TV Show Analysis
A legend unfolds,
The mighty revelation.
Epics, narrative grand poems that celebrate the feats of a hero, and Sagas, narrative prose that deals with social histories and legends, bring forth the magnificent magical miraculous in stories to remind us of the distant charming dream we so often dream; the dream where we always win the battle.
Such heroic stories colour our humdrum thoughts, cheering the spirit’s faith in wonders.
Believing in wonders is vital for it steers us to explore life more keenly and sanguinely; our cherished wonders, packed neatly in stories, passed from generation to generation, create our mythologies.
Mythology is psychology, misread as cosmology, history, and biography.” — The Flight of the Wild Gander (1951)by Joseph Campbell
The heroic stories, the epics and sagas, the mythologies continue to bridge the gap between the normal and the astonishing, to collect various truths sans embellishments, to fuel the burning time and to mentor the individual who approaches it.
Approaching the epics and sagas via an audiovisual means is not an offence; rather it is advantageous for all those who believe in it.
Arthdal Chronicles is an epic saga that has attempted to present Act I of mankind’s complicated story, a thoroughly entertaining and gripping version of how the journey began.
Arthdal Chronicles is a South Korean fantasy drama TV series that takes us back to the Bronze Age in a mythical land named Arth, where different human species and tribes struggle to be on the top of the power pyramid. The tribes which are technically advanced win over the ones which are not; fear of gods and goddesses help in ruling over the masses. In the chaos of battles and betrayals, the hero, as foretold by the seers, rises amongst the so-called barbarians to win his love and tribe back.
What is fascinating is the fact that in Arthdal Chronicles the writers have given every single one of the main characters, not one but many archetypal characteristics making them grey in the purest sense. These characters drive the already-active plot making it an engaging watch.
Meet the five main characters of the series –
(Spoiler Alert – if you do not wish to know the secrets in advance then please watch the show first, though I assure you that this analysis will not tarnish your experience of watching the series.)
The Warrior/ The King/ The Dictator/ The Intellectual/ The Lover
Ta-gon is an excellent warrior; his war tactics bring victory for the Sarem tribe making them more powerful. His secret, that he is an Igutu (mixed blood species), is his strength and weakness. The king, his father, repents not killing him as a child – a traumatic moment that shapes Ta-gon’s persona. His father stations him always on the battlefield, keeping him occupied fighting and winning endless battles, taking over more and more land, getting more salves in return.
Aware of his father’s scheme, Ta-gon plays the game of politics shrewdly and with the help of his loyal Daekan warriors overthrows his father and becomes the King of the entire kingdom. Unafraid to do the blasphemous, the terrible, Ta-gon kills his father and framers an outsider – Eun-Seom.
Ta-gon makes sure no voice rises against him. He becomes the king and very soon a dictator – for he still has a major opponent to defeat – the religious guru Aasa Ron – against whom he could not declare an open war (not unless he has secured his position).
An atypical lover, Ta-gon promises his love, Tae Al-ha, that whatever happens, they will never sacrifice themselves for each other; both tired of acting as pawns for the men in power, they decide to free themselves from this bonded life. Tae Al-ha plays a very important role in Ta-gon’s victories as she understands the political game only too well.
While maintaining his outer image as an indomitable King, Ta-gon prefers to compromise rather than quit. He is an intellectual, a wise man who knows when to recede and when to attack.
When such a complex character is situated in a volatile scenario, explosions are bound to happen. The character growth that we witness in Ta-gon – from a warrior to a king to a dictator to a fallen hero yet not fully defeated – makes him a real, three-dimensional character.
The Queen/ The Femme Fatale/ The Backstabber/ The Lover/ The Protector
One of the strongest characters in this series is Tae Al-ha, daughter of Mehol (whose tribe has the authority over all the technical advancements), Ta-gon’s love interest whom the King i.e. Ta-gon’s father, also proposes for marriage.
She is intelligent, courageous and calculative. A natural leader, she is a perfect contender to be a Queen.
Tae Al-ha desires to win the entire Arthdal Kingdom and rule it along with Tagon. For this she manipulates, tricks and kills; at times like a Femme Fatale she spies for her father and brings all the information that he wants to know about Ta-gon and his father; playing the game all along, revealing only that what must be revealed.
Until the time when his father’s plan does not hold any threat for Ta-gon, she like an obedient servant works assiduously for him, but when her father tells her that to maintain his camaraderie with the ruler, their next step would involve Ta-gon’s sacrifice, Tae Al-ha backstabs her father and takes Ta-gon’s side.
She tells her father that she has chosen a path for herself and that path will take her and Ta-gon to the throne.
As the story progresses, her and Ta-gon’s love story also progresses; she knows all his secrets; she is the one who brought up his child (the Igutu child he had found abandoned in the jungle); she is a true lover and protector as she saves Ta-gon from every threat, albeit her strong personality, her clever solutions to the problems and shrewdness keep us guessing if she is actually on anyone’s side.
Later in this series, Tae Al-ha fights the soldiers who are sent by Asa Ron (the religious leader) to kill Ta-gon; she gets badly injured but does not quit until she finishes each one of them.
Ta-gon and Tae Al-ha fall and rise together, determined throughout to win the kingdom of Arthdal.
The Hero/ The Messiah/ The Punisher/ The Protector/ The Innocent/ The Star-crossed Lover
Eun-Seom is very much like the classic mythological hero –at times like Krishna & at times like Christ- born in tumultuous times, is raised away from his home town, brought up by outsiders, different from the normal kids of his age, capable of doing the impossible, righteous and smart, who grows up to be the saviour of not only his tribe but all the suffering souls.
