Little Nightmares Ending Explained: The Family Theory and the Origin of Six
Ending Explained is a series where we dissect video game endings and — you guessed it — explain them as simply as possible. You can check out all the games we’ve successfully explained right here. As you should have guessed, there will be spoilers.
Little Nightmares’ ending is quite the head-scratcher. Essentially a giant, deadly game of hide-and-seek between a young girl and the vile creatures who inhabit her world, by the time its end credits roll you’ll likely be left baffled by what you’ve just played, thanks to its particularly confusing conclusion and the lengthy list of unexplained events that lead up to it.
While I’ve read a number of theories on everything from Six’s origin, through to her relationship with the central antagonist the Lady and the relevance of the Nomes, each of these have their own plot holes that don’t quite add up. As such, I’ve come up with my own theory that I believe neatly wraps a bow on its obtuse plot, explaining the various intricacies of both The Maw and the creatures residing within it.
The story in a nutshell
Little Nightmares begins with Six, the game’s raincoat-wearing protagonist, escaping from the prison of The Maw, a giant underwater structure that appears every year in a different location. The Maw’s purpose is to feed a selection of monstrous Guests, who travel to it annually (despite no one having ever returned) in order to partake in its grotesque feast.
Six is one of many child prisoners held captive in The Maw, with them being prepared and cooked by the Twin Chefs for the Guests in their shameful act of gluttony. Throughout the game Six travels throughout the Maw until she eventually reaches the quarters of the Lady, the mysterious masked figure who runs The Maw and its annual feast. In this final confrontation, Six first devours one of the innocent, diminutive Nomes that wander The Maw’s corridors, before eventually defeating the Lady with a mirror — she has an intense aversion to her own reflection, which is why she covers her face with a mask — and then eating her, too.
The game concludes with Six consuming all of the Lady’s powers, before walking through the dining hall and sucking the life from each of the Guests as she passes them. She then makes her way up the stairs and to the outside of The Maw, where in an end credits scene she is seen waiting by its entrance.
Who is Six?
Little Nightmares‘ biggest mystery is the true origins of Six. While there are plenty of children seen caged and suffering on The Maw, Six is notably different from the others as a result of her bright yellow raincoat, along with her hurried mission to reach and kill the Lady. So who is Six?
One prevailing theory doing the rounds is that Six is the daughter of the Lady, though her beauty led to the Lady keeping her captive (who is disgusted by her own appearance, hence the smashed mirrors you find in her quarters). While I do somewhat agree with this theory, it’s also a little too simplistic and leaves room for some plot holes. In my opinion, Six is the latest in a line of successors to the Lady’s place atop The Maw’s throne, with each of these successors killing their predecessor in order to continue the cycle of death that takes place within the vile structure. This means that the Lady would have been named Five, and she would have assumed the role of The Maw’s leader after devouring Four.
The Lady’s identity
In the Lady’s quarters, a painting can be seen depicting her standing in between four silhouetted figures. This hangs above a portrait of a young girl, which is covered with a black cloth in order to obscure her face. This painting can also be found in another room in the Lady’s quarters, and it is again covered with a cloth.
As pointed out by a user on the Fan Theories subreddit, the theory of the Lady originally being Five would explain why she is depicted alongside four other figures in the first painting, while this would also suggest that the portrait is of Four. In order to become the Lady, Five would have consumed Four, an act which she is ashamed of as indicated by the covered portrait, with it being hidden so that Five needn’t face her sins. This also explains why she wears the mask and has smashed all of the mirrors within her vicinity, as she can no longer bear to look at herself as a result of the suffering she has caused. However, she keeps one mirror locked away for her inevitable confrontation with Six, continuing the Maw’s painful cycle in the process.
Mother and daughter
I believe that the Lady and Six are mother and daughter, and that Lady is the fifth daughter in a lineage of women who have ultimately usurped their mothers in order to perpetuate the monstrous cycle that takes place within The Maw’s walls. While I don’t subscribe to the belief that the Lady is jealous of her daughter due to her beauty, I do believe that her resentment for her offspring is what drives Six to murder and devour her, therefore ensuring that the Lady’s evil doings inside The Maw continue after she is replaced.
But why do the Lady and Six have such a strained relationship, and what drives the daughter to kill her mother?
An allegory for child abuse
The game’s senior narrative designer Dave Mervik previously explained that The Maw should depict the “surreal experience of growing up.” Prior to the game’s release, he said (via PlayStation Lifestyle): “The Maw is a place of extremes. The idea is that it should encapsulate this surreal experience that kids have growing up. Where you can go from playing happily one minute, to being terrified the next. Of course, we’ve exaggerated things somewhat too, which is as much a part of being a kid as anything else!”
