The Great Queen Seon Deok or Seondeok Yeo Wang — episodes 75 to end
This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in these episodes so do not read this post if you want the experience of watching the serial unfold onscreen. Further, these episode numbers are based on the terrestrial broadcasts I have seen and not on downloaded or DVD episodes. It’s possible that these numbers do not match your experience.
Well the war with Baekje is not going well. Under the influence of Bi-Dam (Kim Nam-Gil), all the second-rate generals are sent out, in one case with a battle plan drawn up by Kim Yu-Sin (Uhm Tae-Woong) in his cell. Bi-Dam will do anything and everything to prevent Yu-Sin from taking any credit for a victory. Emotionally, he’s like a big kid. Deeply in love with the idea of Deokman (Lee Yo-Won) and fanatically jealous of Yu-Sin, he’s forgotten the basic rule. If you want to secure Deokman’s heart, you have to love Silla as much as, if not more than, her. In peace, when she could watch over him and prevent him from getting out of hand, he was a blade and she was the safe hand holding it. Now she’s distracted by war, she casts him adrift. It’s all a little tragic. He describes himself as being like a duck. When he first came out of the metaphorical egg, the first woman he saw was Deokman and he’s imprinted, waddling after her. They meet and Bi-Dam asks why she can no longer see his sincerity. So she takes the time to explain the problem.
When she was just an ordinary person, no-one had to pretend to be anything other than they were. But when she became a figurehead, everyone stopped treating her naturally. Everyone except for Bi-Dam, that is. He would still wink at her and hold her hand if it was shaking. He remained natural in his reactions to her. So she came to love him. But then he started acting like a kid, becoming so petty and failing to protect her dreams. This sets the poor boy back so he does the right thing. Without prompting, he produces a document swearing on a stack of holy books he will only serve her and go into a monastery if she dies first. He will never seek the throne. Now she hopes he has matured and plans to marry him. However, not trusting he will still be the same man when she dies, she gives Kim Chun Chu (Yu Seung-Ho) written instructions to kill him if he tries to claim the throne.
Behind Bi-Dam’s back, Deokman is working to convince Wol-Ya (Joo Sang-Wook) to come and fight for Silla. In the end, Juk-bang (Lee Mun-Shik) leads them to the Gayan secret camp and Deokman leaves Chun Chu there as a hostage for her good behaviour or as a negotiator for peace. No matter, Bi-Dam is busy trying to persuade Deokman into abandoning the capital and running off to a secret hideout when the Gayans march boldly into the Palace and swear allegiance. At this point, Deokman releases Yu-Sin and gives him absolute military authority. This leaves Bi-Dam looking incompetent. Doekman was able to find the Gayans when he could not.
Once on the battlefield, not everything goes well with Baekje cavalry. They have a neat trick. The troop has been divided into two units and they are sent to opposite sides of a hill. One unit attacks from side A and then retreats. Minutes later, the second unit attacks from side B. From the Sillan point of view, the enemy cavalry is seemingly able to appear out of thin air. The troops are starting to talk about supernatural power. Even Ko-Do (Ryu Dam) is beaten in raw strength by the cavalry’s leader. This is affecting morale. Fortunately Yu-Sin tests the facts and works out the strategy. He then sets his own trap and with the Gayan archers and their special bows able to shoot far longer distances, they get the invaders on to the retreat. Silla is saved thanks to Yu-Sin — as we all knew it would.
As the peace threatens and the emissaries from the Tangs are due to arrive, Yum-Jong (Eom Hyo-Seop) discovers the secret agreement between Bi-Dam and Deokman. This outrages the nobles who have been supporting him. They want him to be King. So they plot his downfall by bribing the emissaries to embarrass Deokman and then blame Bi-Dam. In his mind, this gives Bi-Dam the same choice he had as a child. Then, he killed the community of thieves that stole the map and lost the love of Moon No. Now he worries he will lose Deokman if he simply kills all the nobles plotting against her. So he delays. Unfortunately, their plans are advancing fast and they bring matters to a head with the arrival of a message by boat and then, when an opportunity presents itself, almost kill Chun Chu. For a moment, Bi-Dam becomes the real focus of attention. His insecurity is now out in the open and, despite words from Deokman that should have reassured him, first Chun Chu and then Yum-Jong shake his confidence that Deokman loves him. So the little lost boy decides that, if Deokman only loves Silla, he’d better become Silla, i.e. rebel and take control.
At a single bound he becomes the rebel general and takes over a part of the capital. This gives the nobles a literal choice of which camp to join. Unwittingly Deokman almost pulls him back from the brink by sending Juk Bang with a letter saying she will abdicate and they can live out their lives in peace together. Unfortunately, he is not inclined to believe the letter is real, an opinion confirmed when Deokman issues a decree branding Bi-Dam an enemy of the state. But there’s still an itch at the back of his mind so Bi-Dam sends out a loyal follower to find out what’s happening. Sadly, he’s intercepted and is not able to deliver the news that Yum-Jong is tricking him. Now Yu-Sin attacks before the rebel troops can all come together. Naturally, the operation is a complete success. Just before victory, Bi-Dam learns he has been tricked by Yum-Jong. Except, when he confronts the man, he’s finally told the truth. All life has done is offer him choices but he chose not to trust others. First, he lost Moon No’s love by failing honestly to report the loss of the map. Had he done so, they could have recovered the map with less destruction and he could have grown by taking responsibility. Then he lost Deokman because he never really believed she would stay loyal to him. All he had to do was believe her love was real and he would have been rewarded. There’s a short scene where Mi-Saeng (Jeong Woong-In) confirms he has been the author of his own downfall. Then we’re into an unnecessarily long sequence where Bi-Dam tries to fight his way through to Deokman only to die a few paces from her. Three days later, Deokman dies (a broken heart aggravating her underlying medical problems).
This is a frustrating end. There’s no sight of Chun Chu taking over the throne. All we get is Yu-sin and Al-Chun (Lee Seung-Hyo) looking old and a tearjerker dream sequence. I’m not saying this is a poor ending. The last few episodes pushed Deokman to one side and we focused on Bi-Dam’s self-destruction. This is not the way I would like to remember Deokman. She may not have been the most effective of rulers, but it’s a sad commentary on the entire enterprise when the production team forget we’re supposed to be following her rise and fall.