Alice In Borderland Season 1 Ending Explained: The Games Have Just Begun

Arisu and his new friends may have survived their deadliest game yet, but the ending of "Alice in Borderland" season 1 reveals that things are just getting started.

Based on the manga by Haro Aso, "Alice in Borderland" premiered on Netflix in December 2020 and has recently experienced a recent surge of popularity among "Squid Game" fans looking for more offerings in the "death game" genre. Kento Yamazaki stars as Ryōhei Arisu, a directionless young man who's more interested in playing video games than getting a real job. Arisu's skillset comes in handy, however, when he and his two best friends are thrust into an alternate version of Tokyo — one where they're forced to play lethal games in order to survive.

Over the course of "Alice in Borderland" season 1, Arisu and his newfound ally, Yuzuha Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya), discover a "utopian" society called the Beach and its charismatic leader, Hatter (Nobuaki Kaneko). Players at the Beach believe that once they've collected all of the available playing cards that are awarded as tokens for surviving the games, one person will be able to use the cards to "ascend" back to the normal world, and the hunt will begin all over again so that the second person in line can ascend.

It's a philosophy based on nothing more than Hatter's own speculation, but one that proves (sort of) correct when all 40 of the numbered playing cards are collected. Rather than ascending, however, Arisu and Usagi learn that they have simply passed the initial test — and now the games will be changing.

The Witch Hunt

The residents of the Beach believe that they are living in a safe zone of sorts ... that is, until the Beach itself becomes a game arena and everyone trapped inside is forced to take part in a literal witch hunt. Except, of course, they weren't "forced" into anything; rather, when Aguni (Shô Aoyagi) hears the rules of the game, he decides to cut the Gordian knot and simply start killing and burning people until the game ends, signifying that the "witch" is dead.

This is a Ten of Hearts game, however, which means that the solution can't be as simple as straightforward violence — or even as simple as overpowering Aguni and killing him. After dozens of Beach residents have already been killed, Arisu realizes that the game could have been won without a single act of violence, as the "witch," Momoka (Kina Yazaki), was a victim of suicide rather than murder. Just like the Seven of Hearts game that Arisu played earlier, which resulted in the deaths of his friends, the true agony of the witch hunt game lies in knowing that all of those deaths could have been avoided if the players had simply paused and approach the problem rationally.

Even more intriguing than the game itself, however, is the reason why Momoka killed herself. As the phone camera footage in the "Alice in Borderland" season finale reveals, Momoka and Asahi (Mizuki Yoshida) arrived in the Borderlands together and were recruited as "dealers" — players who secretly work for the game masters and perform various tasks, including setting up the games and sometimes playing in opposition to the other players (whether they want to or not). Dealers cannot warn the other players about their true nature, as Asahi demonstrates when she confesses to being a dealer and is immediately struck down by a laser beam to the head.

The witch hunt and the winning of the Ten of Hearts marks the conclusion of the Borderland players' hunt for all 40 numbered cards in the pack. At this point, Hatter  promised the residents of the Beach that he would ascend and be allowed to return to the normal world, and that each of them in their turn would be able to do the same. However, while Hatter's theory about the players being able to pool their cards to win the game turned out to be true, the part about the game being "complete" once all 40 numbered cards were won was rather off-base. In fact, all the remaining players have done is move up to the next level.

Who Is Mira, Really?

When Arisu, Usagi, and former Beach residents Kuina (Aya Asahina) and Chishiya (Nijirō Murakami) discover the underground lair from which the dealers and game masters were controlling everything on the surface, they're confronted by a familiar face: Mira (Riisa Naka), one of the elites of the Beach, who appears on the screens surrounding them to deliver a sweet and sinister congratulations. Yes, apparently Mira is herself a game master and was secretly living among the other players, closely monitoring them as they tried to survive the sadistic games of the Borderlands. 

We're going to reveal a minor spoiler from the manga now, so look away if you'd prefer to go into "Alice in Borderland" season 2 completely cold!

As Mira explains, the next step after collecting all 40 numbered cards is to collect all 12 face cards. Where the second stage of the games differs from the first, however, is that the face cards are actually represented by citizens of the Borderlands. In order to win the next set of games, players must compete against these citizens and take their cards from them. Mira is the Queen of Hearts, which means that Arisu, Usagi, and their allies can look forward to some serious emotional torture if they're to have any hope of defeating her in the next season.

Unanswered Questions

The biggest unanswered question hanging over "Alice in Borderland" at the end of season 1 is how, exactly, the citizens of the Borderlands were transported to this eerie copy of Tokyo, and where exactly it's located. Theories have been floated: perhaps they're living in a computer simulation and their real bodies are unconscious in a machine somewhere in the real world, or perhaps they've been abducted by aliens. The presence of the dealers explains away some of the logistics of how the games are set up and the arenas are cleaned up after each challenge, but things like the laser barriers and the wilderness surrounding the Borderlands on all sides are more difficult to explain away.

Ultimately the mystery of the Borderlands is less important than the goal of winning the games and getting home. The population of this strange new world is mostly made up of people who have survived at least their first few games, and are therefore both more useful as allies and more dangerous as enemies. In the first stage, the players were ultimately rewarded for working together, pooling their resources, and finding all 40 numbered cards. In the next stage, however, Arisu and Usagi might have to get their hands dirty in order to stay alive.

"Alice in Borderland" season 1 is available now on Netflix.