Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 21-22
Our hero and heroine enjoy having their feelings out in the open as the brewing fight for the throne gains speed. The king has sacrificed much to fulfill his ambitions but at great cost. He’s escaped his fate for years but that could all change as certain truths finally come to light. With everyone moving into place, our hero and heroine are closer to discovering that they’re in the middle of a dangerous game.
EPISODE 21: “Dong-joo Enters the Palace”
King Gwanghae exits the queen’s chambers in the morning to find his guard, Officer Baek, and Dong-joo’s former servants waiting in the rain.
Nokdu and Dong-joo don’t seem to notice the rain as they kiss, or the rainbow that flashes just over them. When they part, Nokdu’s hands are shaking and he confesses that he’s suddenly nervous. Telling him that she’s perfectly fine, Dong-joo kisses Nokdu gently and then slumps in a near faint.
The frightened servants apologize to King Gwanghae for burying the bodies of their lord and his family, unaware that it was a serious crime. After they insist that every family member died, the king asks for the location of the burial site.
Dan-ho reports to a forlorn Yul-moo that Dong-joo wasn’t at the gisaeng house where Mae Hwa-soo now lives. Yul-moo calls off his search, convinced that Dong-joo’s disappearance proves how much she hates him. He is somewhat comforted by the fact Dong-joo isn’t with Nokdu either.
Nokdu carries Dong-joo on his back but she jumps down when they get home and see Master Hwang with the king’s eunuch. The eunuch is there for Dong-joo after the grateful queen secured a job for the girl who helped the king with his insomnia.
Dong-joo arrives at the palace at the same time that Officer Baek sends Nokdu out with the old couple to search for the burial site.
The king enters Minister Heo’s cell with Yul-moo and the witnesses that he’s provided — Hwang-tae, Yeon-boon and Jung-sook. The Muweol Corps women testify that the widows were confined to their rooms whenever they heard a bell, which is when Minister Heo visited the shrine. Yeon-boon claims that Heo murdered their eyewitness, but not before the woman shared that he was hiding a young man who was supposedly destined for greatness.
After wandering around in the woods all day, Nokdu tells the old couple that they’re done searching for the day. When Nokdu asks whose burial ground they’re looking for the wife answers that it belongs to Lord Yu Yeong-kyung and his family, who were killed after he was caught plotting treason against the king.
When Nokdu asks why King Gwanghae wants to dig up the grave, the old man explains that the king doesn’t trust the claim that everyone died. The old man swears to Nokdu that everyone did die, even the girl.
Once Yeong-boon and Jung-sook have been dismissed, Yul-moo informs the king, “It was your son whom the chancellor had hidden…” Hwang-tae then testifies that his brother always aspired to rise to the highest position and was sought out by Minister Heo for his plot.
Worked into a frenzy, King Gwanghae grabs Heo by his clothes, “Do you not know how hard it was to get rid of him?”
When Minister Heo accuses the king of abandoning him, his people, and his baby, King Gwanghae grabs a poker.
Heo asks, “What are you so afraid of,” as the king plunges the poker into his body. Hwang-tae sinks to the floor in shock as blood pours from Minister Heo, who looks at his old friend with sorrow.
In a flashback to the Japanese Invasion 20 years earlier, the future king wept when he came upon a street littered with the bodies. With generals Heo and Yoon-jo by his side, he lamented that it was the people with no power who paid with their lives. Heo’s eyes shone with pride when the future king pledged, “I will be different…I will make sure they are happy to be my people.”
As the life leaves his body, Heo weeps at the memory, “I wanted to stay by your side and make your wish come true.” Minister Heo looks at Yul-moo before his eyes close for the last time and as the king weeps, Yul-moo smirks.
In the marketplace, Chil-seong hides Yoon-jo when some palace guards walk by. Yoon-jo rejects Chil-seong’s suggestion to tell Nokdu the truth about his lineage, planning instead to see the queen who he believes is the only one who can save her son.
When he returns to the palace, Nokdu sees the blood on Officer Baek’s uniform when he reports that the old couple wasn’t able to find the burial site. A shaken Officer Baek informs Nokdu that they no longer need to locate it.
Upon hearing the news, the old couple thanks Nokdu profusely but he credits the king for their release. Nokdu smiles at the sight of Dong-joo hanging up sheets but the old couple is suddenly anxious to leave.
Once the couple is gone, Nokdu returns to help Dong-joo who’s still recovering from her ordeal in the well. Nokdu asks Dong-joo to visit the swing with him later that night and they arrange to meet at the back gate.
