4 Powerful Moments From Episodes 17-18 Of “River Where The Moon Rises” That Changed Everything
“River Where the Moon Rises” hit hard this week with two gritty episodes that showed the sageuk isn’t afraid to venture into darker territory. Go Geon (Lee Ji Hoon) and his crazy partner Hae Mo Yong (Choi Yu Hwa) thankfully take a backseat as the show focuses on Pyeonggang’s (Kim So Hyun) climactic battle with her nemesis, Go Won Pyo (Lee Hae Young), and the horrible fallout of what should be a triumphant moment.
None are left unscathed by the final battle for Goguryeo. Here are the most powerful moments from this week’s episodes that changed everything for our favorite and not-so-favorite characters.
Warning: spoilers for episodes 17-18 below.
1. On Dal’s departure
This was coming from the beginning. On Dal (Na In Woo) was already on shaky ground post the many, many battles he found after entering the palace, and things weren’t getting better. Despite having returned to the wife he loves, there’s an awkward tension between them that Lady Sa (Hwang Young Hee) picks up the moment she returns to the palace. It’s hard not to, when soft spoken Dal sterns tells Pyeonggang to let it go and stop trying to force his mother to live in the palace. Ouch!
The archery scene with Crown Prince Won (Park Sang Hoon) where Dal loses it when Won seemed to relish the thought of taking a life is further proof that his mental state is deteriorating.
Dal has seen and shed too much blood and it isn’t the straightforward business he thought it would be. He did all of this for Pyeonggang, to build a better Goguryeo with her, but none of that matters when he’s unable to protect the people he loves as a result.
When he left Lady Sa in the secret passage, Dal made a choice: that he would protect the royal family first and his mother second. It’s a reasonable choice, one that avoided much bloodshed and civil war. But it’s a choice with unforeseen devastating consequences. Lady Sa’s death precipitates a departure that was inevitable and in line with the character we’ve come to love from the start. Dal was never happy in the palace and will never be happy there. And at long last, he’s realized that suppressing himself and living for Pyeonggang will only make him resent her and tear them apart. It’s not that he doesn’t love her. It’s just that they’re on paths that the other can no longer follow. It hurts to watch him break his promise to her, but deep down, even Pyeonggang must have known her softhearted Dal would never be able to keep it.
Four years later, Dal is ridiculously handsome (wow, never thought that stubble would look so good) and has in essence turned into Wol Gwang (Cho Tae Kwan) with a much sadder twist. Rather than the classic outpouring of grief in dramas where male lead keeps remembering the last hurtful thing they said to their dead parent, Dal preserves his mother’s memory by imagining her with him at every moment of the day. It’s probably what kept him sane during four years of utter solitude, minus Sa Poong Gae’s (Kim Dong Young) yearly visits, but it’s painful to watch, especially because he knows he’s hallucinating.
The years have only made Dal double down on his position to remain alone for the rest of his life. Dal might seem unlikeable for this, but it takes great strength of character to walk away from what you love when it hurts you. Nevertheless, it appears fate has other plans for him.
2. Pyeonggang’s revenge and the years since
Lee Hae Young sure makes a mighty fine villain!
If Dal’s lesson was that love can’t conquer everything, Pyeonggang’s is that revenge can’t heal everything. After so many years, she finally gets what she wishes: for Doo Joong Seo (Han Jae Young) and Go Won Pyo to die by her sword. And yet, when the moment is over, she is left without purpose. The goal she had for so many years was fulfilled. She has no goal of her own to accomplish. Worse, while she was so busy scheming and usurping Go Won Pyo, she lost her husband.
And she knows this. When Dal was leaving, she offered to come with him and was ready to leave. Yet, for the first time, our lovable fool saw something that Pyeonggang didn’t. That somewhere along the way, Pyeonggang has given up her dreams. The forthright girl who wanted to rule over all Goguryeo vanished at some point without Pyeonggang even noticing it. She was so busy protecting King Pyeongwon’s (Kim Bup Rae) throne and Crown Prince Won that she forgot her own dreams. It’s worth noting that Dal has mentioned this several times to her over the past few episodes, asking if she’s sure she doesn’t want to rule herself, and Pyeonggang has always avoided the questions, as if she doesn’t believe it can happen. But even when he’s leaving, Dal reminds her of that dream, telling her that she gets to choose who she becomes.
Four years later, the powerful Pyeonggang of episodes before has mellowed to a sad young woman who pushes herself into battle after battle to forget the man she loves. It’s a lonely life, especially contrasted with the happier developments around her like Tara Jin (Kim Hee Jung) and Poong Gae’s marriage (now there’s a hilariously realistic couple). But things haven’t gotten much better for Goguryeo either. Crown Prince Won (now played by the amazing Kwon Ha Woon) has turned into an arrogant ruler with Go Geon-issues. He strips his sister of her military rank if she so much as speaks the wrong way to him. Worse, he wants to force Dal to return to the palace. And Pyeonggang is not going to have Dal ruin himself again.
