As our daydream continues Yeon Hwa announces that she will be queen. Hae Soo, who has been denied the defense of a heads up, is blindsided by the news. She maintains her composure and says that she will believe it when the King tells her it is true. Yeon Hwa asserts her power as the daughter of a former king and points out all of the things that Hae Soo not only does not know about but has no control over. She is not from a powerful family, so a union with her would provide no protection or loyalty from the clans to the king. Yeon Hwa leaves Hae Soo with the knowledge that she has nothing to offer to Wang So except to be a woman in a pretty room waiting for him.
In the throne room, Wang Wook points out the same deficiencies to Wang So. He also reminds Wang So that his woman of choice has a scar on her body and is therefore forbidden to marry the king. Wang So throws a contemptuous smile at his brother and points out that he was able to become king with “this ugly face” and that if he so chooses, he will marry a woman with a scar. He swears that he will have all he wants. Wang Wook only smiles as he knows he has the king at a disadvantage.
Later that night Hae Soo and Wang So eat in silence. There is an elephant in the room that neither of them dares to address. It is the first pangs of a couple growing apart.
The next day Wang So sits in the throne room listening to his “jailer” from the Kang clan. He tells the king that the Yoo and Hwangbo clans are protesting. He suggests that if Wang So were to marry Yeon Hwa that everyone might calm down. Wang So flatly states that he will choose who he will marry. Emissary Kang is shocked to find that the rumors are true. In disbelief, he asks Wang So if he intends to marry the girl from the royal jjimjabong. Without waiting for an answer, he tells the king that if that is his choice then he must not want to remain king for very long.
Queen Hwangbo appears before Wang So to express her concerns. She tells him that he will face opposition and asks him if he will allow the nation to crumble during his reign. He tells her that her concern is a bit extreme. She reminds him how his father sacrificed so much to keep the country together and add that she too has sacrificed her own son and is additionally offering her daughter to help him maintain his seat. She continues her barrage of reasons as she presents him with a notebook filled with “strange” hangul writing. She tells him that the book belongs to Hae Soo and she is writing in words that no one knows. She also has no background and is, therefore, suspicious. Wang So looks at the book briefly and then closes it with finality. “What’s so great about this seat?” he asks. Queen Hwangbo reminds him that he must die to leave it.
Hae Soo finds Chae Ryung to deliver the news that the king has granted her request. She will be allowed to stay at the royal jjimjabong and at Hae Soo’s side. The happy mood is quickly squashed when Chae Ryung asks if the rumors about Yeon Hwa marrying the king are true. The jjimjabong has been instructed to prepare for a royal marriage along with the rest of the palace. Hae Soo can only respond with silence.
Hae Soo has accompanied Mr. Sunshine to the astronomy tower. He wanders among his inventions and books, remembering how each prince was intrigued by this thing or that. He reflects that those times went by in the blink of an eye. Hae Soo acknowledges that Mr. Sunshine had loved all of the princes very much as he nods in agreement. He then tells Hae Soo that it is his love for the princes that motivates him to tell her to give up on marrying Wang So. She says that if the king remains steadfast then why should she give up. She suffered as she did because she believed that she would be happy one day. Mr. Sunshine pointedly asks her “what has happened to all of those who were here?” Hae Soo remembers the tragic deaths of Wang Mu, Wang Eun, and Wang Yo. He tells her that in the palace, where the king is in danger, there is the smell of blood. He fears that a similar fate awaits Wang So. He admonishes her for her stubbornness and wonders how she will deal with the fallout if someone should die because of the choices that she makes. He is not without compassion and tells her that she can be a source of comfort for the king but she is unable to be a source of strength. It is a conversation that is difficult to have and Mr. Sunshine is clearly distressed to inflict such pain on Hae Soo. She clutches at her heart knowing that Mr. Sunshine speaks the truth.
