Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 25-26
The king’s paranoia worsens and results in a very public misstep, forcing our hero to consider all of his options to protect those that he loves. Desperate, he considers help from an unlikely source even though it would estrange him from the king for good. His one consolation makes a heartbreaking decision just when Nokdu needs her the most, leaving him to face his seemingly inescapable destiny all alone.
EPISODE 25: “Nokdu is the Boy”
When Nokdu asks Dong-joo if something happened, she thinks about Yul-moo’s revelation that Nokdu is the king’s son and lies that she’s just tired. Nokdu uses the same excuse when she asks how he’s doing.
Seeing Nokdu suddenly lost in thought, Dong-joo turns him to face her and he drops his head onto her shoulder. When Nokdu mentions the beach, Dong-joo promises that they’ll go another time.
After walking Dong-joo home, Nokdu finds Yul-moo and Dan-ho waiting for him.
When the three men sit down together, Yul-moo guesses why Nokdu visited the prison and left without seeing the king, “You must have found out who the prisoner is. It seems as if you found out something worse than that…he was still desperately trying to kill his own son.”
Yul-moo knows that’s why Nokdu didn’t show the king Yul-moo’s list. When Nokdu asks Yul-moo not to hurt Hwang-tae or the Muweol Corps, he proposes working together. That would give Nokdu the chance to protect them and get revenge on the father who abandoned him. As Nokdu walks out the door, Yul-moo gives him two days to consider his offer.
Nokdu goes to the royal prison but he’s turned away just as a guard carries out some hot coals.
Later, while assisting King Gwanghae at an evening archery practice, Nokdu is unusually quiet. The king dismisses everyone so that Nokdu can give his report but he claims it’s no longer relevant now that Yoon-jo has been arrested. When asked about the rumor, Nokdu tells the king, “I did not hear the past incident…I just heard a story about your loneliness.”
The king offers his bow for Nokdu to try and as he aims at the target, King Gwanghae remembers, “Yoon-jo was the same way. He noticed the hardships of my life and my loneliness. And he embraced me as a true friend.” King Gwanghae’s face hardens when he adds, “However, it was all a lie. I will not forgive him.”
Nokdu’s can’t hold back his tears when the king continues, “I will not be deceived anymore. I will get that boy and kill him.” Nokdu points his arrow at the back of the king’s head just as King Gwanghae informs him that he’s promoting him to royal guard.
After King Gwanghae asks, “Will you stay by my side and protect me for a very long time,” Nokdu aims at the target and hits the bullseye. Nokdu bows as he accepts his promotion, his tears hidden by the brim of his hat.
The next day at the palace, Dong-joo’s friend notices that Nokdu’s uniform is now purple, meaning that he’s one of the king’s personal guards. Dong-joo is unable to work after hearing the news and her friend assumes it’s because she finds the work too hard. Dong-joo isn’t talking about work when she tries to imagine her life after giving up something that she’s wanted for so long.
Nokdu escorts the now free Hwang-tae from prison and when he refuses to go anywhere to talk, Nokdu tells him that Yoon-jo is in the royal prison. Nokdu chases after his angry brother to promise that he’ll save Yoon-jo but Hwang-tae mocks him, “Will you beg your biological father?”
Nokdu plans to publicize the truth about the king’s 20 year-old crime to keep him away from the royal prison but Hwang-tae reasons, “It will be quicker for Grand Prince Neungyang to take the throne and help me. I will make that happen and save Father, so do not worry.” Without another word, Hwang-tae walks away.
That night, a masked Nodku hangs posters and by morning, Dan-ho overhears people everywhere talking about the claim that the king killed his own son.
At the palace, King Gwanghae bellows that the person responsible for the rumor is to be killed before his eyes. When Nokdu reports for duty, he advises King Gwanghae to let the rumor die down on its own and to stay away from the royal prison. The king agrees when Nokdu volunteers to monitor the prisoner on his behalf.
Nokdu wastes no time in visiting Yoon-jo, who orders, “Get out this instant.” Nokdu looks at the only father that he’s ever known and regrets all of the suffering that he’s caused, “Just like what the King said, I should have just died.”
Yoon-jo scolds, “How dare you say that in front of your father!” Yoon-jo finally tells Nokdu the story about that fateful night, “You seemed lifeless at first. Then suddenly, you started crying….You were telling me that you were not dead. What I did was neither impressive nor difficult. I just did what I had to do as a human being.”
