Hi everyone! Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace 如懿传, the Qing Dynasty drama about the love story between the Qianlong Emperor and his second Empress, Ulanara, has finally ended. When I first started watching, I thought it was moving a bit too slowly, but I’m really glad I stuck with it because the drama ended up being fantastic (in my opinion, it is the best drama of the year). The entire cast, led by Zhou Xun and Wallace Huo, did a great job in their roles, and the hard work and effort the whole cast and crew put into every aspect of the drama really shines though. The production value is excellent, from the costumes and hairpieces to the decorations in every setting. Overall, the drama was very well done, very well executed. By the final episode, Qianlong knew how badly he misjudged and mistreated Ruyi, but it’s already too late. With everything she suffered, Ruyi has lost all the love and trust she used to have for him, leaving Qianlong to look back with regrets up until his death. Even though there was no happily ever after, the final episode did a good job of bringing everything to a proper conclusion. On to the recap….
The final episode begins with Qianlong departing the palace on one of his trips, taking with him a large entourage consisting of consorts, servants, and other palace staff. With so many people gone and the palace now much more peaceful, Ruyi finally ventures out from her residence, Yikun Palace, the place where she was kept in confinement until Qianlong realizes that she was innocent.
Even after her confinement ended, she was not willing to see any visitors nor leave her palace. She visits a place she found a long time ago which overlooks the entire palace grounds to take one last long look at the place where she spent most of her life. The place holds many memories for Ruyi and Qianlong, as it’s where they used to play together as children, and where Qianlong made promises of love to her.
That evening, Ruyi sits in the courtyard of her palace residence. She tells her attendant, Rong Pei, to sit down and join her for a cup of tea. When Rong Pei protests that this goes against the rules, Ruyi tells her not to worry about formalities, that by this point, she and Ruyi have been together for so many years. Rong Pei tells Ruyi that getting to serve her has been a blessing in her life. In turn, Ruyi responds that having Rong Pei has also been a blessing. Such a great relationship from these two.
Ruyi tells Rong Pei that she has been reminiscing about past memories – meeting Hongli for the first time, watching a play, one that would become one of their favorites, and when Hongli told her that he wanted them to be together. Hongli would always say her favorite words, not to worry. Years later, Qianlong told her that he was lonely and wanted her by his side as his Empress. Even though Ruyi never cared and was never interested in becoming the Empress, when Qianlong said those words, she couldn’t help but agree. After all, only the Empress is considered the Emperor’s wife – everyone else is considered a concubine. She says she’s been thinking about all the people that they’ve lost over the years – first her aunt, and then Qianlong’s other consorts who passed away one at a time because of the endless scheming. She says that all the fighting and backstabbing within the inner court takes so many lives, and it’s not worth it in the end. She wistfully imagines how great it would be if her son and daughter had been able to grow up, and the princes she took care of – Yonghuang and Yong Qi – were still alive. She wonders if all the infighting had not happened, how would everyone look? Would they all be sitting together drinking tea and chatting – even with the Emperor. Rong Pei thinks Ruyi never stopped missing or thinking about Qianlong, but Ruyi corrects her. To her, everything seems like it only happened yesterday, but also like nothing ever happened. She doesn’t much miss or think about the Emperor.
Ruyi and Rong Pei share a cup of tea before Ruyi asks for Rong Pei to bring some more fresh tea. After Rong Pei leaves, Ruyi takes a look at her green plum blossom tree. The tree had been a gift from Qianlong many years ago when he first became Emperor. Unfortunately, the tree didn’t survive long. Ruyi tried for years to revive it, but never succeeded. When Rong Pei returns, Ruyi has already passed away. Sitting next to her is a letter to her son, Yong Ji.
Far away on his trip, an attendant informs Qianlong that Ruyi has passed away. He is told that Ruyi died peacefully from illness and that Rong Pei has also taken her own life to follow her master in death. Towards the end of her life, she had stopped taking any medicine. When a consort begins criticizing Ruyi, Qianlong yells at her to get out immediately, even if something were going on between him and Ruyi, it’s not anyone’s place to comment. When his attendant asked about Ruyi’s funeral arrangements, Qianlong yells at him and order everyone else to get out. He collapses back onto his bed and stares at the ceiling, thinking to himself, “Ruyi, why didn’t you tell me? Why did you stop taking medicine? You were fine when I left.”
Back in the palace, Qianlong’s other consorts and concubines pay their respects to Ruyi. When the consorts commiserate over Ruyi’s death, Han Xiang (Consort Rong) says that there is nothing to be sad about. Ruyi has left to be with her childhood sweetheart. I feel so bad for Hailan (Consort Yu) – first she lost her son Yong Qi, and now Ruyi, her best friend and sister, has left as well.
As his consorts and concubines were paying their respects, Qianlong walks towards Yikun Palace. When he arrives, he hesitates before entering. There, he meets Yong Ji, his only remaining child with Ruyi. Yong Ji asks Qianlong if he has come to see Ruyi, and then asks if his mother is now truly free.
He gives Qianlong the letter that Ruyi wrote him, in which Ruyi tells her son not to be sad. Dying was a way for her to leave everything behind and to be free. Ruyi’s two wishes for Yong Ji are for him to live well and to live freely, to not do anything he doesn’t want to do. After Qianlong finishes reading the letter, he gives it back to Yong Ji, and tells him to hold on to it, as it was written by his mother. Qianlong decides against entering Ruyi’s palace and turns away.
