The Queen Dowager is the main antagonist of the series as she aims to ensure that the throne is inherited by her personal choice rather than one of the Queen’s sons. She is played by Kim Hae-sook.
The Queen Dowager is the mother of the current King of the Joseon dynasty and she has an acute hatred for the Queen which manifests in her actions as she constantly tries to discredit her daughter-in-law.
She is always plotting and scheming to ensure that the Queen’s children do not inherit the throne while looking for ways to get her deposed and expelled from the palace. After a protracted back and forth, the Queen Dowager finally meets her end in dramatic circumstances and she decides to go out on her own terms.
The literal kingmaker
The Queen Dowager was just a regular consort of the King who eventually rose to her position in an unprecedented occurrence. However, it was her cutthroat nature that got her there as she had the crown prince murdered so that her son could be installed as the next heir.
She got various councillors on her side and even bribed the physician’s assistant to commit the act that started the process of placing her son on the throne.
Once the former crown prince was dead, she began installing her allies in key positions and getting rid of her enemies to solidify her position and safeguard her son’s reign.
While everything she did was out of love and dedication towards her son, she took her actions to an almost fanatical level that indirectly led to her own demise as her dishonest ways hung around her son’s neck as a massive weight of guilt.
Keeping with traditions
In the present day, the Queen Dowager isn’t pleased with the Queen because she was the King’s personal choice rather than the person she chose who eventually became the first junior consort Hwang.
She’s not particularly fond of any of the Queen’s sons but as long as the oldest is the crown prince, she can’t do much to hurt the Queen or her position.
She regularly opposes the Queen and looks for ways to discredit the Grand Princes whenever she finds out something controversial about them. Following the death of the crown prince, she actively attempts to help the other princes and hold back the grand princes in the Taekhyeon.
Even after Seongnam becomes the crown prince, she tries to get him married to a weak bride and does her best to frame the Queen in any way that she can.
Pride leads to fall
Following the quelling of the rebellion, the king reevaluates his position and considers whether he should reveal the truth about the circumstances that led to his enthronement.
The Queen Dowager pleads with him to let the past be as it is but the Queen advises him to do the right thing so that he can be unburdened by the knowledge of his blemished past.
He decides to rewrite the official records with the truth and as a consequence, he has to punish his mother for her involvement. He orders that she be confined to her quarters and that no one is allowed to visit her personally, which basically reads as a deposing.
Being the kind of person that she is, the Queen Dowager refuses to accept the reality that she’s being punished by her son and decides to commit suicide in a final act of defiance and hubris.