Kingdom is all about the measure of a man – and woman – it seems to me. Generals, kings, merchants and thieves take the measure of each other, and battle takes the measure of all of them. The ultimate, it seems, is to be deemed worthy of a place on history – something we, with the benefit of time, know many of the names in this series achieved. On the field of battle, knowing the nature of your opponent is critical – and underestimating them is liable to prove fatal.
We didn’t have much CGI to speak of in this episode, a welcome break, but I take limited pleasure in that because the ep itself was a break from the relentless battles of the last several. It strikes me that war anime are quite a bit like sports anime if you look at them from the proper angle – inevitably before the big game, you have a build-up episode (Giant Killing had my personal all-time favorite) where everyone takes stock of their circumstances and their mental condition and goes to whatever place they need to in order to ready themselves for what’s ahead. And this was definitely that episode for Kingdom.
The first crucial moment here occurred when Wang Jian made his choice: despite having the advantage in numbers and terrain and a chance at Lian Po’s head, he chose to retreat when Lian Po presented himself. In Wang’s own words, “I’m only interested in battles I’m certain to win.” If that doesn’t sit well, it shouldn’t – it’s a highly dubious attitude for a general – and the picture Lian Po draws of Wang Jian is a complicated one. He compares his strategic genius to Bai Qi, the greatest of Qin’s Six Great Generals (even greater than Wang Qi), a man who it seems usually got the better of Lian Po. And indeed, Wang Jian again proves himself incredibly resourceful and possessed of great foresight – he’s built a stronghold for himself on a natural fortress, a castle-like hill where his men have set up seemingly impenetrable defenses.
It doesn’t end there, though. Both Lian Po and Jian Lan have seen the truth of the matter – Wang Jian fancies himself as the center of the world, placing his own welfare above that of the army as a whole. And just like that, Lian Po dismisses him as a rival – despite his genius, he’s not worthy of the title, because he’s not a men other men will fight to the death for. He may be safe in his natural keep, but he’s useless to the rest of the Qin army there – and Lian leaves Jian Lan to watch over Wang Jian and keep him bottled up while he prepares to take the head of his “mediocre old rival”. In this, Wang Jian’s character seems quite different from that of Wang Ben – which may be why we’ve seen no indication of a relationship between the two.
The same cannot be said of Meng Ao and Meng Tian, who seem very close. After the latter is scolded (and punched) by two of Meng Ao’s subordinates for his reckless attack against Lun Hu, Meng Ao calls him in for a “Grandpa and Grandson” talk. It’s hard to escape the notion that for all his skill at spotting talent and ability to get the best out of people Meng Ao is simply too nice for his job, but the old man seems to sense that his time of reckoning has come. His old nemesis is staring across the battlefield at him, his right-arm has been taken out of the battle (in truth, he’s taken himself out of it) and the time may have come when the White Elder can no longer rely on the ability of his subordinates, but must face Lian Po using his own strength.
As for Xin, he’s severely wounded – cut to the bone multiple times – and he’s not the only one, as Qian Lei is hiding a serious wound in her side. She’s scraped together a mystical healing balm (there’s always a mystical healing balm) but she spares none for herself – perhaps an admission that it’s Xin’s welfare that matters most to the future survival of the Feixin Force. They sleep together (you wish) in his tent, though all that’s left of her in the moment is a blood stain, and it’s clear that a very deep bond has grown between the two of them. As strong as Xin has become and as powerful as Qian Lei has always been, they’re never more like the children they still are than when they’re bantering and bickering between them.
Every indication is that next week is going to be the big one – or the start of it, at the very least. I suspect the thief is going to prove more trustworthy and valuable to Meng Ao than the military scion, and that Lun Hu (now reduced to one usable sword arm) and Xin are going to face each other one final time. The sense of occasion is heightened by a seemingly extraneous (and brief) check-in with Zheng and Xian (she survived after all). They’re checking out each other’s bodies in Zheng’s bed (you wish), and bonding over their respective war wounds – and romantic partnerships have been founded on a whole lot less than that. I think, in the end, Zheng was interested in Xian all along and simply incapable of expressing it any other way than through the awkward and mostly silent visits he commander her to make to his bedchamber, but those trivialities seem irrelevant now after what she’s been through on his behalf.