‘The Sandman’ Ending Explained: The Vortex, Surprise Episodes and Season 2



You’ve reached the end of the first season of Netflix’s surreal, seductive series The Sandman. You probably have a lot to think about. Here’s how the series teases a cliff-hanger and how the comics might inspire season 2. 

CNET’s Sandman review called the series a “delicious, dark, funny melding of myth and magic in the modern world, filled with seductive and destructive supernatural beings in a richly layered realm of fears and fantasies.” Streaming now, the show follows Morpheus, aka Dream, the creator and ruler of people’s dreams. After he’s imprisoned for a century, his escape and return to the world of the dreaming brings him into conflict with suave serial killer The Corinthian, the imperious Lucifer in hell and a human holding the power of a “vortex” whose existence threatens to destroy both the waking and dreaming worlds.

Which episode is the end?

Season 1 ends with episode 10. But two weeks later, Netflix added a bonus eleventh instalment telling two standalone stories, animated short A Dream of a Thousand Cats and live action story Calliope. 

Episode 11 reveals that the ancient muse Calliope, a goddess of stories, had a relationship with Dream (who she knew as Oneiros) and bore him a son. Their child was the mythical figure Orpheus, who journeyed to Hades to free his wife (a tragic mirror to Morpheus, who ventured into Hell but left his lover there).

The story takes place across the course of the season, beginning in 2018 while Morpheus was still in captivity and jumping forward to the present day when he was free. Episode 11 is a standalone story, which means episode 10 is the season finale and climax to the season’s storylines. 

So let’s look at episode 10. There are two aspects to the ending that we can dive into. First, there’s the show itself and how its characters and storylines wrap up. Second, there are the source comics, which we can look to for clues on where the show’s story could go next. If the series has tempted you to read the comics — and we heartily recommend them — then we won’t spoil them for you.

The series is based on an iconic comic series written by Neil Gaiman, with artists Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, and many others. The TV version draws from the first two volumes, titled Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House.

In some ways the series is faithful to the comic. The park bench meeting between Dream and Death in episode 6, for example, is translated pretty much word-for-word from the page. Other changes are bigger: Comics character John Constantine is tied into wider DC continuity with his own live-action show and appearances in Legends of Tomorrow, so he’s been replaced in the show by Jenna Coleman’s foul-mouthed exorcist, Joanna Constantine. This is obviously a big change from the comics: She’s clearly got a London accent, whereas John is from Liverpool. 

The vortex

A young Black woman stands in a field where two people dance in the distance on a strange theatre stage.

Vanesu Samunya (right) plays Rose Walker, who is also the vortex.  


The second half of the season sees Dream threatened by the emergence of a “dream vortex,” something he once saw destroy the human and dreaming worlds. He’s grimly determined to destroy the vortex, which is bad news because it’s actually a person: a young woman named Rose Walker, played by Vanesu Samunyai. 

She’s losing control of her powers, breaking down the barriers between individual dreams so her friends find their dream selves gathering in one unconscious place. Here we see Barbie learn about her husband Ken’s wandering eye, while Hal’s duet with his drag alter ego suggests he’s reconciled the different parts of his personality following a gory earlier dream. The spider-obsessed couple Chantal and Zelda are also residents of the guest house, and their dream includes a recursive sentence that continually loops back on itself (“It was a dark and stormy night and the Captain said to the mate, Tell us a story mate, and this is the story. It was a dark and stormy night…”), inspired by a sentence now generally derided as a literary cliche that opened the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

They’re interrupted by an actual vortex, of the whirlpool-y kind, to suck them into oblivion one by one. She finally accepts that her powers threaten the world and submits to Morpheus and her fate.

Luckily, it turns out that Rose was never meant to be the vortex. That destiny was originally intended for her great-great grandmother Unity Kincaid. But when Dream was imprisoned, Unity was one of the millions of humans who succumbed to constant sleep (we saw her father struggling to wake her as a child in episode 1’s “sleepy sickness” montage). Unity and the librarian figure this out and arrive in time for Unity to take back the vortex from Rose, which causes her death.

