Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 28
Get ready to cheer, cry, fist pump, and then cry some more, because everything is so damn epic now that we’re at the height of our rebel conflict. Gil-dong faces an agonizing decision that torments him to his core, but he’s not willing to sacrifice anyone’s life easily, unlike our despotic king. Said king is ready to throw all his manpower for this one battle, and for his pride. But numbers and pride may not be enough to win this war, especially since the rebels are fighting for a cause greater than themselves.
EPISODE 28 RECAP
Tied at the stake, Ga-rung yells to her beloved: “If you retreat because of me, I’ll never see you again!” Gil-dong sees her from the gates and cries out to her. She recognizes his voice, and they both cry longingly for each other.
Yeonsangun watches this heartbreaking exchange with a smirk while the rest of his servants behind him look sympathetic. He orders for Ga-ryung to be lowered from the stake, and Jeong-hak looks confused at this order. Yeonsangun says that he’s satisfied with Gil-dong’s reaction, and the order is carried out by Mori, who rushes to get Ga-ryung back down to safety.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Gil-dong says that he must go save Ga-ryung. Gil-hyun stops him and tells him that he’ll get killed facing countless enemy soldiers, no matter how strong he may be. He then reminds Gil-dong of the people he must protect, and that puts him in-between a rock and hard place. He looks back to see his wife again, but she’s gone.
Ga-ryung is tied up inside the hostage tent, and Yeonsangun approaches her with Nok-soo. Ga-ryung confidently says that her husband will not retreat just for her, but Yeonsangun doesn’t believe her because he saw his fearful reaction. He’s never seen Gil-dong trembling with such fear, he says, and he knows that those daunted by fear will do anything. He promises to let her meet her husband again soon before walking out with a satisfied smirk.
Nok-soo stays behind and tells Ga-ryung that the world is fair: “You have love, and I have the world. These are the lives we chose.” She turns to leave, but Ga-ryung calls out to her by her former name, Gong-hwa. After a moment of hesitation, Nok-soo leaves the tent while trying to remain unaffected, but it’s clear that Ga-ryung’s desperate pleas affect both her and Mori, who’s standing guard right outside the tent.
That night, Gil-dong looks to the tents from the Hyangjumok gates, where he overhears two watchmen talking about their fates. They presume that Gil-dong will decide to save his wife, which means that they will die. This makes Gil-dong’s fatal dilemma even harder.
Scholar Song watches the impasse in front of Hyangjumok and anticipates the bloodbath to come. He watches with a distant curiosity, unaffected by the impending massacre of so many people.
Soldiers and mercenaries are offered to Yeonsangun for his “hunt,” and Choongwongoon offers soldiers in white masks who are former prisoners of the Sugwidan. These prisoners have vowed to fight for the king to make up for their sins. Yeonsangun looks pleased, but Gil-dong does not. He’s enraged at the ridiculous addition of soldiers to fight the small village.
Rumors about the doubled (if not tripled) forces spread among the villagers, and morale plummets. Later that night, a scholar tells the villagers that they can no longer last with their gates closed. He suggests that if they die, they should fight to their deaths, but adds that they should let Gil-dong go. The mother of the killed student agrees and tells Gil-dong that he should take his wife and escape far away from Hyangjumok. She tells him to forget Hyangjumok and that the people of Hyangjumok will die here, where they were born. The villagers silently nod in agreement, but Gil-dong has no words.
Ga-ryung escapes into her sweet dreams, where Gil-dong piggybacks her through a flowery path. She claims that she’s heavy, but he insists that she’s as light as a feather. They exchange plenty of kisses, but Ga-ryung soon returns to reality. She opens her eyes to find Mori staring at her, and he asks if she really hopes for her husband to choose the Hyangjumok citizens over her. He says that this is why he hates Gil-dong, though he clarifies that he hates her more because they’re both foolish and reckless.
