Arthdal Chronicles: Episode 14
The quest for power can be very different depending on a man’s intended use for that power, and the right man can amass power without even knowing it. But a lifetime of plans can undone in an instant, and nobody can predict whether this will lead to prosperity or catastrophe. As the moment nears when the new leaders of Arthdal are to be installed, opposing factions scramble to stop the momentum before things go too far.
EPISODE 14 RECAP
Xabara Karika, leader of the Momo tribe, informs her warriors that her life, and that of her infant son, were saved by a stranger with purple lips and that they have a debt to repay. She and all of her warriors make a blood pact — they will not rest until they find the purple-lipped stranger, and until they do, they will march under a purple flag carrying the same marking as as Eunseom wears on his back.
Yeonbal, who’s in charge of the Daekan warriors looking for the Doldambul mines escapees, overhears Karika’s speech and intuits that she’s looking for Eunseom. He and his men continue to track Eunseom and Ipsaeng as they flee, unaware that Eunseom is amassing a loyal following.
Back in Arthdal, the city celebrates the confirmation of Tanya as the descendent of Asa Sin, and Tagon as Aramun Haesulla incarnate. Chaeeun runs into her adopted (and full-blooded Neanthal) sister, Nunbyeol, and they find little Doti teaching people how to paint their faces and passing out flower crowns like the Wahans wear for celebrations.
Suddenly, pandemonium breaks out as a bull rages through the middle of the marketplace. Chaeeun pulls Doti out of its path in the nick of time, but Chaeeun and Nunbyeol’s father, Harim, is directly in the bull’s path. The bull attacks him from behind, but just as it’s about to gore him, Nunbyeol’s eyes flash Neanthal blue and she grabs the bull by its horns with her bare hands.
She snaps its neck and tosses it to the ground, dead, then passes out. Harim and Chaeeun take Nunbyeol to Chaeeun’s storeroom, and Chaeeun asks how this happened when Harim said he severed all of Nunbyeol’s lineages. He says they’ve somehow been reconnected, and that Nunbyeol’s fear disintegrated the blocks.
Chaeeun is worried that so many people saw Nunbyeol kill a bull with her bare hands, plus she’s mastered martial arts (which could be dangerous with her Neanthal strength). Harim decides to sever Nunbyeol’s lineage links again.
Tagon accepts the adoration of the heads of the tribes with feigned humility. The last to offer him fealty as Aramun Haesulla is Mihol, leader of the Hae tribe and Taealha’s father. Mihol gloats that he knew Tanya would find the star bell, and Tagon belly-laughs, then sneers that Mihol is stupid to think he fooled Tagon.
Mihol just says that Tagon will greatly benefit by replacing Asa Ron with Tanya, but he reminds Tagon that he’s irreplaceable because of his knowledge of how to work bronze. Tagon tells him to kneel before him, and Mihol takes his sweet time, then offers him the greeting they give the king in Remus, his homeland.
He says it’s appropriate since Tagon will soon be king, and Arthdal a kingdom. He offers to teach Tagon what it means to be a king, and to stay loyal to Tagon so long as he’s the most powerful person in Arthdal. Tagon counters that Mihol will be the first to betray him if his position slips.
Their conversation turns to the gohamsani, the upcoming ceremony to inform the gods of the recent changes in hierarchy. Mihol warns Tagon against holding the gohamsani at the White Peak Mountain as planned, since it’s Asa Ron’s stronghold, but Tagon just scoffs and says it’s too late.
Asa Ron is already at White Peak Mountain, and his right-hand man, Asa Yon, worries about the White Mountain clan’s loss of power. He says that the gohamsani is their chance to take their power back, but they find themselves facing several Daekan warriors outside their sacred cave, led by Moobaek.
Moobaek says he’s here on Tagon’s orders to start preparations for the gohamsani. Asa Sakan, the elderly “mother” of the White Mountain tribe, tells Asa Ron that there are Daekan warriors stationed all over the mountain and at all seventeen clans, to make sure they don’t revolt.
