Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 29-30
The palace becomes a battleground as two princes fight over the throne. One is determined to take the throne for himself while the other fights to protect it for the king. Just as it looks as if the throne will be saved, the king returns from the dead and must decide which of the princes is on his side. Will the king finally embrace his son or will he choose his disloyal nephew?
EPISODE 29: “Dong-joo & Nokdu Promise Forever”
As they leave for the palace, Master Hwang warns Nokdu that stopping Yul-moo means war. After reminding his student that in times like this spirit matters more than skill, Master Hwang steps away so that Nokdu and Dong-joo can have some time alone.
Nokdu takes Dong-joo’s hand as she bares her heart, “I just want to live a happy life with you…I do not want to live without you anymore.” After Nokdu pulls her close, Dong-joo sends him off with a small smile, “Go on. I will be waiting.”
At the palace, Nokdu escorts a palanquin onto the palace grounds where Yul-moo is waiting. Yul-moo praises Nokdu’s efforts and is surprised by his attack, narrowly escaping harm with help from Dan-ho.
Yul-moo’s men, including Hwang-tae, point their swords at Nokdu. After Nokdu offers everyone a chance to change sides, his supporters join him including the Minister of War and Master Hwang.
Yul-moo reveals that Nokdu was part of his scheme and slyly suggests that he wants the throne for himself. The queen yells out, “That is ridiculous,” as she enters the courtyard with Yoon-jo. The queen explains that Nokdu has no reason to conspire against King Gwanghae because he was killed in an accident.
The queen reminds everyone that as the king’s only son, Nokdu will take the throne. At the announcement, Nokdu looks up at the palace and remembers King Gwanghae telling him that his son was meant to be king.
Yul-moo glances at an archer and Nokdu notices when he points his sword at Hwang-tae’s neck. When Yul-moo questions Nokdu’s claim that he’s the king’s son, Yoon-jo steps forward and removes his hat, announcing, “I am the proof.”
Yoon-jo declares, “The king had ordered me to bury his own son…but he began to breathe again…Therefore, I raised the king’s son.” Yoon-jo’s testimony is deemed unacceptable when the ministers remind everyone that until recently, he was a prisoner of the king.
The queen produces the noriagae that she’s carried for 20 years and explains that she gave the other half to her son. Nokdu produces that piece and when it matches the queen’s half perfectly, Yoon-jo asks Yul-moo to accept their proof.
At Yeun-guen’s house, Dong-joo recalls what happened after the king fell into the river. She and Nokdu found a cave and after they built a fire, he stared into the flames as he thought about King Gwanghae’s regret that he didn’t live as a loving father who adored his son.
Dong-joo pulled Nokdu into a hug and apologized for leaving his side. Worried that he would seek revenge as she did, Dong-joo asked, “Do not do anything that will hurt you. I do not want you to live miserably as I did.” Yeun-geun’s return brings Dong-joo back to the present and she’s alarmed by his news that there’s trouble at the palace.
Yul-moo asks Yoon-jo why he lived in hiding instead of returning with the king’s son but it’s Nokdu who answers that the king wanted him dead. Master Hwang slips away as Yul-moo questions Nokdu’s suitability, only to be reminded that he’s lived as a playboy who often frequented a gisaeng house.
Nokdu astutely observes that the love of a king isn’t required for the eldest son to take the throne. Hoping to avoid bloodshed, Nokdu pledges to accept counsel from the ministers to insure a peaceful transfer of power.
After some guards move to Nokdu’s side, Yul-moo yells, “Attack!” As the fight for the throne gets underway, Nokdu guides the queen to safety while Yoon-jo scans the throng for Hwang-tae. When Yul-moo sees Master Hwang hustle Hwang-tae away from the fight, he sends Dan-ho after them.
After reaching an obscure section of the palace to wait out the fight, the queen looks down at her hand clasped in Nokdu’s. Tears spill from her eyes as she throws her arms around her son, “I am sorry…I can only imagine the things you must have gone through. It must have hurt you so much.” Nokdu cries and hugs the queen tightly, calling her, “Mother,” for the first time as the queen vows that she’ll never lose him again.
Dong-joo arrives at the palace and enters through an unsecured gate as Hwang-tae explains to Master Hwang that he needs to find his father. When Dan-ho jumps between them, Master Hwang fights as Hwang-tae runs back for Yoon-jo.