Nokdu leaves but soon returns and places a ring made of tiny daisies on Dong-joo’s left hand. When Dong-joo asks him about it, Nokdu explains, “‘I picked it up on my way here.’ That was what Master Hwang told me to say. But it was pretty, so I got it for you.”
After kissing her hand, Nokdu starts to walk away until Dong-joo stops him and hugs him from behind. Dong-joo closes her eyes as she rests her head on Nokdu’s back, the sheets fluttering in the breeze. When she finally sends him on his way, Nokdu keeps turning back to look at her. Nokdu soon runs into King Gwanghae and is alarmed to see that his eunuch has to hold him up.
In the king’s chambers, Nokdu watches as King Gwanghae gets very drunk. King Gwanghae asks, “Why do you look at me that way,” and Nokdu confesses he’s never seen him look peaceful. The king admits that his only peaceful moments are when he sneaks out of the palace and runs into Nokdu.
The king asks if he heard what happened and Nokdu wonders if it had anything to do with the man that Minister Heo was hiding (Yoon-jo). King Gwanghae’s eyes fill with tears as he admits, “It is all my fault…Ever since that day. Everything has turned awry.” When the king passes out, Nokdu lays him in his bed and a tear escapes as he ponders, “Am I a part of that dreadful night?”
While the king sleeps, he dreams of being locked in the dungeon cell with a dead Minister Heo, who opens his eyes to look at the king accusingly. King Gwanghae yells to be let out until a woman announces, “The skies desire a new king,” and he’s suddenly with a shaman covered in blood.
In a flashback, we see that just days before Nokdu’s birth, the shaman delivered her message with King Gwanghae’s sword at her throat, “Your son who will be born on November 19 will become the next king.”
Aware that his father only made him the crown prince because of the war, Gwanghae vowed, “I will make sure that I become the king,” and plunged his sword through the shaman.
When King Gwanghae wakes up with a jolt, he sees that Nokdu is crying. After he remembers smothering his newborn son, the king tells Nokdu, “I truly wish that you will never find out what kind of person I am.
EPISODE 22: “Your Son Is Alive”
In the aftermath of Minister Heo’s death, Yul-moo meets with his supporters to finalize plans for the revolt. Yul-moo plans to occupy the palace when the king pays his respects at the royal ancestral burial site. Once the king is in custody and they have taken the royal seal, all that’s needed is the order from Prince Yeongchang’s mother to complete the transfer of power.
Yeon-boon and Jung-sook are devastated when Ssook informs them that it was Yul-moo who destroyed their village and killed Lady Cheon. Yeon-boon wants to kill him right away but Ssook reminds her that they’re no match for Dan-ho. Ssook suggests keeping a low profile until they can come up with a plan.
When Nokdu sees Dong-joo waiting for him at the back gate, he sneaks up to surprise her. Dong-joo is so startled that she accidentally hits Nokdu, giving him a bloody nose. At the market, Dong-joo argues that the accident was actually Nokdu’s fault but he just brags that he’s handsome even when he’s injured.
Even though he has wadding in his nose, Dong-joo strokes Nokdu’s face and agrees, “You are very handsome,” adding, “But you are pretty at the same time. When you pretended to be a widow, you were prettier than a woman.”
Dong-joo won’t let Nokdu put his arm around her but she does hold his hand. When Dong-joo sees Nokdu’s favorite candy, she stuffs some into his mouth remembering that he looked like a cute rabbit the first time he ate it.
Their cheeks are stuffed with candy when Dong-joo begs Nokdu to buy her some shoes and when he refuses (worried that she’ll use them to run away from him), they bicker. A still pining Yeon-geun sees them and sighs, “They are a well-matched couple. Darn it.” When he turns to leave, Yeon-geun bumps into Bok-neo at the same time that Soon-nyeo and Mal-nyeon reunite with Nokdu and Dong-joo.
There’s a huge reunion at Yeon-geun’s house and everyone sits down to share a meal. When Soon-nyeon mentions Dong-joo’s two day ordeal in the well, Aeng-du is sad to think that Dong-joo went so long without food.
Yet when Nokdu sets out the rice, Aeng-du gets upset when she realizes that there’s a fried egg hidden in Dong-joo’s bowl. Nokdu explains that he gave the last egg to Dong-joo because the doctor instructed him to feed her well.
When everyone grumbles, Yeon-geun scolds, “Stop making a fuss during mealtime.” He’s surprised when Bok-nyeo places some food on top of his rice and smiles bashfully. Soon-nyeo announces, “This meal is quite sweet,” and it’s obvious that she’s not talking about the food when she stares at Master Hwang.
Ssook explains to Chil-seong that while she can get into the palace, meeting the queen is another matter. Chil-seong just needs her to make sure that the queen receives a letter and after giving it some thought, Ssook takes it. When Chil-seong asks Ssook to check on Minister Heo, she gives him sad news.
