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The entire GTA 5 story explained

Since its release in 2013, Grand Theft Auto 5 has only grown in popularity. Much of this is due to its bonkers Online component, which has inspired troublemakers everywhere to get up to all sorts of mischief and mayhem. However, though GTA Online tends to own much of the spotlight these days (even overshadowing Rockstar's original plans to release single player DLC for the game), the base game's campaign actually has a very exciting storyline. 

With its sprawling open world, colorful cast of characters, double-crosses, film productions gone awry, and horrible government conspiracies, the plot of Grand Theft Auto 5 is much more intricate than you might think at first glance. With that in mind, let's break down this wild game, including notable heists and backgrounds for the characters that tie into the main events of the story. Buckle up.

GTA 5 kicks off with a robbery goes south

The story begins in 2004 when a crew of bank robbers — Michael Townley, Brad, Trevor, and an unnamed getaway driver, as well as their remote contact Lester — attempt to rob a security company. Things go south when Trevor murders a security guard and the crew is chased down by the police. Their getaway driver is killed, leaving the rest of the crew attempting to escape on foot. In the ensuing shootout, Trevor makes his escape, believing Michael to be dead. Michael had in fact made a deal with the FIB to turn over his crew in exchange for a fresh start in witness protection. The official story released to the press is that Brad is serving a life sentence in prison and that Michael was laid to rest.

Nine years later, Michael is currently in therapy. Under his new name of Michael De Santa, he and his wife have started a family. However, Michael is miserable with the day-to-day grind and occasionally misses the action of his old life, much to the great dismay of the corrupt FIB agent in charge of his protection, Dave Norton

Michael meets Franklin

Michael gets a taste of the criminal life again when his son's car is stolen by two gang bangers named Lamar and Franklin. These two are barely scraping by, making their living working for a shady car dealer named Simeon, who uses underhanded methods, including theft, to repossess cars from his clients. Unfortunately for Franklin and company, Michael was in the back seat of this car when they made off with it, and he's none too happy about the attempted theft.

Michael wrecks Simeon's business and threatens the man at gunpoint, but seemingly takes a shine to Franklin's fearless demeanor. Though Michael's outburst costs Franklin his job, the two hit it off, and Michael invites Franklin to come over to his place sometime for a drink and a chat. Franklin, meanwhile, is going stir crazy living with his overbearing aunt in a rundown old house. He also has to contend with Lamar's increasingly dangerous schemes, which almost always go poorly.

The start of a beautiful friendship

After surviving the fallout from a drug deal gone wrong, Franklin decides to take Michael up on his offer of friendship, hoping that it will lead to a better situation for himself. When Franklin comes to visit Michael, his immediate reaction is to think that Michael is just another bored rich weirdo. However, the two of them are thrust into their first real bit of action together when Michael gets a distressed call from his son Jimmy, who tried to sell Michael's boat behind his back before things went badly for him. Now a gang of thieves are speeding out of town with Michael's boat and kid in tow.

A high-speed chase ensues, during which Franklin shows his stuff by hopping from Michael's car onto the sailboat. Following this rescue, Jimmy appears to idolize Franklin, while Michael has decided that he will definitely let Franklin know any time he has work for him. With that, Jimmy is safe and a new partnership has been formed.

Madrazo and the first heist of GTA 5

Though his son is returned home safe and sound, Michael soon discovers that not everything is bright and sunny in the De Santa household. After catching his wife in bed with her tennis instructor, Michael goes on a rampage. Michael and Franklin chase the instructor to a house up in the Vinewood Hills and manage to completely destroy it by pulling the upper deck right off the building. 

Unfortunately, this house didn't belong to the tennis instructor, but rather the mistress of one Martin Madrazo, a powerful drug kingpin who puts a hit on the two of them. After Michael and Franklin dispatch his hitmen, Madrazo tells them that he expects them to pay for the damages if they want to keep their lives. Desperate to make this money quickly, Michael contacts his old friend Lester. In order to prove his sincerity to Lester, Michael helps his old pal carry out a mission to assassinate the CEO of social media platform Lifeinvader, after which Michael and his new crew pull off an elaborate jewelry heist. Madrazo is paid what he's owed and the heat is off of Michael and Franklin ... momentarily.

Trevor enters the story

The jewelry heist attracts the attention of Trevor, who is living out in the desert and almost immediately puts together that Michael is still alive. For the last several years, Trevor believes he has been writing letters to Brad in prison, not realizing that his correspondence has actually been with FIB agent Dave Norton, who writes back as Trevor's dead partner as a way to keep tabs on Trevor and maintain Michael's cover story.

