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Series / Kingdom (2019)

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Kingdom (Korean: 킹덤) is a South Korean television series depicting a zombie outbreak in feudal Korea, written by Kim Eun-hee (Signal) and directed by Kim Seong-hun (A Hard Day). It is loosely based on Eun-hee's Korean web-comic series The Kingdom of the Gods. The show was released worldwide by Netflix in 2019; a second season was followed up in March 2020. A spin-off titled Kingdom: Ashin of the North will be released in 2021.

In the Joseon Era (late 14th- to late 19th-century), when the country was recovering from the Imjin War, word on the street is that the King of Joseon is dead. The powerful Haewon Cho Clan is in almost complete control of the government, and its head, Chief State Councilor Cho Hak-ju (Ryu Seung-ryong of Seoul Station), suspects that the Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) is behind said rumours. The Prince determines that something is seriously wrong with the King and goes to the countryside to investigate matters while being pursued on charges of treason by Cho's force. Meanwhile, in the countryside, physician Seo-bi (Bae Doona of The Host and Sense8) notices that villagers are dropping dead rapidly, but that will soon be the least of her worries...


Tropes included in the series include:

  • All for Nothing: At great risk to himself, the Crown Prince ensures no survivors are left behind as they flee from the ruins of Dongnae to Jiyulheon just as night falls. However, forces loyal to Cho soon track him down and demand his surrender in daytime. When he refuses, Cho's forces unleash a hail of arrows that kills many innocents.
  • Anyone Can Die: The resurrected dead aren't the only things killing the living left and right - the politics of the era, particularly The Conspiracy instigated by the Haewon Cho Clan, ensure all characters would not be spared in order to maintain a facade of normalcy.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Seo-bi brings up a point to Mu-yeong after their rescue from zombies by Lord Ahn Hyeon, "How is it that Lord Hyeon and his men knew how to fight the zombies?". Mu-yeong has no answer but is shown to be discomforted at the idea. It's revealed that in Ahn himself once instigated a zombie outbreak and unleashed it on the Japanese army surrounding Sangju.
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  • Artistic License – History: The Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul (then Hanyang) was burned down during the Japanese invasion, which happened shortly before the show's timeframe. Here it's shown in its modern-day form, which started reconstruction in 1989 after being left in ruins for over three centuries. May not apply because it was revealed that Korea changed the course of the war by weaponizing zombies against the Japanese invaders, pushing this into the realm of Alternate History.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Firearms. While scarce, the rifles and muskets that the characters and soldiers do have are incredibly effective and powerful at taking down zombies, but at this point in history, the technology isn't advanced enough to make it particularly useful. At one point they're used as clubs since it's easier than reloading.
  • Baby Factory: A variation, the Queen has been taking in soon-to-be mothers who are down on their luck and housing them and feeding them, so that at least one boy may be born and raised as a false prince. That said these women are unaware of the purpose of their housing and they're just glad to be given shelter and as much good food as they can eat by their "charitable patron".
  • Badass Bystander: In the fifth episode of Season 2, an unnamed servant armed with only a club and what appears to be the lid to a large pot manages to briefly hold off the undead horde while protecting a group of other servants. He is ultimately overwhelmed, but it was still impressive.
  • Bittersweet Ending: How Season 2 wraps up, with the plague being contained, the Haewon Cho Clan being ousted from most positions of power, and most of the main cast surviving to lead more fruitful lives. However, Prince Chang goes into self-imposed exile, Mu-yeong was killed in the process, his wife left a widow and unable to raise their child, and said child being raised by the state as the heir to the throne, never knowing about his parents. And to make matters worse, there's the implication that someone is trying to start a new outbreak, and it turns out that the young prince isn't entirely cured of the plague as there is still one parasitic worm in his body.
  • Black Comedy:
    • On the night everyone discovers the zombie outbreak, the Prince and his retainers get into a confrontation with a zombie. After failing to kill it, one of the Prince's retainers crawls into a box and closes it when he stumbles on the ground and the zombie is about to go after him.
