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Kingdom 5 – 11

Kingdom always walks a narrow tightrope, no question about it.  When the focus is on the tactics of battle it simplifies things, and it can be easy to forget the other stuff.  But in the moments between battles and between wars, the moral complexity of the premise reasserts itself.  When the series stumbles – which it rarely does – it’s sometimes because it tries to oversimplify those moral complexities.

“Oversimplify” is an interesting word in context of this episode, because it’s used in the episode itself.  We continue the standoff between Xin and Huan Yi, one which seemed likeliest to end with Xin and his party being put to the sword.  A test of resolve was never going to go well for Xin or Qian Lei, because Huan Li and his men have no bonds of decency constraining them.  There are situations in which that’s a major weakness, but in this one it’s a crucial advantage.

Huan Yi is a bastard and not a magnificent one, but he’s no fool.  And his argument here cuts right to the weakest sinew of Xin’s side.  Unifying the Middle Kingdom basically means decimating every other country and leaving them so weak and helpless than they can be assimilated.  This is a double-barrelled assault too, because it might be impossible to do that without doing the things Huan Yi does.  And if that were the case, would men like Xin still support the effort?

For the moment, however, the practical consideration is the standoff itself.  Huan Yi’s court jester brings Wei Ping in to see if he can defuse the situation, but this goes badly.  Wei Ping was in a tough spot being embedded in the Huan Yi army but he hardly covered himself in glory.  Xin and Qian Lei are less than sympathetic to his attempts to justify his actions, and Xin effectively disowns him.

I don’t know that Huan Yi would have just said “screw it” and let Xintachi walk away here.  It would have been complicated later for him to kill them now, admittedly.  Huan Yi also now knows (thanks to Qian Lei) than Xin has killed Qing She, stealing some of his potential thunder in the process.  It also has to change his calculus about the larger Heiyong battle and how to win it.  This isn’t over, obviously.  Huan Yi will already be planning how to spin an eventual victory to his own best advantage.

Using Wei Ping as the vehicle to address the moral complexities of this war is an interesting choice, though this is one of those times where Kingdom does oversimplify matters too much.  Wei Ping expresses to his squadron comrades that he’s ready to screw it all and go home, having lost so much (including his brother) and had Xin cast him aside.  But hearing the Ze Nuo squad mock Xin, he feels compelled to spring to his defense, which would have been the end of him had Huan Yi’s exchange officer Na Gui not stepped in.

We don’t see Xin shed tears too often, and he did so twice this week.  You know he’s serious when he’s calling Zheng by his childhood name, Piao.  What Xin is seeking to do is effectively impossible, and it’s surely uncomfortable for him to think too hard about that.  He does oversimplify things, there’s no question about it, but he does so because he’s trying to do something too complex to be accomplished without something miraculous.  That he’s committed to try is the reason why his army follow him, though.  Poor Xin – one can hardly think of a time or place where idealism is more misguided than this.

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