Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 31-32 (Final)
As we reach the final chapter of our hero’s tale, he finds himself in mortal danger once more at the hands of a bloodthirsty king, blinded by anger and greed. All Nokdu has ever wanted was to find out who he was and protect the ones he loves. Now the time has come for them to return the favor. As the king and Yul-moo hunt him down, his fate lies in the hands of the people who love him to keep him safe… and hopefully they’ll live to see a better tomorrow.
EPISODE 19: “Dong-joo’s Decision”
In the aftermath of King Gwanghae’s return, he stews in the throne room with Yul-moo. Oblivious to the way Yul-moo’s eyes linger on his seat, King Gwanghae pushes past, declaring he’ll catch Nokdu himself. Yul-moo follows, pausing only to glance once more at the throne.
Nokdu, supported by Hwang-tae and Dong-joo, meets Master Hwang who breathlessly explains he’s late because he took Yoon-jo safely outside. Nokdu asks him to take Hwang-tae and Dong-joo outside as well, but Dong-joo refuses to leave him. While the others escape, Dong-joo helps Nokdu find the queen and fill her in on King Gwanghae’s return. She orders her servant to lead the couple outside, but looks sadly at Nokdu when he asks her to come with them.
A guard reports to King Gwanghae that the queen’s quarters are empty but he calmly says he knows where to look. Meanwhile, the queen insists that she can’t leave the king alone, even though it breaks her heart to be separated from Nokdu again. She reasons that as the queen, no matter how awful her husband is, he is the king and she can’t leave him to be ruined by Yul-moo and co.
They embrace and she tells him to remember he’s her precious son and should live freely. She promises they’ll meet again and tells Nokdu to survive until then. The servant ushers Nokdu and Dong-joo away as the queen sobs to herself.By the time King Gwanghae arrives, they’re gone. He asks where Nokdu is and she demands to know how long he intends to behave like an animal, earning an angry outburst from King Gwanghae.
In a flash, the queen snatches a guard’s sword and holds it to her throat. The blade draws blood from her hand as she orders them still. “Kill me first,” she dares as King Gwanghae’s fury builds, “before you go on your way to kill your son.” Elsewhere, the servant stops at a door in the wall and explains the queen stayed back in order to guarantee Nokdu survived. Dong-joo takes Nokdu’s hand and gives him a reassuring nod before helping him outside.
Master Hwang and Hwang-tae wait at the dock, where Yoon-jo is already loaded into a boat. They’re soon joined by Yeon-geun, the widow’s trio, and Aeng-du.Master Hwang Hwang-tae to take Aeng-du and board the boat but Hwang-tae points out Nokdu isn’t there yet. Master Hwang says he’d told Nokdu to hide and will fetch him himself so the others should escape now. To his surprise, the women refuse to separate and climb aboard, while Yeon-geun sniffles, looking conflicted.
In a storage room somewhere, Dong-joo desperately bandages Nokdu’s wounds. He assures her he’s fine and she chides him for always saying that. Nokdu confesses he’s not fine and Dong-joo hugs him. He weakly jokes that she should’ve hugged him sooner and she orders him not to fall asleep. He promises to stay awake and talk to her, asking how long she’s liked him.
He guesses she’s liked him since they lived together at the widow’s village and Dong-joo sniffs, “Why would I like a man dressed as a woman?” Nokdu wonders if they went back to that time, if she’d stop liking him. Nearby, Yul-moo and the guards find a trail of blood and Dong-joo tells Nokdu that if they went back, she’d run away with him. Nokdu goes limp and she cradles him, sobbing, just as Master Hwang finds them.
The three of them escape, but Master Hwang freezes at the sight of Yul-moo’s posse. He ducks back behind a rock and tells Dong-joo there’s a boat waiting on the river for her and Nokdu. Master Hwang promises to buy them time and sensing something is wrong, Dong-joo peers over the rock to see Yul-moo and the guards combing the forest. She eyes the single arrow in her quiver as Master Hwang grabs his sword.
He starts to tell her to pass a message to Aeng-du but Dong-joo cuts him off, saying she can’t possibly get Nokdu down the river alone. She says his plan will only get all three killed and that she intends to survive. She implores Master Hwang to keep Nokdu alive and taking Nokdu’s bloody jacket, goes out to meet Yul-moo. He’s unconvinced, wondering if Nokdu put her up to this to buy time. Dong-joo coldly replies he should just say Nokdu died by his sword, promising to stay with him if he does.
