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Squid Game ending explained — unraveling all the twists

Park Hae-soo as Cho Sang-woo and Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun in Squid Game
(Image credit: Youngkyu Park)

After watching the Squid Game ending, you might have a lot of questions. The finale of the popular Netflix show is as divisive, and at times confusing, as the show is addictive. 

In fact, you may feel that the Squid Game ending let you down. But if you're still trying to make sense of it all, we're gonna break it down for you. Of course, beware spoilers for the entirety of Squid Game below!

Squid Game ending: The final game 

Park Hae-soo as Cho Sang-woo, Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun and Jung Ho-yeon as Sae-byeok Squid Game

(Image credit: YOUNGKYU PARK)

Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo enter their sixth and final challenge in a pretty rough state. Sae-byeok has just died, and we're all pretty sure Sang-woo killed her, and in the immediate aftermath of her passing, it's time to play another game.

Gi-hun wins a coin-flip to get the right to choose offense or defense for Squid Game, the game that we first saw a glimpse of at the start of episode one. He chooses offense. Winning Squid Game happens in one of two ways. A player on offense can make it to the "squid's head" on the field, passing the defender, or a player can be the last one standing (i.e., their opponent dies).

Gi-hun is forced to hop on one foot as he attacks, as the offense has to have a handicap until they breach the "squid's neck." Before he gets there, though, Gi-hun (enraged by the situation at hand), throws a fistful of sand in Sang-woo's face, to blind him. He then reminds his opponent that this was a game they played as kids. Except they didn't have knives back then, as that's the evil twist to this round. 

Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun and Park Hae-soo as Cho Sang-woo in Squid Game

(Image credit: Netflix)

As rain begins to pour, the two argue and Sang-woo admits to killing Sae-byeok (though she had already been bleeding profusely). Gi-hun says she could have been saved, but Sang-woo admits he feared an alliance between her and Gi-hun — and that he'd rather murder than risk leaving the games without the money. Gi-hun tells Sang-woo that Sae-byeok had practically protected him, stopping him from killing Sang-woo. 

As the two fight, Sang-woo then stabs Gi-hun twice — once in the thigh, and the other (shockingly) in the hand — but Gi-hun refuses to stay down. He also says he refuses to let Sang-woo leave with the money. But, in the end, Gi-hun refuses to cross the line that Sang-woo did, showing mercy to him when he has him pinned on the ground. He tries to end the game by simply walking to the "squid's head."

But then a guard aims their gun at the fallen Sang-woo, which forces Gi-hun to ask that the games be ended with a vote. Sang-woo doesn't let this happen, and after he tells Gi-hun to help his mother, he stabs his own throat. 

With the game over, the Front Man takes Gi-hun back home. Before he throws him out of a car, he compares the fights that the Squid Game competitors have had to the horse races that Gi-hun bet on earlier in the season. He even says, "you people are the horses," to make sure it sounds as sickening an inhumane as possible.

The aftermath is hard to live with

The invitation card in Squid Game

(Image credit: YOUNGKYU PARK)

Left on the raining streets of Seoul, with a gold debit card (to be unlocked with his Squid Game uniform number '0456') in his mouth, Gi-hun has earned his 45.6 billion Won. But, as they always say, "at what cost?"

With 455 dead players in his shadow, Gi-hun walks to an ATM and takes 10,000 Won out. On his way home, Gi-hun come across Sang-woo's mother who shows that she's one of the best people in this show: giving him free food and asking after her son. But she also says that Gi-hun’s mother hasn't been at work in two days. This is a bit of a bracing warning to the audience, as Gi-hun's return home confirms our fears: his mother is dead. He finds her on the floor, thinking she's just asleep until she doesn't wake up. 

Gi-hun then spends the next year — which is passed in a flash-forward — in a depression. He is living the same kind of life he was living before, drinking beers on the bank of the Han River, rather than spending his winnings. His daughter has also moved to the US with her mother and stepfather. 

