This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Warning: contains spoilers for The Last Kingdom series one to three
Together, books one to six in Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series number almost 2000 pages. That’s roughly War And Peace plus Jane Eyre, if you’re a fan of useless equivalents.
Stephen Butchard’s screen version has compressed all that intrigue, passing time and descriptions of longship sails into three (and soon to be four) snappy, action-packed TV series. Inevitably—and rightly—changes have been made along the way. Characters and plot threads have been snipped out, or woven in with others. Executions have been stayed. Plotlines have been reassigned. It’s the way of any good adaptation.
That said, those changes do mean that we’ve been denied the sight of Father Pyrlig lobbing beehives over a fort wall mid-battle, so it’s not all progress. Here’s that and ten other The Last Kingdom book events that didn’t make it onto the screen…
Uhtred is kidnapped by Father Beocca
“ ‘You are rescued, lord,’ he said to me, ‘praise Almighty God, you are rescued!’ “
In book one, when Uhtred’s captor (and now adopted father) Ragnar treats with King Alfred, the young Uhtred encounters the priest who baptised him at Bebbanburg, Father Beocca. He arranges for young Uhtred and Brida to be knocked unconscious and taken from their Danish ‘captors’ in what he supposes is a rescue mission. Uhtred and Brida however, not wanting to remain with the Saxons, escape from Alfred’s wife Aelswith and return to their people.
Finan and Thyra kill Sven the One-Eyed
“Finan crouched, still grinning, ready to drive his long sword into Sven’s exposed belly.”
In the TV series, Thyra gets a triumphant revenge on her kidnapper and serial abuser Sven the One-Eyed when, at her command, her pack of hounds maul him to death during Ragnar and Uhtred’s attack on Dunholm. In the third book of the series, The Lords Of The North, it’s Uhtred’s swordsman Finan the Agile who first fights off Sven’s defenders and knocks him over a rampart where Thyra then instructs the dogs to savage him to death.
Osferth maims and kills Sigefrid
“All were behind Sigefrid, and he turned, astonished, and just then Osferth, Alfred’s bastard son, jumped from the gate’s top.”
Baby Monk Osferth, the illegitimate son of King Alfred, is no great shakes in battle. Yet in book four, it’s him who kills Dane warrior Sigefrid at Uhtred’s command, after first paralysing him in an earlier battler when he jumped on him from a height and stabbed him in the spine with a sword.
In season two of the TV series, Aethelflaed is given the task of killing Sigefrid in revenge for him having killed his brother (and her lover) Erik.
Uhtred’s son dies in childbirth along with Gisela
“ ‘Mother and child’, Aethelflaed said very softly.”
Gisela’s death in book five, The Burning Land, happened in the first episode of The Last Kingdom season three. Uhtred’s wife died in childbirth, leaving our hero with a son he hated for being the cause of his beloved’s death. In the book, that son perished at the same time as his mother, but in the TV series, Uhtred’s second son remained alive after his mother’s passing.
Uhtred and Aethelflaed become lovers
“Fate is strange. I had rejected Christianity, preferring the gods of the Danes, but I loved Aethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter.”
Like the identity of Osferth’s true father, Uhtred and Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed being lovers is an open secret in Wessex and Mercia. In the TV adaptation, season three saw the pair kiss and Aethelflaed declare her attraction to Uhtred. He refused to become her lover then as it might expose her to Skade’s curse, but with the curse broken, there’s always the possibility in future…
Aethelflaed is given custody of Uhtred’s children
“The king has decreed that your children will be cared for in the Lady Aethelflaed’s household’.”
After Uhtred accidentally kills Brother Godwin after he is provoked into attacking him by his cruel words about the deceased Lady Gisela, Alfred seizes his children as hostages. In the TV series, it’s Hild who takes care of them, baptises them and raises them as Christians, but in The Saxon Stories, it’s the Lady of Mercia, Aethelflaed.
Uhtred kills Aldhelm
“There was no pleasure in killing such a man and so I made it quick.”
In season three, cowardly villain Aethelred of Mercia discovers his advisor Aldhelm has acted against his orders and so stabs him in the gut. Bleeding and on death’s door, Aldhelm uses what may be his last breaths to warn Lady of Mercia Aethelflaed of her husband’s continuing plot against her life. Whether Aldhelm will survive to season four is in the laps of the gods.
In book five, The Burning Land, Uhtred comes to the rescue of Aethelflaed, who’s being held more or less captive by her husband, and kills Aethelred’s servant Aldhelm in the process.
Uhtred and Skade become lovers
“I took off her cloak and I lay her down, and when we were done we were both in tears.”
Skade is introduced in The Last Kingdom season three as a bloodthirsty seer and the consort to warrior Bloodhair. She curses Uhtred and attempts to convince him to join as her sexual partner to allow her power to work through him. In a ploy, Uhtred lies to Skade to gain her trust, then murders her by drowning (believing his curse can only be removed if she dies without spilling a drop of her blood).
In The Burning Land, however, Skade and Uhtred become lovers aboard the ship Seolferwulf after she convinces him that it wasn’t her curse that killed Gisela.
Bloodhair kills Skade
“Harald kissed her open mouth as he ripped the blade upwards, ever upwards.”
When Bloodhair murders Skade in the books, he certainly spills more than a drop of her blood. Hating her for giving herself to Haesten (yes), a withered Bloodhair embraces his former consort, places a golden crown on her head, strokes her hair and stabs her through her chainmail as Uhtred and Aethelflaed watch.
Uhtred kills Bloodhair
“Finish what you began.”
After murdering Skade, Bloodhair tells Uhtred to kill him. Instead of allowing Bloodhair to die with a sword in his hand, and thus go to Valhalla in death, Uhtred kicks away the sword and puts him to death, in revenge for Bloodhair’s many acts of cruelty.
In the TV series, Bloodhair and Haesten face each other in combat, but Skade stabs Bloodhair in the neck, killing him. Brida, watching from the sidelines, rushes to put Bloodhair’s axe in his hand to ensure that he will reach Valhalla.
Father Pyrlig and the bees of war
“ ‘Have some honey!’ he roared at the Danes and tossed the hive upwards.”
In book five, The Burning Land, Uhtred and Edward Atheling’s army marches on Haesten’s forts at Beamfleot. They’re surrounded by Danes, but win the battle thanks to the arrival of Steapa with reinforcements. They seize the first fort and attempt to assault the second, but struggle to scale the walls. Enter: Father Pyrlig, with a bunch of live beehives that they throw onto the walls, thus distracting Haesten’s men and allowing Uhtred’s fighters to capture the fort. Buzz.
We’ll bring you news on The Last Kingdom season four as it arrives.