Deep Rooted Tree: First episode overview and main character summaries

 I’ve been looking forward to watching the first episode of Deep Rooted Tree and last night I wasn’t disappointed. We are introduced to a a bitter and angry Kang Chae Yoon who has become a King’s guard but is not interested in protecting him but rather wants to kill him! The opening scene is followed by some back story as we are taken back to his childhood and we learn why he feels this way about the King.  

SBS 뿌리 깁은 나무

A very brief summary of episode 1

The young King Sejong (played by 송중기 Song Joong Ki) is a deeply troubled king who is unable to stand up to his domineering father – his father, (formerly) King Taejong, abdicated to allow his son to become king but still seems to be in complete control.  It’s an intense and emotional first episode. The young king is clearly traumatised by his father’s aggressive character and ruthless treatment of people who displease him – they are tortured, slaughtered, or made to drink poison. His father doesn’t understand the sensitive and intelligent king who is much more interested in intellectual pursuits than aggressively asserting his power. The young king can’t even protect the queen’s family when they are targeted by his father.

Meanwhile, Dol Bok, (the young Kang Chae Yoon played by 12-year-old 채상우 / Chae Sang Woo) is a strong and aggressive boy determined to look after his father who is picked on by the other nobi (servant) men. (His father is an easy target because he had an accident which left him slightly brain-damaged.) In an attempt to help the queen’s father, Yi Do tries to send a letter to warn him.  Chae Yoon’s dad agrees to deliver the letter but it’s a trap as the original letter has already been intercepted and changed by King Sejong’s father.

Dol Bok and his friend Dam (later So Yi) were shown the letter but it’s written in Chinese characters so none of them could actually read it (servants were not taught to read). Dol Bok thinks that Dam can read it as earlier she showed off to him that she could write one Chinese character. He asks her to confirm the contents of the letter but she doesn’t admit that she can’t really read it. The royal guards beat up Dol Bok’s father, and arrest him and the queen’s father.

The queen’s father is made to drink poison and Dol Bok’s father dies from his injuries. Chae Yoon blames Dam for not admitting that she couldn’t read the letter. Of course he doesn’t know what was in the letter or that it was changed by Lee Do’s father. This misunderstanding must be why Dol Bok later bears a grudge towards the king and wants his revenge. Even as a young boy, Dol Bok has such a strong character that even the other men seem frightened of him. And the death of his father will only make him stronger.

history note

When a monarch abdicated he was then known as sang wang 상왕 [上王]. But this situation was rare (the monarch usually died rather than abdicated). During the Joseon period there were four kings who abdicated – Taejo 태조(太祖), Jungjong 정종(定宗), Taejong 태종(太宗) and Danjong 단종(端宗)

Of course this drama is a mixture of history and fiction – historically King Taejong was known to be a ruthless leader and he did abdicate so that his son could become king. But it’s not known if the relationship that we see in the drama between father and son was really like this or not.


I like the pace of the drama so far. Because it is only 24 episodes (the other sageuk dramas I’ve watched have been over 50 episodes) I guess it will have to move along swiftly. I already feel sorry for the king struggling with his domineering father and can understand why Dol Bok feels bitter. He has come from the nobi (servant) class where the people are helpless and uneducated. The letter written in Chinese characters that only the educated can read emphasises the huge divide at the time between the educated upper classes and the lower classes.

Character Summaries

I thought it might be helpful to have a look at the character summaries for the three main characters on the SBS homepage. And I’ve tried to translate them here below. I’ll start with King Sejong played by Han Suk-kyu. He said at the press conference about the drama that he was going to show a different King Sejong to the one the viewers have seen before in other dramas. BTW Here King Sejong is also called Yi Do (이도) – this is his actual real name (Yi is his family name) although the King’s real name was not usually used.

SBS 뿌리 깁은 나무

조선 제4대 임금. 훗날 세종대왕

태종의 샛째 아들이며, 대군시절의 이름은 충녕대군이다. 두말이 필요없는전형적인 희대의 천재캐릭터이지만,어린 시절부터 아버지 태종이 저지르는 피의 학살을 보고 지라났기에, 치명적인 콤플렉스와 트라우마를 가지고있다.

The 4th king of the Joseon dynasty. He is the third son of King Taejong and before becoming King he was called Grand Prince Chungnyeong. He is a genius but as a child he watched his father slaughter his enemies in the Royal Court which left him with traumatic memories and a complex about death.

지독한 워커홀릭이자, 불면증 환자이며 천재임에도 불구하고 가장 낮은 백성과 수 많은 보통 사람을 이해해야 하는 아이러니를 안간힘을 쓰며 견디는 의로운 군주다.

He is a workaholic and insomniac. He is also a genius and a righteous monarch who tries his best to understand his people.

생각을 집중을 할 때는 옆에 누가 죽어도 모를 정도로 아무 말없이 진중하나, 일단 터져 나오면 속사포처럼 말을 뱉어낸다. 실은 굉장히 성질이 급하고, 다혈질인데다 형식을 싫어하는 실리주의자지만, 삼강과 오상의 성리학 국가인 조선의 군주로서 많은 것을 참고 감내한다.

