Goblin/ Guardian: The Great and Lonely God

Overall Rating: A (in some ways this felt like an A+ show and in some ways an A- so we’ll compromise here)
Subtitles: The Viki subs were good! I have no complaints.
Brief Synopsis: A General who was betrayed by his king is cursed to live an immortal life as a goblin, and the only way he can die is if he meets his goblin bride who can see the sword in his chest and remove it. The problem is that when he finally meets her he may have just found a reason to live. Watch it on Viki here.

**Full show spoilers below the image. If you do not wish to be spoiled, do not proceed**

Image Source

Ending Type: Shockingly this was a certified happy ending?? Which I absolutely did not expect??? Or even actually need?????? Like honestly everything I’d read about this show suggested that at least one of our two central couples would end the show separated by death. I kind of expected both. But even though like, legit, everyone dies at some point in this show they all manage to come back and find each other and find love again. A very sweet overall ending and like perfectly happy enough that I actually had to Google whether an alternate ending had been made because it was very hard for me to believe that it originally ended so happily.
Characters: Oh look another review of a drama that K Drama Kween liked and another comment on how all the characters were great and she loved them all! But actually this is accurate and true! There were a couple characters that probably got 10 minutes total screen time in the whole drama but I still loved them every time they were on screen so? Yes. The characters were great. And there were four clear leads so let’s get cracking on that.
Goblin/Kim Shin/ many other names (Gong Yoo) is a broody immortal dude with undefined (they are never really defined) powers who lived a very tragic life, watches everyone he loves die, and would like to die himself but can’t. In order to end his own life he needs to find his bride who can see and subsequently pull out the magical sword in his chest. To be honest the first episode of the show is very scattered and choppy so it’s hard to get a real feel for him as a character, especially pre-Goblin, initially. You see him watch bad things happening without intervening but then save the life of a woman begging to be saved, and he seems like he’s generally kind if a little distant and closed off and certainly very mopey. As soon as he meets Ji Eun Tak he becomes very silly and cute, which honestly felt natural once it started but did not necessary match with very serious broody man. That was likely intentional because of the dramatic impact Ji Eun Tak was supposed to/ did have on him, but in general his very silly, charmingly unreasonable nature is what felt authentic. Gong Yoo is a very good actor so he did well expressing the broad range of Goblin’s emotions even though I think this character had the least amount of growth/ least dynamic arc. MAYBE THAT ISN’T TRUE AND OTHERS WOULD ARGUE WITH ME. But for some reason I just did not feel invested in his emotions they way I did in all the other characters’. I really enjoyed him as a character and got all the good feelings from him but I didn’t have my normal “oh no my heart hurts” when he was upset about things so…. take that as you will.
Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun), aka the goddess of all our hearts, was wonderfully charming and incredibly delightful. She’s confident and feisty and more than a little willing to gently manipulate the adults around her into helping her. She had an incredibly tragic backstory but remaining a shining beacon of light and the general spunk of her character is unparalleled by any character I’ve seen in any K Drama to date. Kim Go Eun was also incredibly gifted at making you feel exactly what her character felt at all times, from fear to disappointment to heart wrenching agony to unbridled joy. I can’t count the number of times Ji Eun Tak made me grin while I watched her, or how fully invested I felt in her story and happiness. I was a huge fan of this character in general.
Our main trio is rounded out by the Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook) who first appears as mysterious and scary but is quickly revealed to be a sort of emotionally and socially awkward sweetheart and quickly gained #bae status. What an absurdly fun and fascinating character. Grim Reaper’s innocent, clueless charm mixed with his sort of wooden affect was absolutely perfect and was poignant in many moments and deeply hysterical in many others. He was an incredible friend to both the Goblin and Ji Eun Tak and had the most intense emotional journey of all of them, at least from my perspective. From slowly warming up to his Goblin roommate to his growing affection for Ji Eun Tak to believing he can have the love he wants all the way to discovering that in his past life he was the cause of all of the Goblin’s pain and the pain of the woman he loved and the emotional journey that took him on–wow it was a lot and it was written and acted perfectly. To be honest I looked forward to any scene that included him, far more than I did for the Goblin (BUT I DID STILL LOVE THE GOBLIN!).
