Netflix aired Kingdom, a historical K-drama based on the zombie apocalypse from 2019 to 2020, with recent news of a possible third season and a special episode. The series is eerily reminiscent of the present pandemic and offers valuable insights into the human psyche.
Episodes: 12 (Seasons 1 and 2)
Available on: Netflix
Ju Ji-hoon as Prince Lee Chang
Bae Doona as the physician Seo-bi
Kim Sung-kyu as the tiger hunter Yeong-shin
Ryu Seung-ryong as Lord Cho Hak-ju
Jeon Seok-ho as magistrate Cho Beom-pal
Kim Sang-ho as the bodyguard Mu-yeong
Kim Hye-jun as the Queen Consort Cho
Heo Joon-ho as Lord Ahn
It is no exaggeration to say that we as a species, are morbidly fascinated with zombies. From movies like Train to Busan to series like The Walking Dead, zombies are rife in popular culture and imagination. In an era where economic hardships and climate change herald an ever near doomsday, unsurprisingly zombies are all the rage.
Rumours of the Joseon King’s death, the dangerous political intrigue between the Prince and the Queen’s family, a starving populace, and a plague on the horizon, form the backdrop to this hair-raising tale. The very first episode wastes no time in depicting the King, with great subtlety, as a flesh-eating monster. As tensions mount, Prince Lee Chang (played by the talented Ju Ji-Hoon) tries to piece together what has happened, even as he must run for his life, accused of conspiring treason by the power-hungry Cho Hak-ju, the Chief Councilor.
Lee Chang’s very existence as the crown prince comes into question when the queen falls pregnant, since he is the son of a concubine. With his bodyguard Mu Yeong, he seeks to root out the plague while chased as a traitor. Unlikely survivors of a zombie attack, a tiger-hunter Yeong-shin, the magistrate Beom-pal, and physician Seo-Bi, join him in his endeavours.
Lee Chang with his companions
It’s a harsh and uncertain world where there’s little respite from zombies who seem to have a far more wicked, even political purpose rather than being an outbreak of a plague. Lee Chang’s companions have secrets to hide with some even threatening his own survival as the crown prince.
The tiger hunter Yeong-shin
The tiger-hunter Yeong-shin played by Kim Sung-kyu is equal parts hardened outlaw and tender friend, undoubtedly one of the best performances in the show.
Zombies attack the rich and poor alike and even in death, the corpses of the nobility were not to be beheaded or burnt as per Confucian ideals. Apparently those ideals don’t apply to the commoners. An entire ship was infected with zombies in one episode-all because “we nobles are above these stupid measures.” Sounds familiar?
Paranoia and suspicion abound in the air and the mere doubt of a zombie bite or a bloodstain is enough to get you killed-even if you aren’t yet a zombie. After all, the lives of the others are at risk and what is one more person, is what they believe.
The few left to face the zombies on the right
As of 23rd July, a special episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North was aired. A sort of prequel to the main series, it focuses on the mysterious character introduced in the cliffhanger ending. The impending Jurchen (later Qing) invasion provides an intricate backdrop. This episode was made as a filler and a backstory but what it lacked was the character development and the slow pace. It would however certainly be interesting to see how Ashin’s character is developed further and we do have something to look forward to, as it looks like Prince Lee Chang and Ashin are on different sides regarding the resurrection plant. With the release of the prequel it does look like we might be getting Season 3 as well, perhaps as early as first half of 2022?
The subtext about the disease rotting the senses couldn’t be more explicit. In a country reeling from widespread famine and the zombie plague, the struggle for power continues unabated. Hunger for power and the hunger for flesh is not that different as both lead one to insanity. And of course, the King himself is the first zombie we see. Officials looked the other way as the plague spreads, because it’s easier to keep your head down and escape trouble. The insensible inequalities and the callousness of the ruling class are also the plague.
What perhaps is frightening about the zombies, apart from their fearsome looks, is that they are a shell of their former selves but their awareness and reason is gone. In a particularly shocking scene, parents and children devour each other. They may seem human, but there is no sanity or compassion in them-qualities that truly make one human.
Zombies strike fear because they permeate despair and their sheer numbers and strength seem as if death is imminent and make it all too easy to give up fighting. In a darkening world where ugliness is omnipresent, looking for hope sounds like a fool’s errand.
Nuanced characters, a fast-paced plot, realistic though at times blood-soaked graphics, and hard-hitting subtext set Kingdom apart from the usual horror tropes. Prince Lee Chang’s journey from a haughty, sheltered man to one who listens to those around him, puts their well-being ahead of his own, and becomes a man worthy to rule, is a delight to watch. His resolve to be better, different from the nobles who leave people to fend for themselves, makes his role, a complex but an interesting character.
Prince Lee Chang
The bumbling and generally incompetent magistrate Beom-pal is as much comic relief as an utterly realistic figure. A member of the feared Cho family, he survives the zombies with the help of others and sheer dumb luck, nonetheless he grows on you.
The magistrate Cho Beom-pal
The camaraderie between the band of survivors offers precious moments of respite from the bleakness surrounding them. The reminder that courage, kindness, and love still exist in the harshest of times, and it is worth fighting to preserve them, is one we would do well to heed from time to time. Kingdom hits the nail on the head with it. Although the Special episode did not do as much justice as we thought it would, both the seasons definitely lived up to it and it’s no surprise that the show is even listed by New York Times as, one of “The Best International Shows of 2020.” If you love watching Zombie theme movies/dramas or a fan of political period, thriller or horror, this is definitely a must watch.
Have you watched this series yet? Do let us know your thoughts.
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Written by Ila Railkar
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