According to Richard Adams' Lapine language, culture and mythology, the world was created long ago by the god Frith, who represents the Sun. Among the animals of that time was El-ahrairah, the prince of all rabbits. Eventually, the rabbits multiplied significantly, eating all of the food in the world. In response to this, Frith called a meeting of all the animals in the world and, under the pretense of giving the animals a gift, made some of the animals predators with a desire to hunt and slay the rabbits. These animals became the elil, the thousand enemies of the rabbits. When El-ahrairah realizes what happened, he berates Frith for condemning his people to lives of fear.
When Frith inquires whether El-ahrairah still wants his gift, El-ahrairah angrily scoffs at him, telling him to give the blessing to his bottom. Accepting the suggestion, Frith bestows upon the rabbits several blessings: tails, longer ears and legs, as well as great cunning to be able escape and deceive their enemies. Frith declares to El-ahrairah (now known as the "Prince with a Thousand Enemies") that all the world will be the enemy of the rabbits; while many would seek to kill them, the rabbits could survive by their wits and quickness. As long as they were cunning and full of tricks, the rabbits would never be destroyed.
In the present day, at the Sandleford Warren in the English countryside, a rabbit named Hazel looks for his younger brother Fiver (Hrairoo; “Little Thousand”), waking him from a terrifying nightmare. After running afoul of the warren's Owsla, Hazel and Fiver come across a fence overlooking the field in which the warren is located. Fiver then has a vision where he sees the fields covered in red blood. Certain that something bad will happen to the warren, Fiver convinces a reluctant Hazel to speak to their Chief Rabbit, the Threarah ("Lord Rowan Tree"), about the impending danger. However, his pleas become shouts and screams, and Threarah orders Hazel to take his brother outside before Bigwig (Thlayli; "Furhead"), the sentry, is angrily scolded by the Threarah for apparently allowing two crazy rabbits into his burrow.
After being rejected, Hazel and Fiver attempt to convince rabbits from the warren to join them escape from the warren at night, with Hazel in particular attempting to convince Dewdrop, a doe that he has a crush on, to join him. At night, however, only four rabbits come to join Hazel and Fiver: Dandelion, Hawkbit, Blackberry, and Bluebell. The group is suddenly ambushed by the warren's Owsla led by Captain Holly, which has come to arrest the rabbits for apparent mutiny. Among the Owsla is Bigwig who, at first apparently angry with Hazel for the earlier incident with the Threarah, surprisingly turns against the Owsla and sends them running. Bigwig informs the group that it is likely that someone informed the Owsla of their attempted escape. Hazel leads the group into the nearby forest in an attempt to escape the Owsla.
Deep in the woods, Hawkbit turns to Hazel for guidance on their destination and is dismayed when Hazel shows uncertainty regarding their destination and their next course of action. However, the rabbits are suddenly discovered and chased by the Owsla. Coming across the River Enborne, Blackberry comes up with the idea to use a bin lid as a raft which the rabbits use to cross the river and leave the Owsla behind. The next morning, the rabbits continue on their travels across fields and an open road. While traveling at night, Fiver spots Watership Down in the distance and declares that the down is their destination and their future home. Throughout this time, tensions continue to build between Hazel and Bigwig as a power struggle between the two develops, while the other rabbits express their doubts regarding Fiver's sanity as well as the level of trust that Hazel seems to place on Fiver.
Arriving at an abandoned ruined church to rest for the night, the rabbits suddenly encounter a large flock of crows. Hazel tries to speak to the birds in a attempt to apologize for their intrusion, but instead the crows attack him and the others. Dandelion manages to distract the crows with his great speed while the group manages to escape after Bigwig kills the crow leader. Outside in the rain, Bigwig confronts and directly questions Hazel's authority and the validity of Fiver's vision. Refusing to go any further, Bigwig attempts to dig himself a scrape on the bank next to them, with the others joining him soon after, much to the dismay of Hazel and Fiver. The next morning, a saddened Hazel confides in Fiver his feelings of inadequacy as leader, believing himself to be a failure since he has no special abilities like most members of the group. Soon afterward, a strange rabbit named Cowslip approaches the group and invites them to join his warren. Despite Fiver suggesting to not have anything to do with Cowslip or his warren, Hazel decides to take the group to the warren in favor of spending the night in better living conditions. Following Cowslip to the warren, the group is surprised at the warren's obvious visibility from a distance, noting that predators could see the warren for miles.
Catching up with Cowslip, the group is taken inside to a spacious burrow beneath the roots of the tree which Cowslip calls the Great Burrow. Inside the warren, the rabbits marvel at the condition of the large, well-fed plump rabbits while also expressing admiration the Great Burrow itself. Hazel thanks Cowslip for his hospitality, but the mood of the warren quickly darkens when Hazel asks about the warren's past and Cowslip quickly changes the subject. An overly friendly doe named Strawberry quickly meets and becomes friends with Hazel and Fiver before offering to give them a tour of the warren. At one point, Strawberry presents Hazel and Fiver with a crystal structure that is called a "Shape", which she claims is precious to the warren so as to give praise to Frith as well as to come in times of sadness, heavily implying a state of depression in the warren. When Hazel attempts to ask Fiver for his opinion on the matter of the Shape, he realizes that Fiver has disappeared. Moving on, Strawberry attempts to present Hazel to her friend Kingcup but upon seeing that his burrow has been abandoned for some time, sadly remarks that Kingcup was "gone".
The next morning, Strawberry takes the rabbits outside the warren to eat "flayrah" (King’s Food; fine food) on a garden nearby the warren. All of the rabbits participate in the feast except for Fiver, who had chosen to spend the night outside the warren underneath a yew tree rather than staying inside it. Upon noticing Fiver, Bigwig advises Hazel to control Fiver for fear that the rabbits in the warren will think that the group does not appreciate their hospitality. Hazel approaches Fiver and attempts to convince him to join the others, but Fiver refuses to have anything to do with food from a garden purposefully left out for the rabbits, especially if it has been left by men. Fiver tries to convince Hazel that there is something strange about the warren, calling out the fact that the rabbits are sad and lost, like trees in November, despite their apparently comfortable and carefree lifestyle. Hazel, however, questions the certainty of Fiver's feelings, pointing out how Fiver didn't have a feeling before the crows that attacked them. Hazel then begins wondering if there ever actually was any reason for them to have left Sandleford at all, believing that they might have left everything behind (as well as Dewdrop) over nothing. Fiver then reveals to Hazel that Dewdrop was the rabbit who had betrayed them to the Owsla as he had heard her telling Captain Holly. Hazel angrily refuses to believe him, despite Fiver insisting that he would never lie to Hazel. Threatening to drag his brother into the warren if he doesn't go willingly, Hazel pushes Fiver to the ground before returning to the warren, leaving Fiver alone under the tree.
Inside the Great Burrow, Hawkbit thanks Hazel for managing to bringing them into the warren as well as apologizing for having doubted him. Declaring his loyalty to Hazel, the other rabbits make a toast to Hazel and acknowledge him as their Chief Rabbit. At that point, Fiver enters the warren and sits apart from the group, miserable and more alone than ever. Hazel gives Fiver a sad and remorseful look, clearly feeling sorry for his brother as well as regret for his behavior. At that point, Cowslip invites the group to share stories, where Bluebell begins delivering an El-ahrairah story to the warren. During the story, Hazel briefly leaves the great burrow and stumbles upon many of the warren's does in an eerie chant near the crystal before returning to the burrow. Despite Bluebell having told a respected classic story as well as having told it well, the resident rabbits are unimpressed and give him a cold reception. Cowslip reveals that El-ahrairah and cleverness do not mean much to them, preferring to value dignity and the will to accept what Frith has decided for them (i.e. death).
A young buck named Silverweed then starts reciting a poem about death which terrifies Fiver, who claims that the roof of the burrow is made of bones before running out of the warren followed by a frustrated Bigwig and a worried Hazel. Bigwig angrily berates Fiver for attempting to ruin their chances at their new home, though Fiver announces his intention to leave the warren and head for the Down despite Bigwig believing that Fiver will die on his own. Stating that Bigwig is closer to death than himself, Fiver states that the warren itself is death and is surrounded by shadows. Before leaving, Fiver tells Hazel that, even if he has no special abilities, what makes him a great leader is that he ultimately believes in his friends and brings out the best in them. Realizing that Fiver has always believed in him even though Hazel refused to the same for Fiver, Hazel stops Fiver from leaving and declares that if Fiver says the warren is rotten, then Hazel believes him and will stand by him, refusing to abandon Fiver.
