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.
Never tell Uhtred of Bebbanburg that he’s surrounded and there’s no way out. You may as well try telling the sun it’s not allowed to rise. Just as sure as the sun will come up, Uhtred will devise an escape plan, and you’ll be left weeping in the ashes of your once-fat-and-peaceful village.
Standing on the roof and lobbing lit torches onto bundles of thatch may not have been Uhtred’s most complex plan, but it proved effective. It was also just one plan of several our man has bubbling away. Sihtric’s betrayal? A lie! A plot cooked up to gain information on the Danish camp and Where’s-Wally his way through two thousand Danes to find Skade. That led to the enactment of another plan, entitled ‘Steal Skade and Scarper’ – another roaring success.
And another dead Dane. Thanks to Skade’s double-crossing and the excess of machismo drifting around the Danish camp, Bloodhair now dines in the great halls of Valhalla. That’s two down and one to go, by Cnut’s count. Just as Uhtred predicted, the Danes are no army. They fight for silver, not honour, and bear no loyalty to each other.
Loyalty is what Uhtred inspires in his men, whom he promised this week to take down a hard, brutal path, but one that leads to reputation.
It’s been satisfying this series to see the bonds strengthen between Uhtred’s crew, and its individual characters form more clearly. With so much action in every episode, characterisation could fall by the wayside, but The Last Kingdom tucks humour and detail into little nooks wherever it can. “You knew your father?” Uhtred asks Finan over a bowl of stew, “I knew his fist,” says the Irishman. It’s a brief exchange, but a natural one that brings these people to life.
It’s taken them a while to bed in, but Finan, Osferth and after his scheme, even Sihtric, feel as fondly part of the family as Leofric, Hild and Halig did in their day. Narratively, that probably means they’re all destined for painful deaths next episode. The Last Kingdom teaches fans not to get attached.
Much like Aethelwold’s right eyeball, which is no longer attached to its socket thanks to Alfred’s ruling. This may be the Netflix binge-watch effect (spending ten hours in the ninth century does odd things to your moral compass) but that felt remarkably clement considering the extent of Aethelwold’s treachery. I suppose Alfred hadn’t seen what we’ve seen, but I’d have taken both eyes and at least half his toes. Aethelwold was jammy, which is exactly how his right eye looked in that brutal closing shot. His punishment will come. When Brida catches up with him, he’ll be nothing but socket.
While the Danes were making the square, negotiations were underway for Edward to tie the knot. The frank business nature of a royal Saxon marriage, with its morning gifts and bride prices, is always fascinating to modern ears. Watching Lord Aethelhelm find a diplomatic way to say that he had yoghurts in his fridge with more time left on their expiry date than Alfred, was also compelling.
Number seven wasn’t as touching or quite as visceral as the previous episode, but it chugged the plot along the track with some rousing action, a good surprise in the Sihtric reveal, and a bit of courtroom drama with Aethelwold’s Witan hearing. Last but not least, thanks to Brida’s “you bore me, witch” and Aethelflaed’s “This food is intolerable. I have to vomit,” the episode also supplied us with two stone-cold lines to adopt in real life. Use both before the next episode to win a prize.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.