Netflix’s Squid Game took over a decade to make, but the wait, it turns out, was more than worth it. The wildly popular show is growing faster than any other Netflix original series, and earlier this month, ranked #1 on the platform in at least 90 countries.
Across the show’s nine episodes, we see its protagonist Gi-hun enter and compete in a deadly tournament consisting of children’s games. With him are a charismatic group of pickpockets, embezzlers, and folks simply down on their luck — all with similarly huge debts of their own, and all eyeing the 45.6 billion won (or around $38.4 million USD) prize.
Like other South Korean sensations before it (the Oscar-winning film Parasite and fellow Netflix series Extracurricular come to mind), Squid Game is a thrilling and furious look at the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the ways in which the latter are exploited and dehumanized every day.
If you haven’t finished the series, be warned: there are plenty of spoilers below. But if you are done watching and need a few deep breaths to let it all sink in, this article will unpack that shocking Squid Game ending, and several fan theories that can get us excited for a possible season 2.
No Real Winners in Squid Game’s Finale
Squid Game is a critical look at the haves and have-nots, and after six grueling games that pit the have-nots against other have-nots for the entertainment of the haves, we see Gi-hun emerge as a winner against his childhood friend Sang-woo.
You’d think winning the grand prize and beating his lying, manipulative, and murderous co-finalist would be a happy moment for Gi-hun — whom everyone back home saw as a failure against Sang-woo’s success at the esteemed Seoul National University — but it’s not.
It’s a hollow win, and even as Gi-hun finds himself back on the streets of Seoul with a debit card to access his winnings, it’s far from triumphant. The fact that the card’s pin is his player number is quietly horrific, and the dawning realization that his mother had died while he was on the island to afford her medical treatment, even more so.
From here, we find Gi-hun one year after his win, somehow worse off and barely touching his prize money. A cryptic invitation leads him to find that Oh Il-nam, the elderly player he befriended on the island, not only survived the marbles game, but is actually behind the games themselves — only now he’s hooked to an oxygen machine. Il-nam tells Gi-hun why he created the games and why he joined them: to have fun and to feel alive.
From his deathbed on Christmas Eve, the old man challenges Gi-hun to one last game, betting that no one would stop and help the unconscious homeless man they could see from the window. Gi-hun takes that bet and says someone will help, and eventually, he wins. Except, of course, that Il-nam has passed away before he could see the display of human compassion outside the window.
Aside from the surprise twist (which would make anyone wish they could take back their tears from episode 6), this scene is remarkable for two reasons.
First, it shows how after (and maybe, because of) everything he’s been through, Gi-hun stubbornly wants to believe in human goodness. He is right to, although Il-nam dies thinking that his cynicism is justified. Who is he that people have to convince him that goodness exists? Just someone with too much money to know what to do with.
That brings me to the second point: Il-nam doesn’t understand why Gi-hun doesn’t want to spend his prize money. After all, he’s earned the privilege to do so on the back of other people’s suffering, right? He made it all the way to the top. But Gi-hun refuses to play by those rules. He recognizes that they’re rigged for people like Il-nam by people like Il-nam, giving the poor some illusion of choice and the promise of a better life, all to create a spectacle for their entertainment. Never mind that they could’ve easily paid back all 456 — well, 455 — players’ debts if they wanted to. And despite the darkness of the show’s premise and the reality that it’s based on, Gi-hun’s quiet rebellion represents a small glimmer of hope.
The final scene, after Gi-hun dyes his hair a shocking red, is a perfect setup for a sequel. Instead of boarding that plane, with a gift (finally!) for his daughter, Gi-hun turns around and vows to track the mysterious organization down.
Hidden Clues and Symbols
Since the show’s release, a few eagle-eyed viewers have spotted some pretty interesting clues to people’s tragic fates, as well as symbols that may or may not mean something more.
The Show Clued Us in on How Major Players Will Die Early On
For starters, all the major players’ deaths were foreshadowed as early as episode 2, during their brief reprieve from the island.
Sae-byeok, whose throat was slit by Sang-woo, held a knife to the immigration broker’s throat. Sang-woo, who attempted to kill himself in the bathtub before reentering the games, successfully killed himself in the final one. Deok-su jumped off a bridge, and, later on, fell to his death. Moreover, Ali was fooled out of his wages and marbles by his employer and Sang-woo, respectively.
Even Mi-nyeo’s death is foreshadowed. In an earlier episode, she tells Deok-su that she’ll kill him if he betrays her — a promise that she very much keeps. But the how of it is also foreshadowed: After the tug-o-war game, she talks about how she felt “much more powerful” the moment she leaned back. Just two episodes later, she kills Deok-su by grabbing him and leaning back so they both fall.
Last but not least, Detective Jun-ho, who pushes a worker into the sea on his trip to the island, falls to his death (although this, too, is being questioned) and into the water after a shot to the shoulder.
Gi-hun Might Just Be Il-nam’s Son
One of the wildest and most intriguing theories out there, however, is that Il-nam is actually Gi-hun’s father.
For instance, they both recognize the marble round’s residential neighborhood as similar to one they used to live in. Gi-hun’s birthday, April 26, is mentioned in the first episode, and on the sixth, when Il-nam learns that it’s the 24th, he says that his son’s birthday is coming up soon.
Moreover, when Gi-hun steals his mother’s debit card in episode 1, we learn that she has the same family name as the elusive Il-nam. Why Gi-hun uses his mother’s last name, Seong, instead of his father’s is never explained in the show.
Of course, it’s still possible that all these don’t mean anything, but what a coincidence that would be.
The Numbers Are Symbolic
Other viewers have also theorized that the numbers of Il-nam and Gi-hun are symbolic.
Il-nam, player 001, represents the origin of the games, while Gi-hun, player 456, is the final player destined to end the games — and the season finale certainly sets him up to do just that.
Plus, proponents of the Il-nam and Gi-hun father-son theory also assert that the elderly player gave the protagonist his jacket because he intends to pass on the management of the games to his son.
What’s Next for Squid Game?
To say that the interest for a season 2 is overwhelming is a bit of an understatement. This, and the fact that there are still some very intriguing plot threads to be explored, makes it plausible that there’s more to come — even though there’s no official word on that yet.
Director Hwang Dong-hyuk was apparently so focused on completing the first season that he hadn’t thought much about a sequel before the show’s premiere on Netflix, though he’s certainly getting a lot of pressure for it now. Still to be explored, according to Hwang, is the story of the Front Man and his brother, Detective Jun-ho, as well as what exactly Gi-hun plans to do after he turned his back on the waiting airplane.
Netflix global TV head Bela Bajaria has pointed out, however, that the second season still depends on Hwang’s schedule, as he has a film and several other projects currently lined up.
Whatever the second season may bring (and whether it comes in a year or ten), we can only hope that it’s as gripping and gorgeously crafted as the first.