Nirvana in Fire 琅琊榜 - Episode 44 (Recap)

kakashi: So far, this show was not very much like Game of Thrones, even though it has been called the Asian Game of Thrones (Eleanor! Don't get angry! Joyce, Moonlil and Miao ... you neither!). This episode is quite a bit like it though: Long (and sadly beautiful) battle scenes! Blood! Gore! Deaths! Defeat! Okay, but there's a big difference too: in this drama, all the main characters survive for now, for what I am grateful.
JoAnne: I was close to rioting there for a few minutes, watching our Sunshine Boy and Fei Liu.
Eleanor: *grumble grumble* I think I would be less grumbly about inaccurate comparisons if people who had seen it wrote pieces instead of people who didn't even check the synopsis...oh well. That Meng shot is AWESOME!!!

Episode 44

Prince Jing has gone for help, and the rest of the party gets ready to fight (while the women and children are moved up to the Hunting Palace). Mei Changsu councils for a preventive strike on Prince Yu's vanguard army - they're far too outnumbered to be able to defend their camp if the full force of the enemy attacks. Using a combination of archers and spears and a sneak attack from General Meng's cavalry from the flank, the Imperial guards completely smash Prince Yu's vanguard army.
It was interesting watching that particular battle unfold.  The most classic of maneuvers and a textbook defensive posture.
I LOVE that the brilliant young marshall, Lin Shu is getting to use his awesomeness in this episode! Go team Mei Changsu! 

