After ravenously devouring the first season of Netflix’s Kingdom, I simply couldn’t help but continue the medieval Korean carnage with its recent second season. The finale of season 1 ended on a cliffhanger with Prince Lee Chang and his former master Lord Ahn Yeong making a stand against the army of the dead with the warriors of Sangju. Right around the same time, a shocking discovery was made by the physician Seo-bi about the undead that could determine the fate of the kingdom of Joseon. If the first season was the appetizer, then season 2 is the mouthwatering entree fans have been waiting for. In nearly every single way, Kingdom’s second season surpasses its first with frightening ambition!
The civil war between Prince Lee Chang’s loyalists and the Haewon Cho royalists in the first season is now in full swing. Amidst the chaos of the undead epidemic caused by Chief State Councilor, Lord Cho Hak-ju’s devious plan to resurrect the King of Joseon, Lee and Cho see both peril and opportunity to further expand their power. The court politics this time around takes a backseat to the various skirmishes taking place across the troubled nation.
As Lord Cho’s hidden coup unravels, more secrets begin to come to light that will forever change Lee Chang’s world and his battle to claim his birthright as King of Joseon. While all this is going on, Lord Cho Hak-ju’s daughter, Queen Cho begins to grow more independent of her father’s influence. She too has dreams of empire. The Kingdom of Joseon has become a battlefield for both the living and the dead!
The major plot threads introduced in the first season of Kingdom come to a mostly satisfying resolution by the end of season 2. From Lord Ahn’s reveal of a Haewon Cho mole within Lee Chang’s ranks to the true origins behind the undead to Queen Cho’s scheme to solidify her position. All of them are seen to their natural conclusions with results that will leave fans both cheering and weeping. The twists this time around are bigger than ever before with plenty of cathartic moments of karmic payback, exciting battles and heartbreaking tragedies.
That being said, I once again reiterate my point that more seasoned viewers will see a good chunk of these twists and plot beats coming a mile away. Nonetheless, most of them manage to still stick the landing. Setting up major stakes for future events. Season 2 is in a way seen as a conclusion of the arc begun in the first season regarding the Lee Chang-Haewon Cho Civil War. It all reaches a resounding crescendo with the season’s final battle within the Royal Palace. Beyond the overarching narrative, season 2 also manages to add some real depth to fan favourites of the first season. Throughout the war, there are tender and comedic moments of camaraderie that give us a brief respite from the looming doom hanging over Korea.
One of the reasons I’ve really come to enjoy Kingdom is due to its unpretentious nature. It’s not trying to sell itself as a highbrow political drama a’la House of Cards or contrive needless, gloomy pathos for its characters via The Walking Dead. There’s always been this earnest, fun energy about Kingdom that kept me deeply invested in its plot and characters. This is in no small part due to the stellar performances given by the show’s cast.
Actor Ju Ji-hoon reprises his role yet again as the noble, if somewhat one-note, Prince Lee Chang. Season 2’s script at the very least gives Ju meatier material to work. Though, Lee Chang’s personality is often overshadowed by his function to the plot. He is the Crown Prince first and Lee Chang second, if you catch my drift. Rye Seung-ryong’s Lord Cho Hak-ju also returns as the ruthless patriarch of the Haewon Cho clan. Seeing Rye’s Lord Cho finally step out of the shadows to take a more proactive role in the war certainly made for interesting moments this season.
Surprisingly enough, he doesn’t really take centre stage as the season’s main antagonist. That honour goes to Kim Hye-jun’s Queen Cho. Kim channels her inner Cersei Lannister/Claire Underwood as Queen Cho grows from Lord Cho’s familial lackey to being the most powerful figure in the land. Kim’s Queen Cho isn’t the only minor character to be given this treatment. Kingdom’s second season wisely takes its time in further growing its secondary characters with a healthy does of personal arcs and flashbacks.
Kim Sang-ho’s Mu Yeong’s story definitely takes an interesting turn as we see his past catch up with him. We also everyone’s favourite badass rifleman Yeong-Sin, played by Kim Sung-kyu, come to terms with the trauma of his past. Finally accepting his part to play by Lee Chang’s side. He leaves the life of a lone drifter behind to become a true hero to the common man. A rather similar journey is seen with Jeon Seok-ho’s Cho Beom-pal, the black sheep of the Haewon Cho clan. His path from bumbling coward to…well bumbling warrior was one I found quite endearing. Bae Doo-na’s Seo Bi mostly stays the same from the first season. Her character mainly serves to give exposition and move the plot along.
The same undead ghouls you remember from the first season are still just as frightful and animated as they were before. Kingdom’s second season maintains its previous approach in creating its zombies with practical effects and minimal CG work. The issue with zombie-based series or films is that once our characters become accustomed to killing the undead, the horde doesn’t seem so threatening anymore.
Thankfully, Kingdom avoids falling into this trap by introducing interesting and innovative action set-pieces that make the environment as much of a character as the monsters running through them. Lavish palaces can become bottle-neck kill zones and tunnels claustrophobic and frantic escape routes. The show also amps up the gore with soldiers battling both the living and the dead. There are some scenes of stunning brutality that will leave you winging and giddy with excitement.
Netflix’s Kingdom season 2 is a step up from the already impressive first. Its story somehow manages to feel both ambitious and personal, with greater emphasis on character development. All brought to life with spirited performances and ambitious action set-pieces. If you still haven’t given a Kingdom a watch, then I have to ask: What the hell are you waiting for? This is the perfect time to catch it on Netflix before we all have to go back to the outside world!