Of all the relationships in dramaland, there is one that will always get me right in the heart—that of a warrior and his king. There’s a lot this show doesn’t do right, but boy does it do that one thing really well. It’s the first episode that has me pumping my fist at the badassery, clutching my heart at the bromance, and excited for the things to come…

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

Ki Chul has Choi Young surrounded, and brought to his knees. Young doesn’t fight back, given Firestarter’s hand looming on Eun-soo’s shoulder, and gets led away in chains.

The officers take his sword and knife, and Chun Eum-ja stops them, knowing Young’s bound to have more weapons hidden on his body. He smirks and lifts up his pant leg so they can get the one on his ankle.

He says that’s everything. I dunno… I’d check all over, just in case.

Ki Chul goes to see what happened with Little Boy King Chungjeong, and finds him dead from the poison he gave. Chun Eum-ja joins him and they both deduce the only conclusion that makes sense to them: that Choi Young fed the poison to the boy to save himself. I do enjoy that the other option doesn’t even occur to you two as a possibility.

Ki Chul lights up at the spoils of his victory: Choi Young’s sword, the god-sword handed down from his Jeokwoldae leader. I’m hoping if it’s supernatural that it works like a harry potter wand and rejects you or makes you stab your foot a bunch of times.

Eun-soo paces back and forth, saying it’s all wrong, all wrong… the Choi Young in her history books lives to be an old grandpa general, so he can’t die now. Hwasuin asks curiously if she really knows the future, and wonders what’s written about her.

Eun-soo just worries, “Something’s strange… little by little, it’s becoming different from the history that I know.”

She asks what’ll happen to Young if he’s taken away like this, and Hwasuin describes the painful death that awaits him like it’s turning her on. You are one strange cookie. Eun-soo asks if there isn’t a retrial or anything, because she could be a witness—Choi Young might be a murderer, but he’s no traitor.

Hwasuin says the only one who holds sway in this matter is Ki Chul, and Eun-soo asks if he has any weaknesses. Hwasuin laughs that if he did, she’d have killed him long ago. She does advise her not to show any fear, and wishes her success—she doesn’t want Choi Young to die so quickly either.

Young just sits back in his cage and naps, which doesn’t surprise me but still makes me laugh. I guess it’s the safest he’s been in days, technically. The governor comes by to say he shouldn’t be too mad, and Young figures he oughtn’t blame anyone else when he’s the one who walked into the trap.

The governor offers up his threefold success strategy now: figure out who has the power, stick to that person, and by any means, believe wholeheartedly that you are right in that decision. Uh… that’s your big speech?

Young remains unflappable, until Eun-soo appears behind Ki Chul. They give each other charged looks before she rides along with the entourage behind his cage.

Princess Noguk finds out that Ki Chul’s men are now guarding the king instead of Woodalchi—the same men who came after her in the street. She realizes now that Ki Chul thinks nothing of killing her. Oh are we now finally caught up to the idea that going there was a dumb move? That took you way too long.

She worries about the king, locked away alone, no one to trust by his side. She murmurs, “The king is… a dummy.” Pffft.

Gongmin has essentially been reduced to a prisoner in his own palace—the guards are there for his “protection” so they say, but it’s not clear whether they’re keeping anyone out or in.

Deoki provides a distraction for Dae-man to sneak into Woodalchi headquarters, where Choong-seok asks for a report—where is their leader? Is he okay? And why didn’t Joo-seok come with him?

Poor Dae-man’s stutter just gets worse when he’s under pressure, so he can barely get out the few key words. Joo-seok is on his way to see the king, to deliver a message from Young. And Young himself… not doin’ so well, since rumor has it that he’s been captured.

The younger guys argue that they have to bust out of here and go rescue their leader, but Choong-seok has to be the voice of reason: “And then what?” He reminds them that they’re also unarmed, which means they’re not good for much.

Young gets locked away in his prison cell, bound by every limb. That is some serious chainage.

Once he’s alone with his thoughts, Chungjeong’s horrifying death comes flooding back, and he cries all over again as the young king’s voice rings out, “Young-ah, it hurts… it hurts.”

