‘The Watchers’ by A.M. Shine Recap & Ending Explained: Does Mina Make It Out Alive?

The Watchers by A.M. Shine Recap Ending Explained Does Mina Make it Out Alive
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‘The Watchers’ is a horror fiction novel released in 2022 written by A.M. Shine that follows a group of strangers who find themselves trapped within a seemingly enchanted forest with no way to escape. The novel had absolutely everything going for it to be an instant hit. It has plenty of mystery, suspense, and mind-boggling plot twists. Due to that, it’s not that weird that it’s being adapted into a live-action movie directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan.

The pacing of the book is strange, in a positive way, and just when you think that all has been said and done, you’re hit with several more revelations. Some readers commented that the book could have been a hundred or so pages shorter without the unnecessary prose written into the mix, but I can’t say that I agree because the world that Shine created is as beautiful as it is horrific. Now, the ending is not what you think it is and that’s why we’re here to explain it. Let’s go.

Editor’s note: This guide contains severe spoilers for ‘The Watchers’ book & the upcoming movie so proceed with caution.

John, Ciara, Daniel & Madeline are trapped in a forest

The book starts off like a dark fairy tale, we’re learning about the world through the eyes of John, an unfortunate man struggling to orient himself in what looks like a neverending forest, he has no compass, no map, and no way to make it out alive before nightfall. We learn that John and Ciara are a married couple, and one Sunday they decided to go on an adventure of their lives, but it seems that it’s going to be the last adventure John ever had. John mentions that he and Ciara drove for what seemed like hours until they reached the tree line of a forest, far beyond any civilization (we’re talking about Ireland here so it’s possible), and just when they almost reached the treeline, their car broke down as well as their phones and other electronic devices.

They ventured into the forest and were “saved” by a woman called Madeline who ushered them into some kind of strange house and offered them refuge from terrible shrieking things that haunt the forest at night. The problem is now John and Ciara are unable to leave, the creatures that haunt the forest leave them alone during the day but during the night, they hunt in the forest and no one makes it alive.

John is searching for a way out, a way to navigate himself through the forest but he stays out longer than he expected and night has fallen. The last thing that he ever hears is terrible shrieks as he is presumably killed. His adored wife was left in the care of Daniel, a teen boy and Madeline an older woman also trapped in the forest.

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One simple errand destroys Mina’s life

The next character we meet is Mina, an unemployed struggling artist who takes odd jobs here and there to make ends meet and keep her rent covered. When she is not doing commission portraits she is lounging in the local pub just drawing random people that she takes a liking or interest to. Mina notices a woman, strange-looking woman with perfect skin and almost no expressions and dubs her “the android” due to her lack of emotions. This is just an example of what Mina does as a hobby and is a huge part of her personality. Mina gets offered a relatively simple job by her alcoholic acquaintance to transport a golden conure to a man in Connemara. Peter – the man who hired her for the job gives her the map, but due to weird signs on the map, it’s practically useless. Still. Mina accepts since Peter tells her that it’s going to be the easiest money she will ever earn.

It’s December so Mina could use the money in any case. She sets out on the journey and ends up lost in the middle of nowhere, just like John. The car breaks seemingly at random and while she attempts to call somebody for help she notices that her phone battery is dead. She decides to spend the night in the car with a bird and hopefully look for help in the morning. The morning comes and Mina sees that what seemed like infinite darkness the night before is actually an ancient forest in front of her. She decides to go into the forest to look for help since the odds are there are campers or something in the forest and the chances of her finding help by returning the way she came from are minimal.

Mina takes a bottle of water and her most important possessions like tobacco and food for the bird and decides to set out in the forest with the birdcage. Once inside the forest, she notices that it’s much larger than it appears and it’s also abandoned, but she sees some signs of human activity, like one random glove left in the shrubbery. She decided to press on and eventually spent the whole day walking. Near twilight, Mina is already exhausted and cannot move forward any longer when she is met by a screaming woman who tells her to run toward her.

Mina decides to run while the woman ushers her inside what looks like a structure made out of concrete and glass. Just when she enters the structure she hears horrible shrieking in the forest. The woman who saved her starts lecturing her on the dangers of the forest and how incredibly dangerous it is to be outside of the structure when the light inside the structure comes on and introduces herself as Madeline.

