By: Kimberly Bond
Squid Game is Netflix’s latest surprise smash hit, with the Korean-language horror drama on track to be the streaming platform’s most-watched show ever.
For those of us yet to get hooked on the nine-part series, Squid Game follows gambling addict Seong Gi-hun as he finds himself invited to take part in a series of playground games to win a staggering cash prize.
But when Seong Gi-hun – and other desperate and cash-poor citizens – start to compete, it seems there’s a deadly twist on these typically innocent games; those who fail or lose the tasks are eliminated (and by that, we mean shot in the head).
While millions of us have become immersed in the garishly coloured and blood-soaked world in which Squid Game takes place, some eagle-eyed viewers have spotted theories or clues that point towards just how the games work – and hints that mean that twist ending was hiding in plain sight all along.
Here are all the best theories and Easter eggs in Squid Game. Naturally, there are spoilers ahead, so look away now if you’re yet to finish the series.
Read more about Squid Game:
- Squid Game season 2 – will the Netflix show return?
- Squid Game cast – full list of actors and characters in hit Netflix series
- Squid Game true story – Real life inspiration behind Netflix series
- Squid Game money: How much is 45.6 billion Won prize money in dollars and pounds?
- Squid Game creator reveals meaning behind title
- Who is 067 in Squid Game?
- Where was Squid Game filmed?
- Squid game costumes – where to buy the tracksuits, jumpsuits and masks
- How to make Squid Game cookies
- Squid Game director teases possible season 2 plot
- Is Squid Game dubbed into English? How to watch with voice actors and subtitles
- How many episodes are there in Squid Game?
- Who is Squid Game’s Old Man?
- Squid Game ending explained
1. The masked guards picked the red card
Many of the theories about Squid Game stem from just how people come to find themselves involved in this shadowy, underground contest. One compelling theory that is doing the rounds is linked to the card game, Ddakji, Seong Gi-hun is asked to play at the train station in episode one.
Viewers will remember that Seong Gi-hun would win 10,000 won (it sounds a lot, but it’s the equivalent of about £6.20 in UK money) every time he manages to flip his opponent’s card. If his opponent manages to flip Seong Gi-hun’s card, Seong Gi-hun gets a slap in the face.
The businessman asks Seong Gi-hun to choose between red or blue cards to play, and Seong Gi-hun chooses blue. When he arrives at the contest later in the game as a contestant, he is wearing a blue boiler suit.
Some have theorised that those propositioned who choose the red card instead become masked guards – the red-coated supervisors that oversee the competition, and help ‘eliminate’ contestants.
2. Seong Gi-hun’s red hair has a deeper significance
The final episode sees Seong Gi-hun having dyed his hair red after winning the games and collecting his prize money. While this could just be a cinematic decision to show the once affable and happy-go-lucky character is now a changed man having seen so many people, including his friends, die, others believe that this is a piece of foreshadowing; Seong Gi-hun has chosen ‘red’ and will return as a masked guard to take the games down from the inside. It’s a bit of a stretch, but we do end the series with Seong Gi-hun determined to track down whoever is still allowing the games to continue – so maybe those suggesting this theory are on to something.
3. Oh Il-nam is Seong Gi-hun’s father
Seong Gi-hun has an instant rapport and bond with elderly contestant Oh Il-nam, or contestant 001, but some have pointed towards clues that the pair’s friendship stems from familial ties. After all, we see Seong Gi-hun at home with his mother, but there’s no mention or discussion to his father at all.
There are clues woven throughout the narrative that the pair are related – a scene which saw Seong Gi-Hun ask the unimpressed guards for chocolate milk saw Oh Il-nam chuckle that his son was “similar”. Another scene sees the pair discuss the similarities between the set design of one of the games to their neighbourhoods growing up, again leading many to suggest that the old man fathered Seong Gi-hun.
The show’s twist, which reveals that Oh Il-nam was a game VIP who helped create the challenges, has led many to claim that the whole tournament was devised by Oh Il-nam to find his lost son, especially when he gives Seong Gi-hun his jacket ‘to protect him’ in the games and adds it was “fun to play with him”. Are the tournaments all a ruse for a father and son to have the childhood fun they never could?
4. The games were rigged to protect Oh Il-nam
From the start, Oh Il-nam is an outlier in comparison to the other contestants. He’s significantly older than the others around, he doesn’t receive a backstory and he’s surprisingly strategic for someone who’s quite severely sick.
But there are bigger clues that contestant 001 was more deeply involved in the contest. Many viewers have pointed out how enthusiastic Oh Il-nam is about each of the games, despite his clear disadvantages – well, it soon transpires this is the case because he actually helped pick each round.
