Arthdal Chronicles: Episode 16
Finally we get to catch up with our wayward Igutu and his quick-talking companion, and boy, are they having some harrowing adventures. The tribes who live outside of the city are no less complicated or bloodthirsty just because they’re remote, and our hero still struggles to understand the ways of a world so different from his own.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Tagon directs Moongtae to kill several union ministers who dare to challenge his decision to kill Asa Ron and put the families of his opponents to trial. Mihol thinks to himself that finally, Tagon has the eyes of a king.
Privately, Mihol asks Taealha if Tagon still intends to keep the secret of bronzeworking. She says he does, but that this isn’t the time to bring it up. Mihol notes that Tagon has changed, but Taealha says he had to after his previous (tamer) efforts to become king failed, blaming Mihol and Asa Ron for breaking Tagon’s heart.
She gives Tanya a scroll of what to say at the upcoming Sacred Trial, but Tanya still can’t read, so Taealha reads the words out loud. Tanya is to announce that from now on, oracles will come to her from Airuju instead of the Asa clan’s god, Isodunyong. After the announcement, Taealha tells Tanya that she’s to order Asa Mot and everyone else involved in the attempted coup beheaded, and their families’ feet cut off.
Tanya balks at punishing the innocent, but Taealha makes it clear that if she doesn’t obey, the remaining Wahans will die. She tells Tanya that Arthdal can only function if the people are afraid, and that her purpose is to bestow god-given sacredness to Tagon, so her decision will determine whether a hundred people die, or a thousand.
Saya makes his way to Tanya’s chamber in time to hear Tanya tell Taealha that she wants to return to Iark with her people, now that Taealha and Tagon have gotten what they wanted, but Taealha denies her request. Tanya sobs that they’ve already changed Moongtae into a killer, but Taealha says that Moongtae just learned that you need power to get what you want.
After Taealha is gone, Saya tells Tanya that he doesn’t think she should leave. He knows that she accepted Tagon’s offer in exchange for her people’s freedom, but he says it was just another form of greed. He says that both she and Tagon got what they wanted, and that she’s only pretending she didn’t know she was signing up for the bad along with the good.
He says that the Wahan aren’t the only ones who have experienced tragedy — he let Taealha and Tagon treat him like he didn’t exist for twenty years because he was powerless. He advises Tanya that if she wants to stand up to Tagon, she has to grow stronger, but that she has an advantage because the people love her.
Tanya thinks about this, then tells Saya to assemble the remaining Wahans. They gather in her chamber, minus Moongtae, but they’re happy to be together again. Little Doti asks how they’ve all been, so they talk about how successful and even prosperous they’ve each become.
Eventually Moongtae joins them, and Tanya doesn’t mention the reason he’s all bruised up. Instead, she asks if the others want to return to Iark, but they assume she’s just scared, so Tanya tells them that she’s been ordered to kill or cut off the feet of those involved in the coup, including innocent children.
She says this goes against their teachings, but Moongtae snaps that their teachings are useless. He tells her to do as Tagon says, and that they all felt hopeless and alone when they were captured. Tanya asks if that’s why he killed those innocent people and Moongtae admits it, saying that it’s better than living in fear of being the one killed.
Tanya looks around at her few remaining people and thinks, “The Wahan tribe will never be the same.” Little Doti says in a tiny, scared voice that she wants to go home to Iark, and Tanya promises to take her.
Tanya goes to the ceremony room to talk to the Great White Wolf: “Everything you taught us was wrong. It’s not how your Arthdal operates. Why did you make me rise to this position? There is nothing I can do. Why…?”
Saya joins her and wraps his arms around her. He tells Tanya that he was young when he realized he would never have his way, but that he used to dream of running freely in a meadow, hunting and dancing, and eating and sleeping whenever he wanted. He says she was always there with him, and that he recognized her the moment they met.
Tanya tries to pull away, but Saya holds on tighter and continues that the girl in his dreams strengthened him when he was powerless. He lets her go, saying softly that he wants to be that person for her, too. He asks her to trust him and do as he says for now.
Before leaving, Saya gives Tanya a polished stone necklace that he remembers her wearing in his dreams. It’s identical to the one Eunseom made for her, and Tanya cries bitterly for Eunseom and for herself.
