, the duo discovers that explosives are blocking the tunnel. Walker also learns their location through CCTVs, and his men soon storm the basement. John and Sawyer escape through the garage, leading to a car chase on the White House’s front lawn. However, Stenz’s second in command, Killick, holds Emily at gunpoint from the terrace to threaten the duo into surrendering.
As a result, John gets distracted, failing to dodge an incoming attack, and crashes the presidential limo into the pool. As the officials at the Pentagon watch the events unfold, they have no choice but to assume Sawyer’s death despite Carol’s protests. As such, they dismantle Sawyer from his role and swear in Vice President Alvin Hammond as the new President.
Nevertheless, John and Sawyer survive the crash and escape into the underground tunnels. After contacting Carol, the duo discovers that newly-appointed President Hammond has ordered special forces to attack the Capitol. However, John knows that the terrorists can fight off the aerial attacks with their air javelins. As such, he realizes that by ordering an air strike, Hammond has put the lives of the hostages, including Emily, in peril. Therefore, in the end, John is forced to leave Sawyer behind to try and save his daughter.
White House Down Ending: Why Did Walker Attack The White House?
After John’s showdown with the terrorists at the White House rooftop, Stenz learns that he’s related to Emily. As a result, Walker threatens to kill Emily over the PA system unless John hands Sawyer over to his men. Sawyer knows how much Emily idolizes him and cannot, in good conscience, let her die for him. Therefore he surrenders himself to Walker.
Martin Walker has been protecting U.S. Presidents for the past 25 years. Due to the same, President Walker implicitly trusts him with his security even though he didn’t handpick Walker himself. As a result, it’s a big shock to him and the rest of his administration when Walker turns out to have orchestrated the entire attack on the Capitol.
At the start of Sawyer’s administration, he sent a covert group, including Walker’s marine son Kevin, to attack Iran after rumors of secret nuclear weapons. However, the operatives never found any weapons in the country, and Kevin lost his life on the mission in vain. Initially, Sawyer assumes Walker blames him for his son’s death and wants revenge. Likewise, after Carol learns about Walker’s cancer diagnosis from his wife, she comes to the same conclusion. However, Sawyer learns that Walker’s ultimate plan is much more menacing than the simple assassination of The President.
Although Kevin’s death does drive Walker to attack the Capitol, he doesn’t want to take revenge on Sawyer. Walker doesn’t want his son to have died in vain and blames Iran for his death. As such, he doesn’t want America to make peace with the Middle East and instead wants to start a bigger war with them. Earlier during the takeover, Walker brings in Skip Tyler, an ex-NSA analyst, to hack into the security systems that block him from accessing America’s nuclear weapons. Now that Tyler has broken through the last firewall, Walker needs Sawyer to unlock his nuclear football briefcase in order to authorize attacks.
Weakened by his medical condition, Walker wants to bomb Iranian cities as his last act before death. He’s reckless and irrational in his mission, but he’s determined to give up his life for the same. Therefore, when Sawyer refuses to grant him access to the briefcase, Walker pulls the gun on Emily, threatening to kill her if Sawyer doesn’t cooperate.
Does John Save President Sawyer And Emily?
Sawyer stands his ground even after Walker threatens to kill Emily. In turn, he ensures Emily understands that he cannot save her life over the countless others that will be endangered if Walker controls America’s nuclear power. Nevertheless, before Walker can harm Emily, John sets multiple White House rooms on fire, setting off the building’s water sprinklers. Utilizing John’s diversion, Sawyer attacks Walker with a pen, but Walker overpowers him and forcefully unlocks the briefcase with Sawyer’s hand. Meanwhile, John successfully frees the hostages, killing Stenz and his men.
At the Oval Office, Walker accesses the weapons with the current nuclear codes and trains the missiles over Iran. Since Walker no longer needs Sawyer alive, he shoots him in the chest, perhaps as a small satisfactory revenge for Kevin’s death. As the Pentagon learns about Walker’s access to the nuclear missiles, Raphelson greenlights an airstrike on the White House. Although Carol is against this decision, Raphelson can’t risk starting a new World War with Iran.
Nevertheless, Carol informs John of the airstrike, giving him time to get his daughter out of the building. As such, John drives a car through the Oval Office’s wall, killing Walker. He urges Emily to flee the premise and stays behind to look for Sawyer. Throughout the film, John repeatedly risks his life for The President even though he gets rejected from the Secret Service. John does so because Swyer is a hero to Emily, the most important person in John’s life.
Due to the same reason, Emily is also unwilling to watch the Pentagon bomb the White House with the Sawyer still inside. Therefore, as she runs out to the lawn, she carries the Presidential flag with her, waving it at the incoming airstrike. The pilots, unwilling to bomb the White House in the face of a young child, abort the strike. In the end, John finds Sawyer alive and well inside the Oval Office. The Abraham Lincoln pocket watch Sawyer wears saved his life by blocking Walker’s bullet.
How Did Walker Get The Nuclear Codes?
The nuclear football briefcase contains multiple layers of security that one has to bypass before one can access America’s weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, even after Walker’s hacker allows him access to the briefcase and Walker unlocks it using Sawyer’s handprint, he still needs a code to access the nuclear missiles. These codes are only given to the President in power and change as the country’s President changes.
Therefore, in order to get his hands on the codes, Walker needs help from the current President of the States. Likewise, after Carol discovers the terrorists’ identities through Emily’s covertly recorded videos, she realizes all the aggregators are from the Secret Service’s list of presidential threats since they all had personal vendettas against Sawyer. Nevertheless, after digging into it further, Carol finds out that Walker never contacted the criminals, but someone else from the White House did.
In the end, John realizes that former House Speaker and current President Raphelson collaborated with Walker to dismantle Sawyer from his Presidential position. Sawyer’s Middle Eastern Peace Plan upset the wealthy higher-ups of the defense industry who profit from wars. Due to the same, Raphelson didn’t support Sawyer’s proposal and wanted him out of the picture. Nevertheless, John, Carol, and Sawyer catch onto Raphelson before he can cause more damage. In the end, the authorities arrest Raphelson, and several other countries back Sawyer’s peace plan. With John now a part of his security, Sawyer goes on to implement his plan.
Read More: Is White House Down Based on a True Story?