Cover Photo: Netflix

Finally, all is explained in Netflix's bloodthirsty Kingdom special, Kingdom: Ashin of the North

Netflix’s Kingdom Season 2 left audiences with a major cliff-hanger when ex-Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji Hoon) and Seo Bi (Bae Doona) journeyed north in pursuit of the origins of the resurrection plant after facing off the zombie horde. Shortly after arriving at a seemingly empty village, they come face-to-face with Ashin (Gianna Jun Ji Hyun), who’s seen standing among undead who have been locked up.

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The abrupt appearance of this new, mysterious character left many questions unanswered and had viewers guessing and thirsting for more. Who is she? Is she also a zombie hunter and researcher like Lee Chang and Seo Bi? Will they band together to save the world? Could she, like the undead, be out for blood? If she’s leading the apocalypse, the question is, why? All of that is explored in the 92-minute Kingdom special, Kingdom: Ashin of the North.

1. A tale of two tribes

Kingdom Season 2 ended with the ex-Crown Prince Lee Chang and Seo Bi discovering that the plant originated from the Yalu River region on the Chinese border and are told by villagers that someone from China has been selling seeds and instructions on how to use the plant across Joseon. This seemed to imply that the resurrection plant was a conspiracy organised by the Chinese to take down Joseon, which we quickly learn is not entirely true.

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Kingdom: Ashin of the North takes place in the northern region of Joseon-era Korea where the Pajeowi tribe and the Seongjeoyains reside. The Pajeowi tribe are of East Asian Tungusic ancestry, also known as the Jurchen people. This means they’re not actually Koreans but live close to China, Korea, and Japan. The Seongjeoyains, also Jurchens, have lived in Joseon Korean lands for over 100 years.

The Joseon Koreans, concerned that the Pajeowi tribe, of which Aidagan (Koo Kyo Hwan) is the leader, has been gaining power, keeps an eye on the Pajeowis by using the Seongjeoyains to spy on them. This weaves into the story of the life of young Ashin (Kim Shi Ah) and her tribe in the Seongjeoyain village, of which her father Ta Hyeop (Kim Roi Ha) is the chief.

2. “The beginning of everything, the root of it all”

When writer Kim Eun Hee introduced the new special episode as “the beginning of everything, the root of it all”, it was clear from the get-go that Kingdom: Ashin of the North would be a prequel to all the mayhem in Kingdom Season 1 and Season 2, and Ashin would be largely responsible for how the kingdom ends up facing a zombie problem.

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At the northern border close to the Pajeowi tribe and the Seongjaeyains is Pyesa-gun, a place where the entrance is forbidden for 100 years. Young Ashin ventures deep into the area and accidentally stumbles upon a strange, magenta-hued plant that can resurrect the dead. Despite being warned by her father against going back into the forbidden area to search for it, Ashin went back into the forest for it, determined to find it to save her seriously ill mother.

When she returns to find that tragedy and betrayal had befallen her family and tribe, it drives her to seek vengeance on those who destroyed her world, vowing to “kill every living thing” and make them shed tears of blood–even if it means making certain sacrifices. Her determination ultimately triggers an avalanche of tragic events which would later sweep through Joseon and change the course of history.

3. A stark contrast and a sombre reflection

Most of what we saw in Kingdom: Ashin of the North were carefully curated and calculated for the purpose of sending strong yet subliminal messages.

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While the first two seasons showcased the elegant beauty and beautiful sceneries of majestic Joseon, Kingdom: Ashin of the North explored the vast and desolate northern region, famed for its harsh winters. The decision to set the Kingdom special in the frigid north is because writer Kim wanted to depict the resurrection plant’s ability to thrive in blistering cold temperatures.

The bleak and lonely expansive land, with deep and dark coniferous forests and a stark white snow landscape when winter comes, is a reflection of Ashin’s deep suffering and complex emotions. In particular, when she was left all alone after losing her family and home when her village was horrendously attacked by the Pajeowi tribe. While sombre, the cinematography is a poetic representation of Ashin and her trials and tribulations, delivering a different type of energy.

Watch the behind-the-scenes featurette below:

If you've not seen Kingdom Season 1 or Season 2, Kingdom: Ashin of the North will be the perfect start to your Kingdom series journey. The special premieres exclusively on Netflix on July 23, 2021.

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