This review contains spoilers.
As the rock music video genre teaches, fire makes everything twice as exciting. At least twice as exciting. That meant The Last Kingdom’s blazing denouement, in which the East Anglian fortress of Bumfluff burnt to the ground alongside Aethelflaed and Erik’s hope of a happy ending, was almost too thrilling. I had to defrost the freezer afterwards just to calm down.
The finale was bookended by a monologue on love. It gives a man strength, preached Father Pyrlig, often at the cost of his mind.
Hard cut to Alfred, a man freighted with the painful choice between the safety of his country and that of his daughter. He chose to pay the ransom, a decision ostensibly made to save Wessex the humiliation of having its princess turned into a travelling fairground attraction, but hiding a father’s desperate love under the surface. David Dawson is great under the surface. He plays struggle and ambivalence like a concert pianist plays a sonata.
Love gave Erik the Northman the strength to stand up to his brother and sacrifice their long-standing plan to rule England. ‘Twas Aethelflaed’s beauty killed the beast, before Aethelflaed—you beauty—killed the beast, Sigefrid. If I had the witchcraft required to make gifs, I’d watch Aethelred’s gawping reaction to his wife walking away from her kill, head down and blade dripping, everyday twice before breakfast. That craven bread pudding boy might think twice before pushing her around in future.
Erik died with a sword in his hand, and one in his heart, both courtesy of big bro. Off he goes to Valhalla while his true love goes home to Mercia with a Danish pup in her belly to spice up the line of English succession. I hope it’s a boy born with a beard, undercut and tattoos, who spends his entire life beating his ‘dad’ at sports.
What a scene Erik’s death made. Flaming embers flew like fireflies around the pair of them as they clashed in combat, fighting, hating and loving each other all at once as only brothers can. It was a roaring conclusion to their long-seeded story, acted with all the guts and gusto you’d expect from a couple of Vikings.
Aethelflaed’s first love affair may have ended painfully, but it provided her with a great tragic backstory – just the thing for wistfully mulling over while she poses for royal portraits. She suffered, but at least was also able to tick two key items off her The Last Kingdom bingo card – being strung up, Tweety-Pie-like, in a cage, and wetting her sword with the blood of her enemy.
Hers was a better first kill than Osferth’s. Endearingly lacking the mettle of his companions (good, wasn’t it, that the attack on Erik’s ship lost Uhtred half his men but not the half whose names we knew), he poked away at an already-dying man with the face of a vegetarian trimming the giblets from a turkey. Osferth’s face is a wondrous thing. The storytelling elasticity of Norman Wisdom beneath the hair of Gareth from The Office. I hope he hasn’t gone back to the monastery for good.
Disappointingly for Hild fans, her responsibilities to Cookham Abbey must have kept her from RSVPing to her finale invitation. The same goes for Brida and Young Ragnar, who also missed out on the fun. That’s the problem with a show like this that builds such likeable characters – you miss them when they no longer have a part to play.
On the subject of which, oh, Odda.
Odda the Ealdorman will be sorely missed, and not just because his name fits perfectly into the tune of Nellie the Elephant. Simon Kunz wrung real pathos from his character’s journey from the King’s right-hand man to a lonely drunk at irretrievably political odds with his ruler.
Everyone was at odds with each other this week. As in much of history, the episode was driven by powerful men taking unilateral action (when will they all learn just to listen to Uhtred?). With the common goal of saving Wessex, Alfred, Odda and Uhtred all set about separate plans that each converged on a single location – helpfully, in fact, on a single field. Once there, they united against the real enemy and prospered.
(By the way, is there a more rousing sound on television than that of someone bellowing “SHIEEEEELD WAAAAALL”?)
Still on the theme of love, there was none lost between Alfred and Uhtred, as proved by that hostile final scene. You’d think the safe return of his daughter would thaw Alfred’s frosty behaviour towards his Pagan oathman, but things obviously aren’t that simple for a pious king.
Overall then, at the close of a rip-roaring second series, eight episodes of which have simply flown by, The Last Kingdom delivered a dramatic, high-stakes finale with more action and tension than a Saturday night at the Two Cranes Inn.
I just have one question: please sir, can I have some more?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.