Death Stranding, Explained: Breaking Down the Complex Relationships, Mysteries, and Ending of Hideo Kojima's Sprawling Epic

Death Stranding, Explained: Breaking Down the Complex Relationships, Mysteries, and Ending of Hideo Kojima's Sprawling Epic

There's a lot to unpack in Kojima Productions' Death Stranding. That hasn't stopped us from having a crack at it.

Death Stranding is without a doubt a complicated story. Between BTs, BBs, the UCA and all manner of other acronyms, it can be difficult to follow Hideo Kojima's twisting narrative. That's why we put together this helpful explainer, which aims to answer all of Death Stranding's biggest questions.

Some of the topics we cover include the nature of Beaches; Amelie's intentions, and the purpose of beaches. We also get into the numerous relationships in Death Stranding. Because after all, Death Stranding is about connections.

Naturally, this article will include a ton of spoilers, so if you haven't finished Death Stranding yet, you might want to hold off. But if you have finished Death Stranding, or you're just curious, read on.

Here there are spoilers for Death Stranding!

The Death Stranding, Beaches, and Extinction Entities

Death Stranding's most indelible image is its Beaches. In Death Stranding, everyone has their own Beach, which is an otherworldly location that reflects one's personal beliefs. Beaches serves as a personal connection to another plane of existence, and they confer many benefits, including high-tech communication and even teleportation.

Beaches are not a constant; instead, Beaches manifest when a mass extinction is imminent, such as the one that killed the dinosaurs. When an extinction is near, a so-called Extinction Entity appears. In Death Stranding, Bridget/Amelie is the Extinction Entity, and she works to enact her plan from her Beach, which is inaccessible to all but Sam Bridges.

Amelie's main Beach. | Sony

Bridget/Amelie is a conflicted character. While she must necessarily bring about the end of humanity, she also cares deeply about America. She works tirelessly to create the chiral network, developed in part through Bridge Baby experiments, which is intended to connect America in ways that it's never been connected before. In the process though, she winds up bringing about the Death Stranding—an apocalyptic event that allows ghostly entities called BTs to enter our world.

BTs are those who have died and crossed over to the other world. Failing to cremate a body will result in the creation of a new BT. BTs are antimatter, and when they combine with the matter of our world, the result is voidouts, which are massive explosions that can wipe out whole cities. The Death Stranding has other consequences as well.. Some, like Sam, are able to return to life after dying. Others have DOOMs—a condition in which they are constantly affected by apocalyptic visions of the future, which is revealed to be the doing of Amelie.

When Death Stranding begins, much of humanity is gone, BTs infest the world, and a corrosive rain called Timefall hyper-ages everything it touches. Convinced that humanity's end is imminent, Amelie prepares for what you might call a mercy killing; a final Stranding in which a massive flood of BTs literally blow up the world. But deep down, Amelie doesn't really want the world to end, and she is willing to let Sam talk her out of her final plan.

President Bridget, Family, and Amelie: Mother and Daughter

Death Stranding opens with the introduction of Bridget Strand, the ailing president of the now-defunct United Cities of America and adoptive mother of Sam. Bridget has contracted cancer, and one of Sam's first deliveries is bringing morphine to her, a transparent ploy to get him in the room after an apparent falling out.

The UCA is in ruins and as Sam affectionately tells his maternal figure, she's the "president of jack shit." She dies soon after giving him the mission to go west. Amelie is left the presumptive heir and Sam rushes off to save his pseudo-sister and caretaker.

As we learn through flashbacks, Sam's connection with Amelie is much tighter, as the two often played on Amelie's beach when Sam was younger. It's not until later in the game that it's revealed that Amelie cannot possibly be Bridget's daughter, as Bridget contracted uterine cancer before she could have ever had Amelie.

Amelie's Beach can be a stunning thing. | Sony

The conspiracy grows until the big, less-than-shocking reveal. The two are essentially two halves of a singular whole: the "Ha" and "Ka," or body and soul, seperated. Amelie is stranded in her beach, unable to see the outside world without chiral connections, while Bridget grows older and dies.

Bridget pretended that Amelie was her daughter, and the two set about enacting their extinction plan via the UCA. (Oh, yes, they're also Extinction Entities. See the above blurb for more on that.) It seems that the two can survive without each other, as Amelie persists even after Bridget's body dies, so the Gotenks-style fusion of Lockne and Malingen is probably a good parallel.

