The King Loves: Episodes 39-40 (Final)
The two friends at the heart of The King Loves face their biggest challenge of all as they grow into men of determination and purpose. Won and Rin have learned to trust each other no matter what, and that ability is the key to their success as they confront new threats. But their greatest accomplishment may be that they have learned to respect each other above all things, even when life threatens to pull them in different directions.
EPISODE 39 RECAP
Won and Rin arrive at the deserted Eun estate and split up to search for San. Rin frees a tied up Bi-yeon, which allows her to pass on a small bottle of an antidote that she warns must be administered before sunset.
Won looks around for San when he finds Dan, shocked to learn that San drank poisoned tea. When Won surveys the tea set on the table, he finds a letter.
Won runs out and informs Rin and his guards that San was kidnapped and produces the letter as he explains that Song In wants to meet him, alone. Rin shows Won the antidote after he learns that San was the one who was poisoned.
Both men race after San on horseback as Won narrates, “My friend, whom I met when I was twelve, showed me the world. You were in that world. You were like a little bird, and I was captivated by you. The sky is big, and you are too small. Where are you?”
Moo-suk drives the carriage as Song In sits inside with his dagger against San’s throat. San wants to know if he ordered the murder of her mother and their guards eight years ago, but he claims he no longer remembers the people who were sacrificed for his grandiose plans.
A look at the sun’s position tells Song In that Dan must be coughing up blood by now and will be dead by the time the sun sets. Song In takes pleasure in the fact that he’s already taken Won’s mother, friend, and wife — now it’s San’s turn.
But San laughs as she confesses, “I ruined all the fun for you,” as she coughs up blood.
Teacher Lee finds King Chungryeol in Princess Wonsung’s empty chambers. The king is angry that Teacher Lee chose exile when it would have been better for him to stay at the palace to get through to him. When Teacher Lee bluntly observes that the king prefers flattery, the king keeps his temper in check and invites his guest to sit down.
The king sadly recounts that Princess Wonsung died while he was asleep. Teacher Lee shares that he heard that the king almost died and then confides, “I heard that you assembled a group opposed to Yuan. And that you killed Princess Wonsung secretly because she was opposed to you.” The king is shocked by the rumors but becomes fearful when he learns that he supposedly ordered Goryeo’s armies to prepare for war with Yuan.
Teacher Lee shares that envoys are on their way to formally withdraw Yuan’s promise to treat Goryeo as an independent state. Since he’s become well known in Yuan, Teacher Lee was asked to head the bureau that will govern Goryeo. Teacher Lee assures the angry King Chungryeol that he doesn’t want the position and asks him to protect Goryeo.
Meanwhile, San is pleased that she upset Song In’s plan as he desperately searches for the missing antidote. He yells for Moo-suk, who stands at a distance with his bow and confesses that he gave the antidote to Bi-yeon.
Moo-suk demands the king’s seal, convinced that Song In plans to turn Goryeo over to Yuan. He draws his arrow as he remembers his father, a commander who died in a conflict with Yuan. Song In reminds Moo-suk that he raised the young son who was left behind, and when he mentions that they were once like brothers, Moo-suk hesitates just before he shoots. When the arrow misses its target, Song In plunges his dagger into Moo-suk.
Won and Rin stop to investigate some fresh tracks, and Won sees the blood on Rin’s robe. He squeezes Rin’s shoulder, and when he sees the fresh blood on his hand, he scolds Rin for riding this far in his current state. Won demands the antidote, worried that it will be tainted with blood, and once he has it, he sends Rin’s horse away so that Rin can’t follow and rides off with a promise to return with San.
While Song In drives the carriage, Rin stumbles through the woods and finds Moo-suk’s body, realizing that San must be nearby.
Song In carries San to the ocean as sunset approaches. When San’s hand falls limply, he promises that the pain won’t last long.
Won is at the empty carriage when Song In returns, and he demands to know what he wants and where he took San. Song In admits that he wants the only thing that Won has left: Goryeo.
Song In fights off Won as he proclaims, “You are inferior to me in every way. Your brains, your brawn, and your sword fighting.” Song In proves that he’s quite skilled as he and Won fight, but he’s also crazed as he screeches, “Why should you rule Goryeo? I am better king material!”
