The King: Eternal Monarch: Episode 16 (Final)
The end is here, folks. Our hero and his team make their last stand and attempt to bring balance back to their worlds. Whichever way things turn out, the worlds won’t be exactly the same, and everyone’s fates could be changed forever. No pressure. Less time is devoted to the battle than I anticipated, giving the finale some time to explore the aftermath and provide a glimpse into what life looks like once it’s all said and done.
Luna texts Tae-eul’s dad that she’ll be out that night on a stakeout. Shin-jae cries as he thinks of Tae-eul, who is currently with Rim at the gate. They cross over, her gun trained on Rim.
In 1994, Yeong snaps Seung-heon’s neck. Damn. Gon orders Yeong to take out Rim’s group of traitors when they arrive. He’ll go after Rim alone, but if he fails, Yeong will have to take him out.
When Yeong realizes Gon’s plan, he refuses the order. His duty is to protect the king, so he’s going with him. Gon narrates that he hoped things would play out as they did before, but things began changing at some point. He leaves the Four Tiger Sword behind and runs to his fate, comforted in the knowledge that he’s not alone – there are many brave people on his side.
In the between place, Tae-eul holds Rim hostage, giving Gon time to change the past. If he fails, she’ll take Rim out herself. Rim points out that her memories of Gon will disappear if Gon succeeds.
She knows and the loss hurts. Rim scoffs at her determination, claiming you can’t fire a gun in the between place. Tae-eul is a fan of the you don’t know until you try approach.
Meanwhile, little Gon picks up the sword, prepared to attack his uncle. The glass ceiling shatters, as expected. But this time, Gon and Yeong enter together in a backlit slo-mo strut to take out the guards. In the ensuing gunfight, Yeong is shot (nooo), but we don’t know how badly he’s hurt.
On the dais, Rim reaches down and picks up the unbroken flute. Gon’s flute half and the one Tae-eul currently holds disintegrate entirely. Well, that’s not a good sign. In the between place, Rim reasons his other self must’ve obtained the whole flute.
Gon shares a look of understanding with the injured Yeong and chases after Rim in 1994, while the Rim in the between place rubs it in that Gon’s half must’ve disappeared. Now Gon will never return, and Tae-eul is stuck with him in this place for eternity. Now there’s an awful fate.
Amidst the bodies of the slain guards, Yeong protectively holds little Gon in his arms. When people come yelling for the king and crown prince, Yeong sets little Gon down and hides. Several palace workers rush to the king’s body while Ok-nam cradles little Gon and cries.
A fading Yeong recalls when he became the Unbreakable Sword with a smile. Tears fall as he loses consciousness. He’d better not have just died.
In the republic, Shin-jae tells his mom the whole story and takes her to visit the original Shin-jae. He watches her wail over his body. She rages at Shin-jae for keeping this from her, yelling at him to bring her son back. Oh no you don’t, lady!
Shin-jae wanders outside, looking lost and hollow. He turns at the sound of his mom calling, “Shin-jae!” She runs and grabs him in a hug, apologizing for not hugging him earlier. He’s her son too, and she knows it’s not his fault. Thank goodness. Shin-jae cries in earnest as she embraces him.
In 1994, Rim runs into the forest where the master gate appears. He’s so busy congratulating himself that he doesn’t notice Gon approaching. Gon slashes him across the arm, and when Rim tries to grab the flute off the ground, Gon slashes the other arm.
With the sword to his neck, Rim asks who Gon is and why he’s after him. Gon replies he’s the king and true owner of the Four Tiger Sword who will be dealing Rim’s retribution. In the between place, Rim surmises Gon failed seeing as he’s still alive and well.
Tae-eul intends to fix that and pulls the trigger, but nothing happens. Rim laughs at her foolish hope but is done tolerating her. He rushes her, and we cut to the republic. A gunshot sounds and the lily finally sprouts. In the between place, Tae-eul shoots Rim in the chest. As she looks on in shock, a breeze ruffles her hair and petals rain down. The floating pictures disintegrate.
In 1994, Rim realizes who Gon is after he begins quoting the engraving on the Four Tiger Sword:
The sky bestows the heart upon us, and the ground helps the spirit.The sun and the moon are formed. As the mountains and streams form, lightning strikes. A sage is moved to defeat the evil of the mountains and streams. Wield it with deep thoughts and make things right.
Gon sentences him to beheading and slits his throat … which isn’t quite the same thing but close enough, I guess.
