The end of The World’s End is so bold, it’s sure to be polarizing. At the final pub on the Golden Mile, Gary meets the alien artificial intelligence behind the body-snatching robots. It’s replaced large swatches of the populace in order to prepare Earth to join some kind of benevolent galactic society. The aliens (voiced by Cornetto Trilogy staple Bill Nighy) insist that a few regrettable casualties aside, this is all for mankind's benefit. (He makes the same “greater good” argument put forth by the Neighborhood Watch Alliance in Hot Fuzz.) Gary rejects their logic and a deal that would make him young again (albeit in robot form) in favor of defending his (and all humanity’s) right to act like a fuck-up, and not some bland, beautiful Starbucked blank.
Eventually, the aliens get so sick of his obnoxious, drunken rambling that they abandon their plan and our entire planet; their departure obliterates Newton Haven in an enormous explosion that destroys the world's technology, plunging society back into the Dark Ages. Gary is last seen wandering the land with a bunch of teenage robot duplicates of his old friends. In the final scene, he and his new mates walk into a bar and order waters instead of a beer.
The Road Warrior-esque finale is a clever twist, and it makes good on The World’s End’s title and early marketing, after a relatively small-scale story. But some viewers are arguing that the ending also suggests Gary learned nothing from his experience on the Golden Mile. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
True, the presence of Gary And His Robo-Enablers (another potential band name!) implies our hero is still focused on his past. But his new drink of choice suggests the opposite. A dystopian, post-apocalyptic society without technology, transportation, and processed foods is a perfectly rational place for Gary to feel nostalgic for his glorious youth. Instead, for the first time in his life, Gary is content. He’s positively beaming when he says, “They call me ‘The King.’” He relishes his role in this ruined world, and he’s finally looking forward instead of backward.
That fits well with Wright and Pegg’s message about the dangers of nostalgia; Gary learned his lesson, it seems, but only at the cost of all of human civilization. It isn’t a simple resolution, but a character as complex as Gary doesn’t deserve one.