The Fractured Kingdom
Episode 1 of River Where The Moon Rises begins with a haunting score as an eerie female voice floats over the restless air. A woman called Ga Jin asks Dal to hang in there as she rides across a battlefield, sword drawn. The cacophony of steel is drowned out by desperate cries ringing through the air as Dal falls to the ground. Breathing heavily, he clutches his necklace and calls out for Ga Jin, telling her he misses her with his weakening breath.
We then cut back in time to see Princess Pyong Gang, King Pyeongwon’s eldest daughter. The year is 561 AD, the 3rd year of King Pyeongwon’s reign. At the palace, Pyeongwon faces stiff opposition as the tribes demand exclusivity of salt. The palace is not respected by these tribes but to prevent mutiny or all-out war, the King is forced to succumb to their wishes. Watching silently from the wings is Kim Pyeong-Ji, the Head of Office.
Sang-Cheol, the Gyeru Tribe Commander, receives instructions of the King’s words and feeds that back to the tribe with a raised fist. This prompts rapturous applause to ring through the air.
In order to try and quell any sort of rebellion, the Queen questions the King and suggests she patrol the country. However, trouble is brewing inside the palace too, as Royal Consort Jin meets with Go Won-Pyo. He encourages her to try and coerce the King into submission. He wants her to poison the King against his own family.
He tasks her with dropping off a talisman that will help make her Queen. Princess Pyong Gang happens to be listening to this from afar though, and heads back to her room to deliberate over what to do next.
Well, she decides to train in the yard with Master Go, telling him what she’s learned about the tribes and asking what to do if it comes down to choosing the Royal Household or her own tribe. Go simply tells her he’d choose her instead.
In the morning, the Queen heads off on her tour with the Princess, intending to visit the Sunno Tribe first. That means she’s heading up to meet the proud leader, General On Hyeop. When Go Won-Pyo finds out, he tries to work out what to do next. This tribe, as it turns out, defends the Border and they appear to be one of the more neutral tribes, refusing to get caught up in the politics gripping the palace.
Here we get a sense for this tribe and what they stand for, as On Hyeob teaches honour and how to save oneself before saving others. This lesson is taught to his son Dal, giving him specific instructions to hold up a rope under the General’s weight. Unfortunately Dal lets go, which prompts On-Hyeob to walk away in disgust. Even worse, his sword is shattered.
Dal is forced to bury it out by a large rock cropping, somewhere that looks like a grave. He refuses to disclose exactly what this place is but promises to do so when he’s ready.
Back at the palace, Royal Consort Jin continues to worm her way into the King’s mind, casting seeds of doubt. The talisman we heard about beforehand was all a ploy from Jin to make it seem like the Queen is scheming against him. As the King catches wind that she’s visiting Wol Gwang, he begins shaking and finds himself consumed by rage.
Back with the Sunno Tribe, the Queen and her consort meet. After a warm greeting with Princess Pyong Gang, who promises to be ruler one day, the Queen gets down to business. She tells the General about the issues plaguing the palace and urgently pleads with him to bring his troops to help.
Princess Pyong Gang arrives and informs about the secret plot at the palace, which the Queen immediately scolds the Princess for. She’s not happy it’s taken her so long to mention this and she hurries away, heading straight out into the wheat fields. There, she meets a young Dal who calls her stupid.
An ominous horn blow sends immediate alarm bells for everyone in the village. Soldiers arrive and slaughter a good chunk of the townsfolk. General On Hyeob commands his closest soldiers to protect the Queen while he surveys the damage in town. There are specific instructions to kill the traitors, and anyone who talks back to these soldiers is killed. It turns out this was all a big ploy by Won Pyo to try and oust the Queen.
With the situation precarious, the Queen decides against running away and wants to deal with this herself. She tasks the Princess to keep her dignity, handing over her necklace – the same one we saw on the battlefield during the opener. – and tasks Dal with keeping her safe. While the Queen and General hang back, the two kids rush off into the wilderness together.
The poisoned mind of the King runs deep, as Go Won-Pyo sneers and tells the pleading Queen that he’s under instructions from the King. In fact, he was the one who ushered the command to kill the Queen in the first place. A volley of arrows are fired, as On-Hyeob sacrifices himself to save the Queen. He begins fighting off the soldiers but it’s no good, two arrows in his back slow him down.
The Queen joins the battle as the pair do their best to fight off the different soldiers. A calm and collected General Go holds his bow and shoots the Queen straight through the stomach. As she bleeds out, she promises Won-Pyo he won’t have Korea as she fades and passes away.
While the General cradles the body of the Queen, Won-Pyo gives him a choice. If he admits to being a traitor then all the villagers and those held captive will be allowed to live.
Meanwhile, Princess Pyong Gang heads off with Dal but unfortunately the rope snaps while they’re traversing across a cliff edge. He falls into the water below as the Princess cries out futilely. Pyong Gang survives though and makes it to the top. Dal also survives the drop, crawling and clawing his way to the shore.
Pyong Gang tries to make it to the monastery but the place is ablaze as soldiers scream for Wol Gwang. However, a hooded figure grabs the princess from behind, knocking her out and taking the girl away from the battlefield.
We then jump forward 8 years later as Pyong Gang is older – and certainly wiser. However, she also seems to have lost a lot of her memories from her time in the palace. She’s raised by a tribe that seem to be assassins, donning black masks and robes as they rappel into the palace in the dead of night.
Lightning crackles and sparkles the sky as loud rumbles of thunder are drowned out by the clash of swords. Rain pelts the ground as these assassins work with Pyong Gang, taking out the Gyeru Tribe members one at a time.
Pyong Gang is ruthless but not ruthless enough to kill a baby. That, however, falls to one of the Chief’s soldiers, Ma Tae-Mo, who slaughters the babe and mother without a moment’s hesitation. It’s worth noting here that Pyong Gang is now going under the name Ga-Jin.
Pyong Gang heads back to see the chief and pleads with him for his blessing to stop taking lives. Pyong Gangwants to live a peaceful life but Doo Joong-Seo is having none of it. He commands her to stand up and claims that the King of Gorguryeo will climb Cheonjedan at Mount Songhak in several days’ time.
When he does, she’ll be there to greet him. Only, it’s not a nice family reunion as he wants her to kill him as her final target. If she can carry out this final mission then her time by his side will be over.
While out in the woods, Pyong Gang falls victim to a trap set by three men trying to catch prey. An adult, charismatic Ol Dal shows though and thwarts the threat of these three men, helped in part by Pyong Gang, who scrambles down to join him. As they stand face to face, Dal seems to recognize her.
The Episode Review
River Where The Moon Rises gets off to a mightily impressive start, dropping way back before the usual Joseon period to flesh out the Three Kingdom period of Korean history. Given the breadth of this time period, the folk tale adaptation looks set to depict an epic love story over the usual feuding palace squabbles and inter-tribal relations.
The opening to this show is suitably epic, reminiscent of the strong opener Vincenzo had this past weekend too. Only, River Where The Moon Grows doesn’t descend into slapstick comedy, instead reveling in its tense drama and early romantic vibes. The result is a really impressive period drama that looks like a promising addition to the 2021 roster!
The costume design in particular looks fantastic here and that’s backed up by some interesting characters that are easy to root for. Seeing the contrast between Dal and Pyong Gang’s upbringing is a good way to start things too, and the ending with them both back together certainly sets the scene for a suitably epic follow-up episode. Roll on episode 2!
|Expect A Full Season Write-Up When This Season Concludes!|