Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 15-16
As our villain makes a devastating move, our hero is forced into a tight position. With all the agendas flying around it’s hard to know who can be trusted… which is only complicated by the fact that no one seems willing to give Nokdu a straight answer.
EPISODE 15: “Without Saying Goodbye”
The bandits hired by Yul-moo tear through the widows’ village, massacring everyone in sight. Nokdu arrives at the village just in time to see one of the bandits suspending Dong-joo in the air by her throat. At the same time Yul-moo spots her and bellows for the bandits to cease but Nokdu is quicker and cuts down the bandit, catching an unconscious Dong-joo.
Setting her down gently, Nokdu turns and faces off against a wave of bandits. He takes on several injuries as he uses his own body to shield Dong-joo. The attacks stop when Yul-moo approaches and demands Nokdu hand Dong-joo over. Nokdu sneers that the bandits seem to know Yul-moo, but he simply argues that’s all the more reason for Nokdu to stand aside if he wants Dong-joo to live. Reluctantly, Nokdu complies.
The attack continues to rage over at the gibang and Yeon-geun rushes out with a team of gisaeng to confront the bandits. With a battle cry, Yeon-geun charges forward only to belatedly realize the women aren’t with him. Heh. All bravado lost, Yeon-geun weakly orders the men to leave. The bandits aren’t intimidated and he kneels in defeat as one lifts his sword… only to be saved by one of the Virtuous Womens’ Corps members, Bok-nyeo.
The gisaengs flee while she fights off most of the bandits, but one gives chase and manages to catch two women. Dong-joo’s bestie Hwa-su runs back to rescue them and while the other two escape, the bandit throws her to the ground. Before he can attack, however, a dagger is embedded in his arm and they turn to see Lady Cheon with the Muweol Corps in tow. The bandit saunters towards the women, but Hwa-su leaps up and thrusts his sword into his back.
Yul-moo lays an unconscious Dong-joo on a bed and gently covers her up before running off to fetch a doctor. Back at the gibang, Yeon-geun helps an injured Bok-nyeo run from the bandits. They trip and the bandits descend only for a drunken Master Hwang to appear. He entrusts Aeng-du to the pair and then makes quick work of the attackers. Meanwhile, Dong-joo wakes up and runs out.
On the other side of the village, the Muweol Corps are overwhelmed and the remaining widows are herded into the center of their burning village. The bandit leader taunts someone to volunteer to die first and Ssook stands. Another voice calls out and Nokdu steps between them. Ssook sees the blood streaming down Nokdu’s arm, but he leaps into battle and quickly wipes out the first wave of bandits.
More attack and Ssook joins the fray but before long the bandits retreat. Master Hwang and Lady Cheon arrive and the women eye Nokdu curiously, finding his face familiar. Aeng-du wakes up and runs over to Nokdu, accidentally outing him as she asks if he’s been caught for masquerading as a woman. Aeng-du cries that Ssook is cruel for beating Nokdu up and Master Hwang quickly ushers her away.
The women now realize Nokdu is Lady Kim and poor Yeon-geun passes out from shock. They also recognize him as the intruder. Ssook demands to know why he did it and Nokdu explains that he was searching for answers as to who attacked his family and why. “I am truly sorry about everything,” Nokdu winces as he bows.
Before anyone can reply, Dong-joo bursts through the crowd, calling Nokdu’s name. He apologizes to Dong-joo and she cries that she thought he was dead. Nokdu tries to insist he’s fine, but he coughs blood and collapses in Dong-joo’s arms.
The next morning, Dan-ho informs Yul-moo that the fire destroyed the village and the surviving widows have departed, leaving nothing for King Gwanghae to find. Yul-moo is more concerned that Dong-joo left while he was fetching her a doctor and says he can no longer allow Nokdu to live. Dan-ho accepts his order to kill Nokdu but Yul-moo says they have one thing to do first.
