The Crowned Clown: Episode 16 (Final)
It’s time for our clown to sink or swim on his own, and one wrong move could mean his death and the death of everyone he cares about. But he’s not finished surprising us yet, as he contemplates a decision that could change the future of the entire nation.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Ha Sun watches, horrified, as Minister Lee grabs a sword from a guard and runs Prince Jin-pyung through, taking several sword wounds in the back himself. He falls to the ground, and although Moo-young tries to hold Ha Sun back, he breaks away and runs to cradle Minister Lee’s head in his arms.
Guards run to close the palace gates and protect the queen, but Ha Sun only has eyes for the dying Minister Lee. He asks why Minister Lee did such a reckless thing, and Minister Lee apologizes for not keeping his promise never to leave him. He gasps for Ha Sun to hang his body above the castle gates after he dies, to show that the criminal was brought to justice.
Ha Sun doesn’t want to disrespect his loyal friend that way, and Minister Lee says it makes him feel joyful to hear Ha Sun call him that. He reaches up a hand for Ha Sun to grasp, then he dies, leaving Ha Sun wracked with grief.
Minister Shin takes advantage of the confusion to try to sneak Prince Jin-pyung out of the palace, but they’re stopped at the gates.
Minister Lee’s body is taken into the palace, where Ho-geol sobs over him. He begs Ha Sun to let him send Minister Lee to his people, but Moo-young warns Ha Sun that opening the gates right now is too dangerous with the rebels right outside.
Ha Sun sends a letter to the queen dowager asking her to halt her men for one day so he can pay proper respects to Minister Lee. He says that if she refuses, he’ll hang Minister Lee’s body at the gates for the people to see, and then they’ll know that she caused this rebellion without justification. In addition, he’ll kill Minister Shin and Prince Jin-pyung for what happened at the assembly.
She decides to let Ha Sun pay tribute to Minister Lee, so he allows Minister Shin and Prince Jin-pyung to leave the palace. He stands before Minister Lee’s casket one last time, remembering his friend saying that he taught him about the importance of trust and bowing to him as his king. He cries again as Ho-geol accompanies Minister Lee’s body out of the palace and past the rebel soldiers, then the gates are closed again.
Woon-shim is allowed to say goodbye, and she sobs that she thought they would finally be together. Jong-rim and Jae-gu, who got to take the civil service exam because of Minister Lee, offer to help Ho-geol get revenge, but Ho-geol says they’ll only lose their lives. Monk Jung Saeng agrees that Minister Lee wouldn’t want them to die for nothing.
Prince Jin-pyung is in bad shape from his gut wound, but he tries to act like it’s nothing when the queen dowager visits him. She says that he’d have lived a long life if he hasn’t been greedy for the throne, but she tells him in a cold voice that she’ll make good use of his soldiers, and give the throne to Lord Younghwa instead.
She meets with Minister Shin, upset about how things went this morning, because when Prince Jin-pyung dies his soldiers will be demotivated. Minister Shin says he’s already rewarded them to offset the drop in morale, and he asks if she still thinks they need a valid cause for rebellion.
He says that she hasn’t been officially deposed yet, so she’s still of higher status than the king, and can order him to dethrone the traitor clown. The queen dowager thinks a moment, then gives him permission to invade the palace and remove the clown from the throne.
Ha Sun receives a message that the border situation has turned dangerous and Aisin Gurun may attack, since they never received Minister Lee’s peace letter. General Kang asks whether he should bring his men to the capital or prepare to fight at the border. Both Moo-young and Eunuch Jo advise Ha Sun to have him come to the capital to protect him, but Ha Sun says that people will be killed if Aisin Gurun attacks.
The problem is that the rebels have almost ten times the number of soldiers as Ha Sun, so Moo-young suggests that he smuggle Ha Sun and So-woon out of the palace. Ha Sun argues that the people in the palace are his people too, so he can’t just abandon them to save himself.
In the dark of night, Minister Shin leads the rebel soldiers to the palace gates and orders them to kill the tyrant king. Strangely, the gates are wide open and the courtyard empty, so Minister Shin halts the soldiers and looks around suspiciously.
Then, someone walks past an open gate alone — Ha Sun. Minister Shin orders his men after him, but the instant Ha Sun is through the gate it slams shut, cutting him off from his soldiers. He’s trapped, and he turns to see Ha Sun facing him, the two of them alone.
Ha Sun stands stock-still as Minister Shin raises his sword to strike… then the gates open for Minister Shin to see that his soldiers have all been killed or captured. Ha Sun tells Minister Shin, “I will take your life and make you pay for stealing my letter, putting the border at risk, and endangering the capital for your personal gain.”
