“River Where the Moon Rises” ups the ante this week as we get battles, palace machinations, near-deaths, real deaths, and kidnappings. Pyeonggang (Kim So Hyun) and On Dal (Na In Woo) wade through the murky waters of Goguryeo politics as the Sunno Tribe is finally restored to its former glory. But as enemies close in on all sides and former allies switch loyalties, the question arises as to how long our favorite couple will escape unscathed and whether they’ll see the danger surrounding them before it’s too late.
Here are the moments that had us on the edge of our seats, and what they mean for Pyeonggang, Dal, and where this show is headed!
Warning: spoilers for episodes 13-14 below.
1. The battle between the Sunno Tribe and Northern Zhou
How amazing was she in this scene?
This was the battle we’ve all been waiting for since the first episode. It’s the fateful moment when we finally find out whether Dal lives or dies, and the show delivered in every way possible. This was a magnificent spectacle, epic in scale and realistic in a way that isn’t often seen in saeguks. It felt like something out of a movie! Even more enjoyable was how the battle is narratively framed. This was a last-minute plan but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well thought out. Pyeonggang and the Sunno Tribe went in with their eyes open. They knew that Go Won Pyo (Lee Hae Young) was sending them to die and figured out the best way to kill two birds with one stone: defeat the Northern Zhou and restore the Sunno Tribe to its former glory and seat on the Five Tribes Council.
Pyeonggang’s reasoning to the Northern Zhou military leader made narrative sense. Some dramas use frankly unbelievable reasoning during espionage scenes, but this worked perfectly. A princess kicked out of the palace by her father for marrying her husband joins forces with her father’s political enemy. There’s nothing suspicious about that. It also made sense that the Northern Zhou would seek to hold Pyeonggang as a political hostage while killing the rest of the tribe. No huge leaps in logic here.
What was so moving about this battle was the way Dal and Pyeonggang were its narrative core. The moment Dal initiated the fighting and shot off a signal to Pyeonggang, she knew exactly what happened and raced to him. It makes for heart-pounding action, because on one hand, there’s Dal and the Sunno Tribe to worry about, and on the other, there’s the question of whether Pyeonggang will arrive in time. The fight scenes were brutal, well choreographed, and heartbreaking, especially when Tara San (Ryu Ui Hyun) dies while protecting Tara Jin (Kim Hee Jung). There’s no sugarcoating of battle and its cost, which makes it all the more poignant.
The Sunno Tribe win big and return to the palace with honor and with Dal alive, much to Go Won Pyo’s fury. But there’s trouble brewing where no one’s looking. Go Geon (Lee Ji Hoon) and Hae Mo Young (Choi Yu Hwa) have been standing on a precipice for the past few episodes, and this week, they finally make the decision to jump off into unknown waters.
2. Go Geon and Mo Young hitting rock bottom
This moment is supposed to be romantic, the culmination of all that repressed tension between them. So why doesn’t it exactly feel that way? Perhaps it’s because Go Geon vows to destroy Pyeonggang right before this kiss and burns up the sketch of her. Perhaps it’s because Mo Young’s put herself at risk by sending a fake letter to Silla, and Go Geon doesn’t even thank her. Perhaps it’s because it looks like he’s kissing her out of desperation than anything else.
It’s a strange moment, because Go Geon is more insane than Byeong In from “Mr. Queen,” raising the question of why Mo Young is so in love with him. He’s cunning, obsessive, and dangerous, and it’s apparent that she likes that about him because she’s the same way. And yet, shouldn’t there be more to a character than just that? Pyeonggang and Dal both want to live in a kinder world. She differs from him in her approach to building that world, but they discuss and resolve conflicts in a much healthier way than Go Geon and Mo Young do.
And these two are wild. Go Geon blackmails her every other day. Mo Young hates his arrogance but is head over heels for him. He’s obsessed with Pyeonggang but also feels something for Mo Young. They’re such a mess and this scene feels like a low point for both of them. Go Geon could choose to rise above it all and be better than his father, but he would rather destroy Pyeonggang and Dal instead of using his power and privilege for good. Mo Young abandons her loyalty to Silla in favor of a man who has only ever threatened, blackmailed, and used her. This couple might burn up the screen but that’s only due to how magnetic Lee Ji Hoon and Choi Yu Hwa are together, because on paper, it really doesn’t make sense about why they work.
That kiss is still something else though.
3. Mo Young’s kidnapping
The morning after Mo Young and Go Geon do the deed is where the real romance comes in. Perhaps it’s because Go Geon’s finally worked off some of that energy, but he’s calmer and more relaxed.
He doesn’t outright say that he loves her but Mo Young means something to Go Geon, that much is certain. The fact that he goes absolutely berserk when she’s kidnapped is proof enough that Go Geon has switched the focus of his obsession from Pyeonggang to Mo Young. This is all the more evident when he encounters Pyeonggang that same day, nods blankly at her and goes his way. Gone are the tortured eyes and angsty faces, he saves those for Mo Young now. But of course, he still wants to kill Pyeonggang and Dal. Go Geon, is there any hope for you? Do you even have a reason as to why you hate them so much?
