There’s only so long you can hold a grudge against someone before things blow up, and Sun-woo and Ji-dwi are quickly approaching that moment. Both are angry and resentful of the other and unwilling to back down. But a situation arises that will force them to work together or declare themselves enemies forever, and their decision will determine the shape of their future, as well as their country’s future.
EPISODE 17 RECAP
Ban-ryu helps Minister Park’s assassins find Sun-woo in the Hwarang grounds, but luckily Su-ho, Yeo-wool, and Dan-se are there to help Sun-woo fend them off. They refuse when he tries to make them retreat to safety, and its a good thing, because Sun-woo suffers one of his attacks and slumps to the ground.
Meanwhile, Ji-dwi breaks into Minister Park’s bedroom and steals his dragon-head bracelet back. He wakes Minister Park with a wicked dagger aimed at his face, and informs him that he is the rightful owner of the bracelet — the king.
Minister Park tries to get away, but Ji-dwi slams the dagger into his bed, shallowly slicing Minister Park’s neck just enough to make his threat clear. Ji-dwi warns Minister Park that the next time he’s here, it will be to kill him.
Queen Regent Jiso enters the throne room to see a black cloud envelop and dissolve the throne. She screams then wakes from her nightmare, and finds a flower by her bedside. It’s Ji-dwi’s signal to meet him in the throne room, and when she arrives, he’s seated on the throne dressed in kingly scarlet.
In a strong voice, Ji-dwi tells his mother that it’s time for him to become the true king of Silla. She sneers that he doesn’t even know what that means, and reminds him that it’s only through her perseverance that the throne still belongs to their family. Ji-dwi says that he knows, but it’s not her name that will remain, “Because I, Jinheung, am the king of Silla.”
The queen regent persists, arguing that he’s king because of her. But Ji-dwi says that she was only using him as an excuse to feed her own greed. He invites her to resent him if she wishes, but in the end, all she’ll have left is her resentment. He concludes that this is his country, his Silla.
Later, in her room, the queen regent has another nightmare… this time Ji-dwi is strangling her. She sits up gasping and calls her lady guard, Mo-young, and asks for Ji-gong. Mo-young informs her that Ji-gong is in the low-born village treating the plague victims.
In the morning, Yeo-wool and Su-ho are still watching over Sun-woo, who hasn’t woken yet. Yeo-wool tells Su-ho about Sun-woo’s tendency to pass out, which seems to be news to Su-ho (though he’s seen it before when Sun-woo fainted on the archery field).
Things are looking very bleak at the low-born village, where most of the population is ill and Ji-gong and Woo-reuk are beginning to lose hope. There’s no news from the palace regarding medicine, and it’s starting to look like the entire village could die.
One very sick woman comes to Ji-gong, begging him to save her son even while dark blood gushes from her own mouth. He prepares a poisonous herb and feeds it to her, desperate for the small chance that she could survive and it could help. But the woman dies, and Ji-gong looks as if he’s going a little bit mad.
In the city, Ah Ro tries her best to find medicinal herbs to help, but all of the merchants have been cleaned out. A cart goes by and she sees small dried star-shaped herbs falling from one of the bags it’s carrying. She recognizes it as star anise, the very herb needed to combat the plague.
The cart makes its way to Minister Park’s home, where he’s stockpiling medicine to sell at a huge profit once the plague makes it into the city. He complains that it’s taking too long for the city folk to become ill, and frowns when Ho Gong attributes the slow spread of the plague to Ji-gong’s efforts in the village.
Hwi-kyung angrily confronts the queen regent about her plans to revive the Wonhwa, who were warriors and spiritual leaders. He reminds her what happened to its leaders Nam-mo and Joon-jung, and she says that they fought, and Joon-jung killed Nam-mo, then Nam-mo’s followers killed Joon-jung. Hwi-kyung says that she seems to be remembering things incorrectly.
Hwi-kyung orders Queen Regent Jiso to step down and relinquish her family’s claim to the throne, and to leave the Hwarang untouched. The queen regent screams that he’s in no position to tell her what to do with her crown and her Hwarang, but he says that if she had left well enough alone, so would he. She’s not sure what he means by that, but Hwi-kyung bellows that everything that will happen is her fault.
Ah Ro goes to the Hwarang grounds and finds Hwa-gong, who is looking distinctly uncomfortable as he gingerly makes his way to the lavatory. Just like last time, she’s too preoccupied to notice his distress, and she rattles on about needing to talk to him while he tries not to have an accident. He sends her in to wait for him, but she hears the loud rude noise he makes as he fails to hold it in. Again, ewww.
When he makes it back to his office, Ah Ro tells him about the star anise she found. She says that Minister Park is hoarding it, and begs Hwa-gong to do something. Joo-ki asks if Ah Ro has seen Sun-woo, and she rushes to the infirmary when she hears he passed out again.