Madeline is an older woman, but looks skeletal, just like the young boy in the corner of the room named Daniel, there’s also a woman underneath the pile of blankets called Ciara and Mina learns that Ciara recently lost her husband to those things that are currently running and shrieking outside. Mina still isn’t sure whether she believes any of it but the story starts sounding convincing when she notices the layout of the room. The wall facing Mina was one immense mirror, duplicating all within the room and obscuring all that lay beyond it and there was a horribly bright lightbulb in the middle of the room that made her eyes ache.

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Madeline explains that the things outside are watchers and the only way they are safe is if they stay under the light so the watchers can see them. As soon as the watchers lose sight of them they start shrieking and eventually hunting. No one makes it out alive – no one. Mina was unsure whether she believed the story, but couldn’t risk it. She decided to stay put for the night with Madeline providing her with the only bed to rest in.

No one knows what the watchers are

The next day Mina is a bit more aware of her surroundings and starts getting the idea of what the place is about. Madeline seems like a leader of the group and she is one extremely bitter and strict leader. She constantly threatens and insults the group, calling them “burdens” and being unable to care for themselves. Young Daniel is in charge of setting traps for the birds since he is the only one able to climb the trees high enough. The birds are pretty much the only meat sustenance since nothing lives in the woods, the watchers killed absolutely everything a long time ago. Even the birds don’t want to descend to the ground they can only be caught when they are flying above the trees.

Ciara is kind of useless she spends most of her time sleeping and depressed after losing her husband, Madeline calls her fat despite all of them being skeletal. We learn that Madeline has been here for 2 years and is the only one who knows how to survive the hellish place so this is why Daniel and Ciara depend on her for survival and listen to her despite her obnoxious personality. Mina gets the water duty since the water is provided from the nearby stream and she has the only bottle. Nothing can be left outside of the “coop” (a name for the structure where they retreat during the night) the watchers steal absolutely everything in sight. Mina doesn’t mind the chores, and the more time passes by it becomes obvious that her survival within the group depends on it. Madeline sees all of them as a burden, more mouths to feed and keep safe, and there’s practically nothing to eat save for berries and nuts.

When Daniel returns from his “hunt” without success he gets a tongue-lashing from Madeline who points out that he is useless and good for nothing. We learn that Daniel ended up in the forest when he ran away from his abusive father on his motorbike and he entered the forest when his bike broke down near the tree line. He replaced one abusive parent figure with another – Madeline. Everyone hates Madeline but they need her to survive.

Mina doesn’t feel anything, she wants to know more about the place and has a feeling that Madeline knows a lot more than she is telling. There are burrows surrounding the structure, and while Madeline, Ciara, and Daniel assumed they were random, Mina noticed the pattern and it seems like the structure they are inhabiting is in the center of things as if the Watchers are desperately trying to dig their way to something. She keeps quiet about it however and continues sketching the pattern in her sketchbook.

John is back from the dead

Some days have passed by and the group has settled into some kind of a routine, Daniel has more luck with the bird traps and manages to provide them with some kind of a decent dinner consisting of three birds. Mina is on water duty and takes the time every day to bathe in the stream. Since all the clothes and the blankets they have are dirty Mina propositions that they be washed on the stream and dried by the fire but Madeline, who is using a blanket daily to walk through the forest, hence making it filthy, refuses telling her that they will get sick and getting sick means downfall in this place.

Madeline has pretty strict rules regarding pretty much everything but Mina understands that the rules are here for a reason and as far as she knows Madeline is the only person to survive as long in this place. Even Ciara is starting to behave like her old self, despite her husband still being MIA, most likely dead. Come the night, Mina offers a pack of cards to the group they should play something to kill time and put their attention away from the shrieking watchers outside.

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Everything seems fine until Ciara hears what sounds like her husband, John screaming outside. She wants to open the doors to the coop at once but Madeline refuses to hand over the keys, telling her that it’s not her husband it’s the Watchers messing with her head.

Ciara refuses to believe this and asks for support from Mina and Daniel, but both of them are scared shitless and side with Madeline. This is the moment during which Ciara started low-key hating them, her heart broke as her husband’s screams outside subsided. Mina asks how Madeline knew that it wasn’t John outside but rather the Watchers and Madeline plays stupid, telling her that she “guessed.”