As Hazel attempts to go back to the warren to get the others, Bigwig tackles him to the ground to stop him. Having had enough of both of them, Bigwig kicks both Hazel and Fiver out of the warren and threatens to kill them if they attempt to return. Moments later, however, Bigwig gets caught in a snare trap hidden in the undergrowth where he is suffocated. Whilst Hazel attempts to dig out the wooden peg on the ground, Fiver goes to the warren to seek help from the rabbits. Cowslip, however, attempts to stop them from leaving by claiming that Frith has decided that Bigwig's "turn" has come, and that a day less for one means a day more for them all, with the rest of the warren repeating the words in a chant. This revelation exposes Cowslip's warren as a demented religious cult that worships death and depends upon a farmer who continually snares members of the warren in exchange for protection and fine food. Getting past Cowslip, the group barely manages to rescue a nearly dead Bigwig from the snare. Appalled by Cowslip's selfishness at the warren, an ashamed Strawberry approaches the group and asks for permission to join the rabbits, with Hazel granting it after realizing that Strawberry is an outcast at the warren without any real friends of her own.
With Fiver's feelings no longer questioned, the group leaves the Warren of the Snares and travels for many days and nights across the countryside. At one point, the rabbits cross Nuthanger Farm near, where Hazel briefly stops as notices a doe living in a hutch before moving on with the others. Eventually, the rabbits reach and climb to the top of Watership Down, at which point Bigwig finally acknowledges Hazel as his leader. That night, as the group prepares to make plans to create a burrow, they are found by a severely injured and exhausted Captain Holly, who announces the destruction of Sandleford Warren and confirms Fiver's prediction. Holly also reveals to the group his fear that they are not safe, even on Watership Down. It is then shown that the Watership Down warren is located close to a warren built in the remains of a coal mine: Efrafa. The audience is briefly shown the oppressive and hostile atmosphere of Efrafa as we follow a rabbit who reports to his Chief Rabbit, a huge, dark-furred buck, that a wide patrol has picked up the scent of a large group of rabbits near the Down (the Watership Down rabbits) before losing their scent. The Chief orders the rabbit to not return until the rabbits have been found, and to leave one alive for questioning. The Chief then turns his head to reveal a heavily scarred face and a blind left eye: the face of General Woundwort.
The morning after, Holly talks to Hazel about the mass destruction of the Sandleford warren the day after the rabbits had escaped from the Owsla. All of the other rabbits at the warren were brutally killed by excavators, with Holly barely managing to escape. Holly somberly notices how at the end he sustained several injuries not at the hands of humans, but at the claws of his dead friends and family as they attempted to escape. The tale horrifies Hazel greatly, who is left wondering how the humans could be so cruel. Holly continues his story, revealing how he followed the group's scent across the fields to find them. On the third day, Holly stumbled upon a rabbit with torn ears who warned Holly that the "Efrafans" were coming and advises Holly to run away and never return to the hills before continuing his escape across the hills.
Later that day, the rabbits attempt to dig out a warren in the bank at the head of the down whilst coming to terms with the destruction of Sandleford as well as the threat from Efrafa. Although the rabbits work very hard, little progress is made because the task of digging is best performed by does, of which they only have one amongst them (Strawberry). Fiver and Bigwig both stress to Hazel the importance of does to the future of the warren, since their presence would provide both preserve the warren as well and make it grow stronger as well as add meaning to their lives. Remembering the rabbits at the farm they had passed, Bigwig suggests raiding the farm to free the rabbits from the hutches in order to obtain the does, an idea which Hazel opposes due to the humans at the farm. Although Bigwig warns Hazel of the future fights that will most likely break out amongst them because of the disparity in their numbers (08 bucks and 01 doe), Hazel firmly refuses to deal with humans and the farm to the point of ordering the others from going to the farm.
At that point, a black-headed seagull with a dislocated wing crash lands on the down near the rabbits. Although the bird is savage, Hazel instructs the rabbits to feed and take care of the seagull in the hopes that the bird will fly and help the rabbits search for does. After feeding him, the seagull reveals his name to be Kehaar and that he was injured by a cat before coming to the Down. Hazel takes the opportunity to ask Kehaar to use his wings in order to help them search for does, but Kehaar rudely refuses. Soon afterwards, a fight breaks out as Dandelion and Hawkbit, both having become rivals for Strawberry's affections as the only doe, attack each other. Bigwig and Strawberry put an end to the fight, and the former insists that Hazel address the imbalance between bucks and does. Hazel, no longer able to ignore the problem, decides to take Fiver and Bigwig with him to the farm and free the hutch rabbits while the others stay at the down, not wishing to risk them all.
Arriving at the farm the next morning, the three rabbits carefully sneak around the farm whilst avoiding the family dog sleeping in his kennel and the farmers arguing inside the house, though Fiver briefly becomes entranced by the rope tied to the dog on the kennel. Entering the farm, Hazel places Bigwig on guard duty while he talks to the hutch rabbits. The same doe that Hazel saw before introduces herself as Clover and shows great interest in both Hazel and the outside world, having always believed in the existence of rabbits living free. Although the other hutch rabbits are confused by Hazel coming to free them as well as life outside a hutch, Clover shows great enthusiasm for a chance to live a life outside of a hutch and advises Hazel to move quickly in case the humans come out. Hazel and Fiver set to work on freeing the rabbits by chewing at the leather straps holding the door of the hutch, all the while watching out for the farmers arguing inside the farm. When Bigwig gets distracted talking to Clover, he fails to notice a cat emerge from the house and into the courtyard.
Back in Watership Down, Holly is by himself, evidently still traumatized by his recent ordeal. When Blackberry approaches, Holly expresses regret for not having been chosen to accompany Hazel to the farm, feeling that the warren resents him for his role in the attempted arrest back at Sandleford which, had it been successful, would have resulted in their deaths. Blackberry assures Holly that no one holds that against him because they know that he was just following orders, though Holly still is unconvinced. While the two are talking, Kehaar emerges from his den and, with his wing apparently healed, selfishly abandons the rabbits, who express relief at no having to take care of the bird. Kehaar is then shown flying over the countryside before eventually making his way to Efrafa, and takes notice of the warren beneath him whilst mocking the rabbits’s search for does. Soon after, Kehaar’s wing injury reopens and he returns to Watership Down just in time to crash in front of Holly and Blackberry, who turn to the warren in annoyance while ignoring the bird’s cries of pain. Clearly hoping to continue receiving special treatment by the rabbits, Kehaar rather humorously acts as if he returned back to the warren out of the goodness of his heart to inform the rabbits of a warren not too far from them that is overcrowded with does. This bit of information catches Holly’s attention, seeing a chance to help the warren obtain does.
At Nuthanger Farm, Hazel and Fiver continue attempting to free the rabbits. Clover starts talking with Hazel, longingly expressing her dream of a free life outside without walls to keep her locked up. The talk turns towards humans as Hazel wonders why would the humans keep rabbits up in hutches, with Clover guessing that the humans do so because they believe that they are being kind in doing so. Clover expresses the belief that humans aren’t entirely bad but just lack understanding, in particular mentioning that the daughter of the farmers is very kind to the hutch rabbits. Hazel, still reeling from Holly’s story, doubts whether he will ever be able to believe in such a thing as good humans. Fiver soon runs into trouble as his leather strap is too tight for him to be able to get a grip with his teeth, so the hutch rabbits loosen the trap by pushing the door from inside the hutch.
When Bigwig isn’t looking, however, the cat attacks him. With the noise threatening to grab the attention of the farmers, Hazel calls for a retreat, leaving Clover and the others behind. Nearing a fence overlooking the farm, Bigwig angrily calls out on Hazel for making them leave, feeling that he could have handled the cat all by himself and that Hazel messed up the plan by being squeamish. When Hazel justifies his actions as being leader of the group, Bigwig once again questions his leadership, believing that Hazel’s mind is going numb from fear. In response to this, Hazel defends himself by stating his belief that if he makes one bad decision, like the Threarah did at Sandleford, all of them will wind up dead. Both rabbits stare at each other angrily before Hazel moves on ahead with Fiver, leaving a fuming Bigwig behind. This encounter implies that while Hazel makes decisions with all of the group in mind, Bigwig makes decisions based on how he himself would respond to them, marking Hazel as cautious and Bigwig as reckless.