Back in Arthdal, Tagon addresses his most trusted warriors, the ones who have been with him since he hunted the Neathals to near-extinction. He thanks them for their trust and loyalty and says that their last hurdle is the gohamsani.
He tells them that he has a secret — he hates killing people. The warriors look at each other in confusion, then they all agree that they really hate it, too. Tagon also reveals that he has a son, and that Taealha is his mother, and it’s interesting that masked Yangcha is the only warrior who doesn’t congratulate Tagon.
Speaking of Taealha, Hae Tuak tells her that her dress for the gohamsani is ready, but Taealha continues painting on some leathers she’s had spread on the floor. She asks about her father, and is unsurprised that he kneeled before Tagon.
Saya is at the Great Shrine informing the priests and priestesses that he’s Tagon’s son, believes in the teachings of the White Peak Mountain Hearts, and will be assisting Tanya from now on. One of the new priestesses is a former Wahan, and she gapes at how closely Saya resembles Eunseom.
Saya puts Momyungjin in charge of having the shrine pillars engraved with the teachings of the White Peak Mountain Hearts. He kneels to Tanya, hand outstretched, and leads her from the dais, something the priests and priestesses haven’t seen before. As they slowly walk out of the shrine, Saya tells Tanya to get over her discomfort because it’s proper protocol.
She asks when the enslaved Wahans will return to Arthdal. Saya asks why she cares so much since they aren’t her family, but Tanya counters that the Wahans are family. Pretending innocent curiosity, Tanya asks what Saya would do if he learned he had a brother. He says a brother he’s never met wouldn’t mean anything to him.
Tagon’s men witness Tanya and Saya returning hand-in-hand, and Moogwang stiffens at the sight of the woman who foretold his death. When Tanya asks after Moobaek, Moogwang tells her he’s at the White Peak Mountain preparing for the gohamsani. As soon as they’re gone, Moogwang throws a full-on hissy fit.
Asa Sakan advises Asa Ron to lay low until after the gohamsani, then they’ll decide what to do next. Asa Ron argues that Tagon will be worshiped as a god, but she harshly reminds him that Tagon is destined to prevent a great calamity from befalling Arthdal.
Asa Ron says that he can no longer meet with the gods without access to the Sacred Smoke, and asks if Asa Sakan can. We don’t hear her answer, but the question angers her. Later, Asa Ron sends a messenger to someone called the Children of Shahati: “Tell the Black Tongue to come.”
Taealha leads Tagon to her rooms, where she’s finished the leather painting she’s been working on. It’s a dragon fighting a horse, and she tells Tagon that it’s their flag. She offers to stand on the front lines with Tagon, sword in hand, as they unite the entire continent under the name “Tagon Taealha.”
She confesses that she had faith in Tagon, but she was also anxious, since he’s always been powerful but also hesitant. She complains that he wants to be liked too much, but Tagon counters that leaders who aren’t well-liked don’t last long, therefore, the people need to like him in order for him to be a leader that brings happiness and peace.
Taealha agrees that Tagon has gotten where he is because of the people’s love and support. He adds that the two of them kept their promise not to die for each other nor did they betray each other. With tears in their eyes, they clasp hands and agree that they’ve earned their success.
Eunseom still isn’t speaking to Ipsaeng after he tried to steal the reward medallion from the Momo tribe. He softens when Ipsaeng gives him his vest, since Eunseom tore his shirt to bandage Karika’s arm. When Ipsaeng pouts for forgiveness, Eunseom reminds him of the pledge they made to the gods when Sateunik died.
Ipsaeng says that he’s not in Iark anymore, and trusting people to keep promises will get him killed. Eunseom snaps, “That’s not how I was taught,” and continues on, with Ipsaeng calling after him.
