Kingdom: Series review, part 2
If you’ve made it here, you are a brave soul. As discussed in the first part of the series review, Kingdom isn’t a show for the faint of heart and weak stomachs. From the intro credits to the very end of season 1, we’re promised intrigue and paralyzing fear, as the zombie epidemic spreads uncontrollably to the civilians of the south. These last two episodes are full of twists and surprises, as well as a few hints on what to expect with the next season.
I welcome all those who wish to watch through this recap to avoid nightmares, but if you want to experience the physical startle and possibly mistaken a dropped glove on the street for a human hand (read: you plan to watch the series), then please note that this recap will contain critical spoilers. You’ve been warned. And now, to the zombie epidemic survivors and viewers: Onward, brave souls!
THE END OF SEASON 1
On their way to Sangju, Prince Chang & co. set up camp for a night, and luckily their journey has been zombie-free. Chang wallows in guilt for failing to protect the villagers who died in the attack from the royal guards. He wanted to be different than the others who ran away, and Seo-bi affirms that he was different in her eyes.
We learn that Young-shin’s shooting prowess is credited to his experience as a member of Chakho — a skilled and dangerous group of tiger hunters who do anything to stay alive. Moo-young grows increasingly wary of Young-shin, but Chang relates to the Chakho and seens convinced that Young-shin’s background makes him a qualified guide and guard. I’m more with Chang on this one, and I think that the prince is intuitive enough to read Young-shin’s intentions.
Meanwhile, Seo-bi digs for herbs in the nearby forest. She hears a rustling behind her and suddenly screams! We assume the worst, and so does the rest of her group, as they run toward the forest with their weapons ready. She runs out of the forest with a supposed zombie at her tail, but it’s none other than Magistrate Cho, who looks so disheveled that he might as well be an undercover spy among the zombies. The pathetic coward somehow survived the zombie infestation on the ship of aristocrat traitors, but I’m not mad about it — he’s fun to keep around, especially with his growing crush on Seo-bi.
Magistrate Cho is also the messenger about the imminent threat of the zombie-filled ship heading toward Sangju. Due to the poor signal fire communication between the towns, Sanju will be blindsided by the incoming zombie attack. Prince Chang gives Magistrate Cho a well-earned beating before rushing onward toward Sanju.
The sun rises in Sangju, and Prince Chang’s mentor Lord Ahn Hyeon continues to mourn his mother’s passing at an isolated mountain until one of his underlings informs him of some strange news: rumors of the dead who come alive. At this news, Lord Ahn Hyeon decides to descend the mountain to the village and gets led to a beached ship, which is mysteriously covered in blood but completely empty. Based on the state of the ship, Lord Ahn Hyeon deduces massive bloodshed, but there are no victims to validate his theory.
On their way to Sangju, Prince Chang and his group (which now includes fumbling Magistrate Cho) come across a rural village feasting on meat and lavish goods. Though the villagers try to lie that they fairly received the goods, Young-shin knows that these poor villagers could never afford such expensive food and goods during this famine. Sure enough, a woman showing off the expensive fabric from the scavenge tips off Magistrate Cho that the villagers looted the washed-up ship. The villagers lie prostrate to beg the prince for mercy, but the prince has no interest in punishing the villagers for the looting — he’s more concerned with the dead bodies.
The villagers tell Chang that they buried the dead bodies and lead the group to the burial site per the prince’s orders. The sun begins to set as the villagers lead the zombie hunters into the fields, and suddenly, they stop. The villagers face Chang and tighten their grip on their sickles. They know that their looting is punishable by death, and they won’t allow their children to suffer the punishment. They’re willing to kill the only witnesses of this deed, even if it’s the crown prince.
Just as the villagers gear up for their attack, they hear movement behind them. Dusk signals the rise of the zombies, and we see the buried ground shift as the buried dead come back to life. The poor villagers don’t stand a chance against the zombies, and the rest of our zombie fighters — mainly Young-shin, Moo-young, and Chang — slay the incoming wave of zombies. The bloody battle is full of gore, but Magistrate Cho provides a sprinkle of juxtaposed humor in his incompetent fight against the zombies. I’m rooting for him to stay alive despite his incompetence because he provides a dose of realism to this situation, with his entire being expressing fear. He screams like a wimp, fights only with clumsy gestures, and squirms like a coward, but it’s exactly how I would react.
Chang just barely survives an attack by a zombie and looks defeated as he sees their grossly outnumbered battle. The world slows down around him as he realizes their impending doom, but his despair is interrupted by a fire arrow that lands right in the middle of their battlefield. A new army of zombie fighters led by Lord Ahn Hyeon arrive, and they swiftly attack the zombies. It’s curious that these fighters and Lord Ahn Hyeon don’t show any hesitance in their battle, as if they are familiar with killing zombies, and Seo-bi later notes this as well.
Once the combined zombie fighters defeat the enemies, Chang recognizes his mentor, Lord Ahn Hyeon, who drops to his knees to greet the crown prince. Chang thinks back to his youth, when he cried for his late mother and in fear of vicious palace life. Lord Ahn Hyeon embraced the boy tightly and led him back to the palace to claim his rightful place. He instilled a sense of responsibility and nobility, instructing the young prince to protect his own life, to fight injustice, and to guard the throne from those who greedily seek its power. It’s clear that Lord Ahn Hyeon is the prince’s father figure and the one who shaped Chang into a virtuous human.
