A dangerous political wind is beginning to blow, leaving our Hwarang boys little time to worry about personal disagreements. When the future of the country is at stake and the king is effectively missing, who do you turn to that can run the country? The time is fast approaching for Ji-dwi to step up and take his rightful place, ready or not — because if he doesn’t do something, and soon, he could lose everything.
EPISODE 13 RECAP
After Sun-woo wins his fight with Minister Park’s man, Ji-dwi finds him sitting alone and asks if he’s okay. Sun-woo smirks, asking why he cares, and suddenly draws his sword to Ji-dwi’s throat. In a dark voice, he asks, “Is it you? Are you… the king?”
Ah Ro happens to see Sun-woo with his sword drawn against Ji-dwi, and she jumps in front of Ji-dwi defensively. She asks if Sun-woo really believes the banner saying the king is in Hwarang, and says it would be stupid for the king to be here among his enemies. She swears that Ji-dwi isn’t the king, and reaches for Sun-woo.
He roars at her to move, and accidentally slices her arm with his sword. He looks horrified, but Ah Ro doesn’t even pause in her defense of Ji-dwi, and Sun-woo can only run away without a word.
Ah Ro crouches in relief, and Ji-dwi asks why she did that. She says she just had to because she doesn’t know why Sun-woo hates the king so badly, but she’s sure that Sun-woo will believe her if she tells him Ji-dwi isn’t the king.
Ah Ro puts ointment on her cut arm while Ji-dwi watches her with sad eyes. He insists on helping when she fumbles one-handed with the bandage, and says that he’s angry with himself for repeatedly putting her in danger. She tells him not to be, that she’s capable of taking care of herself and believing in herself, even if she’s the only one.
As Sun-woo replays the confrontation with Ah Ro in his mind, Princess Sookmyung approaches him to say that he’s still rough, but that he has a lot of talent. Glaring, Sun-woo asks if all members of the royal family are this shameless, referring to the fact that she doesn’t even seem sorry that she shot him with an arrow not long ago.
He starts to walk away, but Sookmyung orders him to stop, and she offers to teach him swordsmanship. Sun-woo says she doesn’t know who he may kill if she does, and this time, she lets him go.
Ah Ro goes looking for Sun-woo, worried about his injuries from the fight with Minister Park’s man. Merchant Joo-ki startles her and offers to walk her out, and he asks why she keeps looking around. Ah Ro just vaguely says that she’s hoping to see something. She doesn’t see Sun-woo watching her from a window nearby.
Ji-dwi confronts his mother about Princess Sookmyung’s behavior in Hwarang, such as ordering the fights, but the queen regent is just happy that everyone thinks another Hwarang is the king. She tells him to keep quiet about it, unconcerned that he’s upset, since she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to get him safely on the throne.
Ji-dwi lies awake that night, unable to sleep easily. Just as he drifts off, a pair of hands circle his throat, and he sees Sun-woo crouching over him with fury written on his face. As Sun-woo throttles Ji-dwi, he accuses him of killing his friend — then Ji-dwi wakes from the nightmare, gasping for air.
Sun-woo isn’t even in their room — he’s wandering outside, thinking about the dragon-head bracelet he lost, and how its image showed up on the banner. Hwa-gong joins him, and Sun-woo asks if he thinks it’s true that the king is in Hwarang. When Hwa-gong asks him the question in return, Sun-woo boldly says, “Ji-dwi.”
But he’s asking if Ji-dwi is really Hwa-gong’s nephew, and Hwa-gong says that he is — though distant, to be sure. He asks why Sun-woo wants to find the king, and Sun-woo says that they have an ill-fated connection. Hwa-gong asks jokingly if he’ll kill the king or something, and Sun-woo is all, Can’t I?
Hwa-gong points out the pond, which looks still on the surface but is teeming with life underneath. He explains that you can’t know everything about a pond just by looking at the surface, warning Sun-woo not to make such a mistake.
Minister Park is furious with his man for not killing Sun-woo during their fight, convinced that Sun-woo is the hidden king in Hwarang. Now that everyone is watching Sun-woo, he can’t send in an assassin to do the job. Still, he tells Ho Gong that an opportunity will present itself eventually.
A riderless horse approaches a pair of guards, and they shrink back when they see several human heads tied to its saddle. A banner drapes the horse’s back, stating that anyone who covets Baekje land (Silla’s political ally at the time) will get the same treatment.
