If you like Game of Thrones you might enjoy…The Last Kingdom


(This article contains NO SPOILERS concerning The Last Kingdom storylines beyond the first episode.)

If you haven’t already discovered it, The Last Kingdom is far more than a Medieval-themed stopgap for Game of Thrones fans looking for distraction—it’s a show you’ll want to watch and keep watching based on it’s own considerable merits. Produced by Carnival Films and distributed by the BBC and Netflix, this historical action adventure may be impossible not to binge. There are 16 episodes currently available, spread across two seasons.

The Last Kingdom begins in the year 872, when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England have been invaded by Danes (Vikings). Only Wessex, under the control of King Alfred (David Dawson), remains undefeated. Enter our hero: the Young Uhtred (Tom Taylor), the son of the Saxon lord of Bebbanburg. Uhtred’s father and other Northumbrian lords are killed in battle with an invading Dane army led by Earl Ragnar (Peter Gantzler). The Young Uhtred and the Saxon girl Brida (Jocelyn Macnab) are taken into Ragnar’s household as slaves, and grow up knowing his children, the redheaded Thyra (Madeline Power) and the Young Ragnar.

Uhtred and Brida in The Last Kingdom

Years later, while the fully grown Young Ragnar (Tobias Santelmann) is away raiding in Ireland, Earl Ragnar is murdered and his household destroyed, with Thyra taken hostage. The full-grown Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) and Brida (Emily Cox) escape the carnage and take off on their own. Uhtred, born Saxon but raised as a Dane, is obsessed with avenging the deaths of the two men he considered his fathers, one on each side of a bitter conflict, and reclaiming Bebbanburg as its rightful heir. For better or worse, Uhtred is gonna get really, really sidetracked from his quest, along with his lifelong friends.

Uhtred, whom Dreymon plays with an endearing blend of oafishness, charisma and flamboyance, is the perfect conflicted hero for 9th century England. In a world torn between Christian Saxons and pagan Danes, Uthred is born of both, and his ambition and thirst for revenge makes him both a pawn and a kingmaker. He lives in a brutal time when men are constantly faced with difficult choices, and the consequences of mistakes are often terrible. (It’s got more than a little in common with Westeros that way.) Uhtred makes a lot of bad decisions early on—he really just can’t get out of his own way—but he grows on you. You can’t help growing to care for the half-Saxon, half-Dane rogue so earnestly pursuing his destiny, whatever the Viking gods decide that might be.

King Alfred, Uhtred and Brida in The Last Kingdom

Like Westeros, medieval England is a land of violence, injustice, war and darkness. In a place like this, a story needs characters with good hearts. If that’s the case, we can forgive a few ethical inconsistencies—and Uhtred is a good man despite his tendency to swing his sword at every shadow.

The show is beautifully layered with flawed and evolving characters, both Saxon and Dane, striving to be honorable in their own fashion, even though their different perspectives often put them at odds. There’s a group of well-realized supporting characters as well, including the worthy man-at-arms Leofric (Adrian Bower), the earnest priest Beocca (Ian Hart) and the nun-warrior Hild (Eva Birthistle). True to the period, the female characters are largely powerless compared to the men (especially among the Saxons), but given the opportunity, they wield influence in a multitude of ways. Lovers of the grimdark need not worry, however: liars, killers and connivers still abound.

Uhtred and Hild in The last Kingdom

The battles are action-packed, well-choreographed and feel true to the time period, though you might find yourself tiring of the ‘shield wall’ tactic by the end of season 2. Uhtred often rushes headlong into questionable situations and the show is willing to supply well-designed coincidences to get him out of a few fixes, but it’s so well-done you run with it because the story, hustling along at a gallop, allows for such in-the-nick of-time luxuries here and there. It’s all well-written, believably plotted and character driven, with nice servings of humor tossed in.

That said, a word of warning: don’t get too attached to any character in The Last Kingdom. Like Thrones in the early days, the cavalry doesn’t always arrive in time. Nobody is safe, and the Grim Reaper swings his scythe often enough to make you fear for everyone involved, almost every minute they’re onscreen.

Young Ragnar leads his Danes in The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom is not Game of Thrones, and that’s a good thing. We don’t want a weak knockoff cooked up to imitate George R.R. Martin’s creation, but rather a brand new feast, and that’s what Kingdom delivers. While it doesn’t have the immensely complex political and family conflicts of Thrones (what show does?), Kingdom delivers plenty of intrigue and deception, and it gains depth by mining the religious and cultural tensions of its era, dramatic themes that don’t predominate the world ofThrones.

I really can’t say too many appreciative things about The Last Kingdom. It’s not perfect, but it’s packed with great characters and storylines willing to venture into the unexpected. The first season is wildly entertaining, while the second season is revelatory. Specifically, the second episode of season 2 was when I realized the show had matured from something really good into something mind-blowingly good.

The richness of The Last Kingdom, like Game of Thrones, may well be linked to its source material, a successful and well-researched book series penned by a talented author. Kingdom is based on The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell. So far, the TV show has covered four of the ten books in the series, and Cornwell intends to write more. For ASOIF readers awaiting the elusive Winds of Winter, The Saxon Stories is a gem.

The only bad thing about getting hooked on The Last Kingdom is that once you binge its two seasons, you’ll be left in the lurch waiting for the third. The good news is that the show has been renewed by Netflix/BBC2, according to RenewCancelTV. Bernard Cornwell sounds confident about it, too. Season 3 is supposed air in late 2018, right when your Thrones withdrawal pangs will be strongest. It could well be our TV manna from heaven, or, more appropriately, our superbly bloody haunch from 9th century Wessex.

Make sure to check out WiC’s other Medieval TV show recommendations!

Next: HBO president: Game of Thrones prequel won’t air until 2020 at the earliest

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