Meanwhile, some distance away from Watership Down, Holly and Blackberry have set off for the warren Kehaar spoke of (unaware that they are heading for Efrafa), with a persistent Bluebell tagging along after having wandered off too far to be able to return in his concern for Blackberry’s safety. Believing that the warren is overcrowded with does, Holly plans on going to the warren and politely asking to take along with them any does that may wish to join. Because the other rabbits on the Down (Dandelion, Hawkbit, and Strawberry) had not been informed of the Holly’s mission, Hawkbit believes that they have been abandoned after witnessing the fight from last night. Strawberry, believing that they will come back, decides that she and the others will surprise everyone by finishing building the warren so as to provide a home for everyone. When Hawkbit and Dandelion start arguing over which of the two helps Strawberry dig while the other feeds Kehaar, Strawberry stops them and threatens to end her friendship with both if they don’t help her with the warren, much to Kehaar’s amusement and the bucks’s chagrin.
As night falls, Holly’s group wanders through the night, eventually arriving at a ditch. Alone in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by noises around them, Blackberry advises Bluebell to tell a story to calm themselves down. Bluebell begins telling the story of a time when El-ahrairah sought the help of the Black Rabbit of Inle, a feared spiritual guide akin to the grim reaper who comes to rabbits upon their time of death. In the middle of the story, however, they are interrupted as a large group of rabbits surrounds them, with the leader presenting himself as Captain Orchis of Efrafa. The rabbits from Efrafa descend upon them and force them to accompany them back to Efrafa. Meanwhile, Hazel refuses Bigwig’s plan to return to the farm at once in order to rest and think. Alone with Fiver, Hazel confides in him about his doubt and fear of humans, which has not left him since Holly’s story. When Hazel worries that his fear will eventually break him, Fiver loyally promises to be there to put Hazel back together.
Hoping to ease his mind about the farm, Hazel asks Fiver to undergo a vision to know what to expect next time they raid the farm. Fiver, however, refuses to "go beyond" due to the haunting nature of the visions but, upon noticing how much it means to Hazel, agrees to do it as long as Hazel never asks him to do it again. However, Fiver struggles to understand the surreal events unfolding around him, which include images of ropes, a shotgun, and a pool of blood created by the a bleeding rabbit before being woken by Hazel. Though Fiver is greatly shaken by the vision and doubtful of what he saw, Hazel is put at ease when Fiver assures him that the does will be freed on the next raid on the farm.
The next morning, Holly's group arrives at Efrafa and are shocked by the harsh and oppressive rule of the residents. Captain Vervain, Orchis's brother, takes charge of the rabbits and escorts them inside the warren. The group is taken to wait in a burrow next to a group of oppressed rabbits led by a doe named Hyzenthlay ("Fur shining like dew"). Efrafan guards escort the same rabbit with torn ears whom Holly had previously encountered into the burrow. Vervain orders a rabbit named Sargent Sainfoin to have the captured rabbit known as Blackavar tortured and paraded around the warren as an example to the other rabbits in the warren who think about escaping. Disgusted by the brutality of the warren, Holly states that Vervain lacks "animality", believing the Efrafans to be no better than humans. Holly's group is taken to the Efrafan Council and meet General Woundwort, the Chief Rabbit. Although Holly tries to present his case to the General, the request for does is rejected and the Watership Down rabbits are forcibly imprisoned in Efrafa. Back on Watership Down, the construction of the warren is completed, with the inclusion of a large burrow similar to Cowslip's Great Burrow that Strawberry has named "The Honeycomb". Pleasantly surprised, Hawkbit thanks Strawberry for providing them not just with a warren, but for giving them all a home.
At night, Holly's group is taken along with Hyzenthlay's band of rabbits to a burrow holding a large buck with an long narrow claw to receive a "Mark", a wound on their hind leg that, once scarred, marks them as subjects belonging to a specific section of the warren with its own specific rules. At the marking of a particularly bold doe named Nettle, Holly notices an Efrafan captain named Campion averting his eyes from the torture and harshly chides him for looking away, pointing out that Campion is party to the torture and should own up to his role in it. Campion defends himself by stating that he is merely following orders, like all soldiers are supposed to do. Holly, recalling his own experiences, advises Campion that what makes a good soldier isn’t always what makes a good rabbit. As Bluebell whimpers in fear at the torture, Hyzenthlay comforts him by making him focus on happy thoughts before he is called. Through the marking, Holly takes an interest in Hyzenthlay and attempts to enlist her help in escaping but she refuses, pointing out that neither knows the other very well and that she doesn’t trust him as she has no way of knowing whether or not he is an Efrafan spy.
Near Nuthanger Farm, Bigwig, deciding that enough time has passed, goes to meet Hazel only to discover a resting Fiver alone on a bush and, waking him up, realizes that Hazel has gone to the farm alone to free the rabbits. At the farm, Hazel discovers that the cage containing the hutch rabbits has been moved into a greenhouse inside the farmhouse. He sneaks through the farmhouse, avoiding the sleeping cat and the humans. Hazel reunites with Clover and works with her to free the does from the cage, which has now been fitted with metal pegs. However, on their way out of the greenhouse, the cat attacks them. Though Bigwig and Fiver come to the rescue, but they are chased throughout the house while the farmer and his wife are alerted. The rabbits manage to escape out through a window and onto the roof of the greenhouse, though Clover slips and is nearly killed by the family dog, who had awakened from his sleep. Through the escape, two of the hutch rabbits are recaptured. Nearly free of the farm, the farmer approaches from the road, brandishing his shotgun at the rabbits. Although Fiver and Bigwig escape with a doe named Haystack, Hazel notices the farmer approaching Clover and distracts him in order to save her. Unfortunately, Hazel is shot in the leg by the farmer and narrowly escapes capture by collapsing into a drain.
At the same time and occurring concurrently with the farm events, Holly's group is taken outside of the warren for an evening silflay (going above ground to feed) before being being presented by a heavily scarred Blackavar. Deciding to make a break for it, the rabbits are hunted by larger and deadlier rabbits through the fields and cliffs surrounding Efrafa. At one point, Hyzenthlay helps the group escape by offering herself as a distraction, resulting in her being taken prisoner by Orchis. The rabbits are finally chased down by the Efrafan rabbits at the railroad track and, when all hope seems lost, they use the distraction of an oncoming train to escape, with the vehicle killing Captain Vervain. Unsure of what has transpired, Holly credits Frith for their survival and the group heads to Watership Down.
On the outskirts of the farm, the other rabbits search for Hazel but encounter no sign of him. Fiver then realizes that Hazel was the bleeding rabbit from his vision, and tearfully blames himself for Hazel's death. Clover consoles Fiver by telling him that the farmer truly is to blame. Reflecting on the nature of evil in the world, Clover somberly notes the evil comes from humans, pointing out how while many of the elil kill rabbits to survive, "men will never rest until they've spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals". In the storm drain, Hazel has an out-of-body experience as he looks at his unconscious body before coming face to face with the Black Rabbit of Inle, who appears before Hazel as a black doe with blue eyes. In the presence of the spirit, Hazel wonders if he is dead, though the Black Rabbit calmly assures him that his time has not yet come, even though all "walk with her" eventually. Frightened, Hazel admits his fear of death to the Black Rabbit. She speaks softly to Hazel, telling him that there is no more to fear in death than in the passing of the seasons. If Hazel keeps this knowledge close to him, the Black Rabbit promises that Hazel will become a truly great leader of rabbits, one worthy of joining her Owsla. The Black Rabbit departs shortly before Hazel regains consciousness.
Fiver is shown in the vision realm again, having “gone beyond” in his sleep. In the dream, he faces the machines that destroyed Sandleford before being carried in the hands a menacing man. The man briefly mocks Fiver by asking him if he likes what they have done to his old home. Arriving near a storm drain, the man reveals that they don’t have Hazel before Fiver wakes up, realizing that Hazel is still alive.
Back in Efrafa, General Woundwort is watching over a sleeping Hyzenthlay before Captain Orchis enters, angrily demanding to see the doe. Blaming Hyzenthlay for the death of his brother, Vervain, who was run over by the train chasing Holly and the others, Orchis tries to get past the General in order to kill her. Woundwort stops Orchis, telling him he who thinks that death is the worst of punishments knows nothing of what it is to suffer. Woundwort addresses Hyzenthlay’s importance as the leader of a group of does in charge of numerous rebellion attempts at Efrafa. Instead of killing her, which would only inspire the others, Woundwort wants to break her rebellious spirit, believing that the others will follow soon after.
