Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 23
The bloodthirsty king becomes more malicious and more creative in coming up with new reasons for others to be punished by death. He elevates his threat to the people in an attempt to establish his own customs and sense of order, and it’s working — the people are terrified. But there’s just enough fight in the people who once believed in the Hong Hero, and we can feel the rebellion brewing as Gil-dong slowly realizes the great responsibility behind his great strength.
EPISODE 23 RECAP
We see the conflicting ideals of Yeonsangun and Gil-dong as we watch a montage of their actions. Yeonsangun claims to be a politician who doesn’t trust people and believes that people can only be tamed with violence. Gil-dong, on the other hand, admits that he’s no longer angry but sad when he sees the tears of the people, because they remind him of the tears of Eorini, Ga-ryung, and Soboori.
In his cell, Gil-dong stands up, his tall frame illuminated by the moonlight. He looks up to the sky and asks his father if instead of being a general who received the king’s sword, he became the one to take away the sword.
The newly recruited music troupe performs a song for the king under the watch of Nok-soo, but the song is interrupted when one woman coughs and runs out gagging. Nok-soo explains that in the rush of recruitment, some of the musicians happened to be pregnant. She tries to ameliorate the situation by praising their sound, but the king says that he asked for musicians, not children. He orders for the musician’s children to be killed, inciting shock amongst the troupe (and even Nok-soo).
Mori facilitates the raid of the musician’s quarters to kidnap the children under the king’s orders. He takes them out to the field to be killed while the mothers scream at the outskirts for their babies. Then, suddenly a cloud of smoke overcomes the field, and Mori takes out his sword in defense. We hear a few punches, and after the smoke clears, we see some of Mori’s men down with no babies in sight.
Mori reports to the king that he got rid of the children in accordance to his orders, and the king doesn’t blink an eye as he polishes his sword. Eunuch Kim looks disturbed and tries to speak with the king, but they’re interrupted by the news that the prison has been broken into by intruders at dawn. Enraged, the king decides that he’ll capture these intruders himself.
The king rides into the woods with his entourage, and as he takes the lead, his guards are captured by masked enemies. Only when he climbs up the hill does he realize that he’s alone. He hears an echoing laugh and looks around to find Gil-dong staring down at him from higher ground. Gil-dong calls out to the king by his birth name, Lee Yung, and threateningly inches a boulder on top of the hill. He warns the king to watch out for his future if he continues to hurt his citizens.
Gil-dong rocks the boulder back and forth, about to launch one forceful final push. The king cowers in fear and falls to the ground, but Gil-dong doesn’t push the boulder. He smirks and tells the king that they’ll meet again, and the pathetic king looks more irritated than ever.
Back at the palace, Eunuch Kim falls to his knees asking that the king forgive his incompetent servant. The king suspects that Eunuch Kim may still be communicating with Gil-dong, but Eunuch Kim takes out a knife in response, swearing that he will kill himself to prove his loyalty. He reminds the king that he faithfully devoted his life to serving him. Nok-soo enters the king’s quarters worried about the king’s injury (a mere scratch on his face) and looks shocked at the sight of knife pointed at Eunuch Kim’s face.
Gil-dong walks up the hill with a smile, but he’s suddenly hit with something and falls to the ground. He opens his eyes and finds himself sitting against a tree and looks up to find Ga-ryung looking sweetly at him. She reaches her hands out to touch his face, and he holds them tenderly, admitting that he missed her.
But when he opens his eyes, he’s out of his reverie, and the shaman looks down at him from Ga-ryung’s place. She tells him not to worry about Ga-ryung, since they will reunite when the time comes. She says that his father had asked how Gil-dong would survive, but she hadn’t answered because he had been asking the wrong question. So Gil-dong asks the question differently: “How am I supposed to die?” She tells him to find the tree with the big root.
Gil-dong searches for the tree with his Hong bandits behind him. They enter a hidden cavern, and they’re met with a group of people led by the shaman. She tells the people that this is the Great One that they were waiting for, and they all bow to him. While the Hong bandits entertain the underground people with their tales, Gil-dong marvels at the size of the cavern and asks the shaman if he can bring some of his own citizens to this place. She notes that he says “citizens” instead of “people,” and readily agrees.
Nok-soo tends to the scratch on the king’s face and asks about Gil-dong’s escape. He’s nervous at the possibility that Gil-dong may be the Mighty Child, but Nok-soo takes his hand before he spirals into despair. She reminds him that he has thousands upon thousands of soldiers at his disposal — surely the Mighty Child cannot defeat them all.
