Disney+ K-drama Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun – sequel to fantasy series offers new perspective on the land of Arth

The new season opens with back-to-back catch-up segments led by different narrators who remind us of the show’s complex web of characters and the mythology underpinning Arth.

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Explanatory titles, although not uncommon in K-dramas, appear aggressively throughout the series. Main characters are even reintroduced in different episodes, as if the writers lack confidence in the clarity of the story they are telling.

The most important figures remain the same. Tanya (Shin) and twins Saya and Eunseom (both played by Lee) are “Igutu”, born between “Sarams” (humans) and “Neanthals” (supernatural blue-blooded barbarians), who are prophesied to bring about the end of the world.

As the season begins, Tanya is high priestess of Arthdal, while Saya commands its armies. The tyrannical Tagon (Jang Dong-gun) remains on the throne with his devious queen, Tae Al-ha (Kim Ok-vin), by his side. Meanwhile, Eunseom marauds across the plains of Arth, uniting the 30 outer tribes to fight against Tagon.

Lee Joon-gi, who plays twins Saya and Eunseom, in a still from “Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun”.

Despite its fantastical setting, this narrative framework struggles to differentiate itself from the legions of period dramas, set during the rule of Korea’s Joseon dynasty, about power-hungry regents facing off against righteous opponents.

What The Sword of Aramun does have going for it is an additional layer of soapy melodrama. Twins Saya and Eunseom are leading opposite flanks, but they are unaware of each other’s existence.

Their hidden identities drive most of the intrigue in the season’s opening episodes, which culminate in the pair meeting face to face. While the showdown doesn’t lead to them coming to blows, it is by far the most exciting moment we’ve had so far.

Shin Se-kyung as high priestess Tanya in a still from “Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun”.

Their reunion is expected, but an assassination attempt and the courage of an Arthdal captain who drags them from the ensuing fire spices things up considerably, and that’s before the pair are mistaken for each other and subsequently brought back into the wrong camp.

That Arthdal captain is the stolid season-one holdover Mubaek. His act of bravery costs him his life, and the show has lost one of its best performers. The wonderful Park Hae-joon will be sorely missed.

Once again armed with a significant budget, the show features several major set pieces, including an all-out battle on the plains. Whereas the visual effects and staging of season one brought criticism, this is an area where the show appears to have improved.

This is surely in no small part thanks to new director Kim Kwang-sik, whose last directorial outing was the action-packed and critically acclaimed period siege drama The Great Battle.

Kim Ok-vin as queen Tae Al-ha in a still from “Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun”.
Unlike the recent hit Alchemy of Souls, this show relies less on its fantasy elements, which only come into play every so often. That puts the focus on familiar period drama tropes, which appear here but lack the novelty one might expect from the setting.

This brings us to the elephant in the room: how many people were clamouring for a continuation of this story?

Arthdal Chronicles originally rode on a wave of anticipation owing to its high concept, major cast and the fact that, at the time of its release, it was the most expensive Korean show ever produced.

But it never became what those elements suggested it should have done. The show’s ratings were considered disappointing, viewers in South Korea didn’t warm to it, and the production was beset by criticism of its similarities to Game of Thrones and of its brutal working conditions on set.

Shin Se-kyung (left) as high priestess Tanya and Lee Joon-gi, who plays twins Saya and Eunseom, in a still from “Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun”.

What saved it was a better-than-expected performance overseas, presumably strong enough to pave the way for this new season.

Shows around the world are recast all the time for a variety of reasons, and new additions Lee and Shin, both popular screen veterans, do well in their roles – but their interpretations of the characters are quite different. It will be up to individual viewers to decide whether the change they offer is refreshing or jarring.

Perhaps because season one set the bar so low, The Sword of Aramun seems like a worthy successor, and with only 12 episodes compared to the 18 produced in 2019, regardless of where it goes it will be a swifter journey.

Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun is streaming on Disney+.



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