Wang So sits in the throne room alone, his body drawn into itself in worry. Hae Soo peeks from behind a pillar and smiles at the brooding monarch. It is clear that she is his happiness as his expression changes from cloudy to bright sunshine at her arrival. He playfully asks her how she got into the throne room without an invitation. She replies that everyone knows how much he favors her. He scolds her and says that because of her people will say that he is only scary on the outside. She smiles and asks him if he wants to go outside with her. She presents two masks and reminds him that it is the night of the ghost festival. He wonders how to wrangle the necessary people for a royal visit to the village and she tells him that since they are wearing masks, all he needs to do is wear regular clothes and they should go unnoticed.
Cue the OST with the horrible porn music intro. Wang So and Hae Soo wander the brightly lit lantern-lined streets, enjoying their time as a couple. He boldly takes her hand in a rare public display of affection. After the festival, she leads him to her prayer towers by the lake. He asks if she built them just so she could get the proposal that she wants. She admits that she did and he smiles. He tells her that when they first met she should have run away. She protests that she tried but that he managed to catch her. He teases that he does not remember what first drew her to him but now there are so many reasons for her to be attracted. He smiles as he takes her in his arms and proposes marriage. She smiles as her eyes fill with tears. For a long moment, she looks into his eyes and he realizes that they are not tears of joy. “I cannot” she tells him. She repeats Mr. Sunshine’s words. She can provide comfort to him but has nothing else that she can give. He sternly asks her who she’s been talking to. He insists that he won’t give up on her for the petty reason of a scar. She echoes that she will not give up either. She doesn’t want to be limited by the rules and regulations that a royal wife would be bound to. She wants to be able to see him when she likes and not follow etiquette that is so strictly mandated by royal life. She assures him that she is happy with the decision. He looks into her eyes and implores her that even if he can’t marry her, she cannot leave him. “You must be mine. You can’t go anywhere. I won’t allow it.” He draws her to him and wraps his arms around her and whispers that she is his only queen as a tear silently slips from his eye and rolls down his cheek.
Wang So is dressed in royal wedding attire with Yeon Hwa by his side. They are presented to the assembled ministers and nobles as Yeon Hwa is proclaimed Queen. She smiles broadly, as her quest for power has been realized. Wang So is stone-faced, as the occasion brings him no joy. The collar and leash he so desperately wanted to be rid of have only tightened around his neck. He faces a room full of those that control him. In another room in the palace, Hae Soo stands and stares at a beautiful bridal robe intended for a wedding that will never be. She wears the robe and remembers Wang So’s words, “You are my only queen” but it is of little comfort knowing that at that very moment he marries another woman.
Hae Soo stands by the lake and prays at her prayer towers. Jung Ah approaches whistling. He tells her that he was not invited to the wedding either. She insists that she in not unhappy. She tells him that King Taejo had instructed her not to worry too much about the future and that is what she is trying to do. Jung Ah boldly tells her that she should come to him because he would be good to her. Besides, he is getting tired of palace life (and shaving). He entreats her to fly away with him. She says he would only take her to battlefields to watch him fight. He stands firm with his offer and says all she need do is say the words and he will take her away. “I am willing” is all she needs to say. She promises that she will remember his offer. She turns back to the prayer towers and begins her prayers anew and Jung Ah joins her.
In the bridal chamber, Wang So lifts Yeon Hwa’s veil. She smiles demurely at him while his face holds no loving gaze for her. He looks at her for a long moment and turns to leave the room. Yeon Hwa warns him that Hae Soo will be used against him in the future and it would be best to get rid of her now. He angrily turns and tells her to mind her own Queenly business and to never cross the line that she just did ever again. She looks after him as he leaves and her face is a mix of realization and rancor. Realization, that now she is a dog being controlled and rancor, for the one who holds what she never can.
