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Death Stranding Analysis – What Does It All Mean?

At this year’s Game Awards, visionary game creator Hideo Kojima treated us with some new footage from Death Stranding. That makes the third trailer in just two years and we still have no answers as to what to really expect in the final game. Yet, these trailers are so thought provoking it’s hard to come to a conclusion on anything we see. Kojima himself has famously stated "the game" really begins upon release of the first trailer as everyone figures out what’s going on. So - let "the game" begin.

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean?

Life And Death Stranding

First of all let’s start off with the obvious. Of course, that itself could be an understatement as nothing is obvious when it comes to the game Kojima has always wanted to make. The title, Death Stranding, is in reference to something that happens in the real world. 

As we can see in the image below, Norman Reedus stands alone in front of many washed up sea creatures, apparently dead. When this happens in reality it is known as a death stranding, whereas sealife washed up ashore that is still alive is known as a life stranding. This is very important when dealing with the overarching theme of the game. That being – the transition between life and death. In turn, if you believe in such things, they lead back around to rebirth. This is something we’ll cover in more depth in the next point.

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - A true death stranding

However, with this idea of being dead and washed up somewhere you don’t belong rings true in the case of Norman Reedus’ debut appearance in the first trailer. As we know, he is naked for the entirety of the trailer. This gives off imagery of rebirth as, of course, we’re not born clothed. We also know Reedus will eventually come into possession of power armour at some point in the game. But Kojima wanted us to understand that Reedus is not like Kratos from God of War. He’s not imbued with powers and certainly not empowered against his foes. So Kojima made sure this was apparent as soon as we saw him. We’ll also come back around to the stitches in his stomach. 

Playing With Death…And Rebirthspawn

Those familiar with Hideo Kojima’s previous works will know that he is a master of subverting established gaming norms. We were all blown away when Kojima bent the rules of our original PlayStations, bringing Psycho Mantis into Metal Gear Solid. He messed with our game saves, our controls, the imagery on the screen… Kojima really made us feel our copy of Metal Gear Solid was broken. Knowing full well he could have lost players over the infamous Psycho Mantis scene but… Breaking the fourth wall of gaming is what he does best. 

In the case of Death Stranding, Kojima wants us to know that life and death is cyclical. When Norman Reedus is sucked into these trans-dimensional beings’ world, it appears he follows a limited ruleset by which they exist. Several clues for this can be found in the latest trailer. The most obvious of which is when Reedus is floating underwater (naked again, as if in a state of rebirth), only to wake up with renewed life. (Yes he is clothed this time, which puches a small hole in my logic, sure)

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - Rebirth from purgatory

When Reedus’s squadmate is apparently lifted up and captured by the invisible enemy, he violently tries to stab himself to death. His wristband going from green to red (supposedly indicating his vitals) would suggest the man is counting on death as way out from what would otherwise be a grizzly fate. It looks like a grim decision to make but one where he is left with little choice. 

The final clue relating to Kojima’s attitude to death and rebirth can be found again in the third trailer. Reedus’ third unfortunate squadmate, crushed underneath their vehicle eventually gets dragged away by the invisible enemy. The second squadmate, who we already know will kill himself later to “escape” then shoots this man in the head. At first glance, this would appear to be a mercy killing. Yet, taking into consideration how this man desperately wants to die later, perhaps knowing he will “respawn” elsewhere, flesh renewed and intact – this shot to the head could mean so much more. He gives Reedus a thumbs up, as if to suggest “yes, we're safe”. After all, the strange creatures seem to disappear as soon as the man dies. Lastly, this is not the last time we see a thumbs up in this trailer…

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - You're good to go

A fun fact about all this is that Kojima has apparently confirmed his fascination with life and death and how it gets incorporated into Death Stranding in an interview with IGN. They have stated: 

“From what Kojima told us, here's how it sounds — when you’re ready to return to the world of the living, you can get back into your body. However, unlike most games which set you back to a point before you died, Death Stranding acknowledges your defeat, and seems to even embrace it. You’re transported back to the world after your death — like in Dark Souls or roguelikes — where your actions maintain an aura of persistence. The mechanic of “dying” is ubiquitous in video games, but it sounds as though Kojima is implementing systems inspired by purgatory and reincarnation as well.”

Babies And Why They’re Important

The persistent theme of death is found not just in the characters but also in the odd world of Death Stranding. As the third trailer begins, we see plantlife wilting to death in seconds. Death surrounds Norman Reedus in the first trailer and Guillermo Del Toro is stalked by reanimated corpses in the second trailer.

What confirmed the “test tube babies” importance for me was looking back on the second trailer in hindsight of the third. Del Toro knows he’s in hostile territory. In such close proximity to reanimated soldier corpses and building up the strength to enter a dark tunnel, he clutches the baby to his chest. Yes, it’s important and he believes he will need it to “respawn”, just as Reedus does in third trailer, in case he meets his demise in the tunnel. 

