Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 23-24
More secrets are exposed as everyone’s personal agendas start to clash. Our hero has discovered his true identity, but there’s still a lot of questions surrounding why it’s been kept from him for so long and what it means going forward. King Gwanghae will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo, but one way or another, everything is about to be flipped on its head and we can only hope that Nokdu comes out on top.
EPISODE 23: “Torturing Jung Yoon-jo”
The king and his posse return from arresting Yoon-jo to discover Dong-joo lurking near the palace gate. She collapses in fear as a guard holds a sword to her throat and King Gwanghae approaches her. No longer the gentle official she’d met on the streets, King Gwanghae glares down at Dong-joo as the realization brings tears to her eyes. The moment is broken when the queen throws herself at King Gwanghae’s feet, begging him to tell her the truth.
King Gwanghae dismisses her pleas and orders Yoon-jo be locked up and the queen returned to her quarters. Nokdu arrives just as Yoon-jo is escorted away and rushes to Dong-joo’s side, declaring himself present as per the king’s request. King Gwanghae finally releases Dong-joo but before Nokdu can take her away, the guard sees Dong-joo’s box and demands to know what’s in it.
Shaken from the events, Dong-joo is unable to answer and the king orders it opened… but only Dong-joo’s sewing supplies are found inside. He dismisses the couple and Dong-joo’s legs give out as soon as the king is gone. As she sits with Nokdu, Dong-joo can’t believe that their friend was actually the king. Nokdu apologizes for not telling her sooner, explaining the king asked him to keep it secret.
Dong-joo asks what kind of person the king is and Nokdu thinks back to King Gwanghae ordering Yoon-jo’s death and then wishing for Nokdu to never discover who he truly is. “He gets afraid,” Nokdu admits, “I’m curious about him. I also pity him.” Nokdu says he sees a lot since he works for the king but assures Dong-joo that King Gwanghae cherishes her. As she leans into him, Nokdu wonders if anything happened. Dong-joo assures him she’s fine.
King Gwanghae interrogates Yoon-jo in the dungeons to no avail. He admits it won’t be easy making Yoon-jo talk. Yoon-jo wonders whether making him talk or overcoming his own fears is the difficult task. “You even believed a ridiculous story that Yun tried to dethrone you by putting my son on your seat,” Yoon-jo continues, “What are you so afraid of?”
The king growls he’ll show Yoon-jo what to fear and grabs a poker, but when he turns back, Minister Heo is staring blankly back at him. He drops the poker and stumbles back, but it’s only Yoon-jo before him. Yoon-jo vows to die a hundred times if it’ll free the king from his delusions and King Gwanghae accuses Yoon-jo of belittling him. Grabbing a guard’s sword , he once more Minister Heo staring back at him and King Gwanghae finally collapses from the shock.
Nokdu visits the king as he was summoned, but is told by the head eunuch that King Gwanghae collapsed and is too ill for visitors. He’s unable to tell Nokdu what happened so Nokdu excuses himself. In her room, Dong-joo looks down at her sewing box and then pulls on the end to reveal a crossbow. She wavers for a moment, recalling Nokdu’s assurances the king cares for her, but shakes it off and levels the crossbow. Meanwhile, Nokdu is rejected from seeing the queen as well and looks down at the two halves of her pendant.
The next day, Yul-moo catches up with Dong-joo to chide her for almost getting killed last night. “How could I dare to survive when I plan to kill someone?” Dong-joo retorts. Yul-moo demands to know if Nokdu is aware of her plans, but Dong-joo spits that it’s none of his business. He orders her to lie low for a month and is annoyed when Dong-joo asks if he’s planning to hurt Nokdu. Yul-moo wonders if she’ll still love him when she discovers Nokdu’s identity.
Nokdu watches Yul-moo enter a building where he meets with Ssook. She reports last night’s events and he gathers that the queen must’ve already spoken with Yoon-jo before he was apprehended. Yul-moo wonders who helped him, but focuses on discovering how much the queen knows. Ssook questions whether Muweol Corps will have a place in the world Yul-moo is creating and asks for proof of his word.
A flashback reveals Nokdu had suggested he and Ssook work together and told her it was likely Yul-moo kept a merit list of all the people involved in his revolt as a way to keep them under his control. Nokdu had said if they find it, it could be used as proof of Yul-moo’s conspiracy. In the present, Yul-moo agrees to Ssook’s terms and dismisses her.
