All of Us Are Dead: How Netflix’s Bleak Zombie K-Drama Ends
How does it all end in All of Us Are Dead? Let's talk about who makes it out alive, and what it all means, in the Netflix zombie K-drama.
This article contains MAJOR spoilers for all of All of Us Are Dead.
All of Us Are Dead is longer than most of Netflix‘s recent genre K-drama offerings, with 12 one-hour episodes. The series, which is an adaptation of a webtoon of the same name, uses the narrative space well, keeping viewers guessing about how this seemingly hopeless situation will wrap up by series’ end. As you might imagine for a show called All of Us Are Dead (though the literal translation is closer to “Now At Our School”), the ending to this series is pretty damn bleak. While some of our main characters make it out alive, not all of them do, and the resulting reality waiting for them on the other side isn’t all rainbows and kittens either. Let’s break down how it all ends…
On-jo’s Dad Saves Her
Before we get into the truly depressing stuff, let’s talk about Action!Dad Nam So-ju, who manages to evade the Korean military and hordes of zombies in order to rescue his daughter. While he may not make it out of the situation alive, So-ju shows up just in time to help On-jo and the others escape the gym and the encroaching zombies. Without his flares and determination, it’s unlikely the group would have made it through the tennis courts and onto the mountain. Later, the ribboned route he left through the forest leads them to nearby Yangdong and eventually (with a strong assist from Nam-ra) to safety. “Your father. He saved all of us,” Ha-ri tells On-jo while they’re hiding on the construction site’s ledge. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live. None of us will.”
Who Survives in All of Us Are Dead?
Not many people, folks. Of the high school students we follow from Hyosan High, the following make it to the quarantine camp: On-jo, Su-hyeok, Dae-su, Ha-ri, Mi-jin, and Hyo-ryung. We pick up with them four months after the main events of the series. They are still living in a quarantine camp, as the Korean government has yet to determine the incubation period of the virus and worries they could still be infected/spread it. Nam-ra survives, but as a “hambie” is probably safer within the abandoned city, as the Korean military would most likely kill her on sight. The final scene in the story shows the six teens sneaking out of the camp after curfew to visit the school again, where On-jo had previously seen a fire burning.
Once there, they meet Nam-ra, and have another friendship campfire together. When last they gathered like this, the group still had some hope that they might be saved—a hope that was more or less eviscerated when the Korean soldiers came and left without them. While they probably don’t remember that rooftop experience particularly fondly, they hold onto the shared moment of friendship they had together previously. For Nam-ra, who didn’t have any friends prior to the zombie apocalypse and who is now living her life more or less on the run, it was one of the only times she felt part of a friend group.
Of the 170,000 residents of Hyosan, 110,000 people make it out alive. The military reports that there were 60,000 casualties in the bombing of Hyosan, with 50,000 of those being infected people and 10,000 of those as asymptomatic or not infected. U-sin the firefighter survives, as does Detective Song Jae-ik, “Detective Seoul University,” our favorite YouTuber, the baby, and the little girl.
And if you were wondering: no, I am still not over Cheong-san’s death.
Could Cheong-san Still Be Alive?
I suppose anything is possible. When On-jo and the others meet Nam-ra on the roof, Nam-ra tells them that there are a few others “like her,” meaning half-zombie, half human left in the area, before she jumps off the roof to go meet them. That being said, it seems unlikely, given that Nam-ra didn’t mention it to On-jo, and considering that, earlier, when On-jo returns to the construction site after the bombing, Nam-ra tells her that she can’t smell anything—that no one is there. Sure, Cheong-san’s scent and sounds could have been masked by the debris, but he seems to be pretty well engulfed by flames when falling down that elevator shaft. He’s probably fully dead.
What Does the All of Us Are Dead Ending Mean?
“In some countries, they’re more sad when adults die than when kids die. And in other countries they are sadder when kids die. Which do you think our country is?”
Like all good zombie dramas, All of Us Are Dead is using the well-worn tropes of this horror sub-genre to ask and examine some very important questions about society, with a particular focus on Korean youth. All of Us Are Dead, which is based on a webtoon that was published between 2009 and 2011, is incredibly invested in calling out the intense pressures placed on high school students in Korea, where a good score (or not) on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is seen as completely determining one’s future. Several times throughout the series, Mi-jin compares the zombie apocalypse favorably to the experience of trying to get into college, and I don’t think the show is totally joking. Suicide is a major public health issue in Korea, which has the highest suicide rate of any developed country, with suicide having been the number one cause of death for young people since 2007.
On-jo’s dad is depicted as the ultimate parent not simply because he comes back to save his daughter, but because he has always valued her health and happiness over her test scores, and has tried to communicate that to her. She only seems to fully believe him when she sees him on the other side of that door. It’s telling that not only does On-jo, a student who is not good at test-taking, survive, but she manages to hold onto her humanity in the process. Past that, unlike Detective Jeon Ho-cheol, who doesn’t know how to feed a baby, On-jo has emotional intelligence, leadership ability, and emergency crisis response knowledge that makes her invaluable to her friend-group’s survival. As soon as a crisis breaks out, the somewhat arbitrary hierarchy of the social order is quickly exposed. Everyone is equal in an accident, So-ju tells On-jo before everything goes to hell, and it’s true while the government is trying to catch up with this crisis. Nam-yeon’s money doesn’t buy her an escape; on the contrary, the lie she’s been taught that she is better than a kid on welfare keeps her isolated, turns her into a murderer, and ultimately leads to her death.
Again and again, this show asks (sometimes explicitly): does society value its young people? For many of the characters Hyosan High was just as bad before the zombie apocalypse. It was probably worse for Eun-ji who was failed completely by the adults whose responsibility it was to protect her from bullying. After she turns hambie, Eun-ji has the power to protect herself. She too abuses it in some horrific ways, but, like Gwi-nam, that abuse is likely driven by the trauma she herself has suffered. It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation and the show seems to have sympathy even for a monster like Gwi-nam, who was failed by the social institutions meant to protect him too. (But, seriously, Gwi-nam is the absolute worst.)
“I won’t ask adults for anything ever again,” a severely traumatized On-jo tells the soldier who is questioning her in the quarantine facility in the final episode, summing up one of this show’s central themes. While On-jo’s dad came back to save her, that was a personal choice rather than an institutional priority. When the soldiers had the chance to rescue the Hyosan kids from the roof, they didn’t. The show doesn’t contextualize this as the wrong decision—the military head prioritized saving the many over the few—but it also doesn’t begrudge the kids their anger. In the end, these kids save themselves because they work together to do so, but they also shouldn’t have had to. Even for the ones who make it out alive, they are severely traumatized. We are given a small glimmer of light in the relationships they still manage to have with one another. “We’re all hurting just like you,” Ha-ri tells On-jo, who has secluded herself from the rest of the group during their time in the quarantine camp, hoping it will help her forget. “Being alone doesn’t make it hurt less.”
All of Us Are Dead Season 2 Possibility
All of Us Are Dead wraps up the story of the zombie apocalypse pretty fully, adapting all of its webtoon source material. However, as we’ve learned from Squid Game, there is always the possibility of a story continuation if a show is popular enough. Most K-dramas run for one season only, so it’s unlikely there will be another season of All of Us Are Dead, but we’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a good TV show about life after the zombie apocalypse, I cannot recommend In the Flesh highly enough.