The Alan Wake ending is likely to leave you scratching your head, as like much of the storyline it's cryptic and difficult to explain, favoring narrative and emotion over simple reason and logic. If you're not sure what actually happened then the conclusion probably isn't going to leave you satisfied, however there is an explanation for the final cutscene sequence of Alan Wake that will hopefully clear things up, so we'll run through that below in detail.
It should go without saying, of course: major spoilers ahead! We’ll be discussing the Alan Wake ending in detail and referring to events both back and forth through the game. Read on at your own risk.
What happens in the Alan Wake ending?
The final sequence of the Alan Wake ending has Alan willingly jump into the lake to save Alice, who was taken by the Darkness much earlier. It’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of what happens here was made to occur by Alan himself, when he wrote his book/prophecy during the week-long blackout at the start of the game.
But because Alan needed to create art that he believed in, that had some narrative strength and realism, he couldn’t just write “and they all lived happily ever after with free cake.” It wouldn’t feel like an honest ending to what’s been a very dark story. So while a lot of what happens doesn’t make logical sense, it does feel appropriate by the standards of a written story.
This power is how Alan uses the Clicker (the little trinket from his childhood) to destroy the Dark Presence and Barbara Jagger. Because he wrote in his story earlier that it had that specific power, it now does. However, Alice is still trapped in the alternate dimension known only as the Dark Place, and after beating Jagger, Alan goes to save her. This is where things get tricky.
Why is Alan Wake trapped?
Alan Wake is trapped in the Dark Place, the shadowy dimension with a doorway deep in Cauldron Lake. The Dark Place has the power to turn artistic creations into reality, and is the origin for the evil Dark Presence that torments you throughout the game.
Alice is taken by the Dark Presence to that dimension at the beginning of the game, and Alan writes an escape for her, in which he dives in, defeats the Darkness and gets her back to the real world, not to mention seemingly cancelling out all of the Dark Presence’s influence on Bright Falls. However, because of the limitations of this writing power, mentioned above, Alan’s ending means that he’s trapped in the Dark Place himself, presumably because he couldn’t write a completely happy ending that he found artistically convincing.
This means that Alan Wake ends with Alan choosing to trap himself in the Dark Place. He finishes Departure, the book he’s spent the whole game writing, and ends both the written and playable stories in one go. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no more to follow or be explained.
“It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean” explained
The very last line of Alan Wake is a deeply cryptic one, with no clear explanation as to what it means. As far as we know, Remedy has never commented on the exact meaning, leaving it wholly up to interpretation until further information is available.
It’s possible that Alan means that the Dark Place is far larger than he first realised, either in size or power, or that he’s admitting he’s not likely to escape, as the scale of what he’s up against is so massive. Or perhaps it’s intended as an obscure teaser or hint of what might come in future Remedy games? The developers originally stated that there wouldn't be an Alan Wake 2, though we now know that's coming soon, and the character does feature in AWE, the second Control DLC, with a great many implications that we’ll see him again in the now-confirmed sequel. Not only that, but we have some hints as to what he’ll be doing owing to the original game’s DLC.
What happened in the Alan Wake DLC?
The two downloadable story expansions for Alan Wake, The Signal and The Writer, both carry on Alan’s story somewhat, explaining in greater detail what he experiences in the Dark Place. In both expansions he’s confronted with unstable or dangerous aspects of his own personality manifested into other beings by the Dark Place’s power. Alan defeats them - or rather, becomes whole with them - and the stories conclude with him starting to write a new story that will enable him to escape, titled “Return.” However, because he's only starting that story, we don't know if he's going to be successful, only that he's trying.
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