Yul-moo warns her that he’ll never let her go, keeping her hidden forever. Dong-joo doesn’t care and after a tense moment, Yul-moo orders everyone to return because Nokdu is dead. A few days later, Yul-moo and King Gwanghae stand over a covered corpse. Yul-moo explains Nokdu got swept down the river after he stabbed him and they just found his body by the riverbank. An approving smile spreads across King Gwanghae’s face.
Officer Baek starts to pull back the cover but King Gwanghae waves him off, saying the body would be unrecognizable now and that Yul-moo wouldn’t try to deceive him. (Oh, really?) Afterwards, Yul-moo returns home while someone watches nearby. Inside, Dong-joo ignores him as he presents her with a dessert. She take a bite and her face remains impassive as she declares it delicious.
Yul-moo caresses her cheek and reminds her that she promised to do everything. Dong-joo confirms she did, and Yul-moo says, “I will wait. So give me your sincerity.” Dong-joo continues to stare back blankly and he promises to wait as long as it takes for her to give him her heart. “I can lie and promise you I’ll do that,” Dong-joo replies, “but you and I both know that one’s sincerity and affection for someone… are not something one can work on.”
That evening, a trio of guards haul out “Nokdu’s” body and are stopped by the queen. She pulls the cover back to inspect the face and then sends the guards on, hiding a small smile of relief. Yul-moo calls to Dong-joo in her room and she rolls away. He enters and pulls the cover up, blowing out her candle and leaving. She sits up with a jolt and thinks back to the night Nokdu had lit the lamps for her and dissolves into sobs. Yul-moo hears and turns back… but thinks better of it.
Dong-joo struggles to sleep, shivering in the dark. Someone enters the room and she sits up as Nokdu lights the lamp, grinning at her. Dong-joo blurts out he’s alive and Nokdu reminds her he promised he’d be back. She throws her arms around him and Nokdu holds her tight, apologizing for coming late. Yul-moo returns to Dong-joo’s room to find all the guards outside on the ground.
He bursts inside, but the room is empty and Dong-joo’s words that feelings can’t be forced echo in his mind. His guards walk up behind, warning that they’ll lose them if they don’t leave soon… but Yul-moo says there’s no need. As he finally resigns himself to the truth that Dong-joo will never love him, Dong-joo and Nokdu run happily through the fields to freedom.
EPISODE 20: “Wedding Ceremony”
A young woman races frantically through the woods, but falters and collapses on the ground. Her pursuers encircle her as a noble man steps forth and blames his son’s death on her lack of support. He steps forward to hit her and she yelps, her flailing arm leaving him with a bloody nose. Enraged, he yanks her jacket down to reveal… Nokdu!!
He’s wearing the Muweol Corps uniform and smiles sweetly, silently extending a beckoning hand. The nobleman practically blushes and rests the jacket on Nokdu’s arm, taking his hand and asking who he is. Nokdu drops his smile and promptly knocks the man out. Afterwards, he and the Muweol ladies escort the real widow and he assures her she’s safe now.
The Muweol women laugh that Nokdu really loves disguising himself and knocking out the fathers-in-law. Ssook agrees that he’s more useful than 10 of their troop members. Nokdu walks back to them and says the widow has no place to go and should live at the village. He starts to take his leave, saying he’ll see the ladies at the wedding tomorrow. Can it be???
They suggest he stay the night and take the boat with them tomorrow, but Nokdu barks out a refusal. Taken aback, they ask why not and he pouts as we flash over to Dong-joo, forlornly sighing that she misses Nokdu. Behind her, two of the widow’s village trio are eating and tsk at Dong-joo for being dramatic. They remind her he’s only been gone four days but Dong-joo whines that he was supposed to be home yesterday.
She suddenly perks up when a boat arrives and they sigh as she runs to the shore. She passes some men and they chuckle that Nokdu must be back. Dong-joo calls out to him when she reaches the beach and he tells her to be careful not to trip. She runs to him and he lifts her up, spinning around joyfully before leaning in for a kiss or three…
Behind him, Jeong-sook has to hold Yeon-boon back from attacking Nokdu in annoyance while Ssook just sighs that this is her karma. Back at the house, Dong-joo smacks Nokdu upon discovering he’d bought them a pair of expensive jade rings. He pouts that he wanted to wear them for the wedding and it was supposed to be a surprise.
Dong-joo chides him for wasting money on a grand wedding as well and Nokdu asks why she can’t be more romantic. Hee. He argues that he makes money to spend it and Dong-joo slams down a silk box filled with fine fabric, snapping that he’s bought her so many. Nokdu mumbles that they all look good on her and then slides the box away, excitedly suggesting they do “it” instead. Dong-joo stares at him wide-eyed, asking what he means.