And then he remembers Eun-soo’s terrified expression as she backed away from him, as she told him to get his dirty hands away from her, and how she noted with disgust that he always smelled of blood.

He pulls out the little bottle of aspirin, and the flower she gave him is tucked inside. You saved it? That’s so randomly adorable. He takes it out now and thinks of her fondly, and then puts it back in the bottle with a sigh.

Eun-soo is locked away as well, back full circle to the room she was put in when she was brought to Ki Chul the first time. The doors open and she imagines Young back here to rescue her again, now remembering how he’d made his stand, how he drank first to make sure she wouldn’t die of poisoning.

But it’s Chun Eum-ja, here to escort her to see Ki Chul. She hilariously decides the best way to not appear scared is to act like a thug, and when he offers her a chair at the table, she kicks it and then perches her foot and leans oh-so-casually.

She points out that the last time she was in this room it was “bitch this and bitch that,” and wonders why he’s being nice and offering her food now. Is it poisoned? Ki Chul laughs that if he wanted to kill her, it wouldn’t be with poison.

He wants to cut a deal, and she’s game since she has a request of her own. She maintains her cool façade, but balls up her fists under the table, as she tells him to show his cards first.

He brings out her medical implements, and then the box of identical items. She grabs them in shock—where would they have gotten these? She picks up the scalpel and etched into the handle is: “Made in Korea.” Whaaaaa?

Joo-seok finally makes his way in to see the king, with Jang Bin’s help. Thankfully, the king trusts Jang Bin and plays along with the it’s-time-for-my-medicine act, and Joo-seok has the chance to bow before Gongmin and tells him what he knows.

He admits to being Woodalchi and defying royal orders to come here, but says that Choi Young has been framed. Gongmin points out the ill timing of his message, which comes after Choi Young has been captured. Is he the failsafe in case the mutiny goes awry? Oh noes.

Joo-seok swears that’s not it, but what is his word against the suspicion of a king? Gongmin coldly throws down his sword at Joo-seok’s feet and orders him to die.

The king turns his back… and the Woodalchi draws the sword and puts it to his own throat. Ack! Ack!

He conveys the message from Choi Young to the king: “I have not yet completed the task that the king has given me.” That gives Gongmin pause. He asks if that’s the entire message.

Trembling, he says that’s everything, and pledges his allegiance to the king, asking him to live in health and become a good and wise king for Goryeo. He bows and raises the sword to slice…

Gongmin nods at Jang Bin. Please tell me that’s a signal for something! Jang Bin swoops in and knocks the sword away with his fan, sparing Joo-seok’s life. Whew. Gongmin: “You still have work to do.” Thank goodness you’re still searching for people to trust. I was seriously worried you’d given up on everyone.

Ki Chul shows Eun-soo more of Hwata’s instruments, and says that there are two more stashes like it. She asks to see them all, and he hesitates. He admits now that the bet with the king is over her heart—where is her heart now?

Eun-soo: “My heart? Belongs to me, obviously.” He asks if she’ll become one of his people and give her his heart, and she pshaws, “No.”

She offers up a bargain of her own: Doesn’t he want to know what these objects are? She confirms that they are from her world, and dangles the curiosity carrot before his gleaming eye… in exchange for Choi Young’s life.

Ki Chul says she’s bargaining all wrong, because telling him what the objects are will come as a natural part of becoming one of his people. The trade is this: Choi Young’s life for her heart.

The guards report that Young has done nothing but sleep for days. We see that he’s back in his dream world, and this time Father asks if he still hasn’t found it yet. Young asks as if searching his memory, “What… was I looking for?”

He takes a step closer, but then the ice cracks beneath him and he falls into the water below. He struggles for air but starts to choke and drown, and he clutches his throat.

Then suddenly the dream world changes into a grassy riverbank in the spring, and he’s choking but safely out on dry land. Father asks what he’s doing. Young looks around in alarm, “When did the ice melt?”

Dad wonders what he’s talking about and says this lake has never once frozen over, and he looks out at the water and back at Dad, confused and turned around.