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - A chance at life

From a symbolic standpoint, it would be easy to suggest Kojima is trying to make a backhanded metaphor for climate change – the whole idea of killing the world. A fresh baby is representative of new life and as such, a symbol of hope for our desperate characters. A little like how birth is treated in Children of Men.

This revelation on the baby’s importance to these characters also helps us to understand the first trailer a little better. We see Reedus desperately clutching the baby, only for it to disappear. As we know from the third trailer, as part of the “respawn” process, the baby ends up… inside Reedus. Yet Reedus’ stomach is now sewn together as if it has been removed and his lifeline – this baby – is now invisible, crawling away from him. To me this suggests the enemy – the trans dimensional beings – has finally figured out how Reedus and co. have been coming back all this time and have deemed to take the power of rebirth away from him. 

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - Life's chance lost
Which would explain a lot of the crying. Sheer devastation that this would now be the final lap and there would be no coming back this time around. Which also suggests the first trailer is based near the end of the Death Stranding story as, in the third trailer, Reedus does not seem to have his dogtags or the scars from the stitches as he gets reborn. 

Oh and the dogtags are super important. 

Messing With Time And Space

Being caught between the end of the world and trans dimensional monsters can lead to some pretty mind boggling stuff. Of course, it’s the idea of “coming back” that is made possible by bending the rules of the space/time continuum. Heavy stuff… but it’s all there on Reedus’ dogtags – the only thing allowed to remain on his person after supposedly being kidnapped by the enemy, baby removed.

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - Space and time, real world physics

Sharp eyed fans online noticed a hi res image of Reedus wearing the dogtags. On them, we can see the Dirac Equation and the Schwarzschild Radius (I’ll let you do the Google search on those) which both relate to real world mathematical equations for time and space. After piecing all of this together, it’s clear to see that Reedus and other characters are trapped in an anomaly of time and space, at the mercy of these trans dimensional creatures. What their intentions and motivations are remain unclear but they definitely seem to be the ones in charge here. It’s what allows them to float in the sky, to turn invisible and seemingly reset the Death Stranding world, throwing our characters into disarray yet again. 

Although there is one of these trans dimensional beings that stands out from the rest. No I do not mean the massive, wire controlling being that apparently kills Reedus in the third trailer. 

Mads Mikkelsen’s Involvement

We first saw Mads Mikkelsen in Death Stranding at the end of Del Toro’s panicked escape from… something. In it, he was shrouded in darkness with a sinister grin. He controlled reanimated soldiers, long dead, into the direction of our panicked Del Toro. Ultimately – he was framed as a villain. We also assumed he was human.

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - Man or creature?

Yet the third trailer has us asking more questions about Mikkelsen’s role in Death Stranding. Just before Reedus experiences rebirth in the third trailer, we see a giant colossus in the sky, its hands controlling great stretching cables. The very same kind of cables apparently connected to Reedus while he is presumably dead at the bottom of the ocean, waiting for rebirth. It all ties strongly into Kojima’s messing about with life and death, invoking imagery of umbilical chords. Of course, Mikkelsen is connected to his soldiers with similarly sentient cables. 

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - Master of the puppets

Which can easily lead to theories of whether Mikkelsen is human at all. Perhaps these beings who can control time and space can also choose to take on a human form to mess with their victims. Raising more questions, when he floats onto Reedus’ overturned vehicle in ghostly fashion, he and his squadmate seem relatively unphased. This ghostly character has similar gear to our unfortunate squad, as if to imitate them. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery. So could Mikkelsen be a trans dimensional being, rebelling against the will of his friends? I ask this as he doesn’t seem to be hostile in the third trailer.

Oh I’ve assumed this is Mikklesen for the one reason, found in the below image. That instructional hand movement though…

Death Stranding Analysis - What Does It All Mean? - The nebulous command

Our Minds Are Now Truly Boggled 

With still plenty to think about, I hope I have at least taken you from a state of pure confusion to one of a little more curiosity. Plenty of questions remain. Is Mikkelsen friend or foe? Will we ever see Reedus’ squad again? What is the ultimate goal to escape this groundhog day hell? Most importantly – what is the gameplay going to entail? These are questions I have seen frustrating countless commenters on YouTube to the point of calling the game a stupid marketing stunt. 

They could not be any further from the truth. This is Hideo Kojima we’re talking about. There’s still no release date for Death Stranding but sources from within Kojima Productions report that the game is in a playable state at present. What do you think of all that you have seen and read about Death Stranding? Think I’m onto something? Or perhaps I’m way off the mark. Either way, I hope you’re excited as I am for release day as I believe this game will make a firm stamp upon the games industry’s history.

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