Song In manages to disarm Won and raises his dagger, only to be surprised when he’s struck by an arrow from behind. Song In turns to see Rin, who is armed with Moo-suk’s bow and arrows. Won tries to use the opportunity to recover his sword, but it places him dangerously close to Song In.
Before Rin can ready another arrow, Song In grabs Won and places his dagger against his neck. Song In taunts Rin by saying that he doesn’t have to strength to fight any longer as Rin looks down at his own blood-soaked robe. Determined, Rin struggles as he aims another arrow, and when he releases it, Won rolls out of the way in time for the arrow to bury itself into Song In’s chest.
Blood gushes from Song In’s mouth as Won demands to know where he hid San. Out of time, Rin calls Won away, and the mortally wounded Song In smiles when he sees the specter of Boo-yong approach before he closes his eyes for the last time.
Won and Rin discover San lying on the rocks as the sun lowers. Won empties the bottle of antidote into her mouth, and when she doesn’t stir, Rin runs for the carriage. Alone with San, Won pleads, “Wake up, So-hwa… you must wake up. San, we are here, so wake up!”
Next thing we know, Teacher Lee greets Won as soon as he passes through the palace gates and warns, “There is something you must know.”
Accompanied by Minister Song, a party of Yuan envoys meets with King Chungryeol and his ministers. They present a bloody talisman that Minister Song explains was found under Princess Wonsung’s chambers as proof that Boo-yong caused her death with a curse.
The king and his ministers are shocked when the envoy explains that the imperial family has summoned King Chungryeol to Yuan for an investigation into Princess Wonsung’s death. The envoy notes that since the emperor and Princess Wonsung have died, the king no longer has any connection to Yuan.
King Chungryeol demands to know, “Are you saying I made someone put a curse on my own queen to murder her? Why would I?” The envoy explains that there is an uprising against Yuan in Goryeo and has witnesses who claim that the king is the leader. The envoy goes on to suggest that Princess Wonsung was killed when she discovered his plan and challenges, “If you are innocent, come to Yuan.”
Won’s voice suddenly rings out, “I will prove his innocence here.” Won enters to announce that he killed the leader of the anti-Yuan forces on his father’s orders and shows the fresh blood on his hand as proof (but it’s actually Rin’s blood). After he testifies that the leader confessed that he was responsible for the talisman, Won whispers to his father, “I deserve a compliment. I did well, right?”
The envoy asks Won if he found the king’s golden stamp as he motions for a scroll, and Minister Song gasps when he reads an order to ready soldiers near the border and prepare for war.
Wang Young argues that the document can’t be authentic, but Minister Song wails that it bears the king’s seal. The envoy proposes that the leader of the anti-Yuan group must be the one who has the king’s seal and demands to know, “Who has this golden stamp?”
Teacher Lee visits the Wang estate to bring Rin up to date — the investigation into Princess Wonsung’s death and the threat of war are an excuse for Yuan to take over Goryeo. Teacher Lee is worried that without Princess Wonsung’s protection, the king won’t be safe if he goes to Yuan.
When Rin asks about Won, Teacher Lee acknowledges that the current situation is a perfect excuse for him to take the crown. Rin knows Won doesn’t want that, but Teacher Lee fears that if Won doesn’t accept the throne, Goryeo’s future will be in danger.
Teacher Lee reasons that the only way to appease Yuan is to present a convincing leader of the anti-Yuan group. Rin listens thoughtfully when Teacher Lee explains that it should be someone from the top five people who could succeed the king. (Teacher Lee! What are you suggesting?!)
Rin emerges from his meeting to find San just outside the door. He reminds her that she should be resting before examining her closely, and when he notes that she looks unwell and has dark circles under her eyes, San wonders if he’s calling her ugly. Rin smiles sheepishly and quickly apologizes with a laugh.
When Rin sits next to her, San stares at him and admits that she’s trying to figure out, “What is on Rin’s mind right now?” Rin wants to know her findings, so she answers, “The leader of the anti-Yuan group. Saving the king… Goryeo. Yuan. The crown prince.”
Rin avoids San’s gaze and offers to get her some porridge. When San catches Rin staring at her, he admits, “I want to look at you for a bit longer.” San wonders aloud, “What on earth is on your mind that I am feeling more nervous than ever?”
Won and Dan visit King Chungryeol to present him with cookies that Dan made. Won assures the king that they aren’t poisoned and praises Dan’s cooking skills, but when the king shoves the cookies away, Won whispers, “Do not mind him. He is rather suspicious, small-minded, and holds grudges for a long time, but he is kind.”
