Juhan Noh/Netflix
Juhan Noh/Netflix

Netflix's 'Kingdom' Is the Perfect Show to Binge If You Miss 'Game of Thrones'

Binge-watching requires a few things. A couch, or a comfy bed, for one thing. Some snacks at the ready, as well. But the one thing you must have is a considerably large chunk of time, a commodity that grows more precious by the day in today's hyper-connected gig economy. Sometimes, though, a global event comes along and swats that economy into nearly a standstill: Hollywood has delayed the releases of some of its biggest films, and a lot of us living in America's more metropolitan areas are being advised to stay home and "socially distance" ourselves from the outside world to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which means that most of us are going to be watching a looooot of TV in the coming weeks. It also means that there's no better time to start binge-watching a heady Korean feudal drama about a kingdom beset by corrupt queens, giant armies, and zombies that stalk the night. 

The first season of Kingdom, Netflix's first original Korean series, debuted in January of last year and quickly gained a small cult following hungry for more of its gruesome charms. At only six episodes, it doesn't suffer at all from the frustrating phenomenon known as "Netflix bloat," and it finishes on a cliffhanger so big you'll be genuinely shocked when it ends. It's based on the webcomic series by Kim Eun-hee and drawn by Yang Kyung-il called The Kingdom of the Gods, and bounces around Korea's historical Joseon period, a few years after the Japanese invasion of the nation, following a handful of characters trying and failing to stop a zombie plague from tearing through the countryside. And, yes, the show is subtitled, but don't let that deter you. Did we learn nothing from Bong Joon Ho's Oscar campaign

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The show begins with rumors of the death of the king of Joseon, who hasn't been seen outside the palace walls for more than a week. Flyers appear tacked up in Hanyang, announcing the king's death and calling for the immediate crowning of the prince, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon). However, those inside the palace claim the king is not dead, merely sick, but his affliction has turned him into something monstrous.

Meanwhile, citizens in a small town in the southern province unknowingly contract the disease ravaging the king and die suddenly, but that night they all rise again as zombies, hungry for human flesh (as zombies tend to be). The crown prince sets off from the palace to help the people in need, but when he discovers the truth of the disease, he teams up with a physician, a mysterious warrior, and his personal guard to fight the spread of the disease while also trying to stop a coup from overthrowing his claim to the throne back home. 

The show is pretty dense, but it's so exciting, and, at only six episodes, the plot moves swiftly as the characters find themselves deeper and deeper in trouble. Think Game of Thrones meets The Witcher meets the good bits of The Walking Dead. If that's not enough to convince you, here is a list of cool things this show has in it: Sick swordfighting (it's set in the 1600s, so not everyone had guns or knew how to use them yet). People in cool hats (all the costumes are amazing). People shooting flaming arrows at stuff. People galloping horses through city gates and immediately yelling a dire message at other people. A hilarious one-sided romance. Some truly gross undead special effects. Bae Doona (the brilliant physician), whom you may recognize from one of Netflix's best shows, Sense8

Bae Doona plays a small town physician determined to find the cause of the disease. | Juhan Noh/Netflix

Plus, the zombies in Kingdom are actually scary -- mostly because they're quite different from the kind of zombies we're familiar with. For one thing, they can run, which inspires some truly frightening scenes of undead people sprinting through tall grass at their prey. They also go dormant during the daytime (for a reason that becomes very important by the first season's finale) when the sun is out and hide by cramming themselves in piles underneath houses and fallen trees and caves in the woods. I'm so unbelievably bored of zombies by now and even I loved this. 

It's more than just a zombie show, though: at its core, Kingdom is much more interested in picking apart systems of power, and how stubbornness and an unwillingness to see the truth can lead to catastrophe. The first season of the show is all about the kingdom being unable to stop the outbreak of the disease, which, in these uncertain times, sounds pretty familiar. By the time the show picks up in Season 2, the zombies are coming closer and closer to the capitol, and those inside the palace are still scheming against the prince, with a few even attempting to try to control the undead plague to their advantage. It's wild, it's gross, it's exciting, and it's the perfect show to completely take your mind off your stock of hand sanitizer and nonperishables while you're holed up in your home with nowhere else to go. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.