While the renegade General Xu Anmo thinks this means nothing and wants to immediately go on to conquer the Hunting Palace, Prince Yu cautions against any rash action and orders them to set up camp, despite the fact that this will give his opponents more time to set up their defenses. Mei Changsu does not trust the quietness, though: he thinks Prince Yu will secretly send troops to surround them. He orders General Meng to set an ambush halfway down the mountain. And lo and behold, indeed, Prince Yu sends some of his men up the mountain on foot at daybreak - only to be crushed by huge boulders that the Emperor's army drops on them. When they start charging to save themselves, a group of archers finishes many of them off.
Not gonna lie, that tickled me.
Muahahahaha. The bad guys are getting their just desserts! 
Up on the mountain, they get ready for a siege. It seems to be Consort Jing who does most of the organization on part of the royals. The Emperor - useless as usual - is just pretty heartbroken over Jinghuan's treason. He now even considers him "worse" than Prince Qi and the Chiyan army. I wish he would stop whining already.
Is he dead yet? No? There's more whining coming, then. He'll stop with his last breath.
He's such a useless leader. How did he even get to be emperor? Oh wait, he had awesome allies who he then had massacred. Ugh. He's just awful. 
Mei Changsu gives Tingshen, who came down to the camp from the Hunting Palace in a fit of bravery inspired by Jingyan, a task: him and Stalker Musician Gon Yu are to go back to the Hunting Palace and protect the Imperial family! As if he didn't have enough to deal with already, tsk.
Haha we are such modern moms! All I could think about was how this would traumatize the poor kid even further.
Haha. But it's totally a fake task. He's making him feel important but making sure he's not really in danger. 
When Prince Yu's guys finally make it to the camp, they only find bombs in the tents - that the Emperor's guards light with burning arrows. But will this be enough? Mei Changsu estimates that the enemy still has 30'000 to 40'000 men left. Waiting out what's coming is their last stand; Mei Changsu is out of strategies. And General Meng, who has been shouting "Kill! Kill!" for most of this episode, adds: "The only way is to defend until death". Yeah, I don't know. I guess. 
I'm telling you though, hearing Su say he didn't have anything else up his sleeve, that was a sobering moment.
This episode has some truly beautiful shots. I want to hug the cinematographer and editor. 
Prince Yu realizes that they probably sent for reinforcement, if they hope to survive at the Hunting Palace. This means: they need to take the Hunting Palace today! Prince Yu tells himself that the only one to blame for this whole thing is his father - who "forced" him into it. Hmm, I don't know, Jinghuan. Sounds a bit far fetched to me? You're just making excuses, you silly man. 
He is foolish, isn't he? But I understand his feeling of betrayal.
I do understand his feeling of betrayal but yeah, blaming his dad for trying to kill him is a bit of a stretch. Man up and take responsibility for your actions Prince Yu. 
And thus, the siege begins. Yujin and Fei Liu are positioned outside the inner hall, where the whole nobility has taken cover, with those able to fight from the different households. Many of them have never seen blood. Like in any proper siege, there is a battering ram, ladders, and other siege engines. The defense gets stones and oil and other things ready - and uses longbows to slow down the approaching troops. That seems like mere drops in the ocean though ... there are so many! I'm not sure what's worse: standing outside, waiting for the enemy to breach the walls - or sitting inside, hearing all the horrible sounds but not able to do anything?    
I've always thought hearing but not seeing would be the scariest. (Will you look at my MENG?)
Yeah, I would think being inside would also be pretty scary. Meng is AWESOME!!! Ah! This episode! Don't die Meng. Don't die Fei Liu. Don't die anyone we love, please! 
More arrows are exchanged, the first casualties on our side occur. The enemy uses burning arrows and the hunting palace catches partial fire - they get it extinguished fairly quickly though. Meng positions his troops on the wall now. Many more soldiers die. The first ladders are positioned, the defense throws stones and logs on them - but how many stones do they have? The first of the enemy troops breach the wall, but the Emperor's troops manage to repulse them - for now. 
What a fantastic captures their resolve, but also the exhaustion.
As I said, I want to hug the cinematographer. Beautiful. I love the mood depicted. The lighting. The filters. LOVE! 
But now, the battering ram is in position - and soon, the booming sound of its assault resounds through the compound. Inside the hall, there is much despair - but Marquis Yan speaks up, giving them courage, saying that as long as they are alive, they have not lost. Good point. He even gets the Emperor to draw his sword. Sadly, they're out of arrows and stones outside ... but they still have oil! And Zhen Ping, who manages to throw the oil on them despite being pierced by an arrow and light it.
Zhen Ping's sacrifice was impressive. I feel very guilty that my first thought was 'Red Bull gives you winnnnngs!' Sometimes I am trolled by my own brain.
LOL Marquis Yan is the man. I like him more and more and more. 
Well, sorry guys ... that did not help at all - the battering ram is at it again almost immediately. And then, the gate collapses. The enemy is through! It's a few hundred against thousands, but they fight valiantly. It's pretty pointless though, even if they have several extremely good fighters on their side (Meng, Zhen Ping, Yujin and Fei Liu). Yujin gets to heroically save a wounded Gong Yu (ship?)(ship - remember back when he brought the uncle to listen to her, I think we noticed a little spark then, too), but as I said ... pointless. Marquis Yan wants to run out and help but Mei Changsu holds him back. They need him inside. Only a matter of minutes now until the enemy breaches the inner hall. The fight is right outside on the steps leading up to it. Pointless. They will all die.
I thought the Marquis was thinking about his son, but you're probably right - he's much more noble than that.
They can't lose! Noooooo!!! Come on Jingyan! Come and save them! 
But what is that?! All of a sudden, Nihuang appears outside!! With a small army!! Prince Jing sent her a message and she rode here from the mausoleum that she guarded. Oh, my beautiful Nihuang! With one stroke, she kills General Xu Anmo and lets it be known that Prince Yu and the General have committed treason. If they do not surrender immediately, they will all be killed. As morale among these troops already is low anyway, it has an effect - many stand down. 
She was glorious, wasn't she? I might be wrong but it seems Su never thought of her as a resource - but Prince Jing did! Very clever, little buffalo.
Nihuang!!!!! She is awesome!!! I love her! Maybe Su mentioned it to Jingyan but they didn't want to let us in on the surprise of seeing her. Or maybe Su didn't think of it. Either way, it's awesome. 
And thus, Nihuang saves the day - and everybody who is still alive. Wow, the relief!!! It's palpable. All she thinks about is Su Gege, but she cannot talk to him, glances have to be enough for now (I think they will have  time for a sweet reunion in his tent later, yes?)(make it yes, please, writer)(yes please) Prince Jing is approaching as well, going right for Prince Yu. Ah, you fool.... You have lost everything, Prince. 
Because this is NOT Game of Thrones after all, everybody we care for is still alive, including the wounded Gong Yu. Their losses are immense, though... they were really saved at the last minute. Also, Mei Changsu's white robes are still completely white. Congrats, that's probably the most miraculous thing in the whole episode. Who would even put on something white in a battle?
Well, he was inside where nothing much happened...but you'd think the bottoms at least of those robes would get dirty as they walk around, right? I have that thought very often.
Well, they probably are in real life, but my guess is that the camera isn't going to focus on that. haha. I'm so relieved everyone survived that we cared about most. I'm not sure what I would have done if they had died. Cried some more? 
As Prince Jing ascends the stairs to the inner hall, Mei Changsu says: "No one can stop Jingyan now". He hands back the Military Seal... which had his blood all over it. The Emperor is visibly moved. Even more so when Prince Jing refuses to rest before everything is sorted out. Now that the crisis is over, the Emperor has only ONE thing on his mind - seeing his traitorous son.
All I could think is 'how long before Dad is jealous of his heroic son?'
Jingyan! Jingyan! Jingyan! So hotte right now! 
Prince Yu is kept in a cage further down the mountain, completely broken and severely hurt. He only has contempt and cynicism for his father (who rants at him for his low morals and tells him "I have been blind in my favour of you"). He tells him he should not have stopped at killing his mother - he should have killed him too, "cut the grass and pulled out the roots too". That way, he could have prevented future problems.
Dad looked shocked that his boy knew the full story. I can see why Yu is so hurt and bitter, really, but it does seem that he misunderstood his father a bit, too. Consensus seems to be that the Emperor really did love his son and think he was worthy. I guess the fact that he is still alive, and didn't die as an infant, is something.
Communicate people. Communicate. This would have saved a lot of bloodshed. Then again, Prince Yu has pretty much made Prince Jing that favourite. Thanks bro, you totally helped team Mei Changsu to get Jingyan closer to the throne. I do feel for Prince Yu though. This father-son relationship is really twisted and painful and toxic. 