As for how Sam fits in, there's more info in a below blurb about Sam's past, but the short version is that Bridget was responsible for Sam's death, after which Amelie brought him back with… well, I don't actually know what to call it besides "Beach magic?" Due to Sam's sudden Bruce Wayne-esque lack of parents, Bridget raises him.

Higgs and Fragile: Not That Fragile

The relationship between Higgs and Fragile is strained to say the least. At first in a post-apocalyptic America, the two entered into a partnership. Higgs, a mercenary, helped Fragile's appropriately-titled Fragile Express delivery care packages and aid to the various stranded outposts and separated cities throughout the nation.

Then came Amelie, the big bad. Amelie grants Higgs with supernatural powers of sorts (the powers themselves are left pretty mysterious), and tempts him to join the Dark Side of the extinction entity.

Corrupted by Amelie, Higgs begins setting plans in motion to secretly transport weapons and explosives via the Fragile Express, somehow without Fragile herself noticing. By the time Fragile realises that Higgs has turned to the Dark Side, a nuclear bomb has been detonated in South Knot City, under the name of the Fragile Express.

Higgs is the main antagonist of Death Stranding for a good while. | Sony

Her reputation forever tarnished by Higgs' betrayal, Fragile tries to discreetly remove a nuclear bomb planted by Higgs in another city, but is caught in the act. Higgs offers Fragile a choice: use her Beach to jump away to safety and save herself, or carry the nuclear weapon in her hands to a nearby crater where it can be safely disposed. There's just one catch: if Fragile wants to dispose of the bomb, she'll have to run through the Timefall rain, wearing very little in the way of clothing.

Fragile chooses the latter option, to save the city and dispose of the nuclear weapon, at the cost of her body being aged by the rain. Branded as "damaged goods" by Higgs and reviled by America for the previous nuclear detonation, Fragile swears revenge on Higgs, and teams up with a reluctant Sam to this end.

When Sam eventually defeats Higgs in combat, Fragile can't quite bring herself to pull the trigger on Higgs and murder him in cold blood. Instead, she offers Higgs a choice: live in eternal solitude on a Beach, or kill himself. Higgs chooses the latter option. Fragile's messy relationship with Higgs is at last concluded, and she comes away with her humanity and empathy intact.

Sam, Cliff, and the Deal With Bridge Babies: All in the Family

We'll start with Bridge Babies, which is pretty straightforward from the outset. Bridge Babies are technically unborn children taken from mothers who are in a persistent vegetative state. Their unique circumstances give them a connection to the afterlife, making them a useful tool for sensing BTs. Their connection to the afterlife also makes them an integral part of the chiral network needed to rebuild the United States. BBs are capable of growing up and becoming living children, but Bridges views them as tools, and will "retire" them before that happens (read: let them die and cremate them).

Sam gets a BB from a pretty unlucky guy early on in the story, and this BB becomes his partner throughout the game. Despite it being a fairly old BB who was scheduled to be retired (again, not good), Sam develops a bond with it, while also seeing visions of a mysterious man every time he plugs into its pod.

How could you not love this little guy. | Sony

These visions become more and more vibrant, and soon a chiral storm attacks Sam and whisks him seemingly back in time to World War I. As Sam slowly discovers, this is the Beach of Cliff Unger, a former special forces soldier who attacks with a troop of undead soldiers. Sam presumes this to mean Cliff is a vengeful spirit who wants to steal his BB, but it is later revealed that Cliff is actually looking for Sam. Sam is Cliff's son.

Long ago, Cliff and his comatose wife, Lisa, signed a deal with the UCA to use their facilities. In the process, Sam became the first Bridge Baby. As Cliff soon discovered, thanks to a former comrade nicknamed Die-Hardman, he was going to lose both his wife and Sam. In a panic, he killed his wife and tried to escape with Die-Hardman's help, only to be thwarted by Bridges personnel.

Holding BB in the past, Cliff sees across time and is somehow able to talk to a grown-up Sam. But while this happens, Cliff is shot by Die-hardman on Bridget's orders. Of course, Cliff was holding his BB, Sam, and both die. Bridget panics, and on the Beach side of things, Amelie finds Sam and uses what can only be described as "Beach magic" to bring him back to life.

Skip forward to present day, and after a climactic bout with Amelie, Sam's BB has seemingly died. Carrying him to an incinerator for one last delivery, Sam decides to try plugging in one last time. Once he's hooked up, he sees all of what's happened to Cliff in a single burst, making the connection to Cliff in the past. In the future, Sam realizes that Cliff is his father, and his own BB is basically just an average, everyday BB. And then he makes a decision, which we describe below.