The king finds Won’s words odd for someone who wanted to take his place. Won goes on to add that the king is a horrible Go player, and he and his father trade insults until the king finally clucks his tongue at Dan in sympathy.
Won rolls his eyes as the king informs her, “The country thinks of him as a half-blooded prince. He never knew the love of a family. He would not know how to love you.” Ouch. Won urges Dan to take the king’s words as a kind of blessing, and as they leave, the king invites Won for a game of Go.
The two men face each other over a Baduk board, and the king supposes that once he leaves for Yuan, Won will have fun playing king. Won admits, “I have been doing that already, while you were bewitched by that fox and out of your mind.” They trade more barbs before the king acknowledges that because the emperor died, Yuan wants to take over Goryeo.
The king doubts that Won cares, but he insists that Goryeo is very important to him. The king foresees that the people will be enslaved if Goryeo is absorbed by Yuan and begs Won, “Please protect its name.”
When Won asks about the gold seal, the king admits that he lost it. Won is certain that Song In was the one who made the royal order for war, but admits that he didn’t find the seal when Song In was killed.
The king wants to know what Won plans to do once the seal is recovered, and is shocked that Won plans to claim responsibility for the call for war. Won worries about the king’s chances in Yuan and intends to go in his place, hopeful that his relatives won’t kill him.
Won takes the handkerchief that contains the petals of his mother’s peony and offers it to his father. When the king reveals the petals, Won shares, “She asked for a peony before she died. This is the peony.”
When King Chungryeol weeps openly, Won finally realizes that his father loved his mother.
EPISODE 40 RECAP
Jin Gwan catches Dan as she stumbles in her rush to meet San, and she cries as she pulls San into a hug. Dan admits how relieved she is to see San as Jin Gwan hands her a handkerchief from a generous supply.
San teases that she’s crying as much as Bi-yeon, and it reminds Dan of all the times that Rin teased her about her tears. The two women walk together happily as San asks Dan to share her secret for good cooking.
Jeon barges in on his father and brother to complain that Rin brought San, his former fiancée, into their house. Wang Young simply ignores Jeon’s rant as Rin asks for his father’s forgiveness.
Jeon is shocked when his father explains that Rin wants his name erased from the family registry. Rin offers Jeon a chance to contribute to the kingdom on the condition that he forgets about San and warns, “You should do as I say if you do not wish your wrongdoings to be exposed once again.”
Wang Young looks at Rin with sorrow as he instructs Jeon, “Tell him that you will do that and that you are thankful.” Later, Rin kneels before his father as he leaves his home while Teacher Lee’s narration tells us that it’s the summer of 1297.
We then see Teacher Lee meeting with Goo-hyung at the Eun estate as he learns that San had him prepare it for her teacher’s use.
Won meets up with San and Rin, who wait for him with knapsacks. They are headed to retrieve the king’s seal, whose location San claims Song In shared with her. Won is reluctant to travel without his guards but Rin reminds him that he did it all the time. Won then suggests that they take horses when he hears that it’s at least a two day trip but San starts off without him in frustration. Won catches up to ask, “Why are you both annoyed with me?”
As they hike to their destination, Won narrates, “I knew they were lying when I looked into their eyes. That is how close we were. I knew they were fooling me, and they knew that I knew.”
When the trio stops at a creek for water, Rin fills San’s water bag while they smile happily at each other. Won takes a step back and smiles to himself when he sees that they’re lost in their own world. His narration continues, “That summer, we were practicing our farewell. To a friend whom I never separated from and to you, whom I thought I would never be separated from.”
It’s nighttime when the trio runs through the rain to take shelter in a deserted house. San shares that the storm triggered a memory, and she and Won mention Mount Doota at the same time.
San admits that she should have figured out Won’s identity back then, “One was busy getting firewood, but the other did not lift a finger.” Won defends himself by saying, “Rin busies himself for nothing. I am the normal one. He is abnormal.” Won points to Rin knowingly when he emerges from the house and announces that he will get some firewood.
San has Rin sit down and asks if the rain reminds him of anything. As usual, he’s clueless, and Won and San have to coach him until he remembers Mount Doota. A flashback to Won and Rin sleeping on either side of San in the cave on Mount Doota is proof of how much has changed since then.
