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.
While not greatly exaggerated—it’s only a matter of time, after all—episode five’s reports of Alfred’s death were premature. The King was still drawing breath by the thrilling cliff-hanger, even if every breath and sword-aloft “For Wessex!” were agony to him. (As Alfred’s strength wanes, David Dawson’s seems to grow; the character has never had more gravitas or intensity than in these last scenes.)
Despite his pain, Alfred soldiered on, literally. He mounted his horse and led his men into a battle he used as an object lesson in royal responsibility for son Edward.
What should Edward do? Allow Wessex’s enemies to destroy each other and preserve his men, or hold true to his word and help Uhtred? As Alfred showed in his deliberation over rescuing his daughter from the Danes last series, a king’s pragmatism must rule over his natural instinct. (The swift dispatch of Edward’s secret first wife and children—Kevin Eldon’s Bishop Erkenwald is clearly more of a hard-line than a ‘cakes and bunting’ kind of cleric—has already taught the Aetheling something about that.)
Edward is learning, and so is his sister. Aethelflaed isn’t only becoming a decisive leader, but also decisive in matters of love. (That knife-in-table scene with her hubby was proper Dynasty stuff. Wonderful.) “I would like you to kiss me,” she told Uhtred this episode, taking charge. His noble refusal on the grounds that a liaison between them would bring her under Skade’s curse showed wisdom and restraint. Aethelflaed’s response ‘Lift the curse! Take my dad’s army! I’ll just wait here’ showed… a certain eagerness to jump those Bebbanburg bones. That’s probably unfair, she was almost definitely thinking of the kingdom.
While Aethelflaed’s keen to see the witch out of the way, Skade is growing on me. As Uhtred taunted Heasten out of his stronghold from beyond its walls, she manipulated him from inside, using promises of influence and sex to make him face her new lord in battle. Viewing her in the context of the the narrow confines available to her gender at the time (“To a woman?” the vile Haesten scoffed, when asked to prove himself before boasting about all the sexual assaults he does), Skade is easier to understand. Her insistence on choosing the men through whom her power will flow too, is beginning to feel less retrograde and parasitic than it did at first. She’s still a sociopath with less characterisation than a ghost train skeleton, but we’re only halfway through this series. There’s still time for The Last Kingdom to work its magic (pun intended).
Time though, as Brida discovered in the episode’s distressing opening scenes, has run its course for Ragnar. (Uhtred has yet more guilt to add to his series three burden now. Not only is he an enemy of Wessex, he also betrayed his brother by leaving him in the company of villains.) No sooner had the Danes started jigging over Alfred’s demise than their own leader was discovered dead. The recriminations began, with accusations levelled at everyone but the actual killer, who had the brass neck to pass on his condolences to Ragnar’s widow.
Aelswold didn’t have the brassiest of necks though – that prize goes to Cnut, who propositioned Brida while standing over her husband’s fresh corpse. Vikings, eh? Cheeky so-and-sos.
On the subject of cheek, all hail Finan – the sole source of merriment in these dark times. Without Mark Rowley’s character joking about his cock, we’d be knee-deep in grief this series. Come on, Edward, make your mind up and save the Irishman before the Devil takes him. The Last Kingdom can’t afford to lose another favourite.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.