The Last Kingdom. A historical fantasy show on the BBC and Netflix. Based on the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwall, the first season is about the early days of England during the Saxon/Viking time.
The show starts off in standard fantasy form: invaders coming to a walled castle. Battle ensues, badass father dies, son sees it happen, son tries to fight back, invaders take son as a slave, son becomes part of invader’s family, becomes adult. Through that set-up in the first dang episode, we get to Uthred, son of a Saxon but trained/loved as a Dane. Things happen to Uthred’s Dane family and he goes on a mission with his childhood friend Brida to kill those who killed his Dane family, while also regaining his lands from his actual father’s murderer. Elsewhere, the last kindgom (hence the name!) of Wessex is at war with the Danes. Uthred helps the king win, but the king dies and his brother Alfred takes over as king. King Alfred tries to make peace with the Danes, but more bloodshed happens and Uthred must totter back-and-forth between Saxon and Dane. When Uthred is given a title and a wife, Brida leaves him calling him a Saxon. She leaves to find Young Ragnar – the Dane’s surviving son from earlier in the season. More bloodshed happens, some political things too. Eventually the bad guys are killed and peace is had…sort of. Brida and Young Ragnar are slaves and Uthred is out to find them.
Though the plot is somewhat cliche and seen over and over, I like it here in the historical setting. This world is real, I mean most of it really happened. Though Uthred is a fictional character, many of the other characters are based on real-life people. It is a simple fictional story of one man, but the true history is very complex and interesting.
The action and cinematography for a TV show is movie level quality. There is a fight scene where one dude gets his ankles cut and I visibly cringed and then had to text my father to start watching this show. The acting and the casting are spot on and I think that the producers did a wonderful job of getting the dialogue right.
How can one not love a character who calls the main character “Assling”??? It is hilarious and grounding at the same time. (For those who don’t know, atheling is a Middle English term for prince or hero)
Because of the smash hit of Game of Thrones, most TV fantasies are going to be compared to it. In those terms, I think The Last Kingdom stands its ground nicely. Characters die all the time, especially when you get attached to them. The political schemes are not as deep as GoT, but they are definitely complex and interesting.
I loved how they added the location names – both in Old English and Modern English. It was a nice touch.
What doesn’t work:
The first season takes two books and puts them together, so about halfway through the season, there is a time jump and additional things added to the show. While most of it works, like Uthred’s wife and title, the addition of the Phantom Queen is somewhat sledgehammered in there. While I liked the Phantom Queen and her plot arc, it was too quick of an addition for me.
Though the show was short in terms of episodes, I felt they jumped around too much in terms of Uthred always going someplace else. He traveled so much in this show. But it was a small irritant.
4.5 out of 5
I love this show. Everything from the production values to the story. It clicked on so many levels for me: history, fantasy, war, Old England, Vikings, humor, dreariness. I loved it all.