Here, Eun-seom is on a ‘Hero’s Journey’ where his adventure has begun and he is facing crisis back to back; death threatens and revives him; after undergoing an internal transformation he continues with his journey.
Slave trade is prevalent in this world and Eun-seom, betrayed by one of his own, is sold as a salve. Trapped in a mine, digging day and night, collecting precious stones, Eun-seom, feeling cheated and lonely, slowly regains his strength and rises back to fight and frees not only his friends but the rest of the slaves as well.
He like a Messiah saves the victims and like a Punisher destroys the evil-doers. It is Eun-seom who asks the warring tribes to unite if they wish to stand against the powerful lords.
In the series, he is often hailed as Aramun Haseulla – the great god who first came on Arth and settled the first tribe, while later he is called Inaishingi – the leader who, 1000 years ago, united all the warring tribes as one.
Initially, Eun-seom is also a simpleton, an innocent person, who restrains from killing anyone, he hesitates to use his power (as being an Igutu he is more powerful than Homo Sapiens), but when he sees the ways of this new world, and how the weak are suffering, he changes and accepts that he cannot win from the technically advanced race without bloodshed; he understands there is just one sin in the world and that is to show weakness. Thus, he becomes the Protector for all those who join his cause and for them he fights and kills without flinching.
Eun-seom’s character grows, he learns how corrupt this world is, a complete opposite of Iark (the place where he has grown-up); while he is in search of his true identity, his main focus remains the same –to save Tan-ya, his love. The promise that he made to Tan-ya, helps him to survive every danger, the hope of meeting and rescuing Tan-ya fuels his spirit.
Both Tan-ya and Eun-seom were born on the same day, the day Azure Comet shined brightly in the sky; their destiny was sealed that day and thus, even when apart, their heartbeats for each other. They are star-crossed lovers who are destined to change the world forever.
The Female Messiah/ The Punisher/ The Star-crossed Lover/ The Scapegoat
Tan-ya, the next Great Mother of Wahan Tribe, is also destined for great things, though initially, she does not picture herself doing anything of importance.
Her character arc develops quickly as soon her tribe is thrown in jeopardy, many die including her mother and thus, she takes the responsibility as the tribe’s Great Mother. She becomes the Female Messiah as she is the one who frees the remaining members of her tribe, including her father. She is forgiving but does not hesitate in punishing the evil-minded.
She is a nature lover and does not like living in Arthdal; she misses the simple lifestyle of Iark. She stands for her causes, loves her tribe and is willing to fight for them.
Often she and the other Wahan tribe members are used as the scapegoat in the series; when Ta-gon frames Eun-seom for his father’s murder, the public ostracises and attacks Tan-ya and her tribe. Until she becomes the high priest, she stays continuously under threat – Ta-gon, Tae Al-ha and Saya –all try to use her to achieve their ulterior motives. But Tan-ya is a fast learner, she starts understanding the structure of the power pyramid and outplays them all. She can no longer be used as a scapegoat or as a pawn.
Just as Eun-seom, Tan-ya is always thinking about him; she is worried if he will be able to survive in this new world; when Saya tells her that Eun-seom and other Wahan tribe members died in an uproar caused between salves and their lords, Tan-ya breaks down; she then decides not to give up and instead gain power to save the rest of her tribe and apologises Eun-Seom for not ending her life.
She and Eun-seom are a perfect example of the star crossed lover archetype, once separated, they do not get to meet in the first season, while they ceaselessly yearn for each other. Tan-ya before getting captured gives Eun-seom a name – dream – she tells him that he is her and her tribe’s dream, a dream that is meant to come true and so he will have to win.
The Fool/ The Lover/ The Outcast/ The Intellectual
Saya is Eun-seom’s twin brother who was adopted by Ta-gon; he was brought up by Tae Al-ha and spent his childhood life trapped inside a tower. He is truly unpredictable as an individual – the Intellectual when he uses his knowledge (he is very well-read) and tricks Ta-gon and Tae Al-ha and helps Tan-ya to become the high priest, the Fool when he acts instinctively and makes mistakes (by declaring overtly that he is Ta-gon’s son) and a Lover when he for the first time does something, not for his personal but for Tan-ya’s interest.
Though he falls for Tan-ya, he repeatedly tells her lies (like Eun-seom is dead).
Saya is made to live the life of an Outcast; the fact that he is an Igutu and lives in the royal palace equals a serious crime. Ta-gon makes sure that he is locked up all the while; he wishes to use Saya as an Igutu loyal servant.
Full of mysteries, Saya acts as a devoted son, he fears Ta-gon and follows his instructions sincerely, but at times he reveals his anger and frustration and hatred towards Ta-gon and Tae Al-ha. He wants to break away and rule as the King. He can sense Tan-ya’s free spirit and wishes to be with her always.
By the end of the series, the world gets to know about his identity – that he is Ta-gon’s son – and his position becomes stronger as he and Tan-ya (the high priest) appear as a couple to the public. Though it is still not clear as to which side he truly belongs and what new plan he is hatching.
According to a prophecy, three powers that united and later will destroy the Arthdal kingdom are – a Sword (to slay the wicked), a Bell (to echo the Word of God) and a Mirror (to illuminate the world with truth) – Eun-seom, Tan-ya and Saya represent these three powers.
In season one, we cheer for these three characters (especially Eun-seom and Tan-ya) and thus, it will be interesting to see them as the destroyers, facing Ta-gon, Tae –Al-ha and the entire Arthdal kingdom.
Watch Arthdal Chronicles to witness the unfolding of an epic saga.
Here is the trailer –