Chang shows his mentor Doctor Lee Seung-hui’s medical journals and pleads for Lord Ahn Hyeon’s help to depose Prime Minister Cho. Without responding to the prince’s request, Lord Ahn Hyeon notices that the prince looks like he hasn’t slept in days and tells him to rest in his home. He reminds Chang that he’s the crown prince and must always look worthy and confident of that title. As they retreat to their quarters, Moo-young expresses his doubts about trusting Lord Ahn Hyeon, but Chang dismisses them.
Meanwhile in Hanyang, Prime Minister Cho feeds a prisoner some zombie stew as an experiment, and his inhumane research confirms another mechanism of infection and that he’s batshit crazy. It’s a subtle comparison in how man loses the essence of humanity, and I think that Prime Minister Cho’s decline is more bone-chilling because he consciously chose to be psychotic.
Young-shin revisits his abandoned home village of Sumang, and he spits on a stone memorial commemorating Lord Ahn Hyeon’s historic defeat against the Japanese. He remembers hugging his younger brother — who had bandages around his face and body — tight and promising to return. Young-shin walks to the graves and finds incense burning, indicating that someone had recently visited the memorial. It’s likely Lord Ahn Hyeon, and it will be interesting to see the connection between these two Sangju natives.
In Hanyang, pregnant ladies are collected in a home to be fed and housed, which is suspicious but not sketchy enough to the hungry pregnant widows. One of the ladies notices another pregnant lady who exhibits more decorum than the rest of them, so she explains that her husband sent her here while he’s off to work for the crown prince. Aha, so this is Moo-young’s wife. This pregnant widows’ house is weird, but we realize that it’s not so random by the end of this series.
The queen ascends the throne under Prime Minister’s Cho decree, to fill the vacancy in the face of the king’s illness and the crown prince’s charge of treason. He also announces the closure of all southern gates at the Gyeongsang/Hanyang border in order to contain the rampant disease. This is yet another example of Prime Minister Cho’s powerful grasp on the throne and a private debrief further proves this point. Prime Minister Cho reminds the queen that he placed the power in her hands, so he can also take it away. Prime Minister Cho orders the queen to keep the Gyeongsang gates closed until he decides otherwise, and he vows to kill the crown prince with his own hands.
The magistrate of Sangju demands that Lord Ahn Hyeon surrender the crown prince in order to reopen the gates to Hanyang. Lord Ahn Hyeon surprisingly agrees quite easily because his expected guests — the royal guards chasing the prince for arrest — have arrived. Before the guards can arrest the prince, Lord Ahn Hyeon intervenes and accuses these guards of treason. Then, his army shoots down these traitors.
The crown prince watches this unaffected, and we see the tail end of his conversation with Lord Ahn Hyeon the previous night: There’s a mole on the prince’s side who tipped off the guards that Chang was headed to Sangju. Though I would hate for this to be the case, my bets are on Moo-young because he was the only one to truly know all of the prince’s plans. To spark my suspicions even more, Moo-young hesitates to finish off the leader of the guards, so Chang takes his sword to kill the guard himself. It’s not an obvious hesitation, but it seems like an intentional moment to plant suspicion.
Civilians from other villages desperately knock on the closed gates of Sangju for refuge, but the magistrate of Sanju wants to keep the gates closed for self-preservation. The prince refuses to let people die, as no person is more valuable than their neighbor, and dismisses the magistrate of Sangju to take control of the situation. He acknowledges the conundrum of taking shelter with a finite amount of food to sustain the wave of refugees, but he has a plan. The zombies fear fire and water, and luckily, the southern part of Sanju is surrounded by water. As long as they guard the openings between the water, they can survive.
In preparation for their battle, soldiers, civilians, and even noblemen are enlisted to defend Sanju. Sharpened bamboo stalks, weaponry, and trenches are prepared to the border to execute their defense strategy, which is to trap and attack the zombies at all angles. The villagers urgently prepare their weapons in daylight, and a few servants ride out on horseback to scope the zombie situation.
The queen tell her court lady to only notify her when a son is born at the pregnant widows’ home. The pregnant widows worriedly wait as a fellow pregnant lady painfully gives birth, and they look delighted to hear the cries of a newborn. Then suddenly, the cries stop, but the midwife assures the ladies that both the mother and child are healthy. We see another midwife cleaning the blood from the birth, but part of me wonders if that blood is just from childbirth…
The queen orders a servant to help her bathe, and the servant timidly disrobes the queen, as the job is usually done by a court lady. When the servant takes off an inner garment, she gasps at the ball of cloth wrapped around the queen’s torso. THE QUEEN AIN’T PREGNANT! This is what the pregnant widows’ house is for, and my guess is that Prime Minister Cho doesn’t even know this truth.