So it makes sense that she seeks him out when she can’t bear the mess that is her life anymore. However, unlike the dramatic reconciliation viewers might have expected, this show makes it clear that neither Pyeonggang nor Dal have wavered from their separate paths. She offers to abandon everything for him, but would feel conflicted if she went through with it because of her brother’s inexperience as a ruler. Dal knows this but cannot keep being tortured by what he can’t have. It’s a great stalemate and excellent characterization!
But here we return to the idea of fate, which Dal so strongly believed in, and to Pyeonggang’s dream from the beginning of the show. Because fate seems to want Pyeonggang to achieve that dream, and a very unwanted visitor is about to turn everything upside down.
3. Go Geon’s departure and return
It’s hard to feel sorry for Go Geon. This is the man who incited a rebellion with his father, and when his father died as a direct result of said rebellion, he proceeded to kill a blind old woman because he could. It’s unclear if Dal even knows this because he would go berserk for sure.
His teary-eyed moments with Hae Mo Yong (Choi Yu Hwa) are eye roll-inducing because he has nothing to be angry about! He brought this on himself. No one was out to get him; they were trying to stop him from causing further harm in his madness for the throne.
While Pyeonggang’s learned her lesson on revenge, Go Geon’s hellbent on it and furious when Mo Yong drugs him and sweeps him off to Silla. Thus, in the ensuing four years, while absence makes the heart grow fonder for Pyeonggang and Dal, Go Geon and Mo Yong have been at each other’s throats. It’s one of the best “you deserve each other” moments in drama history, as he drinks and slurs his way across Silla and Mo Yong’s left to clean up after an unshaven baby. So when Go Geon pulls himself together and volunteers to head back to Goguryeo as an Silla envoy, it seems for a moment like he has something up his sleeve, in keeping with the brilliant military commander he’s supposed to be (where did that man go, honestly?) Only it turns out that this is his plan: get killed so King Jinheung (Kim Seung Soo) of Silla has an excuse to start a war with Goguryeo and maybe Pyeonggang will get killed.
This has to be one of the weirdest plans in history. Worse, he’s so disappointed that Pyeonggang managed to save his life. And even worse, (or even better) is that he’s still in love with Pyeonggang. Go Geon, what?
He sends Mo Yong out of the room (but she’s eavesdropping, of course) and starts making crazy eyes at Pyeonggang telling her that their marriage could have built an empire, and it’s just wild. Did he love Mo Yong at all? Or did that love die a quick death when she thwarted his revenge, proving that Go Geon really only cares about what he wants more than anyone? It’s sad because if he had truly stuck to the promise he made so many years ago and chosen Pyeonggang over his father, things could have been very different. They still probably wouldn’t have been married but they could have been allies. But Pyeonggang was right in that Go Geon will never change, and any country with him at the lead would only resemble Go Won Pyo’s dream nation: where the ruler cavorts at the people’s expense.
It remains to be seen if there’s anything remotely surprising up Go Geon’s sleeve after this reveal. However, while he’s an open book, the true wildcard in this show is Mo Yong. And she’s just had a nasty shock.
4. Mo Yong’s return to double-agenting
Will we ever know whose side Mo Yong is on? After four years of playing nursemaid to Go Geon, she’s back in Goguryeo and immediately back to making deals to save Go Geon’s life. Or is it her own? It’s unclear if she always knew that Go Geon no longer loves her or was just waiting to hear it out loud. What is clear is that she still says things like this with a straight face:
Mo Yong, how are you not embarrassed!
All this is set to change after she hears that Go Geon doesn’t love her. Perhaps she’ll fight with Pyeonggang instead. Or she could also try to kill Pyeonggang for “taking her man away.” Mo Yong remains a question mark, which is a shame because she had the greatest potential out of every character in the show, excluding Pyeonggang. This was a show where the women could really have shone as powerful, capable, and brilliant, all of which Mo Yong is! Instead, she’s just obsessed over a man who doesn’t love her and who waffles between whether he wants to kill everyone or kill himself. One could almost feel sorry for her. Almost.
With the finale in sight, we’ve so many character and plot threads to wrap up. What has Queen Jin Bi (Wang Bit Na) planned during these four years after the death of her lover? Why is Crown Prince Won so antagonistic toward Pyeonggang, who never did a thing to hurt him?
The preview shows him arresting Pyeonggang and all her friends for treason, forcing Dal to return to the palace to fight for her at Adan Fortress in what could be his final battle. We hear Dal asking Pyeonggang one last time if she really has no intention of ruling over Goguryeo. He tells her that if she wants to rule, he would be the first to fight for her. Is this return to battle and to the palace permanent? Or will Dal see that Pyeonggang is seated on the throne and vanish to the mountains once more? More importantly, what does Pyeonggang really want? Will she choose Goguryeo or Dal? Finally, what craziness will Go Geon and Mo Yong come up with next? Those two won’t sit still for sure.
It’s been an action-packed road and next week will answer all questions. But here’s hoping that Dal and Pyeonggang get their happy ending, the two lovebirds really do deserve it! Plus we need more cute moments. There really have been too many tears the past couple weeks!
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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!