The week’s flown by, and “River Where the Moon Rises” is back with plenty of action on and offscreen. There’s blood, tears, kisses, and Na In Woo re-filming episodes 1-6, all in all, much to swoon and fangirl over because this show keeps giving.
Episodes 11 and 12 are the calm before the storm, the build-up towards that fateful battle in episode 1 as we draw closer to the question of whether On Dal will survive, whether Pyeonggang (Kim So Hyun) will get her dream of ruling Goguryeo and get rid it of the quite crazy Go Won Pyo (Lee Hae Young), and whether Go Geon (Lee Ji Hoon) will ever realize that enough is enough (seriously dude, we’re all rooting for you but stop!).
It’s every man and woman versus themselves and lover versus lover, as our favorite couple, and our smoldering second leads wonder if they’re doing the right thing while the world around them goes increasingly berserk. There were plenty of amazing emotional beats in this duo of episodes, but here are our top six that had us tearing up for all the right reasons!
Warning: spoilers for episodes 11-12 below.
1. On Dal’s emotional argument with Lady Sa
This conflict has been alluded to since the opening episodes where On Dal attempts to prove himself worthy of learning to fight and gets humiliated in front of everyone after failing General On Hyeop’s (Kang Ha Neul) test. That dichotomy was made more and more apparent upon Dal meeting Pyeonggang and realizing that he was far, far behind the rest of the world and wouldn’t be able to save the people he loves if trouble came to visit (and he knew it would!).
Lady Sa (Hwang Young Hee) has manipulated Dal since the beginning. She literally burned out her own eyes to prevent him from seeking revenge and from claiming his birthright. And she’s used that guilt to trap him in an oblivious, “peaceful” world for years and years. Dal has woken up to that, so it isn’t surprising that he reacts so angrily to Lady Sa blaming Pyeonggang for everything. He’s right in that it really is her fault for forcing him to remain ignorant at cost to the people he loves and at cost to his own maturity.
It’s a relatable conflict, even for those of us not living in Goguryeo. It’s the idea of rebelling against parental expectations, not purely for the sake of rebellion, but because the world they saw is different from the world you live in, and your path has to be different in order for you to survive. On Dal loves Lady Sa, but he cannot do as she asks, not anymore. It’s a painful realization for both of them, as both their worlds come crumbling down. So, it isn’t surprising that Lady Sa attempts to leave the village afterwards.
2. Pyeonggang begging Lady Sa to stay
This was heartbreaking. Lady Sa’s put Pyeonggang through a lot in terms of menial labor, and also refusing to let her feel like she belongs. She’s always acted like Pyeonggang’s using Dal as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, when they both know it couldn’t be further from the truth.
But Lady Sa’s hurting in her own way. She’s lived for On Dal, done everything she could for him, only for him to take the one path she never wanted him to take. She doesn’t see anything left for her in Ghost Village, which is why she leaves. Yet, of all people, the one girl she hasn’t been the kindest to comes chasing after her and begging her to stay. It’s a testament to how kindhearted Pyeonggang is and also how lonely she must have been for so long. At first instance, it might seem stupid of Pyeonggang to chase after her sole detractor, but the explanation makes so much sense. Pyeonggang, who lost her mother so young, who didn’t know a parent’s love for years, and whose father quite literally cannot show her affection because Go Won Pyo would seize on that like a rabid tiger, would naturally yearn for the closeness Dal and Lady Sa shared.
Of course Pyeonggang would enjoy being a part of their family, no matter how tiring it was fetching all that water. All families are dysfunctional to some extent because no one can agree on everything. Yet On Dal and Lady Sa were the healthiest example she’s ever had. Pyeonggang’s teary confession moves Lady Sa to tears, enough for to her take an arrow for her. And it’s at that moment that she switches from calling Pyeonggang “princess” to calling her “child,” proving that she’s all soft beneath that crusty exterior. It’s a moving exchange that solidifies Pyeonggang’s place in her found family and gives Lady Sa someone else to fight for. It’s impossible not to tear up at that!