When it’s time for the Sacred Trial, Tanya steps outside the Great Shrine with Saya. Asa Sakan wonders, if Tanya is the bell, who the mirror and the sword are. Saya squeezes Tanya’s hand and gives her a supportive nod, then she steps forward to conduct the trial.
At first, Tanya perfectly recites the words Taealha told her to say, but she goes off-script by saying that the perpetrators of the coup and their families will be punished in the same way. She shocks Taealha and Saya by announcing that they will all be torn to pieces and the pieces scattered.
But then she says, “Those were Airuju’s words. But I, Tanya, direct descendent of Asa Sin and owner of the star bell, suggested that we behead those who were directly involved, and only cut off the feet of their families, so that they can worship Airuju’s sacred abilities for the rest of their lives.”
The people collectively hold their breath until Tanya claims that Airuju approved her plans. The families are so relieved that they won’t die today that they loudly praise Tanya for “only” cutting their feet off. Saya has to duck his head to hide his proud grin.
Back in her chamber, Tanya angrily rips off her finery as she thinks about Taealha saying that her people have probably developed a taste for the good life. She’s disgusted, but she has to admit that she enjoys hearing the people shouting her name and feeling powerful.
Tagon, Taealha, and Saya come in, and Taealha is furious. Tanya says she issued the exact punishment they wanted, and that she was only doing as Taealha told her — trying to obtain power so she won’t always have to follow orders. She says she has to do this because she has no land to stand on, and when Tagon asks what “land” she intends to stand on, Tanya tells him, “The people’s hearts.”
Saya sees the fury in Tagon’s eyes and steps close to Tanya protectively, but Tagon warns him back with a look and tells Tanya that the land he stands on isn’t any different, it just has a different name. He says they’ve struck a good balance as the feared leader and the merciful high priestess… for now. He leaves, giving Yangcha orders to guard Tanya from now on.
Kitoha tearfully reports to Tagon that Moogwang was found with his heart ripped out near the bodies of Harim and his wife. He says that the Daekan warriors are saying Moogwang was punished by the gods for being disrespectful to Tanya. Moobaek bursts in as Tagon is viewing Moogwang’s body, and he sobs pitifully over the body of his little brother.
Saya gives the priestesses a template depicting Tagon’s achievements to engrave on the shrine pillars. One priestess says they need to also engrave Asa Sin’s accomplishments, but Saya says darkly, “This comes first.”
Meanwhile, Tanya sits alone in the ceremony room, urging Eunseom to hurry and return to her. Moobaek finds her and tells her that Moogwang’s heart was ripped out last night under a crescent moon exactly as she foretold. He asks her on his knees to perform an ollimsani (death ritual) for Moogwang.
He’s not asking her to forgive Moogwang for what he did to her people, only to undo her curse so Moogwang can go to the afterlife, so Tanya agrees to perform the ollimsani tomorrow night. Moobaek asks if she can really predict the future, and reminds her that she’d asked him why he spared Eunseom when he could have killed him.
He says that he didn’t mention the words of Asa Sakan, who told him: “Three babies were born on the same day and hour twenty years ago. The three babies were each born with the destiny of the bell, mirror, and sword, so they could end this world.”
Moobaek tells Tanya that he believes she’s the bell, and that Eunseom is probably the sword and Saya the mirror. Saya sees them talking and starts to leave, but he stops when he hears his name. Moobaek continues that ever since “that day,” Arthdal has lived in anger, sadness, and cruelty, but then he saw Kanmoreu and found the byeoldaya, and he believed the world would change when the bell, the mirror, and the sword came together.
Later, Tanya wonders what she’s supposed to do when Eunseom returns and the bell, mirror, and sword are united. Saya asks her why Moobaek came to see her but she only mentions Moogwang’s ollimsani, and since he didn’t hear them speaking about Eunseom or the prophecy, Saya wonders what she’s hiding from him.
Tanya changes the subject to ask about the stories Saya is having engraved to depict Tagon’s accomplishments. He tells her there’s also going to be one about Tagon’s suppression of the Ago tribe.
Speaking of the Ago tribe, they’re currently on the move with their captives. Ipsaeng explains to Eunseom that the other captives are also Ago, because they capture Ago from other clans to sell to to Arthdal as slaves. He blames Tagon, who stopped them from enslaving other tribes by saying that Arthdal would only buy Ago slaves from them.