Trevor has been making a living playing all of the various gangs in his area against one another, as well as facilitating all manner of illicit transactions, including the cooking and sale of crystal meth. After killing Johnny Klebitz, the head of a local motorcycle gang (and the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto 4: The Lost and the Damned), Trevor sets about wrecking his competition. He all but obliterates the rest of Klebitz's gang and takes on several members of the Chinese Wei Cheng Triad who are moving in on his territory. 

With all of that messy business out of the way, Trevor and his pal Wade head to Los Santos to find out exactly where Michael has been all this time.

An uncomfortable reunion

Trevor arrives at Michael's house during a dispute between Michael and his wife, who has discovered that he has returned to a life of crime. Neither of the De Santas are particularly excited to see Trevor, knowing that his presence only means they are in greater danger than ever. However, this uncomfortable reunion is cut short when Michael finds out that his daughter Tracey is about to humiliate herself on television by auditioning for the show Fame or Shame, which is hosted by degenerate radio and television personality Lazlow Jones.

The two men race to the television studio and halt the audition, leading to a chase where they beat and humiliate Jones. Michael and Trevor briefly reminisce about the old days and tentatively agree to stay in touch. Trevor and Wade forcibly move into an apartment belonging to Wade's cousin Floyd, and Trevor begins his plans to expand his business ventures to Los Santos. 

Working for the feds

The FIB is none too pleased with Michael's return to crime, even when he insists it was only to pay back Madrazo. As retaliation for putting him in a compromising position, Dave Norton tells Michael that he has to do a few under the table jobs for the FIB if he wants his secrets kept. After being knocked unconscious, Michael is sent on a job where he has to pose as a corpse and steal information on a suspected terrorist from the IAA, a rival intelligence organization. 

With this information in hand (and following the unfortunate deaths of several IAA agents), Michael and his crew manage to kidnap the suspected terrorist, a man named Ferdinand Kerimov. While Michael and Norton take care of another assassination, Trevor is charged by another corrupt FIB agent named Steve Haines with torturing Kerimov for information. Though the man is revealed to be innocent, Trevor is ordered to kill Kerimov. Instead, Trevor takes Kerimov to an airport and lets him go free. For the moment, the FIB has what they want and Michael's secrets are safe again.

Living the life

The criminal life seems to be working out for everyone involved. Michael's family has moved out, giving him a bit of peace and quiet. Franklin is able to move into a swanky new house in the hills after carrying out some assassination missions for Lester, finally getting out of his aunt's place.

Meanwhile, Trevor has used Floyd's connections as a longshoreman to scope out a shipment of materials belonging to Merryweather Security, a powerful and dangerous private military contractor. With help from Michael and Franklin, Trevor manages to steal this Merryweather shipment, but he's dismayed when Lester informs them that they must return it. It turns out that they've made away with a highly experimental superweapon, meaning that if they don't take it back, they'll have a target painted on all of them.

At first, Trevor refuses to return the device, but he agrees when Michael promises that there will be bigger and better jobs in the future. Still, this won't be the last time that the trio crosses paths with Merryweather.

Devin Weston enters GTA 5's picture

Following their theft of an armored car, the gang is put in touch with Devin Weston, a powerful billionaire who has at least a few members of the FIB on his payroll. It turns out that a few of the gang's heists have been set in motion to help further Weston's goals, so Weston helps to facilitate a large payout for Michael and his crew and offers them more jobs. Weston puts Michael in touch with his idol Solomon Richards, a Vinewood producer, in the hopes that the two will make a movie together and make Weston's investment in Richards' studio more profitable. Weston also tasks Franklin and Trevor with stealing multiple sports cars for his collection, a job that Franklin is all too familiar with.

Around this time, Michael and Trevor are contacted about working for Madrazo again, but things take a turn for the worse when Trevor sees how Madrazo treats his wife, Patricia. Trevor kidnaps Patricia and begins to develop feelings for her, and this new development sends Trevor and Michael into hiding from Madrazo. 

The train job

While hiding out from Madrazo, Trevor steals from Merryweather again, hijacking one of their cargo planes and officially making himself even more of a target. Trevor manages to bail out of the plane just as it is shot down over the water. 

Shortly thereafter, Trevor proposes a job straight out of a Wild West movie: he and Michael are going to rob a train. Naturally, the heist doesn't go completely smoothly, but they manage to get away from it with a briefcase containing an ancient artifact. Knowing that this is the kind of thing Madrazo collects, Michael suggests that they use it as a peace offering, along with returning Patricia to her husband. 

Though Trevor initially refuses, Michael talks him into doing it, yet again, with the promise of a bigger and better job ahead when they rob the Union Depository, a massive bank that appears to circulate money to the entire state. Trevor agrees and Patricia is returned home, though Trevor can't resist threatening Madrazo with violence if he ever mistreats her again. 

