All of the artifice drops in the Squid Game finale. There’s no preamble to the final round, no stair room, no “The Blue Danube.” The episode begins with establishing shots: the squid game field, the two players left on the control room board. Gi-hun wins the coin toss and chooses offense (Sang-woo will be on the defense) in a dark tunnel, and it looks like the game starts immediately after Sae-byeok’s death. All the better to use Gi-hun’s pure rage going into the final round. Even the VIPs’ skybox is plain, all the tacky decorations gone. Even they understand the gravity of the final deathmatch.
The final round takes place on the same playground as the first, but Gi-hun takes the offense this time. To win, he has to make it to the “squid’s eye,” past defender Sang-woo, who needs to push him out of the grid. Of course, should either of them die, the winner would be the last man standing. Before his first attack, a fistful of sand in Sang-woo’s face, Gi-hun reminds Sang-woo that they used to play the violent squid game as kids.
Gi-hun and Sang-woo begin to argue as the rain starts pouring. Sang-woo admits he killed Sae-byeok to avoid her and Gi-hun teaming up against him. Gi-hun tells Sang-woo that he won’t let him leave with the money. Gi-hun’s rage and determination keep fighting through a stab to the thigh and the hand.
Gi-hun eventually pins Sang-woo down and holds the knife to his old friend’s face. But when it comes to killing Sang-woo, GI-hun can’t do it. First, he plants the knife in the dirt next to Sang-woo’s head and walks over to the “squid’s head” finish line as a guard trains a rifle on the fallen player. But before ending the game, he asks the guard to vote to end the game and spare Sang-woo’s life.
Gi-hun always had a line he refused to cross, even for 45.6 billion won. He refuses to take a life. Sang-woo has only thought ahead the whole time, doing anything to get through each round to get closer to the money and a new life. He said several times that he couldn’t go back to his old life without enough money to make his problems disappear. As Sang-woo faces the end, he reminisces when he and Gi-hun would finish playing, and their mothers would call them home. But now there’s nothing to go home to anymore. The money was his last chance to salvage that. He ends the game by stabbing himself in the neck, and his finals words are an unfinished plea for Gi-hun to help his mom. Gi-hun doesn’t realize it until he’s dropped back in Seoul, but he also doesn’t have a home to go back to either.
Gi-hun gets a ride back to civilization with the Front Man, who toasts him on his victory and compares the deathmatch to Gi-hun’s own gambling on horse racing, except “you people are the horses.” He says that he didn’t expect Gi-hun to “run this far.” Before Gi-hun is gassed, the Front Man tells him to think of the game as a dream that has already faded away, one that wasn’t so bad anyway.
Gi-hun is tossed out onto a Seoul street in the rain; a gold debit card with his winnings shoved in his mouth. (That the PIN is his number is its own kind of lasting horror.) He runs into Sang-woo’s mother on the walk home, who gives him free food and tells him his mom hasn’t gone to work for two days. She also asks after Sang-woo, a quick stab to Gi-hun’s tender heart. When he gets to the small apartment he shared with his mother, she’s dead, having passed two days ago while he was still in the game. With his mom dead, and his daughter on her way to Los Angeles, his family is gone.
With the guilt of 456 people’s death hanging over him, Gi-hun emotionally shuts down. In a classic K-drama flash-forward, we see Gi-hun with a depression beard one year later. He’s barely spent any of the money, and he has no plans to start now, as he’d rather drink a beer on the bank of the Han River. One night, he receives an invite to Seoul’s tallest building, wrapped in a game-like black envelope and magenta bow, from his “gganbu.”
There Gi-hun finds Il-nam, the old man (001), his game companion. Turns out he didn’t die in the marbles round and is the creator of the game. Il-nam called Gi-hun to his death bed to play one last game and explain the origin of the game itself. He explains that he and his wealthy clients came up with the game because they no longer felt joy since having everything also meant nothing could excite them. The atrocious tournament is purely for their entertainment, as they watch people they consider less than human go through deathmatches. As for joining the game, he wanted to be a player for the thrill of it, enjoying childhood games and untapping forgotten memories before he died from his brain tumor. As for letting Gi-hun live in the marbles round, Il-nam says that he spared his life because he enjoyed playing with him.
The two men make one last wager. A man is freezing to death on the street below them, and they bet on whether or not someone will help him. Il-nam says no one will, asking Gi-hun over and over, “Do you still have trust in people?” Gi-hun bets “anything” he has that someone will save the man. In the end, a person who stopped for the man earlier calls for a cop car that arrives when Il-nam dies. After witnessing some humanity and the creator’s death, Gi-hun restarts his life (with a blinding haircut).
Gi-hun finally honors his friends’ wishes, takes Sae-byeok’s brother out of the children’s home, and drops him off with Sang-woo’s mother, giving the woman a suitcase full of cash. Then, he spots the recruiter playing ddakji with a new player on the way to visit his daughter. He calls the Front Man on the tarmac and demands that they end the game. The season ends with Gi-hun walking away from the plane with conviction, perhaps ready to end the game once and for all.
The very obvious setup for another season has become a trend with Netflix original k-dramas, such as Sweet Home, Love Alarm, and D.P., rather than the traditional one-and-done 16+ episode season. While Squid Game’s ending is a bit clunky, jamming the final game and the Il-nam reveal into one episode, I’m excited for the chance to see another season, especially since creator Hwang Dong-hyuk has hinted that a future season could be centered on the Front Man. Throughout the first season, we only got glimpses of the game master and ex-cop. The reveal that he is detective Jun-ho’s brother (not to mention played by Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun) opens up a hundred questions.
The end scene of Squid Game is weird and disappointing because we’ve already seen Gi-hun’s story. Season one brought all of the players’ stories to a satisfying end. It’s strong enough that Hwang could bring in all new players, and we would still be hooked. I hope that whatever story a future season brings, it will be as surprising and meticulously imagined as these nine stellar episodes.
The Next Game Will Begin Shortly
• All of the hints dropped towards Il-nam’s true identity throughout the show could be its own recap, but the coolest is in episode one, when the Red Light, Green Light doll’s sensors don’t fully scan him.
• It turns out each player’s death was foreshadowed in episode 2: Sae-byeok held a knife to the broker’s neck; she died of a neck wound. Deok-su jumped off a bridge; he fell to his death. Ali got his wages stolen by his boss; he got his marbles stolen by Sang-woo. Sang-woo tried to kill himself; he ended up killing himself.
• Even Jun-ho and Mi-nyeo got foreshadowing moments. Jun-ho pushed the body off the boat in episode three, then he fell into the water after being shot. Mi-nyeo said in episode five, after tug of war, “Once I laid back, I really felt much more powerful.”
• Squid Game rules: No body, not dead. #BringJunhoBackForSeason2
• Would you survive this game? I don’t think I could fight through a knife to the thigh and a knife through the hand. Also, I would’ve been dead four times over by then.
• You’ve made it through Squid Game! Go outside, touch some grass. Or stay in and check out some other Netflix dramas. Either way, thanks for reading!