After yesterday’s somewhat subdued episode, Arthdal Chronicles returns with a really well written episode, one that continues to push Tanya into the limelight as the most interesting character of the show. Her time with Saya is certainly one of the highlights of this second half and the introduction of the slave area Doldambul helps add to the locations showcased in this series – one of the issues I’ve had with this second half of Arthdal Chronicles.
We begin where we left off, with Tanya asking Saya if Aruman is an Igutu before talking with a few of the women after the ceremony about their face paint. She finds out its meaning and agrees to wear it before the next gathering, which she’s invited to attend.
Upon learning the truth about Tanya’s ancestry, Tagon quizzes her about it, showing her a piece of wood with the familiar symbol on it. She tries to keep a straight face and tells him she’s never seen it before. As he leaves, Tanya tells him she’ll come and find him if she thinks of anything else, before relaying what happened back to Saya. They discuss her dreams and he tells her all about his life’s journey up until that point.
Secretly, Tagon gives three of his most trusted warriors a secret task; killing the three affected by the gosals to make it look like a crazed suicide. However, a strange figure donning a robe and blue eyes shows up – a neanthal!
Mubaek confronts Moo-Gwang over the murders the next day and asks if he’s the one responsible. He proudly proclaims he is but Mubaek tries to remind him that Asa Ron and Tagon only care about gaining more power.
Tagon himself informs Taealha about Tanya and she mentions the bell – Tanya’s part of the prophecy – while Tanya and Saya head to the streets where the people murmur and discuss the recent killings. Alone, they discuss what’s happened and the truth they’ve been hiding from one another is revealed. Tanya tells him the truth about her potential betrayal and how she was unable to follow through with it. She then tells him about her direct descendancy to Asa Sin and he realizes she will take over from Asa Ron eventually.
We then cut to the fragments of the Wahan tribe and other slaves at Doldambul. They’re forced to dig for jewels and as a long, arduous morning shift draws to a close, they only manage to find 77 jewels, consequently resulting in them losing a meal. Undeterred, Eunseom continues to dig with the others despite one of them antagonizing him and calling him an Igutu the entire time. Here, we learn through a flashback that Eunseom actually caved upon Teodae’s death and said exactly what the guards wanted to say, overcome with grief in the moment. While he breaks down crying in the mud, we cut back to Arthdal where the death of a priest in the Asa Clan sends the tribes reeling.
While Tagon braces himself for Asa Ron’s wrath, sensing that he’ll use this as an opportunity to rally the people around him, Mubaek finds the Daekan warrior in the woods with his heart ripped out. He realizes a Neanthal did this.
The Asa Clan then rally together and go after the ones they believe to be responsible for the murder – the White Peak Mountain Hearts. Witnessing the guards asserting their authority, Tanya is told by one of the girls from earlier that an emergency meeting will be held in the cave that evening. Tanya breaks the alliance off with Saya soon after but he is insistent, asking her what he can do to stay. She ponders for a second before answering him. He agrees to her terms and as she steps outside, we see the Asa Clan make their move.
Taealha is made to go to the Great Shrine with the Asa Clan. She agrees but tells the guards not to touch her. Backed into a corner, Tagon agrees to negotiate with Asa Ron. Believing the White Peak Mountain Hearts know of his true identity, it turns out Saya is playing him, currently making his move in this politically charged game. The episode then ends with Neanthals arriving at Arthdal and the usual triple split screen of the main players this episode facing their own dramatic cliffhanger endings.
Unlike yesterday, the politically charged narrative returns here and the series is all the stronger for it. The growing tensions between the Asa Clan and the Saenyeok Tribe helps to keep things interesting and seeing all the other characters struggling to escape the whirlwind effect of this rivalry is certainly one of the stand out moments of the episode and series as a whole. It helps too that Tanya and Saya have great chemistry together and their characters are easily two of the most interesting, especially Tanya whose character arc has undergone some pretty drastic changes over the past 10 episodes.
Seeing Eunseom’s descent is certainly heartbreaking but in many ways a consequence of his own recklessness from the early episodes. Quite how he will fit into this prophecy now remains to be seen but his character has undergone a pretty drastic shift too. Unlike Tanya though, his descent into the lowly depths of a slaver cave is a harsh reminder of how cruel this world can be.
There’s plenty to contemplate in Arthdal Chronicles this week and the episode itself certainly does well to return to some of the excitement and wonder the first half of the series had. Don’t get me wrong, the series is still exciting and interesting but with the world now established, most of the drama and wonder falls to the characters rather than the beautiful locales in the world.
Still, that’s a minor gripe and for the most part, Arthdal Chronicles does an impressive job here, delivering an enjoyable episode with plenty of questions hanging over this one ready for next week’s final two episodes of the season. Quite how this one will end remains to be seen but I’m guessing it’ll end with an almighty cliffhanger and shock ending ready for the third and final season.