Yoon-jo and Nokdu are both crying when his father confesses, “Even if I could go back in time, I would save you once again. So value your life.” When told to leave the palace, Nokdu confesses, “I will neither run away nor hide.” After promising to save him soon, Nokdu leaves behind a troubled Yoon-jo.
Nokdu waits for Dong-joo outside of the queen’s palace and when he sees her explains, “I came to see you. I will go now that I have.” As Nokdu walks away, Dong-joo suggests going to the beach.
After leaving the palace early, Nokdu and Dong-joo dangle their feet over the water at the beach. When Dong-joo complains that she didn’t know it was so far away, Nokdu takes her hand, “I have you beside me. That is enough to make me happy.” Dong-joo silences Nokdu with a rice ball that she made herself and when he insists that she shouldn’t have, she calls him fussy.
Nokdu holds Dong-joo’s hand as they bicker over which one of them is more challenging. When Dong-joo mentions his time posing as a widow, Nokdu finally explains that he went to the widows’ village to find the person who could tell him who he really was. After finally discovering the truth, Nokdu understands that he needs to protect his father and his confession stops Dong-joo in her tracks. Dong-joo pulls her hand away, announcing that it’s time to go but Nokdu runs after her to take her hand.
During a meeting, King Gwanghae’s ministers urge him to send troops to help the Ming with a conflict. He refuses, arguing that the people haven’t fully recovered from the Japanese Invasion. Reminded that the Ming helped them defeat the Japanese, the king insists all they did was exploit his people. One of the ministers angers King Gwanghae when he points out that the king’s disregard for their country’s duty is the reason there are ugly rumors about him.
While running palace errands in the marketplace, Dong-joo is pulled into a side street by her former servants. Once Dong-joo recognizes the couple, they share a tearful reunion.
Nokdu stands guard outside the king’s hall when King Gwanghae walks out and takes his sword.
Dong-joo and the old couple hike to a remote area where her family is buried. The old man apologizes for its condition, explaining that they had to keep it hidden. When Dong-joo expresses gratitude through her tears, the old woman praises her for growing up well.
The couple informs Dong-joo that they were just questioned by the king and warns that they’ll all be in danger if it’s discovered that she’s alive. Dong-joo takes that as a threat and ignores the old man’s warning to disappear, “I will not run away. It was so hard to get this far.”
Nokdu’s sword drips with blood after King Gwanghae kills the bold minister. Nokdu is just feet away from the king as he waves the sword wildly, “So apparently, my son is alive. Therefore, he is much more qualified to take the throne.” After the guards are asked to escort the king from the hall and remove the body, Nokdu leaves with King Gwanghae as the ministers exchange uneasy looks.
Dong-joo returns to the palace just as the minister’s body is placed on a cart and Nokdu walks by with the shaken king. Everyone stops when the dead minister’s grieving son arrives but when he runs towards the king, Nokdu points a sword at him. As he’s arrested, the young man demands, “Bring back my father!” When the king sways unsteadily, Nokdu runs to his side and sees Dong-joo
EPISODE 26: “Go, Now!”
Nokdu stands guard outside the prison while the enraged King Gwanghae visits Yoon-jo. Inside, King Gwanghae blames his prisoner for all of his problems but Yoon-jo denies responsibility, “Regardless of my actions, the heinous truth you tried to cover up will not change.”
King Gwanghae pulls a hot iron from the fire and Nokdu hears Yoon-joo’s anguished cries as his flesh sizzles. Nokdu runs in and takes the iron away from the king who orders, “Give it back to me. Even if it means that I must kill him tonight, I must hear from him that the boy is dead.”
Nokdu reminds the king that the rumor will spread unless he controls himself. When the king stumbles, Nokdu helps him from the cell while glancing back at Yoon-jo.
In her room at the palace, Dong-joo stares at the tiny flowers that made up the ring that Nokdu gave her. She remembers the old couple’s warning that if she’s discovered they’ll all be killed as she stares at the wooden box with her bow and arrows. She’s even more conflicted after seeing Nokdu with the king.
Yoon-jo wakes up when Nokdu applies a balm to his badly burned leg. Yoon-jo worries that he’ll be seen but a weeping Nokdu vows, “I will make him shed tears of blood. I will drag him down from the throne that he is desperately trying to hold onto.”
