Hwarang: Episode 15
It’s four Hwarang against the volatile crown prince of Baekje, with the princess and Ah Ro both needing protection to get out of the country alive. With the odds stacked so firmly against them, it looks as if there’s no way they will get home safely. Sun-woo will have to stay on his toes, not letting his guard down for an instant, or it could cost more than just his and his friends’ lives — he could spark an all-out war.
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Crown Prince Chang commands the four Hwarang to reveal which of them is the king. When they don’t respond quickly enough, he has four captive Silla peasants killed, then orders his soldiers to bring more.
Ah Ro is one of the people chosen, and Sun-woo looks down at her in panic while Ji-dwi seems frozen with indecision. Finally, Ji-dwi starts to step forward, but Sun-woo beats him to it, stepping forward to say, loud and strong: “I am the king of Silla!”
The crown prince asks how he can trust that Sun-woo is telling the truth. Sun-woo says that if he wasn’t going to believe him, he shouldn’t have called him out.
The other three Hwarang are taken back to their jail cell, where Ji-dwi stares at the blood on his hand. Su-ho paces, worried that Sun-woo isn’t safe by himself with the crown prince. Ban-ryu asks if Su-ho believes Sun-woo really is the king, and Su-ho says that he does. Ban-ryu retorts that even if he is, they can’t do anything to help him.
Sun-woo is taken to the crown prince’s rooms, where Chang tells him that in his opinion, winning or losing a war comes down to luck. He says that his good luck brought him a chest full of gold from a Silla citizen, and a tip that the king was among the Hwarang.
He asks if Sun-woo came forward because of “that girl,” and Sun-woo acts as if he doesn’t know who he means. The crown prince smiles, and says that he doesn’t care if Sun-woo is the king or not — he’s going to make him into one, then make Sun-woo beg for his life.
Sun-woo scoffs and notes that Chang doesn’t behave much like a crown prince, what with all the threats to a peace delegation. He wonders out loud if the crown prince’s father would be proud of him, and offers him a chance to save face.
He reminds Chang that nobody in Silla knows what the king looks like, and the queen regent could always say Sun-woo isn’t the king. If that happens, it makes Crown Prince Chang a lowlife who killed a peace delegation. He offers that they fight one-on-one, to determine which is better in battle.
Princess Sookmyung can’t reconcile herself with the idea that Sun-woo is her brother, though her bodyguard doesn’t understand why anyone would put themselves in danger if he weren’t the king. Sookmyung insists that he can’t be, based on her gut feeling about him.
Back in her jail cell, Ah Ro thinks about how Sun-woo completely ignored her after making his claim to be king. She realizes how afraid the other peasants are and asks one woman why they came to Silla. The woman says that to people like them, survival is more important than worrying about what country you’re in.
Ah Ro urges the others to stay positive, assuring them that they’ll be rescued. A couple of the men argue that they’re all about to be killed, including the king, asking what a king without troops or weapons can do. Ah Ro swears that Sun-woo would never let them die.
Intrigued by Sun-woo’s proposal, Crown Prince Chang asks how a fight between them would help him save face. Sun-woo says that people will say that he let Silla’s king off easy, making it sound as if he plans to let the crown prince win.
Chang asks what a king who’s never been a king thinks of himself, and Sun-woo grows serious. He asks, if a beast lives alone in a forest, will he forget that he’s a beast? Chang accepts his offer, and says that if he wins, he won’t allow Princess Sookmyung to go home, but that he’ll send the Hwarang and the peasants back to Silla – well, their heads, anyway.
Sun-woo agrees, and before he leaves, Crown Prince Chang tosses his dice to test Sun-woo’s luck. The crown prince throws an eleven, then hands the dice to Sun-woo. Sun-woo simply drops them on the table, and we don’t see his results.
On his way back to his cell, Sun-woo notes the building where the peasants are being held. The crown prince’s general offers to take him to more comfortable lodgings, but Sun-woo requests to be taken back to where the others are held.
Su-ho is glad to see him, correcting himself to speak formally now that (he thinks) Sun-woo is the king. Ban-ryu angrily demands to know if it’s true, and Sun-woo says with a sigh that he’s the king… at least until they get out of here. Ban-ryu asks if that means he’ll be the king after that or not, and Sun-woo says he’ll tell them if they get out alive.
Giving up on the jondaemal, Su-ho asks Sun-woo if he has a plan, and Sun-woo says he’s going to fight the crown prince. Ji-dwi finally speaks up and says that the crown prince has been trained by war and sees killing as a joke. Sun-woo simply says that he will win, since he has something to protect.
