Squid Game ending explained and all your burning questions answered
Everything you need to know about the ending, plus season 2, that creepy Red Light Green Light doll and the oh-so-breakable candy shapes.
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year" award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
In Squid Game, the disturbing but intriguing Netflix hit about a deadly tournament of children's games, the competition winds to a bloody resolution. Season 2 is in the works (according to the creator), but in the meantime many questions are left hanging as the ninth and final episode of season 1 closes. Here are answers to eight burning Squid Game questions you may have after watching the dystopian Korean series.
Warning: The following story includes huge spoilers for Squid Game, so if you haven't watched all the episodes, come back and read this after you're done. You really don't want to be spoiled for some of the plot twists.
1. When did Squid Game come out?
The nine-episode series released on Netflix on Sept. 17. Netflix says it marks the streaming service's biggest series launch ever.
2. Will there be a season 2 of Squid Game?
If you've watched the whole show (remember that spoiler warning above), you know the game doesn't really end with the ninth episode. It continues, and the future of "winner" Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae) is left uncertain. Will we ever know what happens after he gets off that plane? The answer is a resounding... probably. In a red carpet interview on Nov. 9, writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk said season 2 is indeed happening. "You leave us no choice," he joked.
Netflix hasn't officially confirmed anything, however, and Hwang previously told Variety he may return to big-screen movies before thinking about a Squid Game sequel.
It certainly seems like Squid Game would make a great novel or graphic novel. But right now, you can't go to your bookstore and scoop up a Squid Game book to read.
According to Korean pop-culture site Soompi, Squid Game director Hwang Dong Hyuk said that he got the idea for the show back in 2008 from a comic book about people who were playing an extreme game. But he didn't name the comic.
And it might not even be a single comic, because the director told the Korea Herald that he "read a lot of comics, and was mesmerized by survival games." So until Hwang comes out and names some of his reading material, guesses are all we have. It seems likely that Squid Game will now be turned into book form, since it's such a hit. Keep an eye on those bookstore shelves.
Some are claiming that Squid Game is suspiciously similar to a 2014 Japanese film, As The Gods Will, directed by Takashi Miike. That film itself is based on Japanese manga. It's also about a death tournament using childhood games, and seems to have some very similar scenes, including a doll that spins around and tries to catch players moving.
Obviously there's no deadly Squid Game tournament, where people are killed playing innocent children's games. We hope. But the title refers to one specific game that gets its name from a court shaped vaguely like a squid.
Main character Seong Gi-hun makes it sound as if Squid Game is unique to his town, describing a game that's kind of like Red Rover and kind of like Capture the Flag and is played in a playground court shaped like a squid. In order to win, the attacking team, who are only allowed to hop until they pass the squid's waist, must tap the squid's head with their foot. Director Hwang told the Korea Herald that it was his favorite childhood game, so yes, it does seem to be real.
Other games played are fairly obviously real, including marbles, tug-of-war, and Red Light Green Light. There's one game that's obviously not real -- one in which players must cross a glass bridge and don't know which panel will shatter underfoot -- though games like hopscotch do require you to place your feet only in certain squares.
One game gives each player a tin of candy with a shape embossed into it, and they must use a sharp object to cut out the shape without breaking it. That's easy if you have a triangle shape, not so easy if you picked the umbrella. Contestants eventually learn that licking the back of the candy helps release the shape.
That candy is real--here's a YouTube video from PinoyChefKorea that shows you how to make it. (Recipe instructions are shown in English captions.) Did you get into making Dalgona coffee during the pandemic? This candy is Dalgona candy.
The candy is popular with Korean children, the chef notes. And yes, eaters in Korea try to eat around the embossed shape without breaking it, though the stakes for them aren't life and death.
5. Is the Red Light, Green Light doll real?
The first game the contestant play is Red Light, Green Light, but instead of a human turning around and trying to catch someone moving during "Red Light," it's a super-creepy giant schoolgirl robot doll thing.
