Romance takes a back-burner as political tension grows between Silla and Baekje, and the Hwarang find themselves risking an international incident. Unrest is growing, and it seems as though something’s gotta give, and soon. But is Ji-dwi ready to step forward and take his rightful place, or does he still have a lot to learn before he’s ready to take on the responsibilities that come with being king?
EPISODE 14 RECAP
Sun-woo and Ah Ro hug after reaffirming their feelings, but they’re interrupted by a mob of angry-looking villagers carrying torches. Sun-woo sends Ah Ro inside to warn the princess as Su-ho and Ban-ryu rush out to back him up.
They figure out that the people are here for the gifts they were taking to the Baekje crown prince, but when they move to protect the wagon containing the gifts, the people shift and surround them. Su-ho draws his sword to attack, but suddenly Ji-dwi leaps in front of him and knocks his sword away.
He points out that the people don’t even have weapons, and the other boys look closer and see that he’s correct. The villagers back away and disperse, and Su-ho punches Ji-dwi hard in the face. He warns that the queen regent or the king had better not suffer for this. Ji-dwi asks if Su-ho is standing up for the incompetent, fearful king, and Sun-woo has to hold Su-ho back from hitting Ji-dwi again.
The villagers have taken every last peace offering, but Sun-woo says that they’re not professional thieves, just border farmers who have grown desperate due to being raided by Baekje. Princess Sookmyung is furious, and though Su-ho offers to hunt the gifts down, Sun-woo says they’ve probably all been sold off by now. Su-ho blames Ji-dwi, and storms off.
Once they’re alone, Sun-woo asks Ji-dwi why he stopped them to save peasants that have nothing to do with him. Ji-dwi reminds him that Sun-woo said it himself — they were only farmers, and as far as he’s concerned, there isn’t a subject in Silla who should die without good reason.
Princess Sookmyung calls her people together and says that they won’t be returning to the capital. Su-ho disagrees, since they not only lost the peace gifts, but their food as well. But the princess points out that it’s the king’s birthday in three days, and Baekje’s Crown Prince Chang may use that day as an excuse to attack Silla.
Ji-gong arrives at the palace in response to Queen Regent Jiso’s summons, but this time, he informs her that he can no longer be her doctor. He says that he’s leaving to treat a plague that’s sweeping the low-born village, and the queen regent is insulted that he’s choosing to treat low-borns over her.
Ji-gong tells her to just let the palace doctor treat her, even when she says she doesn’t trust anyone but him. When she threatens to make it an order, Ji-gong asks if she’ll kill him if he refuses. He makes it clear that he never wants to see her again, and he ignores her tears as well as her plea that he’s all she has.
He says that he’s not leaving her, because he never came back to her in the first place. He adds that once, he worried that his world would come crashing down at one word from her, but now he looks at her and just feels cold.
The princess and her people continue on their way, and they stop by a river to camp for the night. Sun-woo sends Ban-ryu and Su-ho to collect firewood, then asks one of the soldiers to find them some food. Ban-ryu objects to Sun-woo taking charge, but Su-ho tells him to shush.
Meanwhile, Ah Ro has her own idea, so she sneaks off and finds some locals. She tells them one of her racy stories (HAHA, she’s riffing Descended From the Sun‘s “apologize or confess” speech), and she even jokes that her story’s beautiful heroine looks exactly like her.
At first, Ban-ryu watches while Su-ho picks up all the firewood, but when Su-ho starts to struggle, he affably jumps in to help. As they cross the river, Ban-ryu loses his footing and falls in, and Su-ho gets a big kick out of seeing him soaking wet. He pushes Ban-ryu back in when he tries to climb out, and soon it’s an all-out war as they play in the river like children.
Later, Su-ho watches Ban-ryu lovingly check on his pouch from Soo-yeon that contains a braid of her hair. He says casually that the pouch looks familiar, then asks Ban-ryu, “By any chance, does Soo-yeon like you?”
Ban-ryu doesn’t answer, and Su-ho tells Ban-ryu not to accept her feelings. He thinks that he and Ban-ryu are finally becoming friends, and Ban-ryu getting involved with Soo-yeon would be awkward.
The soldier reports back to Sun-soo that he couldn’t find anything to eat, but just when they resign themselves to going hungry, Ah Ro turns up with a huge basket bursting with food. Ha, apparently the locals paid her for her stories with dinner.
She takes some to Princess Sookmyung, who admits that she tried to kill Ah Ro. She asks why Ah Ro is being caring, and Ah Ro replies that no matter how much she hates Sookmyung, she still has to take care of her as her doctor.
Ah Ro spends the evening at one of the fires with a few of the locals and Sookmyung’s female bodyguard. The bodyguard is impressed when Ah Ro fixes one man’s stiff neck with acupuncture, and from the next fire over, Ji-dwi tells Sun-woo that his “sister” could survive anywhere.
