Joker Card Meaning in Alice in Borderland, Explained

Image Credit: Kumiko Tsuchiya/Netflix

Netflix’s ‘Alice in Borderland’ is primarily a faithful adaptation of the manga series of the same name by Haro Aso. The plot revolves around a group of individuals who find themselves in a strange version of Tokyo and are forced to participate in deadly games for survival. These games are represented by a deck of cards. The four suits of cards stand for four types of games, with hearts referring to psychological, clubs to teamwork, spades to physical, and diamonds to intelligence. The card’s number denotes the corresponding game’s difficulty — the higher the card, the more difficult the game.

In the first season, the players predominantly deal with numbered cards. In season 2, they contend against the citizens/residents of this world representing the face cards. However, one card remains glaringly missing throughout both seasons — the Joker. Just as the second season comes to an end, it makes its first appearance. Here is everything you need to know about the Joker card. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Significance of the Joker Card 

In the final scene of the second season, the camera shows various people who have finally returned to the old world, happily interacting with each other and their loved ones outside the hospital where they are housed after the meteorite disaster. As the camera focuses on a table, it seems that people were playing cards there and just left. A gust of wind appears out of nowhere and blows away most of the cards, leaving only the Joker behind.

To understand what the Joker card represents in ‘Alice in Borderland,’ we must figure out what the Borderlands actually are. When the meteorite exploded over Tokyo and caused massive damage, it left several people on the verge of death, including Arisu, Usagi, and others. As they later learn, they suffered cardiac arrests and were clinically dead for some time.

The Borderlands serve as the boundary between life and death. This is where people who are clinically dead or undergoing a near-death experience arrive. They play the games for the chance to return to the world of living or become a citizen of the Borderland. If they fail, they die in the mortal world. If they succeed in returning, they don’t retain any memory of the Borderlands.

The Joker card represents an entity that is not necessarily human. They are likely the rulers of the Borderlands. In the original manga, Arisu encounters the Joker just as he is about to leave the Borderlands. The readers see them as an entity shrouded in darkness. The Joker asks Arisu whether they look like God or the Devil. Although Arisu doesn’t say it aloud, he thinks that the Joker seems neither but just the ferryman who helps the dead cross the Sanzu River. In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, the Sanzu River serves almost the same role as Vaitarani in Hinduism or the River Styx in Greek mythology, making the Joker a Charon-like figure.

As the season ends by focusing on the Joker card, it’s probably safe to speculate about a potential season 3, where this particular aspect of the story can be further explored. Aso created other manga stories set in similar worlds, including ‘Alice in Borderland: Retry,’ a direct sequel to ‘Alice in Borderland,’ where Arisu is forced to return to the Borderlands. If season 3 does indeed happen, they will probably incorporate the Joker’s story into an adaptation of ‘Retry’ or ‘Alice on Border Road,’ another manga by Aso.

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