All in all I’d say this was one of the best episodes of Kingdom to date, starting with the most obvious element – the animation. It was positively lush by Kingdom standards – hardly any CG, and halfway decent drawn animation at that. I’m normally willing to overlook a lot for the sake of a good story and halfway decent characters, but it really does make a difference when a show is at least somewhat pleasant to look at. Given the relatives strengths this series possesses, when the animation is up to snuff it’s right up with best of the second tier shows this season.
I was pretty satisfied with the way the entire scenario in the hall of the mountain king played out. Turns out their capitol is not just a ramshackle collection of huts like Changwenjun’s lieutenant expected, but something akin to a real city – with a palace I suspect was built with considerable help from Duke Mu 400 years earlier. Given the fact that the mountain folk were betrayed after saving Mu’s ass and generally met terrible discrimination and abuse from the “flatlanders” (that’s what the kids from Wisconsin used to call us Illinois kids too) it’s hardly a surprise that they wouldn’t be initially receptive to Zheng’s overtures now. He is, as their King, Duan He, says, a powerless boy king – he has no real army, and his otouto has stolen his throne from him. Given that there’s seemingly so little to gain from helping him, killing the boy king to assuage the angry ancestors seems like the most logical plan.
It’s really two things that turn the table – the blunt honesty of Xin (who’s managed to get himself captured along with Lieutenant and Diao in their rescue mission) and the sheer ambition of Zheng. It doesn’t hurt that Duan has an independent streak that rebels against the age-old hatred of the elders, and it probably doesn’t hurt that the king is actually a woman – and a mighty big one at that. Perhaps she feels a bit of an outsider herself, but in any case Xin presents her with the cold calculus – help Zheng now, and it’ll pay off big later – and Zheng seals the deal by revealing his master plan. He doesn’t just want his throne back – he wants to unite all of China and stop the endless fighting that’s plagued the country for Centuries, and in the process offer the mountain folk their only real chance at peace with Qin.
This, then, seems to be where the series was headed all along – a quest not to reclaim a throne but to reshape a continent. And of course, Xin’s quest to be a General at the head of that crusade. Zheng is no angelic Boy King, dewy-eyed with “can’t we all just get along?” dreams – his throne was taken in a rain of blood, and he has no qualms about the mountain folk helping him reclaim it in the same way. Times are tough all over, and it takes a tough leader to bring order to this troubled landscape. It’s a good old-fashioned war epic, and I suspect the scale is only going to get grander from here.