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.
I pity the cameraperson. Did you see those battle shots? Filmed from inside the throng, with all the blood, mud and squelch flying. Swords swiping across flesh and sliding through windpipes. Shields knocking skulls, and bodies stamped into the ooze. So much butchery you could smell it. Kudos to director Jon East and the team for putting me right off my teatime sausage roll.
Episode six’s opening few moments weren’t just brutal, they were also tense, and ultimately, rousing. Alfred’s tactic was shrewdly effective. It forced Edward to think like a king, and forced The Last Kingdom’s viewers to chew their sofa cushions under the strain of awaiting his move. (On reflection, perhaps that was what put me off the sausage roll).
After the action, episode six built satisfyingly with layers of funny, affectionate and meaningful scenes between characters we love. Osferth’s battle wound (Gods be merciful, don’t take the baby monk yet!) revealed the warmth shared by Uhtred’s men, and once again proved Finan worthy of the Series Three’s Best One title.
Finan’s a warrior on the battlefield, a joker in the streets and a sensible mother hen to his peeps. (“There’ll be no squares made, no fighting, just sleep,” he insisted this episode.) Not long ago he was telling an ailing, cursed Uhtred to finish his dinner, and here he did his best to persuade Uhtred and Sihtric to get in their pyjamas, forget their squabble and stop all this messing around.
Their squabble—as it so often does with ninth century Danes—quickly escalated into death threats. Now Sihtric’s background presence these past episodes makes narrative sense. He was being kept around for just this act of treachery, inspired by his Nordic belief in Uhtred’s curse.
Uhtred’s curse was blamed for every foul event that befell the group, from Ragnar’s death to Osferth’s injury, to, no doubt, the standstill traffic they encountered on the M18 to Beamfleot.
Curses were the stuff of this episode. Brida and Uhtred’s side mission saw them attempt to lift Ragnar’s, which they believed had condemned him to spend an icy eternity in Niflheim, the world of mist reserved for those who died unheroic deaths. The plotline gave Alexander Dreymon and Emily Cox the chance to share a beautifully written and performed series of scenes that showed their characters’ relationship in all its death-threat-affection glory. It was a rewarding pairing for fans, revisiting one of Uhtred’s longest and most important partnerships with warmth and grief.
There was humour too, among all the sadness and reflection. The emotion was well tempered by crude gags (I didn’t count exactly, but the cock, shit, arse and chicken-humping joke quota in this episode was proudly filled). Writer Sophie Petzal has a talent for dialogue that moves seamlessly between comedy and pathos, and this cast has a talent for delivering it.
Brida and Uhtred weren’t the only ones to share emotional scenes. Alfred had audiences with Uhtred and Beocca, both of which drew on the long history of their relationships. He also gave son Edward his approval, Simon Cowell-style: “Your actions were not worthy of an Aetheling… they were worthy of a king!”
The episode though, belonged to Uhtred and Brida, half of each other’s life and all of each other’s madness. Madness that will, no doubt, find expression in chopping Aethelwold into tiny pieces now that word is out he’s Ragnar’s murderer. That is, if Steapa’s sword doesn’t get there first.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.