Are you one of the weak? Are you one of the strong? That was the central question posed by DirecTV’s hit series Kingdom in its first season. Following ex-MMA fighter Alvey Kulina, the show focuses around Alvey’s gym, the fighters within it, his family, and so much more. In its first year on the air, it proved to be one of the most understated and powerful new shows. And when it returns for season 2, fans cans expect an equally compelling — if not more —experience.
Walking onto the set of Kingdom, there are a few things that hit you: The reality that this “set” is really just a warehouse that they turned into a functional gym that the actors use to train when they’re not filming. The dedication that the cast and crew have to making this great, whether that be Jonathan Tucker losing 30 pounds for his part or Matt Lauria’s willingness to do as many takes as the director needs no matter how exhausted he is. And then there’s the joy. This crew knows that they’re making something great, and it’s evident they’re having a good time doing it.
All of that comes together to make a show that is equal parts uplifting and heartbreaking. EW went behind the scenes of season 2 and got scoop on what’s coming up for each of your favorite characters.
Picking up six months after the season 1 finale, which saw Jay and Ryan win their fights, Nate explore his sexuality, and Christina reconnect with her pimp, season 2 is all about the “painful ascent,” according to show creator Byron Balasco. “Fortunes rise, but they don’t rise for everybody at the same time,” he said. “People fall and even when you are doing better in one area, you might be doing worse in another. It hurts to keep going.”
Overall, Balasco says fans shouldn’t expect any major changes in the tone or feel of the show. As he put it, “Each season is just a chapter of these people’s lives. Our characters are our characters, and you see different shades of them. It’s a raw, emotional world with a lot of heart and characters that really love each other but struggle to figure out ways to hold those relationships together and to figure out where they fit in the world.”
Lauria added: “It’s relentless. There’s no forced attempts to push the envelope and heighten the drama, it’s just these characters on the paths that they’re on. [Byron] takes the next steps in pushing them to where they’re going, and it gets dark and it gets more intense. It gets better.”
Specifically, here’s what you can expect from each character:
“Alvey’s as much of a sh–head as he is a hero, which I love,” Frank Grillo said, referencing how any great leader has vices and does things he or she shouldn’t do. And yet, this season, Alvey has something new to consider when doing stupid sh–: Lisa’s pregnant.
“On every page of my script, I remind myself: You’re having a baby. Because that kind of thing at my age really dictates a lot of my behavior.” However, Grillo doesn’t see Alvey doing much changing. “I know guys like this who’ve had kids late in their life. They have an idea of how they should be and they execute that idea really well for like four months. Then it’s back to basics. There’s no great change that’s going to happen to this guy at this point in his life.”
So personally, Alvey is still Alvey. Professionally, Alvey’s, well, a more wealthy version of himself. With a couple big wins under his belt, he’s got a bigger gym, a new car, and a new attitude. “Alvey is a little calmer,” Grillo said. “He had his eye on the prize and he did it. He’s resting a bit on his laurels. The gym has taken on a life of its own so it’s kind of running itself, so he’s doing some other stuff.”
But as Grillo put it, “Happiness doesn’t last very long. With more money and all this other stuff, the problems just bet bigger. The demons that are there are just feeding on all this.”
Coming off a win, Jay seems to have his head on straight, at least for now. “Addicts are addicts, and you’re always wrestling with those addictions,” Jonathan Tucker said. “A lot of addicts will find other avenues to put that obsessive behavior and for Jay, that has been the gym. So I do have a goal, which is great.”
But the gym won’t be Jay’s only focus when newcomer Laura (Jessica Szohr) comes into the picture as a potential love interest. “That opportunity is something that allows me to be vulnerable, it allows me to have fun,” he said. “It takes me outside of the fighting world.”
Also outside of the fighting world is Jay’s mother. “Jay is on an arc of humility in season 2. In respects to her sobriety, I am more keen to hold a mirror up to her behavior than I am to muscle her out of her addiction, and sometimes the hardest thing you can do is show somebody who they really are,” Tucker said.
“And now that she’s sober, you get to see more of how I deal with her on a day-to-day basis,” he added, delving into how Jay is the dad of the family. “There’s some really great things with Nate where I get to really show I can be the dad here. I’m the older brother, but I’m also the dad.”
And yet when Jay steps away from that role even for a second to enjoy his new romantic relationship, Tucker said, “My dad tries to step in and do whatever he can and he ends up hurting everybody and setting everybody back.”