Hae Soo waits by the prayer towers at the lake. Night has fallen and the frogs and crickets sing in harmony. Chae Ryung approaches Hae Soo and presents her with a brace for her knee, knowing that when her heart is hurting her other ailments will hurt as well. Chae Ryung remembers Lady Hae and her prayer towers. Chae Ryung kneels and says that she isn’t praying but letting her loved ones know that she is doing well. Hae Soo follows her lead and does the same. Chae Ryung reaches for Hae Soo and clasps her praying hands in her own. From a distance, Wang So watches the two women.
Wang So appears at Hae Soo’s chamber door but cannot bring himself to open it. Hae Soo waits inside, curled into a ball of anxious misery, unaware that the one thing that would comfort her stands just outside.
Wang So holds an audience with the ministers and nobles. He suggests the name for the period of his reign will be Gwangdeok. Number one butt kisser, Wang Wook, agrees that it is a good name and that the kingdom will do as Wang So wishes. And now begins the “I give you this, you give me that” portion of our program. Wang Wook immediately launches into his attempt to gain control of the royal finances and to everyone’s surprise, Wang So agrees. Wang So says that with such trustworthy ministers he can now relax and catch up on his reading. Then with a smile and barely a breath between his statements he says that Jung Ah is guilty of treason and will be exiled to his hometown as punishment. Baek Ah protests and advises the king that there must be a good reason for such a harsh punishment. Wang So reasons that since Jung Ah questioned Wang Yo’s final words and created rumors and doubt about Wang So’s succession, that his punishment is fitting and deserved. He reminds the assembled nobility that since Jung Ah is his brother, he did not execute him but merely returned him to his family. He then warns that if Jung Ah returns to Songak that he will be put to death.
Queen Witch receives news of her son’s exile and she collapses. Hae Soo receives the news from Baek Ah. She wants to go and talk with the king but Woo Hee warns against it. Baek Ah wisely suggests that she wait a while for Wang So to cool down before addressing the topic with him.
Yeon Hwa rushes to Queen Witches side. The Witch asks for Jung Ah and Yeon Hwa says that she will bring the king. At this suggestion, Queen Witch’s breathing becomes rapid and labored. At that moment, Wang So comes to the room and commands that no one can enter without his permission. He sits at his mother’s side and dabs her face with a cloth as she stares hateful daggers at him. Outside, Jung Ah tries to gain entry to his mother’s room but is blocked by sword-wielding guards. He swears that he will not take a single step until he is allowed to see his mother.
Later that night Hae Soo and Wang So have dinner together. She asks him to allow Jung Ah to see his mother. He says that he knows it was she that sent a message to Jung Ah, as everyone else in the kingdom was forbidden from doing so. She explains that if something happens to Queen Witch, Wang So’s decision will haunt him forever. He reminds her that if Jung Ah returns to Songak he will be executed. She should be worried less about him being at Queen Witches deathbed and more grateful that he didn’t execute him outright. He stands to leave and tells Hae Soo that if Jung Ah is allowed into the palace, he will be executed. He leaves her alone as she looks after him in disbelief.
Days later Jung Ah has remained standing outside his mother’s quarters. He is exhausted and his eyes are rimmed in red. Baek Ah approaches him and hands him a canteen of water and walks away. Jung Ah takes the canteen and empties its contents over the top of his head defiantly refusing even a moments comfort.
Wang So sits by his mother and tries to get her to eat or drink something. In frustration, he puts down the golden bowl he was trying to feed his mother from and speaks. She has not taken even a sip of water from him in five days. He asks her if this is how she wants to die. He raises a cloth to wipe her mouth and she turns away from him. She wheezes and repeats Jung..Jung.., over and over. Wang So tells his mother to look at him. It is he that is at her bedside and not Jung. It is he that is caring for her and protecting her. She remembers the night that she utterly rejected Wang So and how he swore that one day he would be the only one that she would see. He has made good on his promise. Wang So then swears that he will build a temple in honor of his mother and spread many stories of their relationship and her great love for him. He cries as he tells her that he will build a web of lies in order to become her one and only precious son. She futilely rages as her useless body will not allow her to strike Wang So. She gasps for air and reaches out to claw at her son’s face, her dying breath filled with hatred for her innocent child. Wang So clasps her dead hand to his cheek and he openly weeps for his mother. His agony is evident, knowing he will never be able to achieve her love.
