Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, Netflix’s survival thriller K-Drama Squid Game has taken the world by storm with its riveting premise laden with violence and gore, going on to become Netflix’s most popular show ever.
The series is a survival thriller game that sees a group of people competing against one another for prize money of a whopping 45.6 billion Korean Won. They need to follow the instructions of an unknown masked overseer with a panoptic gaze and participate in childhood games, whose innocence has been perverted with sinister means or die.
Set in present-day Korea with a dystopian outlook, the film is a scathing commentary on capitalism, class divides and power dynamics.
Based on a premise involving simple children’s games, the series adds a perverse twist to it, making it all the more fascinating and mind-boggling. With incredible performances from the cast, namely Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, HoYeon Jung and more, the series saw a huge ensemble cast out of which certain characters stood out in their own right.
To understand the game of morality, ethics, survival and wit better, let us break down the characters and rank them from worst to best. Warning: big spoilers ahead!
Ranking the ‘Squid Game’ characters from worst to best
10. Jang Deok-Su
The quintessential bully and gangster with devious motives and an intimidating facade, Deok-su is the vilest character in the series. He does not hesitate to kill people and is absolutely remorseless, often using violence to dominate others. He wants to stay alive and does not mind getting his hands bloodied. Aggressive, perverse and absolutely pathetic, he is the strongest and most brutal character in the game.
His misdeeds come back to bite him as his lover Mi-Nyeo makes him fall to his death as a consequence of all his actions. He is harmful and his presence makes the viewers uncomfortable. To think of being trapped in the same room with a man like Deok-su seems far more frightening than the game itself.
9. Oh Il-Nam
Oh Il-Nam, AKA Player 001, is introduced as the adorable old man with a brain tumour for whom we instantly feel pity. We develop an instantaneous connection with him and he is like the omniscient grandfather figure in the game as his voice puts an end to the riot. His strategy also helps the players win the tug of war. Gi-hun develops immense respect for the man and, like us, begins to feel empathy for his condition as he battles Alzheimer’s. After he is apparently shot by the guards, we are overcome by grief.
However, the last episode presents a jarring fact that makes us immensely uncomfortable. Oh Il-Nam is the smartest and most ruthless character in the game. Filthy rich, he is bored and wants to derive some enjoyment to “feel alive” before his imminent death. He is the curator of the games and the man beneath the bejewelled Owl Mask — the sinister Host.
He is neither defenceless nor deserving of any sympathy for he signifies all the plaques of power-hungry individuals who enjoy seeing those beneath them fight to the death just to feel a surge of adrenaline.
8. Hwang In-ho
Also known as The Front Man, In-ho operates the sadistic and brutal game and works for the Host and other wealthy men who derive perverse pleasure from seeing commoners fight till the death. He is the overseer of all operations and takes care of all disruptions, including getting rid of the infiltrator who was his brother Jun-ho.
As he shoots Jun-ho, after the latter lovingly addresses him as “Hyung” which is a common honorific used to refer to elder brothers, the regret and disappointment are clouded behind a cold viciousness.
In-ho is Jun-ho’s missing brother and a victor in one of the previous games. He is too far gone, caring more about the game than his own family. After winning the game, he is no longer human but operates like a ruthless robot who will go to great lengths to preserve the sanctity of the sadistic games.
7. Han Mi-Nyeo
Loud, shrewd, obnoxious and chatty, Mi-Nyeo is not likeable. She is manipulative and uses sex to infiltrate the strongest team. She is, however, quite resilient and despite being considered the “weakest link”, survives. We hated her when she convinced Deok-su and his band of thugs to take extra food that led to huge riots and innumerable deaths. However, when Mi-Nyeo realises she is dispensable to Deok-su, like a woman scorned, she exacts her revenge.
While we anticipated Deok-su to suffer at the hands of Mi-Nyeo whom he treated very poorly, we did not expect them to take a tragic fall. The pride and satisfaction in her eyes, as she resigns to her fate and pulls Deok-su to his death along with her is indeed fascinating.
Mi-Nyeo is a perfectly grey character whose vengeance soothes us.
6. Cho Sang-woo
Sang-woo is the living epitome of how we should hate the game and not the player. Sang-woo bears a lot of burden on his droopy shoulders. As the pride of his small town who attended Seoul National University and became a bigshot businessman, Sang-woo crumbles under pressure and prison time due to a massive financial fraud he committed. He is desperate to maintain his image in front of his mother and fights ruthlessly for the money.
