There are certain types of ending that more often than not upset me: too-open ending, rushed ending, last-minute happy ending, unwarranted tragic ending, an ending with lots of loose ends or that raises even more questions. But i just discovered one that tops it all: a no-ending ending… courtesy of Arthdal Chronicles.
Sigh. I don’t even know where to begin. Never did i think it’d end like this, albeit having reservations about the slow pacing since the beginning. But it was a much harder blow probably as my expectations of this supposedly final part shot up following the satisfying turn of events in episode 12. It was definitely overdue but i was delighted to see the table finally turning to Tanya; that the Wahans would finally be free men again, that she would be on an equal footing to Tagon and Taealha — or maybe higher, since the spiritual leader reigns supreme on Saram’s hearts.
That hope is a bit of a stretch, though, since all decisions or so-called God’s words are discussed and agreed upon between the leaders behind the scenes. And having Tanya on the high priest seat gives Tagon and Taealha complete power and control of running Arthdal the way they want to. She is a mere pawn in their power play, to solidify Tagon’s existence as the second coming of Aramun Haesulla or punish every kindred of those going against him, as per God’s wish. She can barely refuse doing so because the Wahans become her Achilles heel after being lifted from servitude, that the most she can do is twist the wording to make her seem merciful and hence winning people’s admiration.
It feels like a smart move at first, yet becomes manipulative and deceitful the second time, especially since she does good deeds with a set purpose of being liked by the mass. Her words and actions stop being genuine because of her intent, even if she betrays real feelings while executing her missions.
On the other hand, Tagon is steadily growing into the kind of union leader he specifically said he didn’t want to be — a ruthless tyrant — upon facing Asa Ron’s attempted coup to expose his parricide that inadvertently exposes his purple blood. The struggles are bloody but intense and gripping, that despite lamenting his downward spiral into an even more hateful antagonist and wincing at the brutality, this ‘twist’ excited me and got me thinking we’re finally gearing toward a heady finale.
Alas, the bubble bursts just like that, and all built-up momentum dissipates soon after. However, the tension in Trio Ts intensifies, and each lead character is fighting their own battle: Tanya is to gain public’s approval so no one can hurt the Wahans; Tagon is to dissolve the union and reign the new country as a king; Taealha is to make everything hers. I didn’t anticipate a crack to form between the last two given the strength of their bond and trust, and who expected Mihol to be the catalyst for that?
Taealha has always hated her father, but hearing him tortured to leak the secret of bronze-making is enough to make her flip — or rather, knowing that Tagon snoops behind her back for that breaks her long-held faith in him. One, he reneges on his promise to let the secret stays with Hae Tribe; two, his acting on his own shows that she’s no longer in control (when she has always been the one dictating his every move and action). Some characters have warned her of his totalitarianism endgame and of everyone’s disposable nature in this game of thrones, and this maneuver is the solid proof she needs to open her eyes.
They’re still together, but it’s interesting to witness the shift in their dynamic which puts them opposite each other at the end of the road. Taealha may be the last person Tagon would want as an enemy; i always think she’s smarter and craftier than him, and i could see her defeating him in the end.
And while Taealha’s turnaround is justified, Saya’s isn’t. He’s one grey character whom i’m ambivalent about. He has a tough and lonely upbringing, and i pitied him for that, and his being Eun-seom’s twin made me believe the good in him, but he’s shown darker tendencies such as taking innocent lives to achieve his goal and advocating autocracy. I expected his feelings for Tanya would turn him into a better person, but he’s willing to hold the Wahans hostages to figure out the secret everyone has kept from him, albeit fully aware of the fact that Tanya will hate (him for) that.
But i thought the mistreatment he’s endured growing up would make him hate his surrogate parents, and in turn help Tanya plot against them, that his loyalty and support to his absent father figure was puzzling to me. It feels abrupt and inconsistent. Worse, being named as Tagon’s heir and knowing who Eun-seom really is and what he means to Tanya will only draw him farther away from her. What will then happen to the prophecy wherein the sword, bell, and mirror need to come together to end the world?
