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The Last Kingdom Discussion: The first two seasons

Contributed by
Nov 30, 2018

This post contains spoilers for The Last Kingdom's first two seasons.

Netflix just released the third season of The Last Kingdom, which prompted many of us to ask the question, “What the hell is The Last Kingdom?” Well, it’s that show you’ve probably scrolled past on your way to the latest installment of Narcos or to rewatching all nine seasons of The Office. The Last Kingdom looks like a cross between History’s Vikings and HBO’s Game of Thrones, but over the course of its first two seasons, it establishes itself as a show that can stand on its own two feet without the comparisons.

The series follows the journey of a would-be king named Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon). Born a Christian English lord and sold into slavery to the Danes — a group of Viking invaders slowly conquering all of Britain — Uhtred is raised as a warrior. He’s a smartass lothario, a womanizer with wit, a guy whose mouth gets him into all sorts of trouble and whose sword gets him out of it. Over the course of the show’s first two seasons, Uhtred becomes a major player in the battle for English supremacy. He swears his fealty to Alfred (David Dawson), King of Wessex — a man whose brains match Uhtred’s brawn — and fights both Saxon and Viking alike in order to return home and become the king he was destined to be.

He also sports a lot of fur coats, goes shirtless more often than is necessary when living on a sub-freezing continent, smirks in the face of death, and entrances women with his glorious head of hair. The Last Kingdom is a show you should be watching, and we’re here to give you a quick recap of the first two seasons so you can catch up.

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Major Players

Uhtred

Alyssa: I am not going to lie to you, I wasn’t a fan of our hero until Season 2. He spent most of Season 1 bouncing from woman to woman and whining about not really being a Saxon or a Dane and I was decidedly not into it.

Jessica: Oh, same. I came to this show expecting it to be a Game of Thrones rip-off and Jon Snow he is not, despite a similar dedication to man buns. Even though the guy looks like a cross between Viggo Mortenson and Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings, his womanizing and general lack of direction in the first season is a major turn off.

Alyssa: He really is “Aragorn, but make him prettier." I think in the first season, Uhtred definitely suffered from being less interesting than the secondary players around him, but that’s kind of the classic downfall of these kinds of stories, isn’t it? Yeah, we’ve got our handsome hero, but I want to know more about people like Leofric (Adrian Bower) — RIP, you were a real one — and Hild (Eva Birthistle).

Jessica: It doesn’t help that Uhtred is a pretty selfish character to begin with. His driving motivation in Season 1 was to earn wealth so he could become an aelderman and take back his ancestral seat at Bebbanburg. A strange goal considering he was raised by Danes — the enemies of the English — and obviously considered himself one. I like the concept of a character straddling two worlds, and it’s obvious the show’s laying the groundwork for Uhtred to be an uniter of peoples, but I need a future king with more conviction and purpose than just “get rich or die tryin’,” you know what I mean?

Alyssa: I agree, and I think what bothered me so much, in the beginning, was that Uhtred inspired so much loyalty in others — particularly Ragnar (Tobias Santelmann) and Beocca (Ian Hart) — but he hadn’t really done anything to earn it. Why is this ya boi? However, I do think that we saw him undergo some serious growth in Season 2 and he’s finally acting like a man I’d follow into battle (and by "follow into battle" I mean meet up with them later with water bottles and orange slices).

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Alfred

Jessica: Speaking of a character that just completely annoys the sh*t out of me, say hello to King Alfred of Wessex, everyone! This pious sack of chicken liver is the cause of so many of Uhtred’s woes. He has goals to make England one nation under an almighty God and he’s got a priest for every day of the week. I get that religion was important to people back then, but this guy redefines the word “devout.”

Alyssa: Alfred is… complicated, man. I think he has largely good intentions about building a united England, but wow does he often choose the worst way to go about it. I think in order to maintain that level of power back then (and let's face it, it’s still the same now), you have to be willing to use others to a degree that makes more normal people uncomfortable. Which is what we see A LOT with Alfred. He doesn’t want to trust Uhtred with any level of freedom, but he is perfectly willing to throw him and his sword at any issue that threatens Wessex.

Jessica: To be fair, that’s just good business. You’ve got a capable warrior who inspires loyalty in men, use him on the battlefield until he’s dead and buried but don’t give him enough power to overthrow you. I don’t mind Alfred’s manipulative side as much as I detest his religious convictions. I cannot get behind his level of devotion to God. It takes precedence over everything — his family, the welfare of his people — every decision he makes must be