Lady Cheon leads the survivors through the woods and directs them towards the pier, warning them to split up when they get there. The women beg to stay and start anew but Lady Cheon can only apologize for failing to create a world where they didn’t have to hide. They tearfully pray to meet again and the women head towards the pier. Ssook joins Lady Cheon and informs her she brought the gisaeng safely to the government office.
She tentatively asks where Nokdu is and Lady Cheon says his condition is very bad. Ssook admits that it was wrong of him to deceive them, but Nokdu had risked his life to save the village. Lady Cheon muses that Ssook must be fond of Nokdu to speak up for him and assures her she has no power to harm anyone anymore. Lady Cheon plans to return to Minister Heo and Ssook vows to stay with her. She leaves to fetch them a horse but looks back in horror to see the king’s men approaching Lady Cheon.
Meanwhile, Chil-seong returns from the failed — rescue? kidnap? — mission and informs Minister Heo of the attack on the widows’ village and what happened the night before. Minister Heo starts to storm out but Chil-seong points out the king will be all over the village. Minister Heo thinks back to his visit from a masked Nokdu and thinks aloud, “He might be… our way out of this.”
Ssook watches the king’s men lead Lady Cheon away. She reaches for her sword but freezes when Lady Cheon shakes her head. Lady Cheon smiles and Ssook flashes back to when she’d escaped her in-laws only to be cornered on a cliff. One of the men had held her at swordpoint and ordered her to jump in order to protect her integrity. She’d turned towards the cliff but upon hearing a sound, turned back to find all the men felled by arrows and a group of archers standing above her.
The leader was Lady Cheon and she’d smiled, “What you need to protect is your life, not your integrity.” In the present, Ssook watches in horror as an arrow flies from the woods and pierces Lady Cheon’s heart. The king’s men rush into the trees to find the assassin and Ssook looks up to see a masked Dan-ho. She’s too injured to give chase and she looks back and sobs as Lady Cheon dies.
That night Dong-joo meets Ssook in the woods next to a pile of stones which serves as Lady Cheon’s grave. Dong-joo sobs and Ssook says she’d called Dong-joo despite her condition so Lady Cheon’s journey to the afterlife wouldn’t be lonely. Dong-joo demands to know who did this and Ssook vows that she’ll find the culprit and kill them.
Dong-joo returns and cares for Nokdu. He wakes up and takes her hand, weakly telling her he’d dreamt she’d left him. Dong-joo promises that she’s not going anywhere and urges him to sleep. Nokdu tries to fight it, but he loses consciousness again, her hand still clasped in his. When he reawakens, Nokdu shouts to find Yeon-geun staring down at him instead.
Fighting back tears, Yeon-geun warns him not to move around. Nokdu asks where Dong-joo is and when Yeon-geun doesn’t answer, he forces himself up and outside. Dong-joo is gone and Master Hwang finds Nokdu in the field, tutting that Nokdu has been out there for days. Nokdu lies that he isn’t waiting for her, but Master Hwang points out the tears in his eyes.
Nokdu grumbles that she left without a word and Master Hwang informs him of Lady Cheon’s death. Nokdu announces that he’s returning to Hanyang, saying “There’s a conversation I haven’t finished yet.” Watching Nokdu limp off, Master Hwang flashes back to Dong-joo telling him she planned to leave. Master Hwang had been confused since Dong-joo hadn’t left Nokdu’s side, but she’d told him that it was because she would leave that she’d stuck close.
Master Hwang again questioned her leaving Nokdu and Dong-joo admitted she didn’t think she’d be able to go after Nokdu awoke. She begged Master Hwang not to tell Nokdu she’d been clingy and to say she’d left without worries. In the present, Master Hwang wonders whether Nokdu would be more heartbroken if he knew or not. With a sigh, Master Hwang follows Nokdu while at the same time, Dong-joo is back at the capital and stares up at the palace gates.