Sun-woo is gently woken by a soft hand on his face, and he grabs the wrist and pulls the person closer for a kiss. But he opens his eyes and, instead of Ah Ro, he sees Princess Sookmyung. Neither of them realizes that Ah Ro just saw the cozy scene from the doorway, and ran off again.
Sun-woo sits up, and the princess asks who he thought she was. He refuses to say, and the princess haughtily informs him that she’s betrothed and in no way sees a half-breed as a future husband.
She does want to know why she feels this way about him, but Sun-woo just apologies for confusing her. When he stands to go, she says that she still wants to know, and orders him not to run away until her curiosity is satisfied. Well, how very romantic.
Ah Ro paces outside and awkwardly approaches Sun-woo when he comes out. Remembering how the queen regent plans to use her as an incentive to make him pretend to be the king, he avoids her concern and quickly walks away. Ah Ro’s lip wobbles to see him shutting her out again.
The princess is still in the infirmary, and she tells Ah Ro that she was right that her brother was in the Hwarang. She names Ji-dwi, and when Ah Ro is concerned that someone else may know, Sookmyung calls her greedy for the fact that her “brother” is posing as king, and that she wants to protect Ji-dwi as well.
Growing a bit angry, Sookmyung asks if Sun-woo is really Ah Ro’s brother, since she certainly doesn’t treat him that way. She accuses Ah Ro of stringing along both men, but Ah Ro calls Sookmyung the greedy one for wanting someone who isn’t interested.
Sookmyung says that she sees why the queen regent chose her, and Ah Ro asks what she was chosen for. But the princess just walks out, leaving Ah Ro worried.
At mealtime, Ban-ryu sits with his former cronies instead of his roommates, which annoys Su-ho. He asks Ban-ryu where he was last night when they were all fighting assassins, wondering sarcastically if Ban-ryu’s absence was a coincidence.
Ban-ryu tells Su-ho that he doesn’t care what he thinks, nastily calling him the queen’s dog. Hurt and angry, Su-ho asks if Ban-ryu plans to be the bad guy again, warning that he’d better not have been involved with what happened last night, but Ban-ryu just tells him to stop acting like they’re friends.
Sun-woo walks into the middle of this scene, and everyone grows even more tense. He sits with his roommates who also act strange, and Han-sung chirps that everyone thinks Sun-woo is the hidden king. Yeo-wool shushes him, and Su-ho struggles again with whether to speak formally.
Yeo-wool asks if it’s true, but Sun-woo just gets up and leaves, having lost his appetite. Everyone glares daggers at Yeo-wool, ha.
Ji-dwi goes to speak with Hwa-gong and ask what else he should do if he wants to be king, and Hwa-gong says that he needs to gain followers. He says that Ji-dwi needs someone strong, someone like Minister Park, to gain all that power to his advantage.
Ji-dwi asks if he should kill Minister Park if he can’t make him his person, and Hwa-gong’s silence speaks volumes. Ji-dwi then asks if he has Hwa-gong on his side, and Hwa-gong says he is because Ji-dwi has justification — in other words, the ability to at least make the least bad decision.
Lost in thought, Ji-dwi nearly walks into Sun-woo, who grabs him when he tries to pass. He asks how long Ji-dwi plans to avoid him, and Ji-dwi asks with a sneer how it feels to pretend to be king.
Sun-woo punches Ji-dwi, and says that he should already know how it feels. That gets Sun-woo punched in return, and Ji-dwi asserts that he never pretended to be king. Sun-woo snaps that he’s never been the real king either, and Ji-dwi yells that he’s fighting as hard as he can.
Laughing in Ji-dwi’s face, Sun-woo scoffs that he calls this fighting, when he’s just hiding and avoiding his responsibility. Ji-dwi says that it’s a fight to improve Silla, to make it so that the people no longer die because of Silla’s rules.
The queen regent has a worrying cough at the next council meeting, where she struggles to pay attention as the council discusses the plague threat. Her vision swims and she hallucinates them demanding that she step down. But then everything clears up and she gets herself together enough to refuse their real request, to ask neighboring Gugoryeo for aid.
Hwa-gong calls for both Ji-dwi and Sun-woo, then brings in Ah Ro, surprising all three of them. He has Ah Ro tell them about the plague decimating the low-born village, and about finding the medicine that Minister Park is hoarding. She explains how he plans to sell the medicine for its weight in gold once the epidemic reaches the city, but by then, the village will be gone.
Hwa-gong asks what they can do about this situation, while Sun-woo struggles to hold his emotions in check, worried about the people living outside the city walls that he’s known all his life. Hwa-gong tells the boys that they need to solve this problem together, because he knows they’ve both been struggling with the question of what makes a king.
