As The Last Kingdom is now a Netflix-only deal, we’re reviewing the new series an episode a day. Please keep spoilers for future episodes out of the comments. Destiny is all!
This review contains spoilers.
And we’re back in business.
The Last Kingdom series three opener wastes no time chucking us into the action and onto the battlefield. All the hits are played: Uhtred and Alfred disagree over military strategy. A Dane screams “I want every Saxon dead by nightfall!” A Saxon screams “SHIEEEELD WAAAALLL!” A witch slices up a pile of priests. Uhtred’s woman is tidied heartlessly away to clear the path for a new conquest… It’s as though the show never went away.
Even the new villains—Bloodhair and Skade, a couple whose names belong on a battle of the bands poster displayed outside the leather accessories stall they run in Camden Market—may be new, but we’ve met their type before. (“Be prepared for a trap” Bloodhair tells his men before immediately falling into a trap.) Tattooed Danes who threaten to feed Uhtred his own cock? He eats them for breakfast! Thus leaving no appetite for his own cock! To glory or Valhalla!
It’s brutally violent (RIP Bloodhair’s horse. May Halig forever brush your mane in heaven) but all feels as cosily familiar as putting on a pair of warm socks. From shield walls to plans that trap the enemy in a death sandwich (a classic), to glory in battle being undercut by grief in love, this is The Last Kingdom as we know and relish it.
Speaking of undercuts, Uhtred has a fresh hairdo to go with his now-fully formed new gang. With Hild having lain down her arms (and judging by this episode, her storylines too. Fingers crossed she gets more to do in future), and Leofric and Halig off cutting throats and polishing hoofs in the great beyond, Osferth, Finan and Sihtric are the new lads.
It’s satisfying to see their personalities start to emerge this episode. For all its grumpy battle scenes and bloody proclamations, The Last Kingdom has always had a sense of humour to recommend it. That’s still in evidence thanks to Osferth (Ewan Mitchell), who brought a little of The Office to the ninth century in episode one, and not just because he has Gareth’s haircut. The whole “smite” gambit (“It’s a word, isn’t it?”) played entertainingly to Osferth’s strengths.
If Osferth is the joker, then Finan (Mark Rowley) is the teller of tall tales (“Alfred said he’d like to hump the witch, no word of a lie.” Finan’s probably the one who started that business about Alfred burning those cakes). And Sihtric (Arnas Fedaravicius) is… the axe one. His characterisation is hopefully on the show’s To Do list.
On the subject of which, poor Alfred is worrying about not having time enough to complete his. Long suffering with ill health, series three Alfred looks peakier than the Highlands and, according to diagnosis-by-witch, won’t see another summer.
Even in his brief scenes this episode—praying with Beocca, visiting Skade in her cell—David Dawson continues to bring fascinating depth to Alfred. The character’s led by his Christian faith, but with death looming is questioning the existence of heaven. He mocks the Danes for their belief in omens, yet seeks out their Seer’s knowledge. With the line “I do enjoy the summertime,” Alfred allowed himself a brief moment of watery-eyed grief for himself, not the kingdom, and it was moving stuff.
More moving, sadly, than Gisela’s predictable death, which was on the cards from the moment we saw her, fit to burst and declaring this her last pregnancy. By the time Hild gave the now-traditional ‘historical drama midwife frown’ while attending Gisela’s labour, the lady was clearly a goner. How unfair. Her death was short shrift from a drama that, in its second series, did some excellent massaging of the source material to tell women’s stories. Like Spinal Tap drummers and Defence Against The Dark Arts teachers, Uhtred’s women—whose deaths drive the hero onward in his quest—don’t have longevity on their side.
How heroic is Uhtred really? This episode saw him commit some decidedly unheroic acts – beating Skade and threatening her with gang rape to rile Bloodhair. Yes, she’d cursed him, stabbed out a man’s eyes, scalped a chapel of holy priests and held a beating human heart in her hand, but Uhtred’s shown mercy to fiends in the past. Yes, these are ninth century Vikings we’re talking about, but we’re watching in the twenty-first century, and his threat of sexual violence was a low-point.
Perhaps series three will redeem itself in the telling of Aethelflaed’s story, which promises more victory than defeat. Alfred’s daughter is now in the Lady of Winterfell stage of her Sansa Stark story – all statement shoulders and rousing battle speeches. We’ve yet to meet her little Viking daughter but I’m already hoping for a spin-off series.
Children of the royal loins were causing trouble for young Edward, whose extra-curricular shagging had made the life of the royal heir even more parlous than usual. He’s whelped twins on a commoner, and made enemies in the process, something hugely enjoyed by snarky cousin Aethelwold (Harry McEntire, always fun and with all the promising makings of a proper role in season three).
Really though, episode one was all about that battle, a scene with scale and excitement to spare. That kind of action alongside the humour and characters we adore is what fans come to The Last Kingdom for. We are an army, and by series three’s early signs, glory shall be ours.
All episodes of The Last Kingdom series 3 are available now on Netflix UK. Read Louisa’s review of the series two finale here.