Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by by Kim Hoyeun
When Arthdal Chronicles first premiered in 2018, it ventured into a genre seldom explored by K-dramas—fantasy rooted in fictional history. With a star-studded cast featuring Song Joong Ki, Kim Ji Won, Jang Dong Gun, and Kim Ok Vin, and a whopping budget of 54 billion KRW (approximately 45 million USD), the show amassed great expectations. While it did achieve some measure of success, many found it lacking. Critics cited an unfamiliar world-building and a lackluster storyline as stumbling blocks to its potential.
Despite such criticisms, Arthdal Chronicles boldly hoisted its sails for season 2. So, has the show’s latest run, which has aired up to its sixth episode, managed to capture viewers’ hearts? So far, so good. The improvements over season 1 are visible in two major areas.
Cast Changes Serve as a Fresh Opportunity
The Sword of Aramun picks up eight years after season 1 and follows the unfolding legends of Tagon (Jang Dong Gun), Eun Seom (Lee Joon Gi), Tanya (Shin Se Kyung), and Tae Alha (Kim Ok Vin) in the ancient land of Arth. Tagon, having transformed Arthdal from a union of tribes into a nation, reveals his ambitions to conquer the rest of Arth continent, while Eun Seom returns as the Lord of the Ago Tribe to oppose him. Tanya dreams of a utopian world as the High Priestess of Arthdal, but Tae Alha, now the queen, pulls all kinds of tricks to pressure her king and husband, Tagon. The show will reach its climax this season as these four characters find themselves tangled in a web of relationships and rivalries.
But even before airing, concerns were high due to the departure of Song Joong Ki and Kim Ji Won. Fortunately, Lee Joon Gi and Shin Se Kyung had stepped in, but the skepticism surrounding the cast changes hadn’t completely faded. So, how has this switch affected the show?
Six episodes in, the change doesn’t seem to be a major issue. Lee Joon Gi and Shin Se Kyung have successfully taken the reins, steering the drama with strength. Lee Joon Gi impressively navigates the chasm between twin brothers Eun Seom and Saya. This lends credibility to the drama’s focus on the twists of fate. Starting from episode three, where Eun Seom impersonates Saya in Arthdal, the dual role adds a layer of enjoyment.
Shin Se Kyung is no different. Having always shown impressive performances in period dramas, she takes on the role of Tanya, the High Priestess of Arthdal, becoming the heart of the story. Tanya is a revered and sanctified figure within Arthdal, and Shin Se Kyung flawlessly conveys the character’s mysterious allure through her uniquely gentle yet earnest tone and expressions.
From Epic Battles to Cutthroat Palace Intrigue
Even before the premiere, the production team announced that “war” would be a keyword for this season, promising battle scenes rarely seen before in K-dramas and expressing confidence in another level of excitement. And they weren’t bluffing. The open-field battle between the Arthdal soldiers and the Arth Alliance in episode 2 showcases the drama’s grand scale. This, coupled with the psychological warfare between Eun Seom and Saya, makes the narrative incredibly engaging.
The drama captivates with large-scale battles and doubles down with gripping palace intrigue. The tension escalates as Tae Alha and Saya vie for the next seat of power, with Tagon caught in the whirlwind. The twisting paths of each character’s machinations and schemes drag the drama into deeper chaos, keeping the audience eagerly awaiting the next episode. Between battles for continental conquest and palace intrigues, the drama actively leverages the strengths of a character-centered piece, rather than spending too much time on the fantastical elements that necessitate extensive world-building.
Overall, The Sword of Aramun has done a commendable job of lowering the entry barrier to the series, despite the challenges of its lackluster first season and significant casting changes. Yes, the narrative is occasionally bogged down by difficult-to-understand terms and an excess of characters. Yet, it maintains tension by smartly interspersing large-scale battles and action sequences whenever it loses its tempo, making it all the more enticing than season 1. Such efforts leave us intrigued about the new history to be made on the show’s main stage, Arth. (7/10)
Editor Hwang Hong Sun: A Korean movie buff who wishes that the warm messages in good works will warm up this world at least by one degree Fahrenheit.