    • Seo-bi diagnoses the Beom-pal’s illness and tells him that he might he might some pain in his... penis because he has gonorrhoea.
    • In Season 2, Beom-pal ends up on the receiving end of a fountain of zombie blood vomit, straight out of the Evil Dead. Even Yeong-shin is caught off guard by it.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lord Beom-pal. From repeatedly getting caught in zombie attacks to his diagnosis of gonorrhea, the only bit of luck this guy has is that he keeps managing to survive through sheer chance.
  • Cliffhanger:
    • Season 1 ends as the defenders of Sangju prepare to pack up after sunrise until the ground starts vibrating as a horde of zombies appears on the horizon, seemingly unaffected by daylight…
    • Season 2 ends with the reveal that the herb came from China, someone is deliberately spreading them to cause a new outbreak, and the young king is still infected - with a worm making its way to his brain.
  • Darkest Hour: Done both figuratively and literally. The Queen has engineered an outbreak within Hanyang's citadels to make sure that no one shall have the throne, the zombies' advances are unimpeded and Prince Chang's forces have to make a Last Stand in the frozen courtyard pool with absolutely no backup...
  • Daylight Horror:
    • A prime example of this occurs when Seob-il and Prince Chang learn separately that the zombies only go dormant in the daytime when the weather is sufficiently warm. In cold temperatures, they remain active all day and all night. Cue an undead horde descending upon the soldiers who had set up a blockade outside of Sangju and were just about to let down their guard.
    • Likewise, the fifth episode of Season 2 takes place mostly in the daytime, which provides plenty of scenes of the undead running rampant through the Royal Palace.
  • Decadent Court: The general politics during the series' time isn't stable, which the bottom of the palace's pond is filled with the corpses of those who were caught in the court intrigue. Lee Chang became a target of this with the birth of his half brother that entailed the possibility of his succession rights relinquished due to his birth from a concubine rather than a consort. Even in the zombie outbreak, the aristocracy and ruling clan still attempt to vie for power and sometimes take advantage of the chaos.
  • Death of a Child:
    • In Episode 1, a boy's corpse is made into stew. At the end of the episode, a young girl is the first to die from the stew.
    • Averted at the beginning of Episode 3. The rooftop survivors save a kid and save a baby even when its mother is a lost cause. Played straight soon enough, with a kid getting bitten by a zombified kid in a game of chase gone wrong and another kid getting attacked by her zombified mother while their sibling watches hidden sight from sight.
    • Played straight again in Episode 4 when the small girl Seo-bi was fond of is struck down by a hail of arrows fired by Cho's forces, who were demanding Prince Chang's surrender at Jiyulheon.
  • Determinator: Not even being bitten stops Prince Chang from breaking the frozen courtyard's pool in his Last Stand. He finishes off the zombie horde by literally slamming a large zombie into the weakened ice!
  • Didn't Think This Through: At the beginning of Episode 3, a lord and his retainers attempt to escape from zombies by crawling under the crawlspace between the ground and a part of a building. Since these zombies are smart enough to crawl (and can move fast), it gets a bunch of them killed.
  • The Dung Ages: This isn't quite evident in more urbanised, royal cities like Hanyang (i.e., modern-day Seoul), and the setting is Early Modern Korea rather than the strictly medieval Western Europe, but remote provincial towns like Dongnae are positively filthy, with people wearing constantly soiled clothes, alleys choked with mud, and open sewer channels, one of which even features a small child openly defecating into it. (The actual act isn't shown on camera, of course, but it's obvious what the kid is doing.) Prince Chang can't help but hold his nose.
  • Elite Mook: What Yeong-shin used to be. The Crown Prince is told that the only people who shoot on the level of Yeong-shin are the Chakho, a special unit of soldiers used for hunting down wild tigers.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Cho Hak-ju of all people, while cruel, sadistic, and power-hungry, genuinely wants the best for the nation, and even dies attempting to exile his own daughter when he realizes that she's trying to pass off a commoner's baby as the rightful heir to the throne.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The resurrection medicinal herb that leads to the zombie outbreak was found in an icy cave. This is also reflected in the zombies' ability to rise - they can stay active in cold climates, such as night time.
