As expected, the focus of this week’s episode was mostly on the introduction of the “fearsome men of the mountains” to the story (and it was refreshingly free of bad CG for the most part, thankfully). With the two greats armies of Qin both arrayed against him, this amounts to something of a desperation ploy for Zheng, a final throw of the dice – but it’s really the only option left open to him if he doesn’t want to sit idly by and let his troglodytic younger brother assume the throne in his place.
And we see evidence both present and past that “fearsome” is an apt term to describe the men of the mountains, starting with the quick and ruthless destruction of the troops chasing down Zheng’s ragtag party as they climb the mountains. In the hazy past, 400 years earlier, Zheng’s ancestor Mu had made a great peace with the Mountain People, the pavilion being one by-product – and those people came to his aid in the form of the “Horse and Liquor Force” (so named because it was in gratitude for those gifts that they rallied around Mu) when he was attacked by the neighboring kingdom of Jin during a drought. But their massacre of the invading army was so savage and brutal that even their allies were terrified, and broke off relations once the invasion was over – setting the table for the events of the present.
Within the King’s party there’s a very prominent changing of the guard quite literally taking place. Changwenjun is injured and feeling every bit his age, and his men are exhausted – as the youngsters continue to scramble tirelessly up the mountain more and more of Changwenjun’s men fall behind. The message here is obvious, and when the Mountain People finally do make contact, many of those men have already been sent back to Mu’s Pavilion to rest. Indeed, it’s very plain that the men of the mountains could easily have killed the entire party had they so chose – but for now, they do not choose to do so. Rather, they take Zheng to face their own King alone, after a brief standoff and a bit of chest-thumping from Xin.
By bowing his head to Xin and pleading for him to follow Zheng and even apologizing for Piao’s death, Changwenjun is basically acknowledging that his time as the King’s protector is ending, and the younger and stronger Xin must step into the role. That can’t have been easy for the old bastard, but that’s the direction the story has been going for a while – this is a series about the three youngsters making their place in the world, after all. There’s a new player on the scene, too – Teng, an associate of Wang Qi who’s joining him in a spot of sculpting. It looks to me that Wang Qi is very much biding his time, and may end up fighting for Zheng in the end once the boy has proved his worth as a military commander.