I need to question the man who heard that prophecy and swore to make it happen, though: Mubaek (Park Hae-joon). He started out the most prominent figure in Daekan Forces, the one who led the Big Neanthal Hunt and the Invasion of Iark, but got sidelined as the show progressed following his solo sidetracked trip to the depth of Wahan’s sacred chamber and then to white mountain to consult with Asa Sakan.
He is a loyal warrior, but we can see the conflict in his eyes after discovering byeoldaya and learning about Tagon’s parricide. He’s the most trustworthy person/ally Tanya can have in Arthdal, and the rumor of him having the allegiance of half of Daekan troops suggests that he may lead a rebellion. However, despite the pledge he made to himself to save the Wahans and ultimately the world, he is doing nothing but watch as Tagon treads a bloody path to kingship. He is one of the characters with underwhelming arc and i was truly disappointed in his inaction.
And then… there’s Eun-seom. He’s strong though isn’t a fighter (none of Wahans is), so i was confused when he’s touted to be the ‘sword’ in that equation. He is far from aggressive — even Kanmoreu labeled him “the weak one” — and lost all will to fight once dragged as a slave to Doldambul. He’d resigned to his fate until he bounced back in episode 12. His breakout scheme is quite messy and isn’t cleanly executed, but that’s the first initiative he took since capturing Sanung in early episodes.
He then makes a small detour to the land of Momo Tribe to convey Sateunik’s last word. I was fine with that, yet couldn’t help feeling it was unnecessarily plotted out. It doesn’t help that his travel buddy is the cowardice and back-stabber Ipsaeng (Kim Sung-chul) of all people. I don’t know how many times Eun-seom needs to be betrayed by him before he finally learns that some people are just not worth being kind to. And when i thought he’s done with their escapade with Momo Tribe, he’s captured by two Ago clans one after another and makes zero attempt to break free. Sigh.
I’ve looked forward to his return to Arthdal and hence was quite bored with his long and meandering adventure with other tribes, but it could be his journey of gathering outside forces to aid him in the final battle against it. In the beginning, he was set to be the second coming of Aramun by taming then riding Kanmoreu (whatever happens to that horse, by the way?), but since Tagon has been officially named as one, he can’t be Aramun too unless he contends for that title. Turns out, he needs not to; he is actually believed to be the second coming of Inashingi who unified all Ago clans and was a strong opponent to Aramun back then. I wasn’t happy with the mind game he plays to get the other clan’s head killed, but this was definitely a shocking yet pleasant twist.
History is obviously repeating itself if that’s the case. And with strong equipped tribes like Momo and Ago behind him, attacking Arthdal may not be as tall an order as it seemed to be. Problem is, we can only imagine it happening because that’s where the drama ends. (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve been restless and impatient with how slow the plot unfolds, especially when we’re nearing the finale with so many grounds left to cover. Like, Eun-seom certainly needs to return to Arthdal to know what’s going on (isn’t it funny if he were to bring an army only to find out everything was in order with Tanya as the high priest, for example?), not to mention meeting Saya, convincing him to switch side, and then planning the coup. And that’s just one point. It’s a long road ahead and i feared the ending would be rushed, but it ended at what felt like just halfway point of the story instead. I mean, we can see just how far the story will go in the caricature epilogue, which STILL doesn’t give us a clue as to how the story will end! Or if (or when) Tanya and Eun-seom will reunite. Ugh. That i feel cheated is an understatement.
So many questions are left unanswered, and i have a lot more after seeing that ‘epilogue’! First off, it’s weird to see Saya leading the upcoming invasion when he’s neither trained nor skilled in weaponry. Secondly, i wonder who the heavily wounded/bandaged man tended by Tanya is. He utters Eun-seom’s pet phrase, but she dashes off afterward to look for him, so my guess goes to Saya. But i saw comments pointing the other way, that they mistakenly brought Eun-seom back to Arthdal. Hmm… Thirdly, i wonder what the blood color of Tagon/Taealha’s child is. Heh.