Minister Shin tries to bargain, offering Ha Sun the queen dowager’s head if he lets him go. But Ha Sun stabs him in the belly, declaring that the price for killing Minister Lee is his death. Minister Shin manages to growl, “You lowly clown…” before Ha Sun yanks back his sword and slashes his throat.
We learn that the soldiers who arrived just in time were General Kim’s, Lord Yoo’s old friend. Ha Sun had learned they were on their way earlier in the day, and had made his plan based on when they were expected to arrive. General Kim advises Ha Sun to order the rebels to surrender, but Ha Sun says there’s something he must do first.
Prince Jin-pyung lies alone, bleeding and gasping for water. He manages to touch the pot of water, but he only tips it over as he dies.
The queen dowager grows nervous when things are quiet for too long, but then a soldier runs in to tell her excitedly that they stormed the palace and captured the impostor king. She asks why he’s here and not Minister Shin, and he says that Minister Shin fell in battle, but that they’ve got the king locked up.
He hands her a letter from Ha Sun, which says that if she promises not to punish his people, he will confess his crimes and hand over the royal seal. She enters the palace at the pre-arranged time and finds Ha Sun alone in the throne room. She notes that this is her first time seeing the throne in person, and that Prince Yul is dead, but her blood will soon sit on the throne.
She orders Ha Sun to confess to colluding with Aisin Gurun and disrespecting Ming, their ally. But Ha Sun states that he has committed no crimes, because the secret letter was his way of protecting the nation, which is his duty as king. The queen dowager snarls that he promised to confess, realizing that this is a trap.
Ha Sun orders the ministers waiting outside to enter. He takes the throne and the queen dowager looks frightened, but she’s relieved when Lord Younghwa, her choice for king, also enters the room. But he tells her that he’s been following the king’s orders, and for his loyalty, Ha Sun forgives his crimes.
Eunuch Jo brings Ha Sun a scroll, and he reads the hanja himself as he announces that for the queen dowager’s crimes of harming the queen, ordering Lord Yoo’s assassination, and leading the rebel forces, she is officially deposed and ordered to drink poison.
The queen dowager screams at the ministers to challenge Ha Sun, but they all stand silently in support of their king. She says that Ha Sun stole the throne from Prince Yul, and that she may drink poison and die, but she’s not the loser, because Ha Sun will be remembered as the king who killed his mother.
Unmoved by her tirade, Ha Sun says calmly that he’ll endure the results of his own sins, and she should do the same. The queen dowager refuses to be led away, and walks out under her own power. In the courtyard, she never loses her hostile pride as she drinks the poison and succumbs to its effects.
So-woon sits quietly in Ha Sun’s rooms while he mulls over everything that’s happened. Eventually she moves closer and takes his hand, and he tells her that this is the first time he’s killed anyone, yet he has no regrets, and would do worse to protect the nation and its people.
He promises that he’ll never become an animal who uses his power for personal gain, and that he’ll do what’s right even when he’s scared. So-woon says that now he understands the weight of the crown and can move forward, but that he can come to her when he needs a break, and she’ll always be there for him.
Eventually, the rice payment law goes into effect in a few southern provinces to begin. Ho-geol requests some time off, so Ha Sun suggests he take a working vacation to Jeju Island to see how the people like the new law, which is obviously not what Ho-geol had in mind.
Ha Sun meets with some young scholars, who have compiled “Exemplar of Korean Medicine.” Ha Sun wants to publish a version for the people to read, but the scholars argue that the people don’t deserve it. Lord Giseong (cameo by Yoon Park), backs up Ha Sun, saying that he only wants to make sure the people are taking the correct medicines, making Ha Sun smile gratefully.
While Ha Sun is studying in the library, Eunuch Jo says that he hasn’t been sleeping and suggests he go to bed early. Ha Sun says he has a lot more reading to do and sends Eunuch Jo on to bed, but later So-woon finds him asleep on the table. She presses a finger to the stress lines between his eyes, looking worried for him.
Ha Sun travels with Lord Giseong and sees people hard at work in a field. He says that even if he stepped down and one of them took the throne, the country would be okay. Lord Giseong agrees, saying that a king’s job is to approve court discussions and take responsibility for the consequences, not wield power as he pleases, and Ha Sun regards him thoughtfully.
One day, Ha Sun’s ministers bring up the fact that he’s led the country to a time of peace, but he’s still produced no heirs. They suggest he bring in a new concubine to give him a son, and even So-woon thinks he should do it.
