Time skips, cross-dressing, new characters, dead characters, and bloody battles set the stage for this episode—and if that all comes off as a lot, it’s because it is. What it isn’t is an emotionally meaty hour, since our star-crossed lovers have more or less shut themselves off to feeling much of anything for the time being and there’s So! Much! Plot! to get through—and some of it is pretty unbelievable. (Okay, really unbelievable.)
At least it’s still pretty.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Choong has a gut feeling that something’s wrong as his father prepares to leave Yeon Jung-mo’s house, and a long moment of silence passes. But right before Mu-young and her group attack, they hear Boo-chi make a distant warning call disguised as the sound of a bird.
It’s a signal for them to hold back, since Boo-chi has spotted all of General Yeon’s extra soldiers lying in wait outside the gates.
Slowly but surely, everyone relaxes from their battle stance. Yeon Jung-mo advises General Yeon to take a supposedly safer route to The Wall, since their planned route is littered with Yeon’s political enemies (those still angry about the coup). Sounds like a trap.
It is, since Yeon Jung-mo asks Mu-young if their good general will really take the alternate route. General Yeon’s supporters feel the same way, and suggest that they stick to their first plan—but it’s Choong who cuts in to say that they should go with the route Yeon Jung-mo suggested.
The reason this works for Mu-young’s team is because the new route has General Yeon passing through an abandoned village, and it’s there that they’re planning to trap and ambush him.
We cut immediately to Mu-young’s team waiting in ambush at the village. All the soldiers hide in the empty buildings so as not to be seen while Choong leads the caravan through the empty streets. General Yeon, supposedly, is in the covered coach behind him.
Mu-young catches onto the fact that something’s strange when she doesn’t see General Yeon’s personal guard. Ah, so Choong knew it was a trap and deliberately misled Mu-young’s team into attacking his caravan. His father is probably safe on the other route.
Her team of soldiers rush out for the attack anyway, and Choong doesn’t even look back—he knew this was coming. He only has to make one signal to spring the trap he set on the trap they set, with his men instantly sneaking up on and killing Mu-young’s snipers as well as springing from abandoned buildings they’d been hiding in. (Trapception!)
Even though Leader So cut off the route for Yeon’s backup, they soon realize that the extra soldiers were provided by General Yang, something they hadn’t counted on.
It’s another all-out battle, and Mu-young uses the distraction to go after the coach General Yeon is supposed to be in. Instead she finds a soldier waiting to attack inside, but she stabs and kills him pretty quickly. Finally, a fight she wins.
Choong finally decides to enter the fray, his expression unmoving as he easily cuts down his enemies. Mu-young and the rest of Geumhwadan have half their faces covered, and she even kills another soldier as she starts to make a run for it.
We cut to General Yang reminiscing over the conversation with General Yeon leading up to him volunteering his soldiers, in which Yeon had asked him who would need to live for the sake of Goguryeo if it came down to him and Yeon Jung-mo. Well, we know which side Yang picked.
Meanwhile, General Yeon takes an open palanquin safely through another village, with only his personal guard accompanying him. Choong’s plan worked.
Back at the abandoned village, Choong finds Yeon Jung-mo and his few remaining men, and kills those remaining men with a few swings of his sword until it’s just him and Jung-mo.
Jang wonders about General Yeon’s safety back at the palace, and Yeon’s two remaining supporters note that Jang sounds like he wants something to happen to Yeon.
The new king all but shrugs that he was merely curious, even though it does seem like he wouldn’t lose any sleep if Yeon died. Now that General Yeon is gone from the court, Jang tries to woo over one of his supporters, General DO-SOO, by offering him the currently empty chief minister position.
He brings up General Do-soo’s subservience to General Yeon when his family lineage is just as impressive if not even more so—he was the son of King Yeongyang, the king who ruled before Mu-young’s father. (Mu-young’s father was his half-brother.) That wins some points.
As for Yeon’s other supporter, Jang offers him a position that’s almost equal to chief minister, even though it’ll be a position he plans to create when he forms an intelligence-gathering agency (think of it like a Goguryeo CIA). Jang is exploiting Yeon’s distance from palace affairs to his advantage, and even says that he wouldn’t mind if Yeon never returns from the wall.
Minion Ho-tae reports to General Yeon that his son’s trap worked, and Yeon is so happy about it that he wants them to turn back so he can witness Yeon Jung-mo’s death himself.
When we cut back to the battle, a masked Mu-young and Choong are already engaged in a sword fight. Huh wha? They can’t be serious. He would massacre her.