While Ipsaeng wheedles Eunseom to sell the medallion and split the profits, Eunseom notices something rustling in the bushes and tells Ipsaeng to run. They barely stay ahead of the massive bear that chases after them, until Ipsaeng trips on a root and falls. Eunseom grabs a large branch and uses his Igutu speed and strength to launch himself into the bear’s path, but he only slows it down.
As Eunseom tries to help Ipsaeng up, Ipsaeng slices Eunseom’s leg with his knife then runs away, leaving Eunseom to face the bear alone. Eunseom limps a short distance before tumbling down a steep embankment, and the bear follows. Eunseom holds it off by shoving a branch into its open jaws, but the bear crushes the branch and attacks again.
Suddenly the huge animal stops, backs away from Eunseom, then flees. Eunseom looks up to see two men approaching — it’s Yiseuroob and Rottib! Eunseom doesn’t know them, but he sees their blue lips and veins and realizes that they’re Neanthals. He thanks them, which Rottib translates for Yiseuroob, then they continue on their way.
They stop when Eunseom asks if they’re Neanthals and shows them his purple Igutu blood. Surprised, Rottib runs and grabs Eunseom’s face to stare at him closely, but he lets go with an expression of disappointment. Rottib thinks to himself, “This is all meaningless. I can’t believe your son survived and grew up so much, Asa Hon.”
When Yiseuroob asks, Rottib tells him that Eunseom is Asa Hon’s son. Yiseuroob only knows Asa Hon from Rottib’s stories of how she saved him as a child, and he realizes that Eunseom is also Ragaz’s son. But Rottib says it’s pointless to tie themselves down with unnecessary connections and they continue on their way.
Ipsaeng runs until he has to stop for air, and he justifies what he’s done by telling himself that Eunseom would have gotten himself killed sooner or later. He congratulates himself on cheating death yet again, but he’s struck by guilt, so he decides to go back and give Eunseom a decent burial (and coincidentally retrieve the medallion in the process).
But he’s soon found by Yeonbal, who’s been tracking them, and he shoots Ipsaeng in the leg with an arrow. Yeonbal says that Olmadae is the only escapee they care about and promises to free Ipsaeng after he helps them find the White Peak Mountain Hearts leader. Eunseom hears Ipsaeng’s cries and goes back for him, but he wilts when he hears Ipsaeng promise to help Yeonbal.
More Daekan warriors are searching a different part of the mountain, and they run into Karika with her Momo warriors. Karika asks for their leader, Goldu, by name, so he steps forward and says that he’s done nothing to offend the Momo tribe.
But Sateunik’s wife, Tapien, she screams her dead husband’s name in anguish. Goldu pleads for mercy, claiming that they didn’t know Sateunik was of the Momo tribe, but a Momo warrior strikes him down. Karika asks his men where to find the man with purple lips.
Yeonbal grows suspicious when Ipsaeng seems to be leading him the wrong way. Ipsaeng stammers that he’s taking a longer route to avoid the Ago tribe’s lands, but Yeonbal orders him to take a faster route. The men are so busy bickering that none of them notice Eunseom following at a short distance.
When Yeonbal’s men camp for the night, they leave Ipsaeng tied to a tree whining for food. Yeonbal orders him fed, so one of his men stands over Ipsaeng taunting him with food. Eunseom swoops down out of the tree and wraps a rope around his neck, and he hands Ipsaeng a knife to cut himself free as he holds the man hanging in the air, threatening to kill him if the others move.
A Daekan warrior throws a knife and cuts the rope holding his comrade in the air, but Ipsaeng and Eunseom manage to run off. Eunseom is shot in the arm with an arrow, and he and Ipsaeng tumble down a hill and right into Ago territory. Yeonbal and his men stop, unwilling to take on the tribe with the violent reputation.
Ipsaeng pleads with Eunseom to get up so they can escape Ago territory, but Eunseom says he thought Ipsaeng was the chief’s son. Eunseom asks if it’s also a lie that Ipsaeng is Tagon’s stepbrother, but Ipsaeng snaps that fleeing is more important than talking.
