An Utterly Enthralling Watch
When Kingdom dropped on Netflix back in 2019, it brought with it a fresh slice of undead madness. Blending period history with the zombie threat ended up as a stroke of genius, upping the ante with an intriguing blend of political drama and zombie action.
The ensuing result was one of that year’s best shows, with a follow-up last year every bit as endearing. However, an ominous tease of things to come and an almighty cliffhanger left many fans desperate for more.
Ashin of the North is less a tease for season 3 and more about fleshing out the wider world of Korea. It also unveils some pretty massive twists that have big ramifications on the main series and its direction going forward.
Away from the obvious background of Ashin herself, this special episode also sheds light on the origin of the resurrection flower. I won’t go deeper into spoiler territory here but suffice to say, Kingdom fans should be in their element.
To backtrack, Ashin of the North takes place decades before the main series does. Here, we follow a young girl who lives in a border village surrounded by enemies. Her tribe, the Seongjeoyain, are Jurchen but have lived in Joseon for so long that they’ve been cut off from their people and branded as traitors.
Everyone in Ashin’s village are shunned and that’s only made worse with the country facing an invasion to the south from the Japanese. A separate conflict with the Jurchen warriors over land in the North spells even more trouble. Ashin and her villagers find themselves sandwiched in the middle. Suffice to say, it’s a very volatile situation.
When disaster inevitably strikes, Ashin finds herself alone and contemplating using the mythical resurrection flower, saengsacho. As fate would have it, this just so happens to grow naturally around the area. For now she holds off, driven by murderous rage to exact revenge on those who have wronged her.
At its core, Ashin in the North is a revenge thriller wrapped up in typical Kingdom vibes. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and by the end of the episode you’ll undoubtedly find yourself conflicted over Ashin’s motivations. This is absolutely deliberate though and screenwriter Eun-hee Kim has done an excellent job with this character’s journey to reach this point.
Predictably, a lot of the supporting characters don’t really stand out too much. Apart from Ashin’s Father, who gets a good chunk of screen-time early on, a lot of the players here are pretty disposable. This is very much the Jun Ji-Hyun show – and boy does she do a fantastic job bringing Ashin to life.
In fact, her performance really helps elevate this story beyond one of simple revenge into something much more deeply personal. Her facial expressions and moments of vulnerability are easily the stand-outs. Quite how she’s going to affect season 3 is anyone’s guess at this point.
Described as a sidequel to Kingdom, it’s best to watch the two seasons of the show first before diving into this one. In doing so, Ashin of the North feels much more rewarding. There are some big revelations and game-changing reveals here.
Kingdom: Ashin of the North is utterly enthralling and gripping from start to finish. It is a little slower in pace to its serial counterpart, but as a special episode this one certainly packs one heck of a bite!
Read More: Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 Reviews
Verdict - 8/10