Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 15
I think I’d like an episode that wasn’t predicated on a noble sacrifice (pretty please?), which seems to be such a regular occurrence here in Scholar-land that I cease to find it a moving plot point. But if you press me to find a silver lining about it, I suppose I prefer episodes like this one, where the sacrifices are active choices and come with a side of Significant Plot Revelations, especially where secret plans are concerned. Though, really: How about less secret, more plan?
SONG OF THE DAY
Beast – “Without You” from the Scholar Who Walks the Night OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Yoon draws his sword against a severely weakened Sung-yeol, ready to strike. But before he can, in flies… a trident?
It belongs to Hunter Baek, who single-handedly takes down the guards and urges Sung-yeol to escape. When Yoon’s guard tries to stop them at swordpoint, Ho-jin throws himself at the man, buying Sung-yeol enough time to whisk Yang-sun away.
He uses his superspeed to run through the forest, and Su-hyang arrives in time to recognize the blur as it goes by.
Sung-yeol barely makes it into an abandoned hut, and Yang-sun helps him out of the sunlight. Moments after he falls unconscious, Su-hyang finds them and takes over with calm competence, instructing Yang-sun to take Sung-yeol to a house in a different valley and to watch over him there.
Yoon and his men scour the woods all day, but find no trace and have to concede that Sung-yeol got away.
It’s night by the time Su-hyang comes across Ho-jin, thankfully still alive. He’s relieved to see that she’s safe, and to hear that Sung-yeol is also alive. Su-hyang has a pretty good guess as to who stole his protective black hanbok from him, and shares that Hye-ryung is loyal to Gwi.
She’s only partially right, since we’re the only ones who see that Hye-ryung may not be quite so loyal to Gwi. Hye-ryung anxiously waits for news, and Yoon apprises her of the day’s events. He asks now for an explanation on how she knew what Sung-yeol’s hanbok was about.
Hye-ryung tells how Sung-yeol mistook her for his dead love, and how Gwi had ordered her to steal the hanbok under the threat of turning her into a vampire. She shows him the bite scar on her neck and says that she stole the hanbok, but was scared to put it in Gwi’s hands.
To keep Gwi from retaliation, Hye-ryung says they must tell him that she wasn’t able to steal it from Sung-yeol. She even offers to take the blame and die at Gwi’s hand if he ever discovers the truth, which is either a noble gesture on her part or a shrewd tactic to get Yoon to trust her. I’m going with a little of both, and it works beautifully: Yoon is so against that sacrifice that he orders her to not do it.
Not that Gwi isn’t suspicious anyway, and he’s angered by the lack of contact from both Yoon and Hye-ryung. He’s also still keeping Vamp Hak-young stuck in his coffin, biding his time until he can unleash him.
Hye-ryung is moved by her husband’s words, and when we see how she was offered up to Gwi in childhood by her father, the difference between their reactions is striking. When a presence moves through the palace, she lbraces for Gwi’s arrival, and moments later he walks in, asking for Sung-yeol’s hanbok.
She lies that her attempt was unsuccessful. Angered, Gwi grabs her arm tightly and doubts her story, although she stands firm and adds that Sung-yeol has a new love now. Hye-ryung no longer has the ability to affect his feelings and even suggests that Gwi move on from his attachment to the past.
Gwi grabs her throat and warns that he could take away her place as queen any moment he chooses. But Yoon’s angry voice cuts in, and after turning to see him there, Gwi moves to hold Hye-ryung in a tighter grip, looking almost lover-like as he presses his face close to hers.
Yoon reminds Gwi that he’d already agreed to do his bidding, making this nighttime visit unnecessary. He says that Sung-yeol got away in broad daylight and vows to search far and wide, and starts to ask that Gwi leave the queen alone.
Gwi shoves Hye-ryung aside and calls for his sidekick, and now it’s Hak-young who takes over, ready to take a bite out of his old BFF. Gwi prevents it, treating Hak-young like a dog in training, while Yoon takes in the sight with horror. Using Hak-young as an example, Gwi explains that failure to obey won’t result in mere death for the queen, but a far worse fate.
Yoon wells up in rage and grief, vowing to not merely kill Gwi but return this pain in kind. Hye-ryung embraces him consolingly.
Yang-sun arrives at the house with a still-unconscious Sung-yeol, just as a man sees them and offers help. He recognizes Sung-yeol as the scholar who’d helped him once and is happy to provide shelter.
Sung-yeol is in bad shape, so Yang-sun takes her finger and bites down hard, and lets the blood drip into his mouth. It has an instant effect, but also calls forth the beast within, and Sung-yeol has to struggle to remain in control. He warns her not to do this—he may not be able to stop at just a little taste.