3. On Dal’s anguish upon taking a life
The path On Dal walks has only one ending: disillusionment, followed by death at worst or guilt at best. He learned how to wield a sword from Pyeonggang with the enthusiasm and recklessness of someone who hasn’t seen bloodshed. This is evident in his interactions with Wol Gwang (Cho Tae Kwan). Dal literally swaggers up and says, “so when are we starting?” Wol Gwang knew his heart wasn’t ready for all the turmoil and bloodshed he was to experience, and that’s why he is sent off to meditate.
But steeling your heart to the pains of the future and encountering said pain is different. Dal gets a nasty dose of reality when all that training and reflexes he’s developed result in five dead men. For the first time, the road he’s on becomes clear, and he understands why his father took battle so seriously and refused to let him learn all those years ago. On Hyeop wanted to teach his son that he shouldn’t wield a sword until he can bear the weight of a human life. Unfortunately, Go Won Pyo never gave him a chance to impart that lesson, and Dal ended up learning it the hard way. And it leaves him in shock. No amount of Pyeonggang convincing him that it had to be done, else they’d all be dead, would convince him otherwise.
It might seem like Dal is insulting her when he comments that she sounds just like she did during her assassin days. But it’s more of a realization that her reason for fighting will not work for him. Pyeonggang fights for Goguryeo and a better world. On Dal doesn’t care about any of that. He just wants to protect her and the people he loves. The brilliant scene with On Hyeop at his mother’s grave only solidifies that resolution. He needed a reason to keep going, and it will always be her.
What’s fantastic about this, character development-wise, is that it’s not a selfless reason. It’s not the whole save-the-country bit that Pyeonggang has going on. Sweet, kind Dal has, in his own way, met his breaking point and has finally decided to live and fight by what he wishes. It’s heartbreaking because he’s losing all that innocence in front of our eyes, and the goofy fellow who bid farewell to Pyeonggang only days ago is gone.
Worse is that Pyeonggang sees it too and blames herself for it. Which brings us to the next emotional climax.
4. Pyeonggang’s guilt at On Dal’s turmoil
Pyeonggang wants Dal to hate her. None of this would have happened if she hadn’t enlisted his help, or shown him a world beyond Ghost Village, or taught him how to fight. She knows she put all this in action and that someone as honorable as Dal wouldn’t just sit and watch the world burn (though Go Geon would, and honestly, he would add more wood to the fire). She sees Dal withdraw, grow sadder, more world weary, and hates herself for starting all this. Hence, her literally fighting him, asking him to get angry with her and to let it all out.
She doesn’t expect him to admit that he knew her plan all along but went along with it because he loves her. She wasn’t using him, he tells her, because he was a willing participant every step of the way. The depth of his commitment awes and frightens her because loving someone is a liability in her world. This isn’t the first conflict in their relationship (King Pyeongwon (Kim Bup Rae) did order On Hyeop’s death after all) but it’s the first conflict that stems from them, as opposed to other forces. Yet once again, as it did before, Dal’s love conquers all (side note: who else is excited to see Na In Woo play that scene where Dal stop Pyeonggang from dying by suicide because they’re going to nail it!) and our couple finally makes their marriage real, wedding bracelets and all. And we get a kiss, not those smooches that Dal was offering nonstop. And it’s one heck of a kiss.
Aww! Love in the time of Go Won Pyo
5. Go Geon’s idea of a drinking game
While our main couple kisses and makes up, Go Geon and Hae Mo Yong (Choi Yu Hwa) remain the hottest of hot messes. They’re so, so electric on-screen, and their messy, warped motivations are altogether delightful and anxiety-inducing. Mo Yong’s played too many games, has her finger in too many pies, and all of it is rapidly catching up to her. She genuinely seems to care about Pyeonggang, as evidenced by her refusing to give Go Geon the details of her agreement with the princess. She doesn’t even tell Go Geon that Pyeonggang would be visiting.
In another time and another world, Mo Yong might have been a good person. But while Dal’s only seen the good that life has to offer, Mo Yong’s seen nothing but the worst. Goguryeo took everything from her and only Silla treated her like a human being. Of course, this was done to make her into a spy, but life as a human is better than the alternative: enslavement, sent as tribute. The life of a woman in Goguryeo is not easy. Mo Yong, for all her unscrupulousness and manipulation, is merely trying to make her way in a world that would crush her if she faltered for a second.
