The zombie genre has long needed some revitalization in creativity, and Netflix’s “Kingdom“ might be the answer to our undead needs. Directed by Kim Seong-hun and written by Kim Eun-hee, “Kingdom” is a South Korean zombie TV show and a fascinating horror gem. The show is an adaptation of the webcomic series, The Kingdom of the Gods (also authored by Kim Eun-hee), and it’s been streaming on Netflix as of late last month.
A historical period piece, “Kingdom” takes place in Korea’s medieval Joseon period. Taking the lead in the story is the Crown Prince Yi-Chang, who finds himself in the middle of a political conspiracy after his father is taken ill; that is until we realize there’s more going on with the father. Eventually, the Prince becomes aware of the zombie virus and works with neighboring villages to keep the outbreak from spreading.
The Prince is a character who reveals more layers of intrigue over time, making him a strong protagonist. Each conflict that comes by the Prince pushes him to become a wiser leader; as the viewer, these moments of leadership allow us to further connect and root for him. Other than the Prince, the majority of the cast does a superb job adding to the show’s dramatic, and sometimes, comedic moments. The small bits of humor that do pop up help to bring some ease throughout an otherwise grim story.
One of the show’s most interesting qualities is its setting; other than stunning set pieces, taking place in medieval Korea offers fascinating dynamics in survival. There’s a greater sense of tension due to the lack of technology and societal conveniences. When a village has to move by foot, tugging carts full of supplies, it becomes nerve-racking to watch people try and run from hordes of zombies.
The violence itself is brutally satisfying; the first episode does a great job introducing us to our main cast, ending on a terrifying note and going full throttle for the next five episodes. Over time we see the cast learn how to combat the zombies, presenting epic moments of samurai swords slashing away and decapitating the undead. There’s an interesting catch with the zombies that I will not spoil, but it is a logic that works well for the pacing of the narrative.
At the core of “Kingdom,” however, is a story of class struggle; equally as intense as the show’s horror is that of the social commentary at work. We learn that the Prince’s father has married a young woman of another clan, and upon becoming ill, that clan begins advancing their control over the country. Throughout the show, we witness multiple examples of how well the wealthy live, along with the horrific conditions the poor must endure. Whereas the wealthy have access to food such as meat, the poor have to drink water from the same place they go to the bathroom. There’s a moment where an entire village has to leave due to a zombie threat, but only has access to one boat; the noblemen take the boat for themselves, seeing their lives as more important than those they deem beneath them.
“Kingdom” does a superb job presenting a socially conscious horror story. The poor are trapped in a hierarchy of power; as the wealthy and royal prosper, the poor are left to struggle – the use of the undead represents a country desperate for survival, even if it means eating one another. In the midst of this social discourse, the Prince makes for a compelling character, being one of royalty and wanting to help those less fortunate.
“Kingdom” is by far one of the most compelling works to come out of the zombie genre. Through its style and handling of themes, the series proves there is still plenty of room for creative zombie stories. As a six-episode long season, the ending leaves viewers on an intense cliffhanger that’ll get them hungry for season two. Thanks to strong acting, gripping action and drama, gruesome visuals, and an overall powerful narrative, “Kingdom” is a must watch for horror fans.