Beautifully presented and dripping in Asian culture, zombie action-thriller Kingdom is quite the thrill ride. Split across six hour-long episodes, Kingdom effortlessly blends political drama with a thrilling action plot, full of beautifully shot set pieces. While the series does suffer a little from some overacting and the bites of humour don’t always hit, the fresh, medieval time period combined with an empathetic group of characters at its core helps Kingdom really thrive. The cliffhanger ending is a bit of a gut punch but despite that, there’s enough here to keep you hooked throughout and eager to sink your teeth into the inevitable second season.
The story begins slowly, using its first episode to show off the gorgeous setting of Hanyang in South Korea as we revel in the rich history this culture has to offer. It’s here where we’re introduced to Crown King Lee Chang who, upon noticing letters up around the City declaring his Father’s dead, is refused entry to see him courtesy of the cold, calculated Queen. The story then splits somewhat, following physician Seo-Bi in Jiyulheon while jumping back to Lee Chang before they come together. It’s here where the story kicks into gear as they make a horrific discovery together, learning the dead are coming back to life and mercilessly hunting the living.
Chaos inevitably breaks out and what follows are several episodes of thrilling chases, fighting and generally well shot action sequences placed between the characterisation of our dysfunctional group fighting to survive. There are elements of political maneuvering with the Queen and the revealed fate of the King but for the most part the central focus is on our group. While this storyline is something we’ve seen time and time again, the changed setting of medieval Korea works surprisingly well to keep things feeling fresh and new. Seeing the group run away from a horde of zombies with a flimsy wooden cart in tow or watching various soldiers fighting with samurai swords and arrows adds an element of danger missing from some of the more modern adaptations.
Taking cues from 2015’s zombie game Dying Light, Kingdom uses the same rules around its zombies here. It turns out the undead really don’t like the sun and will only come out at night. This gives a good time-frame for the series to swing between tense action and more sombre, character-developing moments without it feeling unnatural. It works surprisingly well too although very late on a new plot revelation turns the concept completely on its head. I won’t reveal what that is here of course but suffice to say, it may just offset the balance of the second season.
Still, Kingdom has a lot going for it and alongside the tense action and well written plot, the characterisation for our core group are well-developed. Whether it be Seo-Bi stepping up and showing off her empathetic selflessness or Lee Chang’s inner conflict around his lineage and morality, there’s enough to chew over here to keep the quieter moments in the series worth sticking with.
Fans of zombies are sure to love Kingdom and the reinvigorated setting and tone of the series works so well to heighten tensions. While the series does suffer a little from overacting and misplaced humour, for the most part Kingdom does an excellent job across its 6 episodes to never feel like it’s outstayed its welcome. The cliffhanger ending is a little annoying but the gorgeous cinematography and well paced plot make this a series worth investing some time into. With a second season already green-lit, it’ll be interesting to see where Kingdom goes from here but based on these 6 episodes, Kingdom looks set to be the latest undead craze and just what the genre needed.