Our final main character was Sunny (Yoo In Na), the owner of the chicken restaurant where Ji Eun Tak works and the reincarnation of the Goblin’s sister and the Grim Reaper’s wife from the Goreyo era. She is an eternally bored, deeply confident woman who is very kind to Ji Eun Tak and also very attracted to the nameless goof who turns out to be the Grim Reaper. Sunny is an incredibly capable woman who handles all the curves that are thrown at her incredibly well, considering. She also delivered some major emotional punches despite not being a very emotionally active character.
Relationships: Shout out to the Goblin/Grim Reaper bromance because wow that brought such joy. Another shoutout to the Grim Reaper/ Ji Eun Tak friendship because many feelings.
Let’s first tackle the Goblin/ Ji Eun Tak romance because I have a lot of thoughts about this in general. First I will say– I love them. Lots of love, lots of feels. But don’t hate on me y’all because this was definitely low on my list of main K Drama romances. The first issue is, of course, that Ji Eun Tak is in high school for most of the show and is very much still a child which creates an awkward dynamic with the immortal Goblin who appears to be 30-something. Like it maybe could have slid by if it didn’t come up CONSTANTLY and her 20th birthday wasn’t treated like this HUGE right of passage like suddenly everything is OK that wasn’t five minutes before. This character can’t buy certain things on her own because she’s a minor, she’s still in school, and she has no means by which to care for herself until she moves into her rich boyfriend’s home and starts cooking and cleaning for him and his roommate. In the context of the story it’s all fun and cute and most of it is presented as part of a comedic scene, but it’s so present that it made me like, really uncomfortable. And, to be honest, for a long time I wasn’t because SURPRISE love exists without a romantic context and for a while that’s what felt like what was going down. Goblin cared a lot for her, she was fond of him, they loved each other but weren’t like, interested in dating. Except that they were, apparently, and they even get to make out a little bit before he dies and we get the 10 year time jump that makes it all feel like, a whole lot better. I was also not a big fan of how often they hid like hugely important things from each other, up to including Goblin not telling her that taking the sword out of his chest will kill him and make her a murderer. YOU GOTTA TELL SOMEONE THAT BEFORE YOU ASK THEM TO DO IT, LIKE…. Anyway. Look, the dynamic between these two was sweet and cute and often hilarious. There were moments between them that were deeply romantic and gave me lots and lots and lots of feelings. I just wish she had not been an actual minor for most of the story.
The romance between the Grim Reaper and Sunny was possibly one of my favorite K Drama side romances ever??? These two are so awkward around each other and Grim Reaper has NO IDEA what he is doing or how to interact with her but she finds him charming and so they just work? Up until he finds out who she was in her previous life and who he was and accepts that like, he’s dead so probably this wasn’t going to end well for them anyway. Yet there was SO MUCH feeling there like wow and the heartbreak between the two of them–incredible. I was shocked that we got to see them in their future life, happy together, but also SO HAPPY because OH BOY did I want that!!!
High Points: The visuals of this were STUNNING and I think it was at its peak when it was either dealing with the concept of death (the Grim Reaper’s tea room was the most powerful space of the show tbh) or just allowing the characters to have fun with each other. All of them were written very well and their personalities were fantastic together which was phenomenal.
Low Points: 1) the lore of the whole thing was questionable at best. Lots of stuff that seemed/felt cool but then didn’t pan out in a way that made sense? also so now that Goblin is back alive is just? never able to die ever? because Ji Eun Tak is still human so… questions there. So many questions. 2) the pacing. The first episode was a mess in general–very choppy and disjointed. The last 1/3 of the show were also oddly paced, with most of the show feeling like falling action for too many episodes with nothing really happening then suddenly all of our characters died but then were back alive again within ten show minutes. While most of the show was just easy and fun to watch almost every episode had weird pacing to me, though. Some episodes felt really, really long while others flew by and I was never sure where I was in the show.
Final comments: I WAITED SO LONG TO WATCH THIS SHOW!!!! Like seven months!!! Which OK is not that long in the grand scheme of things but considering how quickly I binge shows typically I get to shows I’m super excited about within like… a week of discovering them. This one was not licensed for the US for a long time so it was on my back burner until one magical day when I opened Viki and there it was. I WAS PSYCHED!! And honestly for the first eight or so episodes I was pretty much in heaven. The first episode was rough but then it picked up real quick and I was JUST. SO. DELIGHTED. But by the end my feeling was that it was a good show but not a great one. By now I’ve seen at least 10 K Dramas that felt stronger in almost every regard so I was a little let down by the hype. HOWEVER I still strongly enjoyed and would happily watch again, definitely recommend. Just probably don’t expect it to change your life.
**Note: the way death was approached and handled in this show was possibly life changing, I was really obsessed.

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