At Watership Down, Holly’s group has reunited with the others in the Honeycomb and given their account of their experience at Efrafa. Morale in the warren is low, since the perceived loss of Hazel combined with the imminent threat of Efrafa leaves the rabbits in a state of hopelessness. While Holly and Bigwig attempt to calm the other rabbits, Fiver enters the Honeycomb and reveals Hazel’s survival. Though Clover insists on going for Hazel, Holly stops her by pointing her inexperience as a free rabbit as well as the dense fog that has formed outside that would complicate the search. When Bigwig accuses Holly of assuming the role of Chief Rabbit, Holly firmly states that he is not leader nor does he wish to be. At this point, Holly calls out Bigwig for his hotheaded nature, stressing the importance of acting rationality instead of impulse. Bigwig angrily and vehemently denies being a hothead, ironically proving Holly right. In the ensuing argument between the warren rabbits, Clover takes advantage of the distraction to sneak off to look for Hazel, with Bigwig following soon after.
In the dense fog, Clover searches for Hazel. At one point, Clover passes directly in front of Hazel’s storm drain without noticing. After some time wandering around aimlessly, Clover hears Hazel’s weak call and finds him. In the drain, Hazel and Clover share a tender moment as Clover helps clean Hazel’s wound. When she wonder why the humans need use of “the black branches that shoot” (shotguns), Hazel states his belief that the humans use them out of arrogance. The humans pride themselves on their ability to kill, considering it a great skill, when it actually is the easiest thing in the world. Bigwig is heard nearby, and Clover leaves Hazel in order to seek his help. However, Clover encounters two Efrafan soldiers and is captured by them. Bigwig, in turn, finds Hazel, and helps him return to Watership Down. The group departs for Efrafa, leaving behind Holly, Strawberry, and Haystack.
In the early morning at the Down, Kehaar picks out the buckshot pellets with his beak buried in Hazel’s hind leg as the other rabbits wait outside. When Bigwig approaches, he loudly complains about the filthy state of Kehaar's den, resulting in the seagull dubbing Bigwig a “plump rabbit”, much to his annoyance. After removing the pellets, Kehaar advises Hazel to wait a couple of days for his leg to heal, though Hazel insists on departing for Efrafa immediately. Fiver addresses Hazel as Hazel-rah, telling him that the other rabbits have been waiting for him. Once outside, Hazel announces his plan to leave for Efrafa at daybreak and to not return until Clover, Hyzentlay and the does who wish to leave are free. Privately, Hazel voices his concerns to Fiver on whether the rabbits would follow him to Efrafa. Fiver isn’t worried as he believes that the others are loyal to Hazel, and is more concerned over whether Hazel is ready for the journey ahead. Hazel boldly states that the moment the Efrafans stole freedom from rabbits of Watership Down, while they may not have wanted a war, in the end they will get one.
Arriving at Efrafa, Clover is forced inside the warren, where she meets a battered and imprisoned Hyzenthlay. After Hyzenthlay learns of Clover’s past as a hutch rabbit, Hyzenthlay bitterly warns Clover that hope doesn’t last long in Efrafa before being taken away by Efrafans soldiers. En route to Efrafa, the Watership Doen rabbits hatch a plan to infiltrate Efrafa by having one of the rabbits pretend to be a “hlessi” (homeless rabbit) wishing to join the warren. Determined to prove that he can be cunning and not just a hothead, Bigwig repeatedly insists on being the rabbit chosen to infiltrate Efrafa. Not having many other options, Bigwig is chosen as the ruse and told to look for Clover or Hyzenthlay and organize an escape alongside them the next night. Knowing that the Efrafans will be after them during the escape, Hazel reveals their secret weapon: Kehaar, who will provide air support to cover for the escape. After loudly crashing in front of the rabbits, the seagull agrees to the plan in exchange for Bluebell promising to tell a story about Kehaar’s exploits. Before the plan can be fully finalized, a large fox suddenly ambushes the group, but Bigwig manages to lure it away from the group. A nearby Efrafan scouting party led by Captain Campion is caught in the middle of the chase, with three of its members are killed by the fox as Bigwig makes his way toward the enemy.
In the Council Burrow at Efrafa, Orchis interrogates Hyzenthlay about her role in the escape of Holly’s group. Although still furious about her role in the death of his brother, Orchis tells Hyzenthlay that the only reason that she is still alive is because the warren sees value in her due to the does respecting her. Orchis then offers Hyzenthlay the chance to work as an undercover spy for him, implying that she could help improve living conditions for the does in Efrafa. If she refuses, she will be sentenced to death. Orchis gives her a couple of days to think the offer, telling her to wonder which is a better option: to hope for the winds to stop blowing or to learn to steel oneself against them?
In the courtyards of Efrafa, a conflicted Hyzenthlay reunites with her friends Thethutinang (Movement of the Leaves) and Nettle. Hyzenthlay tells her friends of her being on borrowed time, but omits the deal with Orchis. Thethutinang then asks Hyzenthlay if she heard the does singing to her as a gesture of solidarity. While Hyzenthlay appreciates the gesture, she advises them to not sing as it annoys the guards and causes trouble. Nettle then wonders what’s the next plan of action, Hyzenthlay dismisses the idea by pointing out how Orchis has spies working for him everywhere. Therefore, she advises her friends to not trust or speak to any rabbit that they don’t know.
On a field, Bigwig relates to Kehaar his role in the escape the following night, though the seagull reveals his plans to go to the “Big Water” (the ocean) and implies that he might show up for the escape, leading Bigwig to insist on Kehaar’s presence at the escape. While leaving Bigwig, Kehaar mischievously teases the rabbit by pretending to debate between going and not going to help in the escape, much to the rabbit’s anger. At that moment, Bigwig is spotted by Efrafan rabbits and taken to the warren.
In the warren courtyard, Clover is inducted into the ranks of the does, who are being forced to lie underneath a blazing sun in order to oppress them. Not familiar with Efrafa’s rules, an attempt made by Clove to improve the doe’s conditions results in her being struck by a guard. Although Clover attempts to earn the trust of the does, the rabbits refuse to listen to Clover despite her claiming to know Holly and the others, going so far as to have Hyzenthlay sent her own existence when Clover asks for her. At that moment, the guards assemble at the warren entrance as General Woundwort enters the courtyard. Noticing and taking an interest in Clover, Woundwort orders her to be brought to his burrow.
At the edge of the warren, Hazel’s group comes across a swamp on which to hide from Efrafa, though Hazel is hindered by his injured leg, giving him a noticeable limp as well and causing him physical strain. Moving forward, the rabbits come across the River Test, marveling at the fast currents. However, following a red kite in the sky, the rabbits are horrified to learn that they are in close proximity of a human village on the other side of the river, connected to the swamp by a wooden bridge.
Meanwhile, Bigwig arrives at Efrafa and meets Sergeant Sainfoin. Bigwig, who has expected to meet the Chief Rabbit, is told that the General is not so easily met. Presenting himself under his Lapine name of Thlayli, Bigwig claims to be a storyteller whose warren was destroyed by men and has traveled to Efrafa with the intention to join the warren. Sainfoin, noticing Bigwig’s size, suspects Bigwig of having originally been a fighter and strikes him across the face. When Bigwig doesn’t fight back, Sainfoin is convinced of Bigwig’s story. A guard approaches the rabbits and informs them of the fox’s attack on Campion’s Wide Patrol led onto them by an unknown rabbit, not knowing that the rabbit was actually Bigwig. Due to the loss of guards of the recent days, Bigwig is quickly inducted into the ranks of the Owsla to be trained as a fighter.
Clover arrives at General Woundwort’s dark burrow, growing silent and fearful in the massive Chief Rabbit’s presence. Woundwort informs the frightened doe that he’s aware of Clover being an escaped hutch rabbit, revealing that he used to be one as a young buck. But much like Clover, Woundwort escaped, and proudly reflects on his going from an imprisoned hutch rabbit to the Chief rabbit of an empire. Leaning close to a clearly distressed Clover and placing his paw on top of hers, Woundwort offers to let her become his queen, believing that empires are not born in one lifetime but over generations. Deciding that she needs time to settle into Efrafa, Woundwort dismisses a shaken Clover by warning her that he doesn’t like to be disappointed.
In the courtyard, Sainfoin is instructing Bigwig about his duties as guard when Campion approaches the two, intending to check on the rabbit Sainfoin had said he’d begun training. Much to Bigwig’s relief, Campion doesn’t recognize him as the rabbit who had led the fox onto his patrol. After a beaten Blackavar is is paraded in front of the rabbits, Campion begins to suspect Bigwig when he finds inconsistencies in Bigwig’s story. However, he keeps silent and leaves Bigwig and Sainfoin.
