As much fun as it was to spend some hours in the company of Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), and Chishiya (Nijiro Murakami) in Alice in Borderland Season 2, there was one thing that everyone watching was looking forward to more than the life-and-death games: Answers. While Season 1 provided us with virtually no information about the game makers, Borderland itself, and what exactly are the rules, Season 2 had the job of finally helping us understand what the heck is going on in the Japanese series. And it did. Sort of.
As much as you enjoy Season 2 of Alice in Borderland – and it really is a lot of fun, especially when it comes to the new games – you can’t deny that series writer and director Shinsuke Sato stalled us quite a bit before finally spilling the beans. But now, we finally have the answer: What are the games and Borderland after all?
The answer, as you might have guessed, is not simple. First, we may not have reached the end of the story yet – if the series gets renewed for Season 3, the answers that were provided on Season 2 might change, and there’s a lot of evidence to support that. However, Season 2’s final episode also works as an ending for the series, and if that’s the case we have most answers laid out for us, whether we like them or not.
Cards on the Table — Or Not
In Episode 8, Arisu and Usagi finally manage to get to the final “boss” (or “citizen”) of Borderland: The Queen of Hearts, Season 1’s Mira Kano (Riisa Naka). She suggests that, unlike all previous games, it’s not necessary to kill anyone, and they only have to make it to the end of a croquet game to survive – and they don’t even need to win it. As Arisu and Usagi pressure Mira to explain to them what’s really going on, they manage to escape her illusions (more on that later) and finish the croquet game. Before being killed by a laser, the Queen reveals that Arisu “will find out soon” what the game is. She adds that he will be presented with two choices and no matter what he chooses, the answer will be given.
A booming voice says all the games have been cleared and, as fireworks light up the Borderland sky, the surviving players are asked to state out loud if they accept “permanent residency in this country” or decline it. All the players we rooted for throughout Season 2 decline, and they are transported back to Tokyo and find out that only a few minutes had passed. This opens up two very clear possibilities for what the games and Borderland are.
What Is Borderland?
The first and more obvious interpretation is that Borderland was some kind of near-death experience, a limbo, or maybe even hell. The people who were sent there were individuals who, to some extent, were unhappy with life and lacked meaningful connections to keep going. And they all – or most of them – ended up in the afterlife because a meteorite exploded over central Tokyo and killed them all. This means that Borderland and the harrowing experience of having to literally fight for their survival served as a wake-up call for them to value life more, and as they get sent back to the “real” world, they all survive the disaster with no memory of what happened in Borderland.
The “they were dead the whole time” (or semi-dead) trope has been overdone, of course, but it’s one message that ultimately many movies and TV series send us every time we press play. Find love, true happiness, enjoy every moment, and discover the true meaning of life. The end.
We can’t ignore the clear signs that Alice in Borderland gives that there’s something else at play. The way that Season 2 ends provides closure for most characters – especially the main ones – and wraps up the citizens’ arc. Borderland can only have a deeper meaning and further explanations if we get a chance to explore it in Season 3. And here are the loose strings that may upend Season 2’s final episode.
The Queen of Hearts is an Unreliable Narrator
Ever since Mira was revealed as the Big Bad in Season 1’s final game, she establishes herself as someone you can’t trust. So when she goes on a long monologue in the Season 2 finale to suggest that they are in fact 1,000 years in the future and inside a virtual reality game, you can’t help but take it with a grain of salt. Especially when she laughs it off and admits she just told a lie. After that, she throws Arisu inside an illusion in which he is a patient who crafted an alternate reality inside his head after he couldn’t bear the death of his two closest friends. He escapes the illusion with Usagi’s help.
So, as soon as we learn that the citizens – or this citizen in particular – can create a whole new reality for whoever’s playing with them, the happy ending that we saw in Season 2 becomes a possible lie, and Arisu and his friends may wake up from it when they realize that something feels off. Should this happen, the final minutes of the episode never really happened, and we’ll be back to square one.
We Still Don’t Know Who Are the Hidden Players in Alice in Borderland
If there’s one thing we learned from Season 2 is that the citizens – who initially seemed to be a level above the rest of the players – don’t know much. Maybe Mira knew a little more than she let on, but overall they are as lost as Arisu and his friends. The difference is that they are better players who probably managed to beat previous citizens. By the end of Season 2, we still don’t know who are the game designers, who controls Borderland and other details that we don’t even imagine.
At the same time, it feels like a couple of citizens do have an idea of what happens in the caste above them, because the King of Spades obviously went out of his way to stop Arisu and Usagi from learning important information about the day they were taken from Tokyo, and Chishiya managed to extract something out of the Jack of Hearts in the prison cells, we just don’t know what. So, in that department, there’s a lot of ground to be covered with Season 3.
The Girl in the Van and The Final Card
Halfway through the season, Arisu and Usagi find some home footage in which there is a girl who claims she remembers everything about the day everyone was taken from Tokyo. She says she actually saw what really went down, but she is killed before she can fully explain herself. Her sentences suggest she was going to describe the meteorites we saw at the end of the season, but the words are so vague it could be anything else.
On top of that, in the same videos, there is some evidence of people who managed to live outside the realm of the Borderland games. Some of them seem to think they came from different places and times (which would support the near-death experience explanation) and all the people shown in the video seem to have found a way to survive several days without being forced to play any games (none of them ever mentions a “visa”). If that’s the case, there could be blind spots to the game master’s world, and that would be a nice element to explore in the future.
Speaking about the game master, the very last scene of Season 2 introduces a card that we kind of forgot about in all episodes: The Joker. In all card games, the Joker is a wild card that usually subverts the pre-established rules, and that last addition would fit in perfectly with the Alice in Borderland world. And another thing to consider is that the card is introduced in the “real” world in which Arisu gets to have his happy ending, which would only support the theory that everything is an illusion. This means that, should the series get renewed for Season 3 (Netflix, you have one job), we will finally get to peel off another layer of the game and find out what’s really behind everything.
You can stream all episodes from Alice in Borderland on Netflix now.