Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 20 (Final)
It did seem to take an awfully long time to get here (some weeks were longer than others, to be sure), but now that it’s time to say goodbye to scholar-nim, I find that I’ve grown pretty attached. Or is that just the Lee Jun-ki Effect? At least Scholar Who Walks the Night knew to save the best and bloodiest for last—the buildup (and buildup, and buildup) finally pays off in a mighty battle that brings the house down.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kimbo – “중독” (Addiction) for the Scholar Who Walks the Night OST [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Sung-yeol meets with the rebels and sets the plan in motion for Gwi’s ultimate demise: They’ll blow up his underground lair with both Gwi and Sung-yeol trapped inside. Sung-yeol thinks to himself that tomorrow will be the last day that Gwi will get to breathe.
At the same time, Gwi sits on the throne surrounded by countless bodies and covered in their blood. He seems to sense that the end is near, and perhaps even welcomes it. Gwi: “Come to kill me, Kim Sung-yeol. I will gift you with eternal darkness.”
The prime minister leaves the room reeling from the site of the massacre, and huffs that Gwi will meet his end. But the drunken bender only continues, as Gwi goes from palace to palace, drinking every servant he comes across. A court lady runs away from him, only to come upon a courtyard littered with bodies.
Yoon sheds a tear as he mourns Hye-ryung, but says to her that he won’t let her sacrifice go to waste.
It looks like Yang-sun doesn’t plan to sit by either. She dons a man’s hanbok and straps on her hat, and tucks a small dagger into her sleeve. Su-hyang catches her walking out and tries to stop her, but Yang-sun says that if her blood will keep Sung-yeol from dying, she has to try.
Su-hyang argues that it’s too dangerous, but Yang-sun has faith that Sung-yeol will be strong enough not to lose himself. And if Gwi tries to take her hostage, she plans to kill herself. Aish, that trauma’s gonna last another 120 years if you do that!
Yoon finally comes out of the brooding room looking for Sung-yeol, and realizes from Ho-jin’s reaction that he’s run off to fight Gwi on his own. Ho-jin falls to his knees to beg Yoon to stay put, saying that his job is to keep Yoon out of danger so that the country still has a leader when the battle is done.
Yoon says that he’s not the king anymore, but Ho-jin says he’ll have to kill him first and breaks down in tears, saying that he didn’t want to stay behind and guard the house either, but this was Sung-yeol’s last wish.
Yang-sun in turn argues that she can’t just stand by while others sacrifice their lives, when she’s Gwi’s descendant and part of the secret plan written in the diary. When they get word about the palace bloodbath last night, Yoon is more determined than ever to go there.
Yang-sun says she’ll come too, and says with resolve, “It’s my turn to protect Sung-yeol.” She cashes in the debt that Yoon owes her, and asks him to take her to Sung-yeol now. She says that even if she dies, she’ll die by his side.
Su-hyang relents, and Yoon agrees as long as she promises not to think of dying. He refuses to lose either of his good friends, and intends to keep both Yang-sun and Sung-yeol alive.
Ho-jin asks to be taken along too, figuring that he’s already going to be in trouble for letting the two of them go, so he might as well get to fight alongside Sung-yeol like he wants. He tells Su-hyang that he’ll return by sundown with everyone safe and sound, and her eyes brim with tears as she tells him that he has to come back alive. You’d better listen to her. Don’t die, Ho-jin!
Ever the slippery weasel, the prime minister packs up his house to flee to China before things get any worse. He discovers that he left a good amount of his silver in the palace though, and plans to head back to collect it.
Sung-yeol and the black hanbok brigade stand by as scholars lead a citizen protest outside the main palace gate, and use the chance to break their way through a smaller entrance. Sung-yeol can’t sense Gwi’s presence though, and finds it odd that they haven’t encountered a single person inside the palace.
He heads down into Gwi’s lair to scope it out, but finds it empty. And sitting on the throne is a drawing of Hye-ryung, soaked in blood. But suddenly Sung-yeol senses someone nearby, and realizes that it’s a trap. Palace guards have been turned into vampires, and they come out from the cave’s shadows to close in on him.