Approaching the courtyard where the does are kept, Bigwig is informed that as an officer he can request that any doe be brought to his burrow. Noticing Clover among the does, Bigwig approaches her under the claim of wanting silflay. Quietly, Bigwig tells Clover to organize the does in order to attempt an escape at nightfall. Although Clover tells Bigwig that the Efrafan does don’t trust her, she signals out Hyzenthlay to Bigwig as the leader: if Bigwig can convince her, the others will follow.
Later, Bigwig has Hyzenthlay brought to his burrow. In private, he reveals to Hyzenthlay his plan to free her and the does at nightfall, adding that a bird will aid them in their escape. When Hyzenthlay shows distrust in Bigwig as well as doubting his claim to being Holly’s friend, Bigwig manages to convince her by revealing that Holly is in love with Hyzenthlay, feelings she clearly reciprocates. Bigwig adviser her to trust Clover, who will help organize the escape, while Bigwig goes to look for Blackavar, refusing to leave him to suffer.
Though Bigwig fails to free Blackavar, Hyzenthlay and Clover spend all afternoon with the does creating a tunnel leading to the outside of the warren. At nightfall, though the does break out of the warren, Kehaar fails to show up (since the gull had been specifically instructed to aid in the escape the following night, he had left for the ocean instead of hanging around the area in case the opportunity of an early escape attempt presented itself). As a result, Bigwig and the does attempt to make a run for it on their own. However, they are caught by Efrafan soldiers, who assume that Bigwig had been tricked by the does in order to unwittingly aid them in another escape attempt. Refusing capture, Hyzenthlay attempts to attack Campion before being subdued. Even more suspicious of Bigwig, Campion promises to keep a closer eye on Bigwig from now as the guards lead the does back to the burrows, leaving a fuming Bigwig alone to contemplate his failure.
Outside the warren, the rabbits grow discouraged when their friends fail to arrive, believing that Kehaar has abandoned them. As the escape plan consisted entirely on Kehaar’s assistance, the rabbits are at a loss for plans and close to giving up and returning to the down in defeat. However, Hazel refuses to leave without Clover, pleading the others to stay. Seeing Hazel’s desperation, the rabbits agree to stay and return to the river in favor of being away from Efrafa.
The next morning, the Efrafan does are shown in the prison burrow being crushed by the heat of the sun. Clover approaches a weakened Hyzenthlay, considering the possibility of a spy among their ranks having informed the guards of their escape attempt. Hyzenthlay, trusting in her friends, refuses to believe that one of them could be a spy. Although Clover and the other does are open to another escape attempt, Hyzenthlay discourages them. Her stay of execution ending today, Hyzenthlay urges them to stop fighting and surrender to Efrafan control, believing that they will always win. However, Clover refuses to give in and continues to remain hopeful, though Hyzenthlay bitterly tells her that in Efrafa “hope is your enemy”.
After Hyzenthlay is called away by the guards the does grow even more discouraged, since Hyzenthlay’s death will spell the end of the rebellion. Coming up with a solution, Clover requests to be taken to General Woundwort’s burrow. Once there, she attempts to reason with Woundwort, offering to become his queen if he spares Hyzenthlay’s life. Woundwort, however, rejects her offer, not being a rabbit who makes deals with others.
Outside of Efrafa, Hazel’s group waits under the bridge connecting the swamp to the human village, growing more uncertain of the success of their escape plan without Kehaar’s support and Hazel’s injury. Fiver agrees to talk to an Hazel, who has spent the day in the scorching sun resting his injured and is shown to be noticeably weaker as a result of the strain of the journey. As Hazel thanks Fiver for helping the others find him, Fiver believes that it was the least he could do after his vision nearly killed Hazel. Hazel insists that Fiver’s vision didn’t result in his wound and tries to get Fiver to think more positively about his powers. At that point, Fiver notices a red car in the human village and has a vision of a rabbit inside the car. Feeling that the car represents safety, Fiver gets the other rabbits to accompany to the village in order to use the car as an escape tactic against the Efrafans in case Kehaar fails to show up. When the car stops at a train crossing, Fiver approaches it cautiously, but realizes that something is wrong just as the cars start to move. Moving quickly, Dandelion barely manages to save Fiver and himself before returning to the others, with Hawkbit advising Fiver to keep his next vision to himself. As the others leave, Fiver looks back at the cars, confused and discouraged at his vision apparently having failed him.
In Efrafa, Hyzenthlay is brought before Captain Orchis. Having considered his previous offer, Hyzenthlay agrees to become his spy and informant in exchange for better living conditions for the does. Satisfied with the answer, Orchis orders that Hyzenthlay is to be executed at sundown, much to the doe’s shock. Orchis sadistically reveals he already has spies everywhere and never really needed her. He had only given her the offer to see if he could succeed in breaking her spirit, admitting his disappointment at how easily he had managed to do it before. As Hyzenthlay is led back to the burrows, she glimpses Nettle informing Efrafan guards who the leaders amongst the does are, revealing her as Orchis’s spy.
In another burrow, the captains of Efrafa are telling El-ahrairah stories among themselves before asking Bigwig to tell one, given his alleged past of having been a storyteller at his old warren. Lacking the experience, Bigwig noticeably struggles as he begins telling a story about a time El-agrarian needed a trick. However, he doesn’t get very far before Captain Orchis arrives and insists on hearing the story. At first continually interrupting Bigwig’s attempts at storytelling in order to make fun of Bigwig at his expense, Orchis then reveals that Campion has informed him of Bigwig’s identity as the rabbit responsible for the deaths of the guards killed by the fox the day before. Though Bigwig sticks to his alleged story and denies Orchis’s claims to belong to Hazel’s group of rabbits, Orchis refuses to believe Bigwig. Before leaving, however, he mentions knowing a way for Bigwig can start earning his trust.
Outside of Efrafa, the other rabbits approach a resting Hazel and insist on going back home, believing that their chances of escaping with the does are slim as well as not knowing whether Bigwig and Clover are still alive or not. Hazel, however, insists on staying for his friends and begs Fiver to help him convince the others. Speaking privately with Hazel, Fiver informs Hazel that they can’t stay long near the river, with the heat crushing them as well as a storm looming on the horizon. When Hazel refuses to leave Clover behind, Fiver tells Hazel has already given his all to rescue her, making the journey on an injured leg as well as the hostile land around them. Though Fiver assures Hazel that the others will stay with him if he asks them to, he advises Hazel to humbly accept defeat in the case that they do decide to leave, knowing that they tried their best and nobody will hold that against them. Accepting Fiver’s words and his help in standing up, Hazel prepares to make plans to leave Efrafa without being detected.
At sundown, Hyzenthlay is led underneath a pylon for her execution. Adding a touch of cruelty to the hopeless situation, Orchis demands that Bigwig execute Hyzenthlay in order to prove his loyalty to Efrafa and gain Orchis’s trust, with Bigwig being executed as well if he refuses. Before the execution, Hyzenthlay asks to speak to Nettle as a final request. Fully aware of the younger doe’s treachery, Hyzenthlay falsely informs Nettle about an escape attempt by the does that is happening on the another side of the warren. Taking the bait, Nettle relays the information to the guards, who prepare to head for the area. Pushed into the ground by Bigwig, Hyzenthlay calmly accepts her death, and asks a conflicted Bigwig to tell Holly that she will see him in his dreams. Throughout this segment, the imprisoned does begin mournfully singing a ballad about hope in the darkness (“10,000 Enemies”), which overpowers the guard’s attempts at silencing the does, Clover proclaiming that they all shall be free.
Underneath the pylon, Bigwig, finally embracing and accepting his nature as a born fighter instead of trying to be a cunning trickster, refuses to execute Hyzenthlay and fights off the surrounding soldiers before helping Hyzenthlay to rescue Blackavar, Clover and the other does in the burrows. Outside, a thunderstorm has broken in the sky as the Efrafan soldiers, commanded by Woundwort, wait for the escaping does. It doesn’t take them long to realize that they have been tricked and proceed to head back to the warren. As the does escape from Efrafa, Hyzenthlay comes across a remorseful Nettle, who tearfully apologizes, admitting she spied on the group in order to protect them from future harm and insists she never gave the guards names. Without saying a word, Hyzenthlay sadly leaves Nettle behind and joins the other escaping rabbits.
As the storm brews outside the warren, Hazel’s group is reunited with Bigwig’s refugees, with Hazel and Clover sharing a loving reunion. Before all the rabbits can head back to Watership Down, however, they find themselves surrounded on all sides by Woundwort’s soldiers. Eventually, General Woundwort himself walks forward and faces himself in front of Bigwig, announcing his intention to kill him. All hopes seems lost for the rabbits as it comes to an end.