Rin announces that the rain stopped as Won quietly studies the profiles of his friends. When he looks down, Won stares at his hand next to San’s before he jumps to his feet to announce, “Rin will get firewood, and I will cook.”
Rin and San are aghast when Won empties a bottle of salt onto their food. San manages to get a taste and spits out the food as she declares, “It is so salty!” When Won realizes that her sense of taste has returned, he can’t help himself, and he pulls San into a hug.
San walks off to find a way to salvage their dinner, which gives Rin a chance to ask Won about San’s lost sense of taste. Won beams as he shares, “She got it back. I am so proud of her.”
Later, Rin covers a sleeping San with a robe before joining Won on the porch. Won mentions Rin’s letter, which he found touching, but Rin is too embarrassed to talk about it.
Won offers Rin his hand as he tells him, “I was honored that you considered me your friend.” After they shake hands, Rin wonders, “Was that embarrassing?” And Won admits, “Incredibly. Let us never do that again.” Ha.
When Won mentions the king’s seal, Rin admits that if San finds it, he plans to keep it. Won was afraid this was Rin’s plan and tells him not to even think of such a thing. But Rin reminds Won that if he or the king are tied to the anti-Yuan movement, Goryeo will be invaded.
Won insists that he can manage the threat, but Rin knows that he’s the perfect person to be blamed for everything, even the king’s kidnapping. When Won asks what happens when the seal is found on him, Rin quietly answers that he’ll accept the consequences.
Won cuts off their conversation and sends Rin inside to San. Rin places his pack under San’s head and worries that he woke her when she opens her eyes, but she confesses that she was already awake.
Rin wonders if she overheard him, but San confesses that she figured out his plan on her own. Rin apologizes, “I said I would follow you anywhere, that I would be with you. I cannot keep that promise.” Tears well in her eyes as San argues that she’s not as strong as Rin believes she is.
Rin knows San has the king’s seal and holds out his hand as he urges, “Give it to me.” A flashback shows that San stole the pouch with the seal from Song In when he carried her to the rocks by the ocean.
San tearfully places that pouch in Rin’s hand, and when he calls her “Lady San,” she remembers how surprised she was when he first used her name, since it had been so long since she heard it.
Rin recalls the first time that he saw her, “Long before that, when I was twelve, I snuck into your house once. It was nighttime, and you were crying. As you cried, you lit lotus lanterns to comfort the dead. Ever since then, I liked you.”
Rin then confesses, “For a short while, I dreamed of making you mine.” They are both crying as Rin tenderly tells San, “I will let you go now. Do not look back.” San can’t contain her sobs any longer as she rests her head on Rin’s shoulder. Rin raises his hand to console her, but holds himself back as San continues to cry, and their sad farewell fills the night.
Outside, Won stands under a tree as he gazes at the sky and thinks, “I wish we got to practice life once. A practice run. I would remember the lessons and live a righteous life the second time around.”
Dressed as one of the king’s ministers, Jeon finds the Yuan envoy and gives up Rin’s hideout, the headquarters of the anti-Yuan movement. Won dispatches his guards as Rin attempts to escape on horseback, but he’s soon overtaken. Rin abandons his horse, and a search of his belongings yields the king’s seal.
Rin is chased to a cliff, where he fights off Won’s guards until Jang Eui shoots him in the leg with an arrow and forces him down. When Rin manages to stand and fight again, Jin Gwan sends a second arrow into his shoulder and then turns away, tears filling his eyes.
Both Jang Eui and Jin Gwan look at Rin in sorrow as he inches to the edge of the cliff. With a look up to the sky, Rin falls to the water far below.
In the throne room, King Chungryeol places his crown on Won’s head as Teacher Lee’s narrations explains, “The king commended the crown prince for his efforts and abdicated in his favor and retired to a corner of the palace.”
The cart pullers move a cart with a covered body through the city as Teacher Lee narrates, “Wang Rin’s body was found at the mouth of a river few days later. He had been disowned by his family and died a traitor, so no one claimed his body.”
Now dressed in his kingly robes, Won emerges from behind a tree as the narration continues, “That day, the new king climbed a hill and waited for someone for a long time.” Won gazes down at San as a man wearing a hat uses a cane to limp to her side.
