The ‘Unforgiven’ Ending Clint Eastwood Left On The Cutting Room Floor


When it comes to Clint Eastwood Westerns, it’s hard to pick which installment is the best of the wild bunch. The Dollars Trilogy was a significant turn for the actor, who had previously starred in the television series Rawhide, while flicks like The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter, and Pale Rider all equally bring some expert-level gunslinging to the table. But above all of Eastwood’s ventures out west, one stands above them all as a masterclass in Western filmmaking, complete with unbeatable performances and crisp direction that makes us wish the filmmaker had made just one more. Yes, we’re talking about Unforgiven, and believe it or not, this picture originally had a different ending that spoke even deeper to William Munny’s character and his commitment to his children. What might’ve been a rich scene, however, was ultimately cut by Eastwood himself.

‘Unforgiven’ Ended With a Bang — And Then a Solemn Coda

Unforgiven begins with William Munny (Clint Eastwood) being called upon by the youthful and self-proclaimed “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) to help pursue some vagabonds after they scarred a sex worker in Big Whisky, Wyoming. Will refuses at first, but upon realizing that his children might starve after a poor farming season, he eventually agrees, bringing his longtime friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) on board with him. From there, the trio trek up from Kansas to Wyoming and find themselves in a heap of trouble along the way. Once there, they pursue their bounty, despite the wishes of local Sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett (Gene Hackman), resulting in Ned leaving Will and the Kid behind.

Sadly, he doesn’t make it very far. Ned is soon killed by Little Bill in a brutal and bloody turn of events where his body is displayed prominently for all to see. With Ned dead and the Kid in emotional turmoil after admitting that he’d never killed a man before, Will returns on his own to Big Whiskey to kill Little Bill and his men. He does so, of course, but just barely. Will executes the misguided sheriff in the middle of the night after first taking out a number of his guys. Framed as almost an anti-shootout, Unforgiven doesn’t give us a blazing gun battle, but rather an intimate finish with some dark final words between Will Munny and Little Bill. Before leaving Big Whiskey forever, he threatens any would-be avengers on his way out. But even this isn’t the end.

The film officially ends with a coda at the tail-end of the action after Will returns home to Kansas to reunite with his children. The closing text explains that Will’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Ansonia Feathers, arrived sometime later to find the farm abandoned, with Will likely having taken the children further west to San Francisco. “And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition,” the film notes. It’s a tragic and powerful ending, but one that might’ve been even more so had the penultimate scene been left in.

‘Unforgiven’s Screenwriter Gave William Munny a More Heartfelt Ending

In David Webb Peoples’ original script, then titled The William Munny Killings, Will returns to Hodgeman County, Kansas to reunite with his young son, William, Jr. (Shane Meier), and daughter, Penny (Aline Levasseur). A 1984 draft of the screenplay details this scene, which begins with an awkwardly touching embrace between Will and his daughter, who runs out to meet him as he tramples back home. From there, Will reunites with his son, Will, Jr., who is both relieved and elated to see his father return. This leads to an interesting dialogue between the two, where the Schofield Kid’s name is revealed to be Tom, and Will, Jr. asks his father if he had to kill anybody for the money he brought home.


Will explains that his wife — Will, Jr. and Penny’s mother — showed him that he didn’t have to be a wicked man. “She made me see the error of my ways an’… I ain’t like I was no more,” he tells his son. Despite that, the boy asks his father if he had to kill anybody, to which Will lies and tells him that he didn’t. This powerful moment works wonders on the page, so there’s no doubt that it might’ve been a delight to watch on screen as well. “What’s good about that scene is that it means that the killings aren’t triumphant killings,” Peoples told Yahoo! Entertainment in 2022. “Munny doesn’t say, ‘I killed that motherf***er.’ He’s ashamed of what he’s done.”

There’s a sadness to Unforgiven’s ending that cannot be fully contained in words. It’s an end to a cycle of violence in William Munny’s life that has been long overdue, in many respects living up to the film’s title. The ending coda feels like the best way to wrap up the story in a way that feels true to the violence within, but knowing that our hero had this touching final scene with his children (something we can only imagine otherwise), especially having lied to his kids about his actions, feels like it might’ve been extra icing on the cake. But there’s a reason that Clint Eastwood cut this from the final film.

Clint Eastwood Decided ‘Unforgiven’s Original Ending Wasn’t Necessary

Despite the emotional weight that this particular moment might’ve had, Eastwood axed this heartfelt finish from the final cut. “He said he thought that it was a beat too many, and he wasn’t going to use it,” Peoples explained. “He had this sense that the movie had already ended, and sticking on another scene wasn’t going to help. As the sensitive writer, I wish somehow it could have made it in, but he got the rhythm right. He has a brilliant sense of drama.” This scene was still filmed back in the early 1990s, though Peoples, Eastwood, and only a select few have ever actually seen how it turned out. Evidently, it wasn’t enough to warrant including in the final picture.

“I don’t know if it’s something Clint would want to re-release or put on a reel or something,” Peoples noted. “Either way, it’s done. He made the movie, and it’s a beautiful movie.” Of course, the screenwriter is absolutely correct. Unforgiven doesn’t need this final scene with William Munny and his children. We don’t need to know that he lied to them about his profession. The film isn’t about Munny’s family per se, but rather about the battle against the man Eastwood’s character used to be. It’s about confronting the past to build a future, and about how violence begets violence (not unlike The Gunfighter). Clint Eastwood’s final Western is near-perfect as is, and although it’s easy to wish we’d seen this in perhaps an extended cut of the film, Unforgiven thrives as a beautiful love letter to horse operas everywhere, even without the added drama.

‘Unforgiven’ Is Still Clint Eastwood’s Best Western, Even Without the Extra Material

In some ways, it’s a shame that Clint Eastwood hasn’t made a Western again since Unforgiven (and Cry Macho doesn’t exactly count). Though, perhaps he understood as we do, that his 1992 Oscar winner could not really be topped. Having made over a dozen Western films in his time (after first starring in over 200 episodes of a classic Western TV series), it makes sense that the actor-turned-filmmaker would want to venture out and tell other stories. But few make Westerns as good as Clint Eastwood, and Unforgiven is just another example of how well he understands the genre — and just how bloody the Wild West actually could be.

Full of blindsiding performances, loads of grit, and a delicate balance between Western philosophy and gunplay, Unforgiven is a classic that remains as true to itself as ever. Even with the revelation that we may have gotten more from William Munny, the picture knows better than to dwell too much on what could be, and instead settles on what is. No, William Munny is not the same man he once was years ago, but that man still itches to come out. We see enough glimpses of him throughout the film to know that, hopefully, this is the last we’ve ever seen of him. Considering how far our hero moves his family in the end, it’s safe to say that, despite being unforgiven, William Munny hopes for something better in his final days.