WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Watership Down, streaming now on Netflix.
Make no mistake, as cute as the rabbits may be, Watership Down is a very dark story. Based on Richard Addams' acclaimed 1972 novel, the new miniseries produced by Netflix and the BBC focuses on a brave rabbits who escape their doomed home and embark on a dangerous journey to find a new warren. Led by Hazel and his seer brother Fiver, the group must contend with harsh weather, human hunters and even other rabbits.
However, this latest adaptation of Watership Down makes some major changes to the source material as it brings the beloved novel to the screen for the third time.
THE FATE OF CAPTAIN HOLLY
In the novel, Holly was among the rabbits who initially opposed Hazel and his party leaving the Sandleford Owsla. But he eventually redeems himself and is instructed to go to General Woundwort's colony of Efrafa to recruit does with whom the rabbits can mate. When he realizes how evil it is there, he returns and helps to reinforce their new home, bracing for an eventual invasion by Efrafa. After the battle is won, Holly grows old with a hutch rabbit, Clover, becomes a leader in the community.
The miniseries doesn't offer such a happy ending, however. Holly goes to Efrafa on his own accord after hearing about the warren from Kehaar the bird. There, he falls in love with Hyzenthlay. When Efrafa invades in the finale, its foot soldiers stomp Holly to death as he tries to protect his warren. It's a brutal ending that plays out in front Hyzenthlay and his loved ones, who can do nothing but watch in horror.
THE MAIN ROMANCES
In the novel, Clover fell for Holly's warrior stance and military brain when it came to opposing Efrafa. Hyzenthlay, on the other hand, was leader of the does who was paired with Hazel, the leader of the bucks at Watership Down.
The miniseries makes a drastic swap by having Hazel fall in love with Clover at first sight, which leads to him rescuing her from her hutch. That gives her more agency than the source material did, and also matches Hazel's softer demeanor. Hyzenthlay paired with Holly due to their rougher dispositions. Lastly, we get a new romance with Hazel's bulky general, Bigwig, ending up with the most sought-after doe, Strawberry (who was a buck in the book).
In the novel Woundwort was a hutch rabbit, with a kind owner who took him in after his parents died. However, his psychopathic tendencies soon emerged, revealing he was a rabbit driven by hate. He even tried to kill his owner's cat, maiming it before leaving to found Efrafa.
In the new miniseries, he's a more sympathetic character, as we see his warren being ravaged by a bloodthirsty fox. It kills everyone but Woundwart, and places him on this path of rage. While this origin doesn't encourage us to condone his actions, it shows that Woundwort's philosophy of "only the strong can survive," and the way he militarized Efrafa, didn't come out of the blue; it was shaped by his tragic experiences.
THE CAT DILEMMA
The novel's finale depicts Hazel deciding to take rabbits to let loose the dog at a nearby farm and allow it to chase them back to Watership Down, where it would fall upon Woundwort's attacking army. However, after the dog is released, Hazel is trapped by the farm's cat, and on the verge of a death. However, he's ultimately saved by the farmer's daughter, and returns home, triumphant.
The new miniseries tweaks that sequence, so that it's Fiver who is left behind with the cat. Thatt's done to permit Hazel to return for the climactic confrontation and witness his grand plan come to fruition. When Fiver is rescued by the farmer's daughter, the brothers reunite and chart a future for their warren.
Watership Down, now streaming on Netflix, stars James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Jogn Boyega, Ben Kingsley, Daniel Kaluuya, Gemma Arterton, Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Peter Capaldi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Tom Wilkinson, Taron Egerton, Rosie Day, Rosamund Pike, Gemma Chen and Miles Jupp.