Mori says that it’s impossible for Gil-dong to win against the many soldiers who’ve gathered at the king’s behest. He says that this is real power, and he intends to rise to the highest position he can hold upon defeating Gil-dong. He turns around and says one last thing: “But what I really hope is for your husband to truly love you, so that he will take you away from my sight forever.” Mori cries with his back to her and walks out, leaving Ga-ryung in tears.
The villagers confirm their decision in the morning and thank the Hong Bandits for helping their village. They bow in deep gratitude, and Gil-dong accepts their decision. But before they open the gates, he asks that the villagers provide a warm home-cooked meal for them, which helps lighten the mood.
But during the meal, everyone is preparing for their death. Keutsae asks Ilchung if he could possibly go to heaven, and Eop-san dismisses the possibility for bad guys like them. But Ilchung assures them that they will be welcomed into heaven while Segul tells Yonggae that if they die, they will die together. Deputy Governor Eom gives Soboori extra rice, saying that he’s useless in this fight, but Soboori takes his hand in solidarity as they prepare for their fate.
In the village, fathers bid farewell to their wives and children, sons bow to their mothers, and the village men walk out with confidence to face their enemy. The king’s army marches up to the gate, and Jeong-hak yells a rallying cry. Yeonsangun orders Ga-ryung to be tied at the stake again, leaving Gil-dong barely able to hold it together. Behind him, the villagers remind him to save his wife and thank him for everything. Torn by his duties, Gil-dong trembles and cries.
Tied to the stake, Ga-ryung yells at Gil-dong to not give up. She says that if he gives up because of her, she will resent him for the rest of her life. Gil-dong struggles to regain his composure while Yeonsangun watches with a sadistic smile. But unexpectedly, Gil-dong draws his bow and aims his arrow right at Ga-ryung. In his mind, he begs Ga-ryung to endure for just half an hour. And with that, he releases the arrow that lands right in Ga-ryung’s chest.
Yeonsangun is shocked, as is everyone else on both sides. Catching his breath, Gil-dong asserts that a nation’s soldiers and king do not kill its citizens. He denounces the king and the soldiers, which is when Soboori yells a battle cry for the Hyangjumok villagers to open the gates to fight.
Gil-dong and the Hong Bandits join the battle, and they make good progress in fighting off the first wave of soldiers. Gil-dong asks Deputy Governor Eom to bring Ga-ryung to safety, and he commits to the mission. They bring Ga-ryung down from the stake, and Keutsae runs back towards the gates with her in his arms. When Yeonsangun realizes that they may lose Ga-ryung — their only effective bait — he orders his troops to launch a cannon. It flies towards Ga-ryung and her rescuers, but thankfully, they aren’t hit and are able to run safely back through the gates.
Resisting the urge to follow Ga-ryung, Gil-dong continues to fight. They face the next wave of soldiers: the mercenaries. They’re seemingly more threatening than the first wave, and Yeonsangun sits down to watch a better-matched fight. The two sides line up against each other, and Gil-hyun yells that they have nothing to fear, since they fight for their lives while the mercenaries fight for money. Gil-dong initiates the fight, and the massacre begins.
It’s an epic battle full of blood and ruthless slaughter, and somehow, Gil-dong and his people get the upper hand in the battle. Irritated by the mercenaries’ powerless fight, Yeonsangun orders for the cannons to be launched to defeat the enemy at once. The cannons effectively injure and scare off the people, and Gil-dong orders for them to retreat behind the gates. But he remains in the fight to face the final mercenaries.
At first, they seem too formidable to defeat, but the outnumbered fight awakens Gil-dong’s mighty powers, and the heavy duty mercenaries are killed. Yeonsangun looks livid while Nok-soo watches Gil-dong with a small smile. The villagers cheer from behind, but the celebration is short-lived.
Yeonsangun takes this opportunity to launch more cannons to destroy Gil-dong once and for all. But when the debris clears, Gil-dong rises back up, and even Yeonsangun looks shocked. Gil-dong looks disoriented and weak as someone approaches him — it’s Mori, and he has a merciless look in his eyes.
