Like many others around the world, I’ve binged Netflix’s Squid Game and I’m obsessed. From the first episode, I knew this was a series I was going to really dive into. And I did. Out of all the great characters on the show, Sang-woo became my favorite. Which, is why it was shocking to not only see the extents Sang-woo was willing to go to in order to win, but to also see how widely disliked he is by the internet. Sure, Sang-woo displayed some dirty tactics in the effort to win, but all of the viewers had to know that at some point, there’d only be one character standing. Right?

Spoilers for Squid game

Park Hae-soo played Cho Sang-woo in the incredibly popular Netflix series. When we first see Sang-woo, it’s in the first game of Squid Game. Prior to his debut on screen, Sang-woo was talked about highly by Gi-hun and Sang-woo’s mother. From there, we find out that though Sang-woo was essentially the pride and joy of his mother and town, he too got himself in a financial conundrum. One that had him desperate to get out of – to the point he’d even return to Squid Game after getting the opportunity to leave it.

Photo Credit: Netflix

While everyone in Squid Game was there due to financial reasons, Sang-woo’s willingness to get his hands dirty didn’t sit well with viewers. Sang-woo was originally an outwardly bloodthirsty man – not like Deok-su. Sang-woo not only seemed to be better put together, but he actually seemed like he cared about the others in Squid Game. This is what made his turn in episode six so shocking.

Sang-woo’s Actions

In episode six, the contestants of Squid Game played a game of marbles in pairs of two. It was a heartbreaking episode that pit a lot of characters against each other. Including, Sang-woo and Ali. Ali always seemed to look up to Sang-woo and Sang-woo seemed to like Ali, as he gave him bus fare once and seemingly wanted to play with Ali when he believed the game of marbles would be against other teams. However, in Squid Game; it’s a fight for survival. So, even though Sang-woo liked Ali, he still did what he felt he had to in order to win. This meant not only deceiving Ali, but only guaranteeing Ali’s death. In their game of marbles, Ali won fair and square, but Sang-woo deployed some manipulative tactics in order to come out as the winner.

On top of this, Sang-woo is perceived as deceitful as he pushed a player off glass panels in the second to last game. And, in a really shocking move, Sang-woo kills Sae-byeok right before the final game. While Sang-woo defends his decision – saying that he did it to end her suffering (as she had been gravely injured in the previous game), the way he went about it came off calloused and cold.

Is Sang-woo a Villain?

So, examining all we did, Sang-woo clearly is a villain, right? I don’t think it’s as black and white as that. While Sang-woo’s actions were made to seem cold and distant, I think that Sang-woo went into the game with those intentions. For the entirety of the show, you can see that Sang-woo is on edge. While others are drifting into a state of comfortability in an attempt to not stress out (such as Gi-hun’s constant upbeat mood), Sang-woo is constantly stressed. He’s rigid, his jaw in constantly locked, his eyes are always shifting back and forth, and he always seems like he’s snapping out of thought when someone speaks to him.

Photo Credit: Netflix

Sang-woo had a lot on his back (as everyone did). He had the pressure of not living up to everyone’s expectations and was in legal trouble as a result of his financial problems. From early on, Sang-woo realized that there wouldn’t be more than one winner. Meaning, he would have to do things that were unfavorable. It was inevitable – people were forming teams and Sang-woo knew how bad of a decision this was. Because, they’d only ever break each other’s hearts.

Sang-woo’s Reasoning

There were certainly moments where I was taken aback by Sang-woo’s actions. The character was seemingly the most level-headed person, but at the same time, I understood his actions. Everyone’s expectations and perception of him was too high. Even Gi-Hun would frequently announce Sang-woo’s status, something that clearly made him visibly uncomfortable. This, on top of his desperation to fix his financial debt and take care of his mother, made him do what he did. While everyone had someone they were fighting for in the game, I think people forget that everyone reacts differently. And let’s not forget, Gi-hun essentially tricked the old man in the game of marbles. Sure, we now know the truth about Il-nam, but at the time, we thought his death was a result of Gi-hun’s desperation and trickery.

In conclusion, I do not see Sang-woo as a villain. I see a desperate man who was playing the game in the way it was meant to be played. Sure, we can criticize him for falling into the basic animalistic desperation of survival while others, like Gi-Hun and Sae-byeok; didn’t, but I don’t think it’s fair to call him a villain. I would think, in the end; that status goes to Il-nam.

What do you think? Read my review for Squid Game here.

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