The Maw is quite clearly not a place designed for children. Its oppressive walls keep them imprisoned in a relentlessly hostile environment, filled with grotesque adults satiating their own warped desires with utter selfishness. “We wanted to try and get across this idea of childhood and how it feels to grow up in a world that was made for other people,” Mervik continued, and the children being used as food for the Guests’ feast is a very literal portrayal of this.
Taking this into account, it’s easy to see how Little Nightmares serves as a grim allegory for child abuse. Six is the latest child in a line of daughters who have been unable to shake off their mothers’ abusive behavior, with her innocence eventually fading (first depicted by her shockingly eating the Nome) until she has been consumed by the darkness that had previously consumed her mother. The Maw is the world as seen through the eyes of a child brought up in an oppressive world dominated by selfish adults, with her attempting to navigate this world unscathed before finally succumbing to the nature of her environment, and assuming the role of her abusive mother with her own daughter.
Throughout the game Six keeps her face concealed with her hood, which could be a visual representation of the timidity and low self-esteem typically suffered by children living in an abusive home, while the bright yellow of her raincoat signifies the hope that still resides within her. However, after killing the Lady this insecurity is replaced by self-loathing, hence the necessity of the mask and the smashed mirrors. The daughters’ transition into adulthood over the course of just a year would also signify the amount of growing up children are forced to do in a short space of time, as the effects of their abuse inevitably take their toll.
Despite attempts to do so (feeding on meat and bread rather than the living), the daughters are never able to break free of the damaging effects of their abuse, and are doomed to replicate the mistakes of their mothers and, in the game’s world, continue the atrocities of The Maw. However, it could also be argued that while Six did succumb to the darkness initially, she may have broken the cycle as a result of the image of her leaving The Maw and walking towards the sunlight. This could be perceived as Six having wrestled with the inner turmoil of repeating her mother’s abuse, only to eventually break from
The sad tale of the Nomes and the hanging man
Even though this theory covers a lot of bases, it still leaves a few unexplained threads in Little Nightmares‘ story. Firstly, the legs of the hanging man who can be seen dangling from the rafters at the start of the game, with a chair pushed out from beneath him and what is presumably a suicide note on the floor. With most of the game’s adult characters being monstrous in appearance, the slender legs and smart shoes adorned by the hanging man are curious, even though the rest of his body isn’t visible.
It could simply be that the man is another adult stranger, but one who was less complicit in the horrific goings on in The Maw to the point where he decided to take his own life. However, I suspect that the hanging man may actually be Six’s father, with her encounter with his lifeless body in the opening moments of the game inspiring her eventual descent into darkness.
As one of only two figures in the game with a body resembling that of an actual human (alongside the Lady), the theory of the hanging man as Six’s father has two possible outcomes: either his suicide is as a result of the Lady’s abusive behavior, or the Lady’s abuse began as a result of the father’s suicide. This latter theory doesn’t exactly fit into the direct narrative of the game, as we know that The Maw has been in operation for years. However, when viewing the game solely as an allegory for child abuse, the Lady having spiraled into depression and then taking it out on her daughter as a result of her husband’s suicide makes sense.
This could also help explain why Six wakes up in a briefcase. Although it’s been hypothesized that Six made her way onto The Maw as a stowaway hidden inside the Guests’ luggage, it’s made clear that the Guests arrive after the game’s introductory chapter. The briefcase could therefore either be perceived as a visual depiction of a child who, as a result of her abusive environment, feels like she doesn’t really belong to anywhere in particular, or that the briefcase is symbolic of a family with money troubles who therefore have nowhere permanent to lay their heads. This would also go some way to explain the structure of The Maw, which is essentially built like a hotel complete with Janitor and the Twin Chefs.
The Nomes may have an even more depressing origin. The official description for these creatures reads: “Though experience has taught them to be skittish, some still try to make friends with strangers. These Nomes rarely survive.” Though the Nomes typically run away from Six, she can get one to follow her for a brief period of time if she approaches and hugs it, while they also show some compassion for her as evidenced in one of them attempting to offer her food (even if this ultimately has unfortunate ramifications).
It’s my belief that these Nomes are intended to represent a younger sibling, with them being fearful but ultimately more innocent in their approach to others. Unlike Six they still trust others on occasion, though as noted in their official description, this trait ensures that they rarely survive. Six eating one of them before facing the Lady represents an elder sibling disregarding the well-being of their sibling as a result of the abuse they’ve endured, with the brief moments of compassion offered by Six to the little child-like creatures resulting in a brief bond shared between them, before they ultimately become uncertain of her presence once again. It’d also explain why portraits of them can be found in the Lady’s quarters, despite them being unimportant in terms of The Maw’s ecosystem.
While these theories haven’t been confirmed, with Tarsier Studios previously stating that they wanted the interpretation of the game to remain as open as possible, they provide a reasonable solution to most of the question marks still surrounding Little Nightmares as its end credits roll. If you have your own take on the game’s story and its ending, feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.