This article contains spoilers.
Squid Game on Netflix has been thrilling global audiences with its twisty and twisted death game, in which 456 contestants unwittingly sign up for a series of deadly playground challenges. We didn’t get to meet all those players, but we quickly became attached to the ones we did.
We spent more time with those who survived the early rounds, but the more we got to know them, the more it hurt when they eventually stumbled and met a grisly fate, because in the end there could only be one.
We’ve gone back and ranked the eight contestants we were rooting for the most. Some of them for touching our hearts, others for gaining our admiration through their tenacity, and others still for being the bad guys and keeping things interesting – the game floor wasn’t the only place characters could be “eliminated”.
8. #101 Jang Deok-soo (Heo Sung-tae)
We kick off our list with Jang Deok-soo, the villainous small-time gangster with a snake tattooed on his neck who wouldn’t hesitate to throw an ally under the bus. #101 was no one’s favourite player, but he added an element of danger wherever he went, even in the breaks between challenges.
Heo Sung-tae in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
Deok-soo was played by veteran character actor Heo Sung-tae, whose menacing eyes and sinister voice have helped him excel at playing shady criminals, such as his Russian-Korean gangster in this year’s acclaimed drama Beyond Evil.
7. #212 Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-ryoung)
Han Mi-nyeo explodes onto the screen when she throws a tantrum in front of the guards, the first of many scenes she makes as she tries to manipulate her environment.
Her tactics help her muscle her way into Deok-soo’s team, but after he betrays her, he eventually learns the hard way that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned when Min-yeo throws them both down to their deaths in one of the final challenges.
Kim Joo-ryoung in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
Kim Joo-ryoung has impressed in indies like Sleepless Night and in small roles over the years, including in Netflix’s The School Nurse Files. Squid Game was a rare and welcome major role for the actress.
6. #218 Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo)
The intelligent and pragmatic Cho Sang-woo, Gi-hun’s childhood friend, was easy to root for early on, as he took charge and organised our favourite players against their more dangerous opponents.
Park Hae-soo in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
As the games wore on his practical side morphed into something terrifying; first he wanted to boot out weaker players, but eventually he became comfortable dispatching his allies himself, whether by cheating them or gutting them with a knife.
Since his breakout role in Prison Playbook, square-jawed Park Hae-soo has become one of the go-to actors to play tough guys on screen. He was a hitman in Time to Hunt and has a few more Netflix series on the way, including The House of Paper, a Korean remake of Money Heist.
Lee Yoo-mi (left) and Jung Ho-yeon in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
5. #240 Ji-yeong (Lee Yoo-mi)
We only meet Ji-yeong when Sae-byeok invites her to a team to play in the third challenge and she doesn’t make it past the fourth, but #240 probably has the most impact per minute of screen time, as her kooky character adds an unusual energy to the group.
She later breaks our heart when she explains how she went to jail for killing her abusive father just before losing a win-or-die marble toss.
A relatively new face, Lee Yoo-mi has quickly made a name for herself playing memorable oddballs in indie productions such as Superpower Girl and Young Adult Matters, and through a supporting role this summer in Hostage: Missing Celebrity.
Lee Jung-jae in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
4. #456 Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae)
Both the last player drafted and our entry point into the story, Seong Gi-hun is a deadbeat dad and washed up gambler who isn’t above stealing from his own mother. Yet he’s also a sociable sort who becomes increasingly sympathetic through the games, as his positive attitude brings people together and as he risks his life to save others.
A leading actor for 23 years, Lee Jung-jae was well known for romantic roles until he pivoted into action and thriller parts as he got older, thanks to his booming baritone voice and huge on-screen presence. Through Gi-hun, Squid Game introduced us to a new, avuncular side to the veteran star.
Anupam Tripathi in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
3. #199 Ali Abdul (Anupam Tripathi)
It’s true that Ali Abdul represents some negative Korean stereotypes concerning infantile and harmless South Asian migrants, but player #199 largely managed to break through that racial morass, first by saving Gi-hun in the first game and then time and again by being a loyal team player. In the end, his trusting nature costs him his life.
Playing the Pakistani character is Indian actor Anupam Tripathi, who studied at the Korea National University of Arts and has been active on screen since Ode to My Father. He has typically portrayed migrant workers in small roles until his breakthrough in Squid Game.
Oh Yeong-su in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
2. #1 Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su)
Though many viewers may have felt betrayed by what was revealed after the game in the finale, very few people weren’t rooting for player #1 to come out alive from each challenge. A wispy old man with a brain tumour, his chances of survival were slim, but his desire to play was infectious and his vulnerability a constant source of sympathy.
Most of all, despite the deception that would come later, it was Oh Il-nam that helped Gi-hun find his humanity.
A veteran stage actor, Oh Yeong-su will be familiar to Korean film fans as the monk from Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, but surprisingly he has had precious few other screen credits.
Jung Ho-yeon in a still from Squid Game. Photo: Netflix
1. #67 Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon)
Topping our list is Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector who became a young pickpocket before finding her way to the games. Hard as nails and (wisely) not given to trusting her fellow contestants, she knows how to take care of herself and from the outset it was clear she would go far.
The show’s coolest character becomes one of its most sympathetic as we get to know her, setting us up for a gut punch at the tragic close of her story.
Remarkably, the layered #67 is played by debutante actress Jung Ho-yeon. Jung is an accomplished model who appeared in magazines and on TV in Korea’s Next Top Model, but Squid Game is her first dramatic screen role. No doubt the first of many.Internet Explorer Channel Network