Mo Young’s kidnapping accomplishes more than just showing that Go Geon’s now in love. It proves that our second leads are now firmly heading toward the dark side. Go Geon smuggles Doo Joong Seo out of jail and lies to his father that “someone” broke him out. Nothing good can come of that. Meanwhile, Mo Young’s double-double agenting finally catches up to her. She’s kidnapped from her bed, brought to Silla, and ordered by King Jinheung (Kim Seung Soo) himself to kill Pyeonggang, and she honestly looks pretty ready to do it.
It’s a shame because it relegates her to the classic “evil second female lead’ trope that castrates her as a character. Mo Young has so much untapped potential, I’m surprised she didn’t try to become Queen of Silla. There are so many ways this character could go, but as of right now, it seems like she’s going to team up with Go Geon to kill Pyeonggang and that’s just tragic.
4. Doo Jong Seo’s assassination attempt on King Pyeongwon and Crown Prince Won
Doo Joong Seo (Han Jae Young) has lurked in the background for the entirety of the show thus far, but he finally makes his move this week. Having gained the confidence of Queen Jin Bi (Wang Bit Na), he uses King Pyeongwon’s (Kim Bup Rae) gratitude to hold a private ritual and promptly poisons him and Crown Prince Won (Park Sang Hoon). What follows is a tense sequence as Dal realizes that this famed fortuneteller is really Cheonbujang’s infamous leader and races off with Pyeonggang to save the king. They succeed, and Dal ends up killing Doo Joong Seo’s bald minion. Pyeonggang wavers when it comes to killing the man who raised her (even if as an assassin) but is about to strike him down when Dal intervenes and tells her to let justice take care of him.
What’s especially important to note here from a rational point of view is that his revenge makes sense. If this show was called “Doo Joong Seo,” we’d be cheering for him to kill the evil king right now.
For all Pyeonggang’s whitewashing of her father’s grievous misdeeds, the fact remains that King Pyeongwon is a pretty terrible person. Not because he’s a weak king, but because he is responsible for his own weakness by giving Go Won Pyo something to hold over him. Plus, in all those years since realizing that he was wrong, that he killed Queen Yeon (Kim So Hyun) for nothing and wrongfully framed the Sunno Tribe, he’s never once tried to remedy his mistake. Instead, he just drank and took drug after drug and was a general disappointment as a father, king, and a human being.
He acts like Go Won Pyo’s some kind of god, and never tries to fight against him. As Pyeonggang’s attempted forced marriage demonstrated, King Pyeongwon would rather have his children alive and suffering rather than risk his own neck to save them. It’s amazing that Pyeonggang’s so devoted to him because he certainly doesn’t deserve it, and many, many, Goguryeo citizens, including Dal’s own father, On Hyeop (Kang Ha Neul), owe their death to him and him alone.
Go Won Pyo cannot be blamed for everything wrong with Goguryeo, and it’s naive of Pyeonggang to think so. It’s also hard to see Dal happily drinking and ingratiating himself with the man who killed his father. Wasn’t this an initial source of conflict between him and Pyeonggang? It’s odd to see him interact with Pyeongwon without hesitation and be so happy that this useless king called him “son.” Then again, neither Pyeonggang nor Dal know the truth of what occurred all those years ago when Queen Yeon and On Hyeop were killed. Little do they know that the more they seek to corner Go Won Pyo, the more Pyeongwon’s dirty secret threatens to come out in the open.
5. Pyeonggang’s ploy to catch Jin Bi and Go Won Pyo
This still perfectly captures the present dynamic between our favorite couple. Pyeonggang’s always thinking ahead, and Dal’s watching, wondering what she sees.
Pyeonggang’s resumption of palace machinations has several implications. First, her focus on revenge and ousting Go Won Pyo is so all-consuming that she’s starting to neglect Dal. Not that men need to have their partner focused on them all the time, but as Tara Jin pointed out, Pyeonggang really is abandoning him to the wolves and to the surprising snobbery of her brother, Crown Prince Won.
This hints at a potential source of conflict between her and Dal and is all the more saddening because Dal has always been so considerate toward her, even convincing Tara Jin to come to Pyeonyang, by making the very astute point that a husband and a girlfriend are two completely different sources of comfort and care. Not many dramas – or male leads for that matter – take the time to note that one’s partner shouldn’t be your whole world. Dal knows that Pyeonggang needs more than just him. However, Pyeonggang doesn’t understand that she is all Dal has.
He’s separated from Lady Sa (Hwang Young Hee) and from the rest of the Sunno Tribe. He only has Sa Poong Gae (Kim Dong Young) as a friend, and both are equally lost when it comes to palace etiquette. He doesn’t want to be at the palace but is doing his best as Pyeonggang husband, and Pyeonggang’s completely ignoring that, too busy plotting left and right. He rightly points out that she’s keeping secrets from him, which she never did when they lived in Ghost Village. And it’s all the more dangerous because she isn’t the only one with something up her sleeve.
Next week’s preview hints at tension between our couple as Pyeonggang attempts to go hard on anyone who opposes her, which rightfully worries Dal. But, of course, he’s a marshmallow who’d do anything for her so he rides off to battle once more for her sake. We have a time-skip coming up as well with Kwon Ha Woon (from “Mouse“) taking over the role of Crown Prince Won. The real folktale of Pyeonggang and Dal has him dying in 590 AD during a battle with Silla, but will this show flip that on its head and have him only get injured? Or will it separate our couple for a bit before they reunite?
So many questions, so many enemies, and so many things that could go wrong. One thing’s for sure, next week’s episodes can’t come fast enough!
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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!