Mina is aware that Madeline knows something that they don’t. She seemingly understands the rules of the place and is aware that the Watchers are able to shape-shift into humans at will.

Daniel almost kills Madeline

It’s been a few weeks now and it’s January, a terrible storm has hit the forest that lasted two weeks and destroyed almost all traps in the vicinity so that means no food and plenty of anger diverted toward Daniel for his inability to do his duty properly. Ciara was mostly a ball of depressed mess, she hated all of them and it was obvious, that she slept most of the time which in turn led to Madeline hating her even more.

Mina still continued with her water duty and decided to wash up a little now that the rain had subsided, she was grateful for what Madeline was providing them with but also started to hate her as well due to her cold indifference and the way she handled the incident with John. That day, while Mina was drying off her socks and stuff near the fire she could see Daniel running at full speed from the forest, he warned her to get inside before Madeline returned, he was locking her out.

Mina refused, she told him to explain himself but it was obvious that she wouldn’t get anything out of this conversation. It seems that Madeline finally said something to him that set him off, he stole her key and bolted for the Coop with every intention of killing her that night. When Madeline appeared, Daniel locked the Coop and it was almost nighttime, no matter how much Mina wanted to talk about it rationally, both he and Ciara refused to unlock the door, Mina decided to stay with Madeline, it was nothing personal, but it was extremely personal at the same time.

Madeline handled this with cold indifference, she didn’t have time to wonder what would happen she pulled Mina into the shadows as soon as the light inside the Coop lit up. The watchers started shrieking almost instantly, and Madeline pulled both her and Mina further into the structure. She told Mina not to make a single sound or they are both dead. They sat pressed against the wall in the corner hiding in the complete darkness for what seemed like eternity while the Watchers were sniffing around the structure trying to locate them. When they noticed that two of their pets from the Coop were missing they ran away, deciding to search the forest.

Madeline used to opportunity to talk Ciara and Daniel into letting them inside the coop and they agreed, and then the shrieking started so violent, unlike anything you’ve ever heard. The Watchers started hitting the glass wall, and the doors of the Coop with their full might, all three of them were afraid that the glass mirror would crack at one point.

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They managed to separate a giant wooden table from the floor and push it against the doors in case the Watchers managed to bend the metal enough to break it. This is when the group noticed the depression where the table used to sit, it looked like somebody tried to cement something underneath the table.

Come the morning, the damage on the Coop was irreparable and Madeline expected that the glass mirror/window is going to break tonight. She blamed Daniel and Ciara for the event since they were the ones who locked Mina and Madeline outside of the coop which set off the Watchers and enraged them. Madeline sent Daniel to find the biggest rock possible so they could break the cement depression in the middle of the floor since it was their only hope of survival tonight. Daniel set off. Ciara was sent for water, and she was glad to do it, feeling apologetic. Near the stream, Ciara uncovered what looked like a camera, but decided to keep quiet about it.

While both Ciara and Daniel were away, Mina decided to ask some questions regarding Madeline’s past, she refused to believe that Madeline was just that good when it came to survival, she clearly knew much more than she was letting on. Madeline cracked under pressure and admitted that she had come to the forest with purpose.

Allegedly, she was a professor of history at the local college and ran into some notes and research regarding this place and the fact that people have been mysteriously disappearing in these parts for a couple of centuries now. Madeline revealed that the Watchers were actually Changelings, aggressive bloodthirsty fairies that are capable of mimicking human looks. Madeline described the Changeling as being much faster, taller, and larger than your average human being. Apparently, the Changelings were sealed at one point in time, but they managed to break the seal and are now haunting the forest once again. Madeline swore that this was everything that she knew and Mina decided to drop it. Madeline also explained that the only way she knew what she needed to do to survive was because she saw the writing on one of the walls “Stay in the light.”

Daniel returned with a stone and they managed to break the cement uncovering what looked like a metal trapdoor that led into the basement area downstairs.

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Who is Professor David Kilmartin?

The group is aware that their odds of surviving the night are next to zero, especially when Madeline reveals that she tested the Watchers and planned her escape multiple times before and each of her plans failed due to the Watchers being able to run impossibly fast, smell impossibly far and overall being stronger.