When he’s concentrating and thinking deeply, he wouldn’t even notice if a person was killed right next to him. (That’s how deeply he concentrates) But when he has something to say, the words burst out of his mouth like machine gun fire. He is short-tempered and hot-headed and hates formality, but as King of a nation with a belief in Neo-Confucianism he has to be tolerant in many situations

Kang Chae Yoon (played by Jang Hyuk)

노비출신이나 신분을 세탁하여 현재 겸사복 관원
세상에서 가장 사랑하는 아비 석삼이가 이도때문에 죽었다 생각하고 그에 대한 원한으로 복수를 결심.

He manages to escape from the servant class and become a guard of the King. He bears a grudge about the death of his dearly loved father who died because of Yi Do (King Sejong) and now he wants revenge.

노비출신 답지않계 영특하지만 그를 표현하는 형용사는 똑똑하거나 명석하거나 한것이 아니다. 집요함과 배짱!

He doesn’t seem like someone from the servant class. He is intelligent, but the adjectives that represent him better than smart and clever are tenacious and bold.

자기보다 강하거나 아무리 큰 상대를 맞이해도 절대 주눅드는 법이 없으며, 당한 것은 언제가 되든 반드시 갚아야 하는 인물로 어떤 목적을 위해선 수단과 방법을 가리지 않고 꺾을 줄도 알고 버릴 줄도 아는 인물이다.

He never chickens out even when matched with a bigger and stronger opponent than himself. If he is challenged he will always fight back. And to achieve his goal he will do whatever it takes. He would even lose everything to achieve his goal.

도망 노비 신분으로 북방으로 홀러 들어가 절세고수 이방자를 만나 그의 제자가 되고 무 서운 속도로 무술을 익히게 된다. 정통 검법뿐만이 아니라 각종 암살법과 출상술, 출하술을 모두 배우며 진정한 고수로 태어난다.

He escaped from slavery and ran away to the north where he met a master of martial arts. He became his student and quickly learned martial arts. As well as becoming a master of swordsmanship he also studied how to be an assassin and agility training and he becomes a true master. (출상술 chul sang sul is the art of climbing up walls and jumping high – we see him do this at the beginning of episode 1. A kind of Joseon version of Parkour?)

북방에서 계속해서 공을 세우던 채윤은 드디어 김종서의 눈에 들어, 김종서의 명을 수행하기 위해 입궁한 뒤, 궁을 경비하는 겸사복의 직책을 얻어, 한양에 머무르게된다. 드디어 원수의 코앞까지 온 것이다.

Finally while in the north, Chae Yoon gets noticed by General Kim Chong Seo. Following Kim Chong Seo’s orders, he enters the royal court. He becomes a guard and goes to Hanyang (the capital city of Joseon at the time – now Seoul). Finally he works right alongside the King.

So Yi is played by Shin Se Gyong. She plays a court lady and according to the press conference held just  a few days ago, the character she plays is supposed to be about ten years older than she is in real life. The young So Yi is played by Kim Hyeon Soo.

이도의 아들인 광평대군의 궁녀.

The maid of Yi Do’s son (Grand Prince Gwangpyong).

실어증에 걸려 말을 하지못한다. 이도의 훈민정음 창제 프로젝트에서 중요한 역할을 맡고 있는 궁녀 역할의 핵심멤버다.

She has developed aphasia (an illness which means she can’t speak). She plays an important role in  Yi Do’s Hunmingjeongeum (hangul) project.

유일하게훈민정음 창제프로젝트의 전모를 일고 있다. 영특하고 속이 깊으며,이도 이상으로 훈민정음 프로젝트에 열정을 갖고 있으며 그 애처로운 열정엔 어린 시절의 깊은 상처가 자리 잡고있다.

She’s the only one who can see the whole picture of the creation of the unique hunminjeongeum project. She is deep and intelligent and passionate about Yi Do’s ideal hunminjeongeum project. But within this passion she also bears scars from childhood.

이도의 고통과 절망, 두려움, 슬픔을 이해하려 노력한다.얼마나 고통스러워하는지, 한 나라의 주군으로서 이도가 얼마나불쌍한 사람인자를.

She tries to understand Yi Do’s torment and despair, fear and sadness. She can see his torment  as the leader of the country.

history note

훈민정음 訓民正音 hunminjeongeum

The Hunminjeongeum (”Teaching the People the Proper Sounds”) is the work whereby the Korean script, which was invented in 1443, was officially promulgated by King Sejong in 1446. The title was also used as the name of the alphabet itself. It’s National Treasure No. 70, and in October 1997, it was designated a NUESCO “Memory of the World” Documentary Heritage.

(from Naver dictionary)


2 thoughts on “Deep Rooted Tree: First episode overview and main character summaries

  • October 7, 2011 at 11:10 am


    Found your site through soompi. I’m really glad you’re doing this. I really looking forward for this drama, and been looking for anyone who does the summary or recap of the episodes. Really thank you for the info on the history note you’ve provided for us to understand more! I’ll come back again to read more when I get to watch the episodes (waiting for the downloads to finish) ^^

    Keep up the good work!

    • October 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks for your comment.
      I think this is going to be a really good drama and I’m already hooked.
      What I love about the sageuk dramas is that they are so intense. And there are so many questions that come up and I want to find the answers.
      I really enjoy researching the history, so I’m glad it’s helpful. Cheers.

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