Sometimes all you need is a ticking clock for a high-stakes confrontation.
I have watched Squid Game twice now since it came out this fall. I just can't get enough of the show's diverse set of characters, their life-and-death circumstances, and the masterful storytelling.
It's become one of Netflix’s most-viewed shows. It really is a magnificent bit of television, all the more impressive for Hwang Dong-hyuk’s diligence in seeing his idea through 10 years of development, and writing and directing the entire series himself.
There’s a lot to be surprised by in the writing—we could write a whole article on the misdirect of episode two, which takes all the characters out of the games and puts them back into the real world as if that will be the end of the games.
In the final episode, Gi-hun emerges the winner of the games but not triumphant, choosing to ignore his winnings and live as a vagrant. One night, he gets a note from his gganbu, and it’s revealed Oh Il-nam (who participated in the games as a player) is not dead, but actually the mastermind behind the whole thing.
Their reunion serves as a final-act twist, but also gives the writer a chance to share exposition that viewers may have wanted the entire series.
Who is behind the games? Why do the games exist? Why did Oh Il-nam join the games, risking death? Does he really have a brain tumor?
To keep the audience in suspense about these things until the very last episode is a sharp storytelling method, and the scene doesn’t feel like an exposition dump (although it is). The next point is why.
You can have two characters discuss plot points. Sit them down and have them talk. That’s easy.
What’s not easy is making their discussion exciting for an audience.
The writer crafts this episode nine scene as one final game between Oh Il-nam and Gi-hun. Oh Il-nam spots a drunk man, far on the snowy street below. He bets that no one will help the man before midnight. Resigned, Gi-hun accepts.
Suddenly, the scene has enormous stakes and a ticking clock. It’s a very calm sequence, the editing alternating between shots of the characters, the snow falling outside, the ticking hand of the clock, the unaware victim outside.
It’s a long sequence—about 15 minutes—but it never drags. It has all the characteristics of a story itself. Set up, reversal, conflict, resolution.
The Hidden Meaning
Some smart viewers have noted that this scene could be counted as a seventh game. It even takes place on the seventh floor of the building. Audiences are also theorizing that this scene is tied to how the Front Man is recruited, and there’s plenty to explore there.
But there is deep thematic meaning to the scene, as well.
We want Gi-hun to win this game, to reinforce his faith in humanity and goodness. He is, for the most part, a humane character who does care for others even while fighting for self-preservation. His guilt and loss of faith in the last episode are a tragedy.
Oh Il-nam represents the opposite view, one of cynicism and disaffectedness. The world is evil, he thinks. We want him proven wrong. We want someone to help the poor man who has no idea someone is having fun toying with his life (just like during the games).
And Gi-hun does technically “win” this game, with a passer-by fetching authorities to help the drunk man. But Oh Il-nam dies before he can see this, his own beliefs ing humanity reinforced through his narrow view.
This scene is the catharsis Gi-hun needs to take action again. He uses his winnings to help others and keep his promises to other contestants, and perhaps will eventually try to take down the games themselves. We'll have to wait for season two to find out.
What did you think of how Squid Game ended? Let us know in the comments!