He tells them that this is not a test, and that they can walk out of the room and pretend this conversation never happened — it’s up to them. They go out to think, while Ah Ro yells at Hwa-gong for potentially setting the two at each other’s throats. Hwa-gong says that you can’t change the world without shaking things up a little.
The boys sit outside, where Sun-woo says that he doesn’t believe Ji-dwi is capable of solving this problem. He says that Ji-dwi has no idea how those people live or think, or how beautiful and worthy of protection that place is.
Ji-dwi argues that he knows that hoarding medicine and endangering people’s lives is worthy of death. He tells Sun-woo that he’s not the only one who gets angry at injustice, but Sun-woo counters that he can’t trust how strong that determination is. But they both have a solution in mind.
Preoccupied by memories of watching Sun-woo nearly get killed by the assassins, Ban-ryu is surprised when Soo-yeon tosses a rock at him from over the wall. He listens quietly while she says that she’s missed him, and that she understands if he’s had a change of heart.
She thanks him for showing her that not all men are like her brother, and says that she just wanted to see him one last time before letting him go. But her eyes well up with tears, and she says that seeing him just makes her miss him even more.
Her tears finally loosen Ban-ryu’s tongue, and he admits that he wants to hurt her so that she’ll get over him faster. But he says that he can’t think when he looks at her, so he begs her to run from him. He insists that he’s a bad person who will hurt her, but Soo-yeon puts a gentle hand on his and says that she knows that he’s a good man.
Ji-dwi and Sun-woo take their plan to Yeo-wool and Su-ho, asking for their help. Su-ho agrees quickly, just because it’s the right thing to do, and Yeo-wool sighs that he’ll do it even though Minister Park might be his father. Su-ho jokes that Yeo-wool has too many fathers, ha.
Ban-ryu arrives at the door just as they’re discussing whether to ask him to help, and he listens in while Yeo-wool says that it’s too risky, since he’s Minister Park’s adopted son and would tell on them. But Su-ho says that it’s because it might hurt Ban-ryu to ask him to choose, which makes Ban-ryu think.
After dark, Hwa-gong steels himself at Minister Park’s door, then suddenly begins acting very drunk and hollering for the gate to be opened. He puts on a loud show about finally showing up to drink that wine with Minister Park, and sizes up the courtyard shrewdly once he gains entrance.
This is all part of the boys’ plan, to have Hwa-gong distract Minister Park’s guards so they can slip in the back way. He makes a big scene wandering the grounds, and the guards are all occupied with trying to get him out of there.
While this is happening, the queen’s female guard shows up at Ji-gong’s home, and they take Ah Ro away by force, and without explanation.
Hwa-gong is taken to see Minister Park, where he continues the ruse that he’s here to share that old bottle of wine. He does his best to keep Minister Park occupied, while Minister Park looks hilariously annoyed.
A bigger, louder commotion arrives at the front gate in the form of a very drunk Ban-ryu, swinging a lit torch and bellowing. Gambler-turned-hired-thug Doo-woo has the torch taken away and Ban-ryu escorted to the house, where he kneels and begging Minister Park to kill him.
He slurs that he’s in sooo much pain after ruining Minister Park’s grand plans for him, and loudly mentions the assassins Minister Park sent to Hwarang, confirming Hwa-gong’s suspicions. He’s totally doing this on purpose, isn’t he?
Dressed in black and wearing masks, the boys creep in and quickly find themselves in the storage room with all the medicinal herbs. They’re stunned by the sheer volume of gold and medicine, more even than the royal family owns. Ji-dwi assures Sun-woo that this is not how this country is supposed to work.
Inside, Ban-ryu holds his sword to his own throat, then turns it on the guards when Minister Park tells them to remove him. He informs them that he’s the future king of Silla, giving away the rest of Minister Park’s plans to Hwa-gong, who just sits and laughs. HA, Minister Park looks like he just swallowed a toad.
The boys liberate four huge bags full of medicine over the wall, but Doo-woo and a massive guard stop them. Sun-woo sighs like This jerk again and steps forward to fight him, but Ji-dwi stops him, saying that he has a score to settle. He takes down the giant with a couple of well-places kicks, then disarms and knocks out Doo-woo in about three moves. Very nice.
In the morning, a cart piled high with medicine is delivered to Ji-gong at the low-born village. He finds a note which says “Drink and laugh out loud,” and Ji-gong knows it’s from Sun-woo, recognizing the phrase from his many-sided dice.
Sun-woo tosses his dice idly, feeling pretty satisfied with the night’s work. Yeo-wool wonders why Ban-ryu was causing such a scene while they were stealing the herbs, thinking it a pretty big coincidence. Ban-ryu enters the room and Su-ho thanks him, and though Ban-ryu doesn’t answer, a quick smile flashes across his face.
