8 Things That Shocked Us In “The Last Empress” Episodes 17-20

There’s nothing like a royal murder to shake things up in the palace, but coverups and false confessions make it even more difficult to determine the truth behind this latest crime in “The Last Empress.” And this suspenseful twist is just one of several shocking new developments in the drama, as Episodes 17-20 revealed unexpected loyalties and dug deeper into characters’ dark pasts. There are more conspiracies and motives than we realized, so let’s recap by going over eight ways we were seriously shocked by this week’s episodes!

Warning: spoilers for Episodes 17-20 below.

1. The murder mystery

As if the grand empress dowager’s death weren’t shocking enough, “The Last Empress” offers no conclusive answer as to who actually killed the beloved royal grandmother, instead pointing to three independent potential murderers. In a series of flashbacks, we see Emperor Hyuk (Shin Sung Rok) stab his grandmother, Min Yoo Ra (Lee Elijah) lace her tea, and the empress dowager (Shin Jun Kyung) suspiciously throw her clothes into a fire.

All three wanted to stop the grand empress dowager from opening investigations into the royal family, but which of the trio actually killed her?

If we take the detective’s word for it, it appears as though Yoo Ra might have been the winner here; but we wonder if we’ll ever get a clear picture of who is really responsible for Grandmother’s death.

2. When the forces of evil aligned

Of course, it doesn’t really matter who killed the grand empress dowager when Yoo Ra, Hyuk, and the empress dowager can just frame Sunny for it. Because now that Sunny is out to get them, these three have realized that it’s time to start working together.

This marks the beginning of a new alliance among the three worst characters in the show, and with Yoo Ra and the empress dowager directing their evil energies against Sunny instead of against each other, this trio is a force to be reckoned with!

3. When Hyuk and Yoo Ra clashed

They may be on the same side, but things are far from peaceful in Hyuk and Yoo Ra’s relationship. The two both have their fair share of secrets from each other, but this week Sunny revealed Hyuk’s dirtiest secret of all to Yoo Ra. And let’s just say that neither of them is dealing with the fallout particularly well…

Yoo Ra hardly has the right to be outraged when she is keeping Hyuk in the dark about so many things (including her own estranged son!), but we can’t help but wonder whether this is the beginning of the end for her and the emperor. Will Hyuk eventually choose his daughter over his mistress? Or will Yoo Ra find a way to get rid of Princess Ari herself?

4. Every time characters were reckless

“The Last Empress” may be a thriller, but sometimes it’s hard to understand how characters can be so shockingly irresponsible. Examples abound in this week’s episodes, like when Sunny, while on the run from the police, sneaks into the palace to retrieve the recording device she had put under Hyuk’s desk. Sunny is the most wanted person in the country at the time; couldn’t someone else have gone in her place? And how did she get back into the palace, anyway? They need a major security upgrade around here.

We’re also scratching our heads as to why teacher Byun (Kim Myung Soo) — who is supposed to be in hiding — decided that he needed to talk to Prince Yoon (Oh Seung Yoon) right outside the palace gate. This is just asking for trouble!

And trouble is exactly what they get, when the head palace guard sees the two and follows Byun back to his hideout.

Finally, what on Earth was Yoon thinking when he taunted the emperor in the middle of Hyuk’s sword practice? Yoon knows how mentally unstable his brother is, and he would have been toast if bodyguard Woo Bin (Choi Jin Hyuk) hadn’t been there to save him from Hyuk’s rage.

5. Hyuk’s childhood trauma

We may wish Yoon were on the throne, but we can’t help but feel bad for Hyuk when we learn just how deeply Yoon’s taunts cut him. In a chilling flashback to the emperor’s childhood, we see that his father cruelly whipped young Hyuk for having poor grades.

If this treatment was a pattern in Hyuk’s childhood, it would explain some of his sociopathic tendencies — as well as this oddly masochistic scene:

The more we learn about Hyuk’s traumatizing past, the more we understand about his character… but that doesn’t make us like him any better.

6. This Chinese restaurant

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

A whole agency devoted to taking down the royal family (we think).

Teacher Byun doesn’t reveal too much about this underground operation hidden away in a Chinese restaurant, but we have a feeling they’re working against the evil monarchs, since they leaked Sunny’s secret recording of the emperor to the public, exposing Hyuk as the father of Princess Ari.

7. Team Leader Hong’s sacrifice

While the public was disgusted with Hyuk after learning about his affair, they didn’t like Sunny any better, since they were led to believe that she had murdered the grand empress dowager. That is, until Team Leader Hong confessed to the murder.

We know that Team Leader Hong is just as innocent of this crime as Sunny is, so she appears to have sacrificed herself to clear the empress from blame: after confessing and then killing herself, Hong has effectively closed the case, freeing Sunny from all charges.

8. Sunny’s comeback

No longer a suspected murderess, the empress is coerced into signing divorce papers under the pretense of being upset about Hyuk’s secret child. But rather than flee the country with her family like she is supposed to, Sunny corners Hyuk in public with cameras rolling, and delivers a perfectly-crafted, fake heartfelt speech of forgiveness. After all, the girl is an actress!

Sunny singlehandedly wins the hearts of the public and puts herself back in the palace — which means that revenge is on the horizon!

Hey Soompiers, which part of Episodes 17-20 was most shocking to you? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Catch this week’s episodes of “The Last Empress” here:

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hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.

Currently watching: “The Last Empress,” “Mama Fairy and the Woodcutter,” “Clean with Passion for Now,” and “My Strange Hero.”
All-time favorite dramas: “Scarlet Heart: Goryeo,” “Goblin,” and “Hwayugi.”

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