When Tanya hears this, she says that Tagon made the Ago suspicious of each other. Saya says they will never “see the glory of Inaishingi” again, the legendary leader who unified the Ago clans into one tribe. A priestess tells Tanya that Inaishingi lived at the same time as Aramun Haesulla and was the only one strong enough to fight him.
Ipsaeng tells Eunseom the story, admitting that the Ago tribe knows they were tricked by Tagon but can’t do anything about it. Eunseom says that in Iark, the clans would rescue other clan members and return them home, which would make the clans grateful to one another. But Ipsaeng scoffs that in Arthdal, only those willing to betray will survive.
They arrive at a camp where the captives are herded into a tiny pen. The woman in charge notices that Eunseom in an Igutu and tells Tae Maja that he won’t be welcome in Arthdal, but Tae Maja counters that he just has to stay away from the palace.
As they argue, Eunseom sees a woman peeking out from behind a nearby tree, and she motions for him to stay quiet. She shoots one of their Tae captors with an arrow, then a group of warriors run into the camp to fight off their captors and free the captives. They seem particularly concerned with rescuing one specific woman, but Tae Maja grabs her before she can escape.
Their rescuers are from the Myo clan, and they take their freed people back to their fortress. They hold a ceremonial dance, which Ipsaeng explains to Eunseom is a prayer to Inaishingi, God of the Waterfall, to keep the chief’s daughter safe. Watching the dancers reminds Eunseom of Tanya practicing her spirit dance.
The woman who helped free them passes out food, then tells those who aren’t Myo clan that they can go home after they eat. Staring pointedly at Eunseom, she says if they’re not Ago, to leave their land immediately. Eunseom mutters to Ipsaeng that he was wrong — some Ago are willing to save other clan members.
He grumbles, “Not everyone is like you, you’re just a bad guy.” But Ipsaeng advises him never to trust anyone from the Ago tribe, regardless of clan, not even him.
The woman enters the room where the Myo clan elders are arguing, upset that the chief’s daughter, Yesran, wasn’t rescued. Yesran’s promised husband wants to trade Ipsaeng and Eunseom to the Tae clan for Yesran, but the woman asks if he’s already going to break their vow not to sell any more Ago slaves.
Elsewhere on the mountain, Dalsae and Badoru watch as Momo warriors set up a camp. Dalsae finds the emblem on their flag oddly familiar, but before he can place it, they’re surrounded. Karika, their leader, asks why they’re watching them.
Dalsae suddenly remembers where he’s seen that pattern: “Eunseom’s back! That pattern is on my friend Eunseom’s back!” The Momo can’t understand him, so he says, “Igutu,” and Karika lights up.
A Myo warrior offers Eunseom some water, and while he’s distracted, several more attack and subdue him along with the rest of the non-Myo people. The chief apologizes, explaining that trading them is the only way to save his daughter. But Ipsaeng suggests a different plan — he claims to be the son of the Tae clan chief, and says he’ll go and bring the Tae chief’s daughter back himself.
As Eunseom rolls his eyes, Ipsaeng tells the incredulous Myo that he left home to see the world, but he was captured on his way back by Tae warriors who didn’t recognize him. The Myo warriors laugh at him until Ipsaeng rips open his shirt to reveal a tattoo of the Tae clan’s symbol on his chest.
Ipsaeng makes his offer again and says that they can keep Eunseom, who’s like a brother to him (PWAHAHA, Eunseom’s face), to ensure he comes back for him. While the chief deliberates, Eunseom asks Ipsaeng if he’s really the Tae chief’s son and if he can bring back the Myo chief’s daughter.
Ipsaeng brags that it’ll be easy, so Eunseom offers him the medallion they were given by the Momo tribe in case it might help. Ipsaeng seems moved that Eunseom trusts him, but Eunseom says it still sounds like lies, he just wants all this to end. He says he believes in what he was taught growing up, but those rules don’t apply here.
He tells Ipsaeng that if he disappears with the medallion, it will prove that Eunseom’s education was useless and he won’t be conflicted when making decisions anymore. He says he’ll die anyway if Ipsaeng doesn’t return, and makes him take the medallion.
The chief decides to let Ipsaeng go to the Tae clan, sending two Myo warriors with him. Ipsaeng enters Tae clan territory alone, and when he reaches a certain clearing he stops, considers… then runs like crazy. When he can run no further he starts laughing uproariously, wheezing, “I can’t believe they fell for it!” Oh Ipsaeng, you complete and utter ass.
