Started this show a little late as I was turned off by negative reviews and episode length. I’ve heard the show starts off slow and only builds momentum later. Well, if people consider the first two episodes “slow”, then I think I’m going to enjoy this series very much.
I’ve always series that engage in deep and meaningful world-building and this is one show that leaves no stone unturned within its first two episodes, lovingly building a rich world where war breaks out due to the greed of the Sanyeok tribe. The Neanthals, Wahan people and Sanyeok tribe are all so distinctly characterised in such a detailed manner, highlighting their beliefs, cultural practices and way of life. Every scene is shot with such attention to detail in terms of the setting, the characters’ costumes and their reactions. The show is truly a visual feast.
While engaging in world-building, the plot still progresses at a steady pace, with weighty and significant events occurring throughout each episode and not simply left to the end. In the first episode, we have the key events of the war against the Neanthals, Asa Hon deciding not to return to Arthdal, the death of Raguz, Tagon taking an Igutu child with him and Asa Hon’s long sojourn into the land of Iark, which leads tragically to her death. The second episode builds towards the assault and capture of the Wahon tribe, but not without spending time to make us fall in love with them and the key characters of Eunseom and Tanya. While I did feel some of the scenes between Eunseom and Tanya dragged on for too long, the narrative energy was certainly strong while also leaving enough open to keep the tension strong.
The performances have certainly been strong and I would have expected no less, given the efforts taken to cast the show strongly. I’d have to give many props to the child actors though – Rottib and the child Eunseom and Tanya in episode 1 really brought life to their roles. I found baby Eunseom really charming and adorable too. Chu Ja-yeon’s performance as Asa Hon was so raw and compelling and she was able to convey the emotional and physical strength arising from maternal love so convincingly. Her final scene where it dawns upon her that Eunsom is Aramun Haesulla and tricked her was particularly well acted.
Kim Ji-won and Song Joong-Ki performed up to expectations – truly breathing life and owning their characters. They had to deliver deeply emotional scenes within the second episode they did them very well. I really appreciated the thematic unity within the second episode of how names can tether us and hold us back, but also empower us and give us strength. This is what Tanya comes to realise in the second episode. While she initially sees her name as binding her to the Wahan tribe and tells Mother Choseol that she cannot leave with Eun-Seom because of her name, she eventually decides not to leave her people because she is a child of the Azure comet.
Eunseom, on the other hand, is frustrated and lost because he does not seem to belong anywhere. He spent most of his early life with only his mum who died and in the Wahan tribe, he is told he does not belong and needs to leave. He’s tired of defined by what he’s not and desires for belonging and identity. At the end of the episode, he’s truly alone, with nobody around him that he knows or love except the horse, Helper. Yet in his solitude, what he has to hold onto is the name – Dream – that Tanya gives him because she is brutally captured again. And unbeknownst to him, his riding of the horse Helper has further cemented his identity of Aramun Haesulla that Asa Hon mentioned at the end of episode 1.
The budding friendship and romance between Tanya and Eunseom is charming and really provided many laughs in the second episode. I really loved how Tanya threw Eunseom a curveball with the horse and how he fumbled towards an explanation of the horse. What really struck me when watching the show is how physically demanding this show is for its cast – they have to walk through cold waters, dance, fight, run a lot, work with animals; they certainly laboured hard to bring the of this story alive.
As we move ahead, there are so many intriguing questions that have yet to be answered. So who exactly is Aramun Haesulla and how does that fit into the mythology of Arth? Hoe and why did he trick Asa Hon to bring Eunseom to Iark? What does it mean for Tanya to be a child of the Azure comet? What plans does Tagon has for the Igutu child that he has adopted? These are the bigger questions that continue to draw me into the mythological fantastical world of Arthdal and will keep me coming back for more.