Did Irene Adler Really Die in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows?

The Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes film franchise was a high-adrenaline take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective, led by Robert Downey Jr. in fine form as the titular Holmes and Jude Law as his companion Doctor John Watson. The first film hit theaters in 2009 and grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide, with the sequel, A Game of Shadows, making slightly more at $534 million in 2011. Downey's wit and patter as Holmes and his chemistry with Law, paired with the cinematic stylings of Ritchie's directing, made for a successful franchise, with the second film leaving a few open plot points that had fans expecting a third installment. While plans for a third Sherlock Holmes film were set into motion for a December 2020 release, the movie was pushed back a few years, leaving fans to wonder whether or not they'd see Downey take up the role of the brilliant -- though outlandish -- detective again.

Recently, plans for a Sherlock Holmes Universe involving Downey and HBO Max have revealed that two spinoff shows have been set into motion that will tie directly into the previous films as well as the upcoming third installment. Though Downey and Law are both slated to return, Guy Ritchie will not be directing, with Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher taking the helm. The news of both spinoff shows and the fact that a third Sherlock Holmes film will actually be on the way has fans wondering if any plot holes from A Game of Shadows will be expanded upon -- particularly that of a certain character who was unceremoniously killed off early on in the film.


Rachel McAdams played Sherlock Holmes' intelligent yet devious love interest Irene Adler in both of Ritchie's Holmes films. Often engaging in a romantically-tense game of cat and mouse with Holmes, Adler's motives were never crystal clear, making her a compelling counterpart for Holmes as well as an interesting character for audiences to keep their eye on. This is why many fans were shocked to see Irene killed off quite early in A Game of Shadows. While, at first, this just seemed like a way for Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) to get under Holmes' skin and entrap him in his twisted game, Reddit user goldstar63 has made a compelling point that should oblige viewers to second-guess what they were made to believe.

For one thing, one of the top rules of cinema is if one doesn't see the actual body onscreen, one should not assume the character has really perished. When Moriarty reveals to Holmes that Irene has succumbed to the poison he slipped her, the story is only told from Moriarty's perspective and isn't something Holmes has seen and confirmed for himself. Furthermore, Holmes had a brief interaction with Irene shortly before her meeting with Moriarty, where he warned her that her boss had ulterior motives against her life. Somebody as intelligent as Irene wouldn't take information like that with a grain of salt -- especially from someone like Sherlock, whom she loves, respects and, more importantly, trusts.

Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes

Possibly the most compelling argument that goldstar63 makes is that at one point in the film, Holmes can deduce that a red stain on a drawing by Simza's brother is red wine and not blood. When Moriarty gives Holmes Adler's "bloodstained" handkerchief as seeming confirmation of her demise, Holmes accepts it without much investigation, possibly overwhelmed by shock and grief. In a different scene on a boat to Paris, Holmes takes a deep sniff from Irene's handkerchief before tossing it overboard. While, at first, viewers could have deduced this as Holmes' final way of letting go of Irene, could it really be that he'd inhaled the scent of wine spilled on the handkerchief at the restaurant where Moriarty and Adler met? Perhaps Sherlock tossing the handkerchief overboard was less him letting go of her memory and more of a subtle confirmation that somewhere, Irene was still alive.

Irene Adler was far too important -- and intelligent -- a character to unceremoniously kill off in the first act of A Game of Shadows. As a woman who had been in this kind of work for an undisclosed amount of time, Irene was a pro who should have had some sort of plan in place should anyone make an attempt on her life, as it came with the territory in this job. Also, the fact that she was such an important figure to Holmes and her death was merely glossed over by Holmes and Watson leads viewers to believe they haven't seen the last of Irene Adler. Whether or not this plot hole will be touched upon in the expanded Sherlock Holmes universe remains to be seen, though fans can certainly dream of seeing Rachel McAdams alongside Robert Downey Jr. once again.

Read Next
About The Author