The Black Death
Episode 1 of Joseon Exorcist begins with numerous strange creatures standing in ominous rows. In order to protect Joseon from future attacks, soldiers head in and try to find the undead leader. Only by removing the head can they stop this plague of undead minions. Unfortunately it’s too late as a scream pierces the air. A priest speaks Latin, trying in vain to protect the soldiers, as they fight valiantly throughout the night.
Blood soaked and exhausted, King Taejong looks over the various men and women before him. They’ve thwarted the threat but at what cost? As they bow before him, the King too does the same thing as he hears his Father taunt him, showing the blood of Bang-Seok.
This happens to be his youngest brother whom he killed during the Strife of Princes. Grabbing his sword, the King launches forward and takes out the laughing pretender. Only, his Father appears within different villagers, sending the King on a murderous rampage, slashing his blade through innocent people.
We then skip forward 10 years later to the Ming Area, a border between two worlds. Prince Chungnyeong gets off his horse and immediately finds his foot stuck in the stirrups. As he hobbles about, he greets the two priests before him, Marco and John. They seem to be from the Vatican.
Meanwhile, Prince Kangnyeong flies a falcon and marvels as it takes off. Only, there’s bigger problems abound when ominous screaming causes one of these undead soldiers we’ve seen before to infect the Prince’s guard.
A bloody massacre ensues, one that sees a blood-soaked Kangnyeong forced to watch as all his loyal subjects are brutally murdered. Thankfully, a well-placed arrow manages to save the Prince’s life. The undead corpse before him scratches his hand with three deep gashes. When King Taejong sees this, he tasks his subjects with keeping this a secret.
Elsewhere, Crown Prince Yangnyeong exerts his authority, disobeying the King’s rule and drinking wirth his mistress. This is soon interrupted though when word reaches him of the living corpses that are threatening Korea.
On his way back to the Palace, he notices a group of workers struggling to lift a palanquin. As blood spatters on the ground, he notices that this could be a sign of death and orders them all to drop it. Just before they open it though, the Queen Mother requests Yangnyeong’s assistance immediately. Prince Kangnyeong is due to be beheaded.
In the palace, Queen Wonmyung does her best to stop this from happening. The claw marks, as we soon see, are actually turning blue. Now, the falcon did scratch him but so too did the undead soldier so it remains to be seen if he really is infected or not.
The Queen’s impassioned plea is enough for the King to change his mind – at least for now. He tasks the Prince’s hand to be put on ice but he’s clearly still concerned. In fact, he has the Prince tied down to a chair and surrounded by large blocks of ice.
The two priests, Marco and John, gorge themselves with endless plates of food. After, Chungnyeong speaks to the men about the growing plague and where it’s come from. According to him, it seems like it’s spread from the West.
Only, as they open the doors they catch a glimpse of the undead themselves. John immediately starts reciting as the others hold the girl down to the chair.
They do their best to hold her down but it’s no good. It’s not until her head is sliced clean off that they thwart the threat. Men stream into the room, seemingly bandits. As we soon learn, they’re after Wang Yu and believe Chungnyeong is that person. As we soon find out, he most certainly is not. As the bandits leave, they comment on John’s praying outside.
With one of the undead still up and about, the group tie this man down to the table and hold him tight. John begins reciting Latin, eventually leading to him confirming that he’s one of Azazel’s soldiers. Managing to thwart the threat, they perform a Grand Exorcism and stop the plague inside this man.
King Taejong heads to the courtyard and sends the female shamans away. On top of that, he also stops supplies being brought into the palace in a bid to hold back the plague. He keeps the Prime Minister inside, intending to fortify defences, while he himself sets out to the Mountains.
With the King gone, trouble brews at the North Gate. Numerous corpses line the floor as a cackling undead eunuch is quickly dispatched. However, the Minister’s daughter in law – the woman from the palanquin – has vanished. As we soon see, she’s actually inside the Palace.
The Episode Review
Gruesome, violent and tense, Joseon Exorcist gets off to a really great start. There’s certainly some similarities to Kingdom and Game Of Throne’s opening with the White Walkers, especially early on with its slow-burn zombie plague. With 16 episodes to play with here I’d imagine we’ll get a much slower descent into a nightmarish dystopia.
The opening scene is fantastic too, with a slow sense of dread and a group of living corpses that feel quite reminiscent to those from Girl With All The Gifts. The costume design and practical effects are both excellent and right now the two parallel storylines – the King’s and his third-born son – are kept separate until later on down the line.
With the preview for tomorrow’s episode it seems like there’s a King and a leader to all this and perhaps killing him could be key to undoing the plague. Again, the parallels to Game Of Thrones with the Night King seem to be evident here to some degree.
However, this show is not afraid to throw in gore and horror, and the 19 rating this has been given is certainly evidence of that. Based on this showing though, that’s a smart move and we could be in for a horrifying treat to come.
Edit – 26/03/2021 – In light of what’s happened in Korea recently and the outrage surrounding the Chinese influences to this drama, distorting the true history surrounding King Taejong and his people, we have revised our score to 2.5/5 stars rather than 4.
This is due to the distortion of Korean history which we have only just been made aware of. The recap above has been left in its entirety for you to read but we cannot, in good faith, keep the score high after reading about these issues. If you want to read more on what’s happened, Soompi have a great article explaining this HERE.
In the meantime, thank you for reading these recap & reviews!