Magistrate Cho proudly drops a basket of herbs for Seo-bi, but they’re all weeds, ha! He tries to flex so hard, but it only further proves his incompetence. Seo-bi heads out to collect the actual herbs to treat the prince’s wounds, and Magistrate Cho tags along for no other reason than to share seemingly extraneous information that means everything to Seo-bi: the existence of the Frozen Valley that’s restricted to the villagers.
Seo-bi fearlessly crosses the hanging human-like scarecrow and ropes of shaman caution tape to reach the real Frozen Valley recorded in her mentor’s medical journals. Magistrate Cho hesitantly follows Seo-bi into the cave, where they finally find the purple resurrection plant — the magical cure to death. As Seo-bi begins to dig for the plant, Magistrate Cho points out broken shackles in the cave, and they hear a rustling behind them.
As evening approaches, Young-shin trains the defense army on shooting, and he’s pointed out to Lord Ahn Hyeon as the one from Sumang Village. Lord Ahn-hyeon looks pensive at this information, but he claims to Chang that he doesn’t know Young-shin. Hmm, but I think you do.
Darkness falls, and Prime Minister Cho arrives at one of the closed southern gates in Moongyeong. The guard informs him that Sanju is still safe, and he notices a strange shaking chest that the Prime Minister brought with him. Oh my, is he going to release the beast?! I wouldn’t put it past him.
At the Sanju border, the night remains silent, and it’s almost sunrise. One horse returns from the scoping trip with only a hand gripping the harness — elbow up, the body has been bitten off. This creative and gross message signals the defense to prepare for battle, but thankfully, the sun rises before any signs of zombies reach the border.
The sunrise comes as a relief to Chang and the defense army, who celebrate day one of survival. But at the border wall, Prime Minister Cho asks the sinister question: “Did you think it was over?” Something is on the horizon, and the abnormal flock of birds turns heads.
At the Frozen Valley, Seo-bi and Magistrate Cho cower in fear as the zombies stay awake even in sunlight. Seo-bi realizes that it wasn’t the sun triggering their retreat — it was the temperature. YIKES, this is a twist I was not expecting. Even in daylight, it’s a cold day, and the rumbling of the zombie stampede nears the Sangju border. *gulp*
FINAL THOUGHTS & SEASON 2 THEORIES
This 6-episode first season introduced us a compelling story and served as more of a prologue to the impending doom. We learned about the players, the conflict, and the zombie transformation mechanism, but this story arc has just begun. This ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but thankfully, we’re due for a second season, which will surely be more action-packed. I like how the two major twists — the queen’s fake pregnancy and the temperature mechanism to wake the zombies — were just dropped in this last episode. It leaves us with plenty to speculate, and we’re given just information to discuss all the fun possibilities outside the obvious zombie plague arriving in full force.
I have a slight speculation that Moo-young is the mole on the prince’s side because there was no other person that Chang trusted with his plans and itinerary. Moo-young’s hesitance and insistence that the prince to return to Hanyang seemed like normal concern as the prince’s guard, but in retrospect, his behavior arouses some suspicion. After learning about the possible mole, it also seemed like Lee Chang was more closed off to Moo-young. Was his purposeful distance due to his suspicion of Moo-young as the mole? Or was it just a distance that he adopted for everyone around him? Chang’s muted behavior is more evident around Moo-young because they have such a close and trusting relationship, and I fear that we haven’t seen the other side of unassuming Moo-young.
Despite my suspicions, I don’t think that Moo-young’s intentions are completely sinister. If he ends up being the mole, I would assume that he made that decision under extenuating circumstances. His relationship with the prince is genuine, and I doubt that he could be bribed to betray the prince. If he’s the culprit, I presume that he was threatened to provide information, lest his wife be put in danger. Speaking of Moo-young’s wife, that pregnant widows’ house is wrong and creepy on so many levels. It shows that the Queen takes after her father and is much more nefarious that she lets on. She’s going to take the first son that comes out of that house, and my bets are on Moo-young’s wife to birth that son. That would be an interesting turn of events, and I’m curious to see how this truth unfolds for Prince Chang and Prime Minister Cho.
It’s clear that Prime Minister Cho and Lord Ahn Hyeon are familiar with the zombie disease, and I wonder how they were first introduced to the plague. Prime Minister made some vague references to an event that happened three years ago, and I think he’s referring to the first use of the resurrection plant that created a zombie. Somehow, Lord Ahn Hyeon was involved in this, and I wonder if the zombies have anything to do with Lord Ahn Hyeon’s historical defeat of the Japanese. As the pieces are coming together in my head, I have an inkling that the zombies were involved in this commemorated battle and the wiped-out village. This would be an interesting connection to forge between Young-shin and Lord Ahn Hyeon, who’s suspiciously vigilant of Young-shin while keeping his distance.
Now that we supposedly have all the pieces on the table, I’m looking forward to seeing how these elements clash and manifest in the conflict. We don’t have an exact date yet on the release of the second season, but I hope that we’ll get the second half of this story within the next year to ride the momentum of this standout first season. I have no doubts that the second season will be just as tightly written and incredibly directed as this first season, and dare I say that it will be more frightening than this first season. I’m eager to be shaken and chilled to the bone again. Hope to see you sooner than later, season 2!
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