East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Palace intrigue and zombies


I am not particularly fond of the zombie craze of these last few years. I watched the classics, I do enjoy the occasional recent movie, I even wrote a story set in a post-apocalyptic sorta-zombie story, a long time ago, as part of a shared universe a friend created, but I find it damn hard to do something new and cool and meaningful with zombies.
On the other hand, when I find someone that’s actually able to do something new and cool and meaningful, I like it a lot.

Case in point: Kingdom, a South Korean TV/Netflix TV series that pits its main characters against a horde of zombies in 15th century Korea.
And weirdly enough, it’s based on a true story.

There are many reasons why the story works – at least why it works for me.

Kingdom crosses the classic zombie apocalypse theme with period drama and classic palace intrigue: as the world is menaced by the walking dead, rival clans vie for power and leave the population to fend for themselves. This sets the stakes for the main characters, and also allows the writers to do some sharp satire, alternating horror, drama and comedy.


The zombies in the series have an original, intelligent origin, and are different enough: they are fast zombies (meaning they can run) and they are exclusively nocturnal, crawling in some hideaway to escape the sun. This automatically sets the rhythm of the show, as the days are quiet – or devoted to mundane mischief and betrayal – and the nights are filled with horror.
Also, it’s good to see different zombies for a change.

The setting is very different, especially for Western viewers. Kingdom is beautiful to behold, with great costumes and fantastic locations, shot in bright colors. Given the historical setting, we get swordplay and low-tech zombie-hunting.

The main plot follows Prince Yi-Chang, heir to the throne outlawed by his rival clan (and by an extremely sinister queen), travel to a provincial city looking for clues about what he believes was the murder of his father. He finds much worse stuff going on. In his quest, the prince is accompanied by his bodyguard Moo-Young, that manages to be both a competent character and a source of comedy relief. They are joined by a woman physician, Seo-Bi, and by a mysterious adventurer, Yeong-Shin, that witnessed (and possibly were involved in provoking) the first outbreak of the zombie plague.

Interestingly enough, as I said at the start, the whole premise of the series is based on a true story: a great death, possibly a plague, mentioned in the ancient Korean chronicles, the result of the mismanagement of the state on the part of greedy politicians.
What if those dead bodies just had not stayed dead?, asked herself series writer Kim Eun-hee.

The first series of six episodes debuted ion Netflix at the beginning of this year, in a subtitled version. A second season is currently in the work.
It’s a nice mix of horror and intrigue, with a good setting and high production values, and it’s highly recommended.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Palace intrigue and zombies

  1. Saw it and enjoed it very much


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