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Hot Take: The Wrong Player Won Squid Game

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Hawaii chapter.

I have something to say. You might agree, disagree, even hate me for it. But I have to speak my mind.

Cho Sang-woo deserved to win Squid Game.

I said what I said.

Sang-woo is a morally grey character who goes into the game with one goal: to leave alive with the cash prize. So many look at him as the villain of the show, and while he definitely isn’t a great person and was absolutely ruthless, I don’t think he’s so deserving of the villain title (Jang Deok-su?) He had moments of kindness and empathy, but also embezzled money from his clients and killed players. There are so many layers to him that we need to explore.

Background Info

The Squid Game script was inspired from the 2009 financial crisis in South Korea. The director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, revealed that the plot arose from his experiences of the financial crisis, saying “I was very financially straitened because my mother retired from the company she was working for. There was a film I was working on but we failed to get finance. So I couldn’t work for about a year. We had to take out loans – my mother, myself and my grandmother.” There’s a clear connection between Sang-woo and the financial crisis; he was put in debt from losing money in stocks (money from embezzlement), so he put up his mother’s livelihood, her home and business, as financial collateral.

Not off to a great start, but stay with me.


Sang-woo was clearly the smartest player (he graduated the top of his class at SNU – I don’t think they mentioned that) and figured out how to play at the very beginning. He wasn’t there to make friends or be nice – he was there to get the prize and knew the lengths he would have to go to. When you get pushed to the limits they did, your survival instinct will kick in and you’ll most likely do anything to win when you’re desperate. Most players weren’t as cutthroat as Sang-woo was, but there were some understandable moments.

Red Light Green Light

Sang-woo told Gi-hun to hide behind the other players so the doll wouldn’t detect his movements. Additionally, he brought up doing a majority vote to leave the game after Red Light Green Light. Nobody knew it was going to be a death game, and he wanted out till he saw the cash prize. He wanted to win for himself and his mother.

During his suicide attempt after being sent home, he was invited back to the games and saw the interruption as a sign of him being saved and having the chance to win enough money to get him out of debt and save his mom. That was his motivation, and it was enough to be driven to complete desperation as the games continued.

The Honeycomb game

I struggled to understand why he made the choice to keep the fact that he knew what the game was a secret, but I can see why he did it after some reflecting. We can guess that Sang-woo figured out the game by the screenplay and then decided to not tell Gi-hun, despite him picking the hardest shape. I believe the reason behind this is because if he were to tell Gi-hun, then he would probably rush to tell Il-Nam and Ali, with the possibility of other players overhearing, causing a rumor that Sang-woo was cheating (because we all saw what happened to the doctor when his secret got out). It’s harsh, but I can understand from his perspective why he did that.

The Glass Bridge game

Ruthless? A bit. Understandable? I think so.

If Sang-woo didn’t push the glass-maker, all of the remaining players would have died. There was simply no time left to guess which panel is the tempered panel – they barely made it off alive. An unconfirmed theory I believe is that the glass-maker knew what panel was tempered at the very end and wanted to wait until the last second was up, causing everyone else to die and making him the automatic winner. Sang-woo already repeatedly warned the glass-maker about the timer. He did what he had to do.

HE FELT GUILT and remorse

Stay with me on this one.

When he’s walking away from the marbles game and hears the gunshot that kills Ali, we see him flinch and look upset. He wasn’t walking away prideful or completely numb to what he just did. Sang-woo knew he had to kill people to win, even if it was Ali. We have to remember that at this point in the show, they’ve all known each other for less than a week. I truly believe he regretted betraying him and it was the last thing he wanted to do, but he knew that if it wasn’t Ali, it was going to be him dead. He put himself first, and I think a lot of people in his position would too. It was heartbreaking, but his survival instincts came in. Sang-woo is desperate to win.

Then we see the aftermath of that game: Sang-woo lashes out at player 069, the now widowed husband. This scene is key because it shows Sang-woo feels guilty for betraying Ali, but he can’t admit it to himself, so he projects that onto the husband. Sang-woo grabs 069 the same way he grabs Ali when they were arguing, a nod to the scene. Seeing 069 crying over his wife just triggered all of the guilt and anger over what he did to his friend and as a result, lashed out out of guilt.

Gi-hun won by luck

Gi-hun won by luck and I will die on this hill.

He only won Red Light, Green Light because Sang-woo gave him a tip and Ali saved him, then II-Nam and Sang-woo’s strategy in Tug Of War, and being the last number in the Glass Bridge. Of course he won because he’s the main character, but still. It should have been Sang-woo. He went the full mile to win.

Plus, he betrayed II-Nam in the marbles game, just how Sang-woo did to Ali. In the marbles game, Gi-hun took advantage of his dementia and tricked him. The only difference is was that he got caught. While he was significantly kinder and more empathetic than Sang-woo, he wasn’t amazing, either. Ali was the only one that was, really.


Like we know, Sang-woo was playing to get himself out of debt and to save his mother. Him and Gi-hun had very different morals, which was shown from the start. To Sang-woo, this game was his last chance to get money and live an okay life. So if he decided to follow through with Gi-hun in the final game and end everything, Sang-woo would have left with no money, gone to jail, and have trauma. Lots of it. Both of their families would still be financially suffering and nothing would change. Sang-woo knew that Gi-hun would take care of his mother, hence his last words. Before he died, Sang-woo had the knife; so why didn’t he kill Gi-hun instead?

He figured it would be better him dead and his mom saved than him alive with no money. He was calculative, but also desperate and felt shame from his past.

Sang-woo is the best written character in the show, hands down. I’m not saying he’s a good person, but there is so much complexity to him that gets overlooked. He raises questions such as, is anyone completely evil or good? How you would react if you were put in this position?