I can only imagine the time and effort it took to make this episode. Wow! Let's just say it was extremely aesthetically beautiful, even if that word should not really be used for anything war-related.
No, but it was. Beautiful in places, stunning even; very effective.
It was a beautiful episode. Beauty amid the ugliness of war. 

It's a dramatic turning-point, of course, in more than one sense. Prince Yu is defeated, the Emperor is told the truth about his cruelty, and Prince Jing is the shining example of virtue and bravery. No one can stop Jingyan now. I am most curious to see what happens to the Emperor now. Does he finally understand what he has done? That he is to blame for the festering corruption in his Kingdom? That it is his example, his deeds that have led to all this? 
I was wondering all that myself.  It could really go either way. Like Yu, the Emperor isn't a BAD man. He's just not a GOOD man.
Whether or not the Emperor is good or bad is irrelevant in some ways. He is a terrible leader and that's why he needs to be gone. I still don't think the pathway to the throne is going to be easy for Jingyan though. I'm sure the Emperor's paranoia is going to create problems. 

It is of course not true that Prince Yu has no fault in this (like he says to himself) - he is the one who took the actions. But it is true that there is a whole system of injustice all around the Emperor - and that system makes just and selfless actions all the more surprising, and all the more powerful.
Cue trumpets and Jing!
Which is why the Emperor and all the consequences of his poor rule have been so carefully and methodically weeded out by Mei Changsu. 

In contrast to many "Western" entertainment products who are written by people who learned about postmodernism and the end of grand narratives in art school (which often leads to broken, struggling heroes), Nirvana in Fire uses an old-fashioned, comfortably black and white scheme for establishing who is good and who is bad. It is based on Taoist and Confucian virtues and ethics. The good characters in this drama follow the eight virtues as outlined in Emperor Guan’s Book of Enlightenment: “It is through Filial Piety, Sibling Harmony, Dedication, Trustworthiness, Propriety, Sacrifice, Honour, and Sense of Shame that we become fully human.”
Well look at you.
Hey, my father, just like Marquis Yan, studied the Dao for many years. Not in original Chinese though.
Maybe the world needs a little more of those eight virtues. 

I have nothing against black and white and I think it serves this drama really well. Let us have unchallenged heroes! We sometimes need them.
It's very nice to have a real hero, sometimes, one that's easy to spot and easy to get behind. I can't imagine Jing ever doing anything wrong, really. But I don't think that's realistic....we may never see it, but he can't be perfect. Well, there was that time he was mean to Mei Changsu...
I don't think he's perfect, but he's certainly good. I know some truly good people, who maybe aren't perfect, because no one is, but who exude goodness and virtue. I think if more people strived for it, instead of resigning themselves to not being able to reach for virtue, maybe we'd be surprised. 

A man of highest virtue
Will not display it as his own;
His virtue then is real.
Low virtue makes one miss no chance
To show his virtue off;
His virtue then is nought.
High virtue is at rest;
It knows no need to act.
Low virtue is a busyness
Pretending to accomplishment.
Truly, once the Way is lost,
There comes then virtue;
Virtue lost, comes then compassion;
After that morality;
And when that's lost, there's etiquette,
The husk of all good faith,
The rising point of anarchy. — The Way of Life, by Lao Tzu
I had to read that a couple of times because at first glance it seems to be saying that compassion, morality, and etiquette are higher than virtue...but of course that's not what they mean. Key is 'once the Way is lost, then comes virtue' - but he actually means low virtue, right? Maybe I just need coffee.
I love how this drama makes one ponder deeper things. This conversation about virtue makes me think of Aristotle and Ἀρετή (arete - virtue, excellence) that I spent much of my undergrad discussing. My Jingyan has virtue in buckets. It's a major reason why I love him. 
There are different translations out there, JoAnne ... though none make the type of sense that you might be looking for. But indeed, the low virtue is the problem. There are people with low virtue in the drama, and people with high virtue. The categories of good or bad don't really work as well.

Wear today's tee to show your support for virtue!