Most games in Borderland are contained to one or two episodes to a specific time and place. But not the King of Spades’ murder rampage. The shadowy, armored figure has loomed large since the beginning of the season, showing up to take out no-name characters and separate our friends at the most inconvenient times. The entire cityscape is his arena, and he can strike anytime. For most of the season, our protagonists have been able to avoid him successfully, but they can’t avoid him forever if they want to end the games. So Arisu, Usagi, Kuina, Ann, Aguni, and Heiya give taking out the King everything they have.
But first, a more intimate showdown. In an overgrown Shibuya Crossing, Arisu, Niragi, and Chishiya meet again. These three have a lot of history together. It isn’t just Niragi that has done Arisu dirty. Last season, at the Beach, Chishiya used Arisu to get his hands on Hatter’s playing cards, leaving him tortured by the execs. But, unlike Niragi, perhaps Chishiya regrets it. Maybe the games he has played and the people he has met this season have changed him. Arisu seems to think so. When they meet again, he calls him “mellower,” a hilarious observation of someone who has never once had a strong external reaction.
Do you know who hasn’t changed? Niragi. At the beginning of the episode, we see him come across a man who slit his own throat in an attempt to die by suicide but who didn’t cut deeply enough. He’s slowly bleeding out in agony, and he asks Niragi to shoot him. Niragi pretends to consider it, aiming the gun before walking away. “I hope you suffer in agony until you die,” he tells the suffering man. What a guy! When he comes into Shibuya Crossing, he shoots Chishiya and goads Arisu and Chishiya into a shoot-out with him. Niragi doesn’t just want to kill people; he wants to make them suffer in the way he is suffering.
But Arisu and Chishiya are still changing, still learning who they are, and they will not fall into Niragi’s trap. “I won’t pull this trigger just to help myself,” Arisu says. And when Usagi wanders into the clearing and Niragi sees a way to make Arisu fight, Chishiya steps in front of the bullet meant for Usagi. “I wanted to do something uncharacteristic,” Chishiya tells Arisu and Usagi, remembering Arisu and Kuzuryu’s selflessness. He wants to be like that, even if it is only in his death. Niragi lies dying, too, shot by Arisu’s shotgun. Even now, Niragi isn’t ready to give up on how he sees the world: “If there were seven billion of me, then you’d be the ones who are evil.” Then, the King of Spades’ blimp shows up, and all ongoing death scenes are temporarily suspended in favor of an epic 25-minute fight to the death.
While Alice in Borderland may chiefly be a deadly competition dystopia, it incorporates many genres into its storytelling. The showdown with the King of Spades is a classic action-movie shoot-out. The King of Spades versus an epic team-up between Arisu, Usagi, Ann, Kuina, Aguni, and Heiya, with some assists from random players we don’t know. (Shout-out to the guy who hits the King of Spades with an exploding car.) It’s clear this show is nearing a conclusion because our protagonists take some potentially fatal hits in the brutal fight against the King of Spades. To lure the King into a drugstore where Arisu is setting up an explosive trap, Usagi, Ann, Kuina, Aguni, and Heiya use their bullets, arrows, and bodies in battle. The King of Spades keeps coming for them, shooting, stabbing, and pommelling most of our principal characters in increasingly brutal, visceral ways.
With his friends all dying in the alleyway outside, Arisu lures the King of Spades to the drugstore, where he lies in wait with a shit ton of released aerosol and the makeshift bomb courtesy of Chishiya (Chekvo’s bomb, if you will). But the King of Spades senses a trap and backs away from the drugstore door, and everything these characters sacrificed seems for naught. Enter Aguni, who has someone summoned enough life to tackle the King through the door and into the drugstore. He yells at Arisu to throw the bomb and jump out the window to save himself, but Arisu has expressly said he is done sacrificing others for his own survival. He grabs Aguni, crashes them both out the second-floor window, and throws the bomb into the drugstore.
It might be tempting to think of the King of Spades as some mythical figure, but in the end, he is just a human. Before Aguni delivers the final shot, in the rubble of the building, he looks Isao (the man behind the mask) in the eye. We see Isao’s flashback and see a brief, gutting scene (a war he fought in or taking down the former King of Spades?) that adds another layer when he could have been a throwaway villain. The King of Spades becomes complex by showing the similarities between Isao and Aguni, who made his own despicable choices. “This was the only way I knew how to save you,” Isao tells Aguni. To be clear, not a good excuse for murdering all of those people, but it does tell us something more about Isao. Like others, he sees Borderland as a kind of hellscape; killing players was a way of helping them escape the agony endured here. Or at least that was the twisted logic his brain developed to keep killing and survive. “I never once hated you,” Aguni tells him, pulling the trigger, ending Isao’s life, and clearing the game.
In the aftermath, Aguni considers killing himself, but the Hatter in his mind stops him. “I’m the one who wanted your forgiveness. For forcing my best buddy to take on such a shitty role,” Hatter tells him, suggesting that Aguni is finally starting to forgive himself for his role in his best friend’s death. He lies down to rest (notably, not against a tree), and a bleeding Heiya pulls herself to his arms. Ann and Kuina are together, too. They stare into one another’s eyes as they lie, bleeding on the ground. “If we meet again, let’s be friends,” Ann tells Kuina before she closes her eyes, seemingly for the final time. Arisu and Usagi don’t have time to mourn with their friends; they are still able-bodied enough to fight. Arisu brings a limping Usagi to the shiny, sunlit skyscraper where the Queen of Hearts, the final face card in the game, waits for them. It is Mira, and she is ready to play.
• This is standard action-movie rules, but people take a long time to die in this episode, even after getting shot or stabbed multiple times.
• Before the main action of this episode, we get a montage of players — including Ann and Kuina — clearing the other face cards. Tron-like dodgeball! Rope climbing in a massive atrium! Mahjong to the death! Players trapped in a labyrinth with what sounds like a big cat — has our panther friend been repurposed in stage two of the games?
• When Kuina asks Arisu and Usagi if they have seen Chishiya, they’re like, Yep, he’s totally fine! An interesting choice to skirt around the truth — that Chishiya is dying — presumably done to keep Kuina’s hopes up as they head into battle against the King of Spades.
• Aguni theorizes that the King of Spades gets his supplies — namely, rounds for his weapon — from his accompanying blimp. They lure him into an alley to cut him off from his source, which is both smart and a good world-building detail.