  • Facial Horror:
    • In a flashback, we see the people in Yeong-shin's home village having their faces covered in bloody bandages. This is likely a result of Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordering the invading Japanese soldiers to bring back severed Korean noses for their remuneration claim. It may also be connected to the fact that the village is said to be afflicted with some kind of disease.
    • Lord Cho Hak-Ju also gets a dose of this when a zombified Lord Ahn Hyeon tears into his cheek.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Surprisingly enough, Beom-pal and Yeong-shin after being lumped together during the final battle of Season 2, sustaining a decently warm camaraderie seven years later.
  • From Bad to Worse:
    • The initial outbreak was confined to Jiyulheon and was in fact relatively well contained by the two survivors of the first night (Seo-bi and Yeong-shin). Armed with the correct knowledge and equipment, the initial group of zombies could have been easily dispatched.
    • However, things rapidly spiral out of control once the "bodies" are discovered and moved to Dongnae, allowing the zombies to infect even more people. By the end of Season 1, only the city-fortress of Sangju remains uninfected - meaning the infection has free reign over the entire southern region.
    • Things take another turn for the worse after it's revealed that the zombies fear heat and not sunlight itself, just as the weather begins shifting to winter. As it gets colder, the zombies can now remain active during the daytime, meaning the living no longer have any respite from their attacks…
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Queen herself, who is willing to make use of a devastating zombie outbreak in order to keep her hold on the throne.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Lord Cho Hak-ju only wished to bring the emperor back to life long enough for his daughter to bear the Emperor's child. This decision leads to a zombie plague being unleashed upon Korea and thousands being killed.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Beom-pal throughout seasons 1 and 2, continually shifting allegiance to his clan, the prince, and himself, before finally settling on Prince Chang after realizing how monstrous his clan has actually become once told to execute innocent civilians.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When Prince Chang, Lord Ahn Hyeon, Yeong-shin and the other survivors from the failed blockade try to flee through a canal, they are unable to close the gates, which would allow the horde of undead to follow them into the city. Lord Ahn Hyeon’s lead guard stabs himself through a chain linking the gates, blocking the passage.
  • Human Pincushion: Mu-yeong is impaled and shot with several arrows by Lord Cho Hak-ju's men midway through the second season. He lives just long enough to tell Prince Chang about the Queen's gathering of pregnant women, including his wife.
  • Ice Queen: The Queen is this in spades when she's not occasionally giggling. Hell, she's not even flinching at all when the zombies that she released deliberately are just an inch in front of her, ready to devour her mercilessly!
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Yeong-shin is a crack shot with a musket he salvaged during the retreat from Dongnae to Jiyulheon, achieving headshots on fast-moving zombies dangerously close to the Crown Prince. He later participates in an ambush against Cho's forces and takes out multiple soldiers with clean headshots using a musket from relatively long-range.
  • It's Personal: Cho Hak-ju swears revenge on the Crown Prince after receiving his son's head, which was recovered from Jiyulheon. It's unclear whether he knows (or cares) that the Crown Prince was forced to behead his son after he was infected and turned into a zombie.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: One of the first signs that something's amiss is the forests around Jiyulheon being unnaturally quiet, as they are devoid of wildlife.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: During a famine, Yeong-shin is able to find a source of meat for the village to eat. Seo-bi discovers that it's made from the corpse of a boy they had taken in. Cue Nausea Fuel.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Yeong-shin defends feeding everyone human meat by reasoning that either they could continue to survive no matter the cost or die off because they couldn't settle on a trivial matter such as morality.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Yeong-shin defends feeding everyone at Jiyulheon human meat by pointing out that people are putting their lives at peril over moral quarrels. In Episode 3, he explains that they should bury or burn the zombies as soon as possible before nightfall, but then the remaining villagers object to burning the bodies because it's culturally disrespectful and the nobles want to separate the peasant corpses from the noble corpses, a difficult task since they would have to destroy the heads, making identification hard.