Dong-joo scolds Nokdu when he asks permission to enter her room, worried that someone could open her door. Nokdu argues that it’s too late for that and scrambles in to lie down next to Dong-joo, who warns him to go to sleep.
After Nokdu falls asleep with his arm around Dong-joo, she whispers, “Look at him sleeping. He always does what I tell him to do. When she lightly strokes his face and lips, Nokdu opens his eyes.
After reminding Dong-joo that she’s the one who woke him up, Nokdu kisses her on the forehead, eye, nose and then her mouth. When they kiss each other, the door suddenly opens and Nokdu and Dong-joo roll apart. Aeng-du plops down on the bed while complaining that the widows are impossible to sleep with.
Nokdu asks Aeng-du what she saw and he and Dong-joo are embarrassed when she replies, “How you two were stuck together like glue and kissing each other? Or how you both rolled away from each other as if your bottoms were on fire?”
Aeng-du calls off the betrothal since Nokdu’s heart obviously belongs to another woman. When the three of them fall asleep, Nokdu and Dong-joo are holding hands with Aeng-du in between them.
At the palace the next day Dong-joo listens to gossip that the king is spending lots of time in the dungeon and coming out with blood on his robes. After mentioning that a high ranking official just died, the women notice Dong-joo. When she sets down a basket, her flower ring falls off and Dong-joo shoves the flowers into her sleeve.
When Hwang-tae admits that he’s upset because his lies led to Minister Heo’s death, Yul-moo reminds him that he has no use for someone who’s weak. When Yul-moo sees Dong-joo, he follows her just as she runs into Nokdu.
Dong-joo reminds Nokdu that she’ll be sleeping at the palace but they’re interrupted when Yul-moo punches Nokdu in the face. Yul-moo grabs Dong-joo’s hand and when he ignores her demand to let go, Nokdu pulls his hand away. Yul-moo grabs Nokdu and Officer Baek runs up to apologize on Nokdu’s behalf and warn that people are watching.
Reluctantly, Yul-moo releases Nokdu and then grabs Dong-joo again, hissing, “I looked for you everywhere, and this is where I find you?” When Dong-joo jerks her hand away, Yul-moo bellows, “Dong-joo,” just as the queen is announced.
The queen is surprised by Yul-moo’s behavior and after confirming that Dong-joo is the new servant, explains that he’s not to disrespect anyone in her household. After she dismisses Dong-joo, the queen sends Yul-moo away as well.
The queen asks to see Officer Baek and smiles at Nokdu as she walks away. Nokdu runs after Hwang-tae to tell him that it’s not too late to change sides but he insists that he’s already gone too far. Nokdu asks if Yul-moo is threatening him with something but Hwang-tae denies it and walks away.
Ssook is close by when a tea tray is prepared for the queen. She manages to slip the letter under the teapot without being seen.
Officer Baek informs the queen that Minister Heo was killed because he was guilty of treason. The troubled queen clutches the charm that commemorates her son and murmurs, “He (Heo) definitely seemed like he had something to tell me that day.” After dismissing the guard, the queen finds the letter and Officer Baek sees it in her hand as he closes her door.
The king’s eunuch asks what to do with Minister Heo’s body and is surprised when he’s ordered to have it thrown out with the others. As tears fall, the king explains, “(Heo) Yun abandoned me a long time ago. Thus, I shall do the same.” The king turns when Officer Baek calls out to him.
After the confrontation with Yul-moo, Nokdu checks to make sure that Dong-joo isn’t hurt. Dong-joo is about to tell Nokdu something but instead reminds him that she’s spending the night in the palace. Nokdu pats Dong-joo’s head and promises to see her the next day and once he’s gone, Dong-joo opens her hand to look at the tiny flowers he gave her.
Nokdu finds Ssook outside smoking a pipe, deep in thought. After checking that she heard about Minister Heo, Nokdu asks how she plans to stop Yul-moo. When Ssook admits that she hasn’t figured that out, Nokdu shakes her hand and suggests, “Why do we not help each other?”
Chil-seong sheds tears of grief as he rants to Yoon-jo, “How could he also discard his dead body like that?” Even though Yoon-jo wants to help him retrieve Minister Heo’s body, Chil-seong points out that it’s too dangerous and urges him to proceed with his plan to meet the queen.
Yoon-jo explains how Minister Heo saved his life when he was a child. Chil-seong was near death but after Heo begged his father, the boy was treated by a doctor. Chil-seong argues, “I should be the one to go since I was granted a decent life thanks to the chancellor.” As he departs, Chil-seong apologizes to Yoon-jo, “I am sorry I could not protect you until the very end.”