Hae Soo brings the news to Jung Ah that his mother is dead. Soon, he sits by her side and cries, denied the chance to be with his mother as she lay dying. Wang So enters the room and tells Jung Ah that he should leave since his punishment will be reinstated soon. Jung Ah cries silently, wounded by his brother’s callous treatment.
Wang So and Hae Soo argue. He is angry that Hae Soo has taken Jung Ah’s side and she retorts that the issue is not about taking sides but more about Wang So’s ego. He tells her that Jung is not the one who was always cast aside but instead it was him. His eyes filled with tears, he tells her that his mother reached for his face and for the first time in 25 years he was able to have his mother all to himself. He uses this as justification for allowing no one else to be at her side before she died. Hae Soo reaches for Wang So but he stops her, his brow knitted in torment. He is hurt because Hae Soo did not tell him that she understood him as she has always done before. He leaves her alone as she begins to understand what she had done wrong.
Wang Won stands before a seething Wang So in the throne room, his head bowed. Wang So questions Wang Won about Chae Ryung. She was originally a servant in Wang Won’s house before she was a servant in Wang Wook’s. It was she that put the mercury in Wang Mu’s bath, ultimately killing him. All the evidence leads back to Wang Wook. Wang So asks for confirmation of all the puzzle pieces he has laid out and when he does not receive that confirmation quickly enough he says he will then need to assume that everything was Wang Won’s idea. Wang Won weakly protests that it was not him and even says that he doesn’t have the temperament for such things. Mr. Sunshine reminds him that he can still be charged for cheating the merchants by lying about the weight of the silver presented to them. The punishment for that crime is being lowered into a boiling cauldron. His tongue loosens and he says that he only did what he was instructed to do. He considers his fate and then throws Wang Wook under the bus. It was a plot hatched by Wang Yo and Wang Wook. Wang So violently pounds on the table in front of him, clawing at the wood as his hand becomes a fist. He looks at Wang Won and prepares to ask him one final question. It is a question that we are not allowed to hear.
Hae Soo wanders the royal jjimjabong. She notices that something is off but she’s not sure what. The court ladies look nervous and seem unusually quiet. She searches for Chae Ryung and finds Woo Hee. Woo Hee takes her outside. Someone is being beaten in the courtyard by soldiers. Hae Soo asks what is going on and the ladies inform her that they have been instructed to watch the punishment as a warning against loose gossip in the jjimjabong. Hae Soo sees Mr. Sunshine and she and Woo Hee move forward to speak with him. She asks who it is that is being punished and he hesitates. She asks again with eyes closed already knowing the answer. It is Chae Ryung. The grass mat is unrolled and the bloodied and beaten body of Chae Ryung is revealed. Hae Soo faints at the sight of her friend.
Hae Soo is in bed, still unconscious from the shock of seeing Chae Ryung’s bloody form. Wang So stands nearby and shouts at the attending physician. Why did he not tell the king that Hae Soo was ill? He commands the doctor to leave. A closing door rouses Hae Soo from her sleep and she speaks Chae Ryung’s name with a start. Wang So kneels by her side with a look of worry. She sits up and he tries to steady her. She pushes his hands off of her and screams at him. How could he beat Chae Ryung like a dog? He tells her that Chae Ryung was spying on her. He tells her of Chae Ryung’s crimes, including portraying Hae Soo as a foreign spy. She is the one who put mercury into Wang Mu’s bath, killing him. She also had some part in preventing their marriage. Hae Soo remembers every confidence that she and Chae Ryung shared and how those times are now colored so differently by deception. She cries to know that Chae Ryung is the one who revealed the jjimjabong’s secret tunnel, which ultimately lead to Wang Eun’s death. Wang So tells her that he had no reason or need to forgive Chae Ryung as it became apparent that she only wished to remain by Hae Soo’s side in order to harm her. Hae Soo says Chae Ryung’s only crime was being born a slave. She tells Wang So that she considered her a sister. He bids her to rest and forget everything. He leaves Hae Soo alone.
