Warning: Major spoilers follow for Squid Game.
We don't need to tell how how popular Netflix's Squid Game has become.
As well as smashing streaming records and literally changing the game for how Netflix measures the success of its shows, the South Korean series has inspired everything from videogame adaptations to halloween costumes to real-life robot dolls in its domination of popular culture in 2021.
Squid Game has been nothing short of a phenomenon – but how did it all end? What happened to its main characters? Will there be a Squid Game season 2, and what could happen next if the story continues?
Below, we endeavour to answer all of the above questions and more, breaking down the show’s ninth and final episode, One Lucky Day.
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Squid Game: the final game explained
Let’s begin with a roundup of what happens in the final game. Episode 9 begins shortly after Sae-byeok is killed at the hands of Sang-woo, leaving him and Gi-hun as the last remaining players in the game. The final challenge is the eponymous Squid Game, which sees Gi-hun square off against Sang-woo in a bloody (and rainy) knife fight. The former wins, but stops just before completing the game to instead invoke Clause Three of the agreement – ‘if the majority of players agree to abandon the game, the game ends.’
This moment is an important one for Gi-hun. Unlike Sang-woo, who spends preceding episodes descending into a darker and darker state of mind, Gi-hun maintains a degree of morality and humanity throughout the increasingly inhumane games. In this confrontation, though, Gi-hun reveals a momentary brutal streak that allows him to defeat Sang-woo, but he still ultimately refuses to be totally corrupted by the game, sparing Sang-woo's life and deciding to forfeit the prize money and return home.
Obviously, things don’t turn out this way. Gi-hun returns to Sang-woo to inform him of his decision, but the latter stabs himself in the neck – presumably a consequence of his guilt. Sang-woo’s last words request that Gi-hun accepts the prize money and helps his mother.
At this point, the game is over. The VIPs leave, the prize money descends from the ceiling and Gi-hun is declared the winner by the Front Man, who congratulates him on his victory. While being returned home, Gi-hun asks the Front Man why he hosts the game, to which he replies, “you people are horses” – meaning it was created for the purposes of sport and betting. This is partly true, but further reasoning is added later on in the episode.
The struggle to adjust
Gi-hun returns home to find 45.6 billion won in his bank account. On the walk back to his apartment, he passes Sang-woo’s mother, who asks after her son’s whereabouts. Gi-hun says nothing – it’s not clear whether she interprets this silence as confirmation of Sang-woo’s death.
Upon making it home, Gi-hun discovers that his own mother has died. Again, this is an important moment for the character, since his mother’s health proved the catalyst for his participation in the game in the first place.
A year later, Gi-hun remains traumatized by his experience. He appears haggard and impoverished, riding the subway – despite his riches – to a banker who tells him he has hardly spent any of his money. On his way out, Gi-hun asks the banker if he can borrow 10,000 won – a callback to a regular request he made in the show’s early episodes.
Gi-hun buys some flowers at a nearby beach, only to discover another game invitation hidden within the bouquet. This time, it asks him to meet his ‘gganbu’ (the slang term for 'ally' in Korean, first mentioned in episode 6) at a building on Christmas Eve.
There, he finds Player 001, Oh Il-nam, who Gi-hun had presumed dead after episode 6's fourth game. Il-nam, lying sick in a hospital bed, reveals himself to be the mastermind behind the game, explaining that he created it as a means of attaining enjoyment from his boring life of riches and as a test of humanity’s innate goodness – he reminds Gi-hun that contestants killed each other for the sake of earning money for themselves.
Il-nam also reveals that the games were based on those played in his own childhood, and that he participated in this particular iteration of the game for the sake of nostalgia. This explains why Il-nam recognised the layout of the mock town in the fourth game – it was modelled on his own childhood home.
Il-nam then asks Gi-hun to play one last game with him, a final test of humanity’s goodness. They look outside to see a homeless man; Il-nam wagers that nobody will help the man before the clock strikes midnight. Gi-hun wins – the homeless man is aided by a passing citizen – but Il-nam dies. It’s unclear whether Il-nam sees this act of kindness before he passes, but the interpretations drawn from this scene are two-fold.
The first: Il-nam dies thinking he has won the game, and that there is no humanity left in the world. The second: Il-nam dies after realizing he has lost the game, seeing an act of kindness that permits him to finally die at peace. The show doesn’t clarify either scenario, but this scene nonetheless represents the moral dilemma at the heart of Squid Game.