The queen regent thinks back on her conversation with Hwi-kyung, when she’d wondered if she’d have had to give up so much if he’d taken the throne. We see a scene from twenty years ago, in which she’d sobbed while she’s held a sword on a kneeling woman, one of the Wonhwa.
The woman had pleaded for her life, reminding Jiso that they used to be the closest of friends. But the queen regent had insisted that she must die and take the blame for Nam-mo’s death — ah, this must be Joon-jung. Still crying but saying this is for her son’s sake, the queen regent had thrust the sword into Joon-jung’s heart.
Ji-dwi bursts into the lecture room to find Sun-woo, and tells him that Ah Ro was taken to the palace. Sun-woo immediately panics, and demands to know when she was taken.
Ah Ro is already in front of the queen regent, who steps close to her and tells her that her son has decided to take the throne. She asks if it’s Ah Ro’s fault that he’s no longer biddable, angrily asking if Ah Ro confused him somehow, “As your mother did to your father?!”
Ah Ro stammers that nothing like that has happened, but the queen regent says that it doesn’t even matter. She tells Ah Ro of her plan to make her a Wonhwa, and make her meet the fate of a Wonhwa.
First of all, I have to talk about Ban-ryu and his wonderful change of heart. It’s been obvious for some time that he’s just never had a strong father figure or real friends who like him for more than his status, so it’s no wonder he has a hard time trusting anyone. It was lovely to see him come so undone in front of Soo-yeon and finally tell her how he feels, even if it was to admit that he’s scared he’ll hurt her. Then to overhear Su-ho say that he doesn’t want to cause him more pain, even knowing that he probably helped the assassins get into Hwarang, was the final straw. He’ll probably never be all buddy-buddy with the other guys, but he’s beginning to find some self-worth in the fact that there are people who do genuinely care about him. Mostly I just want him to be happy, so seeing him realize that someone thinks he’s worthy of concern and love is a beautiful first step.
I was also excited to see Ji-dwi finally stand up to his mother, and declare his intentions to take his country back. He’s still learning and probably will be for some time, and he’s not quite ready and he knows it, but he’s made his intentions clear — soon, he will be reclaiming his throne, and while his mother can fight him if she likes, he will be taking his rightful place as king.
This show’s biggest weakness, I believe, is its inability to properly convey the characters’ motivations, and while I hoped for a long time it was just withholding information in order to create suspense, I have to stop hoping and just realize that nope, this is all we’re gonna get. So when it comes to things like the queen regent’s behavior, all I can do is extrapolate from her actions why she’s been so reluctant to give her son his throne back when she claims that it’s her only wish in life to protect it for him. She certainly uses him to justify of her most bloodthirsty actions, including killing the Wonhwa leader, for some reason. Nam-do and Joon-jung did exist as Wonhwa leaders, and the way the queen regent related their deaths is how history remembers it, so I’m curious to see how the show will twist those events to fit our story. Jiso certainly seems to be setting up Princess Sookmyung and Ah Ro as the next Nam-mo and Joon-jung, and to use the situation to get rid of Ah Ro.
My confusion with the queen regent has mostly come from the fact that she seems to want to protect Ji-dwi and his throne, yet every time he tries to behave as the king, she belittles and delays him. I do think that, at first, Queen Regent Jiso had her son’s and the country’s best interests at heart, when she sent Ji-dwi away and ruled in his stead while he grew up. But it feels as though she’s enjoyed that power too much, and that she’s done such terrible things that she’s convinced herself that she deserves to rule. So now that the time is approaching for her to hand everything over, she’s reluctant to see that he’s nearly ready.
And frankly, if he’s not ready by now, it’s the queen regent’s fault for not teaching him how to rule a country. The poor guy hasn’t been taught a thing other than maybe swordsmanship and fighting, and while he’s good at that, he should be learning diplomacy and other things a king needs to know. It’s no wonder Ji-dwi is growing angry as he’s having to learn these things on his own, though at least he has Hwa-gong to turn to for solid, no-holds-barred advice. It puts Hwa-gong in the interesting position of having the power to shape the future, as he’s the only person Ji-dwi can trust, so it makes me glad that he’s an honorable person who doesn’t seem to be interested in Hwi-kyung’s plans to take down the monarchy and rebuild it their way.
I did love Hwa-gong’s plan to make Ji-dwi and Sun-woo work together, and solve the problem of the hoarded medicine as a team. He knows that no matter what happens, they need to stop butting heads and learn to at least get along, as the two most potentially powerful Hwarang. Forcing them to come up with a solution together was a brilliant way to have Sun-woo and Ji-dwi bond over a serious issue, one that affects Sun-woo personally and Ji-dwi as the king who wishes to protect his people above all. If Ji-dwi wants to be a king for all of the people, the best thing he could do was to risk his own life for those that most would consider expendable, at the same time proving to Sun-woo that he truly cares about even the lowest of his subjects.