A Midway Recap of Tree With Deep Roots

This drama BLOWS MY MIND. I don’t know why I am enjoying this historical drama so much. For a while, I was hella confused about who was who, and who was on whose side, and who wanted to kill whom.

But by episode 9 and 10, everything became clearer. Maybe I’m a bit stupid in picking up the hints, but I also am very unfamiliar with Korean history. However, as fictional as this drama may be, I love how I’m learning about Korean history in this way, especially about King Sejong and how he created Hangul.

I mean – King Sejong Bear was like, my most favorite teddy!

So don’t click further if you don’t want spoilers, but I think I needed to write this post before I got even more confused with what was going on.

Since the first week, we’ve encountered a lot of things happening to our characters:

  • Ddol Bok grew up to be Kang Chae Yun, a palace police officer of sorts who is assigned to investigate the recent murders of King Sejong’s scholars.
  • King Sejong is now Han Suk Gyu, and he enjoys things like farming with manure, and learning how different animals communicate, all the while sending his scholars on individual projects that will ultimately culminate in the formation of the Korean alphabet.
  • So Yi (Shin Se Kyung) is really Ddol Bok’s childhood friend Dam. She became mute after she realized that her words were hurting the people she loved. After all, her inability to read the fateful letter sent Ddol Bok’s father to his death, and led to her own father’s death by the soldiers.
  • Kang Chae Yun is intensely smart. He was trained in martial arts by an elusive master who is the only one who can defeat Mu Hyul, who is considered the best swordsman in Korea and is Sejong’s guard. Kang Chae Yun is the only one who knows “The Leap” – which is basically a trick that allows him to travel high up in the air and “fly.” However, he comes across the scholars’ assassin, and realizes that the guy knows how to “leap” too. Uh oh.
  • Meanwhile, Shim Jong Su is a scholar in the palace who is also the mastermind behind the murders. The woman who took Chae Yun into the Banchon, Do Dam Daek, is also part of Hidden Root.
  • Hidden Root is an organization headed by Jung Gi Joon, the nephew of scholar Jung Do Joon. Jung Do Joon was considered the forefather of Joseon Dynasty, and Taejong had him and his family killed because they were a threat to his power. However Jung Gi Joon survived, and so he is still planning his own coup against the king. He has a deep seated grudge against Sejong, whom he believes is powerless in the end. He believes that power must be in the hands of the bureaucrats, not completely in the hands of the king.
  • Little does he realize, Sejong is actually quite the diplomatic king, encouraging discussion between the officials and the scholars on new laws and how to deal with ruling the country.
  • Mu Hyul and Sejong figure out that Chae Yun is really Ddol Bok, and that Chae Yun wants to kill Sejong. They also know that he is So Yi’s childhood friend. Basically, these two men know EVERYTHING but they’re not telling it to “the kids.” And oddly enough, Sejong trusts Chae Yun to do his bidding.
  • Two scholars, Sam Moon and Paeng Nyun figure out first that they and the dead scholars were all doing secret missions for the king. Their curiosity gets them closer to the king, and finally the king reveals what their mission is all about. They were all assigned different forms of literature (whether it be languages, reading in columns versus rows, etc) so that they could scientifically create a new language for Korea. These two were actually outraged that the king wanted to create a new writing system based on Korean rather than Chinese characters, because Chinese language and culture has been such a basis for their culture, and it has evolved over so many years that there’s too much history and legacy attached to it.
  • Sejong already has most of the language figured out, having broken things down based on all the possible consonants that exist in Korean and then categorizing the words based on their sounds. He did so much research, but the reason why he’s keeping it all a secret is because he himself doubts whether it is ready. He wants Sam Moon and Paeng Nyun to test it, and give their honest opinions. If it ends up being trash, he will give up on it, but if it’s not…
  • Sam Moon and Paeng Nyun realize that the writing system Sejong developed is based on the mouth and the tongue, which makes them even more amazed at all the research Sejong had his scholars and trusted men do. For example, ㄴ is the consonant letter for all “N” sounds. If you say “nuh,” your tongue ends up making a shape that looks like ㄴ. Similarly, for ㄹ, which is the “R” or “L” sound, your tongue will curl up and back, and resemble that letter. Sejong was so scientific – and in a way so intuitive – in how he went about creating the language.
  • Back to the mystery – so Chae Yun follows clue after clue to figure out who is the killer. He meets the assassin – Pyung – and they go in a sword to sword combat. However, their fight remains unfinished. Meanwhile, he goes to the butcher Ga Ri On in Banchon for help in doing autopsies on the bodies. Ga Ri On is also someone Sejong trusts for his mission on how to create the letter for words that sound with “H.”
  • Ga Ri On gets framed for scaring off one of the scholars, and Chae Yun works so hard in making sure he goes free. He even discovered that the scholar had made it all up, and it was all a set up. So Ga Ri On goes free.
  • At the same time, Shim Jong Su realizes that his people are making moves without his knowledge, all in the name of acting under Hidden Root’s orders. So Do Dam Daek finally tells him the truth – Ga Ri On IS Jung Gi Joon.

My mind is blown. At this point, Jung Gi Joon is Sejong’s enemy, and yet he is also Ga Ri On, whom Sejong trusts so much with everything. And Ga Ri On is a Banchon slave, not a scholar (although he really is). And it’s interesting that while he’s sabotaging Sejong’s work by killing off the scholars, he’s also helping Sejong. And – Sejong isn’t even being evil. I don’t even understand what the grudge is all about because I think ultimately they’re all working on the same side! Maybe I haven’t reached the point in the series yet where they will explain why Ga Ri On hates Sejong so much.

King Sejong and his scholars as they pursue science and literature in his library.

As far as I can understand, the Hidden Root members are more of the old-fashioned sect who would follow Confucius’ teachings, and Sejong is veering dangerously away from that. Not like that’s a bad thing, because though Sejong fears his new alphabet will set Joseon back a few hundred years, he actually did help accelerate its growth.

And then to think, you also have Chae Yun, who hates the king so much, that he ends up helping a “fellow enemy” in freeing Ga Ri On. But he’s also helping out the king, because by solving these murders, he’s bringing up the Hidden Root as their common enemy. And so Chae Yun also just helped free the one man he should be putting to jail because Ga Ri On’s plotting led to his captain getting killed early in the series. It’s so conflicting and jumbled how everyone is related, and I can’t wait for when everything comes to light, and loyalties and morals are tested.

There was this whole thing where the dead scholars sent secret messages to the king with their dying words written on a scroll, or swallowing some choice print blocks that would help spell out a clue. One of those clues was “Goon Na Mi Yok Sul” – a bunch of Chinese characters. But if you looked at the beginning of each word (as it is read in Korean), it starts with G, N, M, Y (or no consonant), and S. It is basically an anagram of some of the Korean alphabet – ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅁ, ㅇ (this blank circle signifies no consonant), ㅅ. I got so giddy when I finally understood the connection.

Anyways, I just had to rant about how crazy this drama was. And I’m only halfway through! Actually – a week shy from being halfway through.

Oh and – this moment below ended up being quite awesome. Though I love king Sejong, I hope he has more crazy moments so that Song Joong Ki has a reason to guest star.

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