Splendid Politics (Hwajung) : Episode 4

Desperation runs high behind the palace walls and everyone is scrambling to find the safest ground to stand on. Allies are made, loyalty gets tested, and ties are broken left and right because of insecurities. It is just a matter of time for Gwanghae to snap under all the pressure he has to endure, but it is difficult to point out the person who first lit the fire. Who is to be blamed in this situation: the king, the ministers, the dowager, or simply the dirty politics?

[Episode 4]

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Court Lady Kim went outside the palace and met the old court lady who stayed with her to take something she requested, wrapped in a cloth. She handed over the wrapped package to another palace maid to be buried under the late Queen Uiin’s royal tomb. Lady Kim gave the maid a cup of wine while she told the maid her life story, starting from her young days until she was sold by her own father to the elder, who adopted her. She proved herself to have a talent in writing, but she ended up being a useless maid among the countless number of palace maids inside the palace.

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One day, the younger Gae-si was secretly reading books while cleaning the library when someone entered the library: it was the younger Gwanghae, who was still a Crown Prince at that time. He had brought along his eunuchs, telling them to find a book with the sayings he said to them. Gae-si excused herself but Gwanghae, having noticed her presence there a few times before reading books, asked whether she could find the book he asked for. She brought to him two books, one of them being Book of Documents, and corrected him. The prince’s eunuch tried to chide her, but Gwanghae admitted that he was the one who made the mistake. He called her name: Gae-si, meaning ‘child of Dog Poop’. He thought that it was a mistake to give such a degrading name to a bright person like her.

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Since that day, Gae-si changed the perspective she had on herself: she realized that she could be someone useful, and Gwanghae would be the person she provide service for, since he was the first person who called her name, even when her own roommates didn’t know the name. She stared at the palace maid, who was choking on the wine she drank earlier. Lady Kim broke the news to her: she could only be of use to her up to this point, and the maid coughed out blood, proving that she had been poisoned. Court Lady Kim didn’t spare her life and burned down the house where they met to get rid of their activity that night, showing the great lengths she would go for Gwanghae’s sake.

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Gwanghae’s trip to Namhan grew more frequent and he’s testing the weapons, while Queen Inmok was urging the ministers to carry out the plan as soon as possible. She had given the ministers the official request for their eligible sons’ details to find a suitable match for her daughter. Gwanghae’s loyal line was not comfortable with the sudden marriage talks and urged Gwanghae to stop the discussion, but Gwanghae didn’t want to get involved in the Inner Court’s matter. He didn’t find the potential in-laws’ families surprising, but finding out that Deok-hyung was actively involved in the marriage discussion did affect him.

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Yeongchang refused to eat after finding out about the marriage despite Jungmyung’s effort to coax him. He felt that there would be no meaning to live inside the palace by himself without her sister. Jungmyung looked torn as well, but she recalled her mother’s words, reminding her that it was her destiny as a princess to protect her younger brother, the legitimate prince who couldn’t rise to the throne. She was gloomy but cheered herself up to make a pendant for Yeongchang, although Court Lady Choi teased her that she didn’t even know how to make the knots. Lady Choi told Jungmyung about her prospective grooms and the princess perked up at the mention of Chief Hong, whose eldest son was no other than Joo-won.

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Joo-won was still out of himself after hearing about the marriage and he was reminded of Jungmyung when he looked at his hand. In-woo suggested that they go for a drink and Joo-won scolded him, but they ended up drinking anyway.

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At the tavern, they reminisced the first time they met with the princess when they were younger, and In-woo was straightforward in stating that he liked the princess. He joked that Joo-won should give up the selection process for the royal son-in-law for him, plus one won’t be able to join the government after he became the royal son-in-law. Joo-won didn’t give his answer but he’s clearly hesitating to just give up, thinking that the decision was up to the elders and also the royal family to make. In-woo heard some rumour about the royal family but still, he’s going to become the princess’s consort. Aww…is this a subtle hint for the future clash between them?

