Even by the standards of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, this week's episode of Inside No. 9 was rather twisted and might leave viewers stunned.
The story opens with slick city teacher Alan Curtis (Reece Shearsmith) meeting his new class, after making a considerable move to the Welsh countryside in search of a fresh start.
An awkward introduction takes a turn for the truly uncomfortable before too long, as it soon becomes apparent that headmaster Mr Edwards (played by Steve Pemberton) is hiding something from his newest hire.
Here's our full breakdown of the ending to Inside No. 9 season 7 episode 2 – aka 'Mr King'. Beware full spoilers follow!
Inside No. 9 season 7 episode 2 ending explained: Mr King
For this episode, Shearsmith and Pemberton seem to have taken inspiration from the likes of Midsommar and other horror stories that deal with folk rituals in service to mother nature.
While Mr Curtis initially believes – somewhat arrogantly – that he is introducing his pupils to the concepts of climate change and environmentalism, he learns the hard way that they are more engaged than he could ever have imagined.
The first hint that something is seriously wrong comes when one of Alan's new students makes a false allegation of indecent exposure against him.
Desperate to prove his innocence without escalating the situation, Alan consents to showing his genitals to the headmaster so that he can check if they match the girl's description.
The whole scene is deeply unsettling and surreal, nor is it anywhere close to Ofsted-approved procedure for handling such a sensitive situation.
Indeed, you'd expect Alan to run a mile at this stage, but it is implied that his previous employment ended very badly and thus he would be desperate to avoid another early termination – by any means necessary.
It is later revealed that the headmaster's examination is a preliminary part of a ritual designed to enrich and earn the favour of the Earth.
As the children of class nine explain in their haunting assembly, the residents of this particular village have been sacrificing humans to the soil for hundreds of years, with each death marking the start of the harvest festival.
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Explaining how the power dynamic has changed, the kids cite 15th century Peru, claiming that children were sacrificed to the gods at that time in an effort to avert natural disasters.
Archeologists have found evidence of historic child sacrifices in Peru, with the largest discovery being made in 2018, when the 550-year-old remains of 140 children and 200 young llamas were excavated (via National Geographic).
It is believed that they all died as part of the same event, but scientists have no way of knowing what the motivation was behind the atrocity, although a contractual killing of some kind is one theory.
Subverting this tragic history, it is children who make sacrifices of the grown-ups in this episode, as part of their fight for a future to inherit.
Also referenced in this episode is the folk song John Barleycorn, which is about a personification of barley, chronicling how the eponymous character is cut down in the field and destroyed to create produce for humans.
Once Alan is super-glued into his chair, the ritual begins, with both the headmaster and cleaner Winnie (played by Annette Badland) being involved in the ceremony.
Winnie wears an elaborate headgear that could indicate her as the queen to Alan's so-called 'corn king', just as the commune in Ari Aster's Midsommar also celebrated their May queen.
Towards the end of the assembly, the headmaster cheerfully informs Alan that he will be honoured with a triple-death – drowned, strangled and dismembered – before being buried in the field to help the growth of the crops.
He also sheds light on his earlier intrusion, explaining that they prefer their sacrifices to be "as nature intended" i.e. "uncut and still sheathed".
Illustrations on a classroom display board indicate the grim fate that awaits Alan as he is led out of the classroom in a parade, with the children around him singing modernised lyrics to John Barleycorn.
This scene re-contextualises the postcard read to the class at the start of the episode.
Said to be from last year's teacher Mr King – who we later learn was really called Mr Hardy – the postcard is actually a fake, presumably written by the headmaster himself.
It begins by saying "greetings from down under", which leads Alan to the natural assumption that his precursor moved to Australia, but his later revelation proves it has a far more literal meaning than that – he's buried in the field outside!