“You know,” he say with a coy smile, “The thing we were going to do…” He lunges forward but Dong-joo knocks him back with a simple, “No, thanks.”Nokdu asks why and Dong-joo explains everyone is working hard on their wedding and he should help, kicking him out so she can clean the room. He grabs their rings with a huff and sashays out of the room as Dong-joo shakes her head.
Outside, Nokdu sits with Yeon-geun to cook. Yeon-geun cries that he’d told Bok-nyeo they should break up on impulse and she actually packed her bags and left. Nokdu agrees that Dong-joo isn’t romantic at all. “”How could a woman not understand a man?” Yeon-geun continues, declaring he’d only come here because of her.
He’s startled when she pipes up in front of him, but quickly hides his glee and sniffs that he’d thought she left him. She tells him to stop being difficult and come home, but Yeon-geun is determined to be petty and huffs. She tells him she’ll give him three seconds and Yeon-geun immediately leaps up. She smiles and lifts him in her arms princess-style to go home.
Nokdu cringes at the display and Hwang-tae appears, snorting he’s the most romantic person here. He guesses Nokdu got scolded and laughs at Nokdu’s denial. Nokdu asks what’s funny and Hwang-tae admits he’s just happy they’re living together again. Nokdu agrees but adds that he’s thankful and sorry towards Hwang-tae. Hwang-tae jokingly suggests Nokdu annul his marriage and live with him and Yoon-jo, then.
Instead, Nokdu suggests Hwang-tae get married too. He points to widow’s village trio member Mal-nyeon and Hwang-tae laughs awkwardly and shakes his head in alarm. Nokdu suggests Ssook instead and Hwang-tae looks over at her. He smiles, but shakes his head and quickly excuses himself, but Nokdu chases after, teasing that he must like Ssook.
That night, Dong-joo lays out her bed with two pillows before blowing out the light and tucking herself in. When Nokdu comes in he smiles at her sleeping comfortably in their bed despite the dark. He gently tucks himself in next to her, giving her a quick kiss. Dong-joo sleepily curls into him and Nokdu strokes her hair as they fall asleep.
The next morning Aeng-du watches Dong-joo getting her makeup done and grumbles that Dong-joo had told her to give up on Nokdu so she must’ve been scheming to take him from the start. Dong-joo denies it and Aeng-du breaks into a smile, taking her hand and asking her to take care of Nokdu. “He may be immature,” she says, “but he’s a good guy, so be happy together.” Dong-joo beams back at her and agrees.
Outside, Nokdu waits anxiously at the altar. Yeon-geun carries a tray of rice cakes to the table, but trips before he reaches it, spilling the food on the grass. Nokdu winces and then a wind picks up and knocks the candles over on the table. Luckily, Dong-joo’s arrival is announced then and Nokdu stares in awe at his bride as Aeng-du showers her with flower petals.
Master Hwang starts officiating the ceremony as the couple stares lovingly at each other. Unfortunately, a gust of wind carries Master Hwang’s speech away. He chases after it, crying that he’d stayed up all night writing it as Nokdu sighs in annoyance. Their friends laugh awkwardly and Ssook suggests Yoon-jo step forward and offer his blessings.
The wind picks up again as Yoon-jo launches into a speech about marriage. Finally, the partition behind the alter falls over, knocking Yoon-jo into the table and everything onto the ground. Aeng-du rushes forward and starts eating the treats, inciting a peal of laughter from everyone as Master Hwang returns, speech in hand.
Dong-joo comforts a disheartened Nokdu, saying she doesn’t mind things didn’t go according to plan. “I wanted to give you everything,” Nokdu explains. He wanted to do everything they hadn’t been able to or had to give up and fill her life with good memories so that she could forget the bad ones. “I wanted to give you the ring and solemnly swear… that we’d be together for the rest of our lives,” he concludes.
Grinning, Dong-joo suggests they do it now. She walks over and picks some daisies, twisting them into two rings. Taking Nokdu’s hand, she tells him, “I don’t think the time we spend together will only be filled with happy things. Just like today, we might have to face an unexpected windy day.” Dong-joo says there will be times they feel like crying or giving up. “But…” she continues, sliding a ring on his finger, “as long as we’re together, I will gladly endure all those difficult days… regardless of what it may be.”
Sliding the other ring on Dong-joo’s finger, Nokdu promises to do the same. She smiles that she loves flower rings and kisses his hand. Nokdu says there’s something he wanted to do on their wedding day and pulls Dong-joo close. She smiles up at him and they kiss.
Dong-joo wakes up the next morning to find Nokdu writing at his desk. She curls up to him and he tells her he’s writing his mother to announce their marriage. By evening, the queen lifts the lid on her teapot to find Nokdu’s letter. She smiles and then puts it safely in the fire.
