It’s been a long time since The Last Kingdom premiered on the BBC back in 2015, and what a journey it has been. Based on The Saxon Stories book series by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom tells the tale of Uhtred son of Uhtred, a Saxon lord who was raised by Danes and grew into a fearsome warlord. The show’s five seasons span decades of medieval history, chronicling how England went from a group of warring petty kingdoms to a unified country.
Except we never quite got to that point in The Last Kingdom TV show, which only covers the events of the first 11 or so of Cornwell’s 13 novels. Instead, season 5 of the show ends with Uhtred finally retaking his ancestral home of Bebbanburg and declaring that King Edward of Wessex had betrayed too many people to be the ruler of a united England.
That brings us to Seven Kings Must Die, a two-hour movie which wraps up Uhtred’s tale by showing how he factors into the decisive battle which ultimately leads to England’s unification under the rule of Edward’s son King Æthelstan. We’ll be discussing the movie at length below, and as such, here is your obligatory SPOILER WARNING. If you haven’t watched Seven Kings Must Die, go do that first!
Seven Kings Must Die is a surprisingly muddled finish to an incredible show
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into Seven Kings Must Die, in part because finishing out a TV series with a standalone film is something that is so rarely done. Would Seven Kings Must Die feel like an extra-long episode of the show? A Braveheart-esque epic war film? Or something else?
Seven Kings Must Die watches like an entire season of The Last Kingdom crammed into a two-hour episode of television. And that’s a shame, because while Seven Kings Must Die has plenty of great moments, the film moves along so quickly that hardly any of them are given enough time to breathe. Even the editing feels like there was a conscious effort to tell this story in as compact a way as possible, skipping from one scene to the next at mach speed.
This will be the last time we see many characters we’ve spent years growing to like. We want those endings to land, but they sometimes don’t because Seven Kings Must Die is already moving on to the next thing. The biggest instance of this is the death of Finan’s wife Ingrith (Ilona Chevakova). Following her tragic demise, we get a single scene of Finan (Mark Rowley) grieving before he’s right back to cracking jokes like normal.
As a movie, Seven Kings Must Die is an entertaining historical war story. But because it’s built on the foundation of an even better television show, it’s hard not to notice that the movie itself often doesn’t quite live up to the series it’s continuing.
Any more time with The Last Kingdom is a gift
Let’s rewind and discuss some of the good stuff, because as much as I was underwhelmed by Seven Kings Must Die, I still loved watching every minute of it. The film revolves around Uhtred being brought back out of retirement to fight one last threat to the people of England. That threat isn’t what you’d expect, and it’s to the credit of Seven Kings Must Die that while it’s easy to point to the historic Battle of Brunanburh as the obvious focal point of the film, the road to get there is very unpredictable. (Minus the obligatory “rulers under-appreciating Uhtred and crapping all over him” plotline, which was a given in any season of The Last Kingdom and remains so here.)
The best thing by far about Seven Kings Must Die is just getting to spend more time in this world with these characters. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the role of a lifetime for star Alexander Dreymon, and he’s still pitch perfect in the part. Similarly, Mark Rowley and Arnas Fedaravicius (Sihtric) are also given plenty of time to shine. If you wished that you could have just had a few more adventures with Uhtred and his bros after season 5, then Seven Kings Must Die scratches that itch.
Many of the new characters are also intriguing; the religious zealot Ingilmundr (Laurie Davidson) is a particular standout. The settings and costuming and practical effects are as good as ever. A nod has to be given to the Battle of Brunanburgh. It doesn’t quite top the epic battle at the gates of Bebbanburg from the season 5 finale, but in terms of the sheer muddy chaos of the thing, it’s perhaps an even more historically accurate representation of a pitched medieval battle.
The broader political picture of Seven Kings Must Die is fascinating, as we finally see the promise of a unified England fulfilled. Considering that this is something which had been discussed on the show since its very first season, and that season 5 didn’t quite reach that point, it makes total sense that Seven Kings Must Die would devote most of its runtime to fulfilling that long-standing promise.
We also have to briefly mention Uhtred’s final scene in the film, which brought me to the edge of tears. After being grievously wounded during the Battle of Brunanburh, Uhtred is brought back to his castle at Bebbanburg where he seemingly has one last conversation with King Æthelstan where he proclaims him the first king of England. However, Uhtred then sees all his old companions like Brida and Hæston in the feast hall of Valhalla. The final shot is of Uhtred standing in a doorway between his living companions and deceased ones with tears streaming down his face, leaving viewers with the lingering question of whether he survived the Battle of Brunanburh.
It’s a beautiful way to end Uhtred’s story, and while it didn’t hit me quite as hard as the final montage from the TV series, it’s easily my favorite scene of the film. I really don’t say this lightly: the entire movie is worth it just for this one moment.