Gi-hun, seen unkempt on a train with a lot of facial hair that grew in those months, goes to a bank. The manager of the bank summoned him to ask about why his money is just sitting there, unspent, and not earning much interest. The bank manager offers him one of many ways to earn more interest, as the bank has new products for "VIPs." Hearing that word, which references the men who watched the Squid Games, Gi-hun stands up and just asks for 10,000 Won from his savings. He then goes to drink on the river bank, continuing the life he had before he became rich.

But when Gi-hun buys flowers from a woman selling them on the water, he notices that a special card was attached to his purchase. A card containing a sparkling gold Squid Game invite card. It's addressed "from your gganbu."

Squid Game ending's big reveal: It was Il-nam all along

O Yeong-su as Oh Il-nam in Squid Game

(Image credit: Netflix)

Gi-hun follows the invitation to a skyscraper where he walks into a cavernous room Il-nam (the old man with player number 001), is on life support. Yes, he didn't die in the marbles game. 

Il-nam points down to the streets, at a man who he believes to be homeless who is on the streets and likely to freeze to death if he's not helped. Il-nam asks Gi-hun if he would help that man, "that smelly, human piece of trash." As Gi-hun angrily asks what's going on, Il-nam then offers a wager: if nobody helps the poor man by midnight, Il-nam wins. If someone helps him before then, Gi-hun wins. Angrily, Gi-hun threatens to snap his neck. Il-nam tells him to play the game or risk not getting answers.

O Yeong-su as Oh Il-nam in Squid Game

(Image credit: YOUNGKYU PARK)

Il-nam confirms that is his real name, and that he has a tumor, which has been growing. A stranger almost helps the homeless man, but does not. Il-nam asks after Gi-hun's unspent winnings and guilt. 

We then learn that Il-nam is the creator of the game. It was a project that Il-nam and his wealthy clients devised because they were too bored by the joyless life of being filthy rich. Il-nam even claims that living is no fun for the super-rich. Il-nam played the games because he wanted to feel something for one last time before he died. And that Il-nam had just let Gi-hun win the marbles round because he enjoyed playing with him.

Then, the cops come to help the homeless man, right as the clock strikes midnight and as Il-nam dies. Again, winning is worthless. 

Squid Game ending: Gi-hun's red hair and plane decisions explained

We then see Gi-hun at the barber shop, where he makes a decision to dye his hair bright red, after he sees a photo of model with the same color hair on the wall. This decision, according to Squid Game writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk (speaking with Zapzee), is to show Gi-hun's inner anger. 

Specifically, Dong-hyuk said "I thought about this intuitively, thinking about how Gi Hun should change his hair in a hair salon. I imagined being him and thought to myself, ‘what is the color that you would never choose to dye your hair?’ Then I came to the conclusion that Gi Hun would never dye his hair red. It would be the craziest thing for him to do. So I chose the color and I thought it really showed his inner anger."

Then, Gi-hun goes to meet Sae-byeok's younger brother, who asks about his sister's whereabouts. We don't see Gi-hun explain or deny the child an answer, but he says that he and Sae-byeok were friends. The two then meet with Sang-woo's mother, who adopts the child, whose name is Kang Cheol. Then, Sang-woo's mother wishes Gi-hun a good trip before discovering that his luggage is filled with Gi-hun's winnings.

Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun in Squid Game

(Image credit: Netflix)

On his way to the airport to fly to the U.S. to see his daughter, Gi-hun sees the Salesman (Gong Yoo) running the same slapping and paper-flipping game on a new mark. Gi-hun runs to get his hands on the man, but he's gone. He then demands that the guy not take that offer.

Right before Gi-hun gets on the plane, he stops in his tracks. He picks up his phone, and calls the games masters to register for the game. He reveals his identity to the person on the other end, and declares that he's not a horse but a person. That he needs to know who's behind this. On the other end, the Front Man gets on the phone, identifies Gi-hun as player 456 and encourages him to get on the plane.

Gi-hun doesn't heed that advice, and walks away from the plane, to a potential Squid Game season 2

Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.