Kingdom: Ashin Of The North | Historical Context Of The Netflix K-Drama

A quick rundown of the real events, the fictional lore of the Kingdom universe, and the future of the series
2 months ago

Ashin of the North promo photo

The special 92 minute spinoff episode, Kingdom: Ashin of the North was released on July 23rd. 

It further explores the origins of the resurrection plant and the mysterious female character introduced at the end of season 2. 

It definitely gives us a lot of great content to mull over while we wait for season 3 to come out!

While it gives us a more complete picture of what's really going on in the main storyline, there are a lot of places and terms that many may not be familiar with, so let's explore them together.

The Real History

The Japanese Invasion

Opening still from Ashin of the North

"The Japanese invasion left the southern lands of Joseon in ruins
And now another storm was looming in the northern lands of Joseon"

The story is a prequel, taking place prior to the first season of Kingdom, during Lee Chang's father's reign. 

The Japanese invasion referred to at the beginning was in fact a real event that happened in 1592 that is known as the Imjin Disturbance.

Kingdom still

In 1591, Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent a letter to King Seonjo announcing his intent to conquer Ming China and asking for cooperation from the people and government of Joseon.

Since Joseon and Ming China were allied, they did not agree to allow passage for the Japanese military. 

The following year, Japanese troops were sent to the Korean peninsula, starting a war that lasted for years. 

The silence and inaction of Joseon, along with the plagues and famines that followed lent inspiration to the creation of the story.

The Jurchen And Pajeowi

屍戰朝鮮 第三季

So who exactly are the Pajeowi and Jurchen people mentioned at the beginning of the episode and why does it say "When 10,000 Jurchens gather, no army in the world can defeat them"?

The Pajeowi Jurchens were an East Asian Tungusic people living in northeast China, while the Seongjeoyains were Jurchens who had lived in Korea for over a century.

In real life there were three classifications of Jurchens documented by Ming China: Jianzhou - mixed with Chinese and Korean people, Haixi - Nomadic peoples, and Yeren - "wild people". 

The Yeren would often invade Korea and loot villages due to their lack of supplies, which led to a battle that Korea ended up winning.

Still from Ashin of the North, soldiers on horseback

The battle greatly weakened the Jurchens, while strengthening Korea's border defense. 

The Imjin Rebellion at the end of the 16th century weakened Korea's defenses though, and the Jurchens took this opportunity to gain power.

This was the inspiration for the background story of Kingdom: Ashin of the North


netflix 屍戰朝鮮 歷史

Was the forbidden Pyesa-gun a real place? 

On the border of Korea and China is a river known as Amnok where many of the Jurchens had settled. 

To strengthen this area of the kingdom and protect the Korean people, the king established four military forts and six posts near the border known as Sagunyukjin (사군육진).

Pyesbda-gun border in Ashin of the North

It was eventually decided in 1455 to abolish all but one of these forts and then in 1459, the remaining one was also abolished. 

People were relocated and prohibited from entering the land where the four forts had been. 

The name "Pyesa-gun" is a play on words inspired by the real location.

Introduction to Ashin of the North

Ashin of the North

Remember at the end of season 2 of Kingdom, this woman, who we now know to be Ashin, appeared with the resurrection plant?

Ashin, a Jurchen living near the northern border, found the herb in the forbidden Pyesa-gun, while searching for a cure for her ailing mother.

When she returns to her village she finds it massacred due to conflict between the Pajeowi people and Joseon government.

Joseon's attempts to silence and cover up and shift blame onto the Jurchen for acts of violence committed by the Haewon Cho clan, resulted in her losing everything and everyone she cared about.  

To get her revenge, after taking out the entire Joseon village, she gives the herb to the doctor to administer to the king, instructing him in how to use it.

Closeup still of the resurrection plant

So those are the origins and discovery of herb and how the king came to be resurrected, but let's talk about how the infection is spread and what information we have on that.

Infected deer's eye close up still

First, the deer becomes infected by eating the actual plant, which causes a quick, but violent death before the parasite takes over.

When the tiger eats the deer, it becomes infected as well, but the tiger's bite does not spread the infection to humans.

In Ashin of the North it is reiterated that a bite of the people reanimated through use of the herb directly is not contagious, though it can be deadly.

In Kingdom, we see that eating the flesh of an infected human corpse will lead to an infection that can be spread through biting others, making this the most problematic and dangerous form of infection as it can spread quickly.

Ashin of the North still

Aside from being a great watch, Ashin of the North has given us some answers about Kingdom lore and helped further establish the universe the stories take place in.

The Future of the Kingdom Series

Ashin of the North still

As the screenwriters have explained, this episode is meant to be an independent, but complementary story to the main series.

You don't necessarily need to watch both, but Ashin of the North fills in some of the blanks in the series nicely.

Additionally, at the end, Ashin says "When my job here is done, after I kill every living thing on Joseon and Jurchen soil, I will join you", which seems to be setting us up for a killer third season.

Ashin firing an arrow

Opinions on the internet in regards to this spinoff episode are mixed because some believe the historical setting, with the main character, a Jurchen, seeking revenge against Koreans, may make people uncomfortable. 

This does not seem to be hindering its popularity however and another spinoff is rumored to be in the works, focusing on Crown Prince Lee Chang, which would give us even further insight on the Kingdom universe.

If this rumor is confirmed, it will be interesting to see where they go with the story, how this man will be able to become a ruling king and unify the people after all the events that took place, especially in regards to the late queen.

Whatever the writers decide, we look forward to exploring this fascinating world more in the future!

Today we looked at some of the historical context for Kingdom: Ashin of the North, the lore within the Kingdom universe, and the possible future of the series.

Did you learn anything new today?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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