I started of the series complaining about the length of each episode, but as the series progressed, I started wishing that each episode was longer – or that the series was longer. This is true testament to the quality of this series, or perhaps a better word to use is the “ambition” of the series. Understandably, this is not the type of series likely to garner high ratings because the sheer scale of the story makes it difficult to follow at times. There are so many interweaving storylines, with not just interpersonal relationships but inter-tribal political as well as mythical dynamics to consider. Nonetheless, the writers have done a remarkable job weaving together an epic, grand storyline that delivers powerful, jaw-dropping moments every episode.
Wanted to jot down some quick thoughts on each of the major characters just before the finale and also express my wish-list for them in the finale:
Eunsom: My complaint about him has always been about how he’s left out of Arthdal, hence secondary to the main storyline ever since the second season commenced. The fact that he also seems to somehow end up in captivity is somewhat tiresome. Nonetheless, his journey outside of Arthdal gathering the other tribes together is necessary to bring the entire story together and also as a mirroring of Tagon’s own journey of power within Arthdal. Rather than taking power, Eunsom has ‘grown’ into his power, both in terms of him having the power gradually bestowed upon him by the tribes he comes into contact with (both the Momo and the Ago tribes), and also in terms of his maturing into his destiny as a leader and realising how much power he can weld. I love what Ipsaeng told him in episode 17, that he needs to respond to the aspirations of the 30,000 people who now see him as Inaishingi. I love that the story between him and Tanya has never been about love or that promise between them, but really about him looking beyond his igutu identity and discovering the power he welds.
As a drama, I can also see why there was a need for one of the characters to remain outside of Arthdal, both to provide a sense of much-needed lightness and levity to the otherwise heavy-going and dark scenes in Arthdal, but also to provide a mirror to the world within Arthdal, where betrayal of each other is necessary even within families or even within those on the same side to win.
In the finale, my wish is for there to be a satisfying reunion between Saya and and Eunsom and a meaningful way for them to both come to the same side; as of now, they are both on such diametrically opposed camps that I can’t see how that will happen meaningfully. In truth, I would have hoped for that reunion to happen much earlier, but I recognise too the writers had limitations to work within and other key stories to tell.
Saya: Saya has been the most mysterious and intriguing character thus far, but he has come out of the shadows, just as Tagon has emerged and he has proven to be the most valuable asset to Tagon. I’m not sure if this was what Tagon had in mind, many years ago when he adopted Saya and this has not even been explained up till this point. However, I’ve really enjoyed how this father-son relationship has grown in such warped and unforeseen circumstances. Saya being in the tower and having time to read and acquire much wisdom has made him such an asset to Tagon. The fact that he has been isolated makes him a greater asset as he has no other allegiances except to Tagon. Just as Eunsom discovers his power within Episode 17, Saya discovers the power that he has to save Tagon and by relation, that Tagon is possibly more powerful than any other god. Once Tagon tells him that the power will be bestowed upon him, he moves with great resolve to help his father consolidate the power. Looking at Saya’s story, it is in its simplicity a story of a son rooting for his dad’s ambition; in the greater scheme of things, it is about him wanting Igutus to be recognised and seen as greater than other races/tribes.
Tanya: Tanya took a backseat in episode 17, after her truly glorious moment in episode 16 during the Sacred Trial, where she followed Taelha’s instruction yet turned into around to her advantage. Instead of immediately decreeing that Asa Mot and those involved in the tribe would be beheaded with their families’ feet cut off, she starts off by saying that Airuju has requested that they be killed and torn to pieces. She then turns it to her advantage to say that she pleaded before Airuju for a more lenient punishment and Airuju agreed, hence winning the people over to her and making her the benevolent high priestess – something which interestingly Tagon sees as benefiting him as he moves along the journey of instilling fear in the people. It is tremendous to see Tanya coming into her own not just in her divine role, but in learning how to rise above the power play within Arthdal and not allowing herself to be used as a pawn. Even Saya can’t help but hide a grin for her.
While in Episode 17, she does not feature much, but for sure, we know that as the bell, she will have a key role to play in the finale especially when Eunsom and her are reunited. Given that there’s only one episode left, I’m expecting that reunion of the bell, mirror and sword to happen very quickly and smoothly, with not much twists and turns there, which is unfortunate as there could have been rich stories arising from that. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to that reunion as it will be satisfying on an emotional level, but I also hope on a more intellectual and story-telling level, it will also be satisfying as we get some answers on what exactly the bell, mirror and sword mean and how their destinies were put in place so many years when they were born on the same day.
Taelha: Her story is a truly tragic one and if there’s any tragic heroine in Kdrama, she would be the one. It is testament to the skill of the writers that a character as evil and conniving as Taelha can actually be seen as a heroine, yet I believe the series has done a very good job painting her as a character we can empathise and understand. I like that the writers do not rush through key character moments and in episode 17, we truly saw how gradually Taelha came to that final decision to fight for herself and her tribe, and also came to the painful realisation that her father’s advice to her was correct all this while. In a twisted moment of joy, Mihol smiles as he sees the bichwan in Taelha’s hands and he entrusts her with the greatest secret of the Hae tribe, that of the making of bronze. She wins a victory not only for herself, but for the tribe. After she’s devoted so much to Tagon and even to raise Saya, we can truly see the pain she’s in in that episode, but she always rises to the occasion and puts herself back in a position of control.
Tagon: What I find truly fascinating in this show is how it has done so well to show us a world of moral greyness, that we can even truly feel and connect with characters that commit truly heinous and grievous acts. Tagon, on all counts, is not a character that we should feel for or connect with because of all the blood that is on his hands. While he has made a choice to do so, one also wonders whether that was the only choice he had, given the intense power play between tribes in Arthdal. The only way he could quell any coup or consolidate his power was by instilling fear and being defiant against any gods. Instead of growing into power, he has gripped power by the neck and wrestled it into his own hands, not caring whether it is rightfully his or not. I’m not sure he’ll have a good end in the finale, and it seems like the only way he can be redeemed is through repentance and death – but I’m hoping the show can pave for him a path of redemption that does not involve his demise. If the show does that in the finale, that would put another feather in its cap and make this one of the best series I’ve watched in years.
With so many on the line, I’m definitely looking forward to tonight’s finale!