Just as soon as Ji-dwi finally takes his destiny into his own hands, multiple forces are conspiring to take it away from him again. And Sun-woo has a choice to make – does he follow the path that others have paved for him, or does he forge his own path? History will hinge on whether these two become friends or enemies, and whether they decide to wage war or band together against those who would control them.
EPISODE 19 RECAP
Ji-dwi, dressed in his royal robes, enters the throne room and approaches his mother. As she trembles in fear, he turns to face the royal council and announces, “I am the king of Silla, Jinheung.” After a moment of confusion, the council bows their heads, even Minister Park.
Sun-woo follows Ah Ro to Nam-mo’s shrine, unaware that Hyun Chu has followed him with an entourage of archers. He tells Ah Ro that he will follow her anywhere and approaches her, but she suddenly gasps and rushes past him to take the arrow meant for him.
Sun-woo cradles Ah Ro’s body as several more arrows fly his way, but Pa Oh arrives in time to knock them away with his sword. He tells Sun-woo to save Ah Ro and stays to handle Hyun Chu while Sun-woo picks up Ah Ro and runs.
Pa Oh and Hyun Chu face off, each claiming they have the moral right to be here — Hyun Chu on orders to kill the usurper to the throne, and Pa Oh on orders from the king himself. When Pa Oh tells Hyun Chu that attacking him will be the same as attacking the king, Hyun Chu hesitates.
He decides to take on Pa Oh anyway, but he’s stopped by a well-timed arrow to the knee. He looks up to see Princess Sookmyung, who tells him to obey the king’s orders.
Ji-gong sits thinking about the fact that Sun-woo is Hwi-kyung’s son, when Sun-woo suddenly runs to him carrying Ah Ro, arrow still embedded in her chest. They take her in, and Ji-gong tells Sun-woo to wait outside. Sun-woo doesn’t want to go, but he gives in to Ji-gong’s authority as a doctor and her father, and leaves.
Ji-gong removes the arrow, and as he tries to stop the bleeding, he begs his only surviving child to live. Outside, Sun-woo remembers how Ah Ro has always been kind and supportive, and he pales at the thought of losing her.
Eventually, Ji-gong comes outside, and he throws down the bowl of bloody water he’s carrying and stalks towards Sun-woo. He grabs Sun-woo, but at the sight of the abject terror in his eyes, he softens and says that Ah Ro will live. He asks what happened, and Sun-woo tells him the arrow was meant for him, sent by the queen regent.
He worries that Ah Ro will continue to be in danger if he’s near her, because she’s the key to getting to him. He goes inside and caresses Ah Ro’s face with a trembling hand as he tells her that lying still this way isn’t like her.
He says that meeting her made him feel like he was grateful to be born for the first time in his life. He tells her, “I’m sorry, and I love you very much.” Then he kisses her and goes, leaving his many-sided dice behind.
Queen Regent Jiso finds Ji-dwi sitting on his throne, and offers to cover up his mistake of showing his face. He says it wasn’t a mistake, and she grows emotional, saying that the officials will eat him alive when they realize he’s not prepared.
Ji-dwi sits through his mother’s screeching, then calmly informs her that he is already the king — all he’s done is make that fact known. The queen regent says that was just an excuse to remain in her shadow, and Ji-dwi doesn’t disagree, admitting that he’s alive thanks to her. He says there were even times he was glad for that shadow, but he wasn’t happy living that way.
He says he intends to stand on his own now, without anyone standing in front of him. He says that he means to create the Silla he dreams of, but his mother spits that he will regret it. Ji-dwi counters that that regret, if it comes, is also his burden to bear.
Sun-woo goes to Hwi-kyung with questions, wanting to know about his mother. He’s so nervous he can barely ask about her, and Hwi-kyung answers simply, “Joon-jung.” He says she was a Wonhwa who was greatly loved by the people of Silla, but the royal family was weak and a strong Wonhwa was a threat, especially one pregnant with a sacred bone child.
Sun-woo realizes that he’s gone from being a low-born, to a half-breed, to a sacred bone, yet he’s still the same person. His eyes plead with Hwi-kyung to explain, and Hwi-kyung says that he knows it must have been difficult, but he won’t apologize for wanting his child to live freely.