A sequence in the style of a silent movie opens. A small family of rabbits is shown approaching a garden, where a young buck is placed on guard duty while the elder rabbits raid the garden. While keeping watch, the buck notices a fox hiding nearby stalking his friends, but the sight of the fox terrifies him and leaves him frozen in fear. As a result, the buck is unable to do anything but watch as the fox attacks and kills his friends. Running away, the terrified buck unintentionally leads the fox back to his warren where more rabbits are killed. Hiding away in the bushes, the buck has only moments to compose himself before the fox reappears and scars him with a swipe of its claws which blinds his left eye, revealing to the audience a flashback showing the story of General Woundwort.
We then return to the present, where the rabbits from Watership Down along with the escaped does from Efrafa are surrounded on all sides by the Efrafan forces. General Woundwort looks down at Bigwig, with the former being noticeably larger than the latter. After both rabbits silently stare at each other, Woundwort rears up and yells as he attempts to deliver a killing blow on Bigwig. However, the General is suddenly interrupted by the timely arrival of Kehaar, who scatters the Efrafan rabbits in a striking fashion. In the confusion, Hazel escapes with the other rabbits and hides with the others in the nearby village (calling it a “human warren”) so as to avoid being being followed by the Efrafans.
Early the next morning, Sainfoin, Campion, and Orchis meet in the Council burrow to privately discuss the events of the previous night. Sainfoin questions why should they be chasing after a group of rabbits who have never done them any real harm in the first place. Campion agrees with the sentiment as he admits to finding Holly a likable rabbit. With Orchis still blaming Holly for his brother Vervain's death, tensions rise between Orchis and Campion as both show contrasting opinions regarding the outsiders. At that moment, Woundwort appears in the burrow and requests that all the other guards in Efrafa convene in the burrow.
Near the river on the other side of the human village, Kehaar bids a fond farewell to the rabbits as he announces his plans to return to Big Water, confident that the rabbits will manage to get to the down on their own. Kehaar promises to come back to the Down and check on his friends when the cold times return to the Big Water. Hazel thanks Kehaar for his help, believing that they would have stopped running long ago without the gull. Kehaar also takes the time to joke briefly with Hazel, implying that he might see little Hazels by the time he returns, as well as calling Bigwig a "plump rabbit" again, much to his anger, who insists that his name is Bigwig. However, Kehaar reveals that he knows Bigwig’s name, playfully asks him what is life if he can't tease his pal a little before rising into the air and departs.
Back at Efrafa, Woundwort reveals that he invited the Captains into the burrow to ask them to voice any concerns that they might have. After a moment of silence, Sainfoin expresses his reluctance to go after the Watership Down rabbits, feeling that the lives of the soldiers will be risked as well as wondering what other creatures the outsiders have under their control, pointing out how the rabbits have a bird under their control. Angered by Sainfoin’s cowardice and fear, Woundwort berates Sainfoin before forcefully asking for his loyalty to him as well as Campion’s. Woundwort promises to his soldiers that they will find the outsiders and wipe them off the face of the earth. Likewise, he declares that in Efrafa, rabbits do not run from or fear the elil: the rabbits themselves are the elil.
Outside of Efrafa, the rabbits grow discouraged after Kehaar’s departure as well as from the strain of last night’s escape. At first, Hazel is unsure on how to approach the does, but Clover advises Hazel to speak from the heart. Finally embracing his role as leader, Hazel confidently presents himself to the does as Chief Rabbit of their new home. Hazel delivers an impassioned speech to the rabbits, stressing that although the rabbits have fought hard to earn their newfound freedom, now they must fight to keep it. Hazel encourages the rabbits not to follow him but to follow each other, and help raise each other to their strongest selves before going home. Thought his speech, we are shown a sequence depicting the rabbit’s journey and arrival at Watership Down.
Upon arriving, Holly, Strawberry, and Haystack (who had stayed behind at the down) welcome the rabbits home, with Holly and Bigwig reuniting happily with Hyzenthlay and Strawberry, respectively. For the next days, the warren is shown to prosper, with the rabbits enjoy a free and easy life as well full of happiness, as well as depicting couples forming among the bucks and the does (Hazel and Clover, Fiver and a young Efrafan doe named Vilthuril, Bigwig and Strawberry, and Holly and Hyzenthlay). At one point, seeking to end the love triangle and unaware of Strawberry’s interest in Bigwig, Dandelion and Hawbit ask Strawberry to choose which of the two bucks would she like to be with, though a crude comment added by Hawkbit humorously ruins the moment.
One evening, Holly and Blackavar are teaching Haystack how to hone her sense of smell when she detects the scent of a large group of strange rabbits. A party organized by Hazel follows the scent, which confirms their fear as they detect a large Efrafan scouting party. Hazel orders Holly to gather every rabbit outside the warren and guard them at the Honeycomb, whilst telling Holly to collapse most of the runs leading into the warren. Though Fiver offers to help, his failure to make sense of his recent visions leads Hazel to send him back to the warren discouraged. In the meantime, Hazel heads to the Efrafan scouting party to face Woundwort himself in the face of buying his friends some time.
Hazel comes face to face with General Woundwort, presenting himself as a friend of Bigwig. Woundwort, however, reveals his displeasure at having to deal with a lame rabbit instead of with Bigwig who, to Hazel’s silent surprise, Woundwort believes to be the Chief Rabbit. Though Woundwort makes clear to Hazel his plans to destroy the warren and the rabbits within it, Hazel refuses to be intimidated, warning that they will defend their home and that the General will leave with far fewer bucks than he came. However, Hazel instead proposes a compromise treaty with Woundwort, stating that rabbits have enough enemies as it already is without them fighting amongst each other. Hazel proposes establishing an alliance between the two warrens to allow the sharing of resources, as well as the possibility of the creation of a third warren between Efrafa and the Down, formed by rabbits from both communities. Although the proposal interests Campion, Woundwort rejects the offer as he believes Hazel has no bargaining power and informs Hazel of his intention to lay siege to the down and starve the rabbits out.
Inside the Honeycomb, Hazel informs the rabbits about the upcoming siege and prepares to assign rabbits at the open entrances to guard in shift, telling the rabbits that those who wish to fight rally behind Bigwig while those who don't stay hidden inside the Honeycomb. Blackavar, knowing of the might of the Efrafan forces, asserts fighting them is futile and that they must leave at once. Hazel, on the other hand refuses to leave. Although he offers any rabbit who wishes to leave the chance to leave, he insists that he will not abandon Watership Down: it is their home, by Frith, he will defend it. Inspired by Hazel’s devotion to the warren, no rabbits leave. Hazel organizes the rabbits who will guard the entrances in shifts: Hawbit and Dandelion will watch over the wood run; Holly, Hyzenthlay and Blackavar will guard the big root entrance; and Hazel, Bigwig, and Blackberry will guard with Hazel.
Outside the warren, the Efrafans approach and surround the warren perimeter, keeping watch over the warren entrances. In the meantime, Hawkbit and Dandelion have another humorous argument when Hawkbit goes on a lovesick rant as he imagines that he will be die in battle, but Dandelion will survive to start a family with Strawberry, testing Dandelion’s patience to the point that he loudly begs the Black Rabbit to put him out of his misery before he kills Hawkbit to shut him up. In the big root, Holly and Hyzenthlay share a tender moment as Holly tells her all the things he would have done to make her smile, going to so much effort only to tell her how beautiful Holly thinks she is. Touched, Hyzenthlay lovingly nuzzles closer to Holly.
General Woundwort is informed by Sainfoin that some of his rabbits have deserted his rank upon finding Keehar’s run full of his droppings, leading some to believing that the bird is still around. This comment angers Woundwort, who slaps Sainfoin and expresses his regret at not having killed him at Efrafa. Campion likewise expresses concern for his troops, who are restless due to not being used to long hours out in the open. Campion then inquires about the policy regarding taking prisoners to Efrafa, though Woundwort asserts that they will not take any prisoners, clearly intending to massacre the whole warren. When another rabbit questions the wisdom of such a tactic, believing that instead capturing the strongest rabbits as well as those not participating is the right call, Woundwort kills the buck on the spot. After threatening to kill Campion if he continues to question him, Woundwort foregoes his plan for a siege and orders his troops to go ahead and attack the warren.
