As is the standard for war epics, there’s a sense of watching pieces being moved about on a big chess board. The interesting question here for me is this: just who is it moving the pieces? That’s especially valid on the rebel side, and as we learn more about the political dynamics of Qin drip by drip, it’s becoming increasingly clear that not all is as it seemed to be early on. Cheng may be the figurehead of the rebellious forces, but more and more it looks to me as if he’s merely a tool in the hands of those who see him as useful to further their own goals.
Makes no mistake, I feel no pity for Cheng – he’s a truly nasty little homunculus, which we knew already but are given further evidence of via flashback this week. But he seems to have no idea that he’s being used, and is likely to be tossed aside as soon as it’s convenient for those who seek power for themselves. The source of Cheng’s hatred is quite plain: not only is Zheng the child of a common woman, but that woman came along and stole his father’s affections from the Queen, his mother. So Cheng had his throne stolen from him by a bastard, and his mother stolen from him by her grief at being abandoned by the Emperor. For Cheng this is all about revenge – he cares little about the kingdom at all, so long as he has his half-brother’s head.
So as Lu Buwei waits outside the picture for chaos to strike the Capitol, his massive forces poised to move in and take advantage of the civil war he expects his coming, Wang Qi is proving an inscrutable figure too. We already know he’s claimed to have killed Changwenjun and claimed his lands for his own, and when Cheng’s men come demanding Changwenjun’s family so that they can be tortured and killed, he refuses – stating that they belong to him now. There’s more going on here than a simple power grab – Wang Qi seems as if he might intentionally be protecting Changwenjun’s family and his subjects, though to what end I can’t say just yet – sheer human decency and compassion for its own sake seems like a longshot.
Meanwhile, Zheng’s alliance with Duan He seems to have taken. They prepare to march on the Capitol with a mere 3,000 men to do battle with Cheng’s 80,000 men – but Zheng has a plan, and it clearly involves having his entire army pretend to be Mountain Folk. Perhaps he’s counting on the terror factor here, though the odds are still stacked against them. And Xin as usual proves a quick study, this time at the riding of a horse – and a violent-tempered one too, as that’s what the Mountain People have given him to ride. For Xin, this is a big moment – many a boyhood conversation with Hyou centered on the importance of horses to armies, and to finally ride one in anger is the fulfillment of their long-ago shared dream. Make no mistake, for all his lack of sophistication and experience, Xin is fearless and seems to have the makings of a great warrior – some might even say a General, in fact…