She sees the same determination in Pyeonggang. While the latter doesn’t agree with her methods, she sees that they’re similar in many ways, both killers in their own right. It makes sense that the two women have struck up an unusual friendship. Mo Yong’s finally growing a conscience and trying to protect Pyeonggang in her own way. So it’s all the more heartbreaking when her worst fear comes true and all the sides she’s been playing start stabbing her in the back.
First up, Go Geon. The man practically lives at her place. Every time he sees her, it’s all about Pyeonggang, Pyeonggang, Pyeonggang. Then why follow Mo Yong everywhere, Go Geon? She should start charging you rent, honestly. Go Geon’s always been selfish and cruel but that drinking game was low even for him.
He’s been messing with her for a while now, saying stuff like:
He knows that she feels something for him. But rather than be respectful and either ignore it, or at the very least not take advantage of it, he uses it to mock her. What’s worse, he follows it up by threatening her with the knowledge that she’s a Silla spy. It’s appalling, and if Mo Yong wasn’t morally grey herself, this would immediately disqualify him from being worthy of her. Unfortunately, she likes that about him and how they can be themselves around each other. But they’re fire and fire, and this week Mo Yong gets badly burned.
6. Mo Yong crying after Go Won Pyo’s repeated threats
This was a strangely hard scene to watch, perhaps because Mo Yong has been so strong for so long. She’s not a good person, not even close, but she does what she does to survive. Go Won Pyo does it because he can. Even for someone who hates the Goguryeo empire, she does not wish to poison King Pyeongwon because she knows the country would be so much worse with Go Won Pyo at its helm.
It’s interesting because Go Won Pyo has been shown to have secret deals with Silla (as in the case of the women sent as tribute). Plus, it’s doubtful that he would launch a full scale attack on Silla because he’s never shown any inclination beyond ruling Goguryeo. So she’s technically going against her own people by refusing to put someone favorable to them on the Goguryeo throne. Mo Yong doesn’t know it, but her loyalties are shifting.
For the first time, she’s stuck. If she obeys Go Won Pyo, King Pyeongwon dies, Goguryeo is forever changed, and its all her fault. If she doesn’t obey Go Won Pyo, she dies, and he finds someone else to do the job. And in the middle of all this, Go Geon keeps threatening her as well. It’s no wonder she fires back that he’s just like his father. It’s clear that Go Geon doesn’t like hearing that though, and is equally clear that his loyalty to his father isn’t 100 percent, given by how he saves King Pyeongwon. Whether it’s because he’s Pyeonggang’s father or because of some loyalty to Mo Yong is sadly unclear.
What’s very clear though, is that he knew his father would pretty much assault Mo Yong afterwards, and only had this to say:
With all this, Mo Yong’s had more than enough of Goguryeo and of Go Geon, but the poor girl doesn’t even get to flee the country in peace.
It sounds romantic as heck but the moment she mentions that Pyeonggang’s in danger, where does Go Geon go? To Pyeonggang, of course! Mo Yong is ditched once again. It appears that everyone matures leaps and bounds in this week’s episodes except Go Geon, who remains his father’s lackey, and is prepared to kill an entire clan that he knows is not guilty of treason, all because daddy said so.
With Pyeonggang surrounded, her army still in fledging stages, and Northern Zhou attacking at the border, next week’s episodes look heavy. It appears Pyeonggang will return to the palace with Dal and get her wish of having the Sunno Tribe reinstated, only for them to be immediately sent off to die at the border. On the other hand, if the preview is any indication, Go Geon will be busy smashing faces with Mo Yong.
Will he be worthy of her and can he really switch from Pyeonggang to Mo Yong that quickly? Will he finally understand that he doesn’t love Pyeonggang and only wants her in the same way most people want a $10 bill that flew away in the wind? Stop chasing after it or you’ll get hurt! Focus on what you have, Go Geon!
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What did you think of this week’s episodes? What were your favorite moments? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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!