Afterwards, Ssook meets Nokdu and tells him he was right about the list and she’d found a safe hidden in a storage room. It requires a key and Ssook is certain Yul-moo carries it with him. Nokdu is confident he can retrieve it and Ssook tells him to meet her that evening, preferably with a plan. Across town, the elderly servant couple watch Dong-joo leave the palace to confirm she’s their lady and worry over her safety.
Nokdu surprises Dong-joo in the market and takes her to their swing where they stare lovingly at each other as she swings. Nokdu teases that she’s a country girl for playing on the swing and she retorts that he’s an island boy who dived for fun. Nokdu tuts that diving is lame and said he surfed waves the size of houses. Dong-joo is incredulous and suggests they go to the beach so he can show her.
She’s disappointed when he’s taken aback and pouts that he’s either lying about surfing or his affection for her has waned. Nokdu dismisses both, saying he’s just busy. Dong-joo sighs that it’s more important than her and when Nokdu assures her that isn’t the case, she tells him she’s only teasing. He suggests she come and eat with the family now and promises to take her to the beach next time.
At Dong-joo’s smile, Nokdu tosses her over his shoulder but almost immediately is forced to put her down when the queen’s pendant falls out of his pocket. Dong-joo asks what is and where’s the other half. Nokdu brushes it off and Dong-joo assumes it’s a gift from a lover and takes Nokdu’s flustered response as confirmation as she walks away shaking her head.
Nokdu shows the pendant halves to Master Hwang and tells him everything. Master Hwang reels from the revelation of Nokdu’s lineage but promises to help his pupil. Meanwhile, Dong-joo feeds her chickens and watches in horror as Aeng-du takes the lone egg from the nest and slurps it down, raw. Aeng-du quips that Nokdu will surely fry another egg to hide under Dong-joo’s rice and refuses to be fooled a second time.
As Nokdu offers to take Dong-joo back, they’re drawn to the courtyard by Yeon-geun’s cries. Everyone runs out to find Yeon-geun holding a fermented soybean lump up to an unabashed Aeng-du. He pouts that Bok-nyeo worked hard on it (despite the other women pointing out they all made it) and Aeng-du snuck into his room and ate it. Everyone else is more curious what Yeon-geun and Bok-nyeo were doing in there alone and the pair look abashed.
Yeon-geun shushes Aeng-du before she can fully reveal what she’d seen and Nokdu tsks at them for being inappropriate in front of a child. Aeng-do retorts that he and Dong-joo are worse and it’s Nokdu’s turn to shush Aeng-du. Dong-joo scampers off, embarrassed as the other women tease Yeon-geun and Bok-neyo. As he goes to hang up the soybean lump, Nokdu looks at the impression of Aeng-du’s hand.
He catches up with Dong-joo and takes her hand. She asks if he’s had any run-ins with Yul-moo since their last altercation. Dong-joo worries he’ll get hurt because of her, but Nokdu cuts her off, correcting that she’s not responsible for Yul-moo’s actions. Furthermore, Nokdu assures her he’ll make the first move. Nokdu says she might as well kiss him if she’s gonna keep staring and Dong-joo walks off in a huff.
EPISODE 24: “Find the Merit List”
At the palace, Dong-joo witnesses the queen creating a scene as she tries to leave her room to search for her missing pendant. The queen’s eyes fall on Dong-joo and a servant explains that she’d called Dong-joo to fetch some things since they couldn’t leave. This gives the queen an idea and she asks Dong-joo to search for her pendant.
Dong-joo starts looking and is approached by Nokdu. She eagerly asks if he’d picked up his pendant on the palace grounds. Nokdu quickly denies it, saying it belongs to his mother. He adds that he’d been looking for Dong-joo to ask her to meet him that evening at the swing. He wants to take her to see the ocean and urges her to come, before taking his leave.
Yul-moo tells his co-conspirators about Nokdu’s existence and they’re appalled to hear King Gwanghae attempted to murder his son in order to ensure his throne. Yul-moo says the king is searching for his son and still intends to kill him. They agree that this is enough to decimate the king’s reputation and discuss how to go about it while Yul-moo smiles wickedly.
Nokdu meets Ssook and confirms that he has a plan, handing her a small box containing fermented soybean. A flashback shows Nokdu presenting the same box to the blacksmith, who promised to help him. In the present, Nokdu says he intends to carry out his plan now, but wonders if Ssook is okay. She says she never continued to work with Yul-moo after discovering the truth and assures Nokdu that she and her team can handle themselves.