But Ha Sun tells her not to worry about it, because he plans to abdicate and has already chosen his successor — Lord Giseong. He explains that he doesn’t wish to give the throne to a child of his blood, so he’s been watching the officials for a suitable successor, and he thinks Lord Giseong is the best choice.
He says he’s been planning this since the rebellion, because the throne doesn’t belong to him… he’s only been borrowing it. He believes that nobody should sit on the throne who wants to use it for personal gain, and that he wants to step down because he wants to go back to being one of the people.
So-woon tells him that he’s done enough, and that she supports his decision. She asks him to absolve her of her title first, so that instead of becoming the queen dowager and staying in the palace, she can go away and wait for him to join her.
Ha Sun writes out his abdication, then stamps it with the royal seal. As soon as it’s done, a weight seems to lift from his shoulders. He does as So-woon asks and sends her from the palace to wait for him while he ties up some loose ends, and they arrange to meet in the village soon.
He gives her a gift — the knife that she almost used to take her own life when they first met. He reminds her that he made her promise never to harm herself, and says that he’s returning the knife only so she can protect herself, but she says that she intends to keep her word.
Lord Giseong is crowned king, and Ha Sun dresses in common clothing as he packs to leave the palace. He takes special care packing the embroidered bag from So-woon and the compass she bought him in the marketplace. Eunuch Jo asks to come with him, but Ha Sun says he can’t because he’s recommended him for a promotion, and the new king needs him as much as he did when he first arrived in the palace.
Eunuch Jo gives Ha Sun a drawing that he made of him, remembering how Ha Sun once drew him a picture to cheer him up. It’s based on Ha Sun’s name, which means “summer fairy,” and Eunuch Jo says it perfectly suits him because he’s like the summer sun that shines equally over everyone. He says that serving Ha Sun has been a once in a lifetime blessing, and they hug, both of them crying.
Finally it’s time for Ha Sun to go. He pauses in the courtyard for just a moment, then steps off the brick path and walks away, a relaxed smile on his face for the first time in years.
On his way to meet up with So-woon, Ha Sun senses someone behind him and whirls — but whew, it’s only Moo-young. Poor Moo-young is hurt that Ha Sun tried to leave him behind, and Ha Sun marvels, “You really have fallen for me!” LOL, that joke never gets old.
Moo-young declares that he’s going with Ha Sun, and none too soon because only seconds later, he whips out his sword and goes after the assassins that have been following Ha Sun. He holds his own well, but neither of them sees the archers who sneak around behind Ha Sun and fire two arrows into his back.
Distracted, Moo-young tries to get to Ha Sun, but he’s stopped by a sword through the chest. Nooo, not Moo-young! He manages to throw his sword and take out the assassin about to finish off Ha Sun, then slips around Ha Sun to take the sword meant for him.
Moo-young yanks the sword from his own belly and uses it to kill the last assassin, as Ha Sun sinks to the ground. As Moo-young falls, he recalls Ha Sun asking him what his greatest wish in life is. He’d answered that it was to serve Ha Sun loyally and die in the line of duty, and Moo-young gets his wish.
Two years later.
Gap-soo and Dal-lae have rejoined their clown troupe. They tell the story of a king who was as handsome as he was wise, and whose greatest talent was looking out for his people. Ae-young tells So-woon that the clowns are in town, and she gets a look of desperate hope in her eyes.
Gap-soo is crediting this wise king for the current peace in the nation when So-woon arrives, and when the “king” in his red robes and mask dances, she smiles wistfully. She gives Dal-lae her two jade rings as a donation, but Dal-lae says they’re too precious. So-woon insists, saying that she’s enjoyed hearing about someone she admires.
Woon-shim finally packs up the things that Minister Lee left at the gibang, and she cries for him one last time. She’s decided to leave the gibang, and she tells Ho-geol that she intends to travel and just enjoy life for a while.
At night, So-woon holds Ha Sun’s compass, remembering two years ago when a pair of palace guards delivered the news that they believed Ha Sun was dead. So-woon had refused to accept it until they’d given her the compass, which they’d found next to Moo-young’s body. So-woon had sobbed that if Ha Sun’s body wasn’t there, he must be alive somewhere.
In the morning So-woon decides to go for a walk, and as she strolls, she recalls the intimate moments she spent with Ha Sun and the promises he made to always be with her. She stops when she hears a little girl making a wish to the goblin that protects the house as she holds a cracked hazelnut.
She asks the little girl where she learned to make a wish like that, and the girl says a man who was passing by taught her. She points the way he went, and So-woon hurries in that direction until she sees a man in blue clothing. She follows him, but eventually realizes that he’s a stranger.
