4 Satisfying Moments From Episodes 19-20 Of “River Where The Moon Rises” That Bring Everything Full Circle
After 10 weeks, 20 episodes, leader actor changes, and a lot of hard work, we’ve come to the end of “River Where the Moon Rises.” With so many questions left answered, including the big question of On Dal’s (Na In Woo’s) survival, this was no slog to the finish line. This show never lets up on the pacing. Each episode brought with it machinations, twists and turns, and heartfelt, amazing performances by our leads, leaving it a satisfying watch to the end.
Without further ado, here are the moments from the final episodes that wrapped everything up perfectly.
Warning: spoilers for episodes 19-20 below.
1. Go Geon’s final plan to save Pyeonggang
There’s nothing like a good anti-hero, and by the end of this drama, Go Geon (Lee Ji Hoon) fully emerged as one. It’s surprising how a little deathbed clarity retroactively clarifies all Go Geon’s prior actions and displays just how tragic his downfall was. He was the golden boy, the man who had everything but craved the one person he couldn’t have. He longed for Pyeonggang for eight years, only for her to return and walk straight into the arms of a country boy. So he threw a tantrum. If he couldn’t have Pyeonggang, then he would take or destroy everything Pyeonggang cared about: Dal, Ghost Village, and Goguryeo. But the issue with people like Go Geon throwing tantrums is that there are casualties, and soon Go Geon found himself walking on a path of no return.
In Hae Mo Yong (Choi Yu Hwa) he saw the same obsession, cunning, and potential for cruelty. He relished her attention and adoration. His schemes grew bolder and bloodier, and he got caught up in the game. He truly started to think he and his father, Go Won Pyo (Lee Hae Young), could win. Then he lost everything and spent four years drinking himself into a stupor in Silla. He returned as Silla’s envoy to Goguryeo to die and trigger a war that would destroy the land Pyeonggang loved, but everything changes when she risks her life to save his and Mo Yong’s.
For the first time, Go Geon sees how gracefully Pyeonggang puts away her resentment toward him and Mo Yong for the good of the country. He finally sees that his obsession has cost him every last bit of humanity. Then and there, he decides for the first time, that he would fight for Pyeonggang instead of against her. So Go Geon plays one last game, this time hoping to lose, not win.
And at last, he has his way. Go Geon gets himself appointed military leader and purposefully antagonizes Silla’s troops to make them hate him so they would falter in battle. That’s why he gets so upset when King Jinheung (Kim Seung Soo) removes him from his position because he knows the troops would do anything for the king.
He stops Pyeonggang from assassinating King Jinheung in his sleep because he knows the 30,000 troops could rise in fury at the action and overwhelm Adan Fortress (where Goguryeo has less than 3,000 troops), even without the king. However, with Pyeonggang as a bargaining chip, the battle would be delayed, buying Goguryeo more time. But when he finds that Pyeonggang is to become a political prisoner and that the troops were going to attack Adan Fortress anyway, he finally makes his move and breaks her out.
But Go Geon knows there’s no future for him. As he wryly says to Pyeonggang, he has just betrayed Silla and Goguryeo will never take him back. Go Geon’s a master swordsman but gives up during his final battle. It isn’t that he takes sword after sword for Pyeonggang (who’s doing just fine without his help) but it’s because he’s tired of it all: the politics, the scheming, and most of all, who he’s become. So he goes down fighting, playing one last drinking game with Mo Yong, the woman he should have loved and whom he knew was the only person who could understand him. His soulmate of the mind.
It’s a tragic but fitting end. Go Geon’s death wraps up his ill-fated relationship with Mo Yong, his obsession with Pyeonggang (Kim So Hyun), and the man singlehandedly manages to throw a huge wrench in the battle for Adan Fortress. As far as deaths go, his had a small audience of one, but had a huge impact.
