At last, Alice finds herself in the garden that she has so long sought to explore. Far from being a wild Eden, though, the garden is well cultivated and tended. And now Alice meets a whole set of new creatures — this time, several animated playing cards. Immediately, she finds out that the Spades are, of course, the gardeners. And in spite of the Eden-like appearance, the garden has an aspect of “fear” in the air. Alice overhears three gardeners — the Two, the Five, and the Seven — talking about the Queen’s threat to behead the Seven of Spades. They are painting the white roses red, an ominous color in view of their discussion.
Suddenly, the Queen and King of Hearts appear. They are followed by a suit of cards which represents the “royal retainers.” The Clubs are the “police,” the Diamonds are the “courtiers,” and the Hearts make up the royal “peerage.” The Queen sees Alice and the three Spade gardeners (who have thrown themselves flat on the ground so as to try and conceal their identity). The Queen asks Alice who the three cards are, and Alice replies tartly: “How should I know?”
This flippant answer throws the Queen into a rage; instantly she explodes with her infamous and beastly command: “Off with her head!”
“Nonsense,” says Alice, very loudly.
The frequency and roaring of the Queen’s threats reveal the terrible rule underlying the world of Wonderland. Execution, or the threat of execution, is indiscriminately announced — and canceled — in whimsical moments, with automatic reprieves. One may be sentenced to death without having committed a crime — indeed, without having received a verdict. In contradicting the Queen, Alice confronts the system of Wonderland directly, as a leading participant-actor; she is no longer a detached observer. Wonderland is now a world of cruelty, destruction, and annihilation, and Alice sees this, and already we can see the possibility of her emerging from it, smiling and unscathed.
The Queen orders the gardeners to be executed. Alice manages to save their lives, however, by hiding them in a flower pot. (Her fear seems to have been unfounded. The Gryphon tells her that nobody in Wonderland is ever executed.)
There is more humor in the subsequent scenes. Note, too, that Wonderland is a “Queendom,” instead of a Kingdom because the King is subordinate to the Queen. Now, familiar characters like the White Rabbit, the Duchess, and the Cheshire-Cat enter the croquet-garden. The croquet game again reverses the real-world division between life and inanimate objects as hedgehogs form the balls, the flamingoes the mallets, and the card-soldiers the hoops. The White Rabbit apprises Alice of her inherent danger in a whispered conversation. Even the Duchess, he says, is in jail under a sentence of execution for having boxed the Queen’s ears. Alice learns all this but she seems not to be intimidated. In the next scene, the Cheshire-Cat demonstrates the violently repressive regime of Wonderland.
Because the cat is impertinent to the King, it is sentenced to be beheaded. But only the cat’s head has materialized so the decapitation cannot be performed. The failed execution marks the slow disintegration of Wonderland in Alice’s estimation. Within the character of the cat, Alice recognizes a fair and open mind. But he is fair and open — only to a limited degree. She tries to explain to the cat that the croquet game doesn’t make sense because the game has “no rules.” The cat, however, replies in such non-sequiturs as “How do you like the Queen?” Clearly, the cat can no more understand a game with no rules than he can understand a world where cats could not disappear and reappear in thin air. Alice mistakes the Cheshire-Cat for a friend and someone with whom she can relate on a real-world, logical level. Her assumption is wrong.