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
“The world is in crisis,” says Uhtred in the episode three ‘previously on’. He’s not wrong. From the vantage point of November 2018, the idea of separate kings governing the Midlands, Somerset and Legoland Windsor is starting to seem as sensible a way to proceed as whatever it is we currently have going on in England. Division everywhere you look; poor Alfred would turn in his grave.
But okay, yes, Uhtred was talking about the ninth century, which is also in crisis thanks to everybody rubbing their hands over Alfred’s imminent demise, which will leave Wessex (“Valhalla in this life” must forthwith be adopted as the slogan for the tourist boards of Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire) theirs for the taking.
Whose taking? A coalition of the willing. Well, they’re not all that willing. Uhtred’s Saxon followers aren’t a bit keen to invade their homeland, and their lord gets a face like a wet weekend every time a fellow Dane slams down his cup of ale and promises to burn Wessex to the ground and rape its daughters. (Probably because his daughter still lives there).
Even Ragnar’s more interested in drinking ale and adjudicating over the Viking version of It’s A Knockout than he is in claiming Alfred’s kingdom. Bloodhair mostly just wants his witch back, and Haesten, you feel, would be every bit as happy picking meat out of his teeth back at Beamfleot as riding for glory. Aelswold’s the one who’s got them all riled up – he’s that one mate who pushes the group from the cosy comfort of the pub into the neon guff of a club, ruining everyone’s night.
After an episode in which Uhtred was plagued by guilt (more Leofric-the-ghost! A bounty of arselings!), he finally put an end to it, telling Aelswold that he wasn’t wearing the right shoes, he had work in the morning, and he didn’t even like Jagerbombs anyway.
Choosing Alfred’s daughter over his brother’s army earned Uhtred his second banishment of the series (and we’re only on episode three). Not only is he no longer Alfred’s oathman, he’s also no longer Ragnar’s brother. What’s left for him but to ride North and finally deal with Aelfric and retake Bebbanburg? (Honestly, what is it with Danes shilly-shallying over confronting their usurping uncles?) If I were Aelfric, I’d worry double now that Uhtred has the power to kill a man with a single slap.
Speaking of slapping men to death, Aethelred’s uxoricide (I Googled it) plan failed satisfyingly because it turns out that his co-conspirator Aldhelm is actually more of a ‘for the good of the Seven Kingdoms’ Lord Varys type than he is an amoral Littlefinger. (If you don’t watch Game Of Thrones, that last bit will read as though I’ve had a mini-stroke. I’m actually fine.) Aldhelm recognises that the Lady of Mercia is better for the kingdom than her pudding boy husband and has swapped sides. With a double agent at Aethelred’s side, clever Aethelflaed has the upper hand. With a big, pointy sword in it.
She also has Uhtred, and is just about the only one who does. Skade wants him, as she keeps demonstrating by squeezing her boobs together and generally acting like Cha-Cha from Grease going after Danny at the school dance. Is it possible to feel sorry for a horse-slaughterer called Bloodhair for his broken heart? Almost. Yet not quite.
It’s entirely possible to feel sorry for Alfred, whose scenes are full of pathos thanks to David Dawson’s performance and The Last Kingdom’s beautifully atmospheric lighting. (Uhtred and Leofric’s opening scenes could have hung in a gallery, they were that painterly.) Eliza Butterworth too, as Aelswith, conveys a great deal in just a few lines. She’s no fool, that one. And the glimpses of her grief are as affecting as Alfred’s regret that he cannot finish what he has started.
What has Uhtred started? No longer of Wessex or Dunholm, his options are beginning to run out…
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.