Mu-young actually holds her own pretty well, but the fact that he’s wearing the hairpin she gave him doesn’t escape her notice. They exchange blow after blow, until Choong finally knocks Mu-young into the street and readies for the killing strike…
…But a helpful sword intervenes to stop him—it’s Young-hae. She engages in a brief fight with Choong but is severely outmatched, and Choong uses the first opportunity to plunge his sword into Young-hae’s stomach.
Mu-young swallows her shock and strikes him, her sword easily sinking into Choong’s side. Ouch. She catches Young-hae as she falls before she attacks Choong again, using his weakened state to knock him down.
She has the advantage, she has the opening, but as she raises her sword to kill him she’s besieged by the memories they shared together. It stays her hand temporarily, but just as she strengthens her resolve to strike, a blow from behind causes her to drop her sword…
The wielder is minion Ho-tae, and Mu-young instantly collapses. It’s a little unbelievable that Choong still can’t recognize her even after looking straight into her eyes, but I guess this is dramaland, where all masks have magical cloaking abilities.
Choong is carried away by his own men, leaving Mu-young at Ho-tae’s mercy (or lack thereof). Luckily, Young-hae’s sweetheart Seol-young makes his way over to stop Ho-tae before he can kill Mu-young.
But it’s only then that Seol-young sees Young-hae bleeding out, and when their gazes meet she shakes her head as if to say, There’s no hope.
He leaves her to grab Mu-young, which seems like a really bad choice when Ho-tae is still there just… standing around. So when Ho-tae goes to attack Seol-young’s needlessly exposed back, Young-hae leaps with her last bit of strength to defend him, and is struck down by Ho-tae.
She falls to the ground, a tear escaping her eye before she dies.
Seol-young struggles to fight off Ho-tae while carrying Mu-young on one arm, and it’s a losing battle. Ho-tae slices him down before throwing him against a door and impaling him, enough for his sword to slice through the wood behind his victim. Good lord. This man is brutal.
The last sight Seol-young sees is Young-hae’s body before he too passes on.
Leader So and Boo-chi arrive in time to save Mu-young, but they don’t have the ability to save her and fight Ho-tae, leaving So screaming at the sight of his two dead friends and his inability to avenge them.
Yeon Jung-mo fights valiantly until he’s cornered by General Yeon and his men. He delays his death by offering up some valuable information…
Meanwhile, Leader So sends Boo-chi off alone to carry the princess to safety while he stays behind to fight.
Yeon Jung-mo proves to be a weenie by begging General Yeon to spare his life in exchange for the names of those who want to kill him. He starts to say that the princess is alive, but he’s sniped by an arrow to the heart before he can say more.
Choong immediately stands in front of his father to act as a human shield, and gets an arrow through his shoulder for the trouble. The rest of General Yeon’s guard get picked off by arrows in rapid succession, until his men capture the shooter—it’s Leader So.
General Yeon unmasks him, and I love that Choong has this moment of recognition, like that very atypical head of not-hair wouldn’t have clued them in already.
Boo-chi succeeds in taking Mu-young to their umbrella-making ally and his daughter, sighing that they’ve lost so many, even Leader So. Mu-young regains consciousness quickly enough and mentally chides herself for hesitating to kill Choong.
Outside, she tells the umbrella maker that she wants to gather together more Geumhwadan members (apparently they’re scattered around the country) to continue her quest.
The umbrella maker isn’t with her on this one—even though General Yeon killed her father and brother, a lot of people have died for her and her single-minded desire for vengeance. He thinks it’s time for her to give up now.
Leader So has been put in prison temporarily, and Choong makes a special trip to ask him who he’s working with, maybe suspecting/hoping that Mu-young might be alive. Leader So claims that there’s no one backing him now that Choong has killed them all.
Choong reports to his father, who at least asks about his health. Choong is wounded but otherwise fine, though he does seem to be protecting Leader So when he says that they won’t get any more information out of him, so there’s no use trying.
And because of the latest incident with Yeon Jung-mo, Choong advises his father to set up an intelligence unit to spy on their enemies, much like what Jang is setting up back home.
General Yeon returns to the palace (that was fast) to talk to his supporters, and he already knows that Jang offered General Do-soo the chief minister position. Bad news for his two waffling supporters, since Yeon has made an example out of Yeon Jung-mo on how to deal with traitors by killing him and his whole family.
Jang hears this news with some disappointment, since he’d been hoping for General Yeon’s untimely death. Even more disappointing is that General Yang helped him out, and that Yeon’s two supporters are back on the general’s side.
General Yeon pays Jang a visit with the intention to taunt him, a smug smile tugging at the corner of his lips as he says that there’s a traitor amongst them who stole the ashes of the late king and prince. Ohhh crap. He knows Jang took them.
“The one who collected the remains is a traitor. We can’t greet the new Goguryeo while that traitor is still alive. So, Your Majesty, how should we punish that traitor?” General Yeon leaves Jang fidgeting nervously.
