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Moments In Netflix's Squid Game That Made Us Squirm

There are two types of people who watch Netflix's hit Korean series "Squid Game." There are those who watch it after hearing about how rivetingly twisted it is, and those who watch it knowing virtually nothing about it. It's held the top spot on Netflix for weeks, so why not check it out? The why doesn't really matter, though, because over the course of nine episodes, we're all equally helpless as we watch the unforgettably violent thriller unfold before us. 

The show starts out innocently enough as it follows the affable but irresponsible Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-jae. He slouches through life, but seems like an overall decent guy. Still, it can be a bit hard to watch as Gi-hun gambles his way into deepening debt and makes everyone around him miserable — especially his family. But these early, cringeworthy antics are nothing compared to what's to come once he enters a competition to win obscene amounts of money. By the time the first episode is over, "Squid Game" has knocked us off our feet and ensured we're never able to regain them until long after the last episode ends. 

It's a brutal show, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It revels in digging into what makes people tick and what makes us do horrible things. It's hard for anyone to watch without a visceral reaction for more than a few minutes. Whether it's violence, betrayal, or anticipation, these are the moments when "Squid Game" makes us squirm. 

The Red Light, Green Light massacre

"Squid Game" starts out benign enough, even up through the semi-kidnapping leading to the competition. It doesn't seem to faze those who agreed to participate too much, so why not? Then we learn the first game the players compete in is Red Light, Green Light. Run when you hear "Green light," freeze on "Red light." Simple, right? 

Sure. Until the game starts and 456 players take off, then freeze on a dime. Only a single, cocky man keeps moving when he's not supposed to. A bang echoes throughout the playing field and he drops to the ground. The player closest to him takes in the blood and realizes what happened. He turns and runs, only to be shot in the back. The massacre that follows is jaw-dropping, and the surprise of it makes it even harder to watch. Everyone's screaming as they stampede for the exits, getting shot in their backs, their heads — it doesn't matter. Faces are stomped on, blood is everywhere, and terrified players claw at the doors, screaming for help as they're murdered.

It's over in little more than a minute, but it feels like it lasts forever. Over half the contestants are dead, their bodies strewn across the ground and piled up in front of the exits. Bloody handprints cover the wall, and as Gi-hun and the rest of the survivors take in the carnage around them, we understand their shock all too well. This won't be easy to watch. 

The vote on whether or not stay

While there's violence aplenty in "Squid Game," some of the most uncomfortable moments hit us in the quieter, more cerebral scenes. One of those moments comes in the second episode, "Hell," when the stunned survivors of Red Light, Green Light are told they can leave the brutal games any time they want — provided the majority of players vote to do so. The players are surprisingly torn. Go home and live — or, now that they understand the stakes, stay and risk it all for unimaginable wealth?

Each side seems evenly matched, and watching the vote slowly play out is excruciating. We're just as torn about what we want as the players are. On one hand, now that we have an idea of what's in store, we aren't sure if we can handle another eight episodes of this. How dark can things get? On the other, we're absolutely hooked after those first 60 minutes. We don't want the ride to end, but we aren't entirely comfortable with our eagerness for more carnage. 

Also, it's more than just the drawn out process that makes the vote so unnerving to sit through. It's anticipation for the end. Would the masterminds behind the games really let everyone go just because they voted for it? You're on the edge of your seat through the entire vote, and when the players ultimately choose to go, you breathe a sigh of relief ... and disappointment.

Ali's boss getting his hand crushed

In a surprising move, once the contestants vote to leave the games, they're actually granted their request. They're dumped back into the real world in the same episode, and the show follows a handful of characters into their lives. That's when we learn just how hellish those lives are.  One of the characters we follow is Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi), the man who single-handedly saved Gi-hun in the first game.

Ali confronts his boss over working without pay for a stunning six months. The kind man is clearly uncomfortable, acting out of the same desperation that prompted him to join the competition. Ali's boss, though, doesn't care. He even seems mildly amused when Ali shows off the hand he'd mangled at work. The boss then whines about being broke himself, even though Ali can see a money-stuffed envelope sitting on his desk.

Fed up, the man leaves with the envelope and Ali confronts him again on the factory floor. They fight, and Ali's boss falls backwards, his hand catching and getting crushed between two massive industrial rollers. "Squid Game" leaves little to the imagination, from the crunch and the spurt of blood to the agonized look on the screaming man's face. It's almost impossible to watch — not just because of the gore, but because it hammers home the fact that there's no escaping the horror. Not for the characters, nor, so long as we keep watching, for us.