When his eunuch finds the king drinking alone, he offers to summon Officer Yeon (Nokdu). At the same time, Chil-seong finds Minister Heo’s body but as he weeps, a sword is held to his neck.
While Yoon-jo hurries along a street, the queen sneaks out, unaware that she’s being watched.
Dan-ho demands to know Yoon-jo’s whereabouts and when Chil-seong claims that he ran away, he’s cut down. Ready to join his master, Chil-seong grabs Dan-ho’s sword with his bare hands and plunges it into his body. When Dan-ho finishes him off, Chil-seong dies as he lived, by Minister Heo’s side.
Yoon-jo enters a room and bows before a sheer screen that shields the queen, who’s shocked when she sees her visitor. Yoon-jo recalls that fateful day 20 years ago and confesses that he’s not the only one who survived, “His Majesty’s son is alive, Your Highness.”
As Nokdu heads for the king’s chambers, the queen gasps in shock. She crawls to Yoon-jo’s side as he pleads, “You must protect him from His Majesty.” The frantic queen cries, “I will risk everything I have to protect him,” but before Yoon-jo can tell her anything, the door opens to reveal King Gwanghae.
Dong-joo lurks outside of the palace, clutching the box that holds her bow and arrows while King Gwanghae returns to the palace with Yoon-jo in custody. The queen runs after them and when she stumbles, Nokdu catches her.
When a royal guard sees Dong-joo, he points his sword as she hides her box with her skirt. King Gwanghae approaches and Dong-joo breathes, “Chief Administrative Officer,” before she realizes the truth.
As the queen continues to chase after King Gwanghae and Yoon-jo, Nokdu picks up the queen’s charm that fell from her clothing. Clutching her charm in his hand, Nokdu follows the queen.
As Minister Heo met his end at the hands of the king that he once believed in, I understood his inner struggle. In spite of his best intentions, King Gwanghae allowed his ambition to overtake his duty to his people, enabling him to murder his own son to thwart a shaman’s prophecy. In spite of his efforts to dethrone the king, when faced with a future king even more ruthless than King Gwanghae, Minister Heo did his best to warn his friend but it was too late. Minister Heo’s final moments, witnessed by a triumphant Yul-moo, were truly heartbreaking.
For some time it’s been hinted that Nokdu’s birthdate is significant and now that we’ve heard what the shaman had to say, I’m beginning to think that King Gwanghae targeted the wrong prince. On Nokdu’s birthday, Yul-moo hinted that it was someone else’s birthday. Is it possible that Nokdu and Yul-moo were born on the same day? If that’s the case, the shaman’s prophecy is correct and it’s King Gwanghae’s actions that will make it a reality. It’s a shame because Nokdu possesses the qualities that Minister Heo believed made for not just a good, but a great king. Nokdu’s entire existence is a testament to missed opportunities, not just for his parents, but for a country.
Because of the king’s desperate attempts to hang on to the throne, Yul-moo continues to gain support. King Gwanghae’s actions make it easy for Yul-moo to convince others that their king isn’t fit to rule. In spite of his friendly encounters with Nokdu and Dong-joo while in disguise, the king is nothing like that at the palace. Even as Nokdu begins to understand what happened the night he was born, he exhibits pity for the father that he never knew. King Gwanghae gives Nokdu a rare glimpse into the life that he was meant for and it’s not at all enticing.
There’s no question that King Gwanghae feels a connection with Nokdu, but how will he react when he learns that he’s the son that he supposedly killed? How will Nokdu deal with that truth and the fact that he can never be safe around the king? It’s obvious that the only way that King Gwanghae and Nokdu can coexist is if neither of them is king, which is exactly what’s going to happen. Gwanghae’s successor, King Injo (Yul-moo), had limited power once he took the throne and I expect to see Nokdu play some part in that, together with Ssook and others. The queen is sure to play a significant role as well in order to protect the son that she thought was dead, especially after she learns that her husband was responsible for Nokdu’s death/exile.
In spite of the palace intrigue, Nokdu and Dong-joo shared many memorable moments. The flower ring that Nokdu crafted for Dong-joo was sweet and deeply meaningful, especially because she not only accepted it but treasured it. Dong-joo fully accepted Nokdu’s heart and later, when they were alone in her room, it looked as if their relationship was about to take a significant leap until Aeng-du made her appearance. It was not only funny but it makes complete sense because Nokdu and Dong-joo don’t yet know each other’s true identities. Before their relationship goes any further, Nokdu and Dong-joo need to learn the truth about their pasts and about each other.
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