‘Kingdom’ is an excellent foreign six-episode series from Netflix, focused on a story of an undead outbreak intertwined with the political machinations of a royal family in feudal Korea. The creative team includes director Kim Seong-hun and writer Kim Eun-hee, who have expressed in interviews their gratitude to the streaming giant for taking a chance on their show. They’ve had ‘Kingdom’ in various states of development since 2011, but due to the strict PG-esque standards of Korean TV, they were unable to find a proper outlet for their vision of a beautiful-but-bloody tale – until now.
WARNING: We have attempted to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but minor spoilers for this episode of ‘Kingdom’ do lie ahead. Continue reading at your own risk!
RECAP: This second episode picks up immediately where the first left off, with Crown Prince Chang and his Royal Guard Mu-yeong travelling to the remote village of Jiyulheon in an attempt to find the doctor that secretively treated the King a few weeks ago, before his Royal Highness fell “mysteriously ill.” They believe this doctor may have information about the King’s illness which, as we know from last episode, is essentially “Patient Zero” level for the rising zombie threat.
Speaking of the undead menace, as Prince Chang and Mu-yeong approach Jiyulheon, we see that the tiny hospital/village is clearly in disarray. It’s at this point that ‘Kingdom’ provides us with a very cool and rather unique take on handling zombies; where most folks battling the undead horde work hard to keep zombies out our their area, here we see the survivors working to keep the zombies contained inside Jiyulheon: lots of barred doors from the outside, and a vast array of spiked bamboo all angled inwards to ensure that the monsters stay where they are. This plan, like the best-laid plans against zombies, fails miserably.
These zombies, without giving too much away, have a few characteristics that make them pretty unique in the pop-culture range of undead that audiences have been exposed to. While their threat was fairly minimal through the first two-thirds of this episode, another threat reared its head, at least in the eyes of the Crown Prince: as he spends time out and away from the Royal Palace in some of his country’s poorer regions, you can see his awareness of the poverty in his country grow, and it clearly alarms him. Not as much as the flesh-eating monsters, of course…
- The comedic interaction in this episode is still excellent, and never feels over the top or forced. Both from the Crown Prince’s guard being focused on food above all else and the bumbling magistrate and his minions as they deal with the zombie outbreak in their village, it’s all good stuff here.
- The director and creative team do a great job with letting their cinematography speak for itself; lingering shots of everything from panoramic landscapes to the close-ups of the gnarled faces of the zombies all carry with them the appropriate weight.
- The idea introduced in this episode of the Frozen Valley and the Resurrection Plant holding the potential key to both the genesis and the cure of the zombie outbreak is intriguing, and something I’m hoping the show delves into much further in the coming episode.
- Don’t forget that this is an “Eastern” show, so martial arts are a highly-revered and oft-used mechanic in this part of the world. With that, then, comes an awesome sword fight this episode, and it’s so effectively choreographed, featuring both “hits” and “misses” as one would realistically expect in a “in the moment” experience such as this.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: ‘Kingdom’ is establishing an interesting dynamic, underneath the zombie outbreak, of a royal house in disarray and dividing the kingdom with their machinations. So far, the show has struck a great balance between these two very disparate elements, and I for one am excited to see how things progress.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Ju Ji-hoon as Crown Prince
Bae Doona as Seo-bi
Ryu Seung-ryong as Jo Hak-joo
Kim Sang-ho as Moo-yeong
Kim Sung-gyu as Yeong-sin
The first six-episode season of ‘Kingdom’ is released on Netflix on January 25, 2019.