A horrified Yoon-jo warns that he’ll end up just like the king but it’s a risk that Nokdu is willing to take in order to make up for the damage that he’s caused. When Yoon-jo protests, “He is your father who gave birth to you,” Nokdu explains, “That is why I cannot forgive him.”
In the morning, the king notices that Nokdu doesn’t look well and assumes that he’s disappointed in him. When Nokdu assures him that will never happen, King Gwanghae confesses that he’s afraid of what he’s become. He’s visibly moved when Nokdu promises, “I will never leave your side.”
The king assures Nokdu that things will be better after he visits his ancestors’ graves in two days time. When Yul-moo joins them, the king orders him to assist Nokdu in the search for his son when they return. King Gwanghae explains to Nokdu, “You must find him. If you think you might lose him, you may kill him.”
As King Gwanghae turns to go, Nokdu asks, “Why are you doing this,” and he’s told, “He was destined to take the throne. If he were to live, I was told that he would overthrow me.” When Nokdu asks if that’s the only reason, the king coldly answers, “To me that is more than enough reason.”
Once they’re alone, Yul-moo explains to Nokdu that the king killed the shaman for her prediction about his son. When Yul-moo is about to leave, Nokdu stops him.
Nokdu drinks alone into the night at the inn that he and Dong-joo visited with the king. We see that not only did Nokdu accept Yul-moo’s offer he vowed, “I will make his nightmare come true,” asking, “Let me kill him myself.”
When Nokdu finally leaves the inn, he walks to Yeun-geun’s house and finds Dong-joo there. Dong-joo guesses the he’s been drinking and Nokdu explains it was so he’d have the courage to tell her to leave him.
Confused why Nokdu would look for her at Yeon-guen’s house, Nokdu explains that like her, he can’t lie when he’s drunk so he came home. Nokdu confesses what he really wants, “Do not leave me…No matter what I do.”
Nokdu touches his forehead to Dong-joo’s as he wishes, “Even if I become a terrible person who committed something heinous, I wish you could remain by my side.” Tears fall from Dong-joo’s eyes and when Nokdu kisses her, she stops him.
Dong-joo confesses that she’s the one who’s terrible because she allowed Nokdu to sway her and now it’s time to end things. Stunned, Nokdu asks for an explanation and Dong-joo tells him, “No matter what happens or what I do, it will have nothing to do with you.”
Dong-joo runs away but Nokdu catches up to her to ask “Why must I lose you as well?” Nokdu hugs Dong-joo tightly, begging her not to leave but she softly explains that he’ll get hurt if she stays by his side. When Dong-joo pleads, “…please let me go,” Nokdu releases her and watches sadly as she walks away.
The next morning, Nokdu waits outside of the queen’s palace for Dong-joo but her friend announces that she was given a few days off while the queen visits a temple. At the same time, Dong-joo hands her former servants a small bundle filled with coins as thanks for all that they’ve done.
The couple is alarmed by what feels like a final goodbye and the old man begs Dong-joo not to do anything dangerous. A determined Dong-joo answers, “It is something I must do,” before walking away.
Yul-moo meets with his supporters who are anxious to remove King Gwanghae from the throne as soon as possible. After Yul-moo announces that there’s been a change in plans, Nokdu enters the room in uniform.
Yul-moo introduces him, “He is the son that everyone is talking about.” Yul-moo calls it fitting that the son that King Gwanghae abandoned will be the one to take him into custody after the palace is theirs.
One of the ministers sits across from Nokdu as he adds his thumbprint to Yul-moo’s Merit List. Yul-moo reminds Nokdu that should he change his mind, Hwang-tae is in his custody. Once Nokdu leaves, Yul-moo orders the minister to keep an eye on him and learns that he’s already being followed.
Yul-moo stresses that their plan hinges on securing the royal seal so that King Gwanghae’s orders will be ignored. The minister happens to be in charge of the seal and assures the grand prince that there’s nothing to worry about.
Yul-moo watches Nokdu as he walks away from his house, telling Dan-ho that he’ll be useful after the king is dethroned. While Yul-moo can’t kill his uncle, Nokdu can, and he promises, “I will not let a scumbag who killed his own father live. When his time comes, you will get to kill him yourself.”
Nokdu meets with Officer Baek outside of the police bureau to confirm that he’s accompanying the queen to the temple. Nokdu hands over the queen’s norigae, explaining that he found it at the palace. When Nokdu asks him to take good care of the queen, Officer Baek looks confused but the arrival of the old servant distracts him.