She walks out of the village and into a field to think, carrying one of her wishing hazelnuts with her. She cracks it and makes a wish, but when she opens her eyes, she’s still alone.
She turns… and there’s Ha Sun, alive. They just look at each other for a long time, then So-woon says that she has this dream all the time, but when she approaches, he usually disappears. She promises not to get any closer if he just stays where he is this time.
Ha Sun says shakily that it’s not a dream, but that he’s walked endlessly in a dream to find her. So-woon asks what took him so long, and he says that he dreamed for so long that when he woke, a lot of time had passed. He apologizes for not running to her faster, but she just throws her arms around his neck, happy that he’s here now.
They’re both sobbing, grateful to be together again. They look at each other lovingly for a long time, then Ha Sun takes So-woon’s hand, and they walk home together.
In January of the Year of the Black Pig, the king suppressed the rebel forces and ruled the nation wisely. The entire nation praised his great virtues. He deposed the queen and abdicated, then suddenly passed away. Rumors say there was a clown with the face of the king, and that he was alive, but none of them was revealed to be true.
What a lovely ending. It was beautiful how everything was brought full-circle yet felt natural, like Gap-soo and Dal-lae going back to their clown troupe, Woon-shim deciding to see the world, and especially So-woon wishing Ha Sun back to her with a hazelnut.
I never doubted that Ha Sun was capable of being a true king, but seeing him come into his own strength and take on his enemies himself, outsmart them, and return the nation to peace was extremely satisfying. The fact that he did it on his own, without Minister Lee’s help, was sad but also impressive, and he proved to himself that he’s capable of anything despite his low birth. But I’m also not surprised that he burned out quickly… he wasn’t raised to rule a country, nor did he ever really want the job. It wasn’t explicitly said, but I believe that once he had gotten revenge on Minister Shin and the queen dowager, he realized that he’d been using the throne for his own personal reasons and that’s why he abdicated to someone who could truly put the country first.
The show had its flaws, as they all do. I don’t feel that it did as good of a job as it could have in explaining why Minister Lee killed Prince Yul for YH, or framing his poisoning of YH as something he was doing for the country, even though it personally hurt him to do it. As an audience, it was too easy to see these things in modern-day context instead of the context of the time period, where often, getting rid of someone, though a heinous choice, was often the only choice to protect the power of the throne (and thus the people). For me, the difference between Minister Lee’s decisions to end a life and Minister Shin’s or the queen dowager’s is the intent. Minister Lee was doing it to create a better world, and he never denied that what he was doing was wrong — he accepted that he would be punished, but he was willing to sacrifice himself for his country. But Minister Shin and the queen dowager convinced themselves that their crimes were righteous and that they were morally innocent, when in reality they only wanted power and revenge. And I’ll always be confused why the queen dowager knew that Ha Sun was an impostor, but she spoke to him as if he were YH (saying that he killed Prince Yul and stole the throne), when she had the chance to out him to the entire court.
In general I feel that The Crowned Clown was successful in effectively telling its shocking story, and that it did so in a gorgeous, impactful way. From the masterful acting, to the cinematography, to the heart-pounding soundtrack, the drama always felt confident and assured, and I loved the beautiful way it told Ha Sun’s story. Even more than the king/clown swap, I loved the smaller stories about Ha Sun’s relationships, both with his existing family and the new one he cultivated in the palace. And I absolutely loved the ending, with Ha Sun abdicating the throne, because I’ve never felt okay with the idea of his keeping it when it really never belonged to him. Not because he’s not royal, but because he’s right that it’s not something that should belong to any one person, but should be used for the good of the people. Ha Sun was a good king, and he could have been a great king, but he wasn’t a happy king. Once he did what he wanted to do, and then some, it was wise of him to make the decision to pass it along to someone else who would use the weight of the throne for the good of the nation. All I ever wanted for Ha Sun and So-woon was for them to live a normal life like normal people, and they got exactly what they deserved — each other.
- Premiere Watch: Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho 2, The Crowned Clown, What’s Wrong Mr. Poong-sang
- The clown gets a lesson on how to be a king
- Three teasers for The Man Who Became King
- Lee Kyu-han joins The Man Who Became King
- Yeo Jin-gu, Lee Se-young become the king and queen of Joseon
- First script read for The Man Who Became King
- The Man Who Became King confirms main pairing Yeo Jin-gu, Lee Se-young
- Lee Se-young courted to be Yeo Jin-gu’s queen in Gwanghae remake