Hi guys, I’m substituting for this episode to get us a little closer to the very talked about episode 23, which is still a mystery to me because I haven’t seen it yet, nor episodes 19 and 20 for that matter. I rely on Bamboo’s recaps too 😓.
After getting frustrated with the snail-paced romance between Ying Zheng and Li Er, it was surprising to see a complete one eighty in the way they interact with each other (a lot must have happened in the past two episodes). Gone are the forceful chin grabbing and perpetual long faces and instead, Ying Zheng and Li Er chase each other around like a happy couple. Sure, he still gets passive aggressive and occasionally manipulative, but for someone like Ying Zheng, that’s just the norm.
Episode 21 begins with Ying Zheng asking for everyone’s affirmation that Li Er has indeed accomplished a great deed. The Grand Dowager curtly agrees that Li Er did well to advise the retreat of the Qin army, but also warns that concubines interfering with politics is detrimental to a nation.
Ying Zheng reminds the Grand Dowager that he has always wanted to marry an exceptional woman. Li Er is well versed in words and martial arts, and he intends to make her queen. The Grand Dowager and Madam Chu naturally object to this, and Grand Dowager adds that someone from Chu would be more appropriate because it can lead to a lasting alliance between the two states.
Ying Zheng reasons that it wouldn’t be fair to side with one state, and that it’s ultimately easier to have someone without political backing to prevent relatives from gaining too much power. The comment is obviously directed at the Grand Dowager who is left speechless.
Unwilling to become queen herself, Li Er also tries to get out of it by saying that she cannot live up to the expectations of being a queen. Ying Zheng knew that the Grand Dowager would object, which is why he proposes that in order to prove Li Er’s worth, she will go to war with him. If they emerge victorious, then no one can stop him from naming her queen.
Madam Chu demands to know why the King will only bring Li Er out of all the concubines, to which he responds, “Ruo Er, if you want to accompany me as well, I will grant you an armor, a horse and a sword. You can accompany me to war, how’s that?”
Once they were alone, Li Er calls Ying Zheng out for being too impulsive and for doing things without discussing with her first. She has no desire to be queen and to push her into such a position will only place Tian Ming in more danger. She also doesn’t see why she should go and fight a war with him. Ying Zheng grabs her before she walks off, and tells her that he has a gift.
She doesn’t seem too pleased to see the tray of tangerines that he presents to her, so he throws it across the floor and tells her to forget it. It turns out that he did it on purpose to reveal the real gift buried underneath. It’s the Gongsun family sword that was taken away from Li Er when she first came to the palace.
Li Er’s touched and delighted as she asks, “Does this mean you completely trust me?” He says, “Of course.” He asks again whether she will go to war with him, and she’s more receptive to the idea as she says that she’ll think about it. He says, “Still going to think about it? Then give me the sword back…..” She poutingly calls him demanding and walks off. He grabs a hold of her and teases her further by saying that the alternative is to agree to give him a child instead.
She says no to that too, and warns him that she’ll stab him if he doesn’t let go. He says that she wouldn’t have the heart to do that, and she proves him wrong by stabbing him but with the non-pointy end of the sword. We get a montage of the two running happily in slow-mo across the palace walkways.
Elsewhere, Jing Ke thanks Swordsman Gao for his guidance in figuring out the location of the sword technique. He invites Gao to go with him and Lan Er to Song Shan, but Gao refuses, saying that the Gongsun sword technique is meant for Jing Ke and not outsiders like him. They bid their farewells while a spy hides in the bushes listening to every word (we find out later that the spy is from the Dan Ding Group).
Han Shen gets a promotion to rank just below Li Zhong. Ying Zheng commends him for protecting Li Er, and allows him to have some alone time to catch up with his martial arts sister. Ying Zheng walks over to Li Er and gets a firm grasp on her before whispering, “You get to see your martial arts senior already, shouldn’t you accompany me to war now?” He puts on a smile to ease the mood, but it reads more like a threat to me.
During their talk, Han Shen warns Li Er to be careful at all times, because anyone can sacrifice her, even Ying Zheng. Before Ying Zheng can be assured that Qin will succeed in conquering the lands, he will try to balance the power within his courts and the inner palace. Ying Zheng refuses to side with Madam Chu or Madam Min, and only cares about Li Er, which may seem like he’s impartial, but in reality, it’s a move that fits his political ambitions. Li Er admits that she really wished for Ying Zheng’s death in the beginning, but she doesn’t even know what happened that she rushed forward to save him back then.
She doesn’t know whether it’s because she sincerely wants to save him or worries about his welfare for the sake of Tian Ming. She tells Han Shen that Ying Zheng gave her back the Gongsun Family Sword and talks about how Ying Zheng has always been looking for someone that he can trust. This raises a red flag to Han Shen who finally asks, “Li Er, you didn’t start liking Ying Zheng, did you?” She responds, “I just feel that he is not such a manipulative man.”
Ying Zheng also does some contemplating on his own with his trusty sidekick Li Zhong. He shares that the reason that he was able to be so ruthless was because he had no baggage, no people or things that he truly cared about. Now that he has Li Er, she will eventually become his only weakness, and he doesn’t like that. He represents Qin State which means that Qin has a weakness too, but he can’t help himself from wanting to go near her.