The warren is stormed from all sides, with both sides clashing as tunnels are collapsed and many are wounded. Clover inspires the Efrafan does to fight back, claiming that if she is to meet the Black Rabbit that night, she will bring a rabbit or two from Efrafa alongside her. Attacks made inside the warren are more successful, since traps consisting of collapsing tunnels and dropping rocks successfully subdue Efrafan soldiers. Eventually, the Efrafans manage to occupy the main tunnel, causing Hazel to order a retreat into the Honeycomb and to bring the wounded inside it. On the outside, Holly and Hyzenthlay are defending the warren entrance with all their might. Campion, noticing Hyzenthlay, orders his guards to subdue her, ordering his troops to not use lethal force on any of the rabbits. However, in an attempt to save Hyzenthlay, Holly is surrounded on all sides by Efrafans and beaten to death. Devastated immensely, a sobbing Hyzenthlay has to be dragged inside the warren by Blackavar and Blackberry, leaving Holly’s dead body behind. A conflicted Campion watches the scene briefly before leaving, more conflicted than ever about his loyalty to Efrafa.
Inside the warren, the rabbits are forced to retreat inside the Honeycomb and collapse all of the tunnels leading to it, leaving the rabbits stranded in the Honeycomb. In the darkness, the rabbits take the time to mourn the loss of Captain Holly. Outside the warren, Woundwort is informed of the rabbits hiding a large burrow beneath the beach tree on the down. Inside the Honeycomb, the rabbits realize that the Efrafans have left the tunnels in favor of digging out an entrance from above. Hoping to give the rabbits more time, Hazel instructs the rabbits to go to seal themselves in the back burrow while he and Bigwig take a final stand against the Efrafans. Before entering the burrow, Clover confesses her love for Hazel and shares one final embrace with him before hiding with the others as Hazel and Bigwig are left in the Honeycomb awaiting the oncoming forces. Hazel confesses to Bigwig that he had always believed that their story would have ended with Bluebell boring their grandchildren to death with stories about their great adventures, with Bigwig remarking that something like that might have happened in another world.
Suddenly, Fiver approaches Hazel and Bigwig, who has come to apologize to Hazel for not having made sense of his vision enough to help them, tearfully wondering what his own worth to the group is if he isn't able to make sense of his visions. In a direct parallel to the first episode, where Fiver had comforted a doubting Hazel, Hazel now comforts Fiver, assuring his brother that his friendship means much more to Hazel than any vision is and ever will. Hazel assures Fiver that, though their bodies may lie broken by the time the sun rises, what connects the two of them is unbreakable. On hearing the last word, Fiver suffers another vision, during which his scattered visions from the previous episode snap into place and bring an additional image of the Nuthanger farm guard dog snarling.
Outside the vision realm, Fiver has collapsed to the ground and started thrashing wildly in pain, howling with anguish at the intensity of his vision. After a while, Fiver slowly comes to his senses, shakily declaring that he now knows what to do: return to the farm and release the dog on the Efrafan forces. Though Hazel reminds Fiver that they are surrounded on all sides by Efrafans, Strawberry volunteers to dig out a tunnel for them. Before leaving, Hazel gives Bigwig a final trick against the Efrafans as a last recourse: when he has run out energy, Bigwig must declare that he is guarding this burrow for his Chief Rabbit. Though Bigwig is puzzled by the trick, Hazel asks his friend to trust him before going into the back burrow, leaving Bigwig to face the Efrafans.
Outside the warren, the Efrafan forces are shown to be terrified having heard Fiver’s wailing, with Sainfoin fearfully believing that a strange creature may be lurking inside the warren. Having nearly broken through to the Honeycomb, Woundwort dismisses such concerns and threatens to kill Sainfoin if he mentions the bird again. Before entering, Woundwort orders Campion to follow him to the burrow in case of an ambush. Having had enough, Campion refuses to follow Woundwort’s orders, preferring to be a good rabbit than a good soldier. Angered, Woundwort commands Orchis to kill Campion before ordering Sainfoin accompany him to the burrow. Orchis attempts to seize control of Campion’s forces to join his battalion, but the troops answer only to Campion’s order dismissing them. Orchis warns the deserting rabbits that they will be hunted down, but Campion defies Orchis, pointing out how though they may be equals in rank, Campion is the better fighter between the two, strongly threatening for Orchis to back away from him before departing with his rabbits to Efrafa.
Inside the Honeycomb, Hazel and Fiver prepare for their mission to the farm. Though Dandelion is the fastest among them, he was injured during the fight, so Blackavar is to help them as their third runner. After Strawberry creates a tunnel to the surface, Hazel instructs her to close it up as soon as the three rabbits leave. After reaching the surface, the group is briefly chased by two Efrafan soldiers who quickly give up on the chase. Meanwhile, General Woundwort has successfully reached the Honeycomb along with Sainfoin, and begins hunting the rabbits hiding in the back burrow. Inside the burrow, Blackberry tells Bluebell a joke to lighten the tension. On the way to the farm, Hazel and Fiver stop to leave Blackavar at a rock before continuing on to the farm.
Inside the warren, Woundwort manages to break through the entrance to the burrow with the hiding rabbits. At that moment Bigwig, who had buried himself in the soil next to the burrow entrance, catches Woundwort by surprise and manages to deliver a bite to his hind leg before being shaken off. Mockingly congratulating the General on having a mark of his own, Bigwig and Woundwort begin their duel. At the same time, Hazel and Fiver manage to make it to the farm, where Fiver begins to chew on the rope holding the dog to his kennel. However, before he gets to finish, he saves Hazel from being ambushed by the cat. In the commotion, Fiver is attacked by the cat while the dog, who had awoken during the disturbance, attempts to attack Hazel, who refuses to leave Fiver behind. Knowing that the dog will free himself from the half-chewed rope, Fiver begs Hazel to leave him behind and lead the dog to the down. When the rope finally snaps, Hazel is forced to leave his brother behind as the dog follows him in pursuit towards the down.
Meanwhile, Bigwig and Woundwort have a fierce fight that ends, with both of them badly injured. When Woundwort offers to let Bigwig join his ranks as a valued soldier, Bigwig curses the General, loyally declaring that his Chief Rabbit has tasked him with defending the run and until he says otherwise, he is staying right there. This conviction shocks the General and Sainfoin greatly, having assumed Bigwig to be the Chief Rabbit. Coming to the surface, Sainfoin reveals the news to the remaining troops, who immediately assume that a much larger and stronger rabbit than Bigwig must be Chief Rabbit. A blood-covered General Woundwort emerges from the warren and, acting as if nothing were wrong and insisting that the war is nearly over, commands his soldiers to storm the tunnels and flush out the remaining rabbits. However, the news about the Chief Rabbit, along with the sight of the General apparently having been bested in combat, causes Sainfoin and several other members of the army to begin leaving the down in an attempt to save their own lives.
At the same time, Hazel lures the dog to the warren using himself as bait, though his injured leg makes the journey difficult for him. Hazel barely manages to reach the checkmark just as Blackavar takes over for Hazel. However, Blackavar loses his balance by tripping on a branch, forcing Hazel to get the dog's attention and lead him back the rest of the way to the warren. Meanwhile, Bigwig also emerges from the warren and spots Hazel approaching from the distance, referring to him as Hazel-rah. The realization that Bigwig's Chief Rabbit is a small lame rabbit causes Woundwort to laugh. However, the dog soon comes into view, causing most of the Efrafans to flee from the hills in a panic at the sight of the huge animal. Hazel and Bigwig manage to get inside the warren before the dog catches up to them. It quickly notices the Efrafans and manages to maul Orchis to death after he failed to run away as he was too paralyzed by fear before confronting Woundwort, who stands his ground. Woundwort, however, regards the dog with curiosity as he smirks coldly. Repeating the Efrafan creed to himself, Woundwort proclaims to fear nothing and yells as he leaps at the charging dog. The shadows of Woundwort and the dog lunging for each other start to fade, leaving Woundwort's fate unknown as he is either killed by the dog or had survived.
Some time later, the same red car from Fiver’s vision stops in the middle of a road near the Down. From it we see Lucy, the farmer’s daughter, returning a very much alive Fiver in the middle of the road before departing. An elated Fiver then proceeds to return to the warren, where he happily reunites with Hazel and the other rabbits. When they ask how he survived, Fiver reveals how the human girl saved him from the cat. Seeing this act of kindness towards animals by humans, Hazel finally starts to believe that humanity may not be irredeemably bad, that humans understand that all living things suffer and deserve respect. Time passes, and we see the warren in spring thriving and clearly prospering. Bluebell is shown playfully siccing his children on an unsuspecting Blackberry while Hawbit and Dandelion are shown watching Strawberry with Bigwig, unable to understand how she wound up with him instead of one of the two. However, their sadness lasts little before the two are distracted by another doe passing by them. Meanwhile, Bigwig and Strawberry's children arrive with worms in their mouths, causing Bigwig to irritably realise that they are for Kehaar, who has returned to the warren not being able to deny the endless bout of worms.