The protest continues outside, and when the prime minister walks by, the scholars call him out for serving a vampire. He tells the guards to just arrest all these people and saunters inside. But Yoon arrives before any arrests can be made, and asks the guards if they don’t know what’s going on inside, or why they haven’t been relieved of their shifts all night. He says that while they’ve been guarding the gate, Gwi has turned the palace into a vamp nest.
Yoon declares that they’re headed inside to fight them and destroy Gwi, and anyone who stands in their way is serving a king who kills his people, and is no different from a murderer himself.
Sung-yeol fights the group of warrior-vamps and kills them without too much trouble, but he now realizes that the entire palace is filled with vampires.
Yoon convinces the guards to open the gates and let them inside, but he stops the crowd of protestors from joining them because it’s too dangerous. He warns them that anyone who comes out after sunset is a vampire, and they must collect their efforts not to let anyone escape.
The prime minister rushes into his study to collect his valuables, and gasps when Gwi emerges from the shadows and catches him in the act. Gwi muses that he let the prime minister live because he wasn’t even worth killing, but he crawled back in on his own due to his greed. Yeah, that’s what we call karma.
Gwi smiles pleasantly and tells him to take it all… “to the afterlife,” and stabs him. The prime minister’s body goes limp and falls to the ground. Gwi’s hand is covered in his blood, but he refuses to drink it, because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to swallow it. Man, you know you’re pond scum when the vampire doesn’t even want to make a meal out of you.
Sung-yeol makes his way through the palace looking for Gwi, and killing the vampires that he comes across.
Meanwhile, Yoon’s team heads inside and loads up with guns. Ho-jin is a nervous wreck, holding his rifle upside-down, but Yang-sun is a natural, shooting down a vamp when one is about to attack Yoon from behind. I still wish we had gotten an explanation as to how vamps became zombies and can be shot down so easily with bullets, but let’s just go with it.
They make their way from building to building, and it’s nightfall by the time they reach the main palace. They encounter a room full of minister-vamps, the largest nest so far, and back away in fear.
The only real fighter among them, Hye-ryung’s bodyguard, stays behind and locks the door to give them a chance to run away. Ho-jin and Yoon argue about who will stay to hold the door closed, when Sung-yeol arrives. Phew. He jumps into the fray and the others only hear the bloody fight from the outside. Yang-sun covers her ears the whole time, fraught with worry.
Sung-yeol takes down every last vamp, and it’s only then that he notices Yang-sun is there. He tells her and Ho-jin to leave this instant, and doesn’t let them get a word in edgewise.
He tells Yoon that only Gwi is left, and that he’ll lure him into the underground lair, which is when Yoon will blow it to smithereens. Yoon argues that they need to find another way, but Sung-yeol knows there isn’t one, and convinces Yoon that it must be done.
Yoon gives in and agrees to the plan, and then holds out his sword. He tells Sung-yeol that it’s the king’s sword, and he can’t face his ancestors without it—so Sung-yeol is to bring it back to him, no matter what, even if the palace collapses on top of him. Aw.
Sung-yeol takes it, but makes Yoon promise not to hesitate for too long lest they lose their window to take Gwi down.
Ho-jin escorts Yang-sun toward the gate, and she promises to go straight home on her own, prodding him to return to Sung-yeol’s side. He totally falls for her lie and leaves her there, thinking she’ll go home.
Sung-yeol stands in the courtyard with his sword drawn, just waiting for Gwi to find him. He does, of course, and asks eagerly how Sung-yeol liked the present he left for him all over the palace. Sung-yeol says he’ll return all the pain those people suffered, and Gwi is only happy to receive it, though he looks down at the sword and asks what Sung-yeol is doing with a human toy like that.
Sung-yeol attacks with all his strength, but the sword is no match for Gwi. He realizes mid-fight that he can’t hold Gwi down this way, but manages to at least draw the fight closer and closer to the lair. Sung-yeol challenges him one last time before running underground, and Gwi muses that dying at his beloved’s grave isn’t such a bad idea.
Sung-yeol enters the lair alone, and is alarmed to find Yang-sun already waiting for him inside. She says that she’s already chosen to live and die with him, and tells him to drink her blood. Sung-yeol blurts angrily, “Do you really not know why I want to protect you?!”
But Yang-sun only argues back that he’s the one who doesn’t know her heart. He says that before he met her, he had nothing to lose and could’ve done anything to get rid of Gwi, but not anymore. She counters that he won’t be losing her, “Because wherever you go, I will go with you,” and urges him to drink her blood.