9 Years Later
Yul-moo leads his revolt at the palace, calmly weaving his way through screaming masses to the place where his men have the king at sword-point. King Gwanghae sips his tea as Yul-moo approaches, seemingly unsurprised. He even offers a small smile of approval as he lifts his chin to meet Yul-moo’s eyes. Yul-moo’s men clear out, leaving the two to talk. King Gwanghae muses that Yul-moo isn’t as smart as he’d thought since he willingly walked into the fiery pit.
Yul-moo asks why King Gwanghae let him live. “If I had not let you live, I would have become a father… who killed my innocent son twice.” Yul-moo finally reveals that his birthday is also November 19th — the day the fortune teller had prophesied a royal child would be born and take over the throne. Yul-moo’s father had overheard and lied to save his son. Tearfully, King Gwanghae asks Yul-moo grant him a favor. He promises to accept his fate and live his life facing the impact of his fear.
“But…” he continues, “I will be the only one bearing them.” He asks that the queen be allowed to leave quietly and Yul-moo agrees. As he turns to go, King Gwanghae calls out to Yul-moo, “You will be lonely. You will be lonely… and continue to be lonely.” The next morning, Yul-moo walks into the palace and takes his place on the throne a grin spreading across his face, even as King Gwanghae’s last words echo.
Yoon-jo delivers the news of the revolt and that the queen will join them to Nokdu. Nokdu admits he’s unsure how to feel. “I want to cry,” he mutters, “but at the same time, I don’t.” Yoon-jo pulls him into a hug and says he can cry or not, but that they’ll both follow their hearts. Afterwards, Nokdu waits with Dong-joo on the beach and she tells him she’s nervous whether his mother will like her.
“How could she hate you?” Nokdu laughs. Dong-joo agrees that she’s too pretty to hate and Nokdu smiles that she’s the one that saved him. She dismisses it, but Nokdu says “You said you wanted to live a happy life with me… and you would wait. That day, what you said saved me several times.” Dong-joo says she feels the same and will continue to live happily with him for the rest of their lives.
“So when you’re having a hard time, come to me and cry,” Dong-joo says, “When there are happy occasions, we can smile together just like now.” Nokdu holds out his pinky and Dong-joo links hers with his. In the distance, they spot a boat and the queen stands, smiling towards the shore as the couple walk out to meet her. The end message tells us: “Just like that, they lived happily ever after.”
Now, that is what I call a happy ending. It’s a rare thing to find such a satisfying finale as this and I am so thrilled that Tale of Nokdu managed to stay consistently good throughout it’s entire run. Did we lose some of the comedy along the way? Yes, but to make way for the darker plot that thankfully had a solid resolution. I think @teriyaki pegged it in an earlier recap that Yul-moo might have shared Nokdu’s birthday and I tip my hat to you. I thought it would be too easy, but that reveal actually packed a punch. Because it really drove home how futile King Gwanghae’s attempt to defy fate had been… and how heartbreaking his foolish choice to kill his son to keep a crown he’d always been destined to lose.
It was nice to hear that in the time skip, King Gwanghae had come to terms with the fact that Nokdu had never wronged him, and he was the one that had always been the aggressor. It was a small consolation after all he’d put our beloved hero through, but I’m sad Nokdu never got to hear it. To know that in the end, his father realized his mistake. It wasn’t quite redemption, but growth nonetheless. The thing I liked most about this drama is that every character felt lived in. The heroes weren’t perfect, nor were the villains wholly evil… they were human, each flawed in their own way that added depth to them as an individual as well as the story on a whole. Everyone got what the deserved in the end. King Gwanghae was finally dethroned, after realizing it was an empty position in the first place and everyone who ever cared for him was gone. Yul-moo ascended the throne, but it will be an empty rule, as he’s also now alone.
The time skip allowed us to see a glimpse of everyone at peace. The Muweol Corps are back to saving widows, now without the muddied orders from Minister Heo, and it sounds like they’ve rebuilt a widow’s village. Yeon-geun has finally moved on from Nokdu and is in a blissful relationship of his own. Yoon-jo recovered and Hwang-tae finally let go of his jealousy and anger and has resumed his close relationship with Nokdu. I love that even after all this time, they continue to live together in their little found family community. And Nokdu and Dong-joo have built a happy life out of their pain, surrounded by the people they love. Their wedding ceremony may have been a bit chaotic, but as Dong-joo pointed out, it was a perfect example of life. Things don’t always go as planned, but you make the most of it with those you love. Nothing is more satisfying than giving characters an ending befitting their journey and for all the pain and suffering, Dong-joo and Nokdu deserved nothing short of happily ever after.
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