So much for the last six episodes of Kingdom being a kind of postscript or epilogue – the peacetime focus lasted all of half an episode, and then it was right back into battle again. That said, the game was definitely changed in a big way, and some long-awaited appearances by long-absent characters took place just as expected. Though perhaps not in exactly the way we might have expected them.
In the aftermath of a great victory, of course, there must be celebration and reward (by contrast, Lian Po has been exiled from Wei for his defeat and flees to Chu). It’s nice to see Xin and Zheng together again, though their reunion was all too brief. Zheng might be lonely with so few true friends in the Capital, but there are hints that things are finally progressing with Xiang (hard to read too much into her blush, though – she’s a hair-trigger blusher). Xin also proves once more that he’s hopelessly out of place at court – though in Zheng he at least has an audience that’s forgiving of his boundless breaches of decorum.
Also interesting here is the interplay between Huan Ji and Zheng, two important men getting their first look at each other. Huan Ji is recognized as the second greatest hero of the war with Wei (after the White Elder) – he’s given three additional court ranks along with a heap of gold, and it’s safe to assume he’s a real threat to the very top ranks of the Qin army. Xin himself is the third most-honored – much to his surprise – and is given two court ranks and half the gold Huan receives (which is still many times what he’s seen in his entire life). Most importantly, he’s officially promoted to 1000-Man General – though that seems like it was a foregone conclusion after he fulfilled Meng Ao’s requirement in battle.
The intrigue at court – the unsettled power struggle between Zheng and Lu Buwei – is given surprisingly little attention here. Soon after the ceremony the story flashes forward by six months. Meng Tian is happily flirting with Wei women when he’s given the surprising piece of gossip that the Feixin Unit has lost several battles in a row, and things are so bad Xin may be stripped of his promotion. Tian shows he’s a true friend by going to the frontlines of the still-simmering war with Wei and checking things out for himself. And it’s bad – recriminations are flying, and it seems the problem is that in Qian Lei’s absence, Xin himself (along with Mr. Yuan) has been doing to strategizing. And they suck at it. Indeed, it’s in moments like this that Xin’s downtrodden background becomes an important element in the story.
Meng Tian’s response is more or less as expected – he offers to send his otouto Meng Yi to help the Feixin Force. That would have been interesting – Meng Yi is a hugely important historical figure whose direct connection to the story in Kingdom hasn’t been established – but things go in another interesting direction. Meng Yi is otherwise in-demand, so he sends Diao in his place, a development I mentioned as a possibility last week. It is indeed pretty early in her training for this, but anything that links Diao back to the story is a welcome development – it’s also interesting to wonder whether reuniting with Xin also gets Diao back into the game romantically, when it seemed as if Qian Lei had all but sealed the deal there. The fruits of this new partnership would be a fascinating thing to watch play out, as would the eventual connection of Meng Yi to the story, but we’re only going to see the nascent version of them unless we get another season of Kingdom (which is a possibility). Until then, we’ll have to settle for a five episode appetizer, but that should be enough to give us a taste of how Xin and Diao interact in this entirely new scenario.