Back in the meeting, Yul-moo declares he’ll bring Nokdu before the king tomorrow and sneers as he imagines the scenario of the king realizing Nokdu is his son and then cutting him down. “Blinded by his heinous greed, the king will kill his son twice,” Yul-moo concludes, “No will will be able to side with him.” The men question how Yul-moo will catch Nokdu and he grins that everyone has a weakness.
As he leaves, Yul-moo orders Dan-ho to fetch Master Hwang and Aeng-du but they’re interrupted by a servant reporting that Yul-moo’s horse ran off. Yul-moo waits while Dan-ho runs off to retrieve it and Ssook nods at another patron sitting nearby, who starts a loud argument with another man. He shoves the man into Yul-moo and then “mistakenly” tosses a bowl of soup in Yul-moo’s face.
Ssook rushes over and guides Yul-moo to a changing room, his eyes squeezed tight. The fetches him a bowl of water to wash them out and he suddenly snatches her wrist. Eyes darting around the room, he asks if anyone else has been in there. Ssook calmly replies that it’s only been the two of them as her skirts cover a clump of fermented soybean on the floor. Yul-moo eyes her suspiciously, but leaves without a fuss.
Meanwhile, Nokdu runs along an alley and tosses the women’s clothes he’d worn as a disguise over a stone wall. A short flashback shows him entering the changing room behind Ssook and as Yul-moo rinsed the soup from his eyes, Nokdu, dressed as a woman, had slipped the key from his pocket and made an imprint by pressing it into the box of fermented soybean.
Yul-moo wonders at how his calm horse could’ve ran off as they ride over to Yeon-geun’s house. They’re shocked to find it empty, while across town Yeon-geung and Master Hwang bang on Yul-moo’s gate. Master Hwang drunkenly slurs at the guards to bring out the pretty young man inside the house. The guards draw their swords and the ruckus brings Hwang-tae out to investigate.
Yeon-geun grabs him, accusing Hwang-tae of breaking his ring under his horse’s hooves when he left the palace a few days ago. Unfortunately, Yeon-geun trips over his own story and refers to it as a hat string and Hwang-tae points out the inconsistency. In desperation, Yeon-geun knocks himself to the ground and then drags Hwang-tae down with him.
Master Hwang and the guards fight as Yeon-geun punches himself in the face. Once his nose bleeds, Yeon-geun screams for someone to call the police while Hwang-tae stares in bafflement. Meanwhile, Yul-moo’s men find no one in the house, so he and Dan-ho decide to return home. Nokdu arrives first, however, leading a group of police into Yul-moo’s courtyard.
Nokdu says they’d received a report on the commotion, his eyes locking with Hwang-tae’s. Yeon-geun whines that Hwang-tae broke his belongings and then beat him up. Yul-moo’s guards block Hwang-tae, declaring this is the house of Grand Prince Neungyang and Hwang-tae is his friend. Nokdu feigns shock and then smirks, noting that being Grand Prince Neungyang’s friend doesn’t absolve him of punishment.
Nokdu orders Hwang-tae arrested and gives a quick nod of gratitude to his friends before following his men out. Hwang-tae is locked up and he reiterates that Nokdu is too late to change his mind. Nokdu ignores him and says he’ll be safe here and released soon. “Tonight,” Nokdu says, “Grand Prince Neungyang will be finished.” He bids his brother farewell and leaves as Yul-moo returns home to discover what happened.
King Gwanghae has regained consciousness and the head eunuch reports that the queen has been quiet, but Nokdu visited many times while he was ill. Dong-joo waits at the swing for Nokdu and decides she’ll surprise him by meeting him at the palace instead. King Gwanghae is pleased to hear Nokdu was worried for him and has him summoned. He then asks about Yoon-jo and upon hearing he’s refused food and water, growls that he’s trying to die and heads over to see him.
Nokdu returns to Ssook and receives the key she must’ve retrieved from the blacksmith. They head inside and Nokdu inserts the key… and unlocks the safe. Inside, he finds the merit list and rips out Ssook’s page before leaving her to put everything back. Dong-joo arrives at the palace at the same times as Yul-moo and he pulls her aside to say Nokdu’s found family has vanished.
Yul-moo asks if she knows anything and she denies it, questioning why Yul-moo was looking for them. He says it’s none of her business and she demands what he’s up to. Yul-moo guesses she’s worried and Dong-joo agrees that his temper tantrums are cause for concern. Her words hurt him and she begs him to butt out between her and Nokdu. He asks what Nokdu is to her and says he’ll tell her.