They decide to venture into the basement below which can either save them or lead into the heart of the Watchers’ territory. Mina decides to descend downstairs and in the basement discovers what looks like a panic room. There is a bed in the room, a real bed not just a pile of blankets and stacks upon stacks of canned goods. There is also water and a computer system with 8 screens.

Daniel, Ciara, and Madeline decide to descend downstairs and Mina turns on the computer, everything has been wiped except for a single video file. They decide to reproduce it and can see on the screen a middle-aged man who is seemingly recording his final few moments on this Earth. The man introduces himself as Professor David Kilmartin and explains that he studied history at the local college and became fascinated with the local legends surrounding the forest. He wanted to research the Changelings and set out into the forest but it required months and months of planning. He sacrificed several teams of construction workers to get this place built. David explained that he at first wanted to study and learn about the Watchers but decided against it when he saw how savage and utterly unredeemable they were. He also noticed that not all of them were adept at shape-shifting some could shape-shift nearly perfectly, and some could only mimic human shapes in the most disgusting way possible. He showed them the photo of his late wife and what he saw absolutely drove him insane.

At one point David got injured and was aware that he won’t survive this ordeal. He is also aware that somebody might find his research notes and attempt to research the same thing, so he asks whoever is watching the video to destroy his research back at the college if the person ever makes it out alive. The professor explained that there was a compass in the room and there was a wooden boat in the river to the south that could lead humans to safety since the Watchers looked like they had trouble with running water, it’s something that they cannot cross. The trek to the river is several hours away and due to the days being longer it’s best that the escape plan is executed during the summer months, but it’s also possible during winter if executed perfectly. He once again repeated his wish that his research be destroyed and explained that his biggest fear is that the Watchers might develop some kind of immunity to sunlight and nothing will bind them to this place no longer. The video stopped. Madeline asked to see the video once more in silence while Mina, Daniel, and Ciara started eating.

When she was done watching the video, Madeline told them that she was taking the compass and leaving at first light tomorrow, they could either join her or stay here and die.

The escape seems impossible

At first light, the group exited the bunker and decided to set toward the river. Madeline wanted to leave Mina behind because she had no shoes, they were stolen by the Watchers, but Mina assured her that she wouldn’t be a burden and neither would the bird she is still carrying around in the cage. At first, Mina was suspicious of why Madeline wanted to leave the place so quickly when now they had enough supplies to last them until summertime but when they saw what kind of damage the Watchers had done to the coop she understood.

Everything was filled with their bodily fluids, Madeline explained it was only a matter of time before they got sick, or the Watchers figured out how to infiltrate their newly discovered underground bunker. They started walking toward the river and Mina made sure not to slow them down even a little bit despite suffering horrific damage to her feet by walking barefoot over frozen ground.

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Most of the trek to the river was uneventful they eventually reached some kind of a portal and stone gateway that Madeline explained was the thing that Changelings were sealed behind until they figured out how to break the seal. They also had to walk underground for a bit until they eventually reached the shoreline.

Madeline was the first to hear and smell the river, and as soon as everybody else could see it, it was somewhat too late as nightfall was upon them and they could already see the Watchers screeching in the forest. They ran for the shore and found the boat dug into the earth with a tarp covering it. They managed to put the boat on the river but there was one problem, Madeline noticed that Daniel was missing. Mina ran to investigate and saw that the Watchers managed to fool Daniel into thinking that John was wounded and asking for his help, in reality it was the Changeling and they ambushed him, Daniel screamed to Mina to leave him and to save herself. She did as much, although with a heavy heart.

The night was deep when they set out on their travel, and Daniel’s death served as somewhat of a distraction. They tried chasing after them but failed. It took them a whole night to leave the cursed place they eventually managed to leave the boat when they entered civilization once again. Madeline pointed out that the road was wider which most likely means that it sees a lot of traffic and she was right. A tourist bus ran into them a couple of hours later and picked them up.

Mina learns something terrifying

The first place all three of them went was Mina’s apartment since she lived close to the bus station and the driver was nice enough to drive them almost directly home. Once at the apartment, all three agreed that they would never speak about this incident ever again. First, because no one would believe them, and second, because they had no proof that what took place actually took place. This is when Ciara revealed the camera she found in the forest, she admitted she had no idea what it was until she saw David’s video and she speculated that if they were to connect the camera to a computer some footage of the Watchers might be recovered. Madeline’s face darkened and she told her that it needed to be destroyed just like David’s research at the university. Something that she will see to herself. Ciara refused to dispose of the camera and decided to keep it for herself.