Incidentally, in the following (very brief) scene, the gold rabbit mask in the Front Man’s residence is revealed to have belonged to Il-nam – we see the old man placing it on his dressing table, before telling the Front Man he is going to participate in the games himself.
An unknown amount of time passes, but Gi-hun cleans himself up and fulfils his promises to Sang-woo and Sae-byeok. He takes Sae-byeok’s brother out of the children's home and into the care of Sang-woo’s mother, leaving both a share of the prize money.
We then see a red-haired Gi-hun at the airport, on his way to visit – or live with – his daughter in the US. Walking to the terminal, Gi-hun notices someone playing ddakji with the same recruiter who invited him to the games in episode one. He attempts to pursue the recruiter, but is unable to reach him in time and instead takes the invitation given to the man.
Just before boarding his plane to the US, Gi-hun calls the number on the invitation. The receiver recognizes his voice as Player 456, and tells him not to get “any absurd ideas.” Gi-hun turns around, presumably beginning his quest to expose the game’s organizers.
Where does Squid Game go next?
Although a Squid Game season 2 hasn’t yet been confirmed by Netflix – creator Hwang Dong-hyuk has “other things he’s working on” right now – season 1’s final episode still leaves plenty of room to speculate where the show could be headed next.
What's more, while Hwang did tell The Sunday Times that there wouldn't be a second season of Squid Game, the runaway success of the show – which, alone, has added 4.4 million new subscribers to Netflix – seems likely to encourage its creator to rethink his initial reluctance.
In subsequent interviews, like a recent one with The Hollywood Reporter, Hwang has said he does in fact have a few ideas as to where the show could go next, which we examine in more detail below.
The most obvious plot thread to explore is Gi-hun’s quest for revenge. Evidently, given the show’s final shot, the character is enraged by the game organizers’ continued pursuit of downtrodden contestants, and the suggestion is that Gi-hun wants to expose them. "[We could] explore more about how he’s going to navigate through his reckoning with the people who are designing the games," Hwang told THR.
Should the show decide to go in this direction, it could do so in two ways. The first might see Gi-hun attempt to convince others of the game’s existence, exposing its corruption and inhumanity from the outside – he is, after all, a much richer man now. The second could see Gi-hun return to the game itself, with greater knowledge of its inner workings and ultimate objectives.
As unlikely as that second scenario sounds – it doesn’t really make sense for Gi-hun to return to a game which almost cost him his life – the former, more realistic scenario would likely eliminate much of what makes Squid Game so entertaining: the games themselves.
Evidently, then, the show’s creator and screenwriters have a job on their hands if they hope to repeat its appeal while also maintaining narrative logic. Netflix is currently “trying to figure out the right structure," along with Hwang himself, so it’s no wonder we’re unlikely to see a follow-up season for at least a few years.
Other possible plot threads include examining the fate of Jun-hon, the undercover cop who discovers the Front Man to be his brother, In-ho. Although he was shot and subsequently fell off the edge of a cliff, there’s a chance Jun-hon survived the encounter, and given that we still don’t know In-ho’s motivation for becoming the game’s Front Man, this seems a likely narrative thread for the show to explore.
Hwang has shown an interest in this thread, too. "I’d like to explore that storyline – what is going on between those two brothers?," he told THR.
Interestingly, the show's creator has also hinted at the possibility of following the mysterious recruiter in more detail. "I could also go into the story of that recruiter in the suit who plays the game of ddakji with Gi-hun and gives him the card in the first episode," Hwang told THR in the same interview.
Elsewhere, though, Squid Game’s first season doesn’t leave a whole lot of questions unanswered – mainly because, well, most of its characters end up dead. Realistically, we might expect to see Gi-hun, Jun-hon, In-ho and the recruiter return, but the likes of Sang-woo, Sae-byeok and Il-nam aren’t coming back (or so the laws of life and death would suggest, anyway).
As such, we’re relatively in the dark as to where Squid Game might decide to go next. While we’d love to see more of the show’s deadly puzzles, we also don’t want to see Netflix commission a shoddy second run for the sake of cashing in on its popularity.
But then again, wouldn't it be criminal to cancel your most popular show after just one season?
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