Crosstalk: What did we think of The Last Kingdom season 3?

The Last Kingdom is a Netflix show on the rise. The action-packed historical drama chronicles the life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a warrior born a Saxon but raised a Dane during the tumultuous years of late 9th century Britain. Based on author Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series, the show delivers plenty of drama, pathos and shield walls; it also has the potential for a very long run, considering Cornwell has written eleven books and isn’t finished. Our question: Was season 3 good enough to warrant The Last Kingdom being renewed for a season 4? Contributors Corey Smith and Richard E. Preston discuss.

RICHARD: I felt like season 3 delivered big time. I know you’re a big fan too, Corey, so I don’t foresee any huge disagreements, but I’m sure we can discuss all the things we loved about the latest season, and some of the things we think could use a little work. And we’ll have to get into our expectations for a season 4!

So to start, what was your overall take on season 3?

COREY: Like other great shows, this series has really begun to hit its stride in its third season. I just finished rewatching season 1, and although I love it, it had a tendency to jump around. Season 3 had a much better flow to it. From the battles to the small character moments and finally that big mid-season twist, I thought it all felt more polished. First and second seasons of a series can be weighed down by backstory, exposition, etc, but this was the show’s sweet spot.

From here on out, we’ll get into SPOILER territory, so turn back if you haven’t seen season 3. What was your favorite part about season 3 Richard?

RICHARD: Totally agree on the season 1 choppiness. Season 2 also suffered a bit from it’s big mid-season time jump, but the roughly 15-year leap between seasons 2 and 3 was handled really well (although I hated to see Gisela go).

Favorite part of season 3? It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, so I’ll name two. First, the relationship between Uhtred and the dying King Alfred was handled brilliantly; their scenes together were both beautiful and agonizing and loaded with the weight of “destiny.”

Second, the show is going to miss Dawson, but I’m interested in seeing where Edward’s (Timothy Innes) character goes. Ragnar’s death was a shocker, and I’m glad the show allowed so much quality screen time for Uhtred and Brida’s characters to absorb their grief and bond again before getting their revenge.

What was your favorite part?

COREY: I hate to mimic what you said, but those were both the strongest parts of season 3. Uhtred and Alfred’s relationship has always been complicated, and we saw that finally come to a boil when Uhtred “kidnaps” Alfred. You can sympathize with Uhtred for his frustration, as King Alfred had rarely been willing to bend and always asked more from Uhtred than perhaps he deserved. Seeing the two men reconcile as the season closed was possibly the series’ best moment.

I was also worried the show would skimp on the reactions to Ragnar’s death, but I was pleased to see it given the weight it needed. Ragnar was the one constant in Uhtred’s life throughout all his adventures, and deserved a great send off. Watching Uhtred and Brida grieve over there loss was emotionally powerful. Uhtred’s revenge on Aethelwold was likewise satisfying for all the chaos that character had created over the years. I daresay it was more satisfying than watching Littlefinger, a similar character, meet his end on Game of Thrones.

Enough of the good stuff, though. What did you hate about season 3?

RICHARD: Hate is a strong word, but I’ll point out some elements (few and far between as they are) I found annoying. First, I applaud Aethelflaed for her bravery in openly defying her vile husband Aethelred, but now that she knows of his intentions to eliminate her, why does she stay in Mercia? She is subordinate to Aethelred there, and extremely vulnerable. Just look at how Aethelred stabbed the loyal Aldhelm when his counselor crossed him. All Aethelflaed had to do was tell Alfred of Aethelred’s murder plot and that would have been the end of him. It feels like she is intentionally being put in harm’s way.

I also didn’t understand how, no matter his loyalty to his dead brother, Alfred could possibly countenance Aethelwold remaining in Winchester … and attending witans and public meetings to boot. Alfred showed mercy by blinding his nephew rather than executing him for his acts of treason, but there’s no way a thinking man like Alfred would let that snake stay around; at the very least, Aethelwold should have been banished under a death sentence if he were ever to return to Wessex.

Despite that, I did really enjoy Aethelwold as a character. Harry McEntire’s performance was always gleefully inspired. The halls of Winchester castle will be a very different place without Alfred and Aethelwold. Please, good sir Corey, regale us with your The Last Kingdom there-be-a-fly-in-my-mead displeasures.

COREY: First, the most annoying thing about the season was probably keeping track of all the names. Sure the names were normal in the past, but between Aethelwold, Aethelred, Aethelflaed and Aldhelm my mouth was constantly full of unnecessary consonants.

On a more serious note, I did buy Alfred’s mercy for Aethelwold. While I doubt Alfred would have mourned Aethelwold’s death, and most likely even wished for it, it’s an entirely different matter to be responsible for the death of his brother’s son. It was a rare case of emotion overruling logic for Alfred.

On the flip side, *copy and paste* Aethelflaed’s continued residence in Mercia felt rather contrived. Supposedly she’s there to keep her father Alfred from having to fight another enemy with the Danes on the march, but it still felt like lazy writing for me. Ultimately though, it was Aethelflaed’s mother Aelswith that gave me the most headaches in season 3, as she did in seasons 1 and 2. I won’t label it a failure on the show’s part, as I believe Aelswith role serves its intention and Eliza Butterworth can’t be faulted for her performance, but I still can’t stand the character.