He whoops gleefully that Eunseom is an idiot, but after a minute his laughter fades, and now his gasps of “idiot” sound self-directed.
That night, Eunseom dreams of Moongtae brutally murdering someone, and he jerks awake in horror. The warriors who left with Ipsaeng return, furious and ready to kill Eunseom in retaliation. Eunseom deflates, knowing now that everything he was taught is worthless, and he lets himself be dragged from the pen.
But once he’s out, he fights back, hurling insults at the Myo clan and the Ago tribe for selling their own people into slavery. He says he committed the same sin of weakness and it’s time for them all to accept punishment, but a voice calls out, “So that’s what it was. That’s what Sateunik said before he died.”
They all turn to stare at Ipsaeng, who confesses that he is of the Tae clan, but is actually the chief’s nephew. He scoffs that it’s impossible for him to save Yesran because his uncle is the one who killed his parents and sold him into slavery.
Angry, Eunseom asks Ipsaeng why he came back after tricking them and getting away with it. Ipsaeng says it’s that sin of weakness, which he blames on Eunseom. He tells the Myo people to hear Eunseom out before killing them, then instructs Eunseom to tell them everything.
Eunseom has no idea what Ipsaeng’s talking about, ha. Ipsaeng says that he resents Inaishingi for not appearing to him, but to this Igutu (he points at Eunseom) in his dreams. Yesran’s fiance barks out a laugh, but the chief asks Eunseom if this is true. Eunseom stares at Ipsaeng like he’s lost his last brain cell, so Ipsaeng prompts, “He told you to do the opposite…?!”
Figuring he may as well give it a shot, Eunseom says that in his dream, Inaishingi told him that instead of selling their own people, they should do the opposite by saving the people of other clans who have been sold as slaves without asking anything in return.
Yesran’s fiance starts laughing again and yells that Inaishingi would never say anything so stupid. Ipsaeng urges Eunseom to tell them the rest, and remembering that the Momos always repay their debts, Eunseom says that the clans who receive such favors must repay them by saving those of other clans or die painful deaths.
An elder steps forward to ask what clothes the god was wearing and how long his beard was, but Eunseom murmurs sheepishly that he doesn’t remember. She orders him to look into her eyes, then she announces that he’s lying, and Eunseom and Ipsaeng find themselves surrounded by drawn swords.
In desperation, Eunseom begins the movements of the Wahans’ spirit dance. It’s similar enough to the Myo’s waterfall dance that they watch in awe. When he stops, the elder calls a council meeting to discuss the god’s wishes.
In a remote inn, Yeonbal complains to his Daekan warriors about their inability to catch the Doldambul mine escapees. Right on cue, Dalsae and Badoru walk in the door, but they show no fear when the Daekans draw their weapons. In fact, Dalsae heard Yeonbal say the word “Igutu” and he screams at Yeonbal to tell him where Eunseom is.
Yeonbal’s men put their swords to Dalsae’s throat and Yeonbal orders him to tell him where he’s hidden Olmadae. But Karika and her Momo warriors arrive, and Yeonbal is forced to back down. He and his men start to leave, but Tapein whispers in Karika’s ear, and she asks if he’s looking for the Igutu. He tells her that he’s deep in Ago tribe territory and sarcastically wishes her luck catching him.
The Myo elders consider the possibility that Eunseom might be telling the truth, unable to understand why their god would appear to an Igutu outsider. The woman who led the rescue points out that Aramun Haesulla was also an Igutu. They all look alarmed when one elder suggests Eunseom be made to endure the Judgment of the Waterfall. The woman drops to her knees, exclaiming that they may as well kill him.
The following day, Karika leads her people to the edge of Ago territory. and sends her man ahead to ask the Myo chief to meet with her.
A very concerned Ipsaeng tells Eunseom that the Judgment of the Waterfall involves him being dropped off the edge of a very large waterfall, and that if he survives, it means he was telling the truth. Eunseom says he’s actually a pretty good swimmer, but it gets worse — his arms and legs will be tied to a raft, there’s a whirlpool at the bottom of the falls that not even an Igutu can survive. Eunseom asks if anyone has ever lived through this test, and Ipsaeng admits that there’s only been one survivor in the past thousand years.
Eunseom is bound hand and foot to a raft in an elaborate ceremony. The chief slices his arm and collects some of his purple blood, offering it to Inaishingi and asking the god to spare his life if he’s telling the truth. He’s taken to the river and set adrift to meet his fate.
