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Scene Spotlight: The Crowned Clown Episode 8

(The following has major spoilers for episode 8 of The Crowned Clown.)

Marking the end of the first half of The Crowned Clown, Chief Royal Secretary Lee Kyu does the unspeakable: he murders the king, Yi Heon.

Episode 8, the halfway point for the series, begins the clear divergence from the original source as Chief Royal Secretary is forced to choose between his king or his ideals. It's a quiet affair without much fanfare which only emphasizes the destitute state of the fallen king.
It's a brilliant scene: shot, scripted, and acted beautifully. My favorite scene from the show thus far, capturing the complexity of the characters and the moral ambiguity of their choices.
The episode starts with the king's unexpected return to the palace which throws Chief Royal Secretary's efforts out the door in a matter of seconds. Forced to face reality, he finally sees what the throne looks like with a rampant king.

The man he once offered his life to now threatens his goals, dreams, and people. Though he tries to resign, the king refuses, and Chief Royal Secretary finds himself trapped. The straw that finally breaks him is the king's order to dispose of the queen, and a look of determination flashes across his face as he burns the king's royal order: Treason of the highest order.

With the king's crumbling health, Chief Royal Secretary sends him away in the cover of the night to a cave only a few know. Gripped by rage and paranoia, the king threatens to shed blood until Chief Royal Secretary arrives, reminding him of his birthday. Over a small meal devoid of the grandeur of his status, the king talks of his future plans, but his body fails him, barely able to lift his spoon.

All the while, Chief Royal Secretary watches and listens, stifling his emotions behind the facade of the royal servant. Despite his best efforts, his eyes reveal the pain and guilt wracking his soul, but the king is none the wiser.

After the meal, Chief Royal Secretary takes the king to his favorite place and pours him a drink for his birthday. As he pours, Yi Heon confesses how nice it would have been if Lee Kyu were his father, and for a brief moment, Chief Royal Secretary stops after hearing the king's innocent wish that must feel like daggers to his heart.

Never doubting Chief Royal Secretary's loyalty, the king downs his drink, and seconds later, the poison kicks in. Yi Heon finally realizes the betrayal leading to his end, but he fights back, yelling at Chief Royal Secretary for turning his back on him.

Though Chief Royal Secretary assures the king that he never abandoned him--he only chose this country and its citizen for the hope of a new world--his words are hollow in front of the dying king.

Yi Heon: How ironic. You were resolved to die, yet you live. I was resolved to live, yet I die.

Once the king takes his final breath, Lee Kyu lets a tear fall from his eye. With nothing to hide and no one near to see, he weeps openly as his king lay dead at his feet, eyes still wide open and looking into the great unknown. With the setting sun behind him, Lee Kyu offers Yi Heon a final bow.
The music fades and the screen changes to the black title card. The lone sound of crashing waves plays in the background, signaling the end of the scene and episode.

The king has died, and there's no turning back for Lee Kyu. With the added reveal of Lee Kyu as the one who administered the poison to Yi Heon's younger brother, it's almost a mocking twist of fate as Lee Kyu shows his loyalty once again by killing someone for the one he serves on the throne. Whether this time his new king is the clown or his pursuit of a new world, only time will tell.
No matter how far Yi Heon may have fallen, Lee Kyu betrayed his young king and used his trust against him. Yet the turmoil and heartache Lee Kyu experiences feels genuine. Just as Yi Heon loved him, Lee Kyu loved him back. In the end, however, that love wasn't enough to save Yi Heon as his loyal secretary ultimately chose the hopes for a better nation over his fallen king.
The impact of the final scene of episode 8 wasn't just about the death of Yi Heon but the build up that created a sense of past, present, and future intermingling as one point in time. The pasts of Yi Heon and Lee Kyu, both as individuals and their relationship together; the present where Yi Heon fights for his final breath and Lee Kyu watches the death of his king done by his own hands; and the future, throwing questions of what ifs and why not.
The depth of emotions ranging from anger, disbelief, and utter devastation brings the final scene to its apex. The death of the king isn't diminished into a one-note sequence meant to shock the audience, but reveals the complicated nature of Yi Heon and Lee Kyu's relationship as well as the contentious actions both parties make. Neither Yi Heon nor Lee Kyu are faultless, and though a part of them might blame the other for this unfortunate end, both seem to accept the part they played for this ultimate demise.

Maybe Yi Heon could have been saved, and maybe Lee Kyu should have left. But in the end, did Yi Heon want to change, and even if he could, would Lee Kyu have left?
Hats off to Director Kim Hee-won, Writers Kim and Shin, as well as Yeo Jin-goo and Kim Sang-kyung, who were absolutely amazing. The final scene of episode 8 was breathtaking, and will probably stay with me long after the show ends.

See it in action: