Tony Soprano’s fate is left intentionally vague at the end of The Sopranos, but one Paulie Walnuts quote actually perfectly explains it. While Paulie Walnuts is one of The Sopranos‘ biggest comedic relief characters, he does actually have some serious storylines, with one of his biggest involving his fear of the supernatural and of death. Because of this, Paulie Walnuts accidentally says something in The Sopranos that sums up the conclusion to Tony Sopranos’ arc.
The ending of The Sopranos has been controversial since it was first released, as the series finale ended on an ambiguous note. While sitting in a small diner with his family, Tony anxiously looks around the restaurant while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Belivin'” is playing. Tony then hears the door open, looks up, and the series cuts to black. The Sopranos leaves Tony’s fate completely unanswered, with there being all kinds of speculation as to whether he lives or dies. While the thematic implications of this ending have been highly discussed, it is actually perfectly explained by Paulie early in the series.
Paulie Walnuts’ Life & Death Quote Perfectly Fits Tony Soprano’s Ambiguous Fate
At one point in the series, Paulie Walnuts’ makes a comment that perfectly fits Tony Soprano’s ending. Paulie says “In the midst of death, we are in life”, huh? Or is it the other way around?” Meadow then reminds him that it’s the latter, to which Paulie replies “Either version, you’re halfway up the a**.” In Paulie’s typical comedic way, he perfectly explains the themes of The Sopranos as well as the problem that has and will continue to plague Tony Soprano’s life.
The point of The Sopranos is that the characters are never able to be happy. The constant stresses associated with being in the mob are key to every character’s arc, as they always have to be looking over their shoulder no matter how far away they get. In this misquoted platitude, Paulie is expressing that even when alive, the characters of The Sopranos are forced to constantly fear death to the point that they might as well be dead.
Why Tony Soprano’s Ambiguous Fate Was Perfect
Although the ending of The Sopranos was controversial, Tony Soprano’s ambiguous fate was actually perfect. As Paulie’s quote highlights, one of the points of The Sopranos is that the characters can never get out. Tony’s anxiety is at the core of The Sopranos, with his panic attacks kicking off the series’ main story. Thus, having Tony’s anxiety only get worse throughout the series is the best conclusion. The tragedy of The Sopranos is that Tony (much like the audience) will never get a conclusion, always looking over his shoulder until the very end.
Not showing who entered the diner in The Sopranos finale was the best way to get this theme across. If the series showed a hitman coming in to kill Tony, it wouldn’t be satisfying, as it would be too sudden. It would also take away from Tony’s anxiety, as Tony dying means that he would have escaped the stress he lives with. On the other hand, showing that the person who entered wasn’t dangerous would make the ending more forgettable, with it not being as discussed as it still is now. The ending of The Sopranos is perfect as is, and the key to unlocking its theme comes from Paulie.