For three seasons now, Aelswith has rigidly held to her belief that pagans and unbelievers cannot offer Christians anything, when nothing could be further from the truth. Watching Aelswith rail against pagan beliefs and logic when herself and her family have benefited from the pagan Uhtred’s actions in more ways than I can count is sometimes hard to handle. Watching Aelswith attempt to reject Uhtred’s protection when her son Edward’s kingdom is crumbling was maddening, and made me want to scream at the screen.

Moving on, season 3 featured an additional two episodes, as well as a reportedly larger budget. Do you think those things helped make the season the best one yet? Or was it a natural by-product of storylines reaching their apex?

RICHARD: I think The Last Kingdom did an excellent job with its extra two episodes (10 instead of its usual 8). There were good anticipatory sequences before battles and characters were given lots of quiet time to develop and explore relationships. The show is growing in popularity and that fact hasn’t been lost on its producers at Netflix, the BBC and Carnival Films. They’re looking at that Holy Grail medieval/fantasy viewing population that made Thrones a huge hit and trying to carve out a bigger slice of it. In this case, the show used the bigger budget and extended runtime to tell a better story, and in my opinion, that should earn it more fans.

I’m gonna compare The Last Kingdom directly to Game of Thrones here. I know GoT‘s showrunners said they only needed seven installments this last season, but I felt they skipped some of the good character stuff I would have liked to see, especially in the last few episodes. I wanted more of Jorah’s return to Daenerys or Tyrion’s reunions with Bronn and Pod. I know Game of Thrones could have had another episode or two if it wanted, and I think it should have taken a page from The Last Kingdom’s book there.

COREY: At some point we are gonna have to disagree, but this isn’t it. The extra two episodes did wonders for season 3. The pacing felt much more even, and we weren’t hopping from Iceland to England in the same episode like in season 2. I’m currently making my way through Vikings, another historical fiction show set before the events of Kingdom and featuring many of the same historical figures. The first three seasons were 10 episodes or less, but the final two have ballooned to 20, and as much as I like the show, I feel like that’s too much.

It can of course vary from show to show, but I feel like 10 episodes is the magic number. Marvel’s former slate of Netflix shows were 13 episodes each, and they always felt three or four episodes too long. Likewise, the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom felt rushed at times. Ten episodes is perfect, and I hope more shows adopt that format.

Wrapping things up, is there anything you’re looking forward to in season 4? Anything you hope happens?

RICHARD: I have to say that my anticipation for another season of The Last Kingdom now matches the thrill I feel for new installments of Game of Thrones. Considering how much I love GoT, that’s a big deal for me. Kingdom is growing in popularity as it matures and it would absolutely blow my mind if Netflix didn’t officially order a fourth season soon.

When that happens, we’ll be without King Alfred, which will be a big change. I wasn’t sure about Edward in the beginning but I really like the way his character is developing; his relationship with Uhtred will surely form the heart of the continuing Wessex narrative. I’m really looking forward to seeing that partnership develop. It’ll be rocky, of course — this is The Last Kingdom, after all — and Aelswith is around to antagonize them to no end. With the death of Ragnar, season 3 dug deep into the Uhtred/Brida relationship and their newfound detente is probably due for a significant turn.

Beocca is going to be such a sad character now and that’s unfortunate, because I adore him; the loss of Thyra will likely bond him even more to Uhtred, who has also lost so much. I’m a bit concerned about the easy love affair potential between Uhtred and Aethelflaed; they’re both great characters and I’d like to see that yearning remain yet never be consummated. Also, give me more Hild, Finan and Sihtric! Osferth is also interesting and his position as Alfred’s bastard surely will thrust him into the spotlight sooner or later.

Lastly, I’d like the show to feature a super-dangerous antagonist. Aelswith feels like she’s in a position to be something of a rinse-and-repeat repeat Aethelwold, a Machiavellian force inside the Wessex court. The show needs a primary enemy worthy of its hero. Haesten isn’t it, and unless Brida goes ultra-dark it won’t be her. The intelligent and devious Cnut is the current best candidate for prime nemesis, but he was underused in season 3. He sure can fight, so he may well emerge as a force to be reckoned with. We also can’t forget about the capable Guthrum (now the converted Aethelstan) waiting in the wings as a potential game-changer.

It’s all super awesome and I’m beyond ready for a fourth season! Your thoughts?

COREY: Well finally, we disagree on something. I’m not as hyped for The Last Kingdom as I am for Thrones, but I do love the hell out of this show. Like I did with Thrones, I’ve been slowly spreading the word about Kingdom among friends and family, and I’m glad the series has officially been picked up for a season 4. 

As for season 4, I too would love to see a more capable foe for Uhtred. I thought Skade was a worthy adversary, but mainly because Uhtred never seemed to know whether to kill her or take her to bed. It’s been a while since we saw anyone challenge Uhtred in single combat, so perhaps we will get that next season.

Honestly though, I would love to see Uhtred reclaim his homeland of Bebbanburg, and then have to deal with the same problems Alfred once dealt with. That would be quite the storyline, watching Uhtred deal with land disputes, taxes and levies. I too would like to see Guthrum return, and have often wondered where he was in all of this.

Ultimately, whatever form season 4 takes, I’m guessing we will be entertained. The show has really hit its stride, and I’m looking forward to Uhtred’s further adventures. Destiny is all!

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