But Yang-sun can’t just do nothing, so she heads out to find blood, eyeing the chicken in the yard. Just her luck, her host happens by and assumes she’s hungry, offering fresh meat instead. But when Yang-sun starts to say she needs something else, the man understands and offers her a bowl of cow’s blood—they call Sung-yeol the night scholar and know what he is.
The blood helps revive him, and Sung-yeol thinks back to his encounter with Hye-ryung the other night. He worries that the hanbok can’t go to Gwi, which I’m hoping means that he connected Hye-ryung to its theft and isn’t about to trust her with anything.
He asks Yang-sun how she knew to came here, and is glad to hear that Su-hyang is safe and directed Yang-sun to this house. He tells her to stay hidden here since the officers don’t know about this place, intending to head out to find out more information. But he almost keels over from the effort of standing, and Yang-sun insists that he not leave this house until he’s well, and takes to sleeping in front of the door to make her point.
While she dozes, Sung-yeol sees the bite mark on her finger and wonders at her blood’s potency—could that have something to do with her being descended from that all-important lineage?
Yoon is presented with Gwi’s instructions to conduct his state meetings at nighttime. Yoon reluctantly agrees to it, which has his advisor (Hak-young’s grandfather) sputtering in indignation and grieving the dead king. Yoon says that those watching from the heavens won’t understand his reasoning, and adds that although he may have to visit Gwi’s underground lair in the future, his advisor is not to do likewise.
Gwi inspects the scrap of Sung-yeol’s daytime hanbok, noting that it doesn’t burn when held to a flame. When the prime minister reports to him, he asks after Su-hyang’s doings, sending the minister off to the gibang to check on her.
The prime minister offers a large sum of money and tells her to go away and live in comfort somewhere. Su-hyang has other ideas in mind, and says she plans to reopen her gibang and stay nearby. He tenses when she brings up his sacrifice of Hye-ryung, and she suggests that he use her instead of a difficult-to-manage daughter.
The statesmen gather in the courtyard for the first of their nighttime sessions, where Yoon reads a decree written on Gwi’s command. He struggles through it, clenching his fist in anger, but forces himself to read the statement essentially threatening dire punishment on any more attempts by the people to challenge the court, the way Eumlan Seosaeng did.
In the middle of the reading, Gwi strolls right in, past the confused politicians, right in front of Yoon’s throne. He sits down on the table in front of Yoon, essentially blocking the king from view—or more to the point, appearing as the king himself. When a politician voices a concern about the decree inciting furor from the public, Gwi states that they’ll just round up everyone or impose martial law, issuing orders to arrest anyone wearing a black hanbok.
Sung-yeol spends another day recovering in Yang-sun’s care, and she hesitantly asks whether it’s true that she’s the secret to defeating Gwi. He denies it, saying that Yoon is under a misunderstanding, overriding her protests. She asks whether he’ll continue fighting Gwi, saying wistfully that she’d like if he could stay with her like this for a short while.
Sung-yeol asks what she means by “short while,” and she suggests twenty years, or better yet, fifty—to him, that could be pretty short. Sung-yeol smiles down at her and says that while his body feels weary and heavy, for the first time in a long while, his heart feels a bit lighter.
He touches her face and moves in to kiss her, but pulls back at the last second, afraid of his own nature. He repeats his constant worry: “If I hold you now, I might hurt you.”
But Yang-sun just pulls him closer anyway, and this time he doesn’t pull away.
At the gibang, Su-hyang entertains while Gwi and the prime minister discuss their current affairs. Out to capture Sung-yeol, Gwi has figured out a plan that is sure to draw him out: Make the lives of the people even more terrible and oppressed. Ack, that’s evilly clever, since he knows Sung-yeol can’t just sit by and watch that happen, and Su-hyang knows it too, although she does her best to keep her reaction to herself.
The new regulations are posted, and the public’s immediate reaction is, naturally, disgruntlement. Scholars dressed in black are examined, and when they protest, the officers take them in forcibly.
Su-hyang visits the palace to speak with Hye-ryung, asking whether she took Sung-yeol’s protective hanbok. Hye-ryung disavows any knowledge of it, and Su-hyang drops a subtle threat about telling Yoon about how long Hye-ryung has been visiting Gwi’s lair. She asks for the clothing’s return, but Hye-ryung retorts, “Try doing anything. If you interfere in me and the king’s relationship, that thing will make its way to Gwi’s hand.”