Because Li Er was instrumental in getting Ying Zheng to recall the army against Chu, Eunuch Zhao Gao deduces that she is not an enemy. He’s decided to leave her be for now, but orders his men to continue spying on her because she is neither friend nor foe.
On another palace walkway, Han Shen heads straight for Madam Chu to give her a piece of his mind. Madam Chu’s maid demands to know if he’s blind that he’s blocking their path, but he says that Madam Chu seems to be the one with eye problems. She knows that he’s responsible for the safety of Li Er, and yet she has tried many times to harm her. The King may care about keeping the peace between Qin and Chu, but he doesn’t. If Madam Chu tries anything funny again, he won’t let her off easy.
Ying Zheng readies to set out with the Qin Army. Li Er also arrives in full battle gear, and they get to talking about the purpose of their journey, which is to attack Han State in order to invite a man named Han Fei over to Qin. Li Er has heard about Han Fei from her grandfather who considered him to be a very talented man. However, he has a lisp and was not favored by the Han officials who failed to see his potential.
Once at the military camp, two of Ying Zheng’s men arrive to report to him. Li Er recognizes them to be members of Wind Forest Fire Mountain who were responsible for killing her grandfather. She immediately draws her sword to avenge her grandfather, but Ying Zheng stands in her way and tells them to escape. Still determined to kill them, she accuses Ying Zheng for being so worried for his men, but he says that he’s only worried for her.
After losing sight of Jing Ke and Lan Er after following them through the mountains, the members of the Dan Ding Group reconvene with their master. Xia Hou remarks that there’s nowhere to hide in the area and orders his students to disperse and find them immediately. The next thing he does is to call out for Jing Ke to show himself.
Jing Ke and Lan Er come out, and Jing Ke tells Xiao Hou that he knew Xiao Hou was aware of their presence the moment he asked his students to leave, since it was clear that he did it because he means to have the sword technique all to himself. Xia Hou admits that he might have underestimated Jing Ke and a fight ensues. Xia Hou loses track of them when they accidentally fall through a hidden trapdoor. At the same time, Xia Hou catches one of his disciples lurking in the shadows to witness what happened. His student pleads to be spared and promises to catch Jing Ke and bring back the sword technique.
Ying Zheng asks whether Li Er is still mad about what happened earlier in the day. She says she’s not just mad, but she feels hatred and finds it unfair that on top of that, she has to play nice with the enemy by marrying him. Ying Zheng claims innocence and says that he wasn’t even the one who gave the order to attack Puyang City.
Li Er says that it doesn’t make a difference. Ying Zheng owns up and says that everything will be his fault since it was done by Qin and that he will order the arrest of Wind Forest Fire Mountain, throw them into the river where their blood will flow.
Li Er says that doing that will turn her grandfather into a laughing stock. Her grandfather was killed by these four men, and if she’s going to ask the King of Qin to kill them instead, she’ll be called a bewitching woman. He ask her what she wants then, and finally suggests that she should just stab him (he points to the neck) to lessen her anger. She raises her sword, but obviously wasn’t going to act upon it since she had a hint of a smile creeping up her face.
Ying Zheng shows her his map of conquest, and tells her of his plan to attack Zhao and Han to gain control of the Northern territory and erect a great wall along the borders that will protect the people inside it. Li Er looks anxious as she thinks that war will mean more deaths and suffering. Ying Zheng says that for the people, it’s better to experience short pain that prolonged pain. If he can use the current power of Qin to conquer the six states, he can use the least amount of sacrifice to achieve greater peace, and he won’t regret it even if it means that he will be branded as a sinful man in history. Just as Ying Zheng was about to inch closer, a guard reports that Consort Li’s quarters are ready.
Ying Zheng suggests that Li Er stay, and when she doesn’t agree, he pulls her into a hug and tells her that she can’t leave, he won’t let her, if she dares to take one more step, he won’t be merciful. She struggles a bit, and we see a hint of a smile from him who pulls her into a warm embrace. She says, “Fine, I’m tired, I won’t leave anymore, remove your hands.”
Meanwhile, Jing Ke and Lan Er find themselves inside a cave. Lan Er has trouble standing up because of a sprained ankle so Jing Ke tells her to get on his back. She is resistant at first, but he convinces her that it’s his responsibility to take care of her so she eventually hops on.
Back inside their tent, Li Er and Ying Zheng argue about the sleeping situation. She has turned one of the tables into a single bed while he whines that he has a bed big enough for them both, and if she continues to be like that, he really won’t be able to sleep.
Comments: So the episode basically feels like Ying Zheng is now showering Li Er with love and bribes to get what he wants. I suppose it’s an improvement to their previous dynamic and much sweeter to watch, but he’s still constantly grabbing her and testing his boundaries with her. I think we’ve seen in previous episodes that Li Er is not the type to submit to sheer dominance, so the fact that she willingly stays says a lot about how her opinions and feelings for him has changed. As Han Shen points out, perhaps she’s already in love with him.
I feel like it’s going to be tricky going forward since she clearly still remembers and wants to avenge her grandfather’s death. She wants to kill Wind Forest Fire Mountain, and I know that Ying Zheng said that he wasn’t the one who gave the order to attack Puyang City, but I thought it was him. Was it really not him?