And back in the cell, Young lies with his eyes open and glistening with tears, while his cellmate Mr. Mouse gets friendly.

The king mulls over Young’s message and ponders its meaning. He recalls the conversation it refers to, when he had first presented Gongmin with the written decree from former king Chungjeong, freeing him from his duty as Woodalchi.

Gongmin had said that he had one more task left for Young before considering that request, and Young had argued. Gongmin shouted back, asking which king he was serving…

…which means that if the message is that Young has not yet fulfilled his task, he is saying he serves Gongmin, and no one else.

It’s clever, but also, I’m like, you guys couldn’t have invented a secret handshake or a straightforward You, me, simpatico, no?

Gongmin smiles broadly as he decodes the message, and says with such relief and conviction, “He was following MY orders!” Aw, okay, this moment is worth it. I love his beaming smile, all My Woodalchi loves meeee!

He appears before the council, and Advisor Jo speaks for everyone and says that the traitor must be dealt with swiftly and decisively. Gongmin shocks them by agreeing wholeheartedly. And to that end… he’ll be going to see the prisoner himself.

The whole council gets up in arms about the king lowering himself to deal with the traitor directly, but Gongmin just asks if they’re challenging the king’s authority, and barrels right through them. Awesome.

He storms all the way into the prison, with advisors clipping at his heels. He orders them to open the door, and Advisor Jo argues vehemently that it’s not safe for him to go in the cell.

Gongmin says he’s chained up, right? He turns to Ki Won, and baits him with his vanity—is his prison filled with shoddy workmanship? Ki Won insists they use the most secure materials, and even used the extra-strength chains on Choi Young. Gongmin says he should be fine then, and tells them to open the door. Ha.

He shuts it behind him before they can protest, and walks into the inner chamber. Young stands at attention, and then bows before the king. There’s always something so moving about the giant warrior who bows before little kings with such conviction.

Gongmin confirms what he meant by the message—that he’s still serving the sitting king. He says there were two tasks he gave to Young, and Young says he completed one in finding evidence of the council’s murders.

And the second was Gongmin’s request that he find out whom he is fighting, and why he should fight. Young: “You know by now whom it is you are fighting. But I have not yet figured out why you should fight.”

Gongmin: “I already know why I fight. But… will you teach me how to fight?”

Young says he’s about to die for treason, and Gongmin asks if he’s really planning to just die that way. “Is that really what you want?”

Young just hangs his head. Gongmin crouches down to his eye level. “Teach me, how to fight… so that I can save you.” He puts his hand on Young’s shackled arm. I love this whole exchange, so much.

He says he sent the doctor to Ki Chul because he thought she’d be safer there, because he’s powerless, because he had no other way. Young asks, filled with worry: “Is she safe in that house?” Gongmin says regretfully that he has no way of finding out.

Okay, this show cracks me up. They’re talking life and death in there, and Eun-soo is… making cocktails? She does her best approximation of poktanju, by mixing a weak liquor with a strong one, and offers up a glass to Hwasuin and Ki Chul. (I love that she calls them unni and ajusshi.)

Hwasuin laughs that she’s not a doctor but a boozer, and Ki Chul complains that she said she’d give him her heart, not cocktails. But she argues that a person’s heart isn’t like a designer purse—you can’t buy it with money.

And it’s not like you can steal it away or force someone to give it. She’s basically plying him to earn her heart, and asks how he can think to win her over if he won’t accept a drink?

So bottoms up it is, though he stops her with a threatening grab of the wrist to say he won’t stand for anyone making a fool of him. She counters that she doesn’t joke around with her heart either, and says winning her heart requires at least one drink a week. “And grabbing my wrist comes much later.” He complies with a laugh… for now.

Guards look in on Young who’s slumped over, and note the pool of blood beneath him with alarm. It looks like he slit his wrists, and they worry that if he succeeds in dying—before being sentenced to death (go figure)—it’s their heads.

They rush inside and approach cautiously… and Young knocks them out with two easy blows. He swipes their keys and unlocks his chains, and leaves Mr. Mouse’s carcass behind, having bled him for the ruse. Eep.