At the council meeting the next day, Yeon’s supporters propose that a new position be created to support the king with a rank higher than that of chief minister (daedaero). They decide to create the position of dae mangniji, akin to a modern day generalissimo, just for General Yeon.
Basically, General Yeon created a position for himself that all but rivals the power of the king, and Jang knows it. General Yeon addresses the council from his new position, declaring that he’ll now take charge of all military, personnel, and national affairs.
On top of that, he’s declaring a state of war preparedness against Tang, and gives himself the right to draft private soldiers owned by the nation’s noblemen into the national army. It’s only when he appoints one of his supporters as chief minister that Jang angrily challenges him—chief ministers have to be elected, not appointed.
I love that General Yeon just turns his head, “Did you forget what I just said? The Dae Mangiji has authority over all personnel affairs in Goguryeo.” Damn. He even appoints Choong to a fourth official ranking position as dae busuja, and declares that he’ll be in charge of the fortification of the wall.
Last but not least, he mandates that an intelligence agency be created, and that it will report directly to him. It’s almost funny how after all that, he finally turns to Jang, “Your Majesty, do you have anything to say?”
Jang addresses the council almost desperately, honing in on the fact that giving Yeon this kind of power would give him total control over the nation’s military, when such a position has no historical precedent.
He asks if anyone thinks that it would give Yeon too much authority and entreats them to speak their mind, but Yeon controls the council. No one voices their agreement with Jang.
Jang fumes after the council meeting that General Yeon’s new position is just a different name for “king.” General Yeon pays him a visit in the middle of his rant, and Jang actually looks frightened.
And that’s before General Yeon holds a sword to Jang’s bodyguard: “Did you conceal the dethroned king’s remains?” The guard doesn’t deny it, and Jang defends it as an act of common decency, while Yeon declares it treason.
He gives Jang a choice to either go down in history as an ill-fated king or punish the traitor. Jang’s guard gives him a nod of comfort, causing Jang to say what Yeon wants, agreeing to punish the traitor.
As his guard is dragged off, Yeon tells Jang that he’ll be changing out every eunuch and servant in the palace before he asks whether Jang is displeased about his new position. Jang lies through his teeth, and with great effort: “…Of course not. Congratulations.”
While even General Yeon’s supporters bemoan the fact that Yeon has absolute power, Yeon reminds Choong not to get too comfortable just because he recognized him as the eldest son of the Yeon family. Choong nods, “This is only the beginning.”
Mu-young is determined to practice her swordsmanship even though doing so reopens the wound in her back, but at least it reaps some rewards. She’s getting better.
A few years pass.
Mu-young has improved her fighting skills enough to shoot arrows at moving targets and best Boo-chi in battle.
She’s cut her hair and makes a living hunting wild game, and by the looks of it, has disguised herself as a man. (I thought “No way” when her bosom is so there, but the lady merchant Mu-young sells to bats her eyelashes at Mu-young like she thinks this man with breasts is handsome. So, yeah. Suspend that disbelief, folks!)
Mu-young uses the money she made to give to the poor, and sees an opportunity to infiltrate Yeon’s camp once Boo-chi tells her that the intelligence agency he created is looking for new members.
If she’s able to become one, she can use Yeon’s intel against him as well as find out who’s still against him in order to recruit them to her cause. “I’ll capture General Yeon and regain the lost throne. I will save the people of Goguryeo from war,” she declares.
A handsome flower boy catches the eye of all the girls in the market, and they heave a collective sigh to see him buying women’s ornaments, guessing that he must be taken. As he leans over to look at some wares, Boo-chi passes by him (in disguise) to steal his purse.
But that’s not the end game—Mu-young magically appears on the scene to apprehend Boo-chi, in order to make it seem like she (as a he) saved the flower boy’s purse from being stolen.
The tactic works, since he calls after her to introduce himself. This is YEON NAM-SAENG (No Min-woo), though he leaves his last name out when he tells her. Er, him? Well, she’s still a she, but just know that to everyone else, she’s a he.
Nam-saeng offers to buy her a drink in thanks only for her to coolly ignore him, so he calls out that they’ll have a drink when they meet again.
Jang sleeps on his throne during a council meeting, and by the whispers of the councilmen, things haven’t been too good in Goguryeo lately—for instance, with rampant starvation amongst the common people, some have turned to eating their dead children. The war has cost them dearly.
The servant shuffling around serving them tea finally asks in a low voice, “Are you saying it is Dae Mangniji’s fault?” But when the councilman readies to punish him, the servant is revealed to be Jang—he had a double pretending to sleep on the throne.
