Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 27-28
All the secrets our lovers have kept from each other are now in the open and our hero has never felt more alone. In his despair, he joins hands with the enemy in order to take revenge on a common foe. This unholy union has a price, however, and there are plots to end not only the king’s reign, but Nokdu’s life. Luckily, there are also those who love Nokdu and as each side races against the clock, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be victorious.
EPISODE 27: “Plan of Revolt”
Reeling from the revelation that not only has Dong-joo been plotting the king’s death, but knows that he is secretly the king’s son, tears stream down Nokdu’s face as he urges Dong-joo to escape before the other guards arrive. She runs, looking back through her own tears before disappearing into the night. The guards find Nokdu and he tells them he was also searching for Dong-joo, but she must’ve run the opposite way.
Officer Baek is incredulous, but follows Nokdu’s orders. As soon as they’re gone, he dissolves once more into sobs. Later, Baek reports to the king that their search was fruitless but assures him they’ll continue looking. The king then orders a background check on Nokdu before dismissing him. The following day, Dong-joo thinks of Nokdu as she sits at her family’s grave while he wanders the fields listlessly.
King Gwanghae leaves the palace and as Nokdu rides in the procession, he looks blankly at the people bowing, unaware Dong-joo is among them, disguised as a man. The queen is praying at the temple and runs to the dungeon as soon as the king is gone to order Yoon-jo’s release. Outside, he tells her that Nokdu knows everything and is serving as the royal guard.
She recalls being told the royal guard had found her pendant and then flashes back to the night she’d met Nokdu on the palace grounds and returned his hat. The queen realizes in horror what it means for Nokdu to be with the king now and Yoon-jo urges her to hide herself while he goes to stop Nokdu. Before he leaves, the queen begs Yoon-jo to protect Nokdu.
The royal party reaches their rest house, ignorant they’ve been followed. As Yoon-joo runs around the outer gate, he meets Dong-joo and they both try to act inconspicuous as they pass. Inside, King Gwanghae drinks and while a guard worries for him, the minister in Yul-moo’s pocket dismisses him by regaling the king’s past travels. Another minister agrees that King Gwanghae did a lot for his people.
“How could I abandon my people who were like my own children?” King Gwanghae says somberly, “I just did what I should have done.” His words sting as Nokdu recalls the way he’d spat at Yoon-jo that his actual child must die. Unable to listen to the king’s lies, Nokdu stands abruptly and asks to be excused to check on their security. King Gwanghae chuckles that Nokdu probably finds their glory days boring and allows him to leave.
Nokdu steps outside and forlornly plucks a daisy, thinking of Dong-joo. She watches from a few feet away and unconsciously starts to call him before slapping a hand to her mouth and darting out of sight. He hears, but before Nokdu can investigate, Yul-moo’s minister follows him out to complain about his behavior. Nokdu coldly dismisses his concerns and urges the man inside before he can discover Dong-joo. When he returns, she’s gone but so is the daisy he’d left behind.
The following morning, Officer Baek reports to King Gwanghae that Yoon-jo has disappeared along with the queen. Dong-joo hides in the trees and takes aim at the king but he suddenly collapses from shock and Nokdu unwittingly blocks her shot, forcing her to stand down. “They’re trying to get rid of me… so they could give him the throne,” King Gwanghae growls, “My throne…”
King Gwanghae orders palace security strengthened and for the queen and Yoon-jo to be found immediately. He announces they’ll abandon the trip to the shrines and return to Hanyang. Nokdu casts a worried glance at an ominous sky and helps the king inside. Dong-joo runs around to follow, but is caught by a guard. A sword at her throat, the guard orders she drop her crossbow, but Yoon-jo appears and knocks him back.
The guard slices Yoon-jo’s arm but Dong-joo shoots him dead before he can attack again. She bandages Yoon-jo’s arm and he guesses she’s up to no good. Dong-joo quips that he appears to be in a similar boat. Yoon-jo urges her to rethink her path, clarifying that he’s here to protect someone, not inflict harm. Dong-joo wonders if he means the king and Yoon-jo points out he wouldn’t have attacked the guard if that were the case.
Yoon-jo warns that even if she succeeds, she’ll be killed but Dong-joo replies that she’d promised her mother she’d take revenge for their family. Yoon-jo argues no parent would ask such a thing of their child and his own greatest fear is that his son will do just that and ruin his life. He continues that Dong-joo’s parents surely wanted her to live happily rather than waste her time on hate.
His words trigger a flashback and Dong-joo remembers her mother cradling her in their mass grave. “Do not be sorry. Be sad… only briefly. And forget about all the awful things,” Mom had told her, “Forget everything. And make sure… Make sure you live, my baby.” In the present, tears flood Dong-joo’s eyes and she demands how she could forget and be happy after seeing her whole family slaughtered.
