You have to do a lot of work to get the third, final ending in the latest Batman game. But the scene that plays out as a reward for completing 100 per cent of Arkham Knight is... unclear. So, of course, people are debating what it really means.
The sequence unlocked after defeating Scarecrow, the Arkham Knight's army and all those Riddler puzzles is an ambiguous epilogue to all the drama that precedes it.
WARNING: Huge story spoilers follow for Batman: Arkham Knight's story, including the 100 per cent ending.
In the final chunk of Arkham Knight's story campaign, Batman's secret identity is revealed to the world at large and the Dark Knight tells Alfred to activate the Knightfall Protocol.
The cutscene (via the RabidRetrospectGames YouTube channel) below shows what happens when players do everything to be done in the game. The Knightfall stinger is essentially the third ending of Arkham Knight.
Pretty severe, right?
The first ending concludes when you lock the Joker hallucination away in Bruce Wayne's head. That's followed by the showdown with Deathstroke after he assumes command of the Arkham Knight's forces, once the Knight's had an ultimate reckoning with Batman. Having completed that, players see Bruce Wayne going back to Wayne Manor and getting caught in an explosion that destroys his family home. A 100% completion unlocks the cutscene that starts with Jim Gordon.
Let's remember that Arkham Knight is a video game based off of a superhero comic-book character. That pretty much means you're practically obligated not to trust what you're seeing. Add to that truism the fact that the game frequently uses a psychoactive hallucinogen and the fan theories start flying. Players all over are talking about what the final stinger in the 100% ending cutscene means. The theories largely break down into a few different categories:
(Hover over the top left of each image and click on the magnifying glass icon to expand it.)
Bruce Wayne Isn't Dead and He's Become a Different Version of Batman
Batman doesn't kill, which makes the apparent double suicide that happens when Wayne Manor blows up highly unlikely. Faking his own death is just the kind of strategic mindfuck that Batman employs from time to time, so it doesn't seem entirely out of character here.
This theory gets more weight from some of the lines of dialogue that pop up at the end of some of the game's sidequests. Here's the ending of the Penguin questline, for example.
Similar notes are struck in Batman's goodbye to Catwoman, too, after beating the Riddler.
Some people also speculate that Batman himself might be using Scarecrow's fear toxin as a new weapon in his war on crime. He's used villains' innovations before after all, as shown in the games when he integrates Mr. Freeze and The Electrocutioner's technology for cryo-grenades and high-voltage attacks.
Jim Gordon Is Using Fear Gas On Gotham's Criminals
If it's not Batman using Scarecrow's evil hallucinogen, then it could be one of his surviving allies. Part of the cutscene above has Jim Gordon — who becomes Gotham's mayor after the events of the game — pondering how Batman used fear to keep criminals in check.
Gordon refers to both Bruce Wayne and Batman as having been killed and being dead, which indicates that he hasn't heard from him.
Bruce Wayne Is Dead and Someone Else Is Batman Now
There's lots of precedent for this in The Dark Knight's publishing history, where either serious injury or supposed death has led to someone else assuming the role of Gotham's protector. In the comics, Dick Grayson — Batman's first sidekick who operates as Nightwing — took over after it looked like his mentor had died. The Azrael sidequest in Arkham Knight is a reference to the Knightfall comics storyline where another version of that character became a more vicious version of Batman. But, given that Batman spends the majority of the game waging an inner conflict with a Joker hallucination that wants him to kill, it seems unlikely that he'd end Alfred's life along with his own.
The Knightfall ending is intentionally ambiguous, designed to hint that Batman's legacy will continue even if Bruce Wayne is dead. The game only teases the possibility of someone taking up the mantle of the Bat after Bruce dies or disappears. Arkham Knight creators Rocksteady have said before that this game is the end of a trilogy and their next project has not been announced. It'd be silly to think that there won't be more Batman games. But the Dark Knight's next video game may not be picking up where this one leaves off.