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Minister Kang’s house was full of people coming in and out because of its role as a relief center, and someone noticed Deok-hyung coming to visit Minister Kang. Meanwhile, Chief Hong had decided to look at the fortune teller’s case again and recalled the conversation he had with Deok-hyung regarding the prophecy. Deok-hyung praised Minister Kang’s effort in helping the needy, but Minister Kang knew that he was there to hear his answer regarding the request. He was willing to let In-woo enter the selection because he’s just a servant of the country and it’s up for the dowager to make the final decision, but he’s concerned about the marriage: would it proceed smoothly and be completed without any problem?

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The man who noticed Deok-hyung earlier sneaked out and put a book under the saddle of Deok-hyung’s horse. Minister Kang explained what he meant with his concern earlier: he interacted with lots of merchants and heard lots of rumour, including those regarding Gwanghae. As for Gwanghae, he was having an audience with Yi-cheom and presented with a confession written by the masked gang’s leader. The leader pointed out that he’s robbing the silver under Queen Inmok’s father’s order, as he was gathering resources to put Yeongchang on the throne, hinting an act of treason.

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Deok-hyung decided to find out the truth behind the rumour and headed straight to the Namhan Mountain Fortress. He witnessed the soldiers secretly transporting cannons into the fort and confirmed that they were also smuggling in sulfur, an important component in producing gunpowder. The soldiers noticed Deok-hyung spying around, but he just barged into the fort to meet Gwanghae. Gwanghae didn’t answer his question; instead, he decided to show Deok-hyung a test which was to be conducted outside. It was to test the gunpowder but it was a failed test. Gwanghae’s disappointment suggested that this wasn’t the first time he did this, and Deok-hyung could only stare at Gwanghae with questions in his mind.

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Gwanghae opened up the secret he kept to himself all this while to Deok-hyung: he was testing the weapons and working on developing gunpowder, but he had only failed so far.  He had no thought of giving up and felt that it’s good Deok-hyung came on that day, because he would tell everyone about it soon and build an office for his cause, known as Hwagi Dogam (Special Directorate for Artillery). Joseon had been a weak nation without much resource on the artillery, not to mention that they were still unable to produce their own gunpowder. Gwanghae was frustrated that Ming had been utilizing Joseon but fearing that Joseon would rise in power, they kept the secret of making gunpowder hidden from Joseon. He wanted to make his Joseon different from the previous king’s nation.

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Jungmyung was strolling around the palace when she two women walking towards a building. She was curious and decided to follow them, bringing her to the secret meeting between Queen Inmok and the palace’s shaman.The shaman had a look on Joo-won, In-woo, and Jungmyung’s details, and found that one of the boys was like a fire, while the other was water. One would elevate the princess’s position, while the other would provide comfort to the princess. However, Jungmyung was the one with the strange fate, because she had the ill-fated energy which should not be possessed by a woman flowing inside her. The princess heard it all and she retreated to a building with no one nearby, but Court Lady Kim was looking at her from afar..

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Deok-hyung argued with Gwanghae, saying that the king was not the sole owner of the country and the country, just like a big ship, belonged to everyone living in it. But then, why Gwanghae was moving the ship by himself? Gwanghae stated that he wasn’t only preparing for the possible war in the future; instead, he wanted to change Joseon into the leading country in the region, because the war he faced taught him that only by becoming a country with the power to invade others could Joseon protect itself from other country’s invasion. He didn’t think that the ministers who were against his idea of moving the capital would support his idea of developing gunpowder this time, not to mention the Westerners who were always objecting his orders.

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Thus, Gwanghae wanted to hear Deok-hyung’s answer: which side would he choose if Gwanghae was to become enemies with the Westerners? If he’s to scrape out the Westerners for the sake of practicing appropriate politics, which side Deok-hyung would choose to be with? Gwanghae didn’t say anything further, but Yi-cheom was proud to announce to his allies that the next day would be the day they had been waiting for.