Yeonsangun takes joy in this rematch, and he derisively asks Nok-soo if they should save Gil-dong this time. Nok-soo cleverly responds that she’s chosen the strong one, so she tasks him to prove that he is more powerful than Gil-dong. Yeonsangun takes the challenge and orders that all other forces be held back while these two fight, since it’ll be a good spectacle.
Mori tells Gil-dong that he should have taken Ga-ryung and ran away so that they could both live. As a tear rolls down his cheek, he says that Gil-dong will die regardless of whether he wins or loses. Gil-dong stands up weakly, and they begin to fight.
Meanwhile, we find Ga-ryung unconscious, though the arrow has been removed from her chest. The doctor says that she would have definitely lost her life had the arrow been shot just slightly adjacent, but she’s still very weak now — they don’t know if she will recover and wake up. Deputy Governor Eom tells her that Gil-dong is fighting to see her again and begs the normally talkative Ga-ryung to wake up and talk to them like she always does.
Mori thrusts his sword toward Gil-dong’s chest, but Gil-dong is able to maneuver around it before getting pierced. Cut all over, Gil-dong struggles to get back up once he’s on his knees. The villagers root for him and begin to sing the Ikhwari anthem, and it’s a jarring moment for the villagers who are facing death to sing such a carefree song.
Yeonsangun laughs incredulously at the sudden song, but one of the ministers reads the situation a bit differently. He cautiously notes that these villagers do not fear death. Scholar Song also observes this and recognizes this as Hyangjumok’s spirit. This vigorous spirit spreads to the king’s soldiers, who sing along to this melody.
Yeonsangun doesn’t seem bothered by the song and continues with his assassination plan. He summons Choongwongoon and orders him to release the Sugwidan’s prisoners against Gil-dong. He wants Gil-dong to die in the hands of the people he tried to save in order to make his death the ultimate irony. (As much as I love irony, this is the kind I desperately want to avoid.)
Choongwongoon announces the king’s order to the white-masked Sugwidan prisoners and says that this is their chance to redeem themselves. Gil-dong continues to fight Mori using his fists until they’re interrupted by the arrival of Choongwongoon and his white-masked prisoners. He reveals Gil-dong’s true identity to everyone, announcing that he is the son of a slave.
Yeonsangun laughs with delight at Gil-dong’s humiliation, convinced that this will discredit Gil-dong to his followers. Choongwongoon continues to deride Gil-dong and further reveals that they were slaves to Jeong-hak’s household, leading Jeong-hak to ask the villagers if they should really trust and follow a slave.
Gil-dong owns up to his reputation and proudly acknowledges that he is the son of the slave, Amogae. He yells an impassioned demand: “But the Hong Amogae blood that flows through my body is more passionate and precious than any general. Only those with blood that is as passionate and precious as the blood that runs through me can join this great fight. What blood runs through you? Who among you will join me?”
From behind, a man on the gate tower yells that he will join Gil-dong. His proclamation is joined by more cries of solidarity from the Hyangjumok village, and Gil-dong weeps. The villagers yell that the Hong General is a general for the people, and we can see that this has gone terribly awry for Yeonsangun.
Gil-dong thanks his enemies for this confirmation of support, and he dives into one last fight with Mori. They fight in hand-to-hand combat, and Gil-dong says that while Mori’s support comes from the king, his support comes from the people. They bring out swords for the last leg of the battle, but Gil-dong is swifter than Mori, and he manages to hold his sword at Mori’s neck. He has won.
Celebrating Gil-dong’s victory, the villagers rush out of the gates to fight the enemies, but the soldiers begin to shoot waves of arrows at the villagers, much to the king’s delight. The Hong Bandits try to strike them away with their swords, but they soon fall victim to the arrows as well —
first Segul, then Eop-san, Ilchung, and finally, Keutsae. Choongwongoon orders the white-masked prisoners to kill Gil-dong, and they run forward to position themselves against Gil-dong’s people.
