When Carnival Films adapted Death of Kings (the sixth book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series) they – probably wisely – left out a scene in which Uhtred of Bebbanburg is drugged in a witch’s cave and sexually assaulted by a goddess of the earth. Season three had plenty going on without that little adventure. King Alfred was dying, Uhtred was cursed, Danish war lord Bloodhair was doing what Danish war lords do and vowing to make the streets run with Saxon blood… Add in seer Skade running around the place stabbing priests and the last thing required was the complication of yet another prophetess.
Excising the scene in which Uhtred seeks out ancient witch Aelfadell to hear her predictions on his future though, left The Last Kingdom without what some consider a key moment in the Saxon Stories. In the sixth book, Uhtred pretends to be Cumbraland lord Kjartan, and pays some monks to access the wise woman of Buchestanes. In her cave, she drugs him and he wakes up with his hands bound after a night of drug-fuelled ‘dreams’. In one, he was mounted by beautiful Saxon goddess of the earth Erce, and in another he was breastfed by the mother who died giving birth to him. (Both of these women are likely the wise woman herself, whom Uhtred describes as “ugliness in human guise.” It’s becoming clearer why the sequence never made it to screen.)
After all the drugging and breastfeeding business, Aelfadell sees through Uhtred’s disguise and gives him the following prophecy:
“Seven kings will die, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, seven kings and the women you love. That is your fate, And Alfred’s son will not rule and Wessex will die and the Saxon will kill what he loves and the Danes will gain everything, and all will change and all will be the same as ever it was and ever will be.”
Typically useful stuff towards the end there. It’s suggested in Death of Kings that Aelfadell’s prophecy is mere Danish propaganda invented to serve the villainous Sigurd, but her opening prediction that “Seven kings will die” has an unmistakeable echo in the newly announced title of Netflix’s The Last Kingdom film. At October 2021’s MCM Comic Con London, actor-director Alexander Dreymon confirmed that after the TV show concludes with its fifth and final season in early 2022, there will be an “extension” in the form of a two-hour movie titled Seven Kings Must Die. The film is due to start production in Bulgaria next year, from a script by Martha Hillier, directed by Ed Bazalgette.
Who are these seven kings, and when and where must they die? The likeliest option is at the Battle of Brunanburh, which is thought to have taken place in the Wirral in 937. Saxon Stories creator Bernard Cornwell told History Extra that he always planned to end Uhtred’s saga with the Battle of Brunanburh, and in 2020, did just that. The final book in the series, War Lord (which Cornwell touchingly dedicated to Dreymon) concludes the story of the Saxon-born, Danish-raised warrior with that very battle.
Without giving away too many historical ‘spoilers’, Brunanburh was a decisive moment for the late King Alfred’s dream of a united England in which Edward’s successor faced a coalition of enemies. And there, according to lines recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, at Brunanburh, “Five young kings lay dead upon the battlefield, by swords sent to their final sleep; and likewise seven of Anlaf’s earls, and countless of his host.” So there’s our clue. The title Seven Kings Must Die points back to Aelfadell’s prophecy, which in turn points forwards to the conclusion of Uhtred’s story at Brunanburh, and the deaths of multiple kings.
If Aelfadell is just Sigurd’s prop, does that mean her predictions are meaningless? Not necessarily. The women Uhtred loves – Yseult, Gisela – don’t tend to survive into old age (Aethelflaed may need to watch out). Alfred’s daughter proved a wiser ruler than his son Edward in season four, and neither yet rules over the united England of which their father dreamed. It could also be argued that once England is united, technically Wessex will ‘die’ as a kingdom. The Danes clearly don’t gain everything, but what of “the Saxon who will kill what he loves”? Could that be Uhtred himself, perhaps? Destiny is all!
The Last Kingdom Season 5 will air in early 2022.