SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #77 by Tom King, Mikel Janín, Tony S. Daniel, Norm Rapmund, Jordie Bellaire, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
In Batman #77, Bane seemingly did something that has rarely been accomplished in the Dark Knight's history in a shocking turn of events. While Bane has broken the Bat with his mixture of mind games and brutality, he's made it personal by taking over Gotham City, with the help of some of Batman's worst foes, and scaring it into a fragile peace.
He warned the Bat-Family that, if any member stepped foot into Gotham City, he'd kill Alfred Pennyworth -- and that's exactly what he did when Damian Wayne disobeyed his orders, snapping his neck as Damian watched.
The panel didn't leave much to the imagination, seemingly confirming that Santa Prisca's deadliest son killed Bruce Wayne's faithful butler in one foul swoop. Since this is comics, however, Alfred's death almost certainly won't be permanent. In fact, his demise could be a cleverly orchestrated sleight of the hand to fool Damian and build excitement for "City of Bane." Alfred could even show up in Batman #78, in good spirits and very much alive.
Throughout King's Batman run, he has taught us not to believe everything we see. He explained away severalevents by utilizing Psycho-Pirate as a critical influence behind the scenes and establishing him as a major threat. While the character isn't regarded as a traditional A-list foe, King has turned him into Bane's perfect aide and a lethal adversary for anyone who opposes him.
With the power of the Medusa Mask, Psycho-Pirate possesses the ability to control the emotional response of his victim's brain. He's already manipulated Gotham's underworld (as well as others) into doing Bane's bidding, so what's stopping him from tricking Damian into believing that Alfred is dead?
While Psycho-Pirate would make sense within the context of the story, Bane could've had some help from one of Batman's more familiar villains.
Damian could've experienced a nightmare induced by the Scarecrow's fear toxin. It's a tried-and-tested trope in Batman lore, but it remains a distinct possibility, especially when multiple rogues are involved in a storyline. That said, it's more probable that King would use Psycho-Pirate than the Scarecrow for this angle.
Even if that really is Alfred, Bane might not have killed him at all; he may have applied just enough restraint to only paralyze him. King's Bane is a mastermind who's elevated his game to the next level in every way. He understands what it takes to break someone mentally as well as physically. By pulling back at the last second, he might've critically injured Alfred but not ended his life.
If this is the case, Bruce will probably find a way to heal Alfred in the same way that Thomas Wayne cured his injured back in no time whatsoever.
The final possibility is that Alfred is really gone. If so, don't bet against Damian reaching out to the other side of his family and hooking up a spa session for Alfred in the Nain Pit -- which is more powerful and restorative than the Lazarus Pit. In Batman #74, Bruce refused to bring his own mother, Martha, back from the dead when presented with the opportunity, so he'd decline to do the same for his trusty butler. Damian listens to nothing but the annoying teenage voice in his head and will revive Alfred if given half a chance.
While the Alfred twist -- pardon the pun -- was a shocking development in "City of Bane," it might not not a lasting one. Regardless of whether or not it's real, it will almost certainly be addressed in forthcoming issues of Batman.