He says that he always watched over Sun-woo, and now the preparations are ready to make him king. Sun-woo looks stricken as Hwi-kyung explains that nobody understands the people of Silla better than him. He calls Sun-woo a new kind of king who can change the future of Silla.
The queen regent paces her chambers nervously, and calls to her attendant Mo-young for her tea. Mo-young brings the tea, and watches the queen regent drink it with a calculating look in her eye. She’s up to something.
The queen regent rants to Minister Kim, Su-ho’s father, about Ji-dwi’s irresponsible actions threatening the Silla she’s worked so hard to create. But then she gets an idea, and asks Minister Kim for a favor.
Minister Park, meanwhile, seems a bit unhinged as he cackles to himself in front of all of his royal council lackeys. He calls out to someone, and Mo-young enters the room. Minister Park asks after the queen regent, and Mo-young says that symptoms are finally appearing after ten years of drinking poisoned tea. Wow, talk about a long game.
She explains that the shaking hands and fainting are clear signs, and that she believes the queen regent is hallucinating. Minister Park sighs that it would have been so much easier if they had succeeded in killing the king, then when the queen died nobody would have opposed his taking the throne for himself. Interesting, how some of his “loyal” men get a bit eye-rolly at that.
The Hwarang are all aflutter at the news that it was Ji-dwi who was the hidden king all along. Yeo-wool worries that he wasn’t nice enough to Ji-dwi, and Ban-ryu just sighs at him.
He notices Su-ho sitting with the queen regent’s fan, which he kept after she rebuffed him at the palace. Yeo-wool asks Su-ho if he was surprised to hear that Sun-woo wasn’t the king after all, but Su-ho just gets up and walks away.
Hwa-gong’s assistant Bu-jae finds him readying to leave the Hwarang grounds, dressed like a commoner. Hwa-gong doesn’t seem upset, he just chirps that he was fired and leaves laughing. Bu-jae addresses the Hwarang, informing them that Hwa-gong has left and thus, they have the day off.
Sookmyung goes to tell her mother that Ah Ro survived the attack, and the queen regent screams at her when she says that it was the king’s command. She says that she makes the royal commands, and her out of control behavior scares Sookmyung. The queen regent suddenly collapses, unconscious, and Sookmyung calls for help.
As Sun-woo walks the streets in plain clothes, he hears children chanting, “Among the Hwarang, Ji-dwi is the best… Among the kings, Sun-woo is the best…”
Yeo-wool finds Han-sung’s glass (the one he used to look at the sun) in a local shop, and he stops for a moment to remember his friend. He hears the children outside chanting about Ji-dwi and Sun-woo, and wonders what it means.
Ji-dwi is dressed in his formal royal attire, looking every inch the king. Pa Oh looks at him like a proud papa, and Ji-dwi asks him about Ah Ro, having sent Pa Oh to watch over her. Pa Oh tells Ji-dwi that she was shot by an arrow, but that she didn’t die, and Ji-dwi looks as if it’s killing him that he can’t go to her.
Hwa-gong gets sloppy drunk and rides shopkeeper Joo-ki’s wooden horse, then picks his nose until it bleeds. Joo-ki tells him to stop acting like the first person to ever get fired, but even the news that the faceless king has appeared can’t calm Hwa-gong down.
But when Joo-ki says that there’s talk of a new king, Hwa-gong sobers up fast. Joo-ki tells him about the song everyone is singing about Sun-woo being the best king, and they’re both shocked when Sun-woo walks into the room at that exact moment.
Ji-dwi finds Minister Park in the throne room and asks him where the other officials are. Minister Park says he needs to speak to Ji-dwi alone, and asks if an old man could please sit while they talk.
He walks up to the throne and sits down as if he owns it, and Ji-dwi bellows at him in his most kingly voice. But Minister Park ignores his fury and muses that if he’d known the seat was so comfortable, he’d have claimed it years ago.
He asks Ji-dwi how it was living in the real world, and whether he got to learn things like justice, loyalty, and compassion for his subjects. He says that kings who get used to that become indecisive, like him. He actually has the nerve to lie down across the throne, and says that he plans to change who will be king.
Sun-woo asks Hwa-gong if Silla would become a better place if someone like him became king, and whether he has what it takes to be that king. He asks if he could be the kind of king that walks a path for his people to follow, and Hwa-gong sighs heavily.
