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Kingdom – TV Series Review

On the first glance kingdom might look like just another TV show featuring zombies, trying out the concept in a new setting. But if you start looking deeper you will slowly begin to understand what makes this one so much more. Despite having lots of gore and action, Kingdom depicts a beautifully detailed world with unique characters skillfully integrating the social class system and scenic beauty to tell a human tale about survivors and how far can one go to achieve power.

Season One

Kingdom (poster)Kingdom tales a story happening in the Joseon Era of Korean history. The time is just after a war with the Japanese, in which the kingdom suffered terribly, and now a famine is sweeping through the poor commoners. In these trying times the king becomes ill with a mysterious disease, and our story begins with the rumor of the death of the king. Slowly the story unfolds, and we learn about the main characters, the nature of the disease and the beginning of the undead plague.

The story may take a bit of time to get started, but once it begins it will enthrall any viewer. The slow reveal of the mysterious fate of the king and the crown prince interspersed with the tale from the other side of the country following the beginning of the plague is depicted skillfully.

The action bits are quite enjoyable, with lots of thrills and gore for the viewers. And the story slowly draws everyone into the mystery origin and nature of the disease with the physician Seo-bi. On the other side it follows the fate of the ruling family with the dire and desperate plight of the crown prince Lee Chang.

Ju Ji-hoon

Despite only having six episodes to develop themselves, the characters added an exquisite layer of enjoyment to the show. The slow yet sure growth of Lee Chang from a naive and young prince to a wise and fearless leader for his people is a joy to watch. Ryu Seung-ryong as Lord Cho Hak-ju, puts on an enthralling performance as one of the main antagonists of the show, with his cold and cruel demeanor. Seo-bi played by Bae Doona is another fascinating character with her calm attitude and sheer on screen brilliance in expressions and dialogue play. Other characters including Mu-Yeong (Chang’s personal bodyguard); Beom-pal, who adds bits of humor; and Yeong-shin, a skilled fighter and marksman with a past. The young queen only seems to start to come out as a strong female character towards the end of the season, but for what it’s worth, Kim Hye-jun performed brilliantly.

Zombies

The Joseon Era setting, and the beautiful landscapes, are also massive factors in the overall structure of the plot progression. The dazzling and breathtaking scenery and the cruel yet realistic portrayal of the class system of the era adds a sharp contrast, which makes everything that much harder hitting for any thinking viewer. The symbolism is clearly visible throughout, aiming at strict social classes, the suffering of the commoners during the famine, while the corrupted rich gorge on food, drinks and delicacies. But the zombie pandemic knows no class as it spreads making all ravening mad for human flesh.

As a viewer, it’s going to be hard to wait for what happens next. Thankfully you can also binge the second season, as it is now available.

Season Two

Kingdom (poster 2)Season two of Kingdom is kind of a mixed bag when compared to season one. While it loses some of its freshness, it does add more twists and turns in the story, and detailed action sequences take a centre stage while the social imagery and symbolism is somewhat lacking this time around. It is quite fun to watch the mystery slowly unfold regarding the origin of the zombie pandemic and Seo-bi played a brilliant guide of its unravel, as with her we get to understand the disease.

This time the story goes at breakneck pace as our heroes try to stay a step ahead of the pandemic, while trying to bring justice to those who are responsible for the outbreak. Courtly politics take centre stage at times, then suddenly we get reintroduced with the visceral intensity of the battle for survival in the next instant. More twists and turns occur and we are left with cliffhangers at the end of each episode. Slowly the viewers get to the bottom of the mystery regarding the outbreak with Seo-bi, as Lee Chang keeps trying to find the means to take back his rightful place as the ruler of the kingdom.

Bae Doona

The director focuses more on visceral action rather than the scenery and symbolism from the previous season. But, thankfully the action bits are done quite skillfully with thrills bound to keep any viewer glued to the screen. The action escalates towards the end of the season and it made me really tense regarding which of my favorite characters will survive the ordeal, which, as an afterthought, is a definite positive for the show.

The growth of the main characters is palpable in this season and the scope offered seems to have done wonders for the acting as well. Ju Ji-hoon and Bae Doona did excellent works as Lee Chang and Seo-bi, especially Chang’s emotional growth, which was depicted brilliantly by the actor. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the performance Kim Hye-jun as the young queen, her facial expressions sent chills down my spine on more than one occasion. Other actors also did their job quite brilliantly, making the overall experience intense and gripping.

Archer

My only gripe with the second season is while incorporating tighter and more enjoyable action scenes and strong performance by the actors, there seemed to be a lesser focus on the social commentary and unjust class system. Which for me was one of the factors that made this zombie survival story unique compared to the countless others out there.

Nevertheless, in this time of lockdown, I would encourage any fans of horror, medieval setting or post-apocalyptic fiction (or any one feeling bored) to check out Kingdom for a thrilling and enjoyable ride with some interesting and timeless messages as a bonus.

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