Part historical political drama, part supernatural zombie horror, the South Korean series Kingdom proved to be a smart, heady, addictive delight when it debuted last year, easily earning a spot on our year's best list for 2019. It boasted stunning visuals, memorable characters, and a juggernaut of a plot, with the occasional moments of comic relief. If anything, S2 is even better. Honestly, between this outstanding series and the Oscar-winning Parasite alone, South Korea has firmly established itself at the forefront of global film and television.
(Spoilers for S1; some spoilers for S2 below the gallery.)
The series is based on a popular South Korean webcomic Kingdom of the Gods by Kim Eun-hee, who also adapted it for television. Set in Korea's Joseon period, ), Kingdom begins as the current king has succumbed to smallpox. His conniving young wife, Queen Cho (Kim Hye-jun), and her family have kept him artificially alive—via a "resurrection plant" that turns the king into a flesh-eating zombie—until her son is born. Her son would inherit the throne over the current Crown Prince, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who was born to a concubine.
The king's "affliction" soon spreads to the outer provinces. The zombie king kills the physician's young assistant, and the body is brought back to his clinic in the remote village of Dongnae, where the people are starving. One of the patients, a former soldier named Yeong-Shin (Kim Sung-kyu), makes a meaty stew with the dead man's body and serves it to the unsuspecting patients, turning them into flesh-eating monsters. The exiled crown prince teams up with a nurse, Seo-bi (Bae Doo-na), and other survivors to beat back the encroaching zombie horde.
This is an expensive series, with superb production values—so much so, that budget overruns resulted in just six S1 episodes. Perhaps that's why the six episodes of S2 feel more like a natural continuation than a whole new storyline. Per the official S2 premise: "As winter approaches, the battle between the living and the undead in Joseon is just beginning. The royal court is teeming with snakes, the zombies are coming, and the crown prince has a nation to save. The worst is yet to come, and everyone will need to choose a side without knowing who they can really trust."