Besides the issues i have with the actual plot listed above, the remaining questions i have are regarding Olmadae and the Neanthals. I think we never know what’s the deal with the former or why he’s wanted by Daekan Forces? As for the latter, i got excited at their survival/reappearance for nothing; they were simply passing by. Well, this species ain’t confrontational; they only fight back when attacked. They aren’t vengeful either; they know Tagon is responsible for wiping out most of their folks, but they don’t plan to get back at him at all. They don’t care for Igutus like Eun-seom either. But Nun-byeol is a different case. She wishes to revert to her full Neanthal self and vows to bring Tagon and Taealha down. A combination of her Neanthal’s strength and her Saram’s swordsmanship could make her one of the toughest opponents to beat. Her development arc is an intriguing one to follow. And this means one more nemesis targeting Tagon.
These questions and issues are there simply because we’re still in the middle of the story. I share the same sentiment as lil.ramen.lover at DB regarding this bait-and-switch. The disappointment stems from the fact that they told us (mistranslation or misinformation notwithstanding) Show was a three-part series with a total of 18 episodes, that when the story wasn’t complete by the end of episode 18, we all flipped out. Granted, i might think twice about starting this drama had i known it would’ve been a two-to-three 18-episode series instead, but at least i wouldn’t be mad at the cliffhanger ending of Season 1. Or maybe i wouldn’t be half as upset with the no-ending had they centered the story around Tagon’s journey to kingship. He could’ve been the dark hero, the shunned misfit who rose to power. The finale would’ve made sense, with the omission of the Invasion of the East command. And the sketch with their baby could’ve been a sweet epilogue. Eun-seom could be a separate subplot from his, and he could rule the outskirt tribes alright.
But by splitting the closing frame to both of them, it tells us that the battle of these Igutus is the real grand finale to look forward to. And they do have similar yet contrasting circumstances. Both don’t have a place to belong, so one schemes to rule the land he’s at so he can live in peace while the other is made the leader of a tribe in faraway land. Both are acting/playing god to be accepted, but one claims himself as one while the other is hailed as one. One wants to be liked but eventually rules by fear, the other wants underlings but eventually leads by trust. There’s so much potential to explore in their trajectories… which we may never see. And even if the story does continue in Season 2, whenever that may be, i’m most likely won’t be tuning in. The disappointment with how this colossal series went down is too real — as reflected in my final rating (i’m being generous due to the stellar performances).
I’m sticking to my conviction that all stories can be fully told and tied up within normal k-drama’s frame of 16 episodes or fewer, and Arthdal Chronicles is no exception. With better pacing and tightened plotting, it could have been a riveting show and provided a satisfying denouement with 18 (bloated) episodes. It has good cinematography and CGs except for the night/dark scenes; the acting is an easy A++ across the board, no matter how major or minor their roles are; the costumes/styling is captivating and mostly believable despite some eyebrow-raising choices/pieces; the script is actually clever and well thought-out, considering the times everything falls into place; and the number of strong leading female characters this drama has is astounding. It’s a shame it ends up an incomplete mess that it is.
After three perfect streaks, Kim Won-suk unfortunately fails to repeat the same magic with Arthdal Chronicles.
Director: Kim Won-suk
Screenwriter: Kim Young-hyun, Park Sang-yeon
Production: tvN, 2019
Cast: Jang Dong-gun, Kim Ok-bin, Song Joong-ki, Kim Ji-won, Jo Sung-ha, Lee Do-kyung, Kim Eui-sung, Jung Suk-yong, Park Hae-joon, Kim Sung-chul, et al.
Genre: Medieval, Epic Fantasy, K-drama (18 Episodes)