Without a doubt; the zombie genre has been incredibly influential in shaping American and international pop culture and cinema experiences for decades. An era sprung by George Romero's classics and investigations into shady ritualistic voodoo ceremonies invoked by Haitian witch doctors giving servants corrupted un-life to fulfill menial labor tasks has began a media feeding frenzy that never seems satisfied. Our former friends and family malformed into a twisted; singular-minded form of life intent only on consuming and terrorizing their living counterparts is of undeniable fascination and intrigue. And for good reason. Psychologically; zombies are perhaps the closest "mythical" creature we can identify with our real world today. There are plagues based within insects that resurrect them via the usage of spores, and cannibalistic tribes and individuals bear seemingly no qualms with devouring the flesh and blood of their fellow man as if we were cattle bred for such a purpose. Recently, I've had the distinct pleasure of watching "Kingdom"; a recently produced Netflix original series that depicts a zombie outbreak occurring within Joseon-Dynasty era Korea. Mired in political intrigue and societal inequality; the outbreak devolves into an uncontrollable epidemic that threatens the country at large. But perhaps even more sinister are the backdoor string-pulling antics instigated by the Haewon Cho Clan; the secret masterminds behind all the bedlam; intent on using the chaos created by the zombie outbreak to solidify themselves as Korea's ruling power for centuries to come.
Kingdom is a breath of fresh air for a myriad of reason, but among them is how competently they depict even a medieval military response to an undead outbreak. Zombie media obsesses around the idea of bureaucratic and militaristic incompetence in the face of decaying tides; yet fail to recognize that given enough coordination and time, humanity could persevere through the outbreak. In Joseon-Era Korea, soldiers do not scream and charge headfirst into the zombie ranks (at the very least without a prior plan in mind), nor do they stand shellshocked for several seconds to allow the undead ample time to reach and violently marauder them. Instead, the show balances the intended effect of fear and monstrous power the Infected bear with the resilience and determination of mankind's intelligence ad will to survive. To set the show in a highly bureaucratized and ineffective Korean political structure however; ensures that humanity's efforts to be rid of this awful disease only narrowly fail thanks to the powers that be. Let me explain further:
The show focuses on Prince Lee Chang; a bastard son raised to inherit the throne of Joseon Korea by his father. However; his life has been haunted with the curse of illegitimate parentage, a fact the Haewon Cho Clan; an elite ultra-influential family dynasty in Korea desires to take advantage of to solidify their own places upon the throne. Leading their efforts is Cho Hak-Ju; and I can definitely say in a world where the shambling dead are real, he manages to forge a dark impression as a ruthless and powerful scholar and social magnate that intends to use any means necessary to preserve and increase his power in the country. Using a strange herb dubbed the "Resurrection Plant", Cho Hak-Ju infects the king and morphs him into a savage infected, setting in motion a plan to use his daughter's imminent newborn as his replacement and cement power over the country. Aware of this, Prince Chang and his bodyguard, the loyal Mu-Yeong, travel about into the countryside to uncover the truth of their King's health and Cho's plans. Their storylines intersect with those of Seo-Bi and Yeong-Shin; survivors of a health clinic outbreak that sees the zombie infection begin to savage all of Korea's southern provinces.
To divulge more would be to sully your firsthand experiences watching this treasure. Quite frankly, this is everything Game of Thrones should have been. The intensity of fleeing from a horde of undead terrors only to be brutally reminded that your life is forfeit as political rivals gun for your assassination is a constant rush of viewer-imbued adrenaline that refuses to let go. You are compelled to watch evermore episodes as the cast of characters is expanded and slimmed simultaneously. From the hilarity of Magistrate Cho-Beom Pal, Hak-Ju's nephew, to Queen Cho's growing resentment of her father's seemingly limitless control over her. This all intersects with scenes of the living barely fending off the dead as their biological strengths and weaknesses are explored. Each scene with a 'Monster' (as the show dubs them) is pulse-pounding and impossible to avert one's eyes from despite their wretched nature. However, Kingdom's charm lies not in the outbreak, but rather the secretive court strings and character motivations and ideals being weaved in beneath.
Ultimately, Kingdom's greatest strength is the choice of setting. Allowing this story to be set within an era where Korea was internally weakened by court infighting and externally threatened by machinations of rival powers such as Japan makes every scene regarding the living's incompetence more believable. Because of such a structured and rigid societal form, Cho Hak-Ju's masterful string pulling becomes a practical walk in the palk as he bloodily clambers his way into the chambers of power. Even still, the outbreak being able to claim scores of lives thanks to malnourished peasants being turned away by terrified aristocrats and soldiers is made more believable than in any modern, non post-apocalyptic one. I'd dare to claim the setting is genius and adds to the sheer complexity and intrigue this story provides. I implore you to watch this through any means available; as they have already announced a Season Three and I am currently delving into Season Two, of which I am surely to give a review; most likely another positive one judging by the trajectory Kingdom is taking. Thus, I'd be remiss if not to grant Kingdom a starry 10/10, and an undoubtable eagerness to watch much more!