It’s been a whirlwind week for “River Where the Moon Rises,” but the rollicking sageuk is back with palace intrigue, double-crossing a plenty, and enough of Pyeonggang’s (Kim So Hyun) sheer awesomeness to make us gasp.
Pyeonggang and Go Geon (Lee Ji Hoon) carry this week’s episodes as they navigate life in the palace, life as uneasy allies, and, if Go Won Pyo (Lee Hae Young) has his way, life as something…much more. It’s father versus son, and king versus princess, as tense moments abound. Pyeonggang is forced to figure out who to trust really quickly. Unfortunately, her enemies aren’t going to have her learn things the easy way.
Warning: spoilers for episodes 7-8 below.
1. Don’t speak your mind: Pyeonggang’s conversation with her father
Pyeonggang’s best trait is her refusal to comprise in the face of what she knows is right. Unfortunately, that trait is a character flaw in a place like the Palace, where even speaking your mind can very easily become a crime. Pyeonggang starts to learn this the hard way after her first real conversation with her father, King Pyeongwon (Kim Bup Rae). She directly asks him why he sent soldiers to massacre the Sunno Tribe. Pyeongwon is evasive, unwilling to admit the truth, but Pyeonggang pushes forward demanding to know if he truly thought the tribe was rebelling against him.
Her father’s anger at the reminder puts her on guard, and she quickly directs the topic away to her own almost-sin of killing him. However, both are visibly uncomfortable after the conversation. This is an interesting moment as it should put Pyeonggang on guard and serve as a reminder that she does not have a friend in her father. However, Pyeonggang sees it as proof that her father is being manipulated by Go Won Pyo. Her moral code is strong enough that she believes King Pyeongwon truly had no idea as to the truth. Thus, she comes to the conclusion that she must protect her father.
As viewers, this is painful to watch because we know the truth: that sooner or later, Pyeonggang’s idealism around who her father truly is will crumble. Thankfully, this show doesn’t take too long in pointing that out to her.
2. Nothing is ever exactly as it seems: Go Won Pyo’s fake poison plot
Go Won Pyo’s brand of evil doesn’t rely on wealth or power (though those particular attributes undoubtedly help) but on the fact that he knows his intended victims very, very well. Go Geon isn’t a particularly difficult nut to crack, and Pyeonggang is even easier. Both to some extent are naive, sheltered by their youth, and in Pyeonggang’s case, by their upbringing. The gap in maturity between them and Go Won Pyo is insurmountable. Go Geon thinks too much in trying to out scheme his father. In contrast, Pyeonggang doesn’t think at all. She simply acts on what’s right or what she knows she has to do. This makes them ripe for manipulation.
In setting the fake poison plot in place, Go Won Pyo was banking on the fact that his son was watching him. He knew Go Geon would immediately overthink everything and report it to Pyeonggang. And he knew that Pyeonggang wouldn’t be able to stop herself from heading straight into the lion’s den. In truth, it’s an astoundingly foolhardy move on Pyeonggang’s part to go so far as to taste the poison. Had it not been for the monk Wol Gwang’s (Cho Tae Kwan) intervention, she would be dead. She’s so used to being an assassin and just doing whatever has to be done. However, that isn’t how things work in the Palace. Pyeonggang has to learn to think 10 steps ahead of her enemies, to anticipate their every move, and plan counterattack after counterattack.
She learns this the hard way. Exposed to mockery in front of the entire court and basically grounded by her father as though she were a child, Pyeonggang becomes the palace disgrace. There’s something to be said for how she takes humiliation though. She takes it not with anger or with fear, but with grim determination, as though she will find a way out of this, and that nothing and no one can stop her. Kim So Hyun does a magnificent job portraying that relentless will to fight back.
Thankfully, Pyeonggang’s quick on the uptake and starts to realize that the only way to take down an enemy who plays dirty is to play dirty herself. She finally proves herself to her father and gives Hae Mo Yong (Choi Yoo Hwa) the take down she deserves by rescuing the women who were to be sold to Silla, Goguryeo’s enemy, as tribute.
3. Leave no woman behind: Pyeonggang rescuing the women bound as slaves for Silla
This is a turning point of sorts for Pyeonggang. It’s the first time we see her abandon her rather direct way of doing things (previous examples: literally confronting the guards before her friends were going to be executed, literally announcing that she was Princess Pyeonggang) in favor of direct espionage. She sees the women bound in Mo Yong’s cellar and immediately switches places with them.
The more naive Pyeonggang would have immediately called in the guards and thrown open the cellar door to free the women. However, this would have given Mo Yong time to come up with an excuse. Plus, there was no direct proof linking the women to Silla. This time, Pyeonggang thinks it through and switches places, allowing her to see first hand what these women experience, and gaining more definitive proof of the extent of Go Won Pyo’s and Mo Yong’s reach.