He wonders to himself if that’s why he likes her, and Sun-woo shoots him a dirty look. He tells Ji-dwi that he’s hanging onto his crush for too long, but Ji-dwi just says that he’s jealous that Ah Ro is Sun-woo’s sister, and that he feels bad for liking her because she’s his sister.
Sun-woo asks why he likes Ah Ro, and Ji-dwi sighs that she’s his only person in the world, and he needs her. Sun-woo asks if that’s why Ji-dwi came on this trip, and Ji-dwi replies, “I told you I was desperate.”
Sun-woo accepts that answer, but tells Ji-dwi that Ah Ro is everything to him. He says it’s not because he needs her, but that he’s literally alive because of her.
Ah Ro asks the princess why she brought her to Baekje, guessing that it’s because Sookmyung wanted Sun-woo to volunteer. Sookmyung says it’s none of her business, so Ah Ro asks what the princess remembers of her brother, and tells her that if she thinks Sun-woo is her brother, she’s mistaken.
Sookmyung says that’s not important, though she does admit to bringing Ah Ro along as bait to lure Sun-woo. But all she will say is that she wants to keep him close.
Ji-dwi asks Sun-woo, a little enviously, if he was born with the talent to lead people. He wonders if he has the same talent, then asks Sun-woo what he would do to change Silla if he were king, when simple farmers are becoming robbers just to eat. Sun-woo asks why Ji-dwi worries about such things if he’s not the king as he claims.
Back at the Hwarang grounds, Joo-ki finds Hwa-gong fishing in the pond, and they note that the place feels strangely empty. Joo-ki offers Hwa-gong his favorite scorched rice treat, but Hwa-gong tosses it in the pond and goes for a drink instead.
Yeo-wool and Han-sung also feel unsettled, and Han-sung whines pitifully over Sun-woo being gone. Yeo-wool asks if he likes Sun-woo that much and gets an enthusiastic yes, and when he asks what Han-sung thinks of him, Han-sung wipes a booger on his leg. Ewww.
Dan-se finds Pa Oh sniffling by the riverside, and says that Pa Oh can think of him as a hyung and tell him what’s wrong. HA. He gives Pa Oh an awkward little bro-hug, and Kang Sung approaches to snark that they must be crying over their Hwarang members in advance.
Kang Sung implies that the Hwarang in the delegation crew won’t be coming back, and Pa Oh lifts him off his feet by the collar. He orders Kang Sung to tell him what he means by that, and Kang Sung snarls that Minister Park won’t let the delegation come home alive. Pa Oh pitches him into the river.
Dan-se and Han-sung’s grandfather pays a visit to the Hwarang, where he’s told that Han-sung has trouble keeping up with the others. Grandfather blames Dan-se for not behaving as Han-sung’s servant and for not helping him more. He whips Dan-se several times, and Han-sung can only watch helplessly as Dan-se is ordered to train him better. Han-sung cries as he supports his hyung afterward, and Dan-se, bless his heart, only says that Grandfather’s whipping arm has gotten weaker with age so as not to make Han-sung feel bad.
The crooked gambler Doo-woo delivers a cart to Minister Park, full of gifts for the Baekje crown prince. Minister Park instructs Doo-woo to make sure the gifts get to the crown prince before the king’s birthday. Ho Gong worries about Ban-ryu, but Minister Park thinks he’ll be successful in the task they gave him.
We’re taken to Crown Prince Chang’s palace, where he blandly asks about the most recent Silla citizen arrested for crossing the border. The jails are so full of these “criminals” that a temporary jail has been built just for them, and the crown prince wonders if it’s time to declare war. His adviser says that the Silla peace delegation will arrive soon, but Crown Prince Chang doesn’t seem open to discussing peace.
The delegation finally arrives at the palace, just as Crown Prince Chang is eating a meal. He completely ignores them as they stand there waiting, and Su-ho nearly loses his temper. Ji-dwi holds him back, and the princess diplomatically says that they’ll wait until the crown prince finishes eating.
He takes his sweet time, and only beckons the princess closer once he’s completely finished. He asks what gift she brought to convince him to make peace, and Sookmyung asks for a private meeting.
Once they’re alone, Sookmyung gives Crown Prince Chang a small golden statue of Buddha, presumably all she was able to retain after the robbery. He’s not impressed with the tiny gift, so the princess says it’s a symbol, not a tribute. She brings up the strained relationship between Silla and Baekje, and reminds the crown prince that if they break their alliance, it puts them both in danger of being conquered by Goguryeo.
The crown prince leans over Princess Sookmyung and asks how old she is. He lecherously asks if she knows that countries usually solidify alliances through marriage, and the princess looks a bit ill, though the crown prince does say that he has enough wives already.
