Alice enters the beautiful garden and sees a rose tree, full of white roses, and a busy group of gardeners, painting the white roses red. They address each other by numbers, Seven accuses Five of splashing the paint and an argument escalates until the gardeners notice Alice and bow to her solemnly.
Alice's goal from the moment she looked through the little door, her purpose through all of her growing and shrinking, has been to get to the garden. It symbolizes the realization of her dreams. Now that she has entered the garden though, it is something less than paradise. It is tended by argumentative playing cards and flowers that looked so beautifully red from a distance are revealed to be painted that color. It is interesting that Alice is suddenly treated with respect by the cards (perhaps because she has a face and so is treated like a royal "face" card?).
Alice wants to know why they are painting the roses. The gardeners become very sheepish. Two admits that they planted a white rose tree by accident and are trying to amend their mistake before the Queen arrives. At that moment, they spot the Queen approaching and spread themselves on the floor before the Queen’s entourage arrives. This entourage is comprised of ten soldiers carrying clubs, ten courtiers wearing diamonds and ten royal children decorated with hearts. Next comes a slew of royal guests, with the Knave of Hearts and the White Rabbit and, lastly, the King and Queen of Hearts follow.
Further, it's made clear here that the gardeners are painting he flowers out of fear of the Queen. The social hierarchy that was hinted at by the White Rabbit's initial nervousness about the Queen now comes into view as the Queen and her royal procession, following a strict procession of rank, comes into view. Once again, as it is depicted in the novella with a bunch of cards playing the roles this hierarchy comes across as ridiculous, but the "real" world follows similar hierarchies.
Alice decides not to genuflect like the gardeners have done, and the Queen notices her and asks for her name. Alice decides she needn’t be afraid of a pack of cards and introduces herself. The Queen then asks who the cards on the floor are, and Alice boldly says that she has no idea. The Queen is outraged and orders Alice to be beheaded, to which Alice merely responds with “Nonsense!”
Alice has become bold – she thinks that the playing cards are a bit ridiculous spreading themselves on the floor and tells herself not to fear the Queen, who herself is paper thin. The Queen's threat reveals the foundation of her power—violence. At the same time, Alice's unpunished response reveals that the Queen's actual power is not so much in violence as the threat of violence.
The Queen lets the matter go and orders the gardeners to be overturned and to explain themselves, but before they can explain, she has ordered them to be beheaded. The cards run to Alice for protection and she puts them in a plant pot. The three soldiers whose job it is to behead are suitably confused and tell the Queen that they have done the job. The Queen then invites Alice to play croquet and takes her along with the procession. Alice walks beside the White Rabbit and asks him if he has seen the Duchess. The Rabbit swiftly shushes Alice – the Duchess has been sentenced to execution for boxing the Queen’s ears.
The Queen is the personification of injustice – she has no interest in reason or emotion, only in mindless killing of those who annoy her. Though there are comic moments in this scene, the sight of the playing cards cowering in a plant pot for example, and the Queen’s manic accusations too, there is a serious threat of death behind the comedy. That the Queen would then follow up her threats with invitations to play croquet hints at the way that violence and civilized pursuits are closely linked in the adult world.
As the Rabbit starts to explain the strange series of events, he is interrupted by the Queen ordering everybody to their places and a flurry of excitement as the cards double themselves over to make the arches and the flamingo that are the mallets and hedgehogs that form balls get ready. Alice has some trouble getting her flamingo tucked under her arm to strike the hedgehog, who also keeps rolling away. The rules of the game are also difficult to establish. Everyone plays at the same time and fights break out immediately and soon the Queen has ordered many beheadings. Alice wonders how anybody is left alive in the palace and tries to look for a way to escape.
This game of croquet is comprised of players and props that are similar to the paraphernalia of real croquet but awkward and unruly because the mallets and balls have wills of their own. What should be a light-hearted, fun activity becomes a cruel spectacle, as flamingoes and hedgehogs are man-handled and beaten. And without rules or an endpoint, the game is even more of a confusing mess for Alice as she is pressured to join in.
Just then, the Cheshire Cat appears, and Alice waits for its ears to arrive, before telling it her qualms with the Queen’s version of croquet. The Cat asks what she thinks of the Queen, but the Queen passes at that moment so Alice compliments her on her skill. The King is curious about the Cheshire Cat, so Alice introduces them, but when the King offers his hand for the Cat to kiss, the Cat is uninterested and the King asks the Queen to have the creature removed. The Queen is happy to do so and orders its execution.
Alice is still careful not to offend the Queen—even though it is clear she does not like the Queen—whether out of fear or politeness is not clear. The Cat feels no such inclination, and is irreverent towards the King and doesn’t seem to really care about the threats of execution that are being fired at him. His constant mischievous smile is a sign of his refusal to play by the rules.
Alice goes back to the game and, finding the Queen’s accusations flying, goes in search of her hedgehog instead. She finds it fighting another hedgehog. She tries to get her flamingo so she can bat one of the hedgehogs away from the other, but it has taken refuge up a tree.
The chaos of the croquet game has reached a height now. There were no rules to begin with but now there are hardly any players and the animals are completely unruly to the point where they are almost wild again.
In the end, she gives up and goes back to the Cheshire Cat, who is causing quite a stir between the executioner, the King and the Queen because it's body has disappeared, leaving only its head behind. The executioner thinks he can’t behead something without a body, but the King thinks that you only need a head. The Queen, meanwhile, would like to behead everybody. Alice suggests getting the Duchess, since she owns the Cheshire Cat, but by the time the Duchess is fetched, the Cat has disappeared and everyone is searching for it.
The characters essentially have a debate about the meaning of the word “behead”. The King is a very literal man – he doesn’t understand nuances of meaning, he thinks everything is the sum of its parts. The Queen doesn’t care about meaning at all, she just wants to satisfy her bloodlust. Alice is the only one to make a reasonable suggestion. Though it's worth pointing out that Alice's reasonable suggestion would just allow the Queen to blame someone else—the Duchess. Alice is being logical, but not ethical. To put it another way, Alice is still playing by the crazy rules set by Wonderland and the Queen. The Cat, in contrast, is not.