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.
Well that’s torn it. The uneasy truce between Alfred and Uhtred has survived a lot—theological discord, imprisonment, slavery, that time Alfred turned up to Cookham unannounced with his entourage in tow and forced Gisela to defrost all those pizzas—but it can’t survive this. Uhtred, son of Uhtred has betrayed his oath. He’s now an enemy of the king.
Enemies aren’t something the king is exactly short on right now, his own failing health chief among them. Alfred’s death is the most anticipated event in Anglo-Saxon England since they gave out free acorns at the last Winter Solstice. Alfred’s enemies are emboldened and everybody, from the turd Aethelwold to the turd Aethelred, is plotting a takeover bid. When Alfred goes, he’ll leave behind a power vacuum into which a torrent of turds and Danes will rush (apologies for that mental image).
Maddeningly avoidable as Uhtred and Alfred’s conflict was, none of it felt out of character. That’s the boon of The Last Kingdom having devoted so much time in previous series to establishing just who these men are. As the King, Alfred can never act on his conscience alone, and was therefore bound to put the needs of the country above the needs of his servant. Uhtred, ever the hothead, can never turn the other cheek, and was therefore bound to react to Brother Godwin’s cruel torment. It could end no other way than Alfred being held at knifepoint and insulting Uhtred’s gods. Anyone could see that’s where their relationship’s been heading from the beginning.
Aelswold saw. All that skulking and observing he’s been doing finally paid off with a well-executed plan to exploit their animosity. Stage two in Aelswold’s plan – engage an army of Danes to help him take Wessex – isn’t quite as clever. Is it possible he has the Danes confused with, say, a village rotary club? The warlords may well amass an army to take the jewel of Wessex, but the chances they’ll let him rule it afterwards? Oh Aelswold. Once a turd, always a turd.
Once a Dane, always a Dane? After so many years fighting for Wessex and enjoying its perks (fast broadband, regular bin collections, all the stuff that will go on to become Alfred’s legacy), can Uhtred truly return to his Danish childhood?
Brother Ragnar believes so but Brida is more circumspect. “Ragnar is my child. Betray him and I’ll kill you,” she promised Uhtred the end of this episode. I’d listen to her, son. One, because she’s Brida and when Brida promises to kill someone she’s usually elbow deep in their guts by teatime, and two, because she has a magic ram’s head on a stick.
Magic works in The Last Kingdom. That ram’s head on a stick honestly seemed to do the trick and quell pouty Skade’s “colour of a Scotsman’s arse” curse on Uhtred, causing her to pout even harder.
It may have been a curse for Uhtred, but it was a blessing for fans. The hallucinations ushered in the return of Leofric, the manifestation of Uhtred’s guilt for betraying Alfred (note to self: do not annoy Beocca. Ian Hart is fierce when he’s angry). Not only were we given Leofric, but we had two “arselings” out of him. Truly, the gods are merciful.
I’m not yet sold on Skade. Her whole ‘I only work through a man/shag me Uhtred’ thing feels retrograde, even for the ninth century. After all the good work The Last Kingdom did in series two to tell women’s stories that weren’t dull and regressive, series three seems to be backsliding on that count. Gisela’s fridging, Skade’s magic (like Yseult’s) being based in her sexuality, Hild being the dully stereotypical sensible girl tutting over the boys, Brida’s warrior-woman’s-secret-infertility-sadness storyline… It might be in the source material, but as we saw last series, there are exciting, inspiring ways to tell historical women’s stories for modern audiences. Fingers crossed that Aethelflaed’s plot serves her better.
Like her father, the Lady of Mercia and her Viking pup now face a threat from the scheming snake she’s unfortunate enough to call a husband. Sick of his wife stealing his glory by leading his army into battle instead of following his lead by sitting on her royal bum, Aethelred has called for Aethelflaed’s murder. Too right the Aetheling Edward needs to make a better match than his sister’s. They could marry him to Brida’s ram’s head on a stick and he’d find it a more decent, loving spouse than that pudding boy.
Among all the growling between Uhtred and Alfred, episode two also had a bit of welcome humour in Steapa and Finan’s repartee. There was also Jackie Chan movie-style excitement thanks to Uhtred’s improvised escape from court – running over Winchester’s rooftops and warding off guards with candlesticks. Any show in which a character slides down a thatched roof onto a horse’s saddle is doing it right in my book.
Clearly not doing right is the traitorous Haesten, whom Alfred believes is “about to send Bloodhair on his way.” Yeah, about that…
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.