Mama and Lockne: Doomed Twins

The story of Mama and Lockne is one of the more confounding elements of Death Stranding. Early on, Mama resembles Q from James Bond, aiding Sam with technology from her lab. However, she is mysteriously unable to leave her lab, with the reason why being revealed in Chapter 4.

Mama, we learn, has a twin sister named Lockne. Before their falling out, Mama and Lockne were unusually close, even sharing a psychic connection. Lockne wanted to have a child, but was infertile, so Mama offered to be a surrogate mother for her sister. However, as she was preparing to give birth, a voidout occurred, burying Mama in rubble and killing her child.

Mama, the Bridges nickname of Malingen. | Sony

Her child manifests as a tiny BT that remains connected to her via a ghostly umbilical cord (and can even still feed). Mama, distraught, winds up severing her connection to her sister, leaving Lockne to assume that Mama has run off with her child. This leaves Lockne embittered and estranged from her sister.

After Sam finally learns the truth, Mama reveals that it's time for her child to go to the afterlife. She asks Sam to use a special knife to cut the umbilical cord, allowing her tiny BT to cross over to the other world. Thus freed, she reunites with her sister, then dies soon after.

There's one last wrinkle though. Mama's corpse doesn't manifest into a BT. This realization allows Sam and Heartman to begin investigating the nature of Extinction Entities, eventually leading them to the truth behind Amelie.

Die-hardman and Deadman: True Believers

These two make up the cornerstones of Bridges. Die-Hardman, as we later come to learn, has been serving former President Bridget Strand all along, even to the point at which he'd kill his former commanding officer, Cliff Unger.

Die-Hardman is President Strand's right hand man. He's the Director of Bridges, tasked with overseeing the reunification of the entire nation under the UCA banner. Die-Hardman is so strong in his convictions to Bridget Strand and America that he proposes for Amelie to take over the role of President after Bridget's passing. He's really there to act as Sam's commander throughout Death Stranding, and provide near-constant story reminders for why Sam needs to reconnect the nation so badly.

"I'm your Die-Hardman. | Sony

Deadman on the other hand, is self-described as "Frankenstein's monster." He's been made up from parts of the dead, and just as Hideo Kojima describes his body as being made up of "70% movies," Deadman's body is 70% comprised of parts of the dead. He's a bit of a weird and wacky character, steadfast in his devotion to Bridges, but not always trusting of Die-Hardman (and with good reason).

At first Deadman is discouraging of Sam's empathetic relationship with his BB, but he later comes to side with the "little one" in the pod. It's easy to first look at Deadman as just another corporate cog in the wheel that keeps Bridges turning, but he draws closer to Sam and BB throughout Death Stranding, helping Sam in any way he can towards rescuing Amelie, and then from saving the world from annihilation.

The Surprisingly (Mostly) Hopeful Ending

Death Stranding's finale is optimistic, but also tinged with darkness, With Amelie's true nature revealed, Sam travels to Amelie's Beach in an attempt to stop BTs destroying the world in a catastrophic Final Stranding. Amelie gives Sam a gun and offers him a chance to stop her, but doesn't say how. After some hesitation, Sam puts down the gun and embraces Amelie, which is enough to convince her to seal herself away in her Beach and contain the Final Stranding there.

Sam is seemingly left to wander the Beach alone, with no way to get back to the real world. But the friends he's made through his journey are looking for him, and they are ultimately able to pull Sam back. All is seemingly well: the UCA is connected and whole, with Die-hardman as its new president, and the Final Stranding has been averted. Still, this victory is tinged with darkness. After all, the UCA's chiral network was built in part through a whole host of dead babies, and in killing Cliff, Die-hardman showed the extent to which he is willing to compromise his morals.

Perhaps realizing this, Sam opts to strike out on his own. He sets out toward the incinerator to lay his BB to rest, who died while he was trapped on Amelie's Beach. However, instead of incinerating "Lou," Sam destroys his cufflinks, severing his connection with the UCA's chiral network. He breaks Lou out of its pod, in violation of direct orders, and attempts to resuscitate it. After several attempts, Lou comes back to life, surviving the transition from the pod into the real world and severing its connection with the other world. Sam and BB step out into the sunlight, a fresh, non-aging rain on their face, and look out towards the future.

