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KINGDOM (S2) gets 9/10 Close to the bone


Directed by Kim Eun-hee, Kim Seong-hun, Park Inje
Starring Ju Ji-hoon, Ryu Sueng-ryong, Bae Doona
Network: Netflix

9/10

The zombie genre has often been a format where social concerns can be expressed in a safe space (well for anyone not on screen). From Night of the Living Dead‘s (1968) shocking finale commenting on racism, to Shaun of the Dead‘s (2004) dig at a society already zombified by routine, to our increasing social isolation in The Night that Eats the World (2018). However Kingdom‘s look at a growing social inequality causing a “plague” (yeah, it’s zombies) to spiral out of the control, as authorities mishandle things due to petty power struggles – well that just seems oddly relevant.

Netflix’s combination of Joseon drama and zombie apocalypse hits the ground, not merely running, but snarling and with gnashing bloodied teeth in its second season.

With zombies having been unleashed on the kingdom, due to an ill-fated alchemic attempt to resurrect the King, Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) must attempt to mount a desperate last stand against the rampaging hordes. Meanwhile in the capital, the Queen Consort’s (Kim Hye-jun) scheme to usurp the throne teeters on the brink. Stuck between the ravenous undead, and a conspiracy that seeks to take his throne and his life, the young prince must use all his wits to survive.

The crucial line of defense fails in the first few minutes of the show, and the prince’s forces are expected to flee for their lives. The action is immediately cranked up, and rarely waivers for the rest of the season. This produces some high octane action, leading to frequent jaw-dropping moments. Part of this is due to the excellent stunt choreography combined with beautiful cinematography. It’s also aided by the willingness of Kingdom to kill off characters, raising the drama and the stakes. It gleefully does this, offing characters from the previous season with an abandon that would make Game of Thrones flinch.

Yet this is not merely for shock, as it plays into the central theme of Kingdom as to what is just use of power. Part of this is a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good rather than personal gain. It’s a morally ambiguous slope, and one that can often be a double-edged sword with none of the characters being entirely pure, but it’s a question frequently asked by the show. That interrogation never slows down the action, but rather gives it context, as this battle for survival is played out against a series of political power plays. Or vice versa, as the two become interlinked in the narrative, with all the factions involved taking extraordinary measures to achieve their ends, despite the rampaging zombies.

This season also adds a little more background to the world, showing us the history of the “resurrection herb”. Season two fills in the blanks from the previous season, and perhaps sets things up for season three. This gives us a little more insight into the back story and motivation behind some of the characters, allowing us to see how the herb could have been used on the dying king in the first place, thus beginning the chain of events that have lead to disaster.

The result is one of the best paced shows we’ve seen so far this year, delivering a lot of tension and drama. Kingdom sets itself a hectic pace, and manages to create a phenomenal piece of entertainment. For those of us that have already seen the first season, this meets and surpasses all expectations.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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