As the Hwarang wait impatiently, Ah Ro kills time outside the palace by patching up a little urchin boy’s skinned knee. She asks if he comes from Silla and he nods, before pulling a hairpin from his shirt and sticking it in her hair. Ah Ro gives it back, wondering where he got such a fancy item. The boy puts it in her hair again, so she says she’ll wear it for a minute then return it.
Suddenly a guard grabs the boy, accusing him of selling stolen items. The guard spots the hairpin Ah Ro is still wearing and assumes she’s in league with the boy, so the both of them are arrested and tossed in the temporary jail for Silla prisoners.
The crown prince laughs at Princess Sookmyung, wondering if she’s that naïve, or a fool. He wonders why Silla would send its princess (implying that they’d send her for marriage), and she says that she can bring more gifts later if he’ll promise not to declare war.
He already knows that she was robbed of the first gifts, and tells her that they captured the thieves who were selling those items on Baekje land. He informs Sookmyung that he has the gifts already, and says that on the king’s birthday, he intends to give Silla a gift in return — the gift of the expansion of Baekje territory.
Inside the palace grounds, Sun-woo thinks he hears Ah Ro crying out for help. Princess Sookmyung’s bodyguard runs in to tell them what’s happening, and Sun-woo, Ji-dwi, and Su-ho rush out to Ah Ro’s rescue while Ban-ryu stays behind. He was instructed by Minister Park to give the crown prince a letter, and he’s looking very conflicted.
The three Hwarang rush to the temporary jail and begin fighting with the guards, using their sword scabbards as weapons. They put up a good fight, but they’re outnumbered and soon surrounded. Ji-dwi stops Su-ho from drawing his sword, since it would be interpreted as a declaration of war.
Ban-ryu suddenly comes blazing in and joins them, and the four Hwarang present a united front when the guards attack again. But it’s the guards who draw their swords first, and soon all four find themselves with blades at their throats.
The crown prince’s adviser reports the situation to the prince, and when he asks what they should do, the crown prince gets a nasty gleam in his eye. The boys are taken to the jail, and as they’re being led away, Ban-ryu spots gambler Doo-woo smirking at them from a short distance away.
Looking around the jail, Ah Ro realizes that most of the people she’s locked up with are sick, so she pulls a small bottle of medicine from her skirts. She offers to treat whoever she can, but they are in such a state of despair that they ignore her.
Gambler Doo-woo presents Minister Park’s gift for the crown prince to his adviser, a chest full of gold ingots, and requests an audience with the crown prince in return.
Hwi-kyung limps right into Queen Regent Jiso’s chambers without permission, and greets the shocked queen regent with a cheerful smile. He asks if she’s not going to ask her brother to have a seat, and she does, reluctantly.
Hwi-kyung’s expression goes sharp as he notes that his sister looks awfully comfortable for someone who chased her son from his throne and sent her daughter into a deadly situation. His eyes turn positively deadly as he growls that it’s no surprise, since she also framed her only companion and violently got rid of him.
The queen regent asks what Hwi-kyung wants, and he tells her that he heard she hid the king in Hwarang. He repeats the rumor that Sun-woo is the hidden king, and he tells her that if Sun-woo returns from Baekje safely, that he’ll help her abdicate. The queen regent claims that she has no idea what he’s talking about.
When presented with Minister Park’s gold ingots, Crown Prince Chang asks what Doo-woo wants. Doo-woo says that he’ll be contacted separately with Minister Park’s request, then nearly loses his head for daring to look up at the crown prince. Doo-woo and his minion scuttle out, and the crown prince pulls the letter from his pocket that Ban-ryu has already managed to deliver.
Now Crown Prince Chang reads the letter, which informs him that one of the Hwarang is the faceless king of Silla. It gives him permission to do whatever he wants to that king, and the crown prince wonders if this means Minister Park wants the king killed. He decides that this is a better plan than going against the princess.
Princess Sookmyung visits the Hwarang in their jail cell, angry that they got themselves locked up for a half-blood doctor just when she needs them the most. Sun-woo asks if she thinks that fighting for their people is unfair and says that if she also fought for justice, they wouldn’t have to be in situations like this ever again.
He reminds her that she came here for Silla, and tells her not to be scared or blame others, and to speak up. Ji-dwi stays silent while Sun-woo speaks, but he carefully absorbs every word.
Sookmyung takes Sun-woo’s words to heart, and goes back to the crown prince to yell at him for killing Silla people just for farming near the borders. He calmly retorts that they were stealing his land, and she admits that was wrong, but she argues that this isn’t a reason for war, but diplomacy.
Crown Prince Chang brings up the idea of a political marriage again, but Princess Sookmyung says that she’s already betrothed. The crown prince asks if she’s marrying the faceless king, and reveals that he heard he’s one of her Hwarang. He muses that killing all four of them would free her up for marriage to him.