Reluctant to have Nokdu rejoin the fight, the queen explains that if King Gwanghae never returns, Nokdu must survive to become the next king. Nokdu reminds her that the throne has caused him nothing but suffering and after thinking of Dong-joo’s confession that she can’t live without him, he tells his mother, “I do not want the throne.”
The queen releases Nokdu’s hand and bravely tells him, “You may go. Instead, promise me that you will not get hurt.” On his way out Nokdu asks the queen’s attendant to take good care of his mother. When he’s gone, the queen clutches both pieces of her noriagae and weeps.
Determined to eliminate Nokdu himself, Yul-moo takes a bow from one of his soldiers. Meanwhile, the younger and stronger Dan-ho is winning against Master Hwang but he abandons the fight to chase after Hwang-tae.
Yoon-jo finds Hwang-tae unharmed and begs him to leave the palace with him. Hwang-tae jealously assumes that his father wants him out of the way to help Nokdu but Yoon-jo insists that he loves both of his sons.
Complaining that he’s tired of living in hiding, Hwang-tae reveals that he plans to restore the family name. When Yoon-jo warns that he’s not on the right path, Hwang-tae bitterly asks, “…what have we gained after choosing the right path?”
Announcing that he’s returning to Yul-moo, Yoon-jo guesses that Hwang-tae was promised a position at the palace. When Yoon-jo questions Yul-moo’s motivation, Hwang-tae admits that he’s bait for Nokdu, complaining, “…that fool cannot turn his back on me even if it means he might die.”
Yoon-jo sees a guard approach with a sword and he’s seriously injured when he protects Hwang-tae. After killing the guard, Hwang-tae kneels by Yoon-jo’s side and is urged to run away.
Hwang-tae hides his badly injured father and when he sees Dan-ho searching for him, he begs Yoon-jo to hang on until he returns. After taking a small knife from the dead guard and hiding it, Hwang-tae finds Dan-ho.
Dong-joo runs into the palace as the servants are running for the exits. Yul-moo sees Nokdu helping the injured Minister of War and aims his arrow, surprised when Dong-joo stands in front of him.
When he tries to avoid shooting her, Yul-moo’s arrow misses its target, instead grazing Nokdu in the arm. After sending his men after Nokdu, Yul-moo drags Dong-joo away.
EPISODE 30: “The King is Back”
Nokdu finds a safe place to rest with the injured Minister of War, who warns that they can’t hold out much longer.
At the same time, Dong-joo demands to know if Yul-moo plans to kill Nokdu and start a revolt. Confessing that’s exactly what he wants, Yul-moo acts as if his plot will accomplish what Dong-joo has longed for.
Dong-joo reminds Yul-moo that she’s never wanted anything from him and he demands, “Why not? I can give you everything.” Dong-joo admits, “You scare me, and I hate you…However, I feel sorry and pity you as well.”
Dong-joo begs Yul-moo to stop but his eyes fill with tears as he refuses “I will take the throne…your heart? I do not need it. No matter what, you must stay by my side.” After vowing to kill Nokdu so that he can never have Dong-joo, Yul-moo has her taken to safety.
Holding his bleeding side, Master Hwang searches for Hwang-tae and stumbles upon an unconscious Yoon-jo. Elsewhere, the Minister of War retreats with his men as Nokdu stops the palace guard commander with a spear.
When they reach the room where she’s to be detained, Yul-moo makes it clear that Nokdu will never know that Dong-joo saved his life. Yul-moo also warns Dong-joo that she’d never be happy with Nokdu after trying to kill his father, the man responsible for the slaughter of her family.
When Yul-moo returns to his men, he sees the body of the fallen commander and demands to know if his men were trembling in fear or fighting. After one of the men reports that Nokdu and his supporters retreated to the Hall of Convenience, Yul-moo decides to attack.
Yul-moo questions Hwang-tae about his escape and he denies that he ran away. Yul-moo orders Hwang-tae to stay close so that he can witness Nokdu’s death and then leads the way to the Hall of Convenience.
When Dong-joo overhears one of her guards announce that he needs a bathroom break, she readies her crossbow. The remaining guard hears something break and when he goes inside to investigate, he’s hit by an arrow.
After breaching the gate, Yul-moo and his men are surprised when it’s closed behind them. When Nokdu walks out to face Yul-moo, the women of the Muweol Corps make their presence known, especially the archers on the roof. After the Minister of War runs out with his men, Yul-moo finds himself surrounded.
