REVIEW: ‘Kingdom’ is the Show the Zombie Genre Needed

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Kingdom Season 1- But Why Tho?

Kingdom is a South Korean Netflix Original written by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Kim Seong-hun. Taking place in during Korea’s Joseon period, which spanned from the 14th to 19th centuries, Crowned Prince Chang (Ji-Hoon Ju), is sent on a suicide mission to discover the truth behind a deadly outbreak. Equal parts period drama and horror, this six-episode Kingdom season 1 delivers political scheming and terrifying zombies.

Through the Crowned Prince, we see political intrigue, as his stepmother Queen Cho (Kim Hye-jun) rises to power when his father takes ill. Its position as a period drama is highlighted by physician Seo-bi (Doona Bae) and her caring of the lower class. The show provides a story that revolves around classism, mistreatment of citizens, and ultimately quests for power touching on all the things that make a good historical drama. But, it will also scare the crap out of you.

As the mysterious disease evolves and spreads across the countryside, Kingdom beautifully delivers exposition and unfolds the mystery of the zombie virus. The show is truly unique, utilizing classic survival horror tropes in a fresh setting that turns them into plot points and not the derivative mess we’ve been getting from the over-saturation of the zombie sub-genre.

While the zombies look similar to those we see in other shows, the lore behind them is unique. They’re fast, brutal, and only operate at night. Adding in a restriction to their existence, having them lie dormant in the day, the show is able to progress it’s narrative and offer much needed time to send messages and move between settings. That being said, when the words “aim for the head” are said the horror fan in me was giddy.

The quick acting transmission of the virus makes the small amount of zombies quickly grow into a hoard and adds a level of terror. But the beauty of the sound design is what brings an extra punch. The cracking of bones, the wailing of the dead, and an excellent score create an atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The brutality of the zombies is matched by the brutality of the storytellers. Zombie children are scary. You trust them and then they turn on you. But what about a zombie mother eating her child? Yes, Kingdom goes there. It doesn’t pull any punches and the lack of privacy and sealed homes in the lower class areas of the villages makes for a literal wave of zombies with deadly outcomes that tug at your heart and remind you that this isn’t a show that is going to use plot armor to save your sensibilities.

The viciousness of night time and the monsters seeking flesh is juxtaposed by the most beautiful costuming I have seen in a television show ever. The bright colored silks and other clothing offer a stark contrast and as the nobles die off, their distinctive clothing shows that the virus and the monsters don’t care about status.

But even in the darkness of the show, there is a beauty. The cinematography of the series uses reds and oranges from burning towns to light the blue-hued darkness with beautiful results. There is not a single moment in this series that feels like it wasn’t meticulously designed, lit, and photographed. This extends to masterful camerawork that shows the frenzy of the dead, the weight of political maneuvering, and tracks actions scenes in blended continuous shots rather than giving us a sea of cuts.

Overall, Kingdom offers a period drama, a zombie show, and a tense atmosphere that will keep you watching until you’re done with this season. In an over-saturated sub-genre, this show takes common horror tropes and rewrites zombie rules for Joseon Korea in a way that reinvigorates my love of the sub-genre.

Each episode of the show overspent its budget, at an estimated $1.78 million per episode, and it shows. Personally, I can’t find a fault in this show. The acting from every character is superb and Ji-Hoon Ju as Chang is a hero that I am thoroughly invested in. I am invested in his growth and the world around him. With a six-episode season, this is a must watch and with a strong season finale, season two can’t come soon enough.

Kingdom season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.

Kingdom
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    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Overall, Kingdom offers a period drama, a zombie show, and a tense atmosphere that will keep you watching until you’re done with this season. In an over-saturated sub-genre, this show takes common horror tropes and rewrites zombie rules for Joseon Korea in a way that reinvigorates my love of the sub-genre.