Eunseom accuses Ipsaeng of tripping on purpose in order to use Eunseom as bear bait. Ipsaeng yells that he just wanted to live, and Eunseom snarls that he’s a “shit-bastard.” Ipsaeng asks why Eunseom keeps trying to save him when they both know he’s a horrible person, admitting that everything he’s told Eunseom is a lie.
He makes a full confession about hiding in the straw mats while the rest fought for freedom, how he planned to steal the jewels, even his plan to steal the medallion. He asks again why Eunseom risked his life to save him, and Eunseom finally answers, “I needed you. I wanted you to become my subordinate.”
Laughing incredulously, Ipsaeng asks what Eunseom needs a subordinate for. Eunseom replies that he needs power, and he elaborates: “I have no power. If I were powerful, would I have let my precious people get dragged away, and gotten locked up underground? I want to save them, and to do that, I need power.”
He says that in Arthdal, power is determined by how many subordinates one has and how powerful they are. He wants to gain followers, use them to save his people, and protect all of them. But he says that he doesn’t know how to make someone his subordinate because his people believe that everyone is equal, so all he could do was keep being nice to Ipsaeng.
He says he was wrong and suggests they part ways. Ipsaeng asks who he’s fighting against, and Eunseom tells him wearily, “Arthdal itself.” Ipsaeng reels, but he follows Eunseom and tells him he’s going the wrong way. Eunseom doesn’t believe him, but Ipsaeng says that he really is the third son of the clan leader of the Ago Tribe.
By morning they’ve found a small boat and are floating down the river, but when they wake, Ipsaeng immediately panics. They’ve drifted too far, and they spot some Ago warriors at a camp on the river bank.
In Arthdal, Saya wakes and wonders why he dreamed of the Ago Tribe. Momyungjin informs him that the gohamsani is in two days, so Saya guesses that Asa Ron must have returned. Asa Ron is with Tanya, telling her with fake joy when and where the gohamsani will take place.
Saya joins them and introduces himself to Asa Ron, who’s shocked to hear that Tagon has a grown son. When he, Asa Yon, and Asa Mot are alone, Asa Ron says he shouldn’t be surprised that Tagon has been raising a son in secret. Asa Yon tells him that the Black Tongue have arrived along with the Children of Shahati.
Taealha has a jewel-studded sword and hammer set made for Tagon as a gohamsani gift, and she asks the maker to rush the other bronze gift she ordered. As a warrior herself, Hae Tuak marvels over the beautiful weapons, though she makes the mistake of mentioning that Taealha hasn’t wielded a weapon in some time. Taealha notices the new maid, and notes that she’s pretty.
Asa Mot teaches Tanya what to do during the gohamsani while Saya watches. Tanya drops a cup and apologizes to the young priest, who says it’s his first time doing this, too. Saya tells Tanya that her father is with Tagon, and something nasty flashes in the young priest’s eyes.
Tagon is surprised to learn that Yeolson still wants to work in the Fortress of Fire now that he’s the father of the High Priestess. He asks if Yeolson has figured out the secret to working bronze. Yeolson says he hasn’t yet, but that he’s been wondering if iron could be used, instead. Tagon says it won’t work because after being smelted, iron can’t be hardened well enough to be of use.
Yeolson says it’s because the iron wasn’t pure enough, but that iron is more plentiful than tin or copper, which means the same amount of resources needed to make one copper sword could make a hundred iron swords. Tagon gives Yeolson credit for his idea, but he says that if it could be done, the Hae tribe would already be doing it.
The remaining Wahans gather in the Sacred Shrine. They’re all stunned by how much Saya resembles Eunseom, but none of them say anything when Saya notices their stares. He tells them they’re no longer slaves, and that the Wahans who were taken to the mines will be returned to them soon. Moongtae looks nervous, knowing that there will be consequences for his betrayal of his tribesmen.