Most notably, Pyeonggang saves the women all by herself! Our girl doesn’t need anyone to rescue her. In fact, Go Geon and On Dal show up way after she’d already killed some of the men and sent the others running for their lives. She’s slowly coming into her own. This is all the more impressive because she’s doing it all on her own. There’s no one giving her a crash course in Palace Scheming 101, Pyeonggang’s just gutsy and clever enough to pick things up and see them through! Her reunion with On Dal where he pats her on the head is all the more sweet because of this. It’s like he’s telling her she did well, even though he knows it couldn’t have been easy, and involved her breaking her promise not to kill.
The subsequent punishment was bitter, as Pyeonggang quickly realizes that the bad guys can always wriggle out of trouble, even when she catches them right in the act. Her appeal to her father and to the historians is incredibly powerful. The whole court freezes as she orders them to write down that the law treats all as equal, even those with money and power. It’s enough to move even weak, selfish King Pyeongwon. However, the reality of it is that two innocent people are beaten while Mo Yong and her father get to sit there wearing less makeup and pretending to look sorry. Our princess just can’t catch a break!
4. Marriage is a political tool: Pyeonggang being forced into marriage
Pyeonggang’s rapid betrothal might seem like adding insult to injury, given everything that’s been heaped on the poor princess’s head at this time. However, it serves to highlight an extremely important point: Go Won Pyo is finally starting to see Pyeonggang as a threat.
He manipulated her quite easily before and had a blast seeing her and his son race off to find imaginary poison, but he wasn’t playing seriously. Post Pyeonggang’s rescue of the women, he realizes that she’s getting far too clever for her own good. The incident with Silla forces him to have to move his own money into the King’s Treasury so he wouldn’t be caught. Pyeonggang literally makes him suffer a loss. She’s learning the rules of his game and starting to get close to beating him at it. That’s why Go Won Pyo starts to take her seriously.
What better way to break Pyeonggang’s stride than turn the one person who is on her side in the Palace against her? Now that Go Geon’s finally admitted that he’s in love with her, in Go Won Pyo’s eyes it means his son is ripe for manipulation. And now that the King’s feeling on top of the world, in Go Won Pyo’s eyes, that means the King’s due for a takedown. And that’s exactly what he does. He frightens the King into agreeing to the marriage, and he deliberately asks Go Geon what he wants, knowing that his son wants only Pyeonggang. Because at the end of the day, Go Geun’s loyalty is selfish that way. He doesn’t care if the country goes to hell, he just wants Pyeonggang by his side.
With those dominoes in play, the final person Go Won Pyo counts on is Pyeonggang. He doesn’t know of On Dal’s existence, but he knows that Pyeonggang doesn’t feel anything for his son and that his son definitely isn’t going to be a good sport. And, of course, it all plays out like he predicts!
Ouch! Pyeonggang definitely doesn’t care. Cue sad Go Geon faces.
It becomes clear that Go Geon is now going to tip into full villain territory with the way he screams after her that he will “never give up!” (someone please give Lee Ji Hoon a lead role because this is the same thing he did in “Dinner Mate”). It’s doubly amusing because it’s the same thing Na In Woo did as Byeong In in “Mr. Queen” and now he’s suddenly on the other side of it.
Our princess remains unbothered, until her father fails to come through, and she’s faced with the prospect of being sold off for political gain. Thus, Pyeonggang learns yet another harsh lesson: no matter their rank or station, women are considered as goods to buy and sell. It’s only after realizing this that she starts to view Mo Yong in a different light. She might not agree with the frankly terrible things Mo Yong is doing, but she can understand why she does them: because she’s just trying to survive as a woman in a world dominated by men.
But time is running out for our princess, it’s time for her to claim her man (as she so fiercely declared to Go Geon) before she’s married off to the guy she just can’t get off her back.
Bonus: There’s always a learning curve: A big round of applause to our On Dal
On Dal (Na In Woo) took a much, much smaller role this week, due to real-life events. However, it bears mention that he will be a little different going forward (besides the fact that he’ll be much taller!). On Dal is not a simple character, contrary to his title in the original legend as a “fool.” He is a hardworking villager, a swordsman in his own right, and heir of the Sunno Tribe and one of Goguryeo’s greatest generals, On Hyeop (Kang Ha Neul). Those aren’t easy shoes to fill, but Na In Woo’s doing an amazing job on very short notice.
Na In Woo is very clearly still in the process of figuring out the character and how to bring him to life, but he appears to be rapidly finding his footing. What little has been shown thus far demonstrates that On Dal will have a different charm from now on. Less bumbling fool, more determined man who turns into a huge softie around Pyeonggang.
That’s Pyeonggang in the picture!
Anyone who was worried about chemistry can rest assured. He looks besotted with Pyeonggang and absolutely swoonworthy! The episode preview for next week shows Pyeonggang bringing On Dal to the palace and calling him her husband in front of the king, so it’ll be exciting to see their chemistry going forward. Na In Woo’s added height and deep gaze contrast with Kim So Hyun’s smaller frame and clear eyes. The two will make quite the visually appealing couple!
Next week can’t come soon enough. Bring on the impeding Pyeonggang-On Dal marriage! And most importantly, bring on more On Dal!
What did you think of this week’s episodes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she works as a lawyer, fangirls over Ji Sung, and attempts to write the greatest fantasy romance of all time. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!