Trevor learns the truth

Michael settles back into his home in Los Santos, planning to return to his life of retirement. Trevor, meanwhile, loses his cool with Floyd and his girlfriend and kills them, necessitating a change of headquarters. After setting up shop in a local strip club called the Vanilla Unicorn, Trevor comes to learn some shocking news. 

After telling Michael of his new plan to break Brad out of prison, Michael finally lets its slip that Brad died all those years ago. In a rage, Trevor heads to where "Michael" was buried to find out the truth. Michael follows Trevor and finds him digging up Michael's fake grave, which is revealed to have Brad's body inside. The two of them pull their guns on one another, but are interrupted when the Triads arrive to have their revenge on Trevor. After a shootout, the Triads kidnap Michael, believing him to be Trevor's lover. 

While Michael is held captive, Trevor and Franklin carry out one final job for Devin Weston, who decides not to pay them what he promised. Following this betrayal, Franklin and Lester find where the Triads are hiding and Franklin rescues him, killing several of the gangsters in the process.

Best friends forever

Michael is given one final mission by Dave Norton, who tells him that if he breaks into the FIB headquarters and steals some files that will help cover up Steve Haines and Norton's recent shady dealings, then his record will be expunged and he will be a completely free man. While Michael plans this heist, he learns that Devin Weston has decided not to release the film that Michael and Solomon produced, preferring instead to collect the insurance payout from the "failed" production. In retaliation, Michael steals the film in a chase that results in the accidental death of Weston's lawyer. 

Michael and Franklin manage to pull off the raid on the FIB headquarters and Dave Norton agrees to hold up his end of the bargain. Unfortunately, Michael and Dave are then confronted by multiple groups out for revenge, including Merryweather, the IAA, and Steve Haines himself. Michael and his contacts manage to make it out of the ensuing firefight when Trevor arrives and helps them fight back. Though Trevor is still hurt by Michael's betrayal, the two come to a shaky truce and agree to go forward with the Union Depository heist together.

A star is born, a bunch of other guys are killed

Meanwhile, Franklin finds out that his friend Lamar has been kidnapped by a rival gang called the Ballas. With help from Michael and Trevor, Franklin rescues Lamar. When he gets home, however, Franklin is confronted by Dave Norton and Steve Haines, who tell him he needs to kill Trevor, who they believe has become a liability to them all.

With his passion project recovered and his relationship with his family on the mend, Michael decides to release the movie himself. At the premiere of the movie, Weston arrives and tells Michael that he has hired Merryweather mercenaries to kill his family. After Michael and his son fend off the attackers, Michael begins to plan his revenge on Weston.

First, however, the trio must pull off the Union Depository heist. Despite interference from Merryweather Security and the beleaguered Los Santos Police Department, the job is a success. Things take a dramatic return, however, when Franklin finds Devin Weston waiting for him at home. Weston tells Franklin that he must kill Michael, leaving Franklin with a choice: kill Michael, kill Trevor, or find another way.

Franklin is given the final choice in GTA 5's story

There are three different endings to Grand Theft Auto 5's story, depending on what Franklin decides. If Franklin chooses to kill Trevor, a chase ensues that ends with Trevor crashing his car into a gas tanker, which begins leaking fuel. Franklin fires his gun, igniting the fuel and burning Trevor alive. Michael tells Franklin that the two of them should part ways while he processes Trevor's death.

Should Franklin decide to follow Weston's orders and kill Michael, he will attempt to reach out to Trevor for help. However, Trevor will express a disinterest in meeting with Michael, still considering him a traitor for selling the gang out nine years ago. Franklin will then chase Michael from his house to a bridge, where Michael will fall to his death. Following this, Michael's family will express that they know Franklin was behind his death. Michael's widow will message Franklin to tell him to stay away from her family, while Jimmy will curse him out for his betrayal.

The GTA 5 story can have a happy ending, too

However, if Franklin decides not to turn on his pals, he will go to Lester for his help in finding another way to save them all. Together with Trevor and Michael, they concoct a plan to rid themselves of all of their enemies. Michael takes out the leader of the Ballas, Trevor kills Steve Haines, and Franklin blows up the head of the Triads.

Following these targets, Trevor fights his way through Merryweather's mercenaries one final time in order to kidnap the last man on their list: Devin Weston. The trio stuff Weston in the back of one of his prized sports car and shove it off a cliff, destroying the car and killing Weston. 

Their enemies dispatched and their records wiped clean by a grateful Dave Norton, the trio agree to lay low for a while and remain friends. In the world of Grand Theft Auto, this bloodbath is the closest thing to a happy ending as you're ever likely to find.