Yo-yo kid muses that it sprouted rather than broke. The kid morphs into a young man who claims the door will close but the memories will remain. We see the bully who beat up Shin-jae long ago, slinging that familiar yo-yo. Then, we see more flashes of yo-yo kid at various ages in the kingdom and the republic. Now, he wonders if he should sever it or let it be.
Rim’s body disintegrates in the between place, and Tae-eul realizes Gon succeeded but cries when she assumes he can’t return. In 1994, the scar on Gon’s neck disappears. All the items related to their travels vanish from both worlds. In the republic, Shin-jae vanishes from a group photo. In the between place, the hands on Rim’s pocket watch spin furiously.
In the republic in 1994, Jung-hye laughs at her fortune when her husband dies. Now that she and Ji-hoon have to fend for themselves, though, she can’t take care of Rim’s alternate. She puts him in a care facility with the promise that she and Ji-hoon will visit.
In 1995, Shin-jae (Hyun-min, technically) and his mom are on the bridge in Corea. Prince Bu-yeong happens by and stops her from committing suicide. He sweetly puts Hyun-min’s shoe back on and encourages Hyun-min’s mom to think twice about her decision as a parent. He warmly places his hand on hers as she cries.
It’s 1999 and little Luna tries to steal from Seo-ryung’s mom’s shop. Seo-ryung, pleasant as ever, wants to call the police, but her mom invites Luna in for a meal instead. She tries to give her a little money, but Luna gives it back, wanting to pay for her meal.
Tae-eul, in blood-stained clothes and clutching a gun, wakes up to a crowd of people gathered around her. She asks when and where she is and learns it’s April 2020 in the republic. Tae-eul borrows a phone to call Moon-shik, eagerly asking where her team members are. Her face falls. She lowers the phone and cries.
Tae-eul narrates only a week passed for her, yet her world now is slightly different. She’s still a lieutenant who is sometimes a good daughter. Her memories of Gon remain, even though he and Shin-jae are no longer there.
Moon-shik’s wife looks over a credit card bill and reasons whoever keeps calling her husband away must be about to start school. It turns out he’s been taking care of the grandmother and sister of their kid’s hoobae (junior) who got arrested.
Walking down the street one day, a now-alive Ji-hoon in a military uniform passes by Tae-eul. She recalls Gon’s promise that he’d open every door and find his way back to her. She sinks to the ground in grief.
Gon gallops through the between place. Holding flowers, he stands outside of Tae-eul’s door. She comes out in a pilot’s uniform and stops to ask who he is. Gon recognizes he’s in the wrong world.
He tries again, and this time it’s a version of her in an Army uniform. His third attempt finds a drunk, celebrity version of her. Finally, he thinks he’s found her since this one is a police officer. But in this world, her name is Hyo-jin and her mother is alive.
It’s 2021 and Tae-eul receives a call from Na-ri. Some guy on a horse is at her place. Tae-eul turns on her siren and speeds home where Gon is waiting with flowers. She stares in wonder at him as Gon says there’s a her in every universe who doesn’t recognize him.
Not realizing he’s finally found Tae-eul, Gon is startled by her tears – every other version of her was happy. Seeing the look of recognition in her eyes, he checks the ID badge around her neck and notices she’s wearing the necklace he gave her.
Hardly daring to believe it, Gon asks if it’s really her, and his eyes widen when she says he finally came. He grabs her in a hug. Tae-eul asks what took him so long; she’s spent every day waiting for him. Gon explains that, after killing Rim, he had to go back for Yeong. We see Yeong in Corea in 2021. Oh, thank goodness.
Gon spent the rest of the time opening various doors, looking for her. Even if she didn’t remember him, he wanted to see her. He would just tell her who he was all over again. Baffled, Gon wonders how she does remember him.
Tae-eul wants to skip over that and kisses him instead. He asks if she still hates flowers, but she responds she likes them, especially the ones he brought her. In a repeat of the out of time memory, he gives her the flowers and says, “I love you. I am deeply in love with you.” Tae-eul notes this is how everything comes together.
Now we’re in 2022 in Corea where Yeong complains about having to babysit the twins all the time (his parents got back together). Ha! They go by their nicknames: Eun-bi and Kka-bi. Aw.
Gon asks if he misses him. Yeong smiles sadly, figuring Eun-seob doesn’t remember him anyway. Yeong gives Gon the file he asked for. Hyun-min became a cop in this world, too.
