At the end of Sherlock S02E03 it simply doesn't make sense for me that James Moriarty killed himself. I mean, for me there is nothing greater than life, so why would he kill himself?

I understand that James Moriarty may be brilliant and insane, but insanity doesn't seem like a valid enough reason to commit suicide. Especially if Moriarty was so smart, couldn't he guess that it might be possible for Sherlock to fake his own death after all, and hence have the ultimate last laugh?

(I've only watched up to the first episode in season 3 and I hope the answer doesn't lie in the second or the third episode of season 3.)

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    Why do ask ask? Do you miss him? Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 8:20
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    "I mean, there is nothing greater than life" - Yes, there is, winning against Sherlock Holmes!
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 10:07
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    While maybe phrased a bit subjectively, this isn't such a bad question at all.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 10:46
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    @Oliver_C So you mean there's a chance Meat Trademark's answer might not be as 100% correct as it seems?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 13:48
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    The real question is how did Sherlock know Moriarty would kill himself? He wouldn't be able to fake his death if Moriarty witnesses it.
    – user9121
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 7:19

2 Answers 2


The answer is in season three:

He didn't kill himself.
He returns at the end of episode 3, season 3.

Sorry for the spoiler, but watch the show, right?

The question and one answer were both posted by people who admitted they hadn't watched season three. Careful what you ask as the guidelines warn that these sites are spoiler-prone.


I'm not claiming my answer is 100% true (Moffat is a clever son-of-a-gun), but this sheds light on the possible "reality" of the situation.

After a video signal takes over London's screens, we have to question what we thought we knew.

A version of Moriarty's face reciting "Did you miss me?" in a variation of vocal tones and speeds. miss me

And after the credits is a more compelling conclusion:

A non .gif or Max-Headroomy glimpse that he's back: a clear image of Moriarty looking directly into the camera asking "Miss me?" enter image description here

I'd be remiss and regretful if I didn't also acknowledge the brilliant use of the false ending. Maudlin music, fading to black, the drums for the end-titles kick in and TV static and we're back in the show for a mad twist. BRILLIANT! I know Monty Python was spot-on with this misdirection, but don't remember a dramatic show using this device. (Could be a question on its own?)

  • No need to put the whole answer in spoiler block, only the actual spoilers. Strange that they don't seem to work, though. And +1 for the seemingly correct answer (if I am to trust what you say), but I still hate it when a very simple answer (no matter if correct) destroys my efforts, but this isn't your fault, anyway. ;-)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 13:41
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    It's not yet clear what that cliffhanger really means. Your conclusion is indeed the most obvious one, but whether it's the right one remains to be seen.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 14:48
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    I think your large excuse paragraph at the end isn't really neccessary. Nobody has mistaken your answer for anything else than a valid answer. If anyone decides to delete their answers, then that is entirely their decision. In fact that odd comment at the end degrades it a bit and would been better fit as an actual comment. Yet the spoiler picture is apreciated and if, like Oliver_C says, it isn't entirely clear if he survived or not, you might want to clarify that in the answer instead of giving excuses for things that don't need an excuse at all.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 19:33
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    @MeatTrademark - I did source it with a link (click the word implies). - At last years ComicCon Moffat said: He shot himself in the face, what more do you want? Do you think they were up on that rooftop to fake suicide each other? - And at a Q&A after a preview screening of 'The Empty Hearse' he said: They did not fake suicide at each other. Imagine how stupid you’d feel if you bumped into each other afterwards. - But yeah, I've learned not to trust Moffat.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 23:55
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    Fourth season disagrees.
    – Jan Tojnar
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 10:54

In light of Meat Trademark's answer the following discussion about Moriarty's motivations might be moot, but I'll still stand by this answer in order to give a valid explanation in light of the existing 3 seasons, disregarding any future revelations.

The main point is indeed his insanity. First of all, insanity can be a reason for pretty much anything, especially suicide. But to be more specific, Moriarty's ultimate goal was to win against Sherlock in a battle of wits. As Keen says in his answer, Sherlock reasons about the possibility for Moriarty to call back the assassins and thus for Sherlock to not have to kill himself. So as long as Moriarty lived, Sherlock wasn't broken yet. So Moriarty leaves him with (supposedly) no options left when he kills himself, thinking that he has finally defeated him mentally.

And in fact Moriarty's brilliance was his insanity, or to be exact, his judgement of his brilliance to be more important than his life. For him there was something "greater than life", it was to win against Sherlock Holmes. There are enough examples, be it in history or the movies, of people sacrificing themselves for (what they think to be) higher ideals that are more important than their own lives, and James Moriarty is one of those.

So the question is not if we would do the same or what we regard highest in the world, but if we can understand why he did so given his portrayal throughout the show, and for me this was a perfect ending for him, nobly sacrificing himself for the ultimate win (the biggest problem I would have with doing so was the inability to make sure that I was successful at all, which unfortunately for Moriarty, was not the case).

As to the updated question, Moriarty might have been very smart, but he also was extremely arrogant in his believes that noone, not even the great Sherlock Holmes could beat him in a battle of wits. When he killed himself he actually thought that he had considered (and prevented) each and every possibility for Sherlock to solve this final problem. In retrospecitive one could say it was a stupid idea to kill himself without being sure that Sherlock couldn't survive, but Moriarty really was 100% sure, blinded by his arrogance and superior intellect and his insane will (and confidence) to prevail over Sherlock.

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    If Moriarty was so smart, couldn't he guess that it might be possible for Sherlock to fake his own death, and hence have the ultimate last laugh?
    – Graviton
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 11:26
  • @Graviton Smart enough maybe, but also arrogant enough to not consider Sherlock having another ingenious plan up his sleeve. He really thought he'd considered every possibility.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 11:41
  • @Graviton Ok, updated the answer.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 11:47
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    In my opinion killing is what you do when you are at the end of your wits. It's a cheat. It's like removing your king from the chess board and announcing yourself the winner of the game because your opponent can now no longer checkmate you. - Why didn't Moriarty just kill Sherlock to win? Because it wouldn't be a battle of wits then.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 13:37
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    @Oliver_C That is indeed a very interesting take and might be worth an answer on its own (just ignore the fact that the actual answer is much simpler, a proper character analysis can beat a damn spoiler! ;-)).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 13:43

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