Qianlong stares at Ruyi’s green plum blossom tree and the one painting of them together as Emperor and Empress. In a tone of finality, Ruyi had cut out her own portrait from the painting and burned it. His attendant informs Qianlong that the day she passed away, Ruyi visited the terrace overlooking the palace, and died peacefully while drinking tea with Rong Pei that evening.
Qianlong goes to see the palace painter to ask him to restore the painting of him and Ruyi together as Emperor and Empress. He wants it to be an exact replica of how the painting was before. The painter apologizes, and tells Qianlong that it is an impossible task to paint the same painting. When he painted it the first time, Qianlong and Ruyi had been very much in love. He explains that Qianlong had instinctively reached for her hand at the time, and that emotion was reflected in the painting. Even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to paint the same painting again.
Hearing these words, Qianlong heads to the same terrace Ruyi visited on the day she died. It was where he and Ruyi had played together since they were kids, and where he had told Ruyi that he wanted them to be together. As he overlooks the palace, he recalls the beautiful memories that he and Ruyi had. The last time he and Ruyi had met, Ruyi told him that their time has passed and that they can no longer return to the past. Qianlong can’t help crying.
Afterwards, he decrees that Ruyi should not be given the usual funeral ceremonies of a deceased Empress. Her death was reported without using the usual terminology befitting of an Empress. He also orders that Ruyi be removed from historical records paintings of her be destroyed as well.
Upon hearing the news, the Dowager Empress goes to see Qianlong to ask him what his intentions are as everyone had been talking and wondering about his recent actions. Qianlong not only altered Ruyi’s funeral ceremonies but he interred her in the same tomb as Imperial Noble Consort Chun. She asks Qianlong if he truly intends to depose the Empress. Qianlong says that years ago, Dowager didn’t even want Ruyi as the Empress and yet she has become the one who does not want Ruyi to be deposed as the Empress. This time however, it is Ruyi who isn’t willing to be his Empress anymore. She committed a serious offence by cutting her hair and wasn’t willing to take medicine when she was ill. She even ruined the only painting of them together.
Qianlong says that Ruyi went against him on multiple occasions, that if everyone were like her, he wouldn’t be able to look after his people or the palace. He says that it was the Dowager Empress who told him that Ruyi never cared about power, position, or glory. Since she doesn’t care about those things, why should he force them on her. Perhaps she wasn’t meant to live in the palace. The Dowager Empress finally understands Qianlong’s intention to give Ruyi her freedom. As she leaves, the Dowager Empress looks at the drawing Qianlong has been working on and sees that he has been designing a palace of plum blossoms. Plum blossoms, especially green ones, had been Ruyi’s favorite flower. The Dowager Empress tells Qianlong, “What takes the most effort to eliminate, is what is hardest to face. What you want to forget most, is hardest to forget.”
Nine years later, Qianlong sits in the palace of plum blossoms he designed, surrounded by plum blossom trees. Ruyi’s green plum blossom tree sits right in front of him, still showing no signs of coming back to life. Qianlong has not left the room for some time. At this time, Qianlong’s attendant enters to say that the Dowager Empress is seeking his audience.
Over the years, Fifteenth Prince, Yong Yan, has become the best candidate to be Qianlong’s successor. Now that Yong Yan has grown up, and the Seventh and Ninth Princesses have married, it does not look well for him to have a birth mother like Imperial Consort Ling. It’s time for things to come to an end. Qianlong agrees and decides that it’s time.
It turns out that for all these years, Consort Ling has been imprisoned in her palace and she has aged significantly – almost all her hair has turned white. When her servants deliver her a bowl of soup, a soup that has been delivered daily to inflict hallucinations, she consumes it eagerly only to realize that something is wrong.
She learns that it isn’t soup but poison delivered to her under Qianlong’s orders. She dies a slow and painful death – which I think she completely deserves after all the evil deeds she committed. I still can’t stand her for being the one responsible for the deaths of Ruyi’s son, daughter and also Yong Qi.
Qianlong formally appoints Yong Yan to be his successor. He wonders out loud to his attendant if his father had felt the same way when appointing his successor. Li Yu tells him that just like Yongzheng, he is appointing a new Emperor who will look after the world. Qianlong just says that after all these years, when it comes to his relationships with his consorts and with his children, he has lost the majority of them.
More years have passed and Qianlong has retired and passed the throne to Yong Yan (Jiaqing Emperor). In the fourth year of Jiaqing’s reign, Qianlong opens a box that he has stored in the palace of plum blossoms. We see that it contains two treasured items – the handkerchief that Ruyi had embroidered for him when Qianlong first became Emperor, and the lock of hair she had cut when she “divorced” Qianlong. That was a great moment – one of my favorite scenes in the drama. It turns out that Qianlong had picked it up from when Ruyi dropped it, and kept it for all these years. Qianlong cuts off a lock of his own hair to place in the box next to Ruyi’s, before closing the box, and while holding on it, he passes away. At the same time, Ruyi’s green plum blossom tree finally blossoms. The last scene is of Ruyi, from the day when Hongli wanted to select her as his primary wife.
Thanks everyone for reading! Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.