The king updates Gil-hyun about Gil-dong’s escape, and Gil-hyun hides his smile of relief. The king orders for Gil-hyun to capture Gil-dong secretly, since the people may indulge in rumors of the Mighty Child if his survival is disclosed. Gil-hyun agrees to these orders in front of the king, though we know he’s got other plans.
The citizens are notified of Gil-dong’ death, and Choongwongoon and Madam Jo rejoice at the news. Choongwongoon looks vindicated by justice and commends the long-standing pillar of Joseon. Meanwhile, Ga-ryung looks shell-shocked by this news and cries at the news of her husband’s death.
The king paces back and forth, worried about capturing Gil-dong. But Eunuch Kim eases his worries by reminding him that Gil-dong also has a trail of people who he took with him in his escape, which should make him much easier to find than they initially thought.
The Hong bandits bring groups of people to the secret cavern, and they are overjoyed to have a safe place to live. Gil-dong asks the shaman if she really waited for him, and she responds that she knew that the Great One would find his way. He scoffs that the Great One merely has extreme strength, but the shaman clarifies that strength is only a single mark of the Great One — not the key to its existence. But that key is something that Gil-dong will come to know.
Soboori tells Gil-dong to bring Ga-ryung to their safe spot, and Gil-dong agrees. Gil-dong arrives at his home looking for Ga-ryung, but a neighbor notifies him that she recently packed her things and left. Assuming that she was captured, Gil-dong tracks down Mori and holds him in a chokehold, accusing him of taking Ga-ryung. Mori asks if he really lost his wife, and Gil-dong drops his fist, realizing that Mori isn’t behind Ga-ryung’s disappearance.
Gil-dong walks away limply and thinks to himself, “I always thought that you would be waiting for me. I never thought that I would be waiting for me. I’m a foolish husband. Ga-ryung, you’re waiting for me, right? You trust me?” He walks away, and Mori lets him go.
Ga-ryung walks to the outskirts of the village and finds a rock marking the forbidden territory, warning that an encroachment of the law will lead to severe punishment. Ga-ryung asks a passerby if she could meet the king if she entered the forbidden area, since the king frequently hunts there. The woman thinks Ga-ryung’s words are nonsense, since she’ll surely die if she enters that area.
The king decorates Nok-soo’s hair with embellishments and expresses relief in the absence of any commotion from Gil-dong. She affirms his relief by saying that Gil-dong probably went into hiding in fear of the king. Feeling powerful again, the king commits to continuing his long quest to change customs in his rule, which he thinks will take at least another ten years. Nok-soo looks unsettled.
The king announces to the ministers that he must change the customs of disdain for the higher class. He proposes a crueler punishment and wants to allow for citizens to accuse each other of this crime. A minister asks what to do with children, and the king decides that excluding babies and infants, all will be punished. He proposes the same rule for ministers — if they find another showing scorn for the king, they must impeach each other. The chaos begins right away, as the ministers begin to accuse each other of crimes, and the king sits back to watch his power manifest.
He then orders for all children found in the forbidden area to be whipped and for their parents to be beheaded and hung on display. When asked about a citizen criticizing the king, Yeonsangun decides that the citizen will be dismembered and put on display, along with a banner explaining the person’s crime.
Ga-ryung narrates and writes in her book about the king’s growing cruelty and the citizens’ growing despair. Especially with the death of the rumored Mighty Child, the people were left hopeless and in painful tears. Gil-dong hears the cries of the people in his sleep and wakes up suddenly, panting from the intensity. The king also squirms in his sleep from a nightmare about his near-death boulder experience, and he wakes up suddenly as well.
Scholar Song and Choongwongoon visit the king to congratulate him on his victory against Gil-dong and for establishing customs that forbid contempt for the higher class. The king proposes an idea: a prompt for the ministers to write a poem. Before Choongwongoon can servilely praise such an idea, Scholar Song suggests that the prompt of the poem be about the greatness and purity of the new rule, and the king is pleased by the suggestion.
Back in his home, Choongwongoon complains to Madam Jo about Scholar Song taking all the credit for their efforts. He credits Mori and Madam Jo for their successes against Gil-dong, yet Scholar Song is the only one recognized by the king. He urges her to take some action before her son is stuck behind Scholar Song’s shadow.
At the palace, Jeong-hak suspiciously asks Gil-hyun about the announcement of Gil-dong’s death. He asks if Gil-hyun actually saw the dead body, since he seems to believe that Gil-dong is still alive. Gil-hyun threatens to report Jeong-hak’s suspicions to the king, which stops Jeong-hak for now. But he later orders for someone to trail Gil-hyun and search for his grandfather’s house in the woods. He can sense that there’s a connection that Park Ha-sun (Gil-hyun’s code name) has with Gil-dong.
