The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is one of my all time favorite movies, and I've seen it half a dozen times by now, but there's one part that always seemed a little sketchy. At the end of the movie, Leamas is let out of his cell by Mundt and provided with a car. Mundt also lets Leamas' lover, Nan, escape with him. Mundt knows, however, that Leamas is going to tell Nan everything, which is why he has the boy shoot her as she and Leamas are climbing over the wall. When Leamas sees that Nan has been shot, he decides that he doesn't want to go on living without her, climbs back to the East German side, and gets shot.

Why was Nan released in the first place, however? Leamas seems to believe, in his final monologue, that it was part of a deal, and that Mundt believed that he wouldn't leave without her, a belief that is justified in the last minute of the film. But it seems to me that Leamas would be more likely to accept life as a Nan-less spy if she was ditched in East Germany than if she was shot by a fellow British agent. Furthermore, a more convincing argument for his return could have been made by Mundt at the gate than the one Smiley and the boy attempt to make in the last lines of the film.

It would also have been better for Mundt to keep Nan in East Germany, because it makes the escape less suspicious. The Soviets will easily believe that Fiedler's co-conspirators helped Leamas escape, because Leamas was working for them and they owed it to him, and the official explanation is that Leamas and Fiedler were working together to incriminate Mundt, so it makes sense that Fiedler's friends would help him escape. What makes less sense, however, is Fiedler's friends helping Nan escape - they owe nothing to her, and Nan was the girl who unraveled their entire plot. They have no motive for saving her other than that Leamas wants them to, and that motive is non-consequential enough that the story Mundt will provide would make sense without letting Nan go.

So why was Nan let go? Is there another reason I'm missing, or am I mixing up a motive somewhere?

4 Answers 4


I haven't seen the movie. I read the story. So I'm not sure of any differences there may be but here is my answer to your question.

There are a few reasons I can come up with, which I feel is appropriate when trying to think like a double agent. Nan was also a communist which is important to note. There is a chance that if she got back to England she could have blown Mundt's cover to some other communists. Another thing is that she is not a spy therefore Mundt might have thought that she needed to be eliminated as she was not controlled by Circus (England). Loose ends need to be taken care of and Nan was a loose end.

Now he could have killed her in jail or arranged for her to be executed, but there is a chance this would be discovered and his cover may be blown. It might imply to his superiors that he had killed her because he is a double agent and she could have always talked before she was killed. She didn't know everything at the time but he probably didn't want to chance her saying something that might cast suspicion on him. Plus by ensuring she was killed at the border he got to personally make sure that she was killed and the only one she could have talked to was Leamas.

Now there is a reason to send her in a car with Leamas as well. Leamas would be distrustful of Mundt's directions for escape so having Nan with him both insures that Leamas would believe the directions and have a reason to follow them. Further Leamas may be telling Nan everything that happened before they reach the border because he doesn't trust Mundt and thinks that he will be shot at the border which might also be why he goes first. Of course being a good spy he would not explain or even allude any of this to Nan.

And the last reason as to why risk letting them both escape is probably the trickiest. By letting them escape it further could implicate Fiedler by showing that Leamas had an escape planned for him and one other if things went bad. By being the first one there and shooting one of the escapees Mundt would show that he was onto Fiedler's scheme and it would only look good for Mundt that he was able to stop even one of the escapees. He may even have manufactured evidence of Nan being a spy (probably provided by Smiley or the Circus) just in case if someone does question why Mundt was there.

As far as I know there is no explanation given by the author as to why he wrote it this way. But if you follow the thinking patterns of the characters I believe this explanation makes sense.


Well, from memory, Liz Gold (or "Nan" if that's what she was called in the movie) hadn't actually committed any crime so there's no reason for Mundt to have her in gaol to start with, let alone execute her. In fact, she was the key witness on HIS side of the case. However, she is a loose end so if she tries to climb over the Berlin Wall, he can have her killed


Mundt is the perfect. He loves killing. He does not want Nan to escape. He also hates Jews so much that he might have ignroed his British officers and gotten Nan killed.
It is evident that Mundt gave detailed instructions about climbing over the wall and arranged the killing of Nan.
Mundt need her to be dead so that he could remain completely anonymous.

This is from reading the book, btw

  • Right, he needed her dead. So why let her leave in the first place? She was either scheduled for execution or an easy target alone in her cell. Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 19:49

Mundt wanted to make sure that Leamans would be of no further use to anyone. If Nan were still kept alive in East Berlin, any information that Leamans might have gotten about her - if he got any at all - would be open to suspicion (imagine if the woman you love is prnounced dead, but you have no idea if it's true or not). By making sure that she was with Leamans when he made his escape AND THEN having her killed, Mundt ensured that Leamans would know that his love was dead, and thus would have no will to go on.

  • That's incorrect. Mundt wanted Leamas to go on living, that's why he let him escape in the first place and, furthermore, the last lines of the film are Mundt's boy yelling at him to go back to West Germany rather than committing suicide like he does. Furthermore, I don't think Mundt particularly cared about Leamas' feelings, so the motive of giving him perfect information on Nan's life doesn't make sense either. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 14:01

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