In a flashback, we see that as Nokdu and the Minister of War discussed their dire situation, Ssook saved their lives with her arrows and asked, “Are we a little late Lady Kim?” In the present, Ssook faces Yul-moo and after nodding to her small army, she attacks and arrows begin to fly.
Dan-ho uses his sword to block the arrows aimed at Yul-moo and when he moves to hand to hand combat, he kills the Minister of War. Nearby, after one of Dong-joo’s arrows downs one of the men fighting Nokdu, he breaks away to pull her to safety. Yul-moo sees them together and sends Dan-ho after Nokdu.
Finding a safe spot, Nokdu confronts Dong-joo about her presence at the palace. She tells him, “I will go wherever, whether it may be a battlefield or a place that is burning down. I told you already. I can no longer live without you.”
After a long pause, Nokdu confesses, “I cannot live without you either.” While hugging Dong-joo, Nokdu sees Dan-ho and he moves her out of sight. Promising that he’ll be back, Nokdu kisses Dong-joo before leaving her.
When Nodku finds Dan-ho, their long-awaited rematch begins. Eventually, everyone stops fighting to watch them and when Nokdu has to pause to catch his breath, he notices a smile flicker across Dan-ho’s face. Dan-ho confesses, “Fighting you is as exciting as I thought it would be.”
When they resume fighting, Nokdu is hit in the back yet he manages to slice Dan-ho’s leg. When Yul-moo aims an arrow at Nokdu, Hwang-tae uses his hidden knife to stop him. After Yul-moo’s men point their swords at Hwang-tae, Ssook signals for the Corps to return to fighting.
Dan-ho yells out, “My lord! Be careful,” as Ssook attacks Yul-moo. Dan-ho leaps to Yul-moo’s side to fight off Ssook, stopping her sword mere inches from Yul-moo’s head.
Nokdu comes to Ssook’s aid and blocks Dan-ho’s sword, allowing her to plunge hers through Dan-ho. Yul-moo cradles Dan-ho as blood gushes from his mouth and tears fall from his eyes. Dan-ho manages to say, “I am sorry, my lord,” before closing his eyes for the last time.
Nokdu nods when Ssook asks to take revenge for Lady Cheon’s death but before she can attack Yul-moo, a shout is heard, “Stop what you are doing right now! Drop all your weapons.” Everyone turns as Officer Baek throws open the gate for the king’s soldiers.
The soldiers draw their swords as Officer Baek repeats his order to drop their weapons. When everyone is disarmed, King Gwanghae returns to face Nokdu. Watching from a distance, the Queen Dowager smiles.
In a flashback, the Queen Dowager was told about Nokdu’s existence from one of Yul-moo’s ministers. She warned the minister that they couldn’t allow Yul-moo to become king just as news was delivered that King Gwanghae had returned.
When King Gwanghae first arrived at the palace and saw all of the bodies in the courtyard, Officer Baek reported that the fight had moved to the Hall of Convenience. The Queen Dowager ran to the king to claim that she was forced to justify the revolt and was questioned about who approached her.
Looking from Nokdu to Yul-moo, King Gwanghae announces, “You were just about to achieve your goal. I must have interrupted you.” Taking out his sword, the king places it against Nokdu’s neck as a flashback reveals the Queen Dowager’s answer, “I have never seen him before. I thought it was absurd, but he said he was your son.”
King Gwanghae confesses that not only did he abandon Nokdu because of a prediction, he killed the shaman, her daughter and ordered the death of Yoon-jo. The king defends his choices, “Just as predicted, you coveted my throne and tried to steal it. And you declared that I was dead when I was not.”
Tears trickle down Nokdu’s face as the king dares Nokdu to deny that he started a revolt, guessing, “You must have despised me to death.” When Nokdu admits, “I hate you. I resent you to death,” Yul-moo claims, “I tried to stop him…But he stirred up the men with a hideous lie that you passed away.”
Hwang-tae tries to explain that it was Yul-moo who led the revolt and that Nokdu was trying to stop him but Yul-moo claims that the brothers conspired together. Convinced that Nokdu planned meticulously to get his revenge, Nokdu accuses the king, “You will not believe anything I say.”
Satisfied, the Queen Dowager orders, “Get rid of all the people who may cause trouble later. And make sure the rest stay silent.” When questioned about her decision, she explains, “No one will risk their life to tell the truth. For a son who was abandoned by his own father.”
Knowing that the king won’t believe anything he says about the revolt, Nokdu asks, “If I say that I was happy and scared at the same time without knowing how you felt about me…would you believe me?”