A longer time lapse of many years happens, and we then see an aged Hazel and Clover spending time alone next to a creek in the fall. Clover returns to the warren while a tired Hazel stays and rests by the creek. Shortly thereafter, an older Fiver approaches Hazel and asks to join him for a moment. Spending time together by the creek, Fiver begins reflecting on the journey that they have walked together, talking about how it has been a pleasure, an honor, and a real privilege. When pressed on by Hazel, Fiver, clearly struggling to contain his emotions, admits that he has come to say good night to Hazel, having sensed his brother’s upcoming death. Fondly acknowledging Hazel as his leader, his brother, and his friend, Hazel and Fiver share one last loving embrace before Fiver heads back to the warren, stopping only to take one last look at his dying brother.
Some time afterwards, Hazel awakens at the creek and stares at his reflection before being joined by the Black Rabbit of Inle, who regards Hazel as an old friend. The Black Rabbit, offering to relieve him of his tired state, invites Hazel to join her own Owsla, assuring him of Watership Down's perpetual safety and its future. Reassured that his friend and family will be able to carry on without him, Hazel gladly accepts the offer and passes away peacefully, his reflection fading away along with the Black Rabbit's. Outside the warren, Bluebell begins telling both young and old members of the warren the story of how “Hazel-rah and his Brave Band of Rabbits”, with the opening lines mirroring the original novel's opening paragraph (The primroses were over. Towards the edge of the wood...). A short distance away, Fiver is shown looking on at the rabbits from a distance. Suddenly feeling Hazel’s presence, Fiver looks up at the evening sky, where a cloud in the shape of a running rabbit floats on, symbolizing Hazel’s spirit running forever.
- Gemma Arterton as Clover
- Peter Capaldi as Kehaar
- John Boyega as Bigwig
- Mackenzie Crook as Hawkbit
- Freddie Fox as Captain Holly
- Nicholas Hoult as Fiver
- Miles Jupp as Blackberry
- Daniel Kaluuya as Bluebell
- Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort
- James McAvoy as Hazel
- Craig Parkinson as Sainfoin
- Daniel Rigby as Dandelion
- Olivia Colman as Strawberry
- Rosie Day as Thethuthinnang
- Anne-Marie Duff as Hyzenthlay
- Henry Goodman as Blackavar
- Lee Ingleby as Campion
- Jason Watkins as Captain Orchis
- Lizzie Clarke as Haystack
- Charlotte Spencer as Nettle
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Vervain
- Gemma Chan as Dewdrop
- James Faulkner as Lord Frith
- Peter Guinness as Silverweed
- Rory Kinnear as Cowslip
- Luke Neal as Scabious
- Tom Wilkinson as the Threarah
|1.||Another Day In Sandleford|
|4.||That's Our Home|
|6.||Allow Me To Take You To The Great Burrow|
|7.||Frith In A Basket|
|9.||Well Done, Hazel-Rah|
|10.||Leave One Alive For Questioning|
|13.||Back To Efrafa|
|15.||Black Branches That Fire|
|16.||The Black Rabbit Of Inlé|
|17.||Clover In The Mist|
|18.||From Hutch Rabbit To King Rabbit|
|19.||Don't Look Up!|
|20.||I'm Going To Take Great Pleasure In Killing You|
|21.||Super 8 Memories|
|22.||Kehaar To The Rescue!|
|24.||Those Of You Not Loyal To Me...|
|25.||My Name Is Hazel|
|26.||Good Times In Watership Down|
|27.||By Frith I Will Defend It|
|29.||Goodbye, Captain Holly|
|30.||They're Coming In From Above!|
|31.||Your Plan Is Dangerous Hazel|
|32.||I Fear Nothing|
|33.||Fiver Is Alive!|
|34.||My Leader, My Brother, My Friend|
|35.||Join My Owsla|
|36.||10,000 Enemies (Emeli Sandé)|
|37.||Fire on Fire (Sam Smith)|
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date|
|1||"The Journey"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||22 December 2018|
|Concerned by troubling visions his brother Fiver has about an encroaching threat, Hazel and several other rabbits set out in search of a new safe haven.|
|2||"The Raid"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||22 December 2018|
|Efforts to liberate female rabbits to join the new warren lead to trouble for its members. At Hazel's behest, Fiver endures another haunting vision.|
|3||"The Escape"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||23 December 2018|
|The rabbits plan a daring rescue from Efrafa that requires crafty infiltration by Bigwig. Questions arise about loyalty amongst the female captives.|
|4||"The Siege"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||23 December 2018|
|Hazel and the others finally find a place to settle. But General Woundwort and his Efrafa rabbit army launch a costly full-scale attack on the new warren.|
Differences from the bookEdit
- Pipkin, Silver, Bucktorn, Acorn, and Speedwell are completely absent.
- Despite Dandelion retaining his status as fastest runner, Bluebell is presented as the storyteller for the rabbits (this marks the first adaptation where Dandelion is not the storyteller).
- Along with being given Dandelion's storytelling abilities, Bluebell also displays a more innocent and timid side to his character, incorporating an absent Pipkin's personality as well.
- Strawberry and the Black Rabbit of Inlé are portrayed as does instead of bucks.
- Bob, the Nuthanger farm dog, is a Rottweiler instead of a black Labrador.
- Tab the farm cat doesn't talk.
- Holly goes to Efrafa with Bluebell and Blackberry (instead of Silver, Buckthorn, and Strawberry) and also goes there of his own accord after being told about it by Kehaar rather than being sent there under Hazel's command and consent.
- Kehaar is a bit more selfish in this version, as he initially refuses to help the Watership Down rabbits and briefly left them after having believed that his wing had healed.
- Clover and Haystack are the only hutch rabbits to successfully escape. Also, Clover gets captured and taken to Efrafa in this version.
- After learning of Hazel's location after being shot, Clover goes out and looks for him instead of Fiver.
- The use of a boat to escape the Efrafan forces is omitted, with the rabbits instead opting to hide inside a nearby human village.
- Hazel and Clover fall in love while Holly and Hyzenthlay fall in love. In the original novel, these romances where the opposite (Hazel and Hyzenthlay, Holly and Clover)
- Bigwig falls in love with Strawberry (in this version a doe), instead of with Thethuthinang.
- Captain Vervain is killed by the train instead of Captain Charlock, who isn't mentioned at all.
- The Efrafan Wide Patrol Bigwig accidentally leads a fox onto is being lead by Captain Campion instead of Captain Mallow, who isn't mentioned at all. Bigwig doesn't attempt to warn them and instead runs right through them. Also three members of the patrol (not including Campion) are killed by the fox instead of just one. The scene is shown in full detail for the first time.
- Holly is killed during the final battle (this is the first adaption where he dies).
- Captain Campion is shown to be more conflicted about his loyalty to Woundwort (much like in the TV series), and is uncomfortable with some of Efrafa's brutal policies, particularly the policy of "marking". He betrays Woundwort at the end by refusing to go into the Watership Down warren with him and kill the enemy rabbits, declaring that he would rather be a good rabbit than a good soldier, something said to him by Holly. He then leaves with several other deserting Efrafans and is never seen again.
- General Woundwort is given a slightly different backstory, his entire family having been massacred by a fox which scarred and blinded his left eye (this is notably the only screen adaption that provides an explanation for Woundwort's blind left eye, a description not given in the original book). The rest of his backstory and his rise to power is not explained, though he reveals to Clover that he used to live in a hutch, implying the rest of his story went the way it did in the novel.
- Woundwort also becomes interested in Clover, partly because she used to be a hutch rabbit like he was (this is the only adaption so far where he shows interest in a female rabbit) and offers to let her become his "queen", implying he wishes to start a lineage with her. However, he later rejects her offer to be his queen if he stops Hyzenthlay's execution, saying that he is not a rabbit who makes deals.
- Fiver and Blackavar go with Hazel to lure Bob to Watership Down instead of Dandelion and Blackberry. Despite being the fastest rabbit, Dandelion doesn't help with the raid due to having been injured at the Battle of Watership Down.
- Instead of Hazel, Fiver is the rabbit that releases Bob before getting caught by Tab and rescued by Lucy.