Later, Minister Park tells Ho Gong that he plans to “catch the enemy by using the enemy.” Ho Gong asks who he means to use, but Minister Park only says cryptically that he will find a way.
Ji-dwi kneels in the throne room after his confrontation with Minister Park, realizing that he is still weak in the face of strong opposition. Sookmyung finds him and says that he became the king all alone, and he ruefully agrees.
Sookmyung mentions that their mother is in a rush to get the two of them married, even though neither of them wants it. The queen regent wants to secure their family’s sacred bone line, but Sookmyung admits that what she wants is Sun-woo. She asks Ji-dwi to use his position as king to convince their mother to call this marriage off.
Hwa-gong chuckles at Sun-woo’s question, and says that he might be a better king than Ji-dwi, for some. But he adds that becoming king without justification would be rebellion, and would end up harming the people more than helping.
He asks if that’s the kind of king Sun-woo wants, and Sun-woo says it isn’t. He says that he wants a king who will protect the people who need protection. So he states that if he has the justification to be that kind of king, then he wants to try.
Hwi-kyung looks pleased when Minister Park comes to see him, and asks if he came because he wants to make Sun-woo the king. Minister Park doesn’t answer, but only glares at Hwi-kyung.
Ji-gong takes care of Ah Ro as she sleeps and recovers, feeding her broth and never leaving her side. He thinks about Hwi-kyung telling him that Sun-woo is a sacred bone, and that it was no coincidence that their children grew up together.
Ji-gong remembers that night that Joon-jung, after promising queen regent Jiso that she would make sure her child never became a threat to the throne, had stumbled into Ji-gong’s home. She’d told Ji-gong that she was dying (from the stab wound Queen Regent Jiso inflicted on her), and had begged him to save her baby. After she’d passed away, Ji-gong had cut the baby from her stomach.
Su-ho goes to the queen regent to fulfill the request she made of his father to become her bodyguard while Hyun Chu heals from his arrow wound. The queen regent stumbles, and he catches her, and when she tells him to let go, he asks her to allow him to help her.
She asks how a child like him can help her, and he says he’s not a child, he’s just young, and admits that just looking at her makes his heart race.
Eventually, Ah Ro wakes, and Ji-gong rushes to her side to ask how she feels. The first thing she does is ask after Sun-woo, and she only relaxes when she hears that he’s okay.
Sun-woo goes back to give Hwi-kyung his answer, but before he says anything, Hwi-kyung tells him that he has no choice, since the choice is Silla’s. He tells Sun-woo that someone wants to speak with him, and Sun-woo enters another room to find Minister Park waiting.
Minister Park says that he knows Sun-woo doesn’t like him, and Sun-woo smirks and says that actually, it’s much worse than that. Minister Park laughs and says that this is why he believed Sun-woo was the king.
Sun-woo tells him to cut to the chase, and Minister Park says that he’s thinking of making Sun-woo king. Looking mildly amused, Sun-woo asks if Minister Park really thinks he’d accept help from him, and Minister Park says that he does, because he has power, and Sun-woo doesn’t.
He asks if Sun-woo isn’t ready to hold power for once, and Sun-woo says that it’s his choice to make. He observes that Minister Park seems desperate, and that he appears to need Sun-woo more than Sun-woo needs him. Smiling, he says that it feels like he already holds the power.
Recovering now, Ah Ro holds Sun-woo’s dice and pouts that he said he wouldn’t leave her side. She’s visited by Sookmyung, who says that Ah Ro always puts Sun-woo in danger, and that she, Sookmyung, is the one who saves him. Ah Ro guesses that Sookmyung hoped she would die, and Sookmyung admits that she did.
Angry, Sookmyung says that Sun-woo is a more precious person than Ah Ro thinks, and that she could protect him if Ah Ro were out of the picture. But Ah Ro says that she will survive despite Sookmyung, because she knows that’s what Sun-woo wants. Sookmyung retorts that Ah Ro talks big, but that only she can actually protect Sun-woo.
Su-ho stands guard as Queen Regent Jiso paces in her chambers, nervous after calling Ji-dwi to her. He arrives, and after Su-ho gives him a tiny nod, he notes that his mother looks pale. She gets right to the point, and asks why he took his throne only to let Minister Park treat him this way.
Ji-dwi says simply that he’ll prevail, though he refuses to marry Sookmyung. The queen regent insists that the marriage will prove that their family is set above the others, but Ji-dwi tells her that he plans to show his strength not through marriage, but through the Hwarang.