Provoked by his dream, the king practices archery in the forbidden area, disregarding his bleeding fingers. When he thinks about Gil-dong’s laughter, he’s unable to shoot the arrow, and one of musicians approaches him to with a cloth to wipe his blood. He takes offense to her actions and chokes her, asking if she doubts his archery skills. He eventually lets go, and Nok-soo comes to his side to clean his bloody finger.
They’re interrupted by a singing voice, and it’s not one of the young musicians. The guards drag the owner of the voice from the forbidden territory and bring her in front of the king. It’s Ga-ryung, and she begs for the king to avenge her husband’s death, even if that means she’ll die. Nok-soo approaches this familiar voice, and when Ga-ryung raises her head, they look at each other in shock.
Nok-soo brings Ga-ryung back to her room, and Wolhamae greets her as well. Ga-ryung says that her husband died a cruel and painful death, and Nok-soo promises to relay her request to the king.
When Nok-soo arrives at the king’s quarters, she tells the story of her connection with Ga-ryung, but she stops when she sees that the king is drawing Ga-ryung. He’s mesmerized by her beauty and wonders if it was her voice or her lasting impression that captured him. While she did break the law, he finds her too young and beautiful to kill and suggests that she come into the palace as a gisaeng.
After dressing up in the musicians’ garments, Ga-ryung enters Nok-soo’s room. Nok-soo wonders about Ga-ryung’s motivations for singing in the forbidden area and asks if she wanted to leave a strong impression on the king. She implies that Ga-ryung has other motivations than avenging her husband’s death, but she doesn’t seem to mind if she does. She acknowledges that men, especially the king, have many loves, and she wouldn’t mind sharing her spot with Ga-ryung.
Gil-hyun reunites with Gil-dong at a village eatery, and he apologizes for putting his brother through so much pain. Gil-dong tells his brother that he saw Eorini as a part of the musician troupe at the palace, so Gil-hyun rushes back to the palace to find her. The guards don’t allow him — or any men, for that matter — into the musicians’ quarters, and Gil-hyun looks inside longingly. Then, he sees a group of the troupe walk past and through the gates. Both our Eorinis pass by him, and when Gil-hyun calls out Eorini’s name, both of them turn back. Neither one show any recognition and continue on their way.
Gil-hyun meets up with Gil-dong again and reports that Eorini did not recognize him. He suggests that they plot to kidnap her from the palace, but Gil-dong is more cautious about this. He shows Gil-hyun Eorini’s name in the Hengrok, listed under the elite Sugwidan’s enemy group, the Geoin. If this is the same Eorini, that means that she may be purposefully planted in the palace. He warns that they could hurt her and the rest of the hidden people if they act too rashly.
Playing double agent, Gil-hyun reports to Scholar Song with his proud account of Gil-dong’s capture. He asks if he’s a part of the Sugwidan now, and Scholar Song confirms this. With that said, Gil-hyun asks about the Geoin who used to pull carts for the Sugwidan. He asks if he can also obtain some Geoin for himself, but Scholar Song says that he’ll need to prove himself a bit more before that happens.
Nok-soo announces their showcase for the king and reminds all the musicians to show off their best talents in front of their ruler. She also tells the Eorinis (named Hong-ran and Sang-hwa) to show Ga-ryung around. Doe-eyed Eorini obediently answers but Ambitious Eorini is a little hesitant, perhaps feeling a sense of competition with Ga-ryung.
As they walk around the palace, Doe-eyed Eorini thoroughly explains the ranking among the musician troupe. They’re all currently in the lowest status, which means that they remain very distant from the king. When they’re promoted, they are able to have closer relations with the king. They point to the next building, where the musicians are sent for punishment, and when Ga-ryung asks about why they’re punished, Ambitious Eorini tells her to wait and find out.
At the showcase for the king, the musicians sing and dance to the best of their ability, but they don’t seem to suffice. A girl sings with too sad of a face for the king’s taste, and another girl isn’t sharp enough in her dance, so they’re both sent away for punishment. The king leaves the room in anger, and Ga-ryung tells herself that this is the king who mercilessly killed her husband.
Tired of the king’s cruelty, the people begin to start their own rebellion. They go around the village posting anonymous letters exposing the king’s malicious actions and murders, only to end up chased down by the palace guards and severely beaten in front of the king.
Gil-dong and the Hong bandits hear of the rebellion, known as the Descendants of the Hong Hero. They’ve posted accusatory letters against the king, which has resulted in the punishment of their whole families. Gil-dong ponders the issue seriously, and the shaman watches him with a knowing look.