The officials argue over what’s to be done, half of them demanding action be taken against Baekje, the other half concerned that breaking their alliance with Baekje will give Goguryeo (the third kingdom) the chance to take over.
Minister Park finally speaks up to say they should declare war. When the officials speak out against it, he suggests they send the princess to make peace, which was his true plan all along. Faced with a choice between war and peace, the queen regent’s hands are tied, so says that she’ll send the princess with the Hwarang.
Later, Ho Gong says that the council are worried their sons will be chosen to go with the princess. He wonders if their assumption that Sun-woo is the king is correct, since the queen regent was awfully quick to offer to send the Hwarang to Baekje, where they could be captured or killed.
Hwa-gong thinks about a conversation he’d had with Ji-dwi after realizing that he was the king. Ji-dwi had asked if he could even become king, since his mother won’t give him the throne. Hwa-gong had said that Silla needs a real king, not a queen regent, but Ji-dwi had worried if he could ever be that king.
Hwa-gong had assured him that if he truly wants a nation where the people don’t worry, but one where the king worries about the nation, then he’ll be fine. Ji-dwi had said that he wants to be strong, but that he worries that a king who spent his life in hiding can’t be a source of strength.
So when Queen Regent Jiso informs Hwa-gong that she’s sending some of the Hwarang to Baekje with the princess, Hwa-gong tells her that that’s a decision the king should make. She reminds him that she’s in charge for now, and he obediently agrees — though he insists on choosing which Hwarang to send.
Han-sung finds Ah Ro moping over whether Sun-woo is avoiding her, and he cheerfully says that he watched Sun-woo see her and turn away. He wonders why, since brothers usually protect sisters, but Ah Ro just tells him to get lost.
Ah Ro finds Sun-woo and jumps in front of him to ask why he’s avoiding her. She gives him a good dressing-down, saying that if he’s angry then he should tell her why, but all he can think about is how he cut her with his sword. He walks past her without saying a word, leaving Ah Ro fighting her tears.
Sun-woo passes by Ji-dwi with a glare, and when Ji-dwi tries to stop him, he whirls and grabs Ji-dwi by the collar. Ji-dwi asks if Sun-woo still thinks he’s the king, and he asks if he and Sun-woo can’t be friends if that turns out to be the case. Sun-woo growls that the moment he’s sure Ji-dwi is the king, he’ll kill him.
Ji-dwi calmly says that he’ll just continue not being the king then, since he prefers being Sun-woo’s friend. He says it’s true even if Sun-woo thinks of him as an enemy, but Sun-woo counters that Ji-dwi doesn’t know what a friend is, since he’s never had one. He tells Ji-dwi that the only reason he’s leaving him alone is because of Ah Ro.
As soon as Sun-woo lets go of Ji-dwi, Pa Oh runs over to deliver a letter from the queen regent. It consists of one word: “Stay.”
Nearly the entire Hwarang are certain that Sun-woo is the hidden king by now, and they all stare at him as they file into the lecture room. Ban-ryu remembers Minister Park ordering him to find out if Sun-woo truly is the king, while Su-ho recalls the queen regent’s request of him to take care of Sun-woo.
Hwa-gong takes the podium to announce that what he’s about to tell them isn’t an assignment or an order, but more of a request.
Joo-ki finds Ah Ro watching the lecture hall, and she asks him if all men change their hearts so easily. He asks who she means, but she tells him to forget it. The princess’s bodyguard arrives and tells Ah Ro that the princess is looking for her.
Hwa-gong explains that he’ll be asking for volunteers for the delegation the following day, and Ji-dwi realizes that his mother’s note was an instruction not to volunteer. Yeo-wool jokes that nobody would want to go, but Sun-woo’s expression remains stony.
Princess Sookmyung tells Ah Ro that she’s going to Baekje with her as her personal physician, by order of the queen regent. Ah Ro worries over what to tell her father, though she pouts that Sun-woo probably won’t even care.
Ji-dwi is skeptical that sending the princess to Baekje will accomplish anything towards making peace. He grows angry, wondering how long Silla will be pushed around by larger kingdoms.
Hwa-gong is thoughtful that night, and tells Joo-ki that he planned to shake things up, but not this fast. He thinks it’s too soon for the Hwarang to go out into the world.
The next day, not one Hwarang volunteers to escort the princess to Baekje. Princess Sookmyung enters the room with Ah Ro right behind her to address the men. She’s honest about the fact that anyone who goes may not come back alive, but promises a rich reward for those who do.
