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December 20, 2022

Breaking Down Squid Game According to Dan Harmon's Story Circle

The Netflix drama Squid Game is a phenomenon that has taken the streaming world by storm. The show is the first time that a drama in a language other than English and from a non-Western country, has had such massive success. It has been commissioned for a second series in 2023 or 2024. 

This led many commentators to suggest it is a watershed moment in the film and TV industry and the beginning of the end for Hollywood and America’s total cultural domination of the industry.

In this blog, we’re going to be breaking down the plot, trying to understand what is the Squid Game as well as what makes it so successful.

Let’s dive in.

What is Squid Game all about?

Squid Game is a South Korean drama in which a group of desperate and poor people from all backgrounds and ages are invited to participate in a game with a top prize of 45.6 billion Won (around USD 35 million). 

The Squid Game cast prepare for battle in one of the last rounds of the game.
Every character in Squid Game has a number with our hero taking the number 456

However, when the games begin the players realize that those who are eliminated are actually killed. 

The games are taken from childhood and the sets are designed to look like playgrounds. We’ve discussed the symbolism and motifs in Squid Game in this blog post.

The guards that coordinate the games are dressed in pink suits and don masks resembling video game symbols.
The frontmen are dressed in colorful suits and have logos that resemble video game buttons.

Every episode centers on a different game as more and more characters are eliminated. 

What are the main themes in Squid Game

The central theme of Squid Game is the value and importance of money. The show probes how far people will go to make a fortune. In the series, we frequently see characters betray their friends, lose family members, and cast aside their morals to proceed in the game. 

Further moral questions are raised by the introduction of an elderly character with a terminal disease. Is he worth sacrificing because he’s going to die soon anyway? 

Part of the appeal of the series is that it is probing existential ideas about capitalism and greed at a time of increased consumerism. The show was commented upon not just by TV critics but also sparked debate by political commentators on the left and right. 

Who are the main characters in Squid Game

Now let’s break down the colorful cast of main characters in Squid Game

Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae)

The protagonist of Squid Game is addicted to gambling. His obsession has led to a divorce. His ex-wife also attempts to stop him from seeing his daughter. He lives with his mother who is ashamed of him. He joins the game to turn his life around.

Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo) 

Sang-Woo is an ex-classmate of Seong’s. He seems like a respectable businessman doing better than Seong. In reality, he has accrued a mountain of debt and is on the run from the police who are investigating in for ripping off his clients. He is drawn to join the Squid Game to maintain his respectability amongst the community without having to face up to his crimes. 

Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-joon) 

Jun-ho is a stowaway to the island where the game takes place. He wants to understand what happened to his brother who played a previous version of the game. 

Oh Il-nam (Lee Byung-hun) 

Il-nam is an elderly man, dying of a brain tumor. He wants to participate in the game for one last bit of excitement instead of dying in real life.

Hwang In-ho, The Front Man

The mysterious man leading the games, he is harboring a dark secret. 

What is the plot of Squid Game?Breakdown using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

So now we know the main characters in Squid Game, let’s unpick what is the plot of Squid Game by breaking it down. We can also see how it cleverly sets up the rest of our series and gets us hooked.

We’ll be using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle to show how this is done. We’ll be examining the plot of the entire first series. If you’re not familiar with it, do check out our blog post on this.

Dan Harmon's Story Circle in diagram mode

1.The character is in their comfort zone

Gi-hun is down and out. Addicted to gambling and about to lose custody rights to his daughter, he is determined to change and raise some funds but has no idea how.

2. Character desires something

Gi-hun desires money to get the loan sharks off his back and ensure he can maintain a relationship with his daughter. 

3. Character enters an unfamiliar situation

After playing a game for money in a subway station with an anonymous stranger, the stranger invites G-hun to play a similar game for a much bigger price. Gi-hun agrees after thinking about it. He is knocked out and transported to a games room with 455 other players. 

4. Character adapts to the situation

The players begin the first game: Red Light, Green Light. A giant mechanical doll shouts ‘green light’, allowing players to move to the finishing line. When she says red light, the players cannot move. Anyone caught moving by the doll with camera-like eyes and censor pressures gets eliminated: shot and killed. 

The characters have a vote on ending the game after the revelation that being eliminated means getting killed. The players agree by majority vote to terminate the game but soon fall back into their old ways and eventually ask for the game to be resumed. 

Character gets what they want

In the final episode after various games and sub-plots, Gi-hun wins the money and is able to return home a millionaire. 

They pay a heavy price for it

Gi-hun’s mother has died because Gi-hun took so long to win the money and she could not afford surgery. This is crushing for Gi-Hung. 

Character returns to their familiar situation

Gi-hun, having won the money, returns home but spends very little of it for the first few months. He has sorted himself out. He is called to a meeting with the founder of the Squid Game who reveals himself as Il-nam, one of the other players. Il-name makes Gi-hun feel less guilty about the money and explains why he created the games. As a kind of sport for elites but also as attempt to bring a kind of equality to the capitalist system in which everyone gets a fair shot at winning a fortune, regardless of their background.

They have changed as a result of their journey

In the final sequence of the final episode, we see Gi-hun boarding a flight to the U.S to meet his daughter. He looks well and is better dressed.

Top tips from the plot of Squid Game

Squid Game keeps us hooked because it has a great structure. Nearly every episode is centered around one new game. And from the setup in the very first episode, we know at least one character is going to die, upping the stakes. 

The stakes are so high we can’t rule out even Gi-hun, the protagonist, being killed. 

It also has a great ending which satisfies us and explains more about how the Squid Game came about. Meanwhile, a B-story involving Jun-ho , a stowaway, keeps us intrigued as we get to go behind the scenes of how the games work and uncover clues about their history that will be explained in the denouement.

For more tips and tricks on how to write a killer script, be sure to check out our blogs on creating a great story.

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Breaking Down Squid Game According to Dan Harmon's Story Circle
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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