This The Last Kingdom review contains spoilers.
The Last Kingdom Season 4 Episode 10
Our hero started this season with dreams of home and family, and ended it with neither. Crushing for him, but excellent for us.
Uhtred and Bebbanburg are the will-they-won’t-they of The Last Kingdom. If they ever finally get together, it’s all over. There’s little drama in quiet contentment, and no entertainment in watching Uhtred grow fat and happy inside the walls of a fortress. Like the gods, we want to see him fight. It is sport to us.
And oh, what sport this finale provided. Misguided as it was, Edward’s assault on Winchester made sensational viewing. The Last Kingdom’s battle scenes could never compete with the likes of Game of Thrones in budget and magnitude, but in ingenuity and energy, they put up an excellent fight. Director Ed Bazalgette always manages to place us right inside the action, underneath stamping horse hooves and shoulder to shoulder with the charge. Dynamic and creative, his shots ramp up excitement, making battles feel bigger and more populated than they really are.
It helps, of course, that the characters are so beloved. The fear of losing Finan or Osferth (or, now that she’s become part of the gang and taken up with Finan, Eadith too) make for instant tension. A battlefield on which everybody that Uhtred loves is swinging swords and clashing shields is a nerve-racking thing to watch.
And don’t think it went unnoticed that after a season-long absence, we were given not one, not two, but three cries of “SHIELD WAAAAAALLL”. The Last Kingdom, you spoil us. This show really knows how to play its crowd-pleasing hits.
It also knows, satisfyingly, how to do things the old-fashioned way. In this age of the TV antihero, Uhtred is an outlier. He’s brave, strong, honourable and loves deeply. He’s both an action hero and a romantic lead, and marching alone into the besieged city, he looked his most heroic yet. What he truly resembled in those wide shots crossing the landscape and passing through the gates, was a cowboy. A lone rider in a classic Western walking into town – the townsfolk watching from behind their shuttered windows – to dual with the black hat.
As black hats go, Sigtryggr is more slouch beanie than full-on Stetson. He’s a modern kind of Dane, young, Zen, wise, and probably a vegan who plays bass in a roots collective and makes a mean drip coffee at weekends. Executions and child death threats aside, Sigtryggr proved himself this episode to be just as Stiorra described him: gentle and – Brida’s betrayal notwithstanding – honourable.
First Aethelflaed and Erik, and now Stiorra and Sigtryggr, The Last Kingdom clearly finds siege-kidnappings fertile ground for flirtation. During their time in lockdown spent watching the 10th century equivalent to a season one to three Wessex box-set, those kids fell in love.
Brida, on the other hand, was feeling nothing of the sort. No wonder she’s had it with men. Sigtryggr promised to crucify Uhtred and instead bargained with him. Between that, Cnut killing the man she loved, and her oldest friend fighting on the side of her enemies, betrayal has been Brida’s most constant companion. Now she’s raising her son to hate Saxons, and plotting future revenge.
Brida’s arc this season has turned her into the Joker to Uhtred’s Batman, the Moriarty to his Holmes, the Dr. Claw to his Inspector Gadget. She talks the big talk about being the end of Uhtred, but both always live to fight another day.
The same isn’t certain for Aelswith, who was bitten by the snake she welcomed into Winchester’s garden. Thanks to Aethelhelm’s poison, her life now hangs in the balance. If it is the end for the Queen, praise be that season four gave her the best storylines of her time on the show. Let’s all say 17 prayers at 17 shrines for the Lady Aelswith, whose redemption has been rousing to follow.
Less than rousing was Edward’s behaviour under siege and under pressure. His Sophie’s Choice was torment, but he lacked a king’s decorum. It can’t have helped that Aethelflaed’s great victory coincided with his great failure – she’s the older sibling who gets into Oxford while your teachers keep passing you brochures on BTEC National Animal Care.
They figured it out though. Aethelflaed’s recent victory gave Sigtryggr what he wanted, and thanks to Uhtred’s brokering, the three of them reached an accord that promised peace between Saxon and Dane. Alfred’s dream took two steps forward and one step back.
It was a well-plotted season. Instead of two separate book adventures welded together as usual, the rivalries and conflicts from the start coalesced in this finale. A geographically wider-ranging season than normal, the characters and plots were all usefully choreographed to come together in a single location.
A single location isn’t Uhtred’s destiny, or that of his children. Their stubborn bastard blood makes them restless spirits, wanderers always moving on to the next adventure. With The Last Kingdom continuing to deliver at this high quality, may the gods keep them moving, and keep us watching. Bebbanburg and the ending it represents still feels a long way off yet.