‘The Untamed’ got you stymied? We explain episodes 1 to 3
The Untamed is a Chinese fantasy and drama series adapted from the novel entitled Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (Mo Dao Zu Shi) written by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. Prior to October, 2019, the show was only available for viewing on YouTube. However, its cult following was so loud that Netflix picked it up and began streaming it on October 25, 2019.
It’s been quite a ride since then. Instantly popular, the show created an epic social media frenzy. There appears to be two camps of people right now: those that can’t stop binging, and those that can’t work out what’s actually happening in the first few episodes.
We get it; there’s a lot going on. Those unfamiliar with Chinese culture, or the source material, may find themselves overwhelmed with the character’s names, the subtitles, and the fantasy lore that exists in the show.
We’re here to tell you, though, not to give up. This show is a must finish. We’ve put together an episode recap of episode 1 that not only outlines the plot for those having trouble following, but we’ve also pointed out moments of possible confusion & provided necessary context. So come with us as we journey through the first episode of The Untamed.
The battle of the Nightless City
The beginning of the episode flashes back to the Nightless City 16 years ago where Wei WuXian (Xiao Zhan), also known as the YiLing Patriarch, was fighting against all five clans in a supernatural stand-off. As the battle comes to a close, Wei WuXian feels defeated & completely alone in the world, and throws himself off a cliff.
Lan Wang Ji (Wang Yibo) of the Lan clan of Gusu, also known as Lan Zhan (and later in the show he is also referred to as Hanguang-Jun), is the only person at the Nightless City that doesn’t want Wei Wuxian dead. He attempts to save Wei Wuxian by grabbing for his wrist as he goes over the side of the cliff. The two boys are crying as Wei Wuxian hangs over the edge of the cliff, begging Lan Wang Ji to let him go.
Jiang Cheng (Wang Zhuo Cheng) from the Yunmeng Jiang sect, who actually does want Wei Wuxian dead, appears behind Lan Wang Ji and drives his sword into the side of the cliff. This causes Lan Wang Ji to lose his hold on Wei WuXian and the man plunges to his death.
These are very intense opening minutes. As these are the first few moments of the show, investment in these characters clearly hasn’t occurred yet, so while the scene is obviously tragic, the sheer importance of this moment isn’t really clear. However, it is very important when it comes to understanding the relationship dynamics as the show moves forward.
Jiang Cheng is actually Wei WuXian’s brother, for all intents and purposes. Jiang Cheng’s father took Wei WuXian in as a young boy after both of his parents died. They welcomed Wei WuXian into their family and raised him as their own. Therefore, Wei WuXian was killed by his own brother.
The other thing to pay attention to here is Lan Wang Ji. Everyone who showed up to the battle at the Nightless City did so with one thing in mind: killing the YiLing Patriarch. Members of the Lan clan were there for the same reason. So why is Lan Wang Ji, who is a very respected member of the Lan clan, crying as Wei WuXian plunges to his death? The subtleties here are very important and should not be missed.
Resurrecting Wei Wuxian
The next scene flashes forward again, bringing us back sixteen years after the death of Wei Wuxian. Young members of the Lan clan are in some kind of class scenario, discussing the historical events that occurred at Nightless City. The instructor confirms that Wei Wuxian’s body fell from the cliff, however, although members of his clan went searching below, his body was never recovered.
Then things get a little odd. If you’re completely new to the story and have no knowledge of the source material, this scene may be particularly confusing, but it’s crucial for understanding the following episodes. Wei Wuxian is actually resurrected in this scene by Mo Xuanyu (Xiao Zhan).
So who is Mo Xuanyu & why is he resurrecting Wei Wuxian after all these years? Mo Xuanyu is the illegitimate son of Jin Guangshan, a former disciple of the Jin Sect. His family always considered Mo Xuanyu to be somewhat of a lunatic & treated him poorly. Fed up with their torment, he summons Wei Wuxian to carry out revenge on Mo Xuanyu’s family on his behalf.
Here’s why this scene is confusing: Wei Wuxian wakes up in Mo Xuanyu’s body, yet on screen the actor doesn’t change. Even though Wei Wuxian’s persona is supposed to be in Mo’s body, the actor Xiao Zhan continues to assume the role. Unless you come to the show with knowledge of the source material, the resurrection is likely to be confusing for this reason.
As Wei Wuxian begins to navigate the nuances of being in Mo’s body, he stumbles across young members of the Lan clan, who have been summoned to help deal with an evil presence. Coming into contact with the Lan clan seems to make Wei Wuxian nervous and he causes a scene. It is important to remember here that everyone around him thinks that Wei Wuxian is actually Mo Xuanyu.
After the young cultivators from the Lan clan struggle to contain the evil spirit, they suggest signaling for backup from their teacher: Hanguang-Jun. Wei Wuxian recognizes the name and asks if they’re referring to Lan Wang Ji. Wei Wuxian begs them not to summon him, but they ignore his request.
The Lan Wang Ji connection
Everything else is pretty straight forward as the episode moves forward. Then Lan Wang Ji shows up and seems to know that Wei Wuxian is there. Remember, Wei Wuxian in Mo’s body, not his own. While it’s not revealed in this episode how Lan Wang Ji knows this, Lan Wangji calls out to Wei Wuxian, using an affectionate name for him, Wei Ying. Lan Wang Ji stares longingly after him as Wei Wuxian exits the scene.
Why is this important? Remember back to the beginning of the episode when Wei Wuxian was hanging off the edge of a cliff? It was Lan Wang Ji who was crying and trying to save him. Fast forward to this scene sixteen years later and Lan Wang Ji is calling after him with affection. There is clearly some kind of relationship between these two that we are supposed to assume here.
As the episode comes to a close we see Wei Wuxian leaving on a donkey by himself. That’s a wrap! Stay tuned for our recap & debunking of episode 2.