The Full Story in Brief

In the 1990's, Clifford Unger and "John" are members of the U.S. Special Forces. Sent to Iraq, Kosovo, and other battlefronts, John is saved from death multiple times by Cliff, earning him the nickname "Die-Hardman." The pair return home to the U.S., but fall out of touch, with Cliff marrying and having a child.

Mads Mikkelsen as Clifford Unger. | Sony

The Death Stranding, an enigmatic, apocalyptic event, occurs in America. This coincides with the manifestation of Beaches, a personal link for everyone to the afterlife. Heartman's wife and child are killed in a Voidout (a gigantic explosion that occurs when a human comes into contact with a giant BT) and stranded on a Beach, with him resolving to search for them in the afterlife.

BBs are commissioned by the current President to better understand the Death Stranding. The President is then killed in a Voidout in New York City, but Vice President Bridget Strand keeps the BB experiments going in secret, despite the outcries from the American population.

Malingen and her twin sister, Lockne, decide that the former shall carry a baby made through the sperm of the latter's deceased husband. Malingen is caught in a Voidout, the unborn child she is carrying is killed, and she falls out of touch with Lockne.

Clifford Unger submits his comatose wife and unborn child to the BB research program. After realising that the research won't save his wife, Cliff is approached by John, who now works in security at Bridges, who provides him with a pistol and a window of opportunity to take BB and escape the facility.

The plan ultimately fails, and after murdering his comatose wife and taking BB out of the pod, Cliff is killed by John under orders from Bridget Strand. Cliff's child however is also shot and killed in the altercation, leading it to arrive on a Beach. Amelie finds the child and repatriates it, sending it back to the world of the living, where Bridget resolves to raise the child as her own, naming it Sam.

Many years pass, and America is ravaged by BTs and Voidouts alike, leading the vast majority of the remaining population to retreat underground into shelters, cut off from each other. Higgs, a mercenary, and Fragile, head of a delivery company named Fragile Express, enter into a partnership to deliver care packages all across America.

The Bridge Baby itself, just one of many. | Sony

Amelie, the extinction entity, recruits Higgs to her cause of destruction, bestowing him with supernatural powers. Higgs betrays Fragile, detonating a nuclear bomb that destroys South Knot City. Higgs then forces Fragile out into the Timefall rain if she wishes to prevent another nuclear bomb from detonating. Fragile prevents the bomb from detonating, but her body is permanently aged by the Timefall rain.

Amelie, Malingen, and Heartman all journey across America with Bridges, attempting to connect up cities under the 'United Cities of America' banner. Amelie is seemingly kidnapped by the Homo Demens, a seperatist faction that want nothing to do with the UCA, and held within a city on the West coast of America.

On the East coast of America, Sam is recruited by Bridges. On an initial disposal mission to take a necrotizing corpse away from Middle Knot City, the group of Bridges porters run into BT territory. The porters are all killed, and a massive Voidout occurs when one of them comes into contact with a huge BT, leading Middle Knot City to be destroyed in the blast.

Sam repatriates and returns to Bridges HQ, where he sees Bridget Strand before she passes away. Journeying to dispose of Bridget's corpse in a nearby incinerator, Sam holds off on disposing of the BB that accompanied him on the failed disposal mission earlier, choosing instead to save it and work with it as his own BB.

Die-Hardman, Deadman, and Bridges recruit Sam to travel west and save Amelie from the Homo Demens. Setting off on his journey, Sam meets Fragile, who wants revenge on Higgs for his past betrayal. Higgs attempts to kill Sam at Port Knot City with a powerful BT, but Sam manages to dispose of the monster.

The bond between Sam and Fragile is something special by the end of the game. | Sony

Journeying further west with Fragile, Sam meets Mama, AKA. Malingen. After getting to know her better, Mama persuades Sam to sever the umbilical cord that ties her to the unborn child that she lost during a Voidout, which is now a BT. Sam severs the bond between Mama and the unborn child. Escorting Mama to meet Lockne in Mountain Knot City, Mama passes away in Malingen's arms after the two reunite.

Lockne decides to take on Malingen's role in Bridges, and Sam journey west into the mountains to meet with Heartman. Explaining his unique situation where he dies every 21 minutes, Heartman then reveals he has found evidence of umbilical cords on five ancient species, including dinosaurs, from Earth's history.

Heartman theorises that there have been five extinction entities throughout the history of the Earth, bringing about both an ending and an evolution of the species that inhabited the Earth at the time. He further establishes that Amelie is herself an extinction entity, who will bring about the destruction of America as the sixth extinction entity if allowed to go unchecked.