EPISODE 16: “Reunion Between Father & Son”
King Gwanghae fumes at his guard for failing to find the widows, bring Lady Cheon for questioning, or even identify her killer. Drawing the guard’s sword, the king demands what the man can do for him. The guard sputters that Lady Cheon had visited Minister Heo on the day of the raid. Yul-moo is also receiving bad news as Dan-ho admits he’s yet to find Dong-joo. Yul-moo orders he bring her whether she’s willing or not, and to kill Nokdu on the spot if they’re together.
Dong-joo paints face masks on palace servants and sells them her wares cheaply. The women wonder how she can survive selling for so little and Dong-joo smiles that she’ll be fine if they could get her a job at the palace. Meanwhile, Nokdu, Aeng-du, and Master Hwang strut down the streets of Hanyang only to be startled by Yeon-geun.
Nokdu asks how long Yeon-geun plans to follow him and Master Hwang agrees that they should part ways now. Yeon-geun asks if they have a place to stay but they say they’ll figure it out and walk on. Master Hwang tuts that Yeon-geun keeps looking sadly after Nokdu, who balks, “He definitely saw that I’m a man.”
Yeon-geun rushes after them and treats them to a meal. While the other two stuff their faces, Nokdu eyes Yeon-geun incredulously. “So you want to help us start a life in Hanyang?” Nokdu asks and Yeon-geun quickly denies doing it for Nokdu. He says he’s worried about Master Hwang and Aeng-du since they’ve bonded but frowns as Master Hwang agrees that they’re family and Aeng-du resolves to call Yeon-geun “brother.”
Nokdu is unconvinced and points out Yeon-geun could be punished because of the raid on the village. Yeon-guen laughs loudly that he’s prepared for it and reiterates that he’s worried how they’ll survive. He pointedly adds that he’s not too worried and says he’ll charge Nokdu for the expenses plus interest later.
Yeon-geun takes them to get new clothes, waiting impatiently for Nokdu to come out of the dressing room. “Goodness, you’re still beautiful,” Yeon-geun mutters when Nokdu emerges in his new attire, although he quickly claims he was referring to the clothing. Master Hwang worries about the expense but Yeon-geun assures them he’s quite wealthy. He tells Nokdu that he’ll assume the role of Yeon-geun’s cousin, Yeon Soo, who left for the countryside years ago for poor health and hasn’t been heard from.
Passing the swing, Nokdu sighs at the memory of Dong-joo. He starts to walk away when a man sits on it. It’s King Gwanghae and oblivious, Nokdu asks how long he plans to use it. The king’s guards move forward, but he waves them off before Nokdu can see and asks Nokdu to repeat himself. Nokdu says he’s waiting to ride the swing and the king stands… only to sit back down and cheekily reply he hasn’t been on it long. Nokdu plops down next to him and says he’ll wait.
King Gwanghae guesses Nokdu has a problem and asks about it. “I’m afraid I’ll find out about something I don’t want to know about… although I should,” Nokdu admits. The king muses that they’re similar and asks if Nokdu will run away. Nokdu stands up and declares he’ll grab the bull by the horns. He starts to leave, but the king stops him to ask if they’ve met before. Nokdu isn’t sure and King Gwanghae says they’ll meet again. “If fate allows,” Nokdu replies.
That night, Nokdu visits Minister Heo again and demands he answer his question this time. Minister Heo takes him to Yoon-jo and after seeing Dad leap up and hug Nokdu, leaves them. Nokdu asks why Yoon-jo is locked in but Yoon-jo says Minister Heo is a friend and everything is fine. Nokdu demands why Dad’s “friend” tried to kill them but is letting them live now. He starts to ask, “Is it because… I am…”
Yoon-jo orders him not to ask. Nokdu cries that he’d hated Mom for always loving Hwang-tae more, only for her to die after living in exile. He asks who he is and then, grabbing the bull by the horns, demands if he’s the king’s son. Yoon-jo firmly denies it, saying Nokdu is his son. Realizing neither Dad nor Minister Heo is going to tell him anything, Nokdu says he’ll be back. Yoon-jo asks where he’s going.
