This episode continues the theme of the last – that not all wars are fought on the battlefield, and that when soldiers die, the reach of the arm that wields the killing weapon can be very long indeed. Indeed, this is a notion that seems very much at the heart of what the second season is likely to be. Soliders and strategists and politicians each fight on their own turf, and when their worlds collide it isn’t pretty.
One of the most striking elements of the whole Li Mu-Lu Buwei affair has been Zheng’s silence – indeed, his virtual disappearance. Turns out there’s a good reason for that – knowing he was powerless in the moment anyway, Zheng was trying to play the role of the puppet ruler, the powerless boy king, so as to avoid giving anything away that Li Mu could turn against him later. He’s certainly right in assuming that even if he’s an ally for now, Li Mu is going to be an enemy again soon enough and likely to be among the most dangerous he’ll ever face. But was Li Mu fooled? I’ve yet to see him bested in any battle of the minds, and I’m skeptical that he was taken in by Zheng’s possum act or got the short end of the negotiations with Lu Buwei.
It’s pretty obvious from the beginning that the banquet is a highly tense affair, with the military men loyal to Wang Qi rightfully incensed at breaking bread with his killer and the politicians mocking them for their crudeness and ignorance. Xin, being the crudest and most unspoiled of the lot, actually tells Li Mu what he thinks – and makes a promise that he and no one else is going to be the one to take his revenge. Li Mu is predictably not angered in the slightest – he knows full well the implications of what he did – and being the strategist he is is fully aware of Xin and his reputation. This promises to be a long-running and fascinating rivalry.
For now, though, Lu Buwei is a much bigger concern. Zheng arranges for a discrete reunion of the original trio of himself, Xin and Diao – and it was great to see them together at last. Zheng (and Xin, presumably) is now 17, and in Qin that means Xin has five years (in the other Kingdoms he’d have but three) until he’s officially crowned as an adult ruler. That gives him five years to avoid being crushed by Lu Buwei, and more than anything he needs friends he can trust – and there’s no one he trusts more than Xin and Diao. Each of them are making their way in their own field – Xin as a warrior, Diao as a budding (in more ways than one) strategist, and it seems that they will be Zheng’s most dependable allies, assuming he and Chengwenjun can manoeuver the political game sufficiently well to give them enough time to be of real use.
The other interesting element in the episode is the role of Kaine, Li Mu’s… what – assistant? Confidante? Lover? She has an amusing reunion with Diao, with their clear mutual affection showing through despite their status as enemies (their nominal alliance being recognized as a transient state of affairs by all who know better). She also spots something she recognizes in Qiang Lei (is she even trying to pass as a girl anymore?) – perhaps she has experience with a member of Qiang’s very special tribe. There’s also an odd-looking spy in the midst, who seems especially interested in the goings-on of Xin, though what this person is after is a matter left for future episodes.