Jang laughs hysterically at the fact that they all fell for his ruse, seemingly drunk off his bottom or just crazy. To him, it doesn’t matter if he sits on the throne or not. “No one recognized me!”
Choong and his father have returned after a victory against Tang, and the councilmen now refer to Choong as a general. Jang is literally lounging on the throne in his disguise in boredom. No one cares what he does.
There’s grumbling in the court about whether General Yeon made the right decision to go to war with Tang when Yeon ignored an attempt at peace talks from Tang before it all started. Yeon defends his choices: “I cannot agree that this war was a failed one. Tang retreated and we protected Goguryeo. This is the only truth.”
Choong stands up for his father by saying that any failure was caused by the intelligence agency not doing their job… only to blame that failing on his father. Eek.
Jang makes the only decision he can, and dismisses General Yeon as chief of the intelligence agency (quite flippantly, as if this is all just for fun) only to appoint Choong in his place. Yeon doesn’t even let Jang have that—he’d rather appoint his recently-introduced son, Yeon Nam-saeng, to the position.
After the meeting, General Yeon asks Choong why he challenged his authority in the meeting. Does he mean to revolt against his father? “I am merely following my own path,” Choong replies.
And then we see Jang having a nervous breakdown alone in the meeting hall.
Mu-young, disguised as a boy, applies for a position at the intelligence agency. She’s able to lie that she received an official recommendation because she’s rehearsed all the facts beforehand.
Choong is waylaid en route to it-likely-doesn’t-matterville by a girl offering him a bouquet of flowers, clearly trying to earn favor with him. He brushes her off—as the top spy in their intelligence agency, flowers don’t suit her.
“A spy is still a woman,” she pouts after he’s gone. No formal introduction yet, but this is MO-SEOL (Park Su-jin). Thanks, character charts!
Mu-young passes the test to get into the agency with flying colors, just as her boss, Choong, enters. (I don’t know why this is funny, but it is. Workplace cohabitation sageuk, here we come.)
He freezes when he looks at her, a glimmer of recognition passing over his face. But due to her magical cloaking abilities, Choong doesn’t recognize her as the woman he once loved.
…Or does he?
After a long and troubled silence, Choong grabs her by the wrist to twist her arm behind her. “Who are you?” She spins around on him and twists his arm, introducing herself as So Mu-young.
Choong draws his sword to her neck. “I will ask you again. Who are you?”
Mu-young looks him in the eye sockets and says, “I am…”
“He’s my friend,” Nam-saeng says from the doorway. He throws his arm around Mu-young’s shoulders and smiles: “He’s my friend, hyung-nim.”
I was willing to suspend my disbelief when Choong couldn’t recognize Mu-young during their battle scene (even if he did look her straight in the windows of her soul and for prolonged periods) because masks have special powers in fiction. Clark Kent got away with glasses, City Hunter had a half-mask and pink skinny jeans, etc. Choong thinks she’s dead, and he wouldn’t expect to meet her in a fight. I can buy that.
Cross-dressing dramas ask a lot of us, and there’s usually a reason why some of the more popular ones (You’re Beautiful, Sungkyunkwan Scandal) had a comedic edge, because, c’mon. That’s not to say you can’t play cross-dressing completely straight, but this whole situation is bizarre, mainly because Mu-young looks THE SAME. And even if I were to buy that everyone else is spellbound into thinking she’s a dude now just because she wants to be, it’s going to be a really hard sell for this show to make me think that Choong buys it even for a second. Or at all.
And to the show’s credit, Choong was immediately suspicious and acted on those suspicions, so he wins some points there. But Nam-saeng was there to save the day, and if Choong gives up just because his freshly-introduced half-brother provides a cover story for her, I’ll throw my hands up in defeat. What I’m hoping the show will do is have him acknowledge, or at least know deep down, that Mu-young is very obviously the princess, because, seriously. C’mon.
I wasn’t expecting the time skip and found the details surrounding it fairly vague, getting only that Choong and Daddy Dearest went off to war, Jang apparently lost his mind in the mean time, and Mu-young got better at swordsmanship. That would’ve been a swell montage for the show to pull had we not just seen her hold her own against Choong in battle, a supposed martial arts master who’s never lost a fight. So yes, he would’ve won had she not gotten help, but that fight was already leaps and bounds above the two left feet she’s had in every other scuffle.
Her skills fluctuate depending on plot convenience, which was only a minor issue before her fight with Choong, where she suddenly got better only to then be unable to hack at a bamboo stem after. As far as the one big fight goes, I couldn’t find much significance in the deaths of Seol-young and Young-hae other than that the story hadn’t really found a place for them and didn’t feel like making one. I can’t be that heartbroken about it, but it would’ve been nice if the show had given me a reason to be. Break my heart, Show!