The princess turns as if to leave, but she suddenly grabs the adviser’s sword, whirls, and stabs it into the dais between the crown prince’s feet. She makes it crystal clear that there will be no marriage, nor will he be killing Silla’s king.
The crown prince has the Hwarang brought in front of him in the courtyard and announces his intent to discover which of them is the hidden king. Ah Ro and the Silla prisoners are bound and brought to the courtyard, and the crown prince orders the king to reveal himself or he’ll start killing peasants.
Hwi-kyung surprises Hwa-gong by unexpectedly sitting with him for a drink, and gets right to the point by asking if the king really is in Hwarang. Hwa-gong says that he wouldn’t know, and Hwi-kyung tells him how his father abandoned him to die when he became crippled.
But he didn’t die, and now he lives in hiding in the capital. He asks Hwa-gong if he thinks Jinheung is the answer to their current problem, or if a different king would be a better solution. He suggests choosing a king based on suitability rather than bloodlines, wondering if there could be a prince like that, that they don’t know about.
Hwa-gong says that the faceless king could very well be that king. He points out that he’s only against the regency because of the distrust between the queen regent and her son, but says that something could happen to force the issue. But his loyalty to the royal family itself is unquestioned, so he and Hwi-kyung are not on the same page there.
Back in Baekje, the crown prince orders several peasants brought before the Hwarang, and says that they will be beheaded if the king doesn’t step forward. Su-ho looks nervously at Sun-woo, who stands in stony silence, while Ji-dwi looks scared and conflicted.
The first group of peasants are killed, and their blood splatters on the four Hwarang as Ji-dwi trembles with indecision. Ah Ro is brought forward with the next group of peasants to be killed, and still, Ji-dwi does nothing. Sun-woo starts to look frantic, and Ji-dwi closes his eyes.
But then he opens them and we see resolve on his face as he starts to step forward. But before he can say anything, Sun-woo declares loudly that he is the king. He walks forward, looks the crown prince directly in the eyes, and roars, “I am the king of Silla!”
I’ll say more about my feelings on Sun-woo’s claiming to be the king later, but aside from that, I was glad to see him stepping up as a leader more in this episode. As I’d previously noted, he hasn’t really done much since joining the Hwarang, so watching him begin to lead the others was a nice change. He’s always been a natural leader who just chose not to lead, but now they’re in a strange land without the protection of their familial and political standing, and they need someone to take charge. Ji-dwi is growing a lot, but he’s still very insecure about his status as king and he’s not ready to be a leader, not yet (particularly when we see how long he hesitated in stepping forward as the Silla king). But Sun-woo is way past ready to lead, so it makes sense that everyone would look to him during this diplomatic expedition.
I was also very proud of Su-ho in this episode. He hasn’t had much character growth, though he’s still incredibly fun to watch, and I love how he sees everything as a source of entertainment. But I also think it’s great that he’s grown willing to be open with Ban-ryu and wants to be friends with him. I expected him to guess that Soo-yeon likes Ban-ryu after her crying fit the last time they had a day off, but I honestly thought he’d fly off the handle at Ban-ryu about it. Su-ho has many reasons to oppose his sister and Ban-ryu, both because of their longtime personal rivalry and their families’ opposing political views. But for his objection to the idea of Soo-yeon and Ban-ryu to be that he doesn’t want it to get in the way of their growing friendship? Well, my heart just melted when he said that.
But Ban-ryu, I’m just disappointed in him. He’s come such a long way in terms of showing that he can be a good person and that he doesn’t approve of what his adoptive father’s plans for him, yet he still delivered that letter to the crown prince. I suppose I can excuse him this time, since I wouldn’t want to be caught between two such powerful, deadly men, and would probably also do as I was told. But at some point he’s going to need to stand up and refuse to obey Minister Park’s evil edicts, or risk being consumed completely by Park’s ambition. If he’s smart, Ban-ryu will discover who the real king is and pledge his loyalty, to save himself from losing his head when Minister Park’s plans are discovered.
As for his claim to be the king, again I find myself wondering about Sun-woo’s motives. Obviously he did it in the hopes of saving Ah Ro, but I wonder if there was any element of wanting to save Ji-dwi as well. I think that Sun-woo fully believes that Ji-dwi is the king at this point — he just hasn’t acted on that belief because he wants certain proof before setting about his revenge. But it’s also true that he likes Ji-dwi on a personal level despite himself, and I can’t help but hope that he stepped forward at least in part because he wanted to protect his friend. And the truth is that Ji-dwi let those people die (I loved the image of their blood literally on his hands), so Sun-woo had no assurance that he would reveal himself before Ah Ro was killed as well. Either way, my wish is that Sun-woo’s leadership abilities will help him get his friends and the princess out of this mess, and that his lie will turn out to be the push that Ji-dwi needs to finally take that final step forward to becoming the king he wants to be.