After being brutally attacked at the end of the show’s pilot, Nate was sidelined for the rest of the season. But that ends now. “Nate’s got a fight coming up, his first fight back, and mentally he seems to be in a good place,” Nick Jonas said. “All indications are that he’s okay and he’s recovered both from the emotional trauma of the attack and then just what he’s going through personally, but that quickly unravels and turns into more drama for him.”
The biggest difference from the Nate we came to love in season 1? “He’s actually way more relaxed in season 2,” Jonas said. “There are moments where he gets overwhelmed and some of the secrets that he’d hiding become too much for him, but overall, he’s settled into himself a bit more.”
Speaking to the secret of Nate’s sexuality, Jonas said Nate’s still drying to deny it, but there will definitely be more to that story. “To a certain degree, he is taking some action to figure it out, to explore, but by no means is he comfortable with himself yet within this journey.”
As to which person Nate tells first, Jonas said, “Be ready for a big reveal in that sense. It’s not at all what you might expect. It’s interesting the way it happens. I feel like it’s very accurate to how it might happen in real life.”
More than anything, Jonas said he’s excited to see Nate step up professionally and create opportunity for himself. “It’s fun to see him become an adult in that way.”
Now living in Keith’s childhood home – and staying far away from the bedroom where Keith’s father murdered his mother with a hammer — Ryan might not be on the best track professionally. “Ryan gets himself involved with some substances that get him in trouble and it affects the trajectory as a champion,” Grillo said.
But as Matt Lauria explained, that’s because Ryan doesn’t care to think ahead. “He’s kind of an animal who lives in the moment. I don’t think he’s awfully concerned with the ramifications of [his actions]. Regardless of where he is or who he’s with, he’s going to do what he wants to do.”
And with regards to Lisa, who’s now pregnant with another man’s baby, Lauria says Ryan’s done. “It’s Alvey’s kid, so no matter what happens or where we go, he’s going to be in our lives. So to me, it’s done. But the delicious party of it that’s so complicated and tense is that Lisa now, in Ryan’s mind, owes him something almost. I kind of feel like I’m in a position to make some demands.”
Overall, Lauria says fans can expect a different Ryan this time around. “Ryan was more willing and agreeable last year, whereas this year, he has very specific expectations about who he is and what he wants to accomplish, and a real intensity that goes there with.”
Speaking to whether Ryan regrets getting back in the fighting world, Lauria said yes, and yet, “it’s intrinsic to his being. It’s inseparable from who he is. He’s a warrior. He certainly regrets where this sport has brought him. He regrets choices he’s made, but he’s Michael Jordan. He’s Tiger Woods. It’s unavoidable.”
Professionally, Lisa Prince is doing great (and not just because she brings on a female fighter). “The gym’s doing really well, so her ego is being fed by that,” Kiele Sanchez said. But personally, she’s pregnant with Alvey’s baby. You know, the guy she’d dumped last season? “She and Alvey are back together but figuring things out,” she said, adding, “He’s still on the couch. They’re both trying and committed to being as good together outside the gym as they are inside the gym.”
And with a pregnancy changing how Lisa sees Alvey, things could get even harder. “Now there’s something that is the reason to be together but also her perspective changes so much, because he’s going to be the father of her child now,” Sanchez said. “I think she overlooked a lot of Alvey’s shortcomings and now she sees them clearly.”
Not surprisingly, there isn’t much support from the men in her life. “There’s no understanding of what she’s going through. It’s a pretty lonely journey. And she’s not that woman who’s a glowing super stoked mom. She’s actually like an anti-mom. At a certain point, she wondered why she made the choice she did.”
In a new house with her boys, Christina is “trying to have a proper, socially acceptable life,” Joanna Going said. “She’s working a job that a teenager would have, but she’s working her miserable job and living with her boys. They are both focused in their own directions, as they should be, so the honeymoon period of saving mom from the street has waned. The high of not being high has waned.”
Sadly, Christina still hasn’t quite figured out how to love herself. “Her relationship with herself is not good,” Going said. “I don’t think she feels like she deserves much. She doesn’t know where she fits, who she is, because things have been stripped away from her.”
Spending many nights alone as the boys train, she’s left to question her new life. “The way she’s living now, she’s looking around and the question is: Is this better? Is this a better life?”
Kingdom returns Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. ET on DirecTV’s Audience Network.