He spills tears as he tells her, “I love you. That is the reason I want to protect you.” He swears to remember her so that he won’t forget his heart, and kisses her one last time.
Then he moves down to her neck and bites down. They cling to each other as he drinks her blood, until she goes limp in his arms. He lays her down, still crying, and the blood starts to affect him.
Gwi runs in and smirks to see that Sung-yeol has finally drunk Yang-sun’s blood. Sung-yeol slowly rises to his feet and turns around to face him, eyes glowing blue. He growls and they charge at each other, but he’s not up to supervamp strength—they’re evenly matched.
Gwi offers to wait until he’s had more of Yang-sun’s blood, then notices that Sung-yeol is actually fighting the affects of the blood. He goes from gleefully evil to tortured again over and over, as if he’s having an internal battle.
Sung-yeol falls to the ground just struggling not to lose himself completely, and Gwi starts to move in on Yang-sun. Suddenly a rifle goes off, and Gwi catches the bullet in mid-air. Yay, it’s Yoon, who decided not to listen to Sung-yeol after all. Gwi knocks him aside easily, and chuckles that now it’s a proper feast.
While that’s happening we take a detour into Sung-yeol’s head, and actually see the war raging inside between Tortured Human Sung-yeol and Evil Vamp Overlord Sung-yeol. Evil Sung-yeol says that his human self already died 120 years ago, so he could stand to disappear now.
Human Sung-yeol doesn’t argue and says, “Yes, but you’ll have to come with me.” And then he takes out his hawthorn dagger and stabs himself in the leg. Evil Sung-yeol is shocked to see blood pouring from his own leg too, and Human Sung-yeol uses that very moment to run the dagger straight into Evil Sung-yeol’s heart.
They both fall to the ground at the same time, but Evil Sung-yeol is the one to drop dead in the end. The one that remains declares, “I am no longer human, nor beast.”
We whoosh out of Sung-yeol’s head and watch the blue light go out in his eyes. He’s found himself, and gaaack, he pulls a dagger out of his leg, which I guess means that it wasn’t just a metaphor.
He smiles and throws Gwi a few feet before nodding at Yoon to make his escape, and Yoon hurriedly carries Yang-sun out to safety. Sung-yeol tells Gwi that this place will become their grave, and Gwi tells him to stay here alone if he wants to die so badly.
Sung-yeol asks why he wants to live so badly, and Gwi doesn’t see why he’d need a reason for living, when strength and immortality will get him whatever he wants. Sung-yeol says that’s why his ambition will never be fulfilled, because without death, life isn’t precious to him.
Gwi gets angry at the lecture from Sung-yeol, who hasn’t lived very long compared to him, and Sung-yeol says it might not have been a long life, but it was full and bright. He taunts, “You’ve never really lived, have you? You are just eternally dead.” That gets Gwi where it hurts, and he screams, “Kim Sung-yeooooool!” and charges at him.
Yoon carries Yang-sun above ground and leaves her with Ho-jin, and gets to work setting up the explosives. The fight below rages on all night, and it’s sunrise by the time Yoon completes the task. He only hesitates for a moment, then lights the fuse.
The charges begin to go off, and soon the lair is rumbling and starting to cave in around them. Sung-yeol eggs Gwi on to keep fighting, and they muster up all their remaining strength to go at each other one last time.
They dig their fingers into each other’s hearts, and it starts to look like Gwi might have the upper hand when Sung-yeol coughs up blood. But then the lair actually caves in enough to let the sunlight through.
Sung-yeol breaks free and pushes Gwi directly into the light, and his skin starts to sizzle and smoke. Gwi is at last brought to his knees, and he smirks as he looks up at the sun. He thinks to himself that it’s beautiful, and seems to embrace his death.
He shuts his eyes and lets the sunlight burn him, until there’s nothing left but his robes in a pile of ash.
Sung-yeol gasps for breath and thinks back to his happiest memories with Yang-sun, and thinks, “It was a beastly life, but because of you, I briefly got to see the light. Thank you, Yang-sun.” He closes his eyes and waits for death.
The cave crumbles around him, and above ground, Yoon and Ho-jin shed tears knowing that he’s gone. Yang-sun stirs awake and wants to go looking for Sung-yeol, in denial about the fact that he couldn’t possibly be alive underneath all that rubble.
