As much as Alan Wake 2 is about the Dark Place, evil doubles, and the mind-bending horror unfolding into reality, there’s also a cult involved in the plot. Cults are always intriguing to include in darker thrillers, and it’s especially paired well with the masterfully intense atmosphere the sequel builds. But is it all that it seems?
In Alan Wake 2, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how the creative team at Remedy wrote the Cult of the Tree into the plot. It becomes much more developed as the story progresses, so here’s every little detail there is to know about the cult.
Major spoilers for Alan Wake 2’s story below.
What Is The Cult Of The Tree’s Purpose?
When the Cult of the Tree is first introduced in Alan Wake 2, it immediately feels as menacing and ominous as the Los Iluminados cult from Resident Evil 4. There’s this sense that you should avoid it like the plague and not get caught in its crosshairs.
During the opening prologue, you see the cult perform a brutal ritual on an FBI agent named Nightingale, an important character in the first game, by cutting out his heart. His death at the hands of the cult is one of the central mysteries for investigators Saga Anderson and Alex Casey.
The cultists become as creepy of an enemy as the Taken throughout the story, donned in green raincoats and deer masks, with Blair Witch-style symbols of overlapping triangles hanging around their territory in the forest.
But here’s the kicker. The Cult of the Tree is not an actual cult.
It’s actually a very brave group of average everyday citizens of Bright Falls and the neighboring town of Watery who team up as “a secret neighborhood watch” to keep everyone safe from the Dark Presence and the Taken that emerge from Cauldron Lake.
Their reasons for referring to themselves as a cult and wearing such scary outfits and hanging ritualistic ornaments is to frighten people away from Cauldron Lake so they don’t put themselves in danger.
It’s quite a twist, and there’s even a comment from an NPC in Return 8 talking about how, in the novel Return, the cult subverts readers’ expectations. And as Ilmo Koskela puts it, “What kind of cult calls themselves a cult?”
Their ritual of removing the heart is also a necessary evil to ensure that someone who came from Cauldron Lake doesn’t turn into a Taken. Since the members couldn’t complete it on Robert Nightingale, he became a Taken boss that Saga had to defeat in the Witch’s Ladle Overlap.
What Are The Torchbearers?
The Torchbearers are what preceded the Cult of the Tree. They seem to be a much older organization that has known about the extradimensional properties of Cauldron Lake throughout the town’s history.
You can think of them in Assassin’s Creed terms. The Torchbearers existed as the Hidden Ones before becoming the Assassin Order, which is now currently the Cult of the Tree.
There’s not that much known about them, aside from another brief mention of them in the Dark Place. You can assume, however, that the tradition of removing the heart to prevent someone from being a Taken passed down from them.
Who Are The Known Members Of The Cult Of The Tree?
One of the main mechanics in Alan Wake 2 is adding any clues and evidence you collect onto Saga’s Case Board within her Mind Place, which keeps track of many cases.
One of those pertains to the investigation into the Cult of the Tree and uncovering who its members are. Many of them turn out to be unexpected characters that you have already encountered in the story.
Ilmo And Jaakko Koskela
This one was a pretty baffling reveal. The twin brothers who grace TV screens to lighten the tone with their hilarious Koskela Brothers ads for coffee, adventure tours, and Ahma beer are key figures within the Cult of the Tree.
Ilmo is revealed to be the founder of the Cult of the Tree, carrying the torch of the Torchbearers under the new name that would keep people away from their goals. Ilmo and Jaakko are a very busy duo since they also have the Kalevala Knights M.C. and own and operate the Coffee World amusement park.
In fact, the Kalevala Knights Workshop is where you first learn of their involvement, and the MC serves as a base of operations for their Taken-fighting group. They also tried to recruit Tor and Odin Anderson but to no avail.
Reading some of their emails in the Workshop will also explain the Cult Stashes scattered around various locations. They take a quick puzzle to solve and help Saga with extra supplies, so Ilmo warns that they must stop leaving them around for people to find.
Mulligan And Thornton
The Bright Falls Sheriff’s deputies, whom Saga and Alex Casey first meet upon their arrival at Bright Falls and the Cauldron Lake crime scene, are also with the Cult of the Tree.
This twist happens in Return 3, where Mulligan is not only revealed in a deer mask as a member but also has already transformed into Taken, along with his partner Thornton.
And then there’s this character who you never would’ve thought would be involved with such a supernatural organization, Valhalla Nursing Home’s very own Vladimir Blum.
He’s Valhalla’s security guard and driver, and secretly a fighter of the Dark Presence alongside the Koskela Brothers.
In the security room in the Old Gods chapter, you can find a letter signed by Ilmo and Jaakko Koskela welcoming Vladimir into the group. But sadly, he’s also not with them for much longer.
Why Are The Cult Of The Tree After Saga And Alan?
If the cult of the tree is so benevolent, why do so many of them attack and even jumpscare Saga throughout the game?
Well, one of the dangers of the job is that the Cult of the Tree can potentially become Taken themselves, as was evident with deputies Mulligan and Thornton.
The group risks their lives to end up as things they tried to stop, leaving Saga no choice but to defend herself against their Taken forms. But the surviving Cult of the Tree members have a good reason for hunting Alan Wake.
In Return 4 – No Chance, the Cult of the Tree discovers Alan’s location at the Elderwood Palace Lodge and attempts to capture him, but the Federal Bureau of Control beats them to it. Alan was their target because he emerged from Cauldron Lake, and they knew he would be like the rest. Little did they know he even had the Dark Presence inside him.
They wanted to handle Alan like anyone else falling victim to Cauldron Lake. It’s also because they’re aware Alan’s writing is the cause of the AWEs in Bright Falls, and more manuscript pages have been surfacing from the lake.
Even if things could’ve potentially gone their way and Jaakko Koskela may have been alive, Scratch wouldn’t have let it happen. The Dark Presence would still have besieged Bright Falls, and reality would continue to be rewritten.
How Is The Cult Different In The Dark Place?
Alan’s Initiation chapters also center around a cult, who wear the same garb as the Cult of the Tree, but go by a different name. They are the Cult of the Word.
Their motives are much more nefarious, and they’re an actual murder cult. The fictionalized manifestation of Alan Wake’s character, Alex Casey, is investigating them in the Dark Place and believes Alan to be their leader.
The echoes and Plot Board scenes in the subway station in Initiation 2 provide more context and detail about their motives, and it’s further explored in Initiation 5 and 8. They essentially use Alan Wake’s writing as “their twisted bible” to recreate the murders from the book in ritual sacrifices.
In the Dark Place’s version of the story, the Torchbearers were hunted as enemies of the Cult of the Word and were burned alive in the subway train car, which Alan passes through.
NEXT: Alan Wake 2 Ending, Explained