This article contains spoilers for both Army of Thieves and Army of the Dead.
If you ever wondered what brought Ludwig Dieter to zombie-infested Las Vegas, Army of Thieves has the answers. The Army of the Dead prequel not only serves as an origin story for Ludwig (Matthias Schweighöfer) but also as an introduction for a whole host of new narrative possibilities for Netflix’s fledgling cinematic universe. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Army of Thieves become its own spin-off series if the first movie does well on the streaming service.
While Zack Snyder isn’t in the director’s chair this time around, the prequel does fill in a few blanks about Army of the Dead that will be of interest to fans of the original zombie movie. Here’s how the ending of the heist film leads to Sin City…
Why did Gwendoline sacrifice herself?
There was only one way that Ludwig and Gwendoline’s budding romance could end. When we meet Ludwig in Army of the Dead, he’s already running solo in Las Vegas, therefore the final minutes of Army of Thieves must explain why Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) is no longer with him when Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) approaches him in Sin City.
After almost two hours of being two steps behind the master criminal, loser Interpol agent Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) finally catches up with Gwendoline and her gang of quirky bank robbers. First, he catches genius hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee) who is forced to give up the location of Gwendoline’s getaway boat to secure her little brother’s future (the reason she’s become a wanted criminal in the first place). That allows Delacroix to get the jump on Gwendoline before she can escape with Ludwig and all of the stolen money.
Knowing she’s reached the end of the line, and at the wrong end of Delacroix’s gun, Gwendoline offers to cut a deal with the agent. She’ll surrender to Interpol, but only if Delacroix lets Ludwig go. She says that Ludwig isn’t really a part of the operation, that he’s a “nobody.” It’s as much a way to distance Ludwig from the crimes they have committed together as it is to push the safecracker away from her. Ending their love affair before it truly begins is the only way to keep her new beau safe.
Delacroix agrees to the deal, deciding that he “never saw” Ludwig when he caught Gwendoline. That is how Ludwig ends up as the last thief standing, and with lots of money to his name, and why none of his comrades join him on his trip to America.
Why did Ludwig move to Las Vegas?
But why does Ludwig choose to go to Vegas of all places? After all, the city lies in ruins after the zombie outbreak forced the U.S. military to close the strip down. Earlier in the movie, Ludwig even had nightmares about the undead that now roam the streets of Sin City. Why would he move closer to those flesh-eating monsters?
Well, it all goes back to Ludwig and Gwendoline’s dream of cracking every vault in the mythical Ring Cycle. Remember, it’s four vaults, and Ludwig and Gwendoline only managed to break into three of them by the end of the movie. The final one, the legendary Götterdämmerung, just happens to be the vault that Scott Ward and his team need to break into in Army of the Dead. Yes, Ludwig’s journey was always meant to end in Bly Tanaka’s casino. By joining Ward’s squad, Ludwig can finally crack the final Ring Cycle vault and honor Gwendoline’s sacrifice.
The fact that all of these vaults tie back to Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) does beg the question…
Did Bly Tanaka mastermind the events of Army of Thieves, too?
Wealthy casino owner Bly Tanaka seems to be the villain that hangs over the entire Army of the Dead universe. In Snyder’s movie, Tanaka is the client who hires Scott Ward and a squad of mercenaries to recover the millions of dollars sitting inside a Las Vegas casino vault (the Götterdämmerung), but he has ulterior motives. The casino mission is just a distraction for the real objective: acquire alpha zombie DNA and sell it to the U.S. Department of Defense, which plans to create its own army of super zombies (hence the title of the movie).
“Greedy rich guy puts others in harm’s way for his own financial benefit” sounds like a simple enough yarn to follow, right? Well, some fans have speculated that there’s even more to it than that. What if Tanaka is actually the Devil?
Omari Hardwick’s Vanderohe says it best when he suggests to Ludwig and Guz (Raul Castillo) in Army of the Dead that their team could be stuck in a time loop, cursed to repeat their failed heist over and over for all eternity: “Think about it: us. I mean, look at them, it’s us,” Vanderohe says to Dieter and Guz after they encounter a group of corpses outside the vault that look almost exactly like members of their team who are still alive at that point in the movie. “It could be us in another timeline, and we’re caught in some infinite loop of fighting and dying, fighting and dying, fighting and dying. And Tanaka? Puppet master, Devil, God. And we — you, me, Guz, and the rest of the team — simply pawns in some perverse play where we’re destined to repeat our failures. And finally, in some mind-bending, ironic reveal, it all begins again.”
There are definitely several clues sprinkled throughout the film that suggest Vanderohe’s time loop theory is actually fact. We go into much more detail about this here. But to bring it all back to Army of Thieves, that the money kept in the vaults in the movie belongs to Tanaka suggests that he’s a mastermind who’s been playing a long game with each member of Ward’s team.
Or maybe this is just supposed to be a fun little easter egg. Your choice.
Did Ludwig survive Army of the Dead?
The question Army of Thieves doesn’t answer about Ludwig is the biggest one of all: did the master safecracker survive the events of Army of the Dead? Those viewers hoping that Thieves would end with an epilogue set during Army of the Dead got their wish, but it’s more like a deleted scene that shows the first time Ludwig met Scott and Maria (Ana de la Reguera). The fate of Ludwig remains a bit of a mystery for now.
“But Zeus clearly killed the dude!” you might be yelling. Well, yes, that’s definitely the most likely outcome of Ludwig’s valiant sacrifice to save Vanderohe at the end of the movie. The last time we see him, Zeus is about to have his way with him just as the vault door closes, but we never actually watch him die on screen. Plus, even Snyder isn’t so sure Ludwig is dead.
“We don’t see him die on camera, and there’s still some time left,” Snyder said of Ludwig’s fate in an interview with Inverse. “I won’t tell you what happens in Army of the Dead 2 — aka Planet of the Dead — but let’s just say that there’s a chance Dieter survives.”
Indeed, since Army of the Dead spends so much time showing how so many other members of the team die, an off-screen exit for Ludwig could mean anything. Maybe he manages to slip away at the last minute?
Either way, we’ll have to wait for Planet of the Dead to get those answers.
Will there be an Army of Thieves 2?
While Army of the Dead 2 is definitely happening, there’s no indication that Army of Thieves will get a sequel, too. That said, the six-year time gap between the prequel and the original is big enough that Ludwig could have theoretically had more adventures in Europe before heading to Las Vegas. Maybe he hatched a plan to free Gwendoline? Or perhaps he robbed a few more banks?
If he survived the events of Army of the Dead, that could also mean Army of Thieves 2 could take place after the events in Las Vegas, following a seasoned criminal who now longs to reunite with the love of his life in a European countryside. The point is that we’d love to see Ludwig and Gwendoline reunited in a sequel!
Army of Thieves is out now on Netflix.