He concedes that he means Ah Ro, but adds that he’s also talking about the people who are starving and scared. He gives Ji-dwi a pointed look, almost accusing, as if to say, One of us has to do it.
The news gets back to Queen Regent Jiso that one of Minister Park’s men was seen leaving the country with a chest full of gold. Pa Oh begs her to save the king, so she calls for the council to convene.
Hwi-kyung reports the situation in Baekje to Hwa-gong, correctly guessing that the information about the king was leaked by Minister Park. He believes that Minister Park will stop the council from taking action, and leaves it to Hwa-gong to decide what to do.
Minister Park feigns illness to skip the council meeting, leaving the others to argue over how to proceed. Su-ho’s father wants to send in the troops, but others argue that that could make things even worse.
Those on Minister Park’s side meet in private, and he muses that his “problem” is taking care of itself quite nicely. He’s sure that the king is one of the Hwarang in Baekje right now, but he says that even if he isn’t, they’ll make it so that he is.
Meanwhile, the Baekje crown prince chuckles over his good luck at finding Silla’s king among the peace delegation. He thinks that beating the king in combat will raise his standing with his people, and figures that conquering Silla itself won’t be far behind.
After staying up all night thinking, Hwa-gong asks his assistant (who finally gets a name, Bu-jae) if he thinks the Hwarang will really have the power to change Silla. Bu-jae tells him honestly that at first, he didn’t like the Hwarang or Hwa-gong’s teachings. But now he says that he can see the Hwarang maturing, and he asks if Hwa-gong has a plan.
Su-ho tries to talk Sun-woo out of fighting Crown Prince Chang, but Sun-woo vows that he won’t lose. The general comes for him, and as he steps out of the cell, Ji-dwi says in a small voice, “Don’t die.”
As they’re walking to the courtyard, the general suddenly pulls his sword and slashes Sun-woo’s right arm. He pulls out a bandage and ties up the wound, saying cryptically that he did it out of concern for Sun-woo.
Crown Prince Chang wastes no time unsheathing his sword and approaching Sun-woo, though he stops to stare at Ah Ro and comment that she keeps catching his eye for some reason. Sun-woo doesn’t take his bait, and taunts that he must be afraid since he’s stalling for time.
Chang bellows his official challenge to the king of Silla, declaring that the outcome of this fight will determine the future of the two countries’ relationship. He vows that no matter what happens, he will honor the outcome of this fight.
Sun-woo draws his sword, and the crown prince attacks. He quickly adds a second slash to Sun-woo’s sword arm, then when Sun-woo tries his Dog-bird jump, the crown prince slices his leg. It takes Sun-woo a moment to stand, and the crown prince jeers that he wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in a real battle.
Sun-woo stands and attacks, and the crown prince cuts his other arm. Sun-woo figures out that Chang is trying to wear him down. He holds his sword in a backward grip, thinking that he’ll give Chang his arm, but he’ll cut him, too.
Sun-woo anticipates Chang’s attack, and lunges a half-second early to give Chang a nasty cut to his arm. He attacks again and slashes the crown prince’s ribs, then delivers a roundhouse kick that has Chang on the ground.
The general starts to draw his sword and step in, but Princess Sookmyung firmly reminds him that this is supposed to be a fair contest. The general doesn’t like it, but he’s forced to sheath his sword and stand back.
Sun-woo tosses his sword away, and proposes that they change the rules. Crown Prince Chang agrees, and they continue the fight with only their fists. Unfortunately, the crown prince is a vicious fighter even without his sword, and he soon has Sun-woo on his back.
Chang punches Sun-woo hard several times, then chokes him as he asks if he’s afraid of dying. Sun-woo croaks, “What about it?” which infuriates the crown prince, and he continues slamming his fist into Sun-woo’s face.
Back in Silla, Ji-gong follows Sun-woo’s first adoptive father, Woo-reuk, to the low-born village. Woo-reuk shows him where Sun-woo and Mak Mun lived, and explains that Sun-woo was called Moo-myung because he didn’t have a name.
Ji-gong is worried about something Woo-reuk said earlier, that he’d “unlatched the gate of Fate.” Woo-reuk says there’s no much thing as coincidence, and he asks Ji-gong who he thinks Sun-woo really is.
Crown Prince Chang calls an end to the fight, but Sun-woo isn’t finished, and he punches Chang in the stomach. He manages to get the upper hand and gives the crown prince as vicious a beating as he just got. We see now that after the crown prince rolled an eleven with his dice, Sun-woo had rolled a twelve.
The dice’s prediction comes true as Sun-woo looms over the crown prince. He roars his victory, but nobody celebrates as they watch him, barely able to stand and covered in blood.