She mentions that she’s bringing a small retinue, including her doctor, and both Sun-woo and Ji-dwi go on alert. Sookmyung asks again for volunteers, and though Ah Ro shakes her head at Sun-woo, his hand is the first to go up.
Remembering his promise to the queen regent, Su-ho volunteers next, then Ban-ryu. Lastly, Ji-dwi throws up his hand, and when Hwa-gong tries to pretend he didn’t see it, Ji-dwi verbally announces that he will go, much to Hwa-gong’s chagrin.
That evening over dinner, Ji-gong is suspicious when Ah Ro insists he eat everything himself, but she promises him that everything is fine. She praises him for being a doctor who helps everyone, not just the high class, and that night she cries as she writes him a letter explaining that she’s leaving.
Soo-yeon cries to Ah Ro over the wall, worried about Ban-ryu going to Baekje. Ah Ro asks if she’s not worried about her, too, but Soo-yeon just decides she should give Ban-ryu a memento. Ah Ro calls her idea to give him a lock of her hair too burdensome, but Soo-yeon argues that that’s the entire point.
Han-sung whines at Sun-woo that he wants to go with him, and Sun-woo says that he should have volunteered, then. Han-sung begs Sun-woo to ask Hwa-gong to let him come, and even bats his eyelashes at him, hee. His brother Dan-se overhears and physically drags Han-sung away, while Han-sung wails that he wants to go with Sun-woo. So adorable.
Ji-dwi has to deal with Pa Oh, who’s too weak with worry to even stand. He bursts into tears, reminding Ji-dwi that he’s the king and has to take care of himself, unable to hold his sobs in.
Ban-ryu finds Soo-yeon waiting for him outside the Hwarang gates, and she hands him a pouch containing a braid of her hair. She asks if it’s too burdensome, but he quickly says it’s not, looking adorably nervous. Soo-yeon gives Ban-ryu a quick kiss on the cheek and says that she’ll be waiting for him.
She turns to go, but Ban-ryu lunges after her and whirls her back to face him. He gives her a real kiss, which she enthusiastically returns.
Ban-ryu is grinning ear to ear as he goes back into the Hwarang grounds, but then his Nando, Kang Sung, gets in his face. He warns Ban-ryu not to disappoint Minister Park this time (referring to Park’s edict that Ban-ryu find out everything he can about Sun-woo).
Pa Oh tries one last time to convince Ji-dwi not to leave, but it’s no use. Dan-se tells Sun-woo that if he comes back from Baekje alive, he’ll consider truly calling him his master. Sun-woo tells him not to, because they’re equals.
The queen regent comes to see Princess Sookmyung and the Hwarang off, and Hwa-gong gives a speech about pride and loyalty. The queen regent entreats them to secure peace with Baekje before returning, and then it’s time for them to leave.
As they go, they all think about what they’re leaving behind. Su-ho’s father had been proud of him, though when asked what the queen regent said to him, Su-ho only asked if protecting the king is the same as protecting the queen regent. Minister Park had given Ban-ryu something to give to the king when he gets a chance, saying that he’s making a bet, with Silla as the wager.
Ji-dwi thinks about how his mother had warned him to lay low and do nothing, or the people around him could get hurt. And Sun-woo’s biggest priority, of course, is keeping his promise to Ji-gong to protect Ah Ro.
Ji-gong finds Ah Ro’s letter explaining that she’s going to Baekje with the princess, on the queen regent’s orders. She says that Sun-woo is also going, and asks her father not to worry about her too much. It’s too much to ask, and he screams, “How much longer?!” He meets with Hwi-kyung, and says that he needs to know how to bring Queen Regent Jiso down.
When the princess and her retinue stop for a rest, Sun-woo finds her sitting alone and approaches her. He asks why she brought Ah Ro, and she implies that she brought Ah Ro because she knew Sun-woo would come if she did. Sun-woo says that she should have just asked and not involved Ah Ro, but Sookmyung counters that she needed a doctor, too.
Suddenly Sun-woo lunges a fist at Sookmyung’s face, and she cringes in fear. Sun-woo says softly that he should have just left the princess alone, and releases the bee he caught with his bare hand.
Sookmyung grows angry and starts to stand, then she suddenly freezes. She clutches her chest and struggles for air, unable to speak, then topples over sideways. Sun-woo catches her before she hits her head, and she gasps at him not to move for a minute. Ah Ro happens by and sees this scene, which looks awfully intimate from a distance.