Nokdu acknowledges that the king will only believe that he tried to take his throne. When the king asks him if that’s what he did, Nokdu wonders, “Have I hurt you?”
Admitting to hiding his identity and plotting treason, Nokdu asks, “Did that hurt you?” When the king accuses him of looking down on him, Nokdu calls him a fool and demands to know, “Are you in pain…Just like how I felt when you abandoned me.”
Wounded, bloodied, and exhausted, Nokdu tells King Gwanghae what he wants to hear, “Yes. I wanted to drag you down from your throne myself. I decided that I was going to kill you myself.” Nokdu’s words cause King Gwanghae to grab at his chest and Yul-moo runs to his side as the king orders, “Arrest him immediately.”
The Muweol Corps picks up their swords to defend Nokdu and when two soldiers are hit with arrows, they turn and see Dong-joo. With calls to protect the king, Yul-moo escorts him away as Ssook promises to buy Hwang-tae some time. Hwang-tae whisks Nokdu away with Dong-joo’s help as the Muweol Corps faces the king’s soldiers.
What an intense, thrilling and, for me, disappointing hour as we watched Nokdu fight for the king only to be betrayed in the most heart wrenching way possible. The last fifteen minutes were torturous as Nokdu fell victim to another of King Gwanghae’s enemies, the Queen Dowager, who decided to use the king’s son to get revenge for her own dead son.
Tale of Nokdu has turned out to be a tragedy of epic proportions as the world has turned against our hero. King Gwanghae is a mashup of Macbeth and King Lear, his jealous obsession with the throne will lead to his undoing and he doesn’t recognize genuine love when he sees it. Nokdu is right, King Gwanghae is a fool and Dong-joo’s dismissal of him as less than human couldn’t be truer.
I had hoped for more for Nokdu, who may be one of my favorite characters of all time, not just in Kdramaland. Master Hwang’s reminder that spirit matters more than skill explains why he’s so special. Nokdu has the qualities that make him inspirational — he’s not only intelligent, he’s quick witted, kind, courageous and respectful. Nokdu isn’t perfect, after all he temporarily gave in to the temptation to exact his revenge on the king. But it’s Nokdu’s inner struggles that make him human and his ultimate triumph over them that makes him great.
It’s his indomitable spirit that carries Nokdu to the side of the father that he never knew, hoping that one day he’ll value his son more than the throne. Sadly, the king makes it clear to everyone that he’ll see his son dead rather than risk the throne. And that’s where Tale of Nokdu lost me. No matter how satisfying the finale may be, and I’m hoping it is, Nokdu is meant to carry a gargantuan sorrow in his heart for the rest of his days and he deserves better. His reality echoes Hwang-tae’s question to his father, “…what have we gained after choosing the right path?”
For Nokdu, hopefully he’ll manage to put his father’s abandonment behind him to live happily with Dong-joo, who totally came through with her crossbow, saving her man not once, but twice. She’s the one person in the world who understands what the king has cost Nokdu. After taking Yoon-jo’s advice to heart, Dong-joo is ready to live her life and share her love with Nokdu, and in time, hopefully she can help him heal enough to do the same. But for them to be happy, they need to know that their friends and loved ones are safe. Between the king and Yul-moo, is that even possible?
After the Queen Dowager’s order to erase Nokdu’s heroism from everyone’s lips, she intends for his story to die. But this is called Tale of Nokdu for a reason, because Nokdu’s story is the kind that lives on when witnesses get nostalgic, especially when the country is doomed to face hard times during Yul-moo’s reign. It’s impossible to forget the kind of spirit that Nokdu demonstrated as he fought to defeat Yul-moo and save the throne for his father. Those shining eyes, the warm heart, his undying love for Dong-joo and the unceasing hope that his father would choose Nokdu just once aren’t easily forgotten. With the finale upon us, my hope is that our good prince finds some peace and happiness somewhere in the world.
- Premiere Watch: Tale of Nokdu, Extraordinary You, My Country: The New Age
- New teaser and stills for KBS Tale of Nokdu with Kim So-hyun, Jang Dong-yoon, Kang Tae-oh
- Jang Dong-yoon, Kang Tae-oh in new stills for Tale of Nokdu
- Joseon gender-swap drama Tale of Nokdu releases new teaser
- Script reading for Joseon dynasty rom-com drama Tale of Nokdu
- Kim So-hyun cast as gisaeng-in-training for KBS sageuk rom-com