The Eight of Swords finds our protagonist, Ash Gravedust, in a nightmare of his own construction from which there appears to be no escape. He’s run from his problems as far as his feet can carry him, creating even more problems along the way, and now his enemies have him outnumbered, surrounded and without hope of mercy.
The Unresolved Past Will Eventually Catch Up
On one side, he is confronted with the reanimated corpse of his former bounty hunting partner, Ryuichi Mishima, reborn as the much stronger and more skilled Zombie Red whose sole purpose is extracting slow, painful revenge on Ash. Zombie Red is representative of Ash’s first major betrayal since Ash was responsible for abandoning Mishima to succumb to the Virulent Red virus that transformed him into an undead monster. Behind Zombie Red, we see the spectral remnants of Ash’s true love submissively entwined with the woman who seduced her. These phantoms are representative of a betrayal committed upon Ash but are also a result of his own actions or lack thereof. His self-obsession and neglect left his paramour unsatisfied, so she sought solace in the arms (and, in this case, legs) of a more attentive lover. Together, Zombie Red and the lesbian spectres embody the past that haunts Ash; a past from which he has frantically run even in the underworld. Though they terrify him, he created them.
The Truth May Not Be What You Want But It’s What You Need
On the other side, we see representatives of House Swords who have captured and detained Ash’s former savior, the sword prodigy Alexis Montclaire. Alexis, a scourge of the violent Knights of Swords had originally saved Ash from Zombie Red when he was overwhelmed and nearly murdered by his old colleague. Despite Alexis’s selfless actions, Ash’s building fear of his past phantoms found him stealing her sword of truth and running off in the night, leaving her defenseless and easily captured by the Page of Swords and his men. Ash used his guile and charm to get his hands on Alexis’s sword of truth after his own was lost in a battle to Zombie Red’s sword of doubt and fear. But as Ash is about to find out as he clutches his newly acquired sword of truth, the truth can be hard to handle.
A Snare of Our Own Design
Still, he must embrace this truth. His last chance at making it out of this situation is currently stood before him, bound in chains resulting from his lack of faith. Alexis smiles sadly at the man that she saved only for him to turn around and betray her at his first opportunity. As for the Page of Swords and his knights, they still recognize Ash as an enemy of the crown due to his association with Alexis. Execution by sword is the law for treason. Though the Knights of Swords are typically a confused mess, slashing one another as often (if not more) than their enemies, the Page of Swords has found a way to manipulate their natural chaos to his benefit. Here, though their swords cross and clash, they do so in a manner that blocks Ash’s escape.
The Eight of Swords Offer Choices but Each with a Sacrifice
At some points in our lives, the horror of facing our problems finds us trapped in a tight situation. There is no longer any room to struggle free, no longer any time to wait; a decision must be made and either choice will certainly require a sacrifice. This is the essence of the Eight of Swords. At this point, Ash has only two options. He can do battle with the House of Swords in an attempt to free Alexis or he can attempt to vanquish Zombie Red and the spectres. Either way will leave him open to the attacks of the other. At this point, Ash knows something must be done but his course of action is not yet clear, symbolized by the wind blowing his ascot over his eyes (this is mirrored in the ribbons of Alexis’s bow). He cannot rely on his old ways as they are what landed him in this situation of bondage and restriction. Unlike the Two of Swords where Ash was immobilized by disbelief, here he fully understands the truth and depth of this nightmare and knows there is no easy way out. Though the Eight of Swords can easily leave someone with a negative connotation, these hard paths are necessary for growth and for a greater good.
The Saturation of Symbolism
A lot of previous symbols return in the Eight of Swords because it is a culmination of everything Ash has suppressed or avoided through deception, betrayal or a refusal to accept the consequences of his actions. We have the vultures, aerial servants of death, circling ominously in cloudy gray skies while blue lightning, both destructive and illuminating, flashes brilliantly against the darkness. An ancient haunted house with a roof in disrepair signifies Ash’s deterioration under the mental duress of guilt, self-doubt and fear. Behind Zombie Red, we see open tunnels leading into the dark depths of the mansion; passageways of further potential nightmares. The borders are decorated with bondage rings as symbols of the Eight of Swords’ restrictive nature. In the corners, we see four swords cornering an eyeball indicating that Ash’s eyes are open to the truth, even if it is an unpleasant one. Most of the symbolic swords seen in previous cards are arranged to block Ash’s path reminding us of his journey in which, while running away from the ghosts who pursued him, he actually ran deeper into the underworld until there was nowhere left to run. A crucial lesson that, until this point, has been refused must now be learned.