Things are never exactly as they seem in the mysterious world of Inside No. 9, so it should really be no surprise that The Bones of St Nicholas is not an ordinary Christmas ghost story.
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have pooled their creative talents once more, telling a creepy festive tale about a group of people camping out in a disused church on Christmas Eve.
Strange goings-on appear to indicate the presence of a mischievous spirit, but cynical Dr Parkway (Pemberton) is far too preoccupied with a personal endeavour to take notice.
As is often the case, things come to a head with a devastating twist that will send a shiver down many a spine – here’s your full spoiler-filled breakdown of how the episode unfolds.
Inside No. 9: The Ghost of St Nicholas ending explained
Was there a ghost in the church?
While The Bones of St Nicholas had been pitched to viewers as a ghost story in the recent trailer, the phenomenon depicted is later revealed to be a time-loop of sorts, focused on the actions of uppity academic Dr Parkway.
He experiences a series of strange incidents throughout the episode, from a festive bauble rolling towards him seemingly of its own accord, to a cloaked figure barely visible in his periphery and eerie noises coming from the church’s bell tower.
We are led to believe that this could be the ghost of St Nicholas as his sacred jawbone is said to be located somewhere on the property, particularly after warden Dick (Simon Callow) speaks of a haunting paranormal sighting years earlier.
In actual fact, the source of all these strange occurrences is Dr Parkway himself; after scaring off unwanted guests Pierce (Shearsmith) and Posy (Shobna Gulati), he sets a secret plan into motion to locate the aforementioned holy remains.
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Not wanting Dick to find out what he’s up to, he hides behind the grand Christmas Tree at the altar, setting into motion the same events he was on the other side of earlier in the evening.
He successfully evades detection long enough to excavate the jawbone from ancient brickwork in the bell tower, but mere moments later, he accidentally hangs himself on a hook when a deteriorating floorboard breaks beneath him.
The creepy noises he had heard up the stairs had been his own death being foretold to him, echoing Posy’s supernatural sighting of her mother on the day of a personal tragedy – something she later realised wasn’t a ghost, but a “warning”.
Who sent the warning?
The answer to this question is open to interpretation, but one reading of the story is that loved ones past and present are capable of sending these surreal warnings of danger to their relatives.
In the case of Posy, who lost a pregnancy after being caught in a car crash, she saw her distraught mother outside her workplace window shortly prior to the accident, but found no one was there when she went to investigate.
After the crash, her mother visited her in hospital, resembling exactly how she did in the vision, and said she’d had an unshakeable sense that something awful was going to happen to Posy.
The implication is that there is some connection between Posy’s experience and her mother’s unexplainable premonition; perhaps that her mother unknowingly sent the warning through the sheer strength of her feeling.
In the case of Dr Parkway, his warning could have come from beyond the grave.
We learn early in the episode that his wife had booked the overnight stay in the church, but sadly passed away from illness before they could enjoy it together.
From the after life, she may have foreseen that her husband was on a collision course with calamity, sending him the warning in an attempt to prevent his grim fate.