The king is said to be ill and has not been seen in public for so long that people suspect he is dead, and if he is, the crown prince becomes the new ruler. Which is a problem for the prince’s new mother-in-law, the king’s new and young wife from a once rival clan. She is extremely pregnant and whether the king is alive or dying after she gives birth, then her child becomes the legitimate heir to the throne. Her Father is one of the most powerful political figures in the country, and he will stop at nothing to secure a dynasty for his family, even if that means sending guards to hunt down and execute the crown prince.
This is the excellent misguidance of Netflix Kingdom. If you’ve only got half the story, it’s a captivating, beautifully costumed medieval Korean drama full of palace intrigue, backstabbing, and intrigue. It’s the kind of thing that, as a movie, would be the best bait for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. What sets it apart is that it is also crawling with zombies.
TO Kingdomit’s a huge credit, it’s not just The walking dead with a prettier backdrop. On the one hand, it has an additional wrinkle that gives the plot the opportunity to develop: in this world, zombies do not move during the day. For all intents and purposes, these are just ordinary corpses when the sun is up, though they inexplicably huddle together, making it nearly impossible for survivors to convince people of the impending horror. This gives a certain punctuation to the bloody violence. Rather than the world immediately descending into apocalyptic chaos or grim survivalism, all of the political drama continues to unfold.
The king technically is dead, you see, the victim of a mysterious medical treatment that, rather than curing his lingering illness, turned him into a rabid, pulseless cannibal. He is chained to his quarters and feeds an occasional servant to satisfy him. The queen’s goal is to keep her kind of death a secret until the birth of her child. Completely aloof Crown Prince Yi Chang just wants to know what’s going on, and his investigation leads him to yet another zombie outbreak in a poor rural hospital run by the doctor who cared for the king. The queen’s father would rather have the prince died than know the truth.
Of course, great zombie stories are rarely about the zombies themselves. They replace many social anxieties: nuclear war, consumerism, natural disaster. In this case, writer Kim Eun-hee and director Kim Seong-hun breathed new life into the zombie trope by merging it not only with period drama, but also brutal social oppression. Poverty and famine are at the root of the epidemic, and power-hungry royals and their sycophants are responsible at just about every stage of the crisis exacerbating. They can’t imagine fighting the zombies without trying to consolidate their own status and prestige at the same time, leaving peasants and farmers to get their throats gnawed. Unfortunately for bureaucrats and officials, zombies don’t see the class.