Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 11 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 12 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Early on in its lifespan, Arthdal Chronicles was dubbed the Korean Game Of Thrones and to be honest, this title discredits both shows. Despite their initial fantasy roots and politically driven plots, both series have their own unique vibes, with Arthdal Chronicles doubling down on its mysticism and prophecies rather than gritty, war-time politics in Game Of Thrones. With that in mind, Arthdal Chronicles is really a tale of two halves, which is fitting given the first season is essentially two seasons in one.
The story is admittedly pretty convoluted at times and Arthdal Chronicles is a show that will punish you if you’re not paying attention during every minute oft its 70+ minute episodes. Set in the fictional land of Arthdal during Ancient times, a brief prologue involving a mythical race known as the Neanthals sets the scene for what follows. After this race is all but annihilated, a growing power led by war hero Tagon and his father Sanung sees a military force rise up and claim large pockets of land for their own.
Prophesied to bring balance back to the world, Eunseom and Tanya front the Wahan Tribe, a peaceful colony that find themselves on the brink of extinction thanks to Tagon and his forces. As the episodes progress, they wind up caught in a political struggle for power between rival factions in the capital city. With Asa Ron and Mi-Hol both waiting in the shadows for an opportune time to strike, the rest of the series sees politics and shady scheming come to the forefront of the narrative.
The second half of the season then mixes things up with the inclusion of Saya, who has ties to both Tagon and Eunseom, playing a crucial role in how things play out during the final 6 episodes. While this is where we see more about the prophecies and a push toward a resolution sealing the fate for everyone in Arthdal, if I’m honest the first half feels stronger and more tightly written.
There are a lot of characters in Arthdal Chronicles and in a way, the show is its own worst enemy when it comes to remembering who everyone is. Early episodes feature handy block text to inform us who some of the key characters are but this is quickly abandoned in favour for newer characters instead. It’s a little inconsistent and this, coupled with the sporadic use of flashbacks, does give Arthdal a more contrived feel than it perhaps should.
Eunseom and Tanya are interesting polar opposites in the show too and, for better or worse, really do a good job depicting their changing fates. The first half of the season feels very much about Eunseom’s journey to Arthdal and overthrowing the current regime. It’s exciting, relatively straight forward and easy enough to follow. It also signifies the high point of Eunseom’s journey before he descends into relative obscurity for the second half.
By contrast, Tanya grows from obscurity into one of the most important characters in Arthdal and if there’s one person who really capitalizes on the confusion and chaos this season, it’s her. The journey she takes into embracing her destined role is easily the highlight of the entire show and is written perfectly throughout the series.
Beyond the story though, Arthdal Chronicles is certainly an impressive venture. The world building is concise, the prophecies are well written and believable, and the acting throughout the season is excellent, even if a lot of the Wahan Tribe do devolve into crying fits for the first set of episodes.
With an ending that leaves things wide open going into next year’s second season, Arthdal Chronicles is an expensive experiment that mostly pays off. The initial bad press the show received in regards to its comparisons to Game Of Thrones are completely unjustified and to be honest Arthdal Chronicles is a massive improvement over some of the later seasons of HBO’s fantasy epic.
There’s no doubt that Arthdal Chronicles had a lot riding on it given its heavy investment of won each episode, and it’s certainly one of the stronger Korean dramas this year. I’m a sucker for fantasy as it is and while the series does play closer to a politically-driven drama, there’s enough here to make it one of the more exciting shows of the year, no doubt. Quite what will happen next season remains to be seen but for now Arthdal Chronicles bows out its first season in style, making it a Korean drama well worth checking out.
Verdict - 8/10