  • Kill It with Water: The parasitic worms which started the outbreak are extremely hydrophobic; the zombies themselves will also refuse to cross bodies of water that are shallow enough to walk through. In fact, the worms will immediately expel themselves from the host body if submerged in water, allowing freshly bitten victims to avoid zombification by removing the parasite before it reaches the brain.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Both Cho Hak-ju and the Queen end up on the receiving end - the former has his cheek bitten off by the zombified Ahn Hyeon (he gets cured of the parasites, but dies nonetheless later on) and the latter allows herself to be devoured alive by the zombies as she refuses to surrender her throne to the Crown Prince. Given their highly immoral actions throughout the series, their gruesome deaths are well-deserved.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": A particularly good use of this trope comes at the end of Season 1, when they learn the hard way that the zombies are not affected by daylight, but heat. Right as a horde of them bears down upon Sangju/
  • The Medic: When her knowledge of the resurrection plant isn't in use, Seo-bi effectively fills this role for the heroes (and in one case, the villain). She also has a few badass moments, like covering herself with a flaming blanket to save a baby from zombies.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: During the assault on Mungyeong Saejae, Lord Ahn Hyeon is shot with a hail of bullets. After he is resurrected as a zombie, he is hit another hail of bullets and arrows, but because none of them hit him in the head, he stays on his feet.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Yeong-shin after feeding the village human meat, since it ended up turning almost everyone in the village into zombies.
  • Nice Hat: The various historically accurate Joseon-era hats were so fancy to foreign viewers that they became touted as a key reason to watch the show.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The Jerkass nobles and police lock away Yeong-shin in jail, but it becomes helpful when the zombies come. Almost all of the nobles and police involved in this end up getting killed when they try to use the jail cells while trying to escape the zombies.
  • No-Sell: When the zombie outbreak happens, numerous characters have trouble trying to kill the zombies because they strike them anywhere else besides the head. A decapitation or other head injury works just fine, per usual.
  • Not Me This Time: Averted. The Crown Prince admits he knowingly conspired with others to overthrow the Queen in order to bypass the line of succession early on in Episode 1.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: The authorities discover the corpses at Jiyulheon and bring them back to the village of Dongnae to investigate the matter. Too bad they're zombified.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: These zombies are created as the result of an Healing Herb believed to have the ability to raise the dead. Like most traditional zombies, they look like decayed walking corpses, cannot talk, eat human flesh, can only die through decapitation, and turn anyone they successfully bite into more zombies. However, they can run and move fast, and they're only active at night, hiding under the shade and dark places the moment daylight hits and seemingly reverting back to regular corpses until nightfall strikes again. Further differentiating, they aren't afraid of fire or sunlight per se, but heat. If it gets warm or hot enough, they try to hide in cool places and go dormant but are perfectly able to operate during the day if it's cold enough.
  • Patricide: The Queen has always known that her father Lord Cho Hak-ju hates her for being a female child of his. So she happily poisons him when he discovers her plan to pass off a commoner baby as her son.
  • Pet the Dog: Yeong-shin attempts to save a woman and her baby at the beginning of Episode 3, and though it's sadly too late to save the mother, he manages to grab the baby before the zombies can get it too.
  • Police Are Useless: The nobles and guards ditch Yeong-shin who they had jailed and tossed the keys to him almost out of reach. To be fair, the guy was largely responsible for the outbreak.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: It's actually worms living in the resurrection plant that creates the monsters, making the infected a type of Parasite Zombie.
  • Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice: In response to the rapidly spreading outbreak, Cho Hak-ju orders the closing of all gates into Sangju, effectively sealing the entirety of the southern Korean peninsula from the capital Hanyang (present-day Seoul) and trapping the Crown Prince with a growing zombie horde.