Yoon-jo apologizes for dredging up her pain, but implores her to reconsider her choice. Dong-joo rushes off and Yoon-jo looks up as the sky grows darker. Soon, rain is pouring and the head eunuch informs the king the bridge has broken. He urges the king to leave tomorrow as it will soon be nightfall, but the king insists on returning now.
The minister praises Nokdu’s thinking with the bridge and Nokdu retorts that it was only possible thanks to the guards the minister had secretly brought to watch Nokdu. The minister says they need to eliminate the king before the rest of his guards arrive, but Nokdu orders him to stop meddling and stick to the plan.
That evening, Dong-joo shakes off Yoon-jo’s pleas and readies herself to assassinate the king. Meanwhile, Yul-moo prepares to occupy the castle. Hwang-tae stops him to demand why security was heightened at the palace. Yul-moo senses fear and assures him everything will go smoothly as he stalks through the streets, leading a parade of armed men. Inside, the guards rush to the gate only for another group of guards to block them.
The leader of the second group declares the revolt and orders the gate opened. He warns the others that they’ll have to fight him if they wish to protect the king. “Does the king deserve such loyalty from you?” he sneers and this time his order is obeyed. The gates open and Yul-moo leads his party inside the palace.
EPISODE 28: “Dog-joo Stands Before the King”
King Gwanghae drinks and recalls the night his son was born. The queen had gleefully placed the child in his arms and he’d looked down tearfully as he’d thought, “Why did you have to be born on the 19th of November?” His reverie is broken by the arrival of Nokdu, complying with the king’s summons. The king pours him a drink and when Nokdu declines, the king assumes he’s just being honorable.
The king asks if Nokdu has written to his family, which Nokdo confesses he hasn’t. King Gwanghae note that Nokdu’s father must be set in his ways for Nokdu to still be hesitant. Nokdu nods that his father is also benevolent and warmhearted. “When I have failed as a son, he still…” the words get caught in Nokdu’s throat and King Gwanghae envies the bond between father and son.
He admits he’d walked on thin ice around his own father and had thought it was because he feared being abandoned or banished. “But in retrospect,” he sighs, “I just… wanted to be loved by him at least once.” King Gwanghae ponders choosing to live as a father that adored his own son, instead. Nokdu asks if he regrets his choice, but the king says it doesn’t matter anymore. He lies down and Nokdu looks down at his sword with a pained expression.
Outside, the minister tells Nokdu the king’s guards will arrive soon and questions whether Nokdu is having second thoughts. Grabbing the minister by the throat, Nokdu growls that he wants to kill the king now, but is hanging on by a thread. He warns the minister to shut up if he wants to live and the minister spits that the king must return alive for the revolt to be successful. Nokdu reminds him to shut up and then catches sight of Dong-joo and bolts after her, leaving the minister to stew on his own.
Prince Yeongchang’s mother is retrieved from her confinement by Yul–moo’s men as he enters the throne room. Yul-moo grins that as long as Nokdu does his part, he’ll soon be king. Hwang-tae asks if he’ll keep his word and Yul-moo quips that also depends on Nokdu. He adds that if the revolt is successful, he’ll kill Nokdu, wondering if that bothers Hwang-tae. Swallowing, Hwang-tae says he only cares that Yul-moo keeps his word. Dan-ho and Hwang-tae leave and Yul-moo seats himself at the throne.
Officer Baek reports to King Gwanghae, but it’s not about Yoon-jo or the queen… he has word on the royal guard. Meanwhile, Nokdu races through the woods, searching for Dong-joo. Officer Baek explains that Yeon Soo (the alias Nokdu has been using) is dead and has been for some time now. King Gwanghae demands to know who his guard is, then. Officer Baek says he’d heard the name “Nokdu” and the king, realizing his son had been under his nose the entire time, orders Nokdu brought to him.
Tears roll down his cheeks as he thinks of the young man he’d befriended… before his expression hardens. “I had trusted you… completely,” King Gwanghae seethes, “So how dare you? How dare you>” He bursts out of the room, fully enraged at the betrayal. Snatching a guard’s sword, he storms off to find Nokdu himself. Dong-joo sees him leave and follows after.
The corrupt minister orders his little troop that they can kill Nokdu and anyone that gets in their way. The king and minister cross paths in the woods and the king demands why he has armed men with him. The minister chuckles that they need to escort him back to the palace tonight. The king’s and minister’s guards rush each other and the king escapes with the minister in pursuit.
King Gwanghae draws up short when he reaches a cliff and glances up to see a figure approaching from the forest — it’s Dong-joo! Confused, he asks why she’s there and dressed as a man. Dong-joo asks him to throw his sword over the cliff. He doesn’t move, so she raises her crossbow and King Gwanghae realizes he’s backed against the cliff, with no escape.