Sang-woo is morally grey. He is quick to betray his team yet helps them win the difficult tug of war. We are conflicted over our opinion of Sang-woo as we know how frustration and despair compel him to bring out the worst. His betrayal of Ali cannot be compensated by the huge sacrifice he makes in the end. Even while dying, he asks Gi-hun to take care of his mother. It indicates how deeply he cared for her and how all his actions were rooted in this tragic circumstance.
Although we did not see Ji-yeong before the very end, she left quite an impact in the two episodes of her appearance. With her sleek bangs and drawled out expression, Ji-Yeong is a part of Gi-hun’s team in the tug-of-war. She berates her teammate later for praying to God when he should have thanked Sang-woo and the old man for their quick thinking and strategy. Nonchalant and brave, Ji-yeong spits facts and drops truth bombs with a confident aura of ignorance.
However, when she pairs with Sae-byeok for a game of marbles, within a few minutes, she talks about her grim past where she had resorted to murdering her abusive father and been imprisoned. She purposely loses the game to give Sae-byeok the chance to fight and reunite with her brother as Ji-yeong thinks that the other girl has a lot to live and strive for. Her selfless sacrifice makes us mirror Sae-byeok’s reaction as we shed tears at her act of courage. She leaves with a happy smile and a huge void in our hearts.
4. Hwang Jun-ho
Every time Jun-ho appeared onscreen, we could not breathe. To see this courageous man infiltrate such a well-guarded and sinister facility on the island to expose the truth. He is intelligent, skilled and quickly adapts to his lifestyle as one of the red guards, with the number 029. He is cautious and is actually in search of his brother Hwang In-ho who was a participant in the game long back.
He eventually discovers his brother to be the Front Man under whose panoptic gaze the whole game is being conducted. His brother works for the Host and other wealthy men who derive perverse pleasure from seeing commoners fight it out till death. A genuinely heroic character meets his tragic ending at the hands of his brother. However, fans who are anticipating a second season have speculated that Jun-ho might be alive as his body was not shown to the audience.
3. Kang Sae-byeok
Kang Sae-byeok is a North Korean refugee whose resilience and perseverance on the show has helped her garner a massive fan following. She participates in the game to win the prize money to save her family and reunite with them across the border. After successfully completing the five games, Sae-byeok is injured fatally by the shard of glass and dies in the penultimate episode without putting up a fight. She meets her end when the ruthless and desperate Sang-woo stabs her.
Her unwavering courage and determination, despite being constantly intimidated by the disgusting Deok-su is commendable. Behind her tough facade lies a raw vulnerability surrounding her family that she reveals to Ji-Yeong by the end of the fourth episode. She is tough and courageous and her tragic death is a focal point of the series.
2. Seong Gi-hun
Squid Game does not have a hero per se. It deals with everyday characters caught in the quagmire of life, looking for a better escape from their worries. The protagonist is no hero either. He is imperfect in his own ways as a hapless gambler who spends his allowance meant to buy his daughter a birthday present on gambling. However, driven by his insecurities as well as raging poverty, Gi-hun enters the game to win the cash prize and help operate his ailing mother.
Gi-hun is a natural leader. Although he is the everyman character, he possesses immense wit, courage and level-headedness even in the direst situations. He is brimming with faith and empathy and his victory, no matter how grim, still satisfies us. He is the perfect balance of fun and seriousness and somehow makes it easy to breathe within such a riveting premise of the show.
1. Abdul Ali
Ali’s death was one of the most heartbreaking moments in the series. He is easily the most well-liked character whose selflessness and loyalty are unfathomable. His kindness and compassion are noted in the very first episode during the game of Red Light, Green Light when he risks himself for a stranger and saves Gi-hun’s life by using his strength to lift him up.
Ali is a part of Gi-hun’s team and the most understanding player of them all. Without his brute strength and intense loyalty, the team would not have made it far into the game. As an immigrant from Pakistan, struggling to support his family while searching for a better future in Korea, Ali’s need for money never nurtures a monster in him.
Till his last breath, he remains too trusting and naive, something that causes his downfall. While we love Ali and wish he had a better ending, the look of horror, disappointment and betrayal on his face when he realises his inevitable doom signifies how being nice does not help one in today’s ruthless world.