  • Rescue Romance: A one-sided version, Lord Beom-pal is in love with Seo-bi after she saved his life from a guard turned zombie. She doesn't return the feeling as his cowardice had led him to abandon the Crown Prince and the peasantry of Dongnae, leading to many innocents dying.
  • Riches to Rags: The Crown Prince has an uncle, Naseong, who was exiled to an island. Naseong does worry about where he's going to get his next meal especially during this time of famine, but otherwise, he's happy to be away from court intrigue.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Since nobody within the government bothers to eradicate the zombie plague either out of sheer incompetence or due to The Conspiracy, only Prince Chang remains to defend his people from the plague and the more oppressive members of the royal family.
  • Running Gag: Yeong-shin body-slamming into things (and people).
  • Sacrificial Lion: Mu-yeong, the Prince's guard and personal advisor, bites it halfway through Season 2, in a hail of arrows from members of the Haewon Cho Clan.
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: The starving villagers are tricked into drinking stew made out of a diseased corpse while thinking it is actually venison. This is also the origin of the outbreak.
  • Secret Weapon: How Lord Ahn Hyeon and 500 soldiers were able to hold off the Japanese invasion. Because Cho Hak-ju approached Hyeon with the resurrection plant and the plan of converting the sickly Sumang village into zombies to unleash on the Japanese. A reluctant Hyeon does not stop Cho...
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: The Crown Prince, while generally a noble and righteous character, has clearly never ventured much outside of the Palace. While he is initially repulsed by the countryside's poverty, it soon dawns upon him how vulnerable the commoners are, and becoming a protector of the peasantry (as opposed to the nobility's generally hostile and classist attitudes) is part of his Character Development over the series.
  • Super Senses: The zombies have an extremely acute sense of smell, and are particularly attracted to the scent of fresh blood. This is also exploited by the heroes, who use it as a particularly effective way to divert their attention.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Lord Ahn Hyeon is seemingly killed in a futile attempt to reach the Crown Prince after entering a trap set by Cho Hak-ju during Season 2. However, the public circumstances of his death was a plan organised to prove the existence of the resurrection herb and thereby implicating Cho in a cover-up of the King's death. When Cho Hak-ju orders the transfer of the captured Crown Prince and his allies to Hanyang, Seo-bi resurrects Ahn Hyeon as a zombie during their attempted jailbreak.
  • Token Good Teammate: Of the Haewon Cho Clan, the only good member of the prominent Cho clan is Beom-pal, who's a pretty kind guy and actually does wish to help people rather than use them as tools. Unfortunately, he's a doormat for bad advisors and he's loyal to the clan, including the evil Cho Hak-ju, so ends causing as much death as his crueller relatives (he's responsible for a lot of deaths at Jiyulheon and his acting on Cho Hak-ju's orders leads directly to Mu-yeong's death).
  • Tongue Trauma: There is a graphic scene in the fifth episode of Season 2 where a zombie tears the tongue from a hapless victim's mouth.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Despite having witnessed first-hand the destruction caused by the zombies, an elderly noblewoman insists on smuggling her infected son out in a locked crate to spare his body from being burned. This is in spite of Seo-bi specifically warning survivors that the zombies seek shelter during daytime and will reanimate in the evening. Naturally, when night falls, the zombie reanimates and wipes out everyone aboard the boat.
    • Considering the nobles deliberately abandoned the other survivors (who were all commoners) just before nightfall, their fates were well-deserved.
  • Torture Always Works: Averted. The Royal Commandery uses the old "bamboo shoots under fingernails" technique to glean information from the Queen's fanatically loyal handmaids, but they refuse to talk.
  • Trapped with Monster Plot: On the night of the outbreak, the jail gets infested with zombies when the nobles try to hide there. One retainer gets his hand bitten while reaching outside of the cell to lock the door and he ends up turning (although they manage to kill him after he turns). An inmate who has his neck cuffed on a wooden block with another inmate gets trapped when his partner turns into a zombie and their cell is surrounded by zombies. He ends up getting bitten.