“I’m going to right the wrong,” Nokdu answers, “And I’m going to make sure you and Hwang-tae live honorable lives.” Yoon-jo tries to hold him back, but Nokdu pushes Dad away and leaves the room. Chil-seong blocks his path and orders him to follow. Nokdu refuses and he reaches for his sword as Nokdu reaches into his shirt. A sound at the door distracts them long enough for Nokdu to slip away. The king bangs on the door and when no response comes, his men kick it open.
Yoon-jo demands how much Nokdu knows and Minister Heo asks how much Yoon-jo knows. “Why do you think His Majesty… wanted to get rid of his own son 20 years ago?” Minister Heo asks. Before either can say more, the door flings open and the king glares at the two men. He starts quaking with fear at the sight of Yoon-jo and reaches for his sword, but can’t bring himself to draw it. Yoon-jo drops to the floor in a bow and King Gwanghae turns his fury to Minister Heo.
Master Hwang wakes up in the middle of the night to find Nokdu sitting up, deep in thought. He tells Master Hwang he needs to get into the palace and find the answers himself. Meanwhile, the king demands whether Yoon-jo was the only one that survived that day. Yoon-jo assures him he was and the king warns that he’ll kill him himself if he discovers Yoon-jo lied. He leaves and orders his men to keep the other two locked up.
Nokdu checks on Dong-joo’s chicks and pouts, “She’s a mean brat who has no sense of responsibility.” Meanwhile, Dong-joo is still trying to bribe the palace women into getting her a job. One of them calls her on it and brusquely pays her for the goods and stalks out. After they’re gone, Dong-joo grumbles that it would be easier to scale the palace wall.
Nokdu visits the blacksmith shop he’d gone to with Dong-joo before and asks for a bow and arrows for the military service exam. He asks the blacksmith if he’s seen Dong-joo and while the man hasn’t, he says she’s a regular and will likely turn up soon. Nokdu decides to come back every day for a part of his order.
The palace ladies pass by the swing and decide to take a turn. However they find a line of children waiting for Nokdu to stop moping on it. One of the ladies snaps at him and Nokdu quickly apologizes. Her friend awes at Nokdu’s pretty face and fakes a faint so that he’ll catch her. He does and then goes on his way as she moons after him.
Next, Nokdu hits the bookstore for his military service studies and meets the king again. King Gwanghae admits he has a lot on his mind, but suspected Nokdu would be at the swing. He asks about the exam and perks up when Nokdu says he has to enter the palace to meet the king. King Gwanghae asks why and Nokdu’s serious demeanour dissipates as he laughs that he needs to win the king’s favor to become successful.
King Gwanghae asks Nokdu’s name and he gives the name of Yeon-geun’s cousin. The king notes he’s from the same family as the former chief royal secretary and says he’ll give Nokdu a gift to root for his success, suggesting they meet in 5 days. Across town, Dong-joo thinks of Nokdu as she puts on her shoes. She briefly imagines him there but then chides herself for crying.
The palace lady from yesterday approaches her and agrees to get Dong-joo a job as her servant if she can find the man from the swing. Following the lady’s description of pink clothes and amethyst beads, Dong-joo hits the streets. Her drawing his useless, but she happens to look up just in time to see Nokdu pass (although she doesn’t see his face) and chases after the man that fits the description. The man she catches, however, is not Nokdu.
It’s King Gwanghae, but he also fits the description and confirms he’d been at the swing. Dong-joo excitedly tells him to come to the swing that evening and the king chuckles as she skips away. He then meets Nokdu and the men laugh at their similar attire. The king hands Nokdu a box of taffy (which symbolizes an encouragement to “stick” or pass the exam). He tells Nokdu to repay him by passing the exam and not to be a stranger if he does.
