Here Is How Squid Game Almost Ended

Basketball superstar and "Space Jam 2" star Lebron James may not have liked the ending of "Squid Game" (per CNN and other outlets), but it's an ending that writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk arrived at only after giving it a good deal of thought. In 2021, Hwang confirmed that "Squid Game" would be coming back for a second season, so we know definitively that the story will go on and the ending is only the conclusion of the show's first chapter.

With its "Battle Royale"-like premise of people competing in a life-or-death island game, "Squid Game" tapped into the growing global market for South Korean thrillers that serve as commentary on capitalism, typified by the Oscar-winning success of "Parasite." Hwang has said that he would not change the first season's ending, but before deciding on it, he had another possible scenario in mind for the final scene, where Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) walks across the jet bridge toward his flight to L.A., where his daughter and ex-wife now live.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly through a translator, the Seoul-born filmmaker and television creator outlined what might otherwise have happened in that scene. He said:

"We actually wrestled between two different scenarios for the ending. There was one, the other alternate ending, where Gi-hun would get on the plane and leave. And then there was of course the one where he would turn back and walk towards the camera. We constantly asked ourselves, is it really right for Gi-hun to make the decision to leave and go see his family, to pursue his own happiness? Is that the right way for us to really propose the question or the message that we wanted to convey through the series?"

Why Gi-hun Turns Back at the End

Knowing now that "Squid Game" has a second season on the way, it's easy to chalk the first-season ending up to a simple cliffhanger, but there's more to it than that. If the show had concluded where it did, never to return, it would have still left us with the question of why Gi-hun turns back and what that means. Hwang elaborated:

"We came to the conclusion that the question that we wanted to propose cannot be done if he left on the plane. The question that we want to answer — why has the world come to what it is now? — can only be answered or can only be proposed if Gi-hun turned back and walked towards the camera. So that's how we ended up with that ending in the finale."

So what exactly does it mean when Gi-hun, the red-headed victor of "Squid Game," sole survivor of the bloodbath of island contestants, decides to turn back? That's open to interpretation, but in her breakdown of the ending, /Film's Hannah Shaw-Williams wrote that "Squid Game" was about "a yearning for the thrill of the game, and the chance to win." That thrill tastes so good that players are willing to keep chasing it even if it means being slapped in the face repeatedly or having people die all around them. The show arguably wasn't trying to say that money is the root of all evil so much as it was trying to say that the pursuit of wealth and cutthroat capitalism have left the world in shambles.

But could this alternate ending be considered a "happier" finale for a show that reveled so completely in bleakness? That's the big question. Sure, in this different conclusion, Gi-hun would've left his torment in the dust and put thousands of miles between him and the people who arranged his near-death on more than a few occasions. However, it also suggests an abdication of responsibility — it's the sensible thing to do, but also, in the context of how we tell stories, the cowardly thing to do. Instead, we see Gi-hun do the brave but possibly stupid thing. He turns around, declines to board the plane, and journeys back into the lions' den. He barely made it out, but curiosity or revenge or some combination of the two draws him back in. In true "Squid Game" fashion, neither ending offers an easy, compact conclusion to the story. Both are deliberately messy and unsatisfying. Both echo the lead character's scattered and fractured state of mind.

The first season of "Squid Game" is currently streaming on Netflix. There's no word on when the second season will arrive, so until we know what happens next, we'll just have to marinate on the possibilities of this alternate ending for a bit longer.