And so did Luna. Just like Tae-eul, she calls Hyun-min “hyung-nim,” and they seem close. He offers to buy her a birthday gift, so she runs into the bookshop (previously Rim’s hideout) to pick something out. The date is May 27, 2022. Ah, so that’s how “Tae-eul” ended up on the CCTV footage Gon saw.
Luna goes to visit Seo-ryung in prison. (It’s rather satisfying seeing her in a prison jumpsuit.) She got caught embezzling as an assemblywoman. Seo-ryung grumbles about how she should’ve been prime minister, causing the corrections officer to tell her to keep it down. Ha, it’s her loyal assistant.
Seo-ryung asks how her mom is and tells Luna to take good care of her. They bicker and Seo-ryung gets another warning to quiet down, making her complain that the officer is annoying. Seo-ryung yells, “Gu Seo-kyung!” at her sister’s back when she ignores her and leaves. Aw, so they did adopt Luna.
In the republic, Tae-eul assigns the newbie menial tasks and heads out for the weekend. Everyone is curious where she goes each weekend, but Tae-eul just says she goes on trips. In the kingdom, Ok-nam asks Gon the same question, but Gon stays tight-lipped. As Ok-nam hugs him goodbye, she slips a talisman in his pocket.
Tae-eul meets Gon at the gate, and he pulls her through. Gon narrates that they’ve been doing the things they skipped. Wherever the gate drops them, the number one rule is to find out the date and avoid their alternates.
Most of time it goes smoothly but not always. One time, a man drops to his knees crying, “Your Majesty!” upon seeing Gon. They discover Gon is a tyrant in that world and quickly depart.
When they arrive in Corea in 2000, Gon takes her to a café, saying there’s someone who wants to meet her. Prince Bu-yeong sits nearby and drops a pen which Tae-eul returns to him. Back at their table, Gon tells Tae-eul fondly that Prince Bu-yeong is the uncle who raised him. He’s happy they finally met.
Tae-eul is excited when the gate one day takes them to the Joseon era. She wants to tell her ancestor to buy the pear field in Apgujeong-dong. She looks for her traditional clothes in the suitcases of various attire they have stashed in the between place.
While traveling, they end up in 1994 in the republic where Gon runs into a young Shin-jae. Gon tosses his baseball back to him, and as they’re talking, a crash sounds from where Shin-jae just was. Oh, did he just save him from the coma? Tae-eul returns, and Gon states he found the reason the door brought them here.
In 2022, Gon smiles to see Shin-jae healthy and seemingly still wealthy. Guess his family didn’t go bankrupt. Elsewhere, a snazzily dressed Eun-seob proudly shows off pictures of the twins to his colleagues. He’s distracted by someone staring at him, though, and walks over.
Gon smiles and asks how things are. Then, he asks if Eun-seob got his driver’s license. Eun-seob freely answers his questions before realizing this is strange. He asks who he is, but Gon just compliments him on looking cool and imposing. We see his NIS badge.
Gon remarks he’ll always be his Unbreakable Sword and walks away. Eun-seob lights up at a call from Na-ri, and by the way he’s addressing her, they’re married now. Look at you go, Eun-seob!
The next time Tae-eul and Gon go through the gate, they accidentally end up in Corea shortly after Gon left. Yeong leads the royal guards into the forest, looking for Gon who quickly hides Tae-eul’s face with his jacket.
He orders the guards back, and Tae-eul peeks out to offer Yeong a little wave. Yeong lets out an exasperated “Your Majesty.” Gon and Tae-eul sneak into the palace, their outings now discovered. Ok-nam enters the room, and Tae-eul quickly puts on the ever-present skincare helmet. Pfft.
Gon claims Ok-nam’s talisman worked, and she raises her eyebrows with a smile, leaving them alone. Heh. Tae-eul wipes her prints off the helmet, and they head to the control room to delete any footage of her.
They catch Yeong in the midst of his own little drama on CCTV. First, he curses out Gon in his irritation (to Gon’s astonishment). Then, he touches hands with Seung-ah as they pass in the hall, only to have Ok-nam pop out and look after them suspiciously. Tae-eul jokes she’s enjoying this movie. She and Gon kiss.
Gon takes her through the gate to her world, and daily life resumes. Tae-eul chases after criminals … with Jangmi! He’s still on the team. In the kingdom, Gon officially appoints the new prime minister: Secretary Mo. Aw, yeah. Her adorable little boy waltzes on stage and asks who the “ajusshi” is, so Gon crouches down and introduces himself.