Taealha carries her gohamsani gifts to Tagon’s room, only to be told that he went out alone. She correctly assumes he’s visiting his father’s grave, and on his way, Tagon recalls a day when he was very young and his father led him down this same path.
Sanung and Tagon been separated, and Tagon had wandered crying through the forest. He’d eventually found Sanung, and had sobbed apologies for getting lost. But instead of being glad to see his son, Sanung had grabbed Tagon by the throat and choked him.
In the present, Tagon arrives at Sanung’s grave. He says that his father should be happy that he’s going to become Aramun Haesulla as Sanung wanted. He remembers that Sanung had abruptly stopped choking him, and had apologized profusely.
He had told little Tagon that someday he would become Aramun Haesulla, but that until then, nobody must discover that he’s an Igutu. Tagon’s best friend had seen his purple blood soon after that, and Sanung had slaughtered the boy’s entire family to keep Tagon’s secret. The next time a friend had seen Tagon bleed, Tagon had smashed the boy’s head in with a stone, crying bitterly that he did it to save his friend’s family’s lives.
Later, when Tagon was a young man, Sanung had told him to leave Arthdal because negotiations with the Neanthals had failed, and the people would start killing Igutus. Tagon had wailed that he had killed his friends because of Sanung’s promise, and had offered to exterminate every last Neanthal and Igutu.
Sanung had been unable to understand why Tagon would kill his mother’s people just so he could stay in Arthdal. Now, at his father’s grave, Tagon thinks of the vow he made over his friends’ bodies — he would become Aramun Haesulla, so that their deaths would be an honorable sacrifice instead of a waste.
He’s surprised when Asa Ron makes his presence known, having thought he was alone. Asa Ron mocks Tagon when he nervously scans the area for White Peak Mountain warriors, since Tagon’s Daekan warriors are stationed everywhere. Tagon says he only did that because he’d have to kill Asa Ron if he revolted, which would ruin everything he’s worked for.
He tells Asa Ron that he wants no surprises during the gohamsani. Asa Ron croons that he never understood why Sanung disliked his own son so much, and Tagon says it was about power. Asa Ron muses that if Sanung had fully accepted Tagon, he wouldn’t have died at Tagon’s hands, and things would be very different now.
Tagon disagrees, because a son killing his own father is never a good thing. Asa Ron says he’s right — a son who killed his father should never be leader of the Union and revered as Aramun Haesulla. Behind him, all the tribe leaders come out from where they’ve been listening, and Asa Ron gloats that now all of Arthdal will know the ugly truth about Tagon.
Warriors surround Tagon, and Asa Ron declares it his duty to cleanse the union. He tells Tagon that Taealha and Tanya will join him in his punishment. Tagon screams at Asa Ron, asking why he’s doing this.
Taealha is readying herself for the gohamsani ceremony, and the new maid offers to brush her hair. Taealha asks where the maid is from, and the girl says she comes from deep in the White Peak Mountain.
At the same time, the young priest carries a tray to Tanya’s quarters, but Saya intercepts him and offers to take it himself. The young priest insists that it’s part of his duties, but Saya firmly dismisses him. The priest’s eyes go hard as he refuses to obey.
Instead of answering Tagon, Asa Ron orders him arrested. Tagon thinks about how hard he tried, and of Taealha saying that he’s too eager to be liked. She’d congratulated him on his success, but now he whispers, “No, Taealha, I failed. This was a path I couldn’t take without spraying innocent blood.”
Suddenly, a lone figure flies through the air behind Tagon and lands on him, stabbing him before flipping away. As Tagon doubles over, the figure introduces himself politely as the Black Tongue of Shahiti, and informs Tagon that what he’s feeling is the poison paralyzing him.