Online publication Koreaboo reports that the doll wasn't made for Squid Game, but that it already was on display at the Jincheon Carriage Museum Adventure Village, also known as Macha Land, a museum in Chungcheongbok-do, South Korea, several hours from Seoul. Koreaboo says the doll has now been returned to the museum, but somehow is missing one hand. Hey, those games were rough on everyone.
Den of Geek pointed us to tweets from residents of the Philippines noting that a version of the doll was part of a Netflix display in a mall there, and its head actually spun around.
"The circle is the letter 'o', the triangle is part of the letter 'j', and the square is 'm'," she writes. "So side by side, it reads 'O J M', which are the initials (of) squid game in Korean, which is read as Ojingeo Geim (오징어게임)."
That side of the card is fine, but the other side, with a phone number shown, caused some problems. Mashable Southeast Asia reports that a person with that number has complained of receiving "endless" calls and text messages. (C'mon Netflix, you should've bought a specific number and set up some promo message for those who called it.)
7. Theory about Squid Game guards
The guards in Squid Game wear red, and when one's exposed, he seems like a young naive soldier. One online theory tries to explain how the guards were hired. Lead character Seong Gi-hun plays a game called ddakji with a recruiter for the game. (Ddakji is a traditional Korean game of flipping paper tiles--kind of like POGs.) Gi-hun picks blue paper over red. It seems random, but one theory claims it's not.
"So there's a theory in Squid Game where Gi-Hun picked the blue card from the salesman (Gong Yoo) and then woke up in blue suit as a player," one tweet notes. "Had he or the other players picked the red card, they would be the workers/guards."
There's no evidence that this is true, but hey, good fodder for a possible sequel.
8. The Squid Game ending explained
Super-spoiler time, because we're going to talk about the series' ending. Seong Gi-hun wins, and he learns who's really running the game (you may have figured it out since we don't see this character die in the game, but it's such a juicy plot twist that I won't reveal it here).
After dealing with the game mastermind, Gi-hun dyes his hair bright red (like the guards' outfits, though that's probably not connected). Then he starts to get on a plane for LA to reunite with his young daughter. But he spots the game recruiter who involved him in the game trying to convince another down-on-his-luck man to play. Gi-hun grabs the card, and just before he gets on the plane, calls the number and tells the person who answers he's going to track them down. SEQUEL? Even if the director doesn't seem in a hurry, the setup is perfect for one.
And let's talk about the brothers. Police officer Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-joon) infiltrates the game, hunting for his missing brother In-ho. Jun-ho escapes the game compound but is seemingly killed by The Front Man, who's kind of the manager of the game. And The Front Man is revealed to be ... Jun-ho's missing brother, who we already learned won the game in 2015.
The brothers could return in a sequel, too. Jun-ho was shot in the shoulder (before falling off a cliff into water). So he might not be dead, though he doesn't seem to have ratted out the game masterminds to his fellow cops, since the game is continuing. It wouldn't be the only death fake-out in this show.
9. Is there more to explore in Squid Game?
Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk told The Hollywood Reporter that he intentionally left season one's ending open-ended, but because he thought that was "good closure" for the story.
"Season one ends with Gi-hun turning back and not getting on the plane to the States," he said. "And that was, in fact, my way of communicating the message that you should not be dragged along by the competitive flow of society, but that you should start thinking about who has created the whole system — and whether there is some potential for you to turn back and face it. So it's not necessarily Gi-hun turning back to get revenge. It could actually be interpreted as him making a very on-the-spot eye contact with what is truly going on in the bigger picture."
Hwang also said that he'd like to further explore the story of the two brothers, as well as that of the recruiter who brings Gi-hun into the game.
"And, of course, we could go with Gi-hun's story as he turns back and explore more about how he's going to navigate through his reckoning with the people who are designing the games," he said. "So, I don't know yet, but I'll just say there are a lot of possibilities out there for season two storylines."
He also said that while he felt pressure now to deliver a second season, he tried to look on the bright side of their expectations.
"I could actually pull ideas from fans all around the world to create the next season," he said. "I think that's what I'm wrestling with right now -- that I shouldn't just view it as a huge amount of pressure, but think of all of this love and support I'm receiving as a big box of inspiration that I can leverage for season two."
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