Gon and Tae-eul continue their travels and narrate that no matter what happens, they want to “love tirelessly.” They’ve decided to love the fate that chose them. We see their clasped hands age as Gon continues that they’ll live for today forever.
That was a surprisingly happy ending. It wrapped up most everyone’s stories, which I appreciated, although there were still some unanswered questions. I’ll just have to wonder forever why Ok-nam was chosen to travel to Corea and what happened to her alternate or why Eun-seob was raising his siblings. While I’m glad everyone I cared about survived in the end, it all felt a bit too clean and saccharine. For how epic and serious this drama tried to be, I expected there to be a higher price paid on both sides. Instead, the Big Bad lost, the lesser evils paid for their crimes (Seo-ryung) or were given a shot at redemption (Luna), and the good guys all got their happily-ever-afters. Not that I wanted carnage or anything, but some level of believability would be nice. It’s nigh impossible to fight a war with zero casualties or real damage on one side.
Moreover, there were no serious repercussions from messing around with both worlds. They survived all that and instead of learning a lesson, Gon and Tae-eul decide to frolic through time and space like it’s their personal playground? They constantly talked about how the worlds can’t collide and need to maintain their boundaries, yet they use the gate without a care. Even if they take pains not to encounter their alternates, their mere presence in worlds that are not their own could have unforeseen consequences. But so long as they have good vacation spots. I think I was supposed to find it romantic, but it struck me as irresponsible and off-putting.
I didn’t necessarily dislike either Gon or Tae-eul, but they never clicked with me. I never could connect with Gon because he didn’t feel real. They were so busy making him the swoony king, they forgot to make him a three-dimensional character. Like with other aspects of the drama, it seemed his character was all about the aesthetics and the effect they wanted to create. As for Tae-eul, she just fell a bit flat for me, and her weepy turn in the latter half was frustrating. There’s nothing wrong with crying, but I don’t like when dramas have women go weepy after they fall in love. I’m glad Tae-eul didn’t turn helpless and still had a role to play, but I do wish she’d gotten more of her own arc and growth as a character.
From beginning to end, I cared most about side characters like Yeong, Eun-seob, Shin-jae and even Jangmi. I was glad they were all given endings and weren’t forgotten, even though splitting up Yeong and Eun-seob as well as Shin-jae and Jangmi was unacceptable. On that note, I have to commend Kim Kyung-nam, as well as Woo Do-hwan. These two actors really stood out among the cast and brought their characters to life. I already liked them both, but this drama cemented my appreciation. Their characters felt grounded and nuanced even when the things happening around them didn’t always make sense.
By the end of the drama, I just accepted everything at face value and stopped trying to figure out how or why anything happened. Literal winds of change blow through the between place, altering its supposed properties? Okay. Tae-eul is the only one who gets to keep her memories? Why not. The how and why of things has been one of the main issues throughout the drama. Emphasis was consistently placed on the result, and how we got there was haphazard. The drama seemed more concerned with aesthetics and being epic than making sense. This permeated everything from the insta-romance to the mechanisms behind the parallel universes to the coherency of the plot. It was as if specific scenes and plot points were envisioned first and everything else was filled in as an afterthought.
The frustrating thing for me is that this drama had an interesting premise and general story. It was the execution that was problematic. I often found myself sighing at what could have been if only the plot had been presented in a more coherent and focused way and the leads had been better developed. Most dramas don’t have enough material to fill the episodes, but this one had too much. We ended up with so many characters and threads that it felt messy and chaotic. The latter half was a little more focused and better edited, but that could only go so far in solving the issues. Either way, there was potential there that wasn’t realized which is a shame. Despite my criticisms of this drama, I do appreciate that such a large-scale story was attempted. I like when dramas try different or daring things, even when they don’t work out as well as hoped. And, of course, I can’t neglect to mention the most daring player in all of this: PPL. Regardless of time or place, these universe-defying products never missed an opportunity to shine and prove their worth. Their efforts will not soon be forgotten.
- Premiere Watch: The King: Eternal Monarch
- Lee Min-ho and Jung Eun-chae get close in stills from The King: Eternal Monarch
- Lee Min-ho is a commanding presence in The King: Eternal Monarch
- Woo Do-hwan signs on for The King: Eternal Ruler with Kim Go-eun, Lee Min-ho
- Kim Go-eun makes drama comeback in The King: Eternal Ruler with Lee Min-ho
- Lee Min-ho reunites with star writer Kim Eun-sook for sci-fi romance