Ban-ryu sits by a river, smiling as he remembers kissing Soo-yeon. Su-ho splashes water in his face and Ban-ryu jumps up, dropping Soo-yeon’s braid. Su-ho hands it back and asks what it is, but Ban-ryu just thanks him, and Su-ho laughs at his first-ever thanks from Ban-ryu.
That evening, Sun-woo escorts the princess to her room and tells her to rest, as they’ll be entering Baekje tomorrow. She thanks him for taking care of her earlier, and he softens enough to say that he understands her embarrassment at being seen to collapse.
Ah Ro does her best to hold back tears at seeing Sun-woo holding the princess. She looks up to see him standing right beside her, and she asks if he really came on this expedition because of the princess, and not her. She admits that looking at him breaks her heart, and that she misses him even when he’s right next to her.
She asks if he feels nothing when he looks at her, and Sun-woo just says that it’s all his fault. He looks at the spot where he cut her arm and admits that he was so angry at himself that he couldn’t look her in the eye.
Ah Ro asks if that means he really did miss her. Sun-woo says that he hates himself, but the part of his heart that missed her was strong enough to overcome the hate. He grabs her in a tight hug, and they stay that way for a long time, happy to be together again.
But suddenly, the courtyard fills with villagers carrying torches and makeshift weapons, looking ready for a fight. Sun-woo tries to lead Ah Ro to safety, but they’re quickly surrounded.
I’ll just get this off my chest first thing — I’m really getting annoyed with Sun-woo. It’s not Park Seo-joon’s performance at all, because he’s just working with what he’s been given, but Sun-woo is just so closed-mouthed about everything that it’s difficult to connect to him emotionally. At first it made sense character-wise for him to keep his feelings shut away, as hurt as he was by Mak Mun’s death, but we’re two-thirds of the way through the show, and I was hoping we’d be getting something from him by now. But all I really know of him as a character is that he grew up a low-born, and he’s angry his friend was killed, which we knew eleven episodes ago. I don’t even really understand why he cares about Ah Ro so much, because he never says anything other than that he wants to protect her. I hope that he gets a reason to open up soon, to anyone, so that we can root for him and his desire to see justice for his friend. Because as it stands right now, I want to feel for him, but it’s a struggle because even after thirteen episodes, I just don’t know who he is.
That being said, I was really touched by what Ji-dwi said when confronted by Sun-woo, that he would rather be Sun-woo’s friend than be the king. As much as he wants to be a strong ruler for his people, I think that Ji-dwi understands that individuals are as important as “the people” as a whole. I also think that he knows that Sun-woo needs a friend as badly as he does, even if he’s not able to admit it. Sun-woo is stuck in a bad place, put there by the loss of his only friend, and he needs to know that there’s more to life than revenge. He also needs to understand that making new friends isn’t an insult to Mak Mun’s memory — it’s okay to move forward and live his own life. These two aren’t saying these things out loud, but I think it’s clear from the way they interact with each other (in both positive and negative ways) that they need each other.
I’m a bit disappointed that Sun-woo hasn’t yet learned that Ji-dwi is the king, what with last week’s cliffhanger, though I don’t really think that he’s emotionally ready for the truth yet. I do think that Sun-woo still believes Ji-dwi is the king, but without proof or a confession, he can’t exactly act on his instinct. It’s more that I just wish even one secret would come to light, because it feels as though we’ve been circling around everyone’s secrets for several weeks now, and I think it’s time for something or someone to shake up the status quo. Whether it be Ji-dwi’s true identity, Sun-woo’s mysteriously missing past, or Ban-ryu and Soo-yeon’s clandestine love affair, it’s past time for something to be discovered to give our Hwarang boys something to think about.
I do have hope that this trip to Baekje will be the shaking-up that our boys need to start making decisions on their own. Ban-ryu in particular is at a crossroads, as he has to choose between doing what his adoptive father wants and get in on his plan to usurp the king’s throne, or to follow his own moral compass and do what he believes is right. I don’t for a second think that Ban-ryu wants to be installed as a puppet king, but I think he’s been living in such fear (which is why he’s always so rigid) that he does the bare minimum to stay on Minister Park’s good side. Hopefully this trip to Baekje will get him away from that influence and allow him to start thinking and acting for himself. I hope the same thing for Ji-dwi — he’s realizing that it’s about time for him to step up and act like a king, and this peace-seeking trip to Baekje may be just the catalyst he needs to reveal himself and show the neighboring kingdom that his kingdom is nothing to be trifled with.