Rose is reunited with her long-lost brother Jed, whose dreams of being a superhero can be seen as a wry reminder that superhero stories have their roots in children’s power fantasies.

She’s also reunited with Lyta, whose reunion with her late husband in her dreams led to an imagined pregnancy — which somehow turned into a very real baby bump after she awoke. Morpheus is less happy about this turn of events, and warns Lyta that a child conceived in the Dreaming belongs to him.

Dream and Desire


Dream (Sturridge) and Desire (Mason Alexander Park)


Speaking of unorthodox pregnancies, it turns out that all the trouble was masterminded by Death’s sibling, the seductive Desire. Played by a sinuous Alexander Mason Park, Desire hates Dream and the pair have a poisonous rivalry, along with Desire’s twin Despair. But this scheme goes beyond sibling sparring: Desire impregnated Unity, meaning that her descendants — including Rose — are also children of the Endless family, just like Dream and Desire. Desire knew that one day Morpheus would have to kill the vortex, setting Dream on a collision course with the Endless family’s a golden rule about not killing each other.

Unity managed to spring Morpheus from that lethal loophole, but Desire is far from beaten. Morpheus visits Desire’s lair and reminds his sibling that he still has Death and Destiny on his side. But what about that missing member of the Endless?

Lucifer in hell

Desire and Despair are not the only enemies scheming behind Dream’s back. When Morpheus went to hell to reclaim his helm, he publicly defeated Lucifer. In the final episode, we see hell’s leading demons press Lucifer to strike back. If they can’t leave hell, they reason, they should expand hell’s borders. Lucifer, played by Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones), bows to the pressure, even though it will annoy God.

By the end, Morpheus is back in the Dreaming. But he’s grown and perhaps softened through his experiences, dialing down his haughty and imperious nature to turn Gault from a nightmare to a dream and letting the librarian take over the running of the realm. Meanwhile he concentrates on creating new dreams and nightmares, including perhaps a replacement for the Corinthian. While that seems like a welcome period of reflection and recovery for Morpheus, you have to wonder if he should be looking over his shoulder to his gathering enemies…

How does The Sandman draw from the comics?

OK, now we’re getting into spoilers for the original comics. Here’s how these various threads play out in the books, but that doesn’t mean the TV version’s season 2 will follow the same plots. 

spoiler alert

Lucifer’s attack on Morpheus comes in volume 4, Season of Mists. But it’s a more subtle and fiendish revenge than you might expect, as Lucifer hands Morpheus an extremely poised chalice: the keys to hell. Dream only came to rescue his former lover Nada — the caged woman he encountered while entering hell in episode 4 — but finds himself facing the hordes of Hades. Among his enemies are Azazel, the nightmarish demon who argued with Lucifer in the season finale (voiced, incongruously, by cuddly British actor Roger Allam), and the Norse gods Thor and Loki. We wonder if they’ll make an appearance in the TV version of this story, given that Loki is currently a major figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — not to mention in Gaiman’s own American Gods, a recent TV series on Starz.

One of Rose’s friends also turns up again in the comic: Barbie, who later leaves Ken and moves to New York. She pops up again in the comic volume 5, A Game of You, which sees more adventures in her fairytale dreamland alongside dog-like sidekick Martin Tenbones (voiced by legendary British comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry).

And we’ll no doubt see more of Lyta Hall. Funnily enough, when the original comics began they were tangentially connected to the DC superhero universe. Lyta was originally Wonder Woman’s daughter. But even without any super-connections, Lyta has an important impact on the story when she allies with the three-faced Furies, the witch-like women from episode 2.

Whether the series follows the storylines of the comics remains to to be seen, but with The Sandman TV adaptation drawing acclaim from critics and fans, there’s clearly plenty left to dream about when/if Netflix confirms a second season. 

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