Then, they turn. Choongwongoon looks confused as the white-masked soldiers release their arrows towards the king’s army and roll fire bombs in the same direction. The king’s soldiers try to fight the traitors, but the relentless bombs and arrows put a significant dent in the king’s army.
One of the prisoner-soldiers takes off his white mask and tells Gil-dong that they intend to join the Hong General’s people. And so our bandits break off the arrows that have pierced them (ouchie), and the combined forces run into battle against the king. From the gate towers, the shaman looks upon the scene with immense emotion and says, “The Mighty Child’s wet wings have been dried by the people’s breath and influence.”
As the people run into battle, Gil-hyun knocks a frustrated Jeong-hak off of his horse to battle it out. Gil-dong stays behind and watches with awe. Then, he turns to Mori, who’s still kneeling on the ground in defeat. Mori looks at him with tearful eyes and positions his sword against his own neck. Gil-dong grabs the sword to stop him and tries to convince him that they can both live, but Mori pushes Gil-dong away and runs off without another word.
Gil-hyun and Jeong-hak continue to fight, but it’s clear that the rebel forces are overpowering the king’s army. Jeong-hak vows to get back at him one day and retreats as the rebels now run toward the tents to capture the king.
The king is outraged by his failing army, and Choongwongoon falls to his knees to ask for mercy. Yeonsangun raises his sword, but Jeong-hak intervenes and urgently proposes a plan to protect the king. With the rebels quickly approaching, they decide to disguise themselves and escape, and Yeonsangun is not happy to be admitting defeat.
The king and his entourage escape through the forest in commoner’s clothing, and he gives the still-royally garbed Choongwongoon a sword to fend for himself. He says that if Choongwongoon is able to fend off the enemies, then he will be forgiven. Choongwongoon pretends to accept this honorable challenge, but once the king leaves, he curses him for this death sentence.
Choongwongoon scurries through the forest surrounded by guards, and he prematurely celebrates his survival. Then, an arrow lands in his leg, and he falls to the ground. He orders the guards to protect him, but the guards have no obligation to protect someone who is not the king. They run away, leaving Choongwongoon vulnerable to the white-masked Sugwidan prisoners.
The former prisoners tell Choongwongoon that when they were imprisoned, they vowed to get revenge if they re-entered the world. Choongwongoon tries to convince the prisoners that there are others who are more evil than him, but to no avail. The prisoners roll the Sugwidan beads to him and draw their bows. They all shoot at him, and Choongwongoon falls, struck through with multiple arrows.
A person approaches a dying Choongwongoon — it’s Scholar Song. He tells Choongwongoon that he was foolish for using the prisoners, who have always been suspicious and disapproving of Joseon. He imprisoned them to protect Joseon from people who showed contempt for the elite, but Choongwongoon released them and gave them weapons.
Choongwongoon painfully pulls out an arrow out of his chest and tries to go for Scholar Song, but he’s too weak and goes limp before he can make a decent attempt. Scholar Song watches the royal die and walks away with his servant.
The rebels surround the women of the palace musician troupe and accuse them serving the king. Gil-hyun recognizes Ok-ran as one of the palace servants who served alongside Eorini, and he orders the rebels to halt.
The Hong Bandits and the rebels realize that they have won, and they cheer in celebration of their tough victory. The injured men limp back to the gates of Hyangjumok with the support of their fellow rebels, and they return to the embraces of their mothers, children, and wives. Gil-dong returns with his Hong Bandits and immediately asks about Ga-ryung.
Deputy Governor Eom leads him to the room where Ga-ryung is fighting for her own life. Gil-dong sits by her side with his brave face on. Taking her hand, he tells her that he’s there and apologizes: “I’m sorry for being too late. I’m sorry for putting you in pain. Ga-ryung, you’ll wake up and scold me, right?”
Gil-dong sobs by her side and tries to reach for her face, but he can’t get himself to touch her with his trembling, bloody hands. He agonizes by her side, calling out her name and hoping for her to wake up.
