The new Netflix hit Squid Game sets up a compelling mystery. The Korean drama follows a deadly Game, where players compete through several rounds of children's games for the chance to win a 45.6 billion won prize (roughly $38 million). Eliminated players are summarily executed, in a brutal show that takes place in complete secret in present-day Korea. As we watch the players, including gambler Ki-hun, disgraced banker Sang-woo, and North Korean refugee Sae-byeok, we also gradually see the machinations behind the Game, which turns bloody violence into entertainment.
By the end of the series, we get both a winner and an explanation for the Game, with a bunch of global societal context mixed into a huge twist. If you've zoomed through the show and feel like you may have missed something, here's an explanation on what went down in the Season 1 finale of Squid Game.
Gi-hun wins the Game, but refuses to spend the money.
The finale opens with Gi-hun and Sang-woo doing a coin toss for the last game, which is the same Squid Game from the season opener. Gi-hun is out for blood, after Sang-woo killed Sae-byeok at the end of the penultimate episode (RIP, queen). The Front Man explains to the VIPs that Squid Game was the most physical and violent game among Korean kids, and it lives up to the description, with the former childhood friends fighting to the death with the steak knives in the pouring rain.
Eventually, Gi-hun gets the upper hand, and has Sang-woo pinned to the ground, knife in hand. But, as mad as he is, he doesn't kill his former friend. Instead he heads over to the finish line, with an attendant ready to shoot Sang-woo once he wins. Gi-hun realizes that, and opts to stop the game and give up the money instead of letting Sang-woo die. However, in his last moment, Sang-woo stabs himself, letting Gi-hun collect the prize money, and asks Gi-hun to help his mother.
Gi-hun, completely devastated, gets dropped off in Seoul with a debit card filled with his winnings. On the ride back, he has a talk with the Front Man, where the game master tells him to forget the game and explains, "You bet on horses. It's the same here but we bet on humans. You're our horses." Gi-hun makes his way back to his home, running into Sang-woo's worried mother along the way, and discovers that his mother has died at their home.
Fast forward to a year later, and an unkempt, bearded Gi-hun is riding the subway. At a meeting with a banking executive, we learn that he's barely spent any of the prize money, which has been sitting on that debit card. We don't get much of an explanation why, but we do see him ask the bank exec for 10,000 won (about $8), which spends on a beer and flowers from a street vendor. It seems to be a decision made out of grief, and the trauma he hasn't processed from the game yet.
Oh Il-nam (Player 001) was a Game VIP all along.
In creepy Squid Game fashion, the flower Gi-hun bought from the woman has a business card for the Game, with an invitation to a random hi-rise that night. When he gets there, he discovers Player 001, real name Oh Il-nam, who we thought had died after losing the marble game. Instead he's alive and lucid, though he's lying in a hospital bed hooked up to an oxygen machine.
It turns out that Il-nam is mega-rich, though the explanation he gives is that he "makes a living lending out money." Everything he said in the Game was true, including his name and the brain tumor, but he entered the Game after watching as a VIP for years. He was even there when the Game was created, out of rich-people boredom. He says he joined because he wanted to feel true excitement before he died, beyond just spectating.
Even on his deathbed, Il-nam summoned Gi-hun to play another game. He points out the hi-rise window to a man on the street, whose passed out drunk in the snow. He opines on whether anyone would help the man, revealing his true nature by calling him a "disgusting, stinking drunk, little piece of trash." Meanwhile, Gi-hun is obviously furious, asking Il-nam why he got to live and no one else. Il-nam doesn't care, and he offers a bet on whether anyone will help the man before midnight, showing that he's far gone and completely lacking empathy.
Gi-hun offers to bet anything on the drunk man's life, as he doesn't care about himself anymore. He watches raptly to see if anyone will help, all throughout Il-nam's confession. Il-nam asks if Gi-hun can trust anyone to be good after going through the game (which, valid question), but Gi-hun still wants to believe in humanity. In the very last second, some cops help the man. Gi-hun sees, but Il-nam doesn't. He dies with nothing to counteract his bleak beliefs (though, it's doubtful that one act of kindness would change anything).
The Il-nam reveal has Twitter in their feelings.
While fans have been obsessing over many moments in the show (the Red Light, Green Light doll, the marble game, Gi-hun's end makeover), the end reveal has gotten some nuanced reactions on Twitter, as viewers who cried over Il-nam learned that he was not just a VIP, but one of the game's founders.
No because the ending of squid game has me emotionally confused like I was balling my eyes out and gave myself a migraine for this man, and for what? NOTHING! pic.twitter.com/am67k3RSJOSeptember 28, 2021
give back my tears old man 😤 #squidgame pic.twitter.com/9aB7XzRHu1September 25, 2021
// squid game spoilers kindaso like in ep 1 you know how everyone plays red light green light and the doll is a motion censor thing yeah?WHY DID IT NOT CHECK THE OLD MAN AND LIKE THE HINTS WERE THERE IN THE VERY BEGINNING FUCK pic.twitter.com/R3zU50bBKfSeptember 24, 2021
Everyone else exhausted:The old man:#SquidGame pic.twitter.com/sQlHLlCSMbSeptember 23, 2021
When I say I like people who keep their childlike wonder intact no matter how cruel the world may be, I definitely DON'T MEAN this old man #SquidGame pic.twitter.com/UrO9EU6UUvSeptember 30, 2021
Gi-hun may go back in the game.
Something about the night with Il-nam, either getting an explanation for the Game or regaining his faith in humanity, sparks a change in Gi-hun. He cuts his beard, gets a k-pop idol-inspired haircut, and goes to visit Sae-byeok's brother in the orphanage. He brings the child to Sang-woo's mom, who will take care of him while Gi-hun goes to visit his daughter in America, and also gives her half of his winnings. With that, he's able to keep his promise to Sae-byeok and Sang-woo.
On the way to the airport, while on the phone with his daughter, he spots The Salesman (hi, Gong Yoo!) recruiting a new player. He takes the Game card, and right before boarding the plane (like, literally on the jet bridge), he calls and tells them that the Game must end. The voice on the line tells him to just get on the plane. He walks away.
It looks like Gi-hun is going to take matters into his own hands, trying to end the secret, multinational game. We have no idea how that's going to go, since the police didn't believe him at first and Hwang Jun-ho, the only officer who knew the truth, died (or did he? We didn't see a body.). Either way, the open ending clears the way for a possible second season, turning the story into a quest to end the Game once and for all.
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