Won faces them as the man removes his hat… and we see that it’s Rin. With great sadness, Won stares at his friends in the distance as they bow together to their new king. Won accepts the gesture with a bittersweet smile and watches as Rin and San turn to walk away.
Rin stops when San turns around, and Won’s last glimpse of her is her tearful smile as she waves goodbye. Won starts to lift his hand to wave back, but he can’t bring himself to do it.
Rin stares at his lifelong friend as San joins him, leaving Won to watch from under the tree as his friends disappear together into the woods.
Later, Minister Song enters the throne room to summon Won to a banquet with Yuan envoys as Teacher Lee narrates, “In a short period, the new king reformed the government. He worked day and night and spent his free time alone.” Won silences Minister Song when he mentions that Minister Eun’s daughter was spotted in Goryeo and sends him ahead to the banquet.
Alone, Won sadly protests, “I thought you had gone far, but you are still in Goryeo. What if I come running after you?” With a heavy sigh he concludes, “You are too close.”
Teacher Lee’s narration lets us know what happened to Won: “Seven months after becoming king, he abdicated in favor of his father, the previous king, and left to Yuan.” The throne sits empty as Teacher Lee adds, “He did not return to Goryeo for ten years.”
A portrait of the trio amid the red flowers appears in place of the empty throne as Teacher Lee’s narration sheds light on what Won did when he was alone, “Much later, someone found a painting by the young king.”
And in a final flashback, we see the three friends together on that immortalized day among the red flowers. Won smiles at his friends as he reflects, “This is the story of me, who loved you more than myself.”
With a poignant and heartfelt farewell, the friendship of Won, Rin and San becomes a warm and tender memory as the trio made one last sacrifice, this time for the preservation of Goryeo. Won finally understands what it means to love unselfishly as he tries to save what is precious to him — his father, his country and his friends — even though the personal cost is almost unbearable.
The King Loves was about so much more than the romantic triangle that dominated much of the story. When I remember this drama, I will think if it as a coming-of-age story where our trio rose above their selfish desires and became heroic in the process. Yes, San and Rin were finally free to love each other and share their lives together, but that was all that they had after they left their identities and loved ones behind forever, their last and greatest sacrifice. How fitting that Won allowed them to see him in his king’s robe before they embarked on their future of anonymity. Princess Wonsung’s conviction that a king can have no friends came true after all.
What I appreciated the most about this drama was its ability to creep into my head as well as my heart as it explored the many facets of love. The King Loves was an ambitious tale that suffered at times from the complicated political angles and the uncertainty of the romance, but it did succeed in illustrating how something as beautiful as love can become so tangled. In the end, I keep thinking of San’s words: “I have come across many precious people in my life, which most people cannot even dream of. I was dearly beloved. That is enough for me.” That humility and gratitude eventually held true for each member of our trio before they parted ways.
Rin demonstrated a quiet dignity as he took Teacher Lee’s words to heart and volunteered to take the blame for Song In’s plan in order to protect Goryeo. He let San go so that she could live her live fully and happily, even though he would continue to love her as he has since he was a boy. San didn’t try to dissuade Rin from his plan, and even though he didn’t expect it, it’s no surprise that San decided to stay with him, as she’s uniquely equipped to live under an alias and help the man that she loves disappear along the hidden roads of the East. San never cared about wealth or titles, and after overcoming her emotional isolation, her love for Rin was too precious to lose.
Won showed the most emotional growth as he learned to give his friends a respectable distance and accepted that Rin and San love each other. He tried to treat San as a friend and did his best to hide his pain and, in his own way, I think he is actually happy for Rin and San. Won was true to form as he tried to find a way to keep his friends near, but in the end, he was faced with the one obstacle that he couldn’t overcome: war with Yuan. When he was forced to give up the two people that he treasured most for the greater good, Won honored their sacrifices by finally accepting one of his own. Won’s grief and sorrow when Rin and San left his life is a testament to how deeply he loved them, and his only consolation is that they survived their ordeals and are alive together somewhere in the world.
At the heart of The King Loves was the friendship between Won and Rin that defied all the odds. They were funny, charming, touching, frustrating, and heartbreaking, but always memorable. The powerful chemistry of Im Shi-wan and Hong Jong-hyun, paired with their incredible performances, gave us a bromance that is sure to stand the test of time. What an accomplishment to bring such complicated, yet endearing, characters to life.