Kingdom is a 2019 South Korean television series. It was written by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Kim Seong-hun. There are six episodes in season one, of which this is the third. The primary cast are (from Wikipedia):
Ju Ji-hoon as Crown Prince Yi Chang
Ryu Seung-ryong as Cho Hak-ju
Bae Doo-na as Seo-bi
Kim Sung-gyu as Yeong-shin
Prince Yi Chang, crown prince of Great Joseon, is trying to discover just what is going on with his father, the king, who is secluded in his palace. The prince is opposed by his stepmother and her Haewon Cho clan. As a result, the prince is now a wanted man. Oh, and the kingdom is threatened with zombie apocalypse.
We learn from a flashback that the Haewon Cho are concealing the death of the king. They hope to keep it secret until the consort gives birth to her child. Once born, the baby will be the heir to the throne. But if the secret leaks out before she can give birth, Prince Yi Chang (the son of a concubine) will become king.
No problem! A court physician believed that he knew how to restore life. He did, but it soon became clear why such a treatment was not in wide use. Corpses come back to life as a ravening zombies.
Patient Zero (the late king) was not contagious, merely extremely dangerous. But one of his victims turned out to be contagious. He was eaten by starving peasants, who all became zombies (or possibly ghouls). The infected are not shambling monsters easy to outrun. They are as fast as any healthy person and seemingly tireless.
The first wave of infection was confined to a clinic that was walled off by terrified peasants. Then authorities moved what they thought were corpses to the nearby town of Dong-nae. Warnings from surviving clinic staffers Yeong-shin and Seo-bi were ignored, right up until the moment the supposed corpses revived and fell on the unfortunate people of Dong-nae.
One horrific night later, the infected retreat from the sun and the remaining inhabitants emerge to consider their next move. The local magistrate and his worthless cronies are initially inclined to focus on punishing Yeong-shin for being adjacent to a disaster and failing to be sufficiently convincing to avert the calamity. Yeong-shin manages to persuade the officials that dealing with the infected is a far more pressing problem.
Korean law forbids killing people without royal assent (so if the infected are in a sense alive, decapitating them may be illegal), and custom forbids desecrating corpses by burning or dismembering them. Prince Yi Chang reveals himself as the crown prince and claims the authority to order extreme measures. Peasant corpses are to be burned; noble corpses are to buried deep. Deep enough, it is hoped, that they will not be able to dig their way out.
But there are too few uninfected citizens left to do the burning and burying. There are too many of them to escape by the only boat available. How on Earth will the self-centred aristocrats of Dong-nae square this circle?
One telling detail I left out of the preceding synopsis: the magistrate tries to seduce Seo-bi (surviving clinic staffer). He is smitten with her after she saves his life during the night of the zombies. Seo-bi, smart cookie that she is, pretends to misunderstand his suave ways as a request for medical treatment and informs him that he has gonorrhea.
Just another aristocrat who shows no concern for the people they rule and should be protecting. With the exception of the crown prince, just about every upper-class character in this series is completely self-centred, focused only on power, wealth, intrigue, and their own pleasure. They notice their servants only when the servants let them down1.
North American movies usually protect viewers from the sight of dying children. Kids are miraculously spared or they die off-stage. That is not the case in this series. Kids are even more vulnerable than their parents; several die on-screen. If this would bother you, skip this episode.
Previous episodes had a high plot to zombie rampage ratio. This episode, which underlines the scale of the problem facing Great Joseon, is just the opposite. Go into this expecting vast amounts of carnage and just enough plot to keep the story moving forward.
As in previous episodes, the acting is engaging and the costumes are sumptuous.
I cannot see how Great Joseon can possibly survive this crisis given that the government is so comprehensively corrupt and ineffective. Of course, showing that official corruption can doom a nation may be the whole point of the series.
Kingdom is available on Netflix.
1: Sometimes servants fail to please if they cannot provide miraculous solutions to problems that are caused by their masters’ greed, lust, and ineptitude.