Sam journeys further west across a huge tar belt, to the city where Amelie is being held captive. He is then confronted by Higgs, who has slaughtered the population of the city and is now supposedly holding Amelie captive. Sam faces off with Higgs in an intense fight, and the latter is ultimately defeated.

After his defeat, Fragile gives Higgs the option of living on the Beach in eternal solitude, or taking his own life. Higgs chooses the latter. Amelie is revealed to Bridges to be the extinction entity that Heartman deduced, and she will bring about the end of America through the sixth stranding.

Sam journeys back east to Bridges HQ, resolving to stop Amelie with Bridges. Entering Amelie's beach, Sam is given a choice: end the suffering of the world in the blink of an eye, or postpone the extinction event until the inevitable sixth extinction entity eventually arrives to destroy humanity. Sam chooses to postpone the extinction entity and leave the world to fight on, by embracing Amelie.

Booted back to his own Beach, and then to the real world, Sam reawakens surrounded by Bridges. BTs disappear, and the Timefall rain is no more due to the extinction entity being postponed. There is now no need for BBs any more, and Sam is ordered to transport his BB to the incinerator for disposal. Deadman hacks Sam's cufflinks before he leaves for the incinerator, telling him that the cufflinks can now be removed whenever he wishes.

While Sam burns his cufflinks in the incinerator to sever his link with Bridges, he decides to save BB from disposal. Instead, Sam removes BB from its pod, despite Deadman's previous warnings that there was a 70% risk of catastrophic failure in doing so. Linking up to BB one last time, Sam travels back in time to the facility on the day that Cliff was killed.

Cliff embraces Sam as his long lost son, before finding peace and abandoning his everlasting Beaches of war. Returning to the world of the living, Sam successfully revives BB, and the two set out into the newly restored America, leaving Bridges and civilization behind.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

Read this next

Smash Bros. Director Masahiro Sakurai Really Likes Death Stranding—With Caveats

Sakurai has enjoyed his time delivering packages and facing BTs.

Starting Screen | Why 2019 Is the Year I Decided To Stop Rushing Through Games

Some of us have been playing Death Stranding slowly, and it's far better for it.

Here's 7 Great Video Game Family Reunions Just in Time for Thanksgiving

From Dragon Quest 5 to Death Stranding, chew over these family-centered games while you eat turkey this year.

Report: Longtime Metal Gear Producer Kenichiro Imaizumi Departs Kojima Productions

One of Metal Gear Solid's guiding hands has reportedly left the building.

The Game Awards 2019 Nominations: Control and Death Stranding Among Top Nominees

And Smash Bros. gets some belated acknowledgement.

More Opinions

25 Years Ago, Breath of Fire 2 Was My First Journey to Kill God, and It Was Good

Even the world's worst translation can't destroy a good yarn about slaying the Lord.

"I Can Pretty Much Become Way Worse Than Gordon Ramsay"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan would like to be seen as the "Asian Steve Jobs" but comes off more like "a jerk selling light-up mice."

Starting Screen | Why 2019 Is the Year I Decided To Stop Rushing Through Games

Some of us have been playing Death Stranding slowly, and it's far better for it.

Checking in on FIFA 20 for Black Friday: Does It Hold Up?

We enjoyed FIFA 20 during review, but is it worth picking up on Black Friday? We check in on EA's soccer sim.

More on PlayStation 4

Kairi Joins the Battle in Kingdom Hearts 3's Re Mind DLC, Out Next Month

A leaked trailer shows off new playable characters, additional exploration of Scala ad Caelum, and more.

The Elder Scrolls: Legends is "On Hold" at Bethesda

Bethesda's collectible card game is getting put in storage for the foreseeable future.

The Making of Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, Part 5: Fin

Yacht Club Games concludes their deep dive into Specter of Torment's design!

Wargroove Developers Respond to Criticisms of Whitewashed Voice Cast

"We want to be honest about what happened."

Disco Elysium: Where to Find Your Clothes and Shoes

We show you where to find all your clothes in the Whirling-in-Rags hostel.

More Action Games

Kairi Joins the Battle in Kingdom Hearts 3's Re Mind DLC, Out Next Month

A leaked trailer shows off new playable characters, additional exploration of Scala ad Caelum, and more.

"beYOOOOOOOW Beyowwwwwwww:" The Story Behind Sony's Iconic PlayStation Opening Chime

The music that defined a generation. Oh and Nirvana, I guess.