Nokdu departs and one of the king’s guards reports that Minister Heo has been quiet and that they looked into Yeon Soo (the name Nokdu had given) and discovered that he’d gone to the countryside for his health… and hasn’t been heard from since. Back home, Nokdu practices for the exam. Master Hwang chides him for exerting himself too much and then pulls out the bellflowers Nokdu requested. He reminisces that Yoon-jo often ate them to counteract his cough
Sure enough, Nokdu sneaks into Minister Heo’s estate to leave the bundle outside Yoon-jo’s room. He’s caught by guards, but Yoon-jo hears the noise and opens the door. He calls Nokdu’s name and the distraction allows Nokdu to get enough of an upper hand to get away.
Dong-joo waits with the palace lady at the swing. The king arrives and the lady is horrified to see the wrong man approaching and runs away. Dong-joo isn’t so quick and explains to the king she must’ve made a mistake. She apologizes and runs off as well, leaving the king confused. His guard appears to report the intruder at Minister Heo’s, adding that they’d cut his sleeve and heard Yoon-jo address him as Nokdu.
On her way home, Dong-joo sees Nokdu hiding and the guards just up the street. She calls for the guards and points them in the opposite direction. When she turns back, Nokdu is gone and she runs down the street searching for him. She’s pulled into a building just as the guards turn the corner and finds herself face-to-face with Nokdu.
Dong-joo tries to escape, promising to draw the guards away, but Nokdu refuses. “I will not let you leave again,” he says firmly, “Never.” Dong-joo continues to try and get away and in the struggle, a bowl clatters loudly to the floor. They freeze as the door opens… and in walks the king!
Dun dun dunnnnnn! Man, this show loves cliffhangers. So King Gwanghae knows Nokdu likely isn’t who he’s claiming to be and judging from the report he got from the guards, the intruder is probably his son that he tried to murder way back when. It wouldn’t be hard to put everything together and yet, we’re only halfway? Surely the cat isn’t entirely out of the bag just yet! At the very least, there’s bound to be more twists involved. Like Minister Heo’s cryptic emphasis on why the king wanted his son dead… and was willing to kill Yoon-jo to ensure the secret stayed so.
Everything is getting super complicated and I’m left wondering what happened to the sweet fluffy romcom we started with. The episode kicked off with our leads finally facing each other with honest emotions and then it was right back to subterfuge. I do understand Dong-joo’s desire to shield Nok-du. Especially after seeing that wicked glint in Yul-moo’s eye the last time they’d spoken. Whether she’s aware of just how dark her childhood friend is or not, Nokdu faces real danger from Yul-moo because of his relationship with Dong-joo. But as Yul-moo is hellbent on killing him either way, there isn’t much point staying apart for that reason alone.
Dong-joo is still determined to exact her revenge on the king and for all the shady things the king has done, he was darn likable this episode. His interactions with both Dong-joo and Nokdu were so cute that it throws his character into question all over again. I’ve always been on the fence with the king because he’s so conflicted in his own decisions and we still have gaping holes surrounding the events of the past. He seems… human. Someone who reacts from fear and possibly regrets some of those choices, but feels unable or unwilling to withdraw from the path he’s chosen.
I do love the duality of most of the characters. Their motivations aren’t clear and their actions could be interpreted multiple ways. Is Minister Heo concerned about the good of the country and betraying King Gwanghae because he’s a bad king? Or is he just a power-hungry jerkface like the rest? Is Hwang-tae playing along with Yul-moo in order to protect Nokdu, or is he really that bitter over living in exile their whole lives? The only characters with clear alignments are our leads and Yul-moo and that’s not a bad thing. It leaves a lot of room for compromise and collaboration for common goals.
This drama has a lot of moving parts and as interesting as the whole birth-secret/political chaos lines are, it’s the lighter moments that really shine. Like poor Yeon-geun, still very much in love with Nokdu regardless of his gender. Aeng-du and Master Hwang are always a wacky treat. And as previously mentioned, even the king offered a lot of buoyancy to this episode. His moments with the leads were so sweet it makes me wish for a way that they could be a family, even though they all want to kill each other. Is it so wrong to want everyone to be happy? (Except maybe Yul-moo, I love him as a character but he’s a horrible person and doesn’t deserve a nice ending).
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