But Black Tongue’s confidence fades as he realizes that Tagon is bleeding purple blood. Asa Ron, the tribe leaders, and the warriors all see it, too, and as Tagon looks around at their horrified faces, he mutters to himself, “My efforts were never going to be enough. If only I had known that sooner. I’m sorry for those who died because of me.”
Snarling, Tagon tells everyone watching, “Just know that you brought this on yourselves. I never wished to sit on a bloody throne. I didn’t want to kill.” He launches himself at Black Tongue and knocks him out, then with his eyes burning bright purple, he turns to Asa Ron.
He growls that if this is what they want then he’ll kill them all, and lets loose an animalistic roar.
Well, so much for Tagon’s carefully-guarded secrets. In only a few minutes, everything he’s worked for his entire life has been wiped away as the people he’s tried so hard to impress learn that he killed his father, and that he’s an Igutu. I don’t blame him for falling into a blind rage — when you spend your whole life trying to convince people that you’re not what they think you are, yet they refuse to believe you, at some point it’s easier to just say, “If you believe I’m a monster, I may as well becomea monster.” Asa Ron made a huge mistake in pushing Tagon to his breaking point, and now what could have been a peaceful takeover looks like it might become a bloodbath.
I had forgotten what an enigma Tagon is — he seems to genuinely want peace, happiness, and prosperity for the people, and his desire to be liked is not feigned and is backed by sound reasoning. But then he’s willing to do the most underhanded, dishonest, tricksy things to achieve his goals (including killing his own father, blaming an innocent man for the murder, then killing another innocent man when he needed someone to publicly execute), and I get all confused… am I supposed to like him or not? I think that his backstory of killing anyone who learned of his Igutu heritage explains Tagon’s philosophy of killing a few to prevent the deaths of many, but it’s tragic to think of who he might have been if he’d been allowed to nurture the kinder, more sensitive facets of his personality.
Tagon’s hubris in believing that he can be Aramun Haesulla will probably be his ultimate downfall. Because I still think that the true Aramun Haesulla is Eunseom, who’s achieving everything Tagon wants without even trying, simply by being the person he is. Where Tagon tries to hard to win the love of the people, Eunseom collects the love of everyone he meets just because they can sense the goodness within him. Where Tagon uses tricks and lies to amass power and build a kingdom, Eunseom will find himself leading a kingdom before he even understands what a kingdom is. He’s far from perfect and he makes mistakes, but his intentions are always to help others and that shows. If Tagon is right that a leader must be loved in order to be successful — and I think he is — that love must be genuine and most importantly, it must flow both ways. Tagon loves himself first and foremost, but if ever there was a person who loved others more than himself, it’s Eunseom.
Strangely, the character that crossed my mind most often during the break was Yangcha — is anyone else wondering what Yangcha’s story is all about? For a character that doesn’t speak at all and who hasn’t done much of note besides his one big confrontation with Eunseom, Yangcha gets a lot of lingering camera shots. I’ve suspected him as an Igutu for a while, since he always wears that mask over his mouth, which could be to hide purple lips. At first I thought he was might be of the Igutu children that Tagon mentioned rescuing, but Yangcha was already a warrior when Saya was a baby, which means he’s not actually much younger than Tagon himself. But there’s something going on with him… he’s been wearing that mask as “punishment” for decades, and the look in his eyes when Tagon mentioned his son was quite interesting.
I’m in full agreement with @dramallama that the two-month hiatus enforced by Netflix did Arthdal Chronicles no favors. The story and world-building are so rich and complex, and the characters are numerous with so many connections and shifting loyalties, that the only reason I was able to remember the simplest things like names was due to several pages of copious notes. I do feel that the intensity and momentum of the show suffered during the break, but it picked back up relatively easily, and I found myself as entranced as before (once I was able to recall who was who and what they were all up to the last time we saw them). There’s still a lot of story to cover in the last four episodes, and I’m most looking forward to the union of the sword, the bell, and the mirror… and their impact on the future of Arthdal itself.
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