Lee Ji Hoon honestly deserves an accolade for his portrayal. These last two episodes were truly a tour de force, and Go Geon’s death is a magnificent portrayal of raw anguish, regret, and resignation. Perhaps the pattern of villains turned lovable male leads will continue (see Na In Woo in “Mr. Queen“) and Lee Ji Hoon will soon grace our screens playing the lead. The man deserves it!
2. Mo Yong’s fate
Like Go Geon, Mo Yong’s inscrutable veil finally lifts in these last two episodes, revealing the woman beneath all the spying and double-crossing. And she’s surprisingly simple. At first, all Mo Yong ever wanted was Goguryeo’s downfall because of the wars that orphaned her. She was brilliant, cunning (and absolutely stunning) but no one ever noticed that because she was a mere herb store owner. Then along came Go Geon and all that changed. This man saw her mind and seemed to know her inside out. This was someone she couldn’t trick, who never underestimated her. So, she fell in love.
Just like Pyeonggang is Dal’s Goguryeo, Go Geon became Mo Yong’s Silla. No matter how low he sunk, no matter how mad or suicidal he became, she never abandoned him.
Even when she realizes that he never stopped loving Pyeonggang, her reaction isn’t that of a woman scorned. She continues to value his life above her own. Just like she was prepared to kill Pyeonggang to keep her near Go Geon, she’s prepared to save Pyeonggang for the same reason. Perhaps that is why Go Geon repeatedly asks her to live, to let go of her obsession the way he couldn’t.
As far as character arcs go, Mo Yong’s isn’t anything grand. She is a much darker version of Dal. Both gaze only at the people they love and would do anything for them. Only, where Dal cared about morality and met the right person at the right time, Mo Yong never had a moral compass and met Go Geon at the wrong time. Theirs is a crazy, unrequited, yet oddly tender relationship. Because there was affection between them at the very most. Go Geon did kill Go Sang Chul (Yoon Joo Man) for her after all. Mo Yong may never be fully redeemable as a character, but she is paying for her decisions. The man she loved is gone, and she will mourn him for the rest of her days.
But somewhere in Goguryeo, she’ll always have a friend. There’s a kinship between her and Pyeonggang now. Both would do anything for the men they love and know what it’s like to lose them. It’s sad that politics and obsession tore into a friendship they had for over half the drama. But in the end, they, like most things, have come full circle.
3. Pyeonggang’s sacrifice
King Yeongyang (Kwon Ha Woon) (Crown Prince Won’s name as king) seems to have gone insane at first, but his anger is justifiable. Much of the final episodes show how people, feuds, and bad blood come full circle. Yeongyang is poised to make both Pyeonggang and King Pyeongwon’s (Kim Bup Rae) mistakes. He’s as paranoid as King Pyeongwon was and as furious as Pyeonggang was. His anger at Go Geon’s escape is justifiable. Pyeonggang had the same furious eyes whenever she saw Go Won Pyo. Some people are just fated to be enemies, so given all factors at play – Queen Jin Bi (Wang Bit Na) sowing discord and King Yeongyang’s state of mind – it makes sense that he would suspect Pyeonggang of treason, because it wasn’t immediately clear to viewers either whether Pyeonggang wanted to rule over Goguryeo.
Yet Pyeonggang’s sacrifice proves once and for all that she has made her decision. She once chose Goguryeo over Dal, but now she chooses Dal over everything. But Dal also chooses her over everything. For once, their relationship feels like an equal playing field, with both trying to protect the other as much as possible, much to King Yeongyang’s amusement.
For the first time, Pyeonggang’s the one who’s more focused on her husband than matters of state. The moment when Dal orders her to return with the wounded, saying this is him speaking as a Goguryeo general and not as her husband, is a great callback to when Pyeonggang so ruthlessly told Dal that she’s here as a vassal of the king, not as his wife. Even her refusing to listen to him and returning to her assassin roots is a great callback to her first profession and to when she broke her promise to him so she could rescue her friends. It’s also a great callback to when Dal snuck into the palace under a fake identity to assassinate Go Won Pyo!