Hye-ryung asks what Su-hyang intends by getting close to Gwi. Su-hyang replies that she’s served Sung-yeol for many years and would do much more to help him. Hye-ryung answers similarly—that as the queen, she will do whatever it takes to make Yoon a proper king.
Su-hyang points out that they’d need to be rid of Gwi for that to happen. Hye-ryung fires back that Gwi would have been killed if Sung-yeol hadn’t kept Yang-sun from them. It’s an unfortunate conflict that they all have the same goal in mind, but are fighting each other over the way to do it.
Hye-ryung does tell her what she heard about Gwi’s descendant being Gwi’s downfall, identifying Yang-sun as the only way to defeat him. She advises Su-hyang to think hard about what is really best for Sung-yeol, and drat it, her words seem to hold sway over Su-hyang.
Yang-sun helps the women of the town in making shoes, and a peddler informs them of the latest demands from the king, whereby young girls are to be sent to the palace from each village. On the surface it doesn’t sound so bad, but the rumors are that the girls will be given to the palace vampire.
Yang-sun races home, worried for the young daughter of the family hosting her, and together the two girls huddle out of sight while the officials look for her. They’re turned away for now, but it looks like only a matter of time before the girl is found and seized.
Su-hyung visits Sung-yeol to deliver the latest news of Gwi’s doings, and urges him not to do anything because it’s a trap. Then she advises him to give Yang-sun up to Gwi, because she knows she’s the key to the secret plan.
Sung-yeol flatly refuses, saying that he’s also part of the secret plan. He’s lived in torment, thinking of the loved one he had to kill in order to live on, and how he has been driven by the thought of revenge. So to kill another loved one in order to get revenge for having to kill the first loved one? Nope, not gonna happen. Furthermore, if killing Gwi requires someone else to become a beast and live as Sung-yeol did, “I will fight him to the last and die.”
Yang-sun hears this from outside the door, looking stricken. Su-hyang sees that she’s overheard and confirms that this is why Sung-yeol and Yoon fought over her. Yang-sun says that she lost her father twice because of Gwi, and nearly lost Sung-yeol: “What more must I lose?” She asks sadly if it’s not possible for her to just live quietly with Sung-yeol.
Su-hyang informs her that if she did, if she ever had a daughter or granddaughter, that child will have to endure the same fate of being offered to Gwi. If not, humans will suffer under his control forever. No pressure or anything.
Yang-sun doesn’t understand why, so Su-hyang tells her the final crucial bit: that she’s descended from Gwi.
The truth is a blow, but it makes sense of Yang-sun’s scattered memories, like how her father insisted she live as a boy to keep her safe. He’d also told her that those people who would harm her are mistaken, and that Crown Prince Sadong would find the right way.
By the time she returns to the house late that night, she’s put on a smile for Sung-yeol and agrees to go for walk. But first, she sits him down to replace the worn shoes he’s wearing with new ones, like he’d once done for her. Ah, so she’s been making shoes to save up money for these, and he’s touched at the gesture.
As they stroll, he asks what she wants to do with her life now, and she muses that she can’t sell books, and she doesn’t seem to have much talent for writing them, which prompts him to tease about waiting for the next installment of her Night Scholar story. She says that the night scholar she’d envisioned was meant to stir romantic fantasies, but wasn’t very realistic. But the more she comes to know Sung-yeol and the weight of the pain he’s had to endure, the more her novel feels embarrassing and insignificant.
“Imagination is different from reality,” she says, “and it cannot change reality, either.”
Sung-yeol replies, “Imagination cannot change reality, but it can change people, and those people can change the world. One day when the world becomes peaceful, what the people will need then is not the night scholar, but someone who makes the people dream of the lives they want to live—people just like you.” Well, damn if that isn’t the loveliest thing. She stares up at him in wonder, and tells him familiar words: “It’s beautiful—the words you said to me, your heart.”
Sung-yeol kneels before her to carry her on his back, and when she balks, he says it’s just to see if he’s recovered yet. So she lets him pick her up, though she worries that she’s heavy for him. He replies with a smile, “Seeing how it’s light, your heart must have also lightened.”
Late that night, as Sung-yeol sleeps, Yang-sun gives one last farewell bow.
Hunter Baek and Ho-jin mull over the present state of things, and Ho-jin asks if Yang-sun’s mother died the same night her father did. Hunter Baek confirms this—and then a startling thought occurs to him as he recalls that he’d discovered Yang-sun’s mother dead, sporting two puncture marks in her neck. “How could I have missed this?” he wonders aloud. HOW INDEED.
He decides he must tell the king right away and heads for the palace. Along the way, he sees officers rounding up young girls to be offered as tribute while angry citizens protest the order.