If you watch closely, the fairly cheerful Oh Il-nam, who happily bounds forward despite watching hundreds of people get gunned down, is barely scanned by the sadistic doll/robot killing machine in Red Light Green Light.
Another clue towards Oh Il-nam’s real identity is seen in the riots: one of the few things the guards, or the VIPs watching, have any control over. Despite numerous contestants getting killed, the Front Man only intervenes when Oh Il-nam pleads to the cameras that he is ‘scared’ – because he knew he was a weak, easy target that could be easily picked off if things start to spiral.
5. The workers are previous winners
Another theory about the identity of those working on the games is that the guards in red are actually all previous winners from older games. It’s not impossible, seeing as the Front Man is In-ho, detective Jun-ho’s missing brother.
As we’ve seen, the winners of each game win a substantial amount of cash – millions, in fact.
But some of these contestants are already in millions of pounds of debt, and giving vast wads of notes to gambling addicts is only set to make them indulge in their vices even more.
Perhaps, when the winners return to the outside world, they recklessly spend all of their prize money, and find themselves back in mountains of debt?
Oh Il-nam clearly can keep track of the players – we see him happening to ‘find’ Seong Gi-hun when the games are first cancelled. So maybe he can trace the winners – and allows them another chance to pay their debt by working as guards for a set period of time.
It would also explain why past winners are recruited; the guards are portrayed as heartless and cold, and nothing could make someone quite so hard-faced than watching and killing fellow players all in the pursuit of money.
But we have to consider the young boy who was discovered to be a guard in episode three. Could he have really won a previous tournament? Or are there even darker circumstances around the games that we can’t even fathom?
6. The players who didn’t return to the games are now workers
After the games are cancelled following the first vote, most players return to play as they all become increasingly desperate for money. However, 14 choose not to come back because they didn’t want to put their lives at risk. Fair enough.
We see Front Man telling the other guards to keep an eye on those who didn’t return – but what could he have meant by that?
Well, one theory is that these 14 people will be given the opportunity to pay their debts as a red worker.
The workers are, for the most part, safe from harm, as long as they obey the rules (and avoid antagonising contestants).
It would also serve as a surefire way to prevent them from leaking their knowledge of the games to the outside world.
If we look at the 14 contestants who didn’t return to this game, alongside former contestants who hadn’t returned to previous years, it would mean there’s over 100 players who are roaming around – which is similar to the number of armed guards.
7. Several Squid Game deaths are foreshadowed
We can already guess the fate of some of our prominent players in the games just by looking at how they behaved on the outside world, as many of their actions poetically suggest how they all die.
Let’s look at Sang-woo: he kills himself at the end of the games and was planning on doing so before being pulled back into the competition in episode two.
Elsewhere, gangster Jang Deok-su died after falling in the Glass Bridge game, which is how he fled from those chasing him.
North Korean defector Sae-byeok has her throat slit in the final game, which was how she threatened her scammer on the outside world.
And Ali’s death (probably one of the most heart-wrenching in the series) comes about because Sang-woo steals his marbles – much like Ali stole his boss’s money in desperation before the tournament.
8. Seong Ga-yeong’s stepdad is involved in the games
This theory may be a stretch, but some viewers believe Seong Gi-hun’s ex-wife’s new husband is involved in the games. Why? Well, there are a few clues.
The man is clearly not short of money, easily handing over the cash for Seong Gi-hun’s mother’s surgery, but there’s also a mean and vindictive streak in him, as he insists that Seong Gi-hun exits their lives for good.
It’s clear that whoever is in charge of the games can speak English, as we hear them talking to someone, and, with the family moving to America for work, it’s likely he’s fluent. Could he really be the mastermind, or at least involved? It’s not likely, but Squid Game has shown anything is possible.
9. Squid Game is a working model of Game Theory
This is one for the economists: the tournaments are simply a huge metaphor for Game Theory in action.
For those unaware, Game Theory is the study of interactive decision-making, where the outcome for each player depends on the actions of all. When deciding a strategy, you must consider the actions and choices of others but, in thinking about their decisions, you must realise they are thinking about your decisions, and so on.
Squid Game is an example of ‘zero sum’: In this game, one man’s death is another man’s chance at life with prize money.
Let’s look at it in action: These players are desperate, at the end of their tether, and simply have little choice but to join the game, even if the cost of losing is death. The host of this game invited only those who are in large amounts of debt and have no way to come back from it unless they play the game and win the prize money.
Without joining the game, the participants have no way to pay off their debt, and life would just be hell on earth, which isn’t any better than death. Therefore, the players have no choice but to choose playing the game as their ‘dominant strategy’.
This makes Squid Game all the more poignant, as it emphasises the yawning chasm between the choices of the super rich and the lack of choices of the very poor.