Ever since Squid Game dropped on Netflix, people from over 22 countries have been binge-watching the show and raving about it. The ending definitely left a strong desire in fans for a second season despite director Hwang Dong-Hyuk’s reservations.
While the series may have been well-received, it’s without controversies. Korean netizens (Knetz) alleged that Squid Game plagiarised parts of 2014 Japanese film As The God’s Will. Multiple Knetz pointed out that Squid Game’s first episode strongly resembles the movie’s iconic Daruma sequence. The director has denied these allegations, saying that his concept for the series was already drafted in 2008, while the manga As The God’s Will was based on is first published in 2010.
Whatever your thoughts are about the issue, it’s undeniable that Squid Game was a hit and we’re definitely intrigued by the finale. With a season 2 or not, the metaphors presented in the finale are worth decoding. Agree? Let’s dissect Squid Game’s ending below.
P.S. Heavy spoilers about the finale ahead!
A recap of the final game
The survival-themed nine-episode series follows the story of Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-Jae), a man leading a miserable life who suddenly finds himself a participant in a to-the-death battle for money against 456 players. Among these players is Cho Sang-Woo (Park Hae-Soo), Gi-Hun’s childhood friend who is like a brother to him. Sang-Woo joined the game with Gi-Hun due to a personal crisis, giving him a strong motivation to try and win the game.
Around the finale, we discover that the Squid Game was created as just a past-time for bored elites called VIPs (much like the Capitol people from The Hunger Games). This makes the ending harder to watch since Gi-Hun and Sang-Woo are the last players left in the game and are expected to fight to the death as pawns for the VIPs’ entertainment. The spectators watched in glee as the two fought with bloodied hands using their fists and knives.
Sang-Woo ends up getting heavily injured so Gi-Hun decides to call off the game, much to the VIPs’ amusement. One of the VIPs even laughed at the idea that Gi-Hun was ready to give up the prize money for friendship. When Gi-Hun stretched out his hand to Sang-Woo, telling him they should just go home, Sang-Woo resigns and stabs himself in the neck after apologising to Gi-Hun. Sang-Woo’s last wish was for Gi-Hun to help his mother with the prize money that Gi-Hun now won by default.
We love the idea that in the end, despite Sang-Woo’s horrible decisions throughout the game, his bond with Gi-Hun still won over his greed. It goes with the theme that the difference between the players and the VIPs is how the former view life and money. That, and having principles is much better than having no regard for other people’s lives.
The importance of KRW10,000
When he was released into the ‘real world’ by the gamekeepers, Gi-Hun withdrew KRW10,000 from his account and discovered that the prize money (around KRW49 million) was already in his savings too. He leaves it as it is. He then comes across Sang-Woo’s mother who was worried when she saw him in his bloodied state. She gave him some food and he tried to give her the KRW10,000 he got earlier but she refused. Before he left, she asked him about Sang-Woo but he was too traumatised to answer. He comes home to find that his own mother has passed away.
A year later, we see a bearded Gi-Hun looking even more disheveled than he was at the beginning of the story. He was summoned by the bank for inactivity in his account, saying that the huge amount of money in his savings isn’t earning much interest as it is. Through this we learn that Gi-Hun never touched his prize money. Instead of dealing with the request, Gi-Hun asks the bank manager for KRW10,000 with no explanation, to which the manager agreed curiously. Later we see Gi-Hun using the money to buy flowers from a street vendor.
Both instances were a callback to the first episode. In the pilot, Gi-Hun gambled the KRW10,000 he got from his mother and tried to win back the amount by accepting the challenge from The Salesman (Gong Yoo) who recruited him to the Squid Game.
It might be a metaphor for how much a small amount can change your life, either for better or worse, depending on what you spend it on. Back then, he used the money on senseless things instead of prioritising his mother or his promises to his daughter. Now that he has more money, he’s already lost them both (his daughter was taken away by his ex wife to the U.S.). Not to mention he lost his childhood friend over it. This might explain why he was so hesitant to spend any of his prize money, considering that getting it brought him nothing but misery.
The bet between Il-Nam and Gi-Hun
In the finale, Gi Hun also goes to visit Player 001 a.k.a. Oh Il-Nam in the hospital, who we find out is actually a former VIP. Already on his deathbed, Il-Nam challenges Gi-Hun in a bet in exchange for him answering questions about the game. Il-Nam says that no one will help the homeless drunk man across the street before the clock strikes midnight, implying how horrible humans can be most of the time. Gi-Hun bets otherwise. As they wait for the time to be up, the two discuss the cruelty of the game, which Il-Nam is amused by. Gi-Hun ends up being right as someone ends up helping the homeless drunk man. However, Il-Nam already passed away before their game concluded.
While the bet may seem pointless, we think it’s actually a good metaphor for what Squid Game is about. Just like the VIPs versus the players on the field, Gi-Hun and Il-Nam decided to be spectators of the man’s fate instead of helping him themselves (at least on Gi-Hun’s part) partly for their own entertainment. And whatever the intent or result was, it doesn’t mean that there’s no damage done in either cases.
The discussion that went on during the bet also proved that the game wasn’t fair at all. Il-Nam was in no actual danger when he was in the game since he knows how each level works as a former VIP. He was also there on his own will since it was his wish to have some fun before his brain tumor consumes him. In the end, it was all entertainment for him whereas life and death was at stake for others. The entire confrontation between Il-Nam and Gi-Hun in this very sequence depicted betrayal of trust, loss of hope, and resigning to one’s own curiosity or greed all before achieving a payoff that may or may not be worth it — something similar to the entire point of the games.
Their player numbers are also interesting since they are the first and the last players of the game (number-wise). Il-Nam was one of the designers of the game, symbolising that it started with him. His player number 001 was a huge clue to his identity all along. Gi-Hun, on the other hand, wants to break the game, just like how him being player 456 (out of 456 players in his game) meant it ‘ends’ with him. Whether it’s a metaphor for the game’s ideology going full circle, we’re not quite sure. But there’s a certain poeticness to it considering what we learn about their fates.
Will Gi-Hun re-enter the Squid Game?
The final sequence shows Gi-Hun finally ready to restart his life (complete with a matching hair makeover). After his conversation with Il-Nam, it seemed like he had more clarity about what went on and decided to become someone better. We see him about to go to the airport to go see his daughter in the U.S. However, he crosses paths with The Salesman again. He stops the person The Salesman is currently recruiting and gets the Squid Game calling card from The Salesman’s new victim. Gi-Hun ends up turning his back away from his flight, putting the finale to a close.
The ending definitely gave a lot of room for a possible sequel, which a lot of fans of the series are probably hoping for. But since that’s still uncertain, we have a couple of thoughts about what the open-ended ending implies.
One, it could mean that Gi-Hun will re-enter the Squid Game in the hopes of abolishing the system from within. After all, he already knows how it works and how to survive its stages so what better way to destroy the game once and for all than to beat it in its own playing ground?
However, given his trauma from the previous games, would he subject himself to it again? Maybe not. Which leads us to our next theory: he’ll join the VIP council.
Now that he’s got the money from the previous game, he can infiltrate the VIPs from within. He can trace the network the game operates by and deal with it from there. It seems less likely since it’ll completely change the flow of the story, but again, the ending left so many things to explore.
Whether or not we get a Squid Game sequel, we're glad that this genre of K-Drama is finally getting more traction. Beyond the entertainment and gore, they also give good social commentary. We can only hope that we can also apply whatever lessons we gather from this type of work, to our own game of life.
(Cover photo from: @netflixkr)