The seven of you who’re watching were treated to one hell of an episode this week. Kingdom is easy to take for granted because of how consistent (and omnipresent) it is, but every few weeks it fires off a cracker of an episode to remind you of just how great this series is. Weeks like this it’s tight as a bowstring, not a frame wasted, completely absorbing and overflowing with tension. There just aren’t a lot of anime that do military epics well, and the pedigree behind this one is pretty unassailable. You don’t become one of the twenty best-selling manga of all time by accident.
As we left off, Qing She definitely had the upper hand in the battle for Heiyong. “The Spider”, as Li Mu calls him, certainly seems to have drawn Huan Yi into a trap. Xin’s fuck-up (sorry, but it’s true) certainly didn’t help. The two most fearsome bandit units in Huan Yi’s army, led by Ze Nuo, are under fire from all sides and facing annihilation. Qiang Lei is trapped somewhere behind enemy lines, on a fool’s errand to save Zhao civilians from being caught in the crossfire. Through it all, though, the bandit general retains his irritating smirk.
Things begin to turn when Ze Nuo orders the sounding of the “fire hale” – basically, all hands abandon ship. This is the bandit army’s fail-safe, a seemingly disorganized and chaotic retreat with every man for himself. But it’s effective, because nobody can flee like a bandit, and since they don’t even bother to guard their officers the pursuing Zhao army (which can’t keep up anyway) has no idea where the enemy commanders are. The two units survive basically intact – and seriously pissed off. They let off a little steam by destroying the fortifications Zhao has set up on the central hill, just a calling card to remind the enemy who they’re dealing with.
Huan Yi, meanwhile, has sent a messenger to Xin’s camp to communicate his displeasure with what’s happened. Xin, he says, should be beheaded for this failure, but because it’s the middle of a battle he’ll settle for an arm. Xin, however, is not the sort to be intimidated by such tactics and offers to take the messenger’s arm instead. Huan Yi’s exchanged officer Na Gui offers his own arm, but Diao says that won’t be necessary. She’s figured out how to fight in this environment, she says, and she correctly predicts that the Zhao army will try attacking their camp that night.
Both Diao and Xin are, however, very worried for Qiang Lei (who would be incredibly useful in these conditions). She and her unit are indeed trapped behind enemy lines, but she declares that this unplanned crisis is actually an opportunity too good to pass up. Zhao has no idea her unit is there, and Qiang Lei thrives on stealth and surprise. Qiang She’s second, Liu Dong, is practically a stone’s throw away, and her people have engaged in this sort of mission for a thousand years.
I’m not at all sure Qiang Lei has the right mindset to be a brigade commander, and I am sure her aide is right that Xin would order her not to risk herself in a seeming suicide mission. But for her, this is a matter of the cost of one life – hers – versus the cost of all the soldiers in her brigade and the Fei Xin Force who would be killed taking out Liu Dong via conventional means. She does manage to reach Liu Dong, who engages her in terse dialogue about spirituality and philosophy before warning his troops that his camp has been infiltrated. Both are wounded in the brief showdown that follows, and now Qiang Lei is simply a fugitive, with her unit helplessly pinned down. I can’t fault her motive – or her resolve – but this impulsive gambit certainly seems to have made things worse.