The head eunuch returns with the king’s guards to find him missing while King Gwanghae complies with Dong-joo’s request and throws his sword. Dong-joo reveals her true identity and King Gwanghae’s eyes widen. He sympathizes that it must’ve been rough becoming an orphan at such a young age but then his face twists. King Gwanghae chuckles cruelly that she’d approached him just like Nokdu and demands whether they’d planned his assassination together.
Dong-joo is taken aback and King Gwanghae continues that he’d killed her family because her grandfather had been plotting to kill him. He bellows that even now, his own son is coveting his throne. King Gwanghae screeches that he’ll kill him first and Dong-joo can’t hold back her tears as she asks in disbelief if he’s really going to kill his son and if Nokdu knows how his father feels about him.
“I’m sure he does,” King Gwanghae sneers, “He disguised himself, stayed by my side, heard, and saw everything.” Nokdu finally catches up and his eyes widen at the scene. He rushes forward just as Yul-moo’s minister runs up behind him. Dong-joo declares the king crazy and he laughs heartily that one needs to be in order to endure the throne. She admits she’d dreamt of killing him and thought she’d feel relieved when the day finally came…
“I cannot believe I wasted all those years… only to kill a beast like you,” she realizes, “I can’t believe I hurt him for a man like you.” Dong-joo says that King Gwanghae is already dead inside — he trusts no one, nor does anyone trust him. She says he’s just an empty shell and raises the crossbow as King Gwanghae’s face reveals his terror. The arrow flies… and passes King Gwanghae to embed itself in the chest of the minister just as he’d raised his sword to cut down Nokdu.
“You aren’t even worth killing,” Dong-joo concludes. Rage quickly consumes his fear and King Gwanghae turns to charge Nokdu, but his foot slips. Dong-joo instinctively rushes forward to grab his hand. Nokdu runs for them as Dong-joo teeters forward. But her hand slips and the king crashes into the waters below as Nokdu pulls her back. Nokdu returns to the house and is immediately questioned about the king and he says he has something to tell them.
The next morning, the queen paces in the courtyard. Yoon-jo races toward her and announces there’s a problem. Over at the palace, Yul-moo and his men await the arrival of the king. The gate opens and Nokdu leads a procession. A flashback reveals he’d told the king’s guard everything the night before and decided to turn the tables back on Yul-moo.
In the present, Yul-moo assumes all has gone to plan and cockily approaches Nokdu to congratulate him on a job well done… only for Nokdu to draw his sword and swing, narrowly missing Yul-moo’s throat as Dan-ho intervenes. Yul-moo glowers and Nokdu declares that he’s hear to clear up the traitors and is joined by the rest of the king’s guard as both sides face off.
We been knew since Day 1 that King Gwanghae was a coward, but this episode he hit an all time low, and I don’t know about y’all, but I wanted blood. He doesn’t even deserve a redemption arc — not that I think it’s even possible at this point, likely death aside, the man is too far gone… Dong-joo’s reaction perfectly mimicked my own as she looked at the king with disgust and pity as he feverishly bellowed that the throne is more important than everything else. Long gone is the kindly man that spoke wistfully of his regrets and shortcomings. Instead, standing before her was a deranged lunatic, hellbent on keeping a throne that was never meant to be his in the first place.
The thing I love most is it wasn’t any of the players that brought about King Gwanghae’s downfall, either. The funny thing with prophesies is they always seem to be self-fulfilling. As King Gwanghae had suggested, I can’t help but imagine how things would’ve been had he not tried to circumvent his fate by murdering his newborn child. Had he either accepted or dismissed the fortune teller’s words and raised Nokdu with love, would he be in this position now? Well, if he had the capacity to let go of his greed, then I doubt it. Alas, that greed is the very reason he slipped and fell to his — probable? — death. Even after a brush with death, he could only think of the throne and how Nokdu was standing in his way. Except… Nokdu never wanted the throne. Heartbreakingly, he shared King Gwanghae’s wish to just be loved.
Thankfully, Nokdu is loved. In his initial grief, he seemed to forget that but it was the love of the people that matter that saved him. His mother disobeying the king to release the man that raised him, Yoon-jo reminding Dong-joo that her mother loved her and wouldn’t want her to be blinded by hatred, and Dong-joo, finally realizing that truth which allowed her to protect Nokdu instead. Had she let her hatred win, Dong-joo would’ve already killed the king before Nokdu arrived and he would’ve fallen at the minister’s sword.
It was the best possible way to wrap up that 20 year tragedy. I was starting to grow weary of the political chaos, but I admit the resolution was nicely done and am willing to let it slide. Going forward, I imagine the king is dead because we know Yul-moo is going to get the throne. Regardless, King Gwanghae deserves time out, and not the return of his throne. I’m not exactly sure how that’s gonna shake down, but we only have 2 episodes left and I’m really hoping a fair chunk of the finale is spent on all the cuteness we’ve been robbed off the last few weeks, so let’s all cross our fingers that it gets resolved quickly. I will not stand for an unhappy ending after all the crap our leads have gone through.
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