  • Undying Loyalty: Because of Prince Chang's leadership skills, charisma and overall kindness, many found themselves to be extremely loyal to him in the face of a zombie plague, even when they have no more reason to stick around him, such as Yeong-shin.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Yeong-shin thought that he was just feeding a bunch of starving people when he put Dan-i's body into the stewpot. Suddenly, what was a very limited and isolated condition becomes dozens of highly-infectious zombies.
    • Later, the Crown Prince and his bodyguard Mu-yeong find the massacre at the Jiyulheon clinic, which has at least been effectively contained within the clinic's walls. They then find corpses tucked under the floor, so they inform the authorities who collect the bodies. This leads to a zombie attack, as the corpses were only dormant because it was daytime and they reanimated later on.
  • Velvet Revolution: Chang's ousting of the Queen is relatively quick and bloodless. First, he tips the scale of balance by diverting the Queen's army away from the city and smuggling his own men inside. Once there, they seal off the gates and trap the Queen inside with no army left. Court officials promptly defect to the Prince's side and arrest all of the Queen's remaining loyalists. With that, the Queen is rendered completely defenseless and Chang is able to take back his throne with minimal loss of life on both sides. That is, until the Queen pulls one last card from under her sleeves...
  • Viral Transformation:
    • Initially averted: the first victim of a zombie is mauled to death, but did not transform into one himself. However, his body remained infectious, so the people who unknowingly ate his flesh later died and reanimated.
    • Played straight from this point - anyone bitten afterwards would very swiftly transform in a matter of minutes. The doctor who used the herb notices this and interprets it as a sign that the infection is mutating to become more effective.
    • It's also averted in the backstory, where Lords Ahn Hyeon and Cho Hak-ju have to slaughter the entire population of the village of Sumang and individually reanimate the bodies to create their undead army. Furthermore, none of the invading Japanese are shown reanimating and the survivors are defeated by a badly under strength Korean force, suggesting that the infection wasn't transmissible.
  • Wham Episode:
    • The season 1 finale reveals that the zombies rest not because of daylight, but because of the heat. This is realized just as winter is approaching in Korea... Oh, and the Queen is not actually pregnant, but has a whole room-full of surrogate mothers whom she's counting on to deliver at least one son.
    • The season 2 finale shows that someone is deliberately spreading the resurrection plant throughout Korea and also that the young king is still infected with the parasitic worms.
  • Wham Shot:
    • One of the Queen's new maids gasps when she undresses her Majesty and discovers that she isn't pregnant.
    • The ending of the season 2 finale shows worms spreading from the young king's bite wound towards his brain.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Yeong-shin for secretly feeding everyone human meat.
  • Written by the Winners:
    • The accepted narrative is that Lord Ahn Hyeon bravely stood against an invading force of Japanese soliders with only 500 men and saved the country. In truth, he and Lord Cho Hak-ju unleashed an army of the undead upon the Japanese invaders, slaughtering the people of the village of Sumang to get enough fresh corpses to set against their enemies.
    • Deliberately done by Prince Chang himself to prevent the future Joseon kings from learning about the zombie plague that happens throughout the series. In a more benign line of reasoning, he commanded his followers to write his fate as being killed (alongside the young king's parents' fate) during the Korean-Japanese war to make sure that the young king will never know the truth.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Queen murders any mother in her care who has given birth, and also any female infant they give birth to. The trail of blood from an escaping mother raises the Royal Commander's suspicion and leads him to investigate into the conspiracy.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: While understandable due to the trauma they had just gone through and the fact you really couldn't explain "these bodies actually are dormant flesh-eating zombies" in a way that'd make you look sane, Yeong-shin's approach of throwing himself screaming in the middle of the magistrate's courtyard and trying to burn the corpses with little to no explanation certainly didn't help his case.
  • Zombify the Living: Faced with losing her grasp on power, the Queen attempts a 'scorched earth' policy to deny the Crown Prince his throne. Her attendants free their caged zombies, infecting the entire palace staff.


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