His mother says that Ji-dwi has no idea what the Hwarang are to him, and informs him that Sun-woo is Hwi-kyung’s son. Ji-dwi looks shaken as she tells him that Sun-woo is a sacred bone who plans to try and take his throne.
Having learned from Joo-ki that Ah Ro is awake, Sun-woo rushes to see her. She’s still complaining to herself, wondering if he thinks her a burden, so she’s surprised and relieved when he runs into the house and grabs her in a tight hug. They stay that way for a long time, and Sun-woo breathes that it’s a relief to see that she’s okay.
He finally pulls back when Ah Ro complains that he’s squeezing her wound, and he just looks at her gratefully. Finally he says that he knows who he is — why he has no name, where he came from, and where he needs to go. But he’s not sure if it’s the right thing for Ah Ro.
She tells him that she trusts him more than she trusts herself, and asks him to trust himself, too. She says he’s someone who will find his own path, and that whatever choice he makes, she’s always on his side. She tells him that whatever path he takes will be the right one.
Pa Oh tells Ji-dwi of the song being sung in the city, calling Sun-woo the “king of kings.” Ji-dwi remembers how royal Sun-woo seemed when he claimed to be the king in Baekje, and he asks Pa Oh to bring Sun-woo to him.
He waits for Sun-woo in his throne room, but when Sun-woo arrives, the throne is empty. He takes a few steps towards it, recalling Hwi-kyung saying that the preparations have been made for him to take the throne. He suddenly finds a sword at his throat and turns to see Ji-dwi, who asks, “Do you want to sit there?”
Sun-woo whirls and draws his own sword, and both men stand with their weapons aimed at each other. Sun-woo asks his own question of Ji-dwi: “Do you think of yourself as the owner of that throne?”
While that last line of Sun-woo’s sounds like a challenge to Ji-dwi for his throne, I think it’s misleading. Knowing Sun-woo as we do, I think he’s giving Ji-dwi one final test to find out if he means to be the king he says he wants to be. I think he’s actually asking a genuine question: Does Ji-dwi truly believe the throne belongs to him? If Ji-dwi says yes, I’m betting Sun-woo intends to throw his and the entire Hwarang’s support behind him, and fight those who are trying to take control from the king who rightfully owns it. He’s never been the kind of person interested in what others want him to do, and he’s never wanted to be king. I can’t imagine that the discovery that he’s a sacred bone would change his fundamental nature.
At first I thought Hwi-kyung’s story — losing his claim to the throne, the woman he loved and his child — sounded tragic, and I felt badly for him. But after his talk with Sun-woo in this episode, I now strongly suspect that he’s been setting Sun-woo up from the very beginning. He knew he could never get his throne back, so he placed his son in a situation where he would be raised as “one of the people,” thereby hopefully gaining their support when he eventually used him to wrest the monarchy from Queen Regent Jiso and the hidden King Jinheung. I don’t think any of Hwi-kyung’s plan was accidental or simply coincidental… I think he saw where things were headed long ago, and took advantage in order to set his own son up to take control. I hope that Sun-woo is smart enough to figure it out, and that he refuses to be a pawn in someone else’s political games ever again.
I can’t help but be disappointed in the lack of actual Hwarang boys in this penultimate episode, though by this point I really shouldn’t be surprised. This show has consistently been less about the Hwarang than it has been about Ji-dwi and Sun-woo’s fundamental differences in how a country should be run, and while I do enjoy the moral and ethical questions it’s raised, I think I will always pine a bit for what could have been. There’s nothing wrong with the story we’ve been told, it’s just not what I thought we were going to be getting — a fun drama about friendship and loyalty, about youths growing up and learning to be upstanding, honorable members of their society.
But even though Hwarang has been a very different drama than what I thought it would be, it still would have been fine if it had just known what it wanted to be about. But it feels as though the show tried to be too many things, and in the process, it ended up disjointed and meandering. We had a little bit of everything, enough to show that if the show had decided to be that or even that, it could have been great. But because it couldn’t settle on what story to tell or how to tell it, I’m left feeling sort of vaguely dissatisfied and confused. I’m still curious how it will wrap things up, but at this point, I’m not hopeful for an ending that will make all the wandering story lines into something more cohesive.