Cho Sang-woo's betrayal in the honeycomb challenge

Eventually, with life outside so miserable, most players return to the games. They get back into the swing of things in the third episode, "The Man with the Umbrella," and by the time the second game starts, their mood is almost upbeat. Even after watching half their number slaughtered in the first game, the players decide a slim chance is better than none, and we're ready to cheer them on. They start making friends and forming alliances, with Gi-hun teaming up with his childhood pal, Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), his savior, Ali, and the elderly Player 001 (O Yeong-su), who doesn't remember his own name.

It feels hopeful and good. And then, before the game starts, Sang-woo ruins it. The players enter a room and are told to line up in front of one of four shapes. It's quickly apparent that Sang-woo has figured out the game, but he doesn't tell his teammates. Instead, he encourages each one to choose a different shape. He chooses first, of course.

It turns out to be a very bad idea for some of them, but it's those first few minutes that make us really anxious. We know Sang-woo makes a calculated decision to betray his team, but unlike him, we have no idea what's to come. His momentary flashes of conscience just make it worse, as it's clear he expects disaster — but still does nothing. Ultimately, everyone survives, but our trust for Sang-woo doesn't.

Jang Deuk-su beating a man to death

The fourth episode, "Stick to the Team," starts with a horrifying incident. Amoral gangster Jang Deuk-su (Heo Sung-tae) and his sycophants cut in the food line and help themselves to seconds. The food, though, is tightly controlled, and their theft means others get nothing.

Player 271 confronts Deuk-su, his eyes wild and desperate as he watches his stolen drink downed by another. While it's impressive to see someone stand up to the thug, we know something bad is going to happen. The only question is, how bad? When Player 271 launches himself at Deuk-su to grab the bottle, we find out. They struggle, the bottle breaks, and an enraged Deuk-su cuts loose.

He punches Player 271 in the face, then kicks him over and over again on the ground. "Squid Game" only shows us the first couple kicks as Player 271 lays helpless on the floor. The camera then pans up, but somehow that's even worse as Deuk-su curses and kicks and stomps on the man below him. The sounds of his foot connecting over and over again are sickening, especially the last one as we realize Player 271 no longer cries out. But what's even more sickening is seeing an entire room full of people watching it happen, not lifting a finger to stop a murder in front of them — and not knowing if it's shock, fear, or cold calculation that keeps the other players from intervening makes it all the worse. 

Learning the rules of the marble game

In the sixth episode, "Gganbu," we come to realize that one of the most disturbing games to watch is also one of the least violent games to play: Marbles. Before the game begins, the players are dumped in a room and told to pair up. They split off into twos with friends, loved ones, and those they think will offer an advantage — except for Gi-hun. He feels bad no one wants to take Player 001, so he decides to save him from almost certain death for being the odd man out.

Then they're told what the rules of the game are, and the cruel irony of Gi-hun's kindness sets in. The pairs won't be playing marbles against other teams to see who survives. They'll be playing against each other. "Squid Game" takes the time to make us care about the main characters, tricking us into thinking they might just come out of this together. Instead, they'll be killing each other. 

It isn't just the main characters who make this so hard to watch, though. One of the most poignant moments comes from Player 069 and Player 070. The look on their faces as the husband and wife team realize that not only will one of them die, the other one will be responsible for their death is heartbreaking. The rest of the episode may be an exercise in dread, but watching the players react to the rule twist is pure agony.

Cho Sang-woo tricking Ali into losing

You have to hand it to Sang-woo for earning a spot on the list twice for his duplicitousness. He's so craven, he gets a special call-out for what he does to Ali in the marble game. Though Ali admits to having never played marbles before, he's quick to pick up on it. Soon, Ali's won all but one of the marbles. Sang-woo, unsurprisingly, doesn't like this. He freaks out and attacks Ali, accusing him of cheating. When the masked "Squid Game" guard draws his gun, Sang-woo decides he needs a change in tactics and drops to his knees, begging Ali to let him win. 

When that too fails, Sang-woo convinces Ali that he has a plan for how they can both survive. It's almost impossible to sit still as Ali, though doubtful, gives in to his good nature and chooses to trust Sang-woo. Somebody needs to step in, shake him, and scream at him not to listen. He's so close to surviving! But no one intervenes.

What's worse, it's tempting to believe that maybe, just maybe, Sang-woo can pull off a miracle and save both of them. Surely "Squid Game" wouldn't let Ali die. But once Sang-woo tricks his good-natured partner into giving up his marbles, that hope is snuffed out. There's nothing left to do but watch dejectedly as the marble-less Ali runs around on a pointless errand, just waiting for reality and death to catch up to him.

