If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I guess this is who you want in charge.
Kingdom is a TV show about people fighting zombies in medieval Korea. It’s on Netflix and is only two short seasons totalling twelve episodes. It’s really gory and gross, which I liked, and also has interesting political commentary, which I’m sure other people would like.
This review will have spoilers for both seasons of Kingdom, so stop reading it if you don’t want to know what happens. But then come back and read it after you’ve seen the show, because I watched the whole thing and worked really hard on reviewing it.
The plot of Kingdom isn’t that hard to follow. The king of Korea (or Joseon, as they call it in the show, because I guess that’s what it was called back then) dies of smallpox, and then his evil father-in-law brings him back to life as a zombie so that he can pretend the king isn’t dead until the king’s wife gives birth to a son, so that her son can be king instead of Prince Chang, the king’s adult son who is currently the crown prince. One of the doctors caring for the zombie king gets bitten and dies, and then some poor people eat him in soup, which turns them all into zombies, which starts a zombie apocalypse only because literally every single person in the show decides that they know how to deal with zombies when they don’t, and they don’t listen to the prince, who does know how to deal with zombies (with violence), and they all get turned into zombies also. Meanwhile there’s a doctor who is trying to cure the zombie plague by looking at a lot of plants, and also the evil father-in-law and the queen are evilly planning to take over the kingdom, but they’re both stupid so it keeps not working.
The political drama is really the main thing in the show, even though there are also a lot of zombies. The whole thing happened because Lord Cho Hak-Ju, the evil father-in-law, turned the king into a zombie, which is a metaphor for his family having steadily made themselves more and more powerful until they were going to unseat the rightful king. Cho Hak-Ju and his daughter, Queen Cho, are basically “Umbrella Villains,” which means that they pretend to have a lot of complicated evil plans but actually all their plans are just “turn people into zombies,” and that always backfires on them and never works, and then the queen poisons Cho Hak-Ju and then releases zombies in the castle and also gets turned into a zombie. Their incompetent and greedy leadership is really what dooms the country, not the actual zombies.
And that’s why the main character of the show is Prince Chang, the rightful heir to the throne who, yes, was technically trying to stage a coup at the start of the series, but only because Cho Hak-Ju was also trying to stage a coup and also Chang’s dad was already a zombie, so it wasn’t a real coup anyway. He flees the castle and discovers that poor people have hard lives, and also that it’s his duty as their king to protect them. He spends the whole show doing the right thing and not letting random passers-by get eaten by zombies, though they always get eaten by zombies anyway. You know he’s the main character because he’s right all the time, but you also know he’s the right person to be king because he’s right all the time, and basically all the problems in the show are caused by people not listening to him.
To be fair though, a lot of problems in the show are also caused by people not listening to Seo-bi. She’s the other main character and the doctor who is trying to cure zombies. It’s really weird because she spends the whole show doing old-timey medicine but it actually works instead of not working, and her scientific plan to discover the cause of the zombie virus is to go into caves and look at plants a lot, which also actually works. Over the course of doing that she discovers basically everything about the zombies including how to kill them, so even though Chang is the main character, she’s the character who actually does the most stuff that isn’t fighting. I liked her parts of the show a lot, actually, even if they didn’t really make sense.
Most of the show didn’t really make sense after the first season, to be honest. It was really good in the first season, and then in the second season basically nothing made any sense. It stopped mattering how far apart places were because people could just go to all of them in one day, it stopped mattering what people did and didn’t know because everyone just conveniently knew whatever they needed to in order to advance the plot. It stopped mattering whether anyone’s plans made sense, because whether they were going to work out was pretty much dependant on whether they were evil or not. It turns out that the queen wasn’t really pregnant and she stole someone else’s baby to be her son (and also killed a bunch of other babies for no reason other than because I guess she wanted to get caught), and in the end after all the zombies are dead, Chang decides not to be the king after all and lets the fake baby be king because he feels bad killing it, and even though not killing babies is the right thing to do, the show just kind of forgets that the whole point of Chang was that he wanted the right person (him) to be king. Plus the whole point of the show was that the wrong person being in charge of a kingdom is bad for a kingdom, and the last few minutes of the second season make it clear that the new fake-king is going to become a zombie also because in this show being bad at being the king and being a zombie are basically the same thing, I guess.
There’s interesting class commentary in the show. Rich people are portrayed as aloof and not caring about the needs of poor people—but only the bad rich people, because the good rich people do care about poor people. So that’s a thing. But poor people are also kind of consistently portrayed as this stupid mob of people who just chase after anyone with food and have really simplistic, exaggerated emotions that make them come off really dumb, which is very offensive to poor people, who are not all like that. I’m not sure the people writing this show, especially in the second season, really understood the issues they were trying to write about, but they also kind of didn’t understand zombies either, so it was a bit weird. There was a lot of blood and guts, though, if you’re excited about that.
Even though it gets confused near the end, I think that Kingdom is good overall and has a good message about rightful rulership, listening to doctors and not being mean to poor people. All of those are really important things, and I think Kingdom is worth watching even though it’s very gory and not for everyone. It’s based on a webcomic I think, but I haven’t read that and I heard it’s very different, so I guess it’s pretty much just an original show. I wonder what will happen in the third season (which I guess exists, based on the extremely unnecessary twenty-five-minute flash forward at the end of season two), because I have a feeling it will be terrible, but also that the characters will start to realize that the only way to stop the zombies is to make sure that the rightful king is in charge so that the kingdom can finally be at peace, and stuff.