There’s a lot going on at the end of Netflix’s battle royale thriller Squid Game, which is a cross between Bong Joon-Oscar-winning ho’s film Parasite and Saw, with its body horror trojan horsing a more complex message about class conflict, stratification, and predation.
The series follows a group of “players” who are recruited to participate in a multi-day survival game. The players are transported to an island and forced (?) to compete in playground games, with the winners advancing to the next game and the losers being shot, stabbed, dropped, or killed in some other inventive and gruesome manner. After six games, the winner is awarded the monetary amount assigned to each person who has been killed, with the total prize amounting to approximately 45 billion.
We learn several things about the game at the end of the series. We learn that the game has been going on for decades, with thousands of people taking part. We learn that one of those contestants (and eventual winner) is the Front Man, the brother of detective Hwang Jun-ho, whom he shoots and causes to fall off a cliff (fate unknown). The organizer of the games is revealed to be Oh Il-nam (No. 0001), the old man. He created the games with a group of wealthy friends who were bored with their fortunes and wanted to have “fun.”
We also learn that, despite Oh’s death and the photos Hwang attempted to send to his Seoul police colleagues, the games for the following year are already underway. The series concludes with Seong Gi-hun (No. 0456) leaving the airport determined to thwart the organization’s next game.
Seong receives approximately $39 million via a gold debut card shoved into his mouth, which he promptly deposits into a bank account and never touches until more than a year after the games. He then uses some of the money to repay Cho Sang-(No. woo’s 0218) debt and to remove Kang Sae-(No. byeok’s 0067) brother from the orphanage, connecting him with Cho’s mother as a foster parent.
Aside from these acts, Seong still has a substantial amount of money to spend on whatever he plans to do to bring down the organization.
Seong reunites with Oh in one of the final scenes and discovers the old man’s role in the games. During the meeting, while Oh is minutes away from death, the two play one final game, betting on the fate of a homeless man on the street below, who is also minutes away from death. Oh’s bet: No one will stop to help the man before midnight. He is proven incorrect. A minute before midnight, a person who had stopped beside the man earlier returns with police. Oh dies soon after, prompting Seong to wonder if he saw—if he saw that he was wrong.
As low-stakes as this final game appears to be, it may be one of the series’ most important.
Their wager is based on moral conviction. Oh had first asked Seong if he still had faith in others after witnessing the games’ manipulation, betrayal, and selfishness. Seong does not respond, despite the fact that he had tried not to kill another player throughout the games. The irony is that the only player Seong chooses to betray is Oh—the only player who doesn’t care about betrayal because he isn’t in the game.
This conflict between egoism and some form of collaboration/altruism represents the crux not only of the games themselves—where one must first decide whether the game is competitive or cooperative—but also of each player’s inner conflict.
It is also, one might surmise, a decision at the heart of the show’s depicted income inequality. According to Squid Game, the moral beliefs of the extremely wealthy are essentially egoistic. They also believe that everyone shares this ethic, which makes preying on others acceptable. Oh’s final game with Seong is significant because it demonstrates that this assumption is not always correct. Other people do not always act in their own best interests. They, too, deserve the same treatment, according to Seong, even if they agree to the violent games.