In the morning, Madeline was gone mysteriously but Ciara lingered a bit before departing back to her own place. She had a difficult task ahead she needed to tell both her and John’s parents that John was dead and she needed to think of a credible story of how it happened. Ciara wrote down her address on a piece of paper just in case Mina forgot it and Mina promised she would visit regularly.

After taking a shower, Mina decided to go to the university to destroy David’s research. She met almost no opposition and the clerk at the library delivered a whole box of his stuff. The clerk explained that Professor David had taken a sabbatical 3 years prior but had not returned since. Mina knew the way but decided to keep it to herself.

While exploring the contents of the box, Mina found maps of the forest and the design plans for the coop and the general structure, she also found an image of Professor David, and in the photo was also his wife. Mina was shocked by the fact that David’s wife looked exactly the same as Madeline but she was much much smaller. The clerk returned and Mina asked about the woman in the photo, the Clerk explained that it was David’s late wife, Madeline who died 5 years prior of cancer.

This is when Madeline connected the dots. Madeline’s lack of expression, her cold-heartedness, and the fact that she was extremely tall and bony but incredibly strong and fast when she needed to the. She could hear and smell the river the first. She was always covered with a blanket, supposedly to hide her true nature, Madeline was Changeling.

Mina thought about Ciara and the camera and set out to help her after destroying the evidence of David’s research.

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Did Madeline kill Ciara and Mina?

When she returned back to her apartment, she could see that it was broken into and the doorway held all evidence of suffering a Changeling attack. Ciara’s address was missing but luckily she remembered it well enough and ordered a cab.

Coming to Ciara’s address she could notice that her house was already under attack by Madeline since the power was out. Mina tried to explain to Ciara what had happened but she had no time since Madeline was already stalking them in her full form. Mina wanted to negotiate with Madeline, she would keep silent about her secret but she needed to let them go, preferably alive. She swore that she also destroyed evidence of David’s research.

This is when Madeline explained that she was always different and always could shapeshift better than the rest of her kind, she learned a lot from David, she felt more like a human than Changeling and she could also walk under the sun, something unheard of when it comes to her kind. Madeline explained that it was she who cemented the entrance to David’s lair after his death, and the note “Stay in the light” wasn’t instruction it was directed to Madeline as she seemed to be the only “good” Changeling in the forest. The reason why Madeline could shapeshift into David’s late wife is because he was the one who showed her the photo while they were communicating. The entirety of Madeline’s knowledge about civilization came from David himself.

At that moment Ciara ambushed Madeline and attempted to kill her, but Madeline was faster, stronger, and more savage, she attempted to kill the girl but Mina pleaded for her life. In resignation and in a strange moment of humanity, Madeline dropped Ciara to the ground- alive and simply walked away after Mina promised to never reveal what she truly was. Madeline was now free to find a new life among humans.

“They’re everywhere, Mina”

A couple of months had passed since “Madeline,” Ciara, and Mina left the forest and life was slowly returning back to normal, whatever normal meant nowadays. It was springtime and Mina enjoyed walking around town, once again returning back to her old hobbies.

She sat in the pub and started drawing faces again and this is when she noticed the android woman from the beginning of the book. It’s funny because she looked like someone who was only shape-shifting as human-like a Changeling. Mina wondered briefly whether it was Madeline as she noticed that the expressionless android was staring directly into her.

A man sat next to her and alarmed, Mina decided to walk outside when she noticed she was being followed. The man from inside the pub followed Mina outside and it turns out that it was Madeline. A couple of more changelings joined Madeline but Mina wasn’t afraid she knew that they weren’t about to blow their cover surrounded by humans.

Madeline explained that she is not the only changeling living in the human world, there are many more of them and they are watching Mina, stalking her, aware of what she knows. Madeline told her to leave the area and this is where the book is over. Seemingly at the cliffhanger.

Now it’s obvious that there are plenty more Watchers who have somewhat managed to develop immunity to sunlight, something that David was afraid of. I’m pretty sure that Madeline is one of the good Changelings but judging by her cryptic message she is not the only one who is aware that Mina knows their secrets and it’s quite possible that her life is in danger.

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