Crown Prince Chang opens his eyes to see Sun-woo standing over him, sword to this throat. Sun-woo orders him to acknowledge his defeat, and Chang closes his eyes. His men help him to his feet, and he says that he will not go to war with Silla, and will release the princess and her delegation.
Sun-woo asks about the people he’s holding prisoner, and Chang says they have nothing to do with this. He declares that since they are guilty of theft, their lives are forfeit. They’re taken back to jail, Ah Ro included, and Sun-woo looks as if he’s barely holding in a scream.
Su-ho and Ban-ryu urge the princess to leave immediately, before the crown prince changes his mind. After cleaning up, Sun-woo stands and assesses the buildings around the peasants’ jail, and Ji-dwi joins him to ask if he’s planning to break Ah Ro out. He tells Sun-woo that the moment the crown prince catches him looking for her, she’ll be dead.
The princess and her delegation bid farewell to the general, as the crown prince isn’t feeling well enough to see them off. That night, the men that Ah Ro swore Sun-woo’s loyalty to are angry that she gave them hope, though the ajumma who befriended Ah Ro before defends her now.
Ah Ro says that nobody should die without hope and tells them all to prepare to run when they get a chance. She says that even if they’re going to die, they should never abandon hope of seeing their homes again.
Later, Sun-woo and Ji-dwi sneak back into the palace grounds, silently taking out guards one by one. They manage to get into the peasant jail and break everyone out, though Sun-woo pointedly ignores Ah Ro, enough so that Ji-dwi has to go in and coax her out.
They lead the peasants to the exit, but they’re surrounded by guards in an alleyway. The general confronts Ji-dwi, who asks how they can betray the crown prince’s kindness in letting the delegation go.
Ji-dwi retorts that the crown prince locked them up and treated them badly, and tells the general to let them go as a sign that they truly mean to make peace with Silla. The general just laughs and draws his sword.
Su-ho and Ban-ryu come rushing in just in time to make the fight a bit more even. They lead the peasants out while Sun-woo and Ji-dwi hold off the guards, and soon they’re all escaping toward the border. Crown Prince Chang is pleased when his general reports that he let the Hwarang take the prisoners as he instructed. He declares it time for the hunt.
The prisoners stop to rest and celebrate their freedom. But their celebration is short-lived, as an arrow wings its way into their midst and kills one man instantly. The Hwarang are horrified to see Crown Prince Chang nearby on horseback, with his soldiers shooting arrows at the peasants.
Ji-dwi yells at the people to spread out, but the arrows still find their way to several people. The crown prince takes aim himself at Sun-woo, but Su-ho throws himself in front of Sun-woo and takes the arrow in the back. Ban-ryu rushes to him immediately and helps him to stand.
The crown prince and his men move closer and begin shooting again, but this time, the ajumma who befriended Ah Ro is shot, and she dies begging Ah Ro to save her child. The archers make a half-circle around the Silla group, and it looks as if their time is up.
Sun-woo and Ji-dwi move forward as the crown prince and his general do the same. Sun-woo reminds Chang that he was the victor of their fight, chiding him for going this far. The crown prince says they should have a proper fight, and Sun-woo angrily agrees to another one-on-one, but Chang insists that this one be a true war.
He makes it clear that he intends to kill them all, but Sun-woo fires back that as king, he can’t let his citizens die. Ji-dwi looks a bit shamed again, but he says nothing. Sun-woo draws his sword and invites Crown Prince Chang to just try and kill his people.
Ji-dwi also draws his sword, and Chang tells his general to order the attack. The general raises his arm… and it’s hit with an arrow out of seemingly nowhere. Several archers are also shot, and everyone turns to see the entire Hwarang and their Nandos here to fight, led by Hwa-gong.
The Hwarang position themselves in front of the peasants, and Hwa-gong pulls his horse up between Sun-woo and Ji-dwi. He teases that they look awful, but nevertheless, he’s proud they’re his Hwarang. He turns to the crown prince and jovially informs him that he’s on Silla land.
He asks if this is Crown Prince Chang who is hunting his undefended people, and invites him to observe his Hwarang’s skills before he leaves. The Hwarang draw their arrows, the Nando brandish their swords, and the general advises his prince that it’s time to leave.
Crown Prince Chang sarcastically asks forgiveness for hunting in the wrong place, and Hwa-gong bows to him with a chuckle. Chang says that when they meet again, they’ll finish this hunt, and Hwa-gong manages to hold in his surprise when Chang addresses Sun-woo as “Jinheung.”