Ho-jin holds her back and cries that it’s time to let Sung-yeol go, saying that he had a hard life, but was able to find happiness in the time he had with Yang-sun. She finally lets it sink in, and breaks down in tears.
Su-hyang waits all night outside with the crowd, and urges the guards to open the gate when there’s a knock. When Yoon, Yang-sun, and Ho-jin are the ones to come out, the crowd erupts in cheers. Only Su-hyang looks to Ho-jin and sees his tears, and falls to the ground weeping for Sung-yeol.
A year later.
The marketplace is bustling and the people are flourishing, and two men lament the fact that the writer of the Night Scholar novels hasn’t put out anything new. One of them heard a rumor that the author went to go live in the mountains, and they debate whether the story is purely fiction.
The gibang is back in business as well under Su-hyang’s care, and a scholar comes looking for a rich merchant, in search of some rare books. Su-hyang leads the way to a private room, where the mysterious man is hidden behind a screen and a fan, in obvious Kim-Sung-yeol fashion.
The scholar marvels at the rare and expensive things around him, and asks why the man lives in hiding when he is so wealthy. The man folds his fan to answer, and ha, it turns out to be Ho-jin behind the screen. He says that he’s just watching over an elder’s estate until he returns, at which time he will go back to being a servant.
The scholar wants to meet this great elder, and Ho-jin says that he likely won’t be back for a hundred years, but might return someday if the world falls into turmoil. And then he smiles his old goofy smile at Su-hyang.
Yoon is king, of course, and two of his advisors run up to him with a novel that’s making waves lately because it includes some fantastical accounts of history. It’s the Night Scholar novel, and they advise him to ban it.
Yoon smiles as he looks at the cover and tells them that history isn’t only what’s recorded, and suggests that they broaden their horizons a little. He holds up the book and adds a saucy, “Honestly, isn’t it more entertaining than the Sillok?” Lol.
In a quiet moment, Yoon holds Hye-ryung’s hairpin in his hands and thinks of her, then smiles as he gazes at his sword. Huh, you got it back, did you? Does that mean what I think it means…?
We catch up with Yang-sun, who’s teaching little kids how to read and write. One of her students isn’t paying attention to the lesson, and she catches him reading the Night Scholar novel.
He asks if it’s true that Teacher is the author of these books, and then opens the page to a giant drawing of a kiss. She gets all flustered, and the kid makes her chase him around in circles for the book.
On her way home that day, Yang-sun keeps turning around and looking behind her, perhaps because she feels someone’s presence, or simply in the hopes of discovering Sung-yeol there. She’s disappointed when no one’s there at the bridge, then again as she looks behind her on the road to a bluff.
But when she turns back to keep going on her way, there’s Sung-yeol suddenly standing there, waiting for her. He smiles at her, and I’m not convinced he’s not a mirage until she goes running into his arms.
She cries as they hug each other tightly, and they speak to each other in voiceover. Sung-yeol: “I’m a little late, aren’t I?” Yang-sun: “Are you already here? I was thinking of waiting another fifty years.”
Sung-yeol: “Let’s go.” She asks where they’re going, and he asks where she’d like to go. Yang-sun: “If I can be with you, I’ll follow you anywhere.” Sung-yeol: “Hold on tight.”
And with that, they vanish.
What? Okay but they didn’t like, disappear into thin air because he was imaginary, right? The disembodied voices always make for a confusing resolution when life and death hang in the balance, but I’m just not even going to consider that Sung-yeol is a ghost, because I did NOT sit through twenty episodes of this show for Sung-yeol to die, okay? I’m just going to be glad that he came back in her lifetime at all, never mind that he took a year for some stupid unknown reason (Did he have to study abroad? Does he make a mean espresso now?). Agh, I dislike those kinds of separations because they’re not organic to the story—they’re introduced solely to keep audiences on the hook, instead of just letting the heroine dig through the rubble like she freaking wanted to. Come on. I really wish drama finales could just do away with the unnecessary separations that exist for the sake of the fakeout.