Hunter Baek steps in, easily knocking the officers, and advises the protesting people to be careful. And to his surprise, the two men—Yang-sun’s former loan sharks, now turned teddy bears—suddenly bow respectfully and declare him “Hyungnim!”
Sung-yeol awakens in the morning to an empty hut, and the entire day passes while he waits for Yang-sun. He steps out in time to overhear his host arguing with his daughter, because the girl is upset to learn that Yang-sun took her place.
Sung-yeol asks about Yang-sun, and the man sobs out the explanation. He tells the man it’s not his fault, then heads off.
At the palace, Yoon and Hye-ryung retire for the night, and she helps him undress. Ah, Yoon is wearing the protective hanbok underneath his dragon robes, determined to keep it out of Gwi’s hands, and he wonders where Sung-yeol is now.
Sung-yeol races to his home, where he explains to Ho-jin how Yang-sun has sacrificed herself. But Ho-jin shares Hunter Baek’s new realization: Yang-sun’s mother was bitten by Gwi, but she died, not the other way around. So they’ve got the secret plan all wrong.
The first round of young sacrifices is taken to the gibang and prepared under Su-hyang’s watch. Since this is an elaborate way of getting Yang-sun, she’s disappointed when she doesn’t see her among the crop, and then relieved when Yang-sun arrives with the latest group.
Su-hyang dresses Yang-sun in the finest clothes and explains how Gwi had a child of a human woman. She’s not without sympathy for Yang-sun’s sad fate, having been decided by the blood she was born with, and looks upon her sadly.
Yang-sun says it wasn’t her choice to be born this way, “But to die this way is my choice.” To herself, she thinks, “Scholar-nim, please be well.”
Well, the actual plot of the episode wasn’t anything surprising or unexpected, since we’ve been playing out a version of this merry-go-round for weeks: Yang-sun in danger, Yang-sun needs to be sacrificed, a bunch of people are out to get Yang-sun with only our scholar-nim out to keep her safe. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So what works for me is more the character developments, and less the mechanics of the story. I like that the secondary characters continue to develop, especially considering that most characters at this late date are more or less fixed in place, or at least on a set trajectory. I find Scholar sometimes cutely entertaining and sometimes mind-numbingly boring (come ON, the same plot again? Just in a new house/forest/hideaway?), and when it’s skirting the line into eye-glazingly dull, its saving grace is that it refuses to resolve into a two-sided battle of good-versus-evil.
Two prime examples are Hye-ryung and Su-hyang, both of whom I think I want to like more than I actually do. I appreciate that they’re both sharp-thinking, clear-headed, logical women with noble goals who are willing to get their hands a little dirty for an ultimate greater good. I also really like that they’re both willing to go deep into Gwi’s nest of evil and go double-agent on him—and that they actually succeed, to some extent, in fooling him and earning his trust. That said, it’s been tough for me to warm to either one, probably because they’ve both got it in for Yang-sun and I happen to want our heroine to survive, so sue me.
But at least today, I could see that even when they’re angling for things that would hurt our main characters, I can feel for them—just as long as the motivations are teased out, the emotions fleshed out. I like Hye-ryung so much more now as Yoon’s partner than I ever did before, even if part of me wonders whether she’s going to hurt Yoon too. I get the sense that her loyalties to him are growing perhaps unintentionally, and that even when she wanted to build him up as a king, she hadn’t counted on helping him as a person. It’s a nice touch to give her that dimension, and to allow us a glimpse of that internal struggle, where she seems genuinely moved by Yoon’s shows of concern and general decency, especially contrasted with the father who gave her up to built up his own power.
Su-hyang has always been sympathetic on paper, since I’ve never doubted her love for Sung-yeol and her willingness to die to help him. Adding her to Gwi’s ranks was a nice bonus, and now that Yang-sun is offering herself up to save Sung-yeol, I like that we get to see Su-hyang showing a little sympathy for her rather than just always pressing for people to give her up to die already.
Ultimately it is Yang-sun’s choice to sacrifice herself, and I’m just glad that the truth is out about how wrong-headed this entire scheme was to begin with. I suppose we could shake our heads at the huge glaring oversights that allowed everyone to come to this conclusion, but maybe we should just be thankful we didn’t have to lose another innocent descendant before realizing that oops, maybe Yang-sun was the key in a different way. ‘Cause it would suck to need her alive when you’ve just killed her, sealing the misery of humankind for all eternity because somebody forgot to do a little fact-checking. At least this time, I can trust that our trusty scholar-nim will save the day—no thanks to anybody else!
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- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 13
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 12
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 11
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 10
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 9
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- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 2
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 1