‘Kingdom’ season 2 explained: New dangers on the horizon

Paolo Abad
A dark chapter closes, but new, bigger dangers lie on the horizon. We sum up key moments that can figure in the show’s future.

PRINCE VERSUS ZOMBIES. Prince Chang and company head to a huge showdown with the undead. Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Netflix’s Kingdom hasn’t been a run-of-the-mill zombie apocalypse piece. Set around the reign of Korea’s Joseon dynasty in the 16th century, it stood out – but not just because of its distinct backdrop.

While the hit K-drama drew comparisons to another hit seriesthe way it intertwined court intrigue and ambition with a so-called existential threat – with the trimmings of a grandiose historical drama – has made it somehow unique.

The first season saw mounting hordes of the undead threatening to annihilate everyone and anyone in its path.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

In the show’s second season, the conflict proved to be more complex than Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) and his ragtag company just warding off bloodthirsty zombies on his way to his rightful place on the throne.

Season 2 also delved deeper into the mythos of the Resurrection Plant, the cause of the outbreak. 

In its culmination, some light was shed on the plague’s nature: that it wasn’t an accidental calamity, and political conspiracies were entangled in the plant’s roots.

Still, one dark chapter had seemed to close, and 7 years of calm followed. 

But greater dangers lie on the horizon as some questions linger. Let’s take a look back and unpack what happened:

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!

 

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

What is the true nature of the zombie plague?

Throughout the season, Bae Doona’s nurse character Seo-bi pursued a deeper study into the genesis of the plague, and its dynamics. She also happened to discover the cure for it, learning how to stop people from turning into cannibalistic monsters.

Yet even as the one who knows the most about the contagion, she believes there’s some key detail missing.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Seo-bi established, in her notes, that it’s not the Resurrection Plant in itself that reanimates the dead into mindless creatures with an “insatiable hunger for human flesh and blood.” Rather, there are eggs on the plant that hatch into worm-like parasites which can seize control of the brain.

It was first used on the deceased King of Joseon, Prince Chang’s father, as a tool to cement the scheming Haewon Cho clan’s grip on power. They needed to keep the king alive until the queen consort had given birth to a male heir while branding the rightful successor, Lee Chang, as a traitor.

Her investigation also led her to believe that it’s not a zombie’s bite that can cause a victim to turn. “A bite from these monsters transfers the worms into the new host’s bloodstream,” she wrote. “But it does not transform them. However, it will lower the body’s temperature until they eventually die.”

A single bite isn’t necessarily a death sentence, either.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Seeing earlier that the zombies avoided the burning heat and water, Seo-bi successfully tested a theory – through a wounded Chief State Councillor Cho Hak-ju (Ryu Seung-ryong) – that submerging a wound will purge the parasites and eliminate the disease. 

This was also seen in the climactic showdown in the Hanyang palace lake – preventing Prince Chang and his retinue from turning, and eliminating an entire herd of the undead.

Seo-bi was certain that “the worms thrive in colder temperatures,” explaining why the zombies were out and about in the daylight during the winter solstice in Sangju. These pathogens, she also deduced, “lie dormant” during spring and summer, but in autumn and winter, they are inactive only in the daytime.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Even with all these critical points at hand, Seo-bi is still left with a conundrum about the worms: “for some reason extreme heat causes them to thrive and spread more viciously.” 

She is describing what happened in Jiyulheon in Donghae, ground zero of the outbreak. There, the infection evolved into something that spread through bites and viciously spread like wildfire.

“There must be a secret. Something still hidden behind the Resurrection Plant,” she said in her notes which she sent back to the capital. Seven years after the plague had ended, she’s still on a mission to find out the cause of the disease.

Perhaps events that had transpired before the king’s death – when it served an insidious purpose – can shed even a sliver of light on this.

The plague was once used as a bioweapon.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

In the years that preceded the series’ main timeline, the Japanese threatened to conquer the Korean peninsula, and they outnumbered Joseon’s forces 30,000 to 500. That is, until they came to head with Ahn Hyeon (Heo Joon-ho), the royal military’s head who was then governor of Sangju.

Cho Hak-ju hatched a plan with Ahn Hyeon to use the Resurrection Plant on the sick people of Sumang village. By killing them and turning them into monsters, they would be unleashed against the encroaching Japanese. The creatures, feeling no pain, would be unstoppable killing machines.

Yeong-sin (Kim Sung-kyu), the mysterious marksman who became Chang’s ally, seems to be aware of this scheme as an ex-member of the elite force, Chakho, at Sumang (Deok-seong, Ahn Hyeon’s right hand man, revealed this fact in the previous season). 

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Now, we know why he and Ahn Hyeon’s lot were somewhat experienced zombie slayers. He was involved in that war.

The war against the invaders came with a great cost: the innocent lives of citizens – a “sacrifice” that Ahn Hyeon deeply regretted. In spite of his role there, he couldn’t be more at odds with Cho Hak-ju and remained on the side of the crown prince.