Even him riding to her rescue after she shoots the signal flare arrow harkens back to her doing the same for him. It’s a beautiful series of reciprocal moments, highlighting how far our couple has come. Pyeonggang used to bear everything on her own, while Dal mainly ran around trying to keep up with her, but now they’re equal partners in love and war. Which is why it hurts so much to see her break down at Dal’s “death.”
4. Dal’s “death” and memory loss
Somehow, On Dal got even more attractive after four years. There’s a new maturity to him that’s magnetic. Pyeonggang, who always seemed like the adult, seems much younger around him now. It’s very cute.
Like Pyeonggang, Dal’s love has only grown deeper. When she’s taken hostage by King Jinheung, Dal is presented with an awful choice: surrender to Silla and save Pyeonggang, or fight until the end. It’s telling that Dal considers everything before coming to a decision: his father’s advice that a man should only pick up a sword to defend the person he loves, and Pyeonggang’s love for her country. And in the end, he makes the decision Pyeonggang would have wanted: to fight until the end, because he wields his sword for Pyeonggang, and this is what Pyeonggang would want. What a man, honestly.
But right when it seems like Dal and Pyeonggang can finally relax, we get the answer to how this show will deal with Dal’s death in the folktale: a fake-out! After one near-death scare already, it might seem pointless to have Dal die once more, but there are two very valid reasons why this is necessary. Firstly, the surprise ambush by Silla would have killed Pyeonggang if Dal hadn’t taken blocked the arrows with his body. The near-death trick allows him to voluntarily slip into a comatose state, which scientifically is probably what saved his life.
Secondly, gentle, kindhearted Dal would do anything for Pyeonggang: end his four years of seclusion, bid farewell to the ghost/hallucination of Lady Sa (Hwang Young Hee) that has kept him going for so long, and even learn to fake his own death, knowing that it could cost him his memories. Pyeonggang feels the same devotion to him. And that makes them ripe for manipulation. From the moment he sees Wol Gwang (Cho Tae Kwan) do it, Dal knew he was going to have to use the same trick at some point.
King Yeongyang, despite coming through for his sister, is still ambitious and wants to reunite the three warring kingdoms (he should really get Mo Yong’s help with that, she has it down). If Dal had survived, he would have been forced into battle after battle with Pyeonggang’s life held over his head to force him to keep fighting. It was hard enough for him to fight when there was no one forcing him. Having his love used that way would only create further friction in their relationship. So having the king believe him dead is what makes Yeongyang let go of Pyeonggang and Dal so they can live out the rest of their lives in obscurity.
However, the side-effects of doing this near-death trick wrong are that he very temporarily loses his memory. So why memory loss? Why cram that into the last 10 minutes of the finale, only for him to get his memory back just as quickly? Because this gives Pyeonggang a choice. The main question in this show has always been whether Pyeonggang could truly give up everything – her life as a princess, all the good she could do if she remained in politics – for Dal. This is a huge decision and not to be made lightly. She’s the one giving up everything here. The memory loss confirmed for her the answer.
Whether Dal did the trick right and didn’t lose his memory, or did it wrong and lost his memory, he was always going to return to the mountains. Pyeonggang could have left him there and returned to doing her duty for the land she loves, saying he’d be happier if he doesn’t remember her. That’s also a fair choice. They always came from different worlds and could have both returned to them. But Pyeonggang knows what she wants, and it isn’t Goguryeo.
The memory loss allowed everything to go full circle between Dal and Pyeonggang down to the first words they said to each other: “I know you.” He was always running after her. This time, she runs after him and brings him back to her. To stay for good this time.
And that’s where our glimpse into the lives of these characters end. Poignant, heartbreaking, and always heartfelt, “River Where the Moon Rises” is a story of an assassin princess and a mountain man with different dreams, who met at the right place and time. Together they felled armies and brought empires to their knees. Yet in the end, they found that all they ever needed was each other. So they held onto each other and never let go. And there can be no better ending than that.
They both deserve all the awards!
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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!