With everything that’s going on in Kingdom – and it’s enough that important characters and plot threads disappear for weeks at a time – one of the last things I would have expected is any romantic development. But in point of fact there was probably more of that in this episode than in the first two seasons combined. I still don’t see this likely going anywhere concrete, as there’s just too much else going on, but that final scene leading up to Xin actually calling Qiang Lei cute (let’s be honest, he’s not wrong) had to be a pure delight to the Lei fans in the audience.
In a vacuum, what happened between those two might have seemed incredibly vague, but in context those moments on the hillside seem quite significant. First off they were surround by fireflies, and we all know that in anime any scene with hotaru is loaded with romantic subtext. You can add to the fact that Xin is spectacularly dense, even by anime M.C. standards – it’s not annoying in his case because it’s the essence of his character, but it’s still a fact. For him to be as tuned in to Lei’s feelings as he was and then call her “pretty cute” is a watershed moment. I also thought it was quite significant that she hesitated when she said that was putting off her revenge because “this place is…” She settled on “the only place I can call home” but I think what she really wanted to say is, “by your side”. Sorry Diao, I think your ship has sailed – but buck up, the Mengs are a great family to marry into.
We’re seeing some real evidence of Xin’s growth here, and in more than just his interactions with Lei. When presented with 700 new soldiers to win over, he really stepped up to the plate with a rousing speech that hit all the right notes. Of course the White Elder did Xin a huge favor by giving him the soldiers from Guo Bei’s force – men used to fighting for a commoner in an era where thousand-man generals were invariably nobles. But this sort of thing is the old man’s specialty, so it should be no surprise that he got it just right. Xin still had to convince Vice-captain Chu Sui and this men that despite his appearance and demanor, he was a man to be reckoned with. Xin is still playing the fool as well as anyone – he and Meng Tian gleefully calling each other “Thousand-man General” to Wang Ben’s annoyance was highly amusing – but it’s his unspoiled and unpolished nature that ultimately earns him the loyalty and trust of the men he leads.
There’s another interesting angle developing with the Meng Ao army, and that’s the development of the two vice-generals who’re defying even the great Li Mu’s predictions by their success in seizing Wei castles. We’re not being told yet who these generals are, but it’s a good bet they’re major historical figures (most likely Bai Qi and Wang Jian – the latter especially likely as Meng Tian obliquely referred to “famous fathers” when referring to the reason young nobles like he and Wang Ben either end up being flakes like him or tight-asses like Wang Ben). The vice-generals have already seized the high ground by arriving at the key battleground of Shanyang, which Qin needs as a staging ground for its conquests of the other Warring States. This is the place where the two great armies of 140,000 men will clash with the future of Zheng’s unification dream on the line – and it would be fitting if Meng Ao’s victory over the “unbeatable” Lian Po is made possible not by his own military genius, but by his talent for putting more ingenious people than he is in key positions.
For the first time in a while, the camera steps away from the Meng Ao and Lian Po armies to give us a glimpse of what’s happening on other fronts. As mentioned Li Mu is perturbed by the success of the vice-generals, because he’s bound under his alliance with Qin not to come to Wei’s aid. Back in Qin the differences between the Yu Buwei and Zheng factions are temporarily deferred by the immediate issue of the crucial battle in Wei, as advisors loyal to both camps weigh in on the coming events. But Lu Buewei is clearly becoming aware that
his son the King has grown into a young man too formidable to easily control, and in his reaction I believe I can see a bit of pride in addition to annoyance…