REVIEW: ‘Kingdom’ Season 2 is a Perfect Plague Tale

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It’s been two years since Kingdom, written by Kim Eun-hee, busted open the Netflix horror line-up with one of the freshest takes on zombies since Train to Busan. A South Korean production, Kingdom Season 1 is set in the Joseon period and focuses on a kingdom defeated by corruption and famine, while a rumor the king’s death spreads goes hand in hand with a strange plague that renders the monsters hungry for flesh. Dealing with the fallout of power struggles, the Crown Prince Chang (Ji-Hoon Ju) fell victim to a conspiracy and began a journey to unveil the evil scheme and the origins of the plague in order to save his people. Now, in Kingdom season 2, audiences are brought back into the story directly where it left off – with the dead moving in the sun, something that our protagonists have relied on to move to safety.

With the safety now shattered, Kingdom Season 2 opens up with a dramatic first two episodes that not only ups the violence with grand action set pieces but also set up the next part of the story which sees Prince Chang taking on his stepmother’s clan directly. Labeled a traitor, Chang and those who serve him are pushing forward, aiming to take the throne back but more importantly stop the plague. Meanwhile, Queen Cho (Hye-Jun Kim) has continued her plan of trying to find a male heir to call her own and secure her power while the nurse Seo Bi (Doona Bae) begins to find out the truth behind the origins of the Resurrection flower and find a cure.

The opening of Kingdom Season 2 is a fast-paced one but what follows is a detailed look at a struggle to reveal the truth behind a kingdom using a resurrected king as its ruler and to take power in order to beat back the hordes of the dead cascading through towns. Like last season, Kingdom Season 2 offers up a larger critique of class and leadership than what its zombie genre may make you believe. The ability of the series to balance political intrigue and narrative with high octane battle sequences with fantastic fight choreography is unmatched even by large cultural phenomena like The Walking Dead. 

Prince Cho’s growth from Season 1 to Kingdom Season 2 is perfection. He is selfless now, focused on helping those around him while also managing to explore his own traumatic experiences that he suffered last season and two big ones he goes through in this next batch of six-episodes. While his skill as a fighter is one of the strongest elements of the series, Prince Chang’s journey and growth stand as a testament for genre television done well. The hordes of the dead don’t ever overwhelm the personal stories happening in the foreground and instead serve as a vital part of the story that lends its themes of plague and morality to a character-driven series.

While Prince Chang’s quest to power is a main part of the season, Kingdom Season 2 features two powerful women who exhibit their determination in different ways. In Queen Cho, we see ruthlessness and a woman refusing to allow her gender to define her political aspirations. She crafts her plan to steal a villager’s son to call her own, succeeds, and ultimately pushes back against her father’s pressure and expectations. Additionally, Queen Cho is a character allowed to be cold, powerful, and cruel, surpassing even Cersei Lannister in her spite and violence as a regent seeking power. She is single-minded, relentless in her goals, and while she embodies the best of the “mad queen” trope, she doesn’t suffer from its faults. As Queen Cho descends into her spite-filled madness, she does so with resolve, that positions her as the character that has not only wrestled control back from the men around her but is only abiding by her rules.

On the other side, we have Seo Bi. She’s intelligent, calm, and the reason both the characters and the audience learn the details about the Resurrection Flower and the virus it causes. She’s a scientist and a doctor first, demonstrating a cool head in unthinkable situations. While she isn’t given much time this season, her scenes have weight and in the penultimate episode, her ability to think her way out of terrifying situations makes her one of the best characters on the show. With the way that Kingdom Season 2 ends, there is a wide-open door for more of her story to develop.

All that said, Kingdom is unmatched by any other series out there in its epic scale. Palaces, hordes, the wilderness, and more are all presented as larger than life sets, which are all beautifully framed and shot by the series directors Seong-hun Kim and In-je Park, and the cinematography by is on a level I have only ever seen on series like Game of Thrones. There is a quality and scale of the costuming that reflects from bright red royal robes to beige mourning attire and the dead themselves. The way the costuming juxtaposes nearly sterile scenery with the plague victims is a visible wave of disease rushing over those who have done what they can to keep from seeing the plight of the people.

Additionally, the fight sequences range from guns and swords to bows and flying kicks. With diverse fighting methods, each large battle is dynamic, keeping longer fights from stagnating or replicating previous battles. The stunts are breathtaking and I don’t know what else to say besides praising the ability Kim and Park to craft visual settings that use royal Joseon’s period setting as a perfect balance to the plague tale.

Overall, Kingdom Season 2 is perfection. It’s beautiful, it’s bloody, and showcases how Korea continually increases the bar for zombie productions. Whether you’re a fan of period pieces, political power struggles, zombies, and/or horror, you’ll find something to fall in love with this series.

Kingdom Season 2 is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Kingdom, Season 2
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TL;DR

Overall, Kingdom Season 2 is perfection. It’s beautiful, it’s bloody, and showcases how Korea continually increases the bar for zombie productions.