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The next day was actually the day for final selection process, but Jungmyung was still sad over what she heard the night before. Joo-won and In-woo entered the palace for the selection and the dowager looked favourably at them, but they’re still waiting for Queen Inmok’s father to join them. Jungmyung paced back and forth in the compound and she suddenly felt that the sun was too hot on that day. She had the ominous feeling similar to what she experienced on the day Imhae made a ruckus and rushed to Yeongchang’s quarters, who was playing with his attendants.

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Queen Inmok’s father and brothers had just arrived at the place when the guards arrested them with the accusation of treason. Yeongchang was blindfolded and he didn’t even realize that he had been surrounded by the guards, led by Yi-cheom. Jungmyung reached the prince’s quarters just as her brother was dragged away, but Yi-cheom told her that Yeongchang was accused of committing treason. Jungmyung couldn’t stop them from taking Yeongchang away.

Queen Inmok was prohibited from leaving her quarters and another bad news reached her: suspicious things wrapped in a cloth (the one Lady Kim had earlier in this episode) was found at the late Queen Uiin’s tomb and Queen Inmok’s attendants were accused of burying those things to bring up the rumour of the late Seonjo dying because of the late queen’s curse. It was regarded as treason, and Queen Inmok could only cry in frustration because she couldn’t do anything to help her father and her son.

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The ministers gathered for an audience with the king and Yi-cheom brought out the confession letter he got from the robbers. It was actually orchestrated by Yi-cheom himself when he went to meet the leader and forced him to write the confession according to his words. The letter named Kim Je-nam, Queen Inmok’s father, and Grand Prince Yeongchang as the people planning to dethrone the current king before putting Yeongchang on the throne. Deok-hyung recalled Gwanghae’s question the night before and wondered if Gwanghae was giving him a hint about the current happening. The Westerners expressed their thoughts that the accusation might be false and Queen Inmok might had been framed, but Deok-hyung also had something to say as the Prime Minister.

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He was actually answering the question thrown at him, saying that Gwanghae was mistaken in his judgement and he should root out the treacherous subjects first before it was too late. Deok-hyung pleaded for the king to remember the promise he made to become an exemplary ruler before, and the reasonable politics Gwanghae wanted to practice should start from him resisting the temptation of lies just like the situation at that moment. He also reminded the king that his goal, no matter how big, would eventually crumble if he gave in to the lies.

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Gwanghae stepped down from the throne and approached the Prime Minister, towering beside the sitting ministers. He remarked with regret that in the end, Deok-hyung didn’t trust him, although he really wanted to go to the end with his Prime Minister. Is this the end for them? Gwanghae then declared that he would interrogate the suspects himself since his ministers was suspicious of him and he would make them believe him.

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Minister Kang informed Chief Hong about Gwanghae’s decision to conduct the interrogation himself and assured his friend that their families won’t simply be affected by the incident. Joo-won and In-woo were still unable to leave the palace because of the ruckus and Joo-won wondered if the happening was what In-woo hinted before. In-woo said that it was just a matter of time for something like that to happen, but it won’t affect their families. Joo-won was more concerned on Jungmyung’s condition, wondering if she’s alright after experiencing such a shocking incident on that day, and dashed out of the room.

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Jungmyung insisted on going to the king’s quarters to meet Gwanghae as she’s confident that her brother would listen to her. Although Court Lady Choi reminded her that she could ended up hurt by getting involved in the matter, the princess couldn’t let Yeongchang get hurt too. She ran into Gwanghae and asked him if he’d proven her brother and mother innocent, believing that he would trust them. Gwanghae didn’t say anything and Jungmyung pleaded for Yeongchang to be spared since he was just a young boy, but the king stated it coldly that there’s no such thing as a young boy in the royal household, and Yeongchang should pay for his crime.


Oh, Gwanghae…are you really pushing everyone further away from your side?