Nokdu arrives at the palace with the merit list as the king meets Yoon-jo in the dungeon. He comments that Yoon-jo is as brave as ever and recalls fleeing the palace during the invasion. Yoon-jo says King Gwanghae had been bright and brave then. King Gwanghae agrees he had to be. He continues that he’d ascended the throne afterwards, but was at constant risk of losing it and admits he was scared.
He says the fear kept him sane, wondering what would have happened if he hadn’t become king. Yoon-jo points out he’s already king and questions what’s left to fear, but King Gwanghae cuts him off, saying he’s still standing in that bloody battlefield. The former king had desperately resisted passing the throne to him, the courtiers can’t wait to be rid of him, the people scream that their lives are hard, and Yoon-jo and Minister Heo abandoned him. “Will I be able to die as the king?” he asks.
Nokdu arrives outside the dungeon and tells the head eunuch he’d received his summons and needs to speak with the king immediately. Inside, King Gwanghae holds a sword to Yoon-jo’s throat and Nokdu walks in just in time to hear him tearfully say, “That is why… I must kill… that boy.” Yoon-jo shouts that he is the king’s son, but King Gwanghae bellows that he shouldn’t have lived and he doesn’t have the luxury to have a son as that’s that price of the throne.
The king orders Yoon-jo to tell him where his son is before he dies and tears fall from Nokdu’s face as looks down at the merit list and then walks away. Outside the palace, Dong-joo also fights tears as Yul-moo reveals to her Nokdu is the son of the king that order her family’s murder. She realizes the pendant he held was the queen’s and he’d been honest when he said it belonged to his mother. “Are you still worried about him? Do you still love him?” Yul-moo demands as Dong-joo turns and runs.
Yul-moo returns home and Dan-ho reports that he’d ordered their men to hide and that he’ll remain here to escort Hwang-tae when he’s released from prison. Yul-moo wonders why Nokdu would lock his brother up knowing he’ll be released the following day… and then runs to the store room and flings the safe open to find the merit list missing.
Dong-jo returns to the swing in a daze, thinking back on all the moments she’d shared with Nokdu as tears fall from her eyes. She sees Nokdu waiting for her and runs to him, throwing her arms around him. He’s also crying as he reaches up to hold her hands around his waist.
Alright y’all, is it just me, or did this show get really sad really fast? Any soft feelings I had for the king died in one fell swoop when he insisted that his son had to die for him to keep the throne. I’m glad to finally understand Minister Heo, who had genuinely loved King Gwanghae only to be disappointed when his friend turned into a real jerkface when given a taste of power. I didn’t understand why the fortune-teller’s prediction was so bad until this episode when King Gwanghae asked Yoon-jo if he could die as king and realized that being king wasn’t enough, he wanted to spend his entire life as the king. Although nothing can justify trying to murder your child, I had hoped that there was more to the story, a small detail that would at least justify his fear of his child… but no, he just wants to be king and didn’t think 20 years on the throne was enough.
It’s all the more heartbreaking because Nokdu had those same hopes and had to witness with his own eyes his father not only threatening to kill the man who raised him, but insisting that his son should’ve never survived the first murder attempt, let alone continue to live now. I mean, trying to kill his son the first time was bad enough, but to still think that was the right choice, even now? And over a throne? A position he’s not doing a good job at anyway? The king isn’t even happy being the king! There’s nothing for him to even show that it was worth it. So now I’m almost rooting for Yul-moo to take the throne. Nokdu would be an ideal king, but we’ve already been informed that the show isn’t going to deviate that far from historical facts. Besides, I honestly don’t think he’d want it. Especially after seeing how it corrupts people.
So that’s where we’re at with the gritty part of the show, but I live for the sweet moments and despite the dark cloud now looming over our hero, he still manages to find sunshine here and there. There wasn’t as much Nokdu/Dong-joo cuteness as I would’ve liked, but we’re at the point in the show where the deeper plot points are reaching their head, so it’s to be expected. The thing I love, however, is the small ways this show manages to throw old tropes out the window. Yeah, Nokdu is the son of the man that murdered Dong-joo’s family… but that’s hardly Nokdu’s fault. He’s no more responsible for his father’s actions than she is for Yul-moo’s. So for once, the heroine didn’t waste our time running from the hero to sort through her conflicted feelings. Dong-joo knows Nokdu and loves him for who he is, regardless of his lineage. Which is good, because he’s hurting just as much right now and they’ll need to lean on each other to get through the oncoming storm.
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