Is Kya found guilty in Where the Crawdads Sing? The movie ending explained

Is Kya found guilty in Where the Crawdads Sing?
Is Kya found guilty in Where the Crawdads Sing? (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

It's one of the biggest book titles of all time and one of the most-anticipated movies of 2022, but there are still mysteries and questions surrounding Where the Crawdads Sing. Is Kya found guilty? Who really killed Chase Andrews? And how does it all end? 

The film adaptation of the 2018 Delia Owens novel of the same name stars Normal People lead Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark, known around town as "Marsh Girl," a reclusive woman living in the marshes of North Carolina's Barkley Cove in the 1960s.

Abandoned by her family as a child, Kya largely survives in solitude in the swampland until her teens, when she becomes entangled in romantic relationships with kind-hearted neighbor Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and, later, town playboy Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). 

When Andrews turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, Kya finds herself as the prime suspect in a murder trial. But does the jury find her guilty and, more importantly, who actually committed the crime? 

Here's everything you need to know...

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

Is Kya found guilty in Where the Crawdads Sing?

In both the film and the book, Kya is found not guilty in Where the Crawdads Sing

One morning in 1969, two young boys come upon the body of Chase Andrews beneath a fire tower in Barkley Cove. The town sheriff believes Andrews was pushed and thinks that the wild and mysterious "Marsh Girl" was the one who did it. Even with a lack of fingerprints and footprints to suggest foul play and a verifiable alibi (she was in Greenville meeting with a book publisher), Kya is taken into custody by police 

Despite testimonies like one from Chase's mother, who claims that the shell necklace that Chase wore every day—one that Kya personally gave him—was missing when his body was discovered, as well as clues including red wool fibers found on Chase's jacket that police linked to one of Kya's hats, Kya's defense attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn) successfully argues that the prosecutor's case is based less on concrete evidence and more on the town's prejudice against the reclusive young woman. 

Concluding that Chase's death was an accident, the jury finds Kya not guilty and she is allowed to walk free.  

Who killed Chase Andrews in the Where the Crawdads Sing book? 

Now here's where things get twisty: it turns out that Kya was the one responsible for Chase's death after all, as evidenced by Tate Walker discovering Chase's missing shell necklace decades later hidden in Kya's home. But both the film and the book position the murder as a righteous one.

After discovering that Chase was two-timing her and was engaged to another woman throughout their entire romance, Kya breaks off their relationship. However, Chase does not take the break-up well and is emotionally and physically abusive toward Kya, destroying the home she built for herself and even attempting to rape her during their last onscreen encounter.

We do not see the specifics of Chase's death onscreen but the likely events are outlined by the prosecutor during the murder trial. Kya did, in fact, go to Greenville to meet and have dinner with her book publishers on the night of Chase's death, an alibi that was corroborated by a witness seeing her taking the bus out of town. 

However, as argued during the case, Kya's Greenville hotel was located suspiciously close to the bus stop, giving her the opportunity to jump on a wee-hours bus back to Barkley Cove after dinner. She could have then had Chase meet her atop the fire tower, committed the murder, and gotten right back on the bus to Greenville to meet with her publishers again in the morning with them none the wiser.  

As for the lack of fingerprints or foot tracks, earlier in the film, we see Kya and Chase visit the very fire tower that he was later pushed from, and Chase uses his foot to shut the open tower grate, a move that Kya closely notices. She is also seen clearing up walking tracks behind her in the marshlands during an earlier scene with Tate, which suggests that's what she might have done on the night of Chase's murder.

Again, the events of the murder are not shown onscreen and thus viewers are left to surmise what they think really happened that night at the fire tower. 

Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews in Where the Crawdads Sing

Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews. (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

What happens at the end of Where the Crawdads Sing?

After the not-guilty verdict, Kya is free to resume her life in the marshlands, reuniting with Tate and becoming a successful book author. After many decades together, Kya dies of natural causes in her sixties while boating the waters of her beloved marsh. 

Going through her possessions after her death, an elderly Tate pages through her journals and nature drawings until he comes upon Chase's missing shell necklace, hidden within one of Kya's notebooks. He realizes that Kya did, in fact, kill Chase all those years ago and kept the secret to her grave. He chooses to protect Kya's memory and destroys the evidence, dropping the shell back into the marsh. 

What is the moral of Where the Crawdads Sing? 

There are plenty of themes at play both onscreen and on page in Where the Crawdads Sing, including how abandonment, prejudice and trauma can affect a person, and how nature—both human and otherwise—twists and bends itself to survive despite it all. 

"I don't know if there is a dark side to nature. Just inventive ways to endure, against all odds," Kya says during her meeting with her publishers, and it's a moral murkiness as thick as the marsh waters she loves. “The marsh knows all about death and doesn’t necessarily define it as a tragedy," she says in another scene. For Kya, nature rules all and, in nature, a female praying mantis is absolutely just in her ruthlessness, even as she bites the head off of her mate. 

"In spite of everything trying to stomp it out, life persists... way out yonder where the crawdads sing, the marsh knows one thing above all else: every creature does what it must to survive," Kya not only says in the movie—she lives by it. 

Want more of Kya's story? Here's how to watch Where the Crawdads Sing, and after you do, check out writer Freda Cooper's Where the Crawdads Sing review.

Christina Izzo

Christina Izzo is the Deputy Editor of My Imperfect Life. More generally, she is a writer-editor covering food and drink, travel, lifestyle and culture in New York City. She was previously the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York. 

When she’s not doing all that, she can probably be found eating cheese somewhere.