I am sick to death of zombies, and have been for a few years now. In films they’re the laziest monster, laying around for years without reaching an expiration date, yet always seeming to last just long enough to catch their victims. (Seriously, you want me to believe that 20 years after the pandemic infection event, there’s still armies of fresh corpses waiting to snack on four people? Oy.) In video games, they’re a programmer’s dream come true, since they barely need any AI or pathing coded in. Just fill a map with a hundred copy-pasta enemies and clock out. Problem solved.
More to the point, zombies in any medium just don’t scare me any more, I think because I’m over the hill and looking at a real death more squarely in its hollow skull sockets. Besides, if there ever really was a zombie apocalypse, I’m in lousy shape and would likely die in the first five minutes. I’m okay with that, and I’m making my peace with death rather than whistling past the graveyards. It’s just that now, it takes more than an shambling corpse to scare me. (Side note: killer sharks still seem to work on me for some reason I can’t explain.)
So what would it take to convince me to watch yet another zombie show? Turns out, adding political intrigue during the late Joseon period in Korea. Give me a scheming handsome prince with muddled but mostly good intentions, an evil young queen and her equally evil daddy, and suddenly I’m hooked like a catfish to stink bait. Despite being the centerpiece to this story, for me the zombies fall by the wayside under the weight of fascinating characters and even more intriguing political machinations.
Based on a comic series, Kingdom begins with an investigation into a treasonous message that the king is dead and soon a new king will rise up to take over the country. Minister Cho Hak-jo suspects the message is being sent by Prince Yi-Chang, whose claim to the throne is now in jeopardy because his mother was a concubine, while his step-mother the queen is pregnant and seemingly ready to deliver a true heir soon.
The queen and minister both claim the king is very ill, forbidding anyone from entering his palace, but a servant is soon eaten by the king, suggesting he isn’t just dead, but undead. The body of the dead servant is carried away to a country hospital, where, in a moment of head banging stupidity, a soldier decides to feed the patients the body to prevent them from starving. From this mistake, the zombie apocalypse begins.
But never mind that, because it turns out the prince really is behind the treasonous message, and upon learning of his father’s plight, he only becomes more invested in overthrowing his step-mother and her minister. But for every positive change he enacts to garner support among the common folk, Cho Hak-jo finds ways to sabotage his efforts. It’s this tug of war that kept me tuning in, and the times when I gasped out loud weren’t cause by terror of a zombie, but instead were sounds of shock or surprise at the latest twist in the plot.
I want to talk about many more of the cast members with gushing praise, but IMDB is fairly light on the casting credits, as well as the character names, leaving me grasping at roles in the broadest sense. There’s the duty bound nurse, the mysterious sniper, a newly appointed minister of a small town, his weasely assistant, and the prince’s loyal bodyguard. All of these characters are fantastic, and after the midway point, I found myself commenting to my husband, “I hope a zombie doesn’t get them.” (Obviously I can’t say if they survive or not because spoilers.)
If I have any complaints about the series, it’s that damned cliff hanger of an ending. How can anyone be so cruel as to leave viewers hanging like that? It’s damned wretched cruelty, is what it is, and whoever decided to end the season that way should be forced to attend a grand buffet and be forbidden to eat anything. They can watch everyone else eating and complimenting how good the food is. (I mean, sure, I can think of worse punishments, but I need these people to survive to make season 2. Preferably without a frickin’ cliff hanger as bad as the first season.)
I’ll give Kingdom 5 stars. It takes a genre I’ve grown tired of and breathes new undead life into it by forcing the monsters to share the stage with ancient politicians, and that addition makes all the difference in the world for me. I’d recommend it to fans of zombies, historic dramas, or West Wing.