I have been writing about The Walking Dead for many years now, but long before the AMC series, I was a massive fan of zombie movies. A decade after The Walking Dead inspired dozens of new zombies series and then seemingly consumed them all, I remain — as ever — a huge fan of the genre. Save for Netflix’s phenomenal Black Summer, however, not a lot of zombie TV shows have broken through in recent years. Nevertheless, one rises above them all: Kingdom.
Like The Walking Dead, Kingdom is also based on a comic book, Kim Eun-Hee’s Kingdom of the Gods, but unlike the Virginia set series and its Texas based spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, Kingdom is set in Korea during the Joseon period — in the 1600s, to be exact. Kingdom is Netflix’s first original Korean series, and it is stunningly good. Like the best zombie movies and television series, Kingdom would be good even without the zombies. It’s a show about class, about corruption, and about a kingdom’s inability to stop the deadly spread of a disease (some of these themes may sound familiar right now).
The backdrop of Kingdom is this: There are rumors that the King of Joseon is dead, and as these rumors spread, there’s a call to crown his successor, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon). Inside the palace, however, others who want to bypass the Crown Prince and install their own king (a baby soon to be born) manage to keep the King “alive” by feeding him a plant, which turns him into a ferocious zombie. After someone in a poor town uses an infected person as meat in a soup, the outbreak spreads from the King to that small village. Ultimately, the Crown Prince, along with his guard, a warrior, and a doctor, fight to protect the townspeople from the zombies while also protecting themselves from the palace’s corrupt forces.
After the opening episode lays the foundation, Kingdom is a dense and briskly-paced series, but it is something that a lot of zombie series aren’t anymore: terrifying. The zombies are the fast-moving, Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead variety — feral, ferocious creatures that spring and jump and travel in large hordes. However, unlike most zombies, these lay dormant during the day, and they hide in packs underneath houses. Somehow, they are almost more terrifying during while they are harmless and asleep. However, as scary as Kingdom can be, it can also be brilliantly funny, not just in terms of the characters, but in the physical actions of the zombies, too.
Thematically, like Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, Kingdom explores class inequities, and while the series itself is about a zombie outbreak, it’s based on an actual plague during the Joseon dynasty that killed tens of thousands of people, a period in which the powerful presumably trampled upon those without it. What is also remarkable — and in some ways seems to mirror our current environment — is that even as the disease spreads, the politicians continue to brazenly vie for more power as thousands beneath them die.
Politics aside, however, Kingdom is terrific, terrifying, occasionally funny, and always entertaining zombie series. Especially for those of us who have gone six weeks without our The Walking Dead fix, this Netflix series perfectly fits the bill.