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Joo-won and In-woo found Jungmyung brooding by herself after the encounter with Gwanghae and she only remember Joo-won’s name. The princess pleaded for Joo-won to save Yeongchang and to protect the grand prince. She fell on her knees and pleaded for him to marry her, if that’s what it would take for her to protect her brother. Jungmyung was the one sobbing but I am more concerned about In-woo, who was totally sidelined…

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Yeongchang’s attendants were crying and they were prohibited from entering the guarded quarters, while Yeongchang was being prepared for the trip to his place of exile. He cried and refused to leave because he had heard that he would die once he leave the palace. The prince asked for his mother and his sister, insisting that he would only leave if his sister could follow him. Queen Inmok could only wail inside her quarters, pleading for her court lady to save Yeongchang. The court lady went to Jungmyung’s quarters, telling the princess that she could leave with her brother.

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Jungmyung went to Yeongchang’s quarters and both of them, dressed in plain clothes, walked hand in hand towards the palace gate. The princess comforted her brother that it was like a short trip outside the palace and they would soon come back to their home. She gave him his dragon jade plate and told him that he shouldn’t forget that he was the nation’s Grand Prince.

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They reached the gate and saw two separate palanquins waiting for them. Yeongchang noticed that something was off and refused to let go of her sister’s hand. Court Lady Choii started crying and Jungmyung demanded to know why they couldn’t sit in a palanquin together, but the attendants were ordered to tear the siblings apart from each other. Jungmyung couldn’t hold onto Yeongchang and she cried in despair as she witnessed Yeongchang being forced into the palanquin…


[END of Episode 4]


 Four episodes in, I think Gwanghae will be portrayed as neither an evil ruler nor a tyrant, but a faulty king. We learned his ardent wish to build Joseon and make it a strong, unbeatable nation in the region, but he’s taking the road no one would be happy with. It is fair to say that he’s tired and jaded of the endless fights between the faction, to the point that he was assuming that his ministers won’t even support his cause. Isn’t it ironic that Gwanghae works so hard to build the nation, but the only thing people talk about was his next target in the bloody game of thrones, Joseon version? It is not helping at all that his ministers are behaving suspiciously around him, while others are manipulating Gwanghae’s fear to get rid of their rivals. The price for sitting on the throne is high, and just like what Deok-hyung said, this is just the beginning..


Yeongchang’s exile was just a beginning for the long list of Gwanghae’s ‘crimes’ against the throne, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the tone of the drama will remain dark and somber, at least until the adult cast make their appearances. Gwanghae had crossed the bridge of no return and while he appeared remorseful in front of Jungmyung, his yearning for the great cause exceeded the affection he had for Jungmyung. It was true that he adored the princess, but it wasn’t the same for Yeongchang: he viewed the prince as a threat to his position, and he had to get rid of the threat once he’s presented with the chance to do so. After this, Jungmyung might develop the desire to avenge her family, enough for her to grit her teeth and survive the harsh life outside the palace later, worse than what she experienced with Yeongchang on the full moon day.


The drama did not hesitate to remind us of the future conflict brewing in the background between In-woo and Joo-won. I’m already pitying In-woo, because he already got sidelined so much by Joo-won and Jungmyung albeit unintentionally, plus he also had another issue he’s hiding from Joo-won. Based on the character description, the one who will be Jungmyung’s supporter and the other as her guardian will probably In-woo and Joo-won, respectively. History had dictated that Joo-won will eventually become Jungmyung’s husband, but I am curious on how the drama will spin the history in the latter part, since Joo-won’s character is portrayed as being two years older than her. In the history, he’s supposed to be three years younger than Jungmyung, so I think the drama will add more conflicts between them before they get married.

I predict that lots of bloodshed will occur next week…

8 thoughts on “Splendid Politics (Hwajung) : Episode 4

  1. Thank you for recapping. The names are still confusing. Can you make the character intro like you did for Empress Ki? Thank you in advance 🙂

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