In the throne room, Wang So angrily turns over his dinner tray, flinging its contents across the room. He appears to be drunk. He says that the entire plot was all Wang Wook’s idea. Baek Ah entreats his brother to look into the matter more deeply. Wang So shouts that Baek Ah and Hae Soo are the only ones he has left that he can trust. He blames Wang Wook for making him a monster in Hae Soo’s eyes. He promises that he will not allow Wang Wook to get away with what he’s done.
Back in Hae Soo’s room, she has found a blood letter written by Chae Ryung. She remembers that she had insisted that she could neither read nor write. All of Wang So’s words are proven true. In the letter, Chae Ryung explains how she had been taken in by Wang Won when she was just a child begging in the street. He taught her how to read and write and she had fallen in love with him for it. She says that she does not regret what happened and she does not resent anyone. She is sure that Hae Soo would understand her. Hae Soo sits, staring forlornly at nothing.
Wang So returns to his room with a wicked headache. He is clearly drunk and his steps are unsteady as he walks into the room. He sees a masked woman sitting on his bed and assumes it is Hae Soo. He smiles broadly, thinking that she has forgiven him. He rushes to the woman and gathers her in his arms. He lifts the mask to reveal the woman’s lips and leans to kiss her. He senses that something is wrong and removes the woman’s mask revealing Yeon Hwa. He pushes her away from him. He calls her greedy and she calls him gullible for being fooled by a mask. He orders her out of his room. She tells him that they both want the same thing. He wants to keep Goryeo and she wants an heir, which will allow him to keep Goryeo. She buries her face in his shoulder and waits. He asks her if she is willing to throw Wang Wook away. He offers, that if she is able to do that then he will make their child Crown Prince and effectively make her a Queen and Queen Mother.
Hae Soo stands in the royal jjimjabong wearing mourning white. Baek Ah approaches her as she stares blankly into the water. They talk about Chae Ryung and Baek Ah tells her that Wang So had tried to send her away because he knew she was up to something. Even knowing the reasons for Chae Ryung’s punishment and death, Hae Soo cannot understand how Wang So could punish her so cruelly. She clutches her chest as Baek Ah asks her to consider Wang So’s feelings. She asks Baek Ah for a favor. She wants him to take her hairpin and give it to Jung Ah with a message. Her message to Jung Ah… “I am willing”.
More beautiful royal pageantry in this episode but like an apple painted gold, the outside is beautiful but the inside begins to rot. Hae Soo is presented with the truth from several different angles and she tries desperately to avert sad reality. She finally accepts what many women would not…a part time husband. She must share him with everyone else, not just Yeon Hwa alone. Their relationship now walks a tightrope, as its only benefit is the happiness of the king. She has no way to save him from the invisible chains that demand that he act against his heart.
Wang So begins to change or rather, revert to his old self. He is bitter and angry and decides that he will visit retribution and sweet revenge on all those that have done or mean to do, him or Hae Soo harm. He believes that he will get ultimate revenge on his hateful mother by changing history itself but realizes too late that lies cannot change the truth you carry in your heart. I would say that he feels even more rejected and abandoned now that she is gone, since there is no chance to change her black heart and win her love. His isolation increases tenfold when he wounds his younger brother for purely selfish reasons.
This episode provides some of the best performances so far with the outstanding cast member being Lee Joon Gi. He hits every agonizing note of a man being slowly strangled to death by his title. IU is also exceptional as the woman doing her best with the circumstances that she is given. We cry for the couple as their entwined souls are torn apart by court politics and greed. I expect that the last two episodes will leave my home completely bereft of a single usable tissue. Oh the sweet, sweet agony of love.