Queen Regent Jiso is relieved to hear that everyone is safe, but she glares when Su-ho’s father asks if Sun-woo really is the hidden king.
An illness sweeps the lowborn village so quickly that even Ji-gong is frozen with indecision when faced with the scope of it. Unfortunately, even the capital city is out of the medicine needed to combat the illness.
Meanwhile, Minister Park is unhappy that everyone in the delegation made it home alive (while hoarding something that looks like herbs or medicine). He muses that this isn’t at all what he’d planned.
The Hwarang barracks are noisy with the sounds of the men all celebrating, but Ji-dwi sits alone outside, thinking of the peasants who died because he hesitated. He seems ashamed to recall Sun-woo stepping up as king in his place. He sees Ah Ro approaching a nearby bridge and smiles, but his smile dies again when he realizes that she’s meeting with Sun-woo.
Sun-woo speaks first, hesitantly admitting that he wanted to embrace Ah Ro so badly (in Baekje) that it made him crazy. She asks about his injuries, but when she steps forward to take a look, Sun-woo wraps her in his arms. He apologizes for avoiding her, but she says that she understands that he did it to protect her.
Sun-woo pulls back to look Ah Ro in the eye, and admits that he doesn’t know what to say. After a long moment, he says, “I love you… I love you.” He leans down and kisses Ah Ro passionately, unaware that Ji-dwi has seen everything.
Oh no, I knew that this was going to happen, that Sun-woo and Ah Ro would be seen in a compromising position by someone who thinks they’re brother and sister. Hopefully Ji-dwi will jump to the conclusion that they’re not really related, instead of assuming they are doing something wrong as siblings. Though, he’s betrothed to his half-sister, so it’s hard to say what people’s reaction would be to a situation like this (assuming they were related) between non-Sacred Bones. Either way, the fallout is going to be ugly.
I really loved seeing the Hwarang and their Nando finally getting the chance to stand together against a common enemy, showing the formidable fighting force they will one day become. It feels a bit abrupt, because we haven’t seen much of their improvement — most of their training and growth has happened offscreen, which really is a crying shame. I think the show would have been a lot better if we’d had about fifty percent less moping about romance and instead filled that time with bromantic moments as the Hwarang bonded and worked on their fighting skills. But sending the guys to Baekje was a great move plot-wise, because it let us see them in action and under pressure, and it feels as though the main friendships (Sun-woo and Ji-dwi, Su-ho and Ban-ryu) grew by leaps and bounds once they were united for a common purpose.
I found Ji-dwi’s silence during most of this episode very interesting, particularly for a guy who usually talks about his feelings to anyone who’ll listen. He may have been ready to step forward as king just as Sun-woo spoke up, and it’s just dumb luck that had Sun-woo speaking a half second sooner and taking the responsibility of king out of Ji-dwi’s hands. But knowing how he thinks, I’m guessing that he’s feeling a sense of overwhelming shame at how he hesitated and let some of his people die, not to mention having to watch Sun-woo take a brutal beating and nearly get killed in his place.
At that point I do think Ji-dwi was doing the right thing, because it would only have made the situation worse if two of them had claimed to be the king — the crown prince would have known someone was lying to him, and they’d probably all have ended up dead. But Ji-dwi is also not likely to let himself off the hook on that account, because he’ll feel as though he should have just stepped forward sooner and told the truth at the beginning.
Though, it’s probably better the way things turned out, because while I still feel as though Sun-woo mostly acts from a place of anger, he managed to keep himself under control long enough to buy himself and the others time to come up with an escape plan. He was able to think quickly under pressure, fight just well enough (and just dirty enough) to win the bout with the crown prince, and save everyone’s life. He’s turning out to be a strong leader who’s willing to sacrifice himself for others, which is a great thing to see. I do worry that Sun-woo is a bit too reckless at times, but he’s been living by his wits for most of his life, so it makes sense within his character that he’s still struggling to learn restraint.
I do hope the show tells us more about Sun-woo’s background, because I’m very curious about him. I want to know what Hwi-kyung and Ji-gong (and even his old guardian, Woo-reuk) seem to know about him. Whenever Sun-woo comes up in conversation they all get intentionally vague, so he’s obviously not a simple peasant boy. I don’t think he’s some hidden true king or anything, since history tells us that Ji-dwi goes on to be a great king – well, he already is the king — but I won’t be surprised if Sun-woo is somehow of noble birth and was hidden for his own protection, similar to Ji-dwi, but without growing up knowing his own origins. I do wish the show would clue us in at least a little, since it feels strange that we knew who the “hidden” king was from the very beginning, yet still don’t know one single bit of information about Sun-woo.