This week The Last Kingdom focuses on the English perspective of the Viking invasion, but sharp writing and lots of action keep things moving at a gallop.
Let’s bitch it out…
If you caught last week’s premiere of The Last Kingdom, you’ll know the show moves at a hell of a good clip, and I’m pleased to say that ‘Episode 2’ continues the pattern with nary a wasted moment. I’m impressed by what the creators manage to cram into 55 minutes, but with only eight episodes and a lot of story to cover, I imagine being efficient with your scenes is the order of the day.
Last week’s episode ended with Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) fleeing the coup and the murder of his Danish clan. He heads to Bebbanburg, his ancestral home, to reclaim what’s his, but is chased off by his uncle (Joseph Millson) who isn’t friendly to the idea of giving up his reign to his pesky “Danish” nephew. Within five minutes of the show opening we’ve already had some decent action and learned that Uhtred has been framed for his father’s murder – his treason is blamed on his Saxon ancestry.
The rest of the episode is essentially Uhtred and his Saxon/Danish lover, Brida (Emily Cox) as they’re chased across the English countryside by both the English and the Danes. Interspersed are scenes set in Winchester, the “capital” of Wessex, the only remaining English kingdom that hasn’t pledged allegiance to the conquering Vikings. Here, we follow the politicking and strategizing of the court of King Aethelred (Alec Newman), who is determined to combat the Danes and unite England under a single Saxon banner. Our anchor character in the court is Alfred (David Dawson), the shrewd, sickly, and sometimes pious brother of Aethelred. For Alfred, the battle against the Vikings is a holy one, with the souls of the Christian English at stake. At his side is Father Beocca (Ian Hart), a kind figure to Uhtred during his childhood in Bebbanburg.
Ultimately, Uhtred and Alfred’s stories collide as our protagonist is forced to Winchester by both the Danes, who believe him to be the murderer of Ragnar (Peter Gantzler), and by his Uncle, who considers Uhtred a threat to his seat of power at Bebbanburg. Here, Uhtred’s loyalties are called into question: Aethelred and Alfred are suspicious, but they’re tempted by the tactical and strategic knowledge of the Vikings that Uhtred possesses. Uhtred claims that a group of Danes is marching on Winchester, and suggests a way that the English can defeat the Vikings in battle. Episode 2 ends with the English king using the advice, but throwing Uhtred and Brida into the stocks. The impending battle between the English and Danes about to begin is especially well done (I particularly loved the little nod of respect the Viking leader gives when he realizes that he’s been out-witted). Also, side bar: I’ll bet 10 silver pieces though that King Aethelred is getting an arrow in the face within 5 minutes of episode 3’s opening. That guy is such a goner.
I’ve got to hand it to The Last Kingdom on its world building. Unlike Game of Thrones with its ornate and decorative armour, expansive stone cities, and majestic castles (as awesome as it is!), The Last Kingdom is very much down in the muck, as 9th Century England likely was. Aside from the Danes, the costumes are subdued, functional, dour, dirty, and lived-in. The towns look realistic, too: poor, provincial, primarily wooden, and realistically small (You can practically smell the Bubonic plague creeping in…) This is the time when England was attempting to coalesce into something more, something permanent, and the show lovingly reflects that. Even the “palace” in Winchester is a modest affair built by the Romans; the Saxon royalty who now inhabit it are barely able to comprehend building something so grand themselves.
Religion is also a richly mined vein, with faith a motivating factor for both sides of the conflict. Pious Alfred is determined to show the Danes the “might” and “will” of the lord, while the Vikings themselves view organized religion with curiosity and contempt. Ubba (Rune Temte), a Viking chief, steals the show in a scene midway through the episode when he forces an English king to put his money where his mouth is in terms of his religion. Ubba is just the right amount of unhinged: he takes his orders from his sorcerer and is a joy to watch. He’s going to make an excellent baddy: a perfectly wild and anarchistic counterpart to Alfred’s introspective and righteous brand of Christianity.
If the next episode can deliver at the same pace as this one, The Last Kingdom will be going places. Here’s hoping!
- As usual, it absolutely sucks to be a villager. If you can avoid it, definitely don’t be a villager in a fantasy world. R.I.P Edgar the Archer.
- After two episodes, I’m certain that the writers of The Last Kingdom are determined to make “turd” a part of our everyday vocabulary again.
- I’ve also decided that a “Danish Standoff” is when two Danes are threatening to kill one another, but one of them has the other’s sorcerer hostage.
- Alfred is a lot of fun to watch. The conflict between his piousness and his own sins and temptations is well done, and it’s clear that he is one of the few Saxons with the foresight to see what England could become. I’m positive that the King is going to be killed next episode and Alfred will have to “step up.”
- Uhtred comes off a little bit like a used car salesman at King Aethelred’s court. A little too slick and too confident. I wouldn’t trust him either.
- Ubba: “What is this Heaven?”
Uhtred: “Heaven is Valhalla, my lord. To the Christians, but without the fighting, feasting, and humping.”
- Uhtred (to Brida, who has stripped Ubba’s sorcerer naked and tied him over a horse): “He’s buck naked.”
Brida: “It was necessary.”
Uhtred: “There’s a branch up his ass!”
Brida: “Which is why he is naked.”
Your turn: So who is your favourite character of the series so far? I think Ubba is the most entertaining, straight-up, but Uhtred and Alfred are going to be fun too. What do you think?
The Last Kingdom airs Saturdays at 10pm EST on BBC America (in the US)