Taking place in the year 878 CE, Netflix’s The Last Kingdom is the story of a young Briton (ancient British person) caught up in the conflict between the invading Danes and the British Kingdom of Wessex, the titular last kingdom that has not yet fallen to the invading forces. Similar in setting to The History Channel’s Vikings, this is a historical narrative that is also a treatise on realpolitik, on doing what one must with considerations of morality cast aside.
The series is centred on Uhtred, a young Briton whose father was murdered by the invading Danes— or Vikings— and who was betrayed by his uncle. A Viking warlord then adopts Uhtred and when Uhtred grows up he pledges his service to King Alfred of Wessex in order to secure his land and rightful title. As the pagan Danes raised him, he remains a pagan and a warrior, eschewing the decorum of an English nobleman. It is a role that is well acted by Alexander Dreymon, and though somewhat stoic of a character, his clever and insightful remarks about war and religion prove that he is an intelligent warrior, and one who does not bend his knee to anyone else’s opinion.
But the more interesting character is King Alfred, the Christian King to whom Uhtred promises his service. A pensive, wise and at times ruthless man who is troubled for his remaining kingdom and hence the future of Christianity in Britain, he does what must be done in order to secure the future of both. His wife is a zealous Christian woman, who serves as a foil to Alfred giving in to his temptation and who is a constant thorn in his side as she continues to proselytize her husband, reminding him of what actions the strict morality of Christianity in the ninth century would dictate. It is this morality that contradicts his instincts as a king.
Far from being a religious program, paganism and Christianity are portrayed as two components of the conflict between the Danes and the Britons. While the Christians must concern themselves with ceremony and morality just as much as survival, the Danes take heed from runes and little else. It is an interesting battle of civilizations.
And battles there are. With swords and shields, axes and arrows, the battle choreography puts the viewer back into a more intimate fighting style. The capable cinematography ranges from claustrophobic in the battles to awe-inspiring for the landscapes. This is a show of the quality that you would expect from Netflix at this point, since they have given us Jessica Jones and Daredevil. And it feels more like one of those shows then a titan like House of Cards, and it seems to know its place. It focuses on telling a succinct, compelling story rather than trying to have an HBO feel, like Netflix’s Marco Polo attempted. It is a story about the strategy of kingdoms and warriors told in a manner that is far more focused then Game of Thrones would have you believe possible. And while its lacks the gratuitous nudity of HBO, it does present you with excellent dialogue, well choreographed fight scenes and a compelling narrative all the same.
If you enjoy the first two episodes of the series then I recommend that you watch the rest. While the series starts off slowly it becomes highly, highly entertaining. It is a series that I really enjoyed and one for which I’m already waiting for the second season.
The Last Kingdom is streaming now on Netflix.