The old man reports Dong-joo’s plot against the king and is accused of lying after claiming that she was dead. The old man explains that he didn’t know the young lady was alive and Nokdu looks uneasy when he mentions that she was living at a gisaeng house.
Officer Baek asks for the girl’s whereabouts and when the old man describes the inn, Nokdu offers to search for her so that Baek can report the plot to the king. After Nokdu follows the old man outside, he learns that the gisaeng house where the young lady stayed was in Mudam Valley and that she now works as a servant in the palace.
As Nokdu approaches the inn, he tells himself, “No. That cannot be,” but he starts to run as fast as he can. At the inn, Nokdu describes Dong-joo and it told that she stepped out. Unaware of the search for her whereabouts, Dong-joo stops by the swing and just misses Nokdu.
Dong-joo is in her room when the innkeeper asks why everyone is looking for the same young lady. Officer Baek reminds his officers, “Kill her as soon as you catch her. That was the King’s order.”
Officer Baek isn’t able to open Dong-joo’s door thanks to a wooden spoon shoved in the latch. By the time he gets inside, Dong-joo has escaped out a back window.
Dong-joo runs through the streets with the box that holds her bow and arrows while the police and Nokdu search for her. It’s Nokdu who catches up to her first and his fears are confirmed when Dong-joo spins around, pointing her crossbow at him.
Flustered, Dong-joo hides the bow behind her back as Nokdu slowly approaches, memories of her many hints coming back to him. When he reaches Dong-joo, Nodku asks haltingly, “Do you know who I am,” and her tears confirm that she does.
Nokdu weeps as the tragedy of their situation hits him but at the sound of the approaching officers, he urges Dong-joo, “Hurry. Go now.” Dong-joo turns back to look at Nokdu as she runs away, leaving him all alone.
Nokdu shed so many tears this hour as those that he longed to be close to turned their backs on him. First it was King Gwanghae, his biological father and a man that he found himself naturally drawn to. Rather than welcoming the second chance that Nokdu’s survival offered him, the king chose the throne over his son yet again, ordering his new personal guard to kill the boy, unaware that they’re one and the same. It doesn’t get more real than that and the decision forces Nokdu in a direction that he never considered. But once he accepts the inevitability, Nokdu goes dark in the most heartbreaking way.
Dong-joo also turned away from Nokdu and I’m angry with her because if she succeeds with her plot, Nokdu would face an impossible dilemma. As one of the king’s personal guards, Nokdu’s role is to kill anyone who’s a threat, making that final scene as Dong-joo runs off with her crossbow and arrow so pitiable. Not only does he ignore his duty, Nokdu is forsaken by someone who he’d hoped would stay by his side.
Of course Nokdu had already decided to join forces with Yul-moo in a jaw-dropping development, asking to kill King Gwanghae himself. Accepting that his days are numbered, Nokdu intends to remove the one threat to Yoon-jo’s existence, the adoptive father who’s sacrificed all to save him and has never wavered in his support. Now he has the added impetus of killing the king before Dong-joo can get to him.
And of course Hwang-tae continues to push Nokdu away, becoming more hateful with each encounter. He’s determined to be the hero, saving Yoon-jo and restoring the family name. Hwang-tae’s abandonment, along with the king’s and Dong-joo’s, leaves Nokdu pathetically alone to deal with the question of his destiny.
What a sad revelation to absorb, that your father values the throne more than the life of his own son. The king’s willingness to kill an innocent infant because of a shaman’s prediction is bad enough, but his commitment to that decision 20 years later is chilling. Yoon-jo’s rescue of the king’s newborn son saved King Gwanghae from the guilt of such a heinous act but he doesn’t see it that way. All he sees is a conspiracy to take the throne away from him even though his reign is illegitimate. Prince Youngchang was meant to succeed his father, not Gwanghae, but he ordered the decree making Prince Youngchang the crown prince destroyed. Disobeying that order is what got Dong-joo’s family killed and later, Minister Heo. King Gwanghae ignores the wasteland of his personal life to cling to a throne that was never meant for him. Rather than appreciate that his line could continue with his son, he’s fixated on holding his position until he dies.
With King Gwanghae verging on the brink of insanity, Nokdu joins Yul-moo’s plot to save Yoon-jo and now Dong-joo. Even though his heart is broken, Nokdu has accepted his role in the inevitable downfall of King Gwanghae. As we anticipate the final few episodes, the question is now who will survive and who will be lost?
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