The slaughter on the glass bridge

The only word for the "game" in the seventh episode, "VIP," is diabolical. Both contestants and viewers are mentally and emotionally exhausted after the gut-wrenching game of marbles. We've barely caught our breath before the remaining players are told to pick a number between one and 16. They're then led to a bridge made up of two rows of glass panels.

The players have to make it across, jumping from glass panel to glass panel, starting with number one and working their way back to number 16: Gi-hun. One of the panels in each row is tempered glass and can hold the weight of multiple people. The other is normal glass. It shatters upon contact. There's no skill to it, just pure dumb luck. And as the third player calculates that his odds of guessing the right panel across the entire remaining bridge are one in 32,768, it's clear that for all but the last few players, their luck is out.

One by one the players try crossing, pushed on by the ones behind them even when they're too afraid to go. And one by one, they die. Every part of the game, from the sound of the glass breaking to the broken, mangled bodies lined up on the ground far below, is sickening to watch. This game wasn't designed to test the players. It was just designed to thin their numbers. Sixteen players enter the bridge game. Only three make it out.

The VIP harassing Hwang Jun-ho

When it comes down to it, almost the entire "VIPS" episode will leave viewers squirming in our seats. The wealthy, amoral VIPs watching the games are humanity at its most despicable, and the man in the tiger mask is the worst of them all.

He's brasher and cruder than the rest of his masked peers, and from the moment Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-joon) catches his eye during the bridge game, we start to worry. The cop has somehow avoided detection in his time on the island, jumping from identity to identity before ending up playing servant to the VIPs. Tiger Mask keeps calling him over, and by the time he grabs Jun-ho's arm and tells him to stay, we're on high alert. The touch lingers too long, and the VIP's obsession with Jun-ho's eyes are creepy. He wants Jun-ho's mask off and won't take no for an answer.

"You're all mine," the VIP informs his prize menacingly. He doesn't even back down when Jun-ho claims he'll be killed if he shows his face. Tiger Mask just chuckles and says he'll be killed if he doesn't. One way or another, he's forcing himself on Jun-ho. It doesn't matter if his prey survives. Eventually, his pushing leaves Jun-ho with no choice but to agree to go somewhere more private. Once alone, the undercover cops stops his assailant in his tracks, but the whole exchange from the moment Tiger Mask first touches Jun-ho will make anyone's skin crawl.

Kang Sae-beok cleaning her glass wound

With everyone else having plummeted to their deaths, only three main characters — Sang-woo, Gun-ho, and Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) — remain. It's almost a relief that they, at least, have made it to the end, despite Sang-woo becoming more and more problematic as the series goes on. They even survived the remaining glass panels exploding, sending shards of glass flying towards them in what could have been, but mercifully wasn't, a deadly rain.

At least that's what you're led to think. Back in the player's quarters for the eighth episode, "Front Man," the survivors receive boxes with new clothes and are told to change. Sae-byeok shuffles around as if in shock. The feeling is mutual. But when she enters the bathroom, it's obvious her state is far more dire. She's panting, her hand wrapped around a huge glass shard, working up the nerve to yank it out of her bloody abdomen.

"Squid Game" mercifully doesn't show the extraction, but we hear it and get a glimpse of the aftermath as the shard falls from Sae-byeok's nerveless fingers into the sink. Our stomachs churn as she tries to patch up the gaping wound, but it's not just the gore that's upsetting — it's also the realization that Sae-byeok likely won't be strong enough to survive the last game. "VIPS" tricks the audience into thinking three people made it out from the bridge alive. It turns out it was really only two. 

The final fight playing Squid Game

By the last episode, "One Lucky Day," only two contestants remain. Sang-woo had murdered Sae-beok even as she bled to death from her glass wound. All our hope is pretty much crushed by this point. There's only one thing left to do, and that's make it through the last challenge: Squid Game.

It's down to just one attacker and one defender, and as the Front Man explains, Squid Game is the most violent game. Played by two desperate, broken men, the result can only be horror. For Sang-woo, the game is deeply impersonal. Nothing and no one matters but winning, so he's willing to do anything to achieve it. For Gi-hun, the game couldn't be more personal. All he cares about is stopping his former friend, and making him pay for the deaths he caused. 

The fight that follows as Gi-hun tries to take the squid head isn't for the faint of heart. They bite, punch, stab, and choke each other. They fight dirty and mean. By the time the knife goes through Gi-hun's hand and he takes a bite out of Sang-woo's ankle, the audience is just about at the edge of what any sane person can handle. The brutality of it all is nothing short of breathtaking. Ultimately, they both try to make right, but it's too late. The damage has already been done — to them and to the viewers. There is no happiness waiting at the end of "Squid Game" Season 1