The sixth and final season of House of Cards sees Claire Hale's presidency under siege as her dark secrets threaten to bubble to the surface, and things gradually build towards a violent showdown with Doug Stamper. This season also contains an interesting twist with regards to Frank Underwood's frequent asides to the audience - which, as it turns out, where actually excerpts from an audio diary that Frank kept.
In season 6, Claire is as ruthless a ruler as her husband, and equally skilled at putting on a more innocent facade. Whereas Frank gave a convincing public performance as just a good ol' boy from Gaffney, Claire feigns everything from total incompetence to open-hearted transparency to get what she wants, while in the dark she adds a few more bodies to the pile. One body that has her confounded, however, is that of her own late husband. After declaring his intention to kill Claire in the season 5 finale, it's Frank himself who winds up dead in his bed in the White House - apparently as the result of accidentally overdosing on his liver medication.
House of Cards season 6 has woven a tangled web by its end, with the long-simmering distrust between Doug and Claire finally boiling over, and Claire going to unprecedented lengths in an effort to protect her position as President. Here, we'll break down the major points of the House of Cards series finale, and try to understand what the series as a whole has to say about the nature of power in politics.
What Happened At The End Of House of Cards
In the episodes leading up to the end of House of Cards, Claire uses a move that Frank never could have: she announces that she's pregnant. It's unclear whether the baby is really Frank's (as she tells the nation) or whether it's actually Tom Yates' baby (Claire says it's a "50-50" chance). Regardless, Claire goes from the verge of impeachment to being a beloved figure in the nation - but Doug Stamper threatens to bring all of that crashing down when he starts leaking excerpts from Frank's audio diary to journalist Janine Skorsky.
Claire responds by effectively throwing her late husband under the bus, holding a press conference at the start of the series finale in which she promises to investigate Frank's crimes and, if necessary, issue a posthumous indictment. Realizing that this isn't enough to take the heat off her, however, Claire does what she and Frank did the last time they got close to defeat: she manufactures a crisis. Claiming that ICO terrorists are attempting to acquire a nuclear bomb, she instigates a scuffle between U.S. and Russian troops, antagonizing Viktor Petrov. She then holds another press conference - this time announcing that she is prepared to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
Infuriated and outmaneuvered, Annette Shepherd plots with Doug Stamper, making a deal that she will move Frank's body to his preferred resting place and arrange for Doug to be given a lenient sentence if he can reach the Oval Office and personally assassinate Claire. Meanwhile, Claire steps things up by ordering a military aide to bring the nuclear football - a briefcase used to authorize a nuclear strike. The man who brings her the briefcase is Colonel Flora, and Claire correctly guesses that he was one of the people in on the plot to assassinate her. She has him arrested, then returns to the Oval Office to find a gift from Doug: the only copy of Frank's audio diary, and the letter opener that Frank gifted to Doug before he died.
In the final scene of this episode, this season, and the series itself, Doug confronts Claire in the Oval Office, and Claire asks to be left alone with him. Doug gives her a full list of the assassination co-conspirators. After a tense conversation, Claire pushes Doug to admit that he killed Frank using his liver medication. An emotional Doug demands to hear Claire say that Frank made her what she is, and when she refuses he grabs the letter opener Frank gave him and holds it to her throat, drawing blood. He falters, sobbing and apologizing, and Claire uses the opportunity to stab him in with the letter opener. He falls to the ground, and Claire holds him and then smothers him with her hand until she's sure that he's dead - thereby destroying the last person who knows all of her dirty secrets.
Why Doug Stamper Killed Frank Underwood
One of the most surprising reveals of the finale was that Doug Stamper - a man so devoted to Frank that he continued to fight for him even after his death - was actually responsible for killing him. However, it makes sense in light of Doug's character arc this season; with Frank gone, Doug is determined to protect his legacy as a great man, and get revenge on Claire for inadvertently causing his death. After the season 5 finale, in which Frank swore that he would kill Claire if she didn't pardon him, Doug saw that Frank was about to go to the White House and carry out his threat. In desperation, Doug secretly gave Frank an extra dose of his liver medication, knowing that it would kill him, but also stop him from killing his wife and going down in history as a murderer.
Why Claire Killed Doug
Doug Stamper is literally the man who knows where the bodies are buried. He worked with Frank for twenty years and carried out some of his most nefarious and criminal schemes, and in one of his final acts Frank changed his will, leaving everything to Doug. He also left a USB drive containing his audio diary, knowing that Doug could use it as a weapon to destroy Claire. After Claire has Jane Davis, Cathy Durant and Tom Hammerschmidt killed, she knows that Doug is the last remaining link between her and all of the terrible deeds of the Underwood administration. Doug is a threat, and so he has to die.