EZMM 2020 Day 6.1: Kingdom Episodes 2.05-2.06

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Here there be spoilers.

We decided to combine the final two episodes, since 2.05 is just over a half-hour instead of the typical 50+ minutes, and boy was that a great idea. Episode Five is mainly set-up for the grand finale and consists of a lot of maneuvering the chess pieces around the board. Prince Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) lures most of the army from Hanyang while slipping his own people into the city in disguise. The plan is to rescue the families of Chang’s loyalists, all of whom are set to be publicly executed as traitors.

Oddly enough, there really isn’t a battle here. The episode follows Prince Change as he calmly walks through Hanyang and people, soldiers, and police all bow down and swear loyalty to the Crown Prince over the Queen (Kim Hye-jun). But maybe the greatest part of the rescue is the fact that the Prince doesn’t actually save the families. Instead, it’s Beom Pal (Jun Suk-ho) who refuses to issue the kill order, despite it being a direct command from the Queen. If he hadn’t hesitated and ultimately refused, Prince Chang would have been too late to save anyone, thanks to his casual stroll through town.

So with the city under his control, Prince Chang confronts the Queen on her throne (in full Queenly regalia and with her baby in her arms) who seems to have lost her mind. She claims to be Chang’s mother, calling him her son and the baby his brother, but Chang is having none of it. Rather than physically remove her, though, two ministers head off to get the Royal Seal so that the Queen can officially abdicate the throne.

If anyone believed that this was going to work, please smack yourself.

Instead, the Queen’s entourage do what any loyal lunatic would do in this situation. They release the zombies from the dungeon, sacrificing themselves in the process. This is at the twenty minute or so mark, so we then get a breathtaking and fast-paced race through a zombie-infested palace.

Once they realize what has happened, Prince Chang orders the palace gates closed and barricaded, determined to keep the plague contained and hoping that they have enough forces to clamp down on the monsters quickly and efficiently. At first this seems to be the case, and things look hopeful, but as we all know, that can’t last. This sequence is very nicely done as we get short vignettes of ordinary people around the palace confronted with the massive throngs of sprinting, screaming, blood-covered undead – particularly a young man who didn’t follow Columbus’ Rule #3: Beware of Bathrooms, and a pair of servants tasked with saving and preserving the portraits of prior kings. The bathroom attack is actually kind of amusing as the fellow ponders whether or not he will escape by diving down into the hole he had been pooping into, and the other attack is moving as hell, as the younger servant breaks down crying and his older partner – maybe his father? – embraces him, silently calming him as the zombies swarm and kill them.

We don’t even know who these people are, but in just these short scenes, we feel for them as if we’d been following them all along.

Then we end with a double cliffhanger as Prince Chang and his surviving allies find themselves trapped in the courtyard with hundreds of zombies as the gates. The overhead shot here is simply amazing as we see more and more zombies fill the street, piling onto each other and pressing against the gate. It definitely seems hopeless.

Then we cut to Seo-Bi (Bae Doona) who is trapped in the throne room with a small group of soldiers and the mad Queen as we see hordes of zombies massing along the paper walls, ready to break through at any moment. It’s a helluva way to end the episode, and while short, there’s surprisingly a lot that happens, allowing for the all out attack of the finale.

And the finale doesn’t waste any time getting started. Realizing that the rear garden is their last hope to fall back and escape, Prince Chang decides escape isn’t going to cut it and orders them to use themselves as bait to draw the zombies to the garden and its massive, frozen lake.  What follows is a solid twenty minutes or so of even more intense non-stop zombie action than in the previous episode. People are dropping right and left, more and more zombies are screeching into the garden, piling onto the attack, while Prince Chang desperately tries to break the ice beneath their feet.

I know a lot of people don’t care for the fast zombie. But if these monsters were just slow shamblers, there would literally be very little tension. The crazed energy that these performers bring to the screen, coupled with the truly horrifying practical effects work and sound design, make them a wonder to behold. Terrifying.

And what is it about Korean zombies and the weird contortionist aspect to their transformations. Train to Busan had it, Kingdom has it, and the next film we watch, Rampant has it. Whatever the reason, it adds to the otherworldly horror of these creatures and makes them even more disturbing than even your typical sprinting Western zombies.

When the ice finally breaks, plunging the living and the dead alike into the waters below, the worms infesting everyone die leaving only Chang and a handful of others surviving. The Prince then finds Seo-Bi and the surviving baby, choosing to spare his life and step aside, allowing Moo-Young’s son to grow up to be king and have himself recorded among the dead.

But that’s thirty minutes in. What the hell? We’ve still got half an episode to go.

Seven years later, we see the young King being educated and guided by Beom-Pal in what is a clearly zombie-free country. In fact, the records about the events of his birth are locked and everyone is keeping the truth from the King, despite his questions.

That’s when Young-Shin (Kim Sungkyu) arrives and passes off Seo-Bi’s notebooks about the resurrection plant in case another outbreak ever occurs. It turns out that the plant can be found growing across the country and may have its origins in China, and that’s where Chang, Seo-Bi are heading, in an attempt to destroy the plants and discover who may be responsible for harvesting and selling them.

Which leads us to the final moments of the episode, as Chang and Seo-Bi discover a seemingly abandoned village in the Hwanghae Province. Bad shit has gone down here, and it doesn’t take long for a zombie to emerge from the darkness to attack. Chang takes it down easily, but they note that it is wearing a bell on its ankle. More bells begin jingling from the darkness around them so they rush to shelter, only to find more zombies kept in boxes and a woman turns to face them.

Who the hell is this? We don’t know, but she may be responsible for spreading the resurrection plant and creating her own army of the undead.

Meanwhile, back in the palace, we see the young King sleeping, and as he does, a worm wriggles beneath the skin of his face.

And boom! We’re out!

These final two episodes did everything right that Game of Thrones did wrong in it’s finale. The pacing was fantastic, the battles were well choreographed and intense, and the character work with everyone was logical and developed naturally. Heroes rose and villains fell. All was right in the world. And then they did a great job setting up what will hopefully be Season Three. I haven’t seen any word yet on whether or not another season is in the works, but it most definitely should be.

If you’re missing the epic fantasy of GoT or long for those days of yesteryear when The Walking Dead wasn’t bogged down in boring politics and borderline ridiculous villains, Kingdom should definitely be on your watchlist. And hell, you’re in quarantine. What else do you have to do?

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