As he fights his way out, Eun-soo goes on a date? With Ki Chul? And here I thought the mouse was giving me shivers.

The word “date” is obviously foreign to Ki Chul, and Eun-soo insists that this isn’t how you do it, with rows of guards trailing behind them. She’s so funny. I love that she turns the “having her heart” into a play on the rules of modern dating, because that’s advantageous to her—she sets the rules.

He complies and tells everyone to back off, and she smiles. What they don’t see is Young watching them from the distance, having escaped.

They sit for a moment and she tells Ki Chul about how politics works in heaven—no king, but a president that the citizens choose. He laughs at the absurdity of that. Something catches her eye and she pauses, lost in thought at the sight of the yellow flower she gave to Young.

A minion distracts Ki Chul with the latest news of the king’s visit to Young’s cell, and Eun-soo finally sees her opportunity to run. She does this comical pink panther creep behind his back, made all the funnier by the fact that he knows exactly what she’s doing. But I’m hoping Young’s presence will tip the scales unexpectedly.

She makes a run for it, and then slips and nearly falls down into a ditch… when Young catches her from behind. She’s terrified and thinks it’s Ki Chul, and she insists she wasn’t trying to run away.

But by the time she turns around, Young is gone. What? You’re leaving her there? Noooo! Why?

She looks all around her, but he’s gone. Is it because you see that she’s safe? But safe is kind of relative here, don’tcha think?

Ki Chul catches up to her and she walks off in a daze, clutching her waist where Young’s arms were around her. He asks if someone was here, and she doesn’t answer.

When they return, Ki Chul’s minion reports the jailbreak, and that confirms Eun-soo’s suspicion that it was Young after all. Ki Chul sends his men to Woodalchi headquarters, sure he’d go there first.

Ki Won bursts in, where Choong-seok and his men are waiting in formation. Nice.

Meanwhile, Jang Bin circles the perimeter of the king’s chamber with a strange gas that drops the guards one by one.

A black-hooded Young follows in his wake, with Dragonball at his side. Love it. Can you wear that cloak all the time?

He strolls right into the king’s inner chamber, where Joo-seok greets his leader happily. Young pulls back his hood and greets the king, who laughs that a traitor sentenced to death sure does get around.

Young smiles and says he’s here to ask a question and to answer one.

Ki Chul arrives at Woodalchi headquarters, but Young isn’t there. He scowls that it can mean only one thing: he’s gone to see the king. Uh-oh.

Young sits down with Gongmin, and asks his question: Why does he fight? Gongmin: “So that I can become king.”

Young points out that he already is one, and Gongmin shows surprising self-awareness by saying those are empty words when he knows Young doesn’t see him as a king.

He then offers up his answer to Gongmin’s question of whether he’d teach the king to fight.

Young: The king does not fight. The king possesses. There are simply kings who possess one or two, and kings who possess thousands, and tens of thousands. Start by possessing me. And I will do the fighting.

Yesssssssss!

Ki Chul arrives to find all the guards down and bursts in… to find Gongmin alone. He says they tested the guards for safety reasons and have determined they need to be replaced. Hee.

Ki Chul asks if the one who put them down wasn’t Choi Young, and Gongmin acts utterly confused—the man locked up in his dungeon?

That sends Ki Chul back to his own complex, and into the dungeon, just to be sure…

And there he is, Choi Young, just sitting there back in his cell. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Was all of that just a really elaborate mind fuck? ‘Cause not what I expected, but so damn funny.

Ki Chul coos at him not to misunderstand—all of this was in an effort to possess Young as his own. Young asks if what he means by “all of this” includes the treason frame job and giving Chungjeong the vial of poison.

Ki Chul says he was just murky on which king Young was loyal to, and he was the hasty one to feed Chungjeong poison. He says the doctor also pleaded for his life, which gets him a glare in response.

He turns to go, but Young comes right up to the door.

Young: Don’t people usually say, ‘I’m living’? But that’s not true. In fact, I’m dying. Until the day I inevitably die, day… by day… So I had decided to just be mild-mannered and die quietly. But then, you kept poking me—the good, well-behaved me. To wake up, to stand up… to live.