Carried off by the current, Eunseom manages to free one arm, but the raft arrives at the rapids and flips upside-down, plunging him underwater. He frees his other arm, then the raft smashes to bits on a rock and Eunseom flails to the surface. He tries to get to shore but he’s too close to the waterfall.
When Karika’s man reports that Eunseom is being put through the Judgment of the Waterfall, she breaks into a dead sprint with the others right behind her. Luckily the Momo tribe are born and raised in the ocean, so when they reach the base of the waterfall, Karika’s warriors don’t hesitate to dive in.
The water carries Eunseom to the edge of the falls, and the ropes on his feet catch on a tree branch, leaving him dangling in midair. He reaches up, but the branch snaps, and he goes over the edge. He hits the water and, stunned, he thinks, “Is this the end? Tanya, this must be the end for me. I’m sorry.”
But another voice yells, “All the water is connected! All the water in the world is our home. Are you afraid to return to the waters to repay a favor?” The Momo warriors dive towards Eunseom, swimming impossibly fast, as Sateunik’s voice echoes, “The Momo tribe aren’t like humans when we’re underwater.”
The Momo warriors bear Eunseom to the surface, and he gasps for air as we hear Ipsaeng telling Eunseom that the only person to ever survive the Judgment of the Waterfall was Inaishingi himself.
Oh Eunseom… is there any dangerous situation he can’t get himself into? Thankfully his kindness paid off again and he’s been saved by the Momo tribe, but I have no doubt he’ll insist on going back to rescue Ipsaeng. I do like the link back to the gods, though, where Eunseom is shown once again to be capable of something only a living god has accomplished before. He’s certainly destined for posthumous godhood himself, if he can stay in one piece long enough to reunite with Tanya and save Arthdal.
To be honest, I was beginning to get frustrated with Tanya for going along with Tagon and Taealha’s plans without objection, but she really showed her strength at the Sacred Trial. Not only did she obey Tagon and Taealha’s orders, but she did it in such a way that the punished people actually thanked her, further securing their adoration. If she’s smart, Tanya will continue doing this, and it won’t be long before she’ll be strong enough to take away Tagon’s kingdom with just the crook of a finger.
I’m worried about Tagon’s reaction, though, especially after he’s just given up on his goal of gaining power through the people’s love. Just as he’s decided it doesn’t work because he tried his whole life and never succeeded, Tanya proved that it can be done. Tagon isn’t going to take this graciously, so I hope Tanya can manage to stay in his good graces (or at least stay in a position where he benefits more from her than he loses) long enough for Eunseom to return.
I’m starting to get worried about Eunseom, and not because he has a distressing tendency to almost get himself killed repeatedly. There are only two episodes left in this long saga, and yet the tools sent by the gods to remake the world — Eunseom (the sword), Tanya (the bell) and Saya (the mirror) — still have never been in the same place at the same time. Storywise, I understand why Eunseom has been gone from Arthdal for so long… he was behaving too recklessly in the city and was going to get himself killed, and by experiencing slavery and betrayal and having to learn how to get along with the most annoying and dishonest person he’s ever met for his very survival, Eunseom is gaining the tools he’ll need to face his destiny. Also, without Eunseom to lean on, Tanya is also learning important lessons that will help her when the time comes. But for selfish reasons, I want so badly for Eunseom and Tanya to be together again, and to see how their relationships changes with Saya in the mix.
On a lighter note, Ipsaeng has turned out to be one of my favorite residents of Arthdal. Like Eunseom, I don’t trust a word that comes out of Ipsaeng’s mouth, especially when his own safety is concerned. He’s repeatedly betrayed Eunseom, yet it’s clear there’s no malice on his part, it’s just that when he has to make a choice, Ipsaeng chooses himself… and in a dangerous world like Arthdal, who can blame him? But nobody can be around Eunseom for long without being affected in some way, and Ipsaeng is no exception. He’s still looking out for himself first, but every time, his regret grows more intense. If nothing else, Ipsaeng is worth keeping around because he thinks incredibly fast on his feet, yet while Eunseom is smart in his own way, it takes him ages to understand complicated concepts. If Eunseom can just cure Ipsaeng of his unfortunate habit of lying constantly, he could turn out to be an essential ally when it’s time for Eunseom to meet his destiny.
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