So Joseon had once seen hordes of the undead – although as bioweapons created to defeat a foreign threat. This counts as one of at least two instances that the Resurrection Plant’s ghastly properties were deliberately harnessed for nefarious ends.

Yet now, the disease has become an unwieldy, indiscriminate thing, and if it is once again unleashed by someone with sinister intentions, it could spell doom for the entire kingdom.

The fall of the Haewon Cho clan

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

The Haewon Cho clan wielded great influence in the court of Joseon – enough to orchestrate a gambit to usurp the throne from its rightful heir, Chang.

With Cho Hak-ju as Chief State Councillor and his daughter as Queen Consort (Kim Hye-jun), their ambition knew no bounds – and morals. What Cho Hak-ju did in the war was deplorable. What they also did with the deposed king was obscene, yet they took that measure.

The queen, however, is no puppet.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Her thirst for power may have outclassed her father. She plotted behind his back to pass off a commoner’s baby as a royal child. She had women and girls killed – until a boy was born to the wife of Mu-yeong, Chang’s bodyguard and confidant.

The elder Cho later discovered the devious queen’s plot, calling it all a farce that marked the downfall of their clan. The baby won’t carry their bloodline, after all.

But to the ruthless queen, her father is just another expendable obstacle. 

“If the throne can’t be mine, no one can have it,” the queen said, as she was cornered by Prince Chang and his allies. She let the plague break loose in the palace, even allowing letting herself to fall prey to the zombies.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Amid the ruckus, Mu-yeong’s baby survives with just a bite, thanks to the quick-thinking Seo-bi’s actions.

Prince Chang, however, faced a moral quandary as they can’t have two kings. He can ascend to the throne, but he can’t let the baby live because he’s not really a royal. This would anger those loyal to the Haewon Cho clan.

Chang’s startling choice was to relinquish the throne, flee the palace, and fake his own death. Ridden with guilt having to slay his undead father, he chose to make a sacrifice and help the kingdom in a different way.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

 

A sleeping plague

“The royal bloodlines… It doesn’t matter who it belongs to… We all bleed the same blood,” Chang’s distant uncle Won Yu (Jo Han-chul), whom he visited in Ganghwa island, had once said.

Lee Yeom is actually the child of his beloved friend Mu-yeong, and even as few are privy to this secret, the young king – with the right guidance – might signal the dawn of a new hope for the kingdom.

“The ones who intended to use him to seize power for themselves have all been killed by now,” said Chang, who named the boy as his brother. He even requested the ministers to rewrite history.

Owing to Seo-bi’s swift response, the young king – as an infant – was cleared of the plague. Then, we see a worm underneath the boy’s skin crawling from his bite scar to his brain.

She initially thought that “newborns are immune to the disease even if they are bitten because their brains are not yet fully developed.” But it looks like her treatment of the boy had failed.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

 

The disease had at least once mutated into a more virulent form. We can only speculate what will happen seeing that a parasite remained dormant only to reawaken 7 years later. 

Will the worm kill him and turn him into another zombie king? Did the parasite suddenly become immune to water? Will the disease take another shape?

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Who is the mysterious woman at the end?

Yeong-sin warned Beom-pal (Jeon Seok-ho), a Haewon Cho courtier allied with them, of a ticking time bomb. The Resurrection Plant cannot only be found in Sangju, but even in many places across the country: Gyeongsang, the three provinces Gyeonggi, Gangwon, and Hwanghae.

Chang, Yeong-sin, and Seo-bi tracked down these spots, hoping to learn about how the plague actually started. In this chase, they find out that a merchant from China had been giving its seeds to unwitting farmers and teaching them exactly how to use them.

Photo by Juhan Noh/Netflix

Who is the merchant? Considering that the seller knows how to use the plant and what it does – why plant it all over the country?

In Hamgyong province, somewhere in the northern fringe of the kingdom, they encounter their worst fear yet again. There are rabid monsters – except they’re held captive by a mysterious woman (Jun Ji-hyun).

If her wry grin is any indication – not to mention the undead writhing in chains and crates around her – then she’s probably up to no good. Does she intend to weaponize the plague yet again? Or is she a zombie hunter? 

Plenty of theories abound, even suggesting that she may not be a villain in the vein of the Haewon Cho clan. That sword on her back – a dao – doesn’t seem to belong to a merchant, said one Reddit user.

In an interview with SoompiKingdom screenwriter Kim Eun Hee hinted at the new character’s central role and the direction of the show’s next chapter.

“Season 1 told the story of hunger and season 2 told the story of blood. If Netflix agrees, I want season 3 to tell the story of resentment,” she said.

“Season 2 brought attention to the concept of ‘temperature’ and I think if the story were to travel north, the different ecosystem in the North would act as a hint.” – Rappler.com

Paolo Abad

Paolo Abad writes, edits, and shoots for a living. He is one of the founding partners of the online radio platform Manila Community Radio.