At least it’s happy, and otherwise was a finale that wrapped up mostly in the way I wanted it to. I like where our characters end up, with Yoon becoming the righteous king he was meant to be, and Yang-sun continuing to write her books and teach young people how to read and write. It may seem like a small point, but it makes me feel better about her finding a purpose through her novels, and returning to what she loves. I did find her self-sacrificing nature to be heavy-handed at times, but the way she opened and closed the series reminded me of the bright, optimistic girl who dreamed of a better world and brightened Sung-yeol’s life to begin with. They were a rather uncomplicated couple despite the large human/vampire, mortal/immortal gap, and I did find myself wishing that their relationship could take on more layers, especially in the latter half when they were already in love. It was mostly Sung-yeol’s insistence that he was too beastly to deserve love that kept the early part of their romance engaging, but when we got to the second half, their main conflict seemed to be arguing over which of them would die to save the other, and that got old pretty quickly.
This drama’s length was regrettable, since it actively worked against its own momentum more often than not, and was quite obviously spinning some wheels in place as we waited for the final battle. I mean, THAT was the final plan? The very unsophisticated plan to just blow shit up? This required rebel brigades and secret diaries and trials and sacrifices, and sacrifices, and sacrifices? And the show’s other flaws aren’t few. A lot of times the dialogue was painfully on the nose, the music blaringly bad, and the special effects lacking. It couldn’t escape being unintentionally cheesy sometimes, and the plot was laughably simple. But it was heartfelt and earnest to the end, and the actors played the drama so straight that it never veered into campy territory. They really embraced these roles without irony and elevated the emotional journey of the characters, making us care about evil vampire overlords and getting us to invest in a war between two metaphorical Sung-yeols.
The drama owes a lot (okay, everything) to Lee Jun-ki for that, because he always kept me in the moment, no matter how outrageous the circumstance (outrageous doesn’t really begin to cover it, does it?). I didn’t have to actively suspend my disbelief to think that he’s a vampire with a tortured soul who thinks he doesn’t deserve love. He just grounded every emotion, making the supernatural elements just part of the world. I was impressed with Lee Soo-hyuk for managing to do that with Gwi as well. In the grand scheme of things, Lee Yubi had less to do since she had a very straightforward character who was rather simplistic and a little slow on the uptake, but I’ve always found her very lovable and warm, and she kept Yang-sun likable and believably smitten with scholar-nim from start to finish. I enjoyed Kim So-eun’s turn as Hye-ryung, especially when she went from enigmatic to bold and brave, and was pleasantly surprised by Changmin for delivering a solid performance as Yoon. He should only do sageuk, ever.
I didn’t mind that Scholar Who Walks the Night was unabashed about its romance-novel feel, but I did find that it took a hit in fleshing out anything that wasn’t directly motivated by said romance. So often plot felt cursory, and sacrificial love became this ultimate stand-in for all that is heroic. Which isn’t really untrue, but it’s also not the only thing you want from your heroes. For a story that was so fixated on the romance, I often found that the hero-villain relationship was far more riveting, at least in the latter half when the couple stopped having much romantic conflict at all. Honestly, the Sung-yeol/Gwi love-hate antagonism kept the show alive, and even delivered some moving final moments in the last two episodes.
Because they’re really two sides of one idea, and the real versions of the two warring Sung-yeols (one of the show’s highlights, to have his inner Human vs. Beast war portrayed as an actual battle with two of him. I got shivers when he stabbed himself, and then looked so broken up about it). But Gwi was given some fascinating human, sympathetic facets, like a lifelong desire for love, and attachments to Hye-ryung and Sung-yeol, who both hated him and seemed to fuel his self-loathing in a twisted way.
I thought it beautifully fitting that it was the light that killed him, not some crushing blow or dagger to the heart. He was the embodiment of Sung-yeol’s dark side, and literally could not live in the light. Sung-yeol had to be willing to go down into the darkness to face him—and his own demons, which is ultimately the point—but in doing so he defines himself as something other. He’s finally able to tell himself that he’s neither human nor beast, and that self-acceptance is the one thing I wanted for him more than anything. That maybe he isn’t the human Kim Sung-yeol who died, but he’s also not Gwi either. And maybe he deserves a little love and a happily-ever-after with his sweetheart. That makes the journey worthwhile, no matter how broody and tortured he was for the last 120 years. If anyone’s truly earned their happy ending, it’s him.
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- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 17
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- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 15
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- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 13
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 12
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- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 2
- Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 1