Auuugh, I love it. The devilish little smile at the end too. The you-just-woke-a-sleeping-lion smirk.

Gongmin gets to work putting his seal on some documents, and then goes to see Princess Noguk. This time he asks for her help plainly, saying that there’s someone he seeks to have, and needs to show his courage first.

He says he needs her help to have that courage, and asks that even if he is a powerless and pathetic king, that she help him. He presents her with a box containing a hanbok…

Ki Chul and Eun-soo arrive and join the council, and the king addresses them to declare that there will be some changes around here. And then he stands with his arms out, as attendants disrobe him in front of everyone.

Oh wow. He’s taking off the Yuan robes? This is exciting. He’s putting on a proper Goryeo king’s dress, which is of course hugely symbolic.

Then he calls Princess Noguk in, and she’s dressed to match him, as a Goryeo queen. So beautiful. It’s his first major step in declaring that he will be the Goryeo king and not a Yuan puppet. Ki Chul, as expected, is not pleased.

And then the king announces that he will reward those who protected Goryeo in the years of his absence, and calls them forward…

In walks the Woodalchi in shiny new armor, led by Choi Young. Awwww yeah.

 
COMMENTS

Lovely to see such growth from the young king, who continues to be the most dynamic character in the story, though with today’s episode he’ll hopefully be joined by Choi Young. Already he’s miles ahead of the weak-willed dejected young man we’ve seen up until now, unwilling to trust anyone to within an inch of his life. It’s great to have Young’s faith in him be the instigation for change, which he then turns right around and repays in kind, by lighting a fire under Young’s ass and forcing him to act and make a choice to live. The king’s relationship with Young is certainly the emotional center of the show for me, and I was really missing the kind of interaction they had at the outset, and was so moved by their reunion.

This is the turn that we needed to wake Young up and get him to actively choose life—a requirement I’ve rarely encountered in my heroes, that’s for sure. I found it a really nice fit that the king has the drive to fight but doesn’t know how, while Young knows how to win any fight, but had lost the will to do so. I just love that they complete each other in that way, and that Young returns to being the king’s warrior and teacher.

The fact that it’s Ki Chul’s convoluted scheme to possess him that fires him up and makes him want to wake up and fight back is just poetic gravy. How often do you have a hero thanking the villain for making him so angry that he could no longer be a good boy and just die? I can’t wait to see Young’s transformation, alongside the king’s. Already by the last scene, we see a massive shift in both characters as a result of their reunion, and for once I felt that the moment was delivered to proper effect.

I really like this idea of having and wanting people’s hearts, because it can extend so many ways, and the concept is as elusive as the process by which you gain someone’s heart, as Eun-soo astutely points out. Young gives his heart to Gongmin, which makes Gongmin want to deserve his heart, leading him to that gesture of putting on the Goryeo robes before the court. But of course he needn’t do that to possess Young, because he gave his allegiance freely, and there is no need to earn someone’s heart when it’s yours to begin with.

On the flipside, Ki Chul demands hearts like they’re for sale, but Eun-soo points out it doesn’t work that way, and he needs to earn them, putting him on the hook to keep him obsessed with the game. But she tells him almost the same thing, backwards: that no matter how hard he tries to force it, there is no way to will someone to give their heart over. Then it’s meaningless and the very process makes you lose the thing you wanted. They’re slippery little buggers that way. I like that she frames it the way we’d talk about earning someone’s heart romantically, though she doesn’t think that’s what he means. It’s just her characteristic way of talking.

But it works on the same principle, which is what she’s getting at. It’s just hilarious that he doesn’t understand what she’s saying: There is no having of me. Because my heart is mine, and I make my own choices. It extends to his confusion about people electing their own leader. I just really like how clever that is, that the one thing the villain wants to possess is something he can never have, which is why he covets it so desperately, and on and on in an endless loop. Now I sort of understand his insatiable hunger—because it’s a hunger for something that can never be satiated. Sucks to be you.

 
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