I’m dead. I’ve weathered the tsunami of emotions that was this episode, and I am exhausted and incredibly moved. This was the episode and climax I was waiting for, and it did not disappoint. It does make the other episodes pale in comparison (and I’ll discuss that later), but this was an excellent episode, full of so much pathos that I didn’t know Gil-dong had in him. Yoon Kyung-sang really elevated his game in this episode, delivering such raw and subtle emotions during his close-ups. I was captured by how vulnerable he was able to get in those crucial turning points in the battle, making the scenes heavier and more powerful than I had anticipated. He was so damn intense as the champion for the people, and I’m strangely proud (like I had anything to do with this) that a guy who’s so darn cute with his cats is able to transform into an incredibly moving Hong Gil-dong.
Gil-dong was the heart of this episode, but my heart broke a little for Mori, who really could use some love. He’s been tragically absent in these past episodes, but his little crush for Ga-ryung was not left unnoticed by me or any of you (it’s a really broken and imaginary ship, y’all). Seeing his heartbreak for his crush in this episode really crushed me, mostly for the untapped potential. He would have been a beautiful addition to the bandit bromance, so seeing him so alone amongst powerful company made his fight seem meaningless. The only meaning he could find in his fight against Gil-dong was revenge for Ga-ryung, which is so sad and kind of sweet, but definitely tragic.
The king posed a cruel question to Gil-dong, making him torture himself over choosing his love for Ga-ryung or his love for the people. I find Ga-ryung’s willing self-sacrifice for Gil-dong and the people very honorable, but I actually found the people’s willingness to sacrifice their whole village even more touching. They were thankful for Gil-dong as their champion, but they didn’t need their champion to literally win for them. They already knew they were fighting an impossible battle and were grateful for Gil-dong and the Hong Bandits for their help — their presence alone validated their cries for justice in a Joseon where only the elite thrived from the classist hierarchy.
The whole episode, I was squirming and mumbling curses as we watched the pendulum swing back and forth in favor of and against the rebels. But my favorite part of the whole emotional rollercoaster was the reversal of the white-masked prisoners. Even though I knew they were going to turn against the person who imprisoned them (logical, just not to Choongwongoon), it was still incredibly satisfying to see it actually happen. Kim Jung-tae portrays villains in such a juicy way, and his Choongwongoon really oozed with immorality, selfishness, and foolishness. He was pathetic to the core, never able to redeem himself for all the horrible things he did, even when faced with death. I chuckled a little when he tried to persuade the prisoners that there were plenty of more evil baddies out there, because being a terrible person is totally relative! He made a pathetic entrance and then made a pathetic exit, and I expected no less.
This episode on its own was great, but the pacing of the show at large has been inconsistent, making the show feel a bit imbalanced. The story holds more weight at both ends — at the beginning with Amogae at the reins and at the end with Gil-dong really manifesting the Mighty Child fate. In between, the anecdotes and bandit shenanigans were fun and definitely accumulated toward this climax, but they just didn’t hold as much gravitas. This episode felt like the exception in a fairly simple story about Hong Gil-dong growing into his fated role as the champion for the people. I don’t want to oversimplify the story, but for a show that had much more potential to be a cerebral and gripping show, it was pretty mild. I’m not complaining since there were plenty of benefits — like all the cute and all the laughs — but it did make this episode stand out, for better or for worse.
Despite this imbalance, something I’ve really appreciated in these past four episodes is the focus on the people as the real power for this rebel movement. Yes, Gil-dong is the leader and icon of the rebels, but it’s truly a people’s movement. The sacrifices and decisions of the people are ultimately what matter in this narrative. Maybe it just seems especially relevant as something that mirrors reality, but it kind of hits the right note to see people so passionate about justice and ownership over their own lives. It’s poignant yet uplifting to see people devote their lives for the vision of a better society, and it makes me hopeful that life will imitate art. *wipes tears*
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