The descendants are asked who was behind the letters by the king’s thugs, and they truthfully claim that this was their own idea. The king’s thugs don’t believe this and continue to beat the traitors until the king stops them. He then questions the ministers, since these letters were posted on the doors of the minsters’ homes. Upon the accusation, the ministers lie prostrate in front of the king and insist that they had no relation to such treason. But the king remains suspicious and makes all the ministers write out the exact words of the accusatory letter so that he can compare the handwriting.
Gil-hyun visits a village eatery and pulls a secret letter from Gil-dong out of a crevice. Gil-dong writes to his brother about the guilt he feels in regards to the Hong Hero Descendants and how he feels compelled to save them. Gil-dong visits this eatery next and takes out a letter written from Gil-hyun, who discourages Gil-dong from pursuing such dangerous deeds. He says that it’s too dangerous to challenge the king with his current numbers. He writes that it’s the walls of the people’s hearts — not the walls of the palace — that are too high.
The king orders the ministers to find the instigator of the accusatory letters quickly, threatening bloodshed if he finds the culprit first. The ministers murmur nervously, and Gil-hyun continues to explain the power dynamics: The people are too scared to cross over the palace walls because of the dangerous king, but the king isn’t the only one enjoying the power in the danger. The ministers also benefit from the king’s power, and as long as the ministers cower behind the king, there can be no change — the king remains safe.
Gil-dong writes to his brother that he realizes that the walls of the people’s hearts are the most frightening. He writes that he will not be sneaking the people out of the palace at night; rather, he’ll do it in the light of day. He figures that if word spreads of him saving people in the light of day, the walls of the people’s hearts may lower a little.
Gil-dong tells the underground people that sudden hail or snow can ruin crops, but this is not something that humans can resolve. But he claims that the king is not hail or snow — they can change things if they commit to it. The people murmur doubtfully about this claim, but Gil-dong continues his rallying cry. He says that the people are inundating the prison and calls upon them to bring these people out: “Let’s steal the people from the king.”
From the back, the shaman watches with resolve, repeating her prediction that the Great One will learn and know his calling. She adds that the Great One not only has great strength, but also is born with a rebellious spirit to threaten the king. This is why the king fears him.
Aha, so not only does Gil-dong steal hearts of the people figuratively, he literally steals the people from the king. I love it. I especially love that his motivation to steal back the people comes from the people themselves, not from some noble sense of heroism or responsibility that Gil-dong boasts. Gil-dong has never wanted that noble hero role from the start — even with Amogae, he insisted that they live a quiet life. I think that dream for a humble life is what makes Gil-dong the perfect hero, because he represents the people. He is the people. The people are the center of the rebellion, and while Gil-dong may be the face of the movement, we’re reminded in this episode that Gil-dong and the Hong bandits alone cannot defeat the king. There are limitations to Gil-dong’s power, and he needs the trust and commitment of the people.
I appreciated some of the clarity that the shaman provided in Gil-dong’s purpose and obligation as the Great One, though I’m still perplexed by her induced question about how Gil-dong will die. It was the question of how Gil-dong will die, not how Gil-dong will live… because no matter how he lives, he’ll ultimately die the same way? That’s a little morbid and fatalistic. According to the shaman, Gil-dong’s purpose in life will be determined by how he dies, and I think that won’t be doing him or his character justice. I do like how this question compels Gil-dong to find his calling that comes with his strength, but let’s not forget that Gil-dong is an adorable simpleton at heart.
The Geoin situation is still very unclear, and I’m waiting for some clarity there. I imagine the Geoin to be more of a strategic group that the elite Sugwidan fear because they, like Gil-dong, are able to camouflage their existence wherever they need to find more information. I was so convinced that the real Eorini was the doe-eyed Eorini, but now I’m not so sure. I’m hoping that the reason why they’re drawing out the mystery for so long is due to some great twist in how Eorini is involved with the Geoin. It better be epic or mind-blowing, because they’ve played with us for way too long.
I’m a little amused that Gil-dong propels all of his loved ones into the belly of the beast, from his siblings to his lovers. With Ga-ryung as the most recent addition to the palace, the king is now completely surrounded (and in love with) all of his enemies. It’s only a matter of time until the king finds out one connection to Gil-dong and connects the dots with the whole crew. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that have yet to come together, and I’m actually rooting for the king to discover the connections soon enough to make things interesting. I’m on Team Gil-dong all the way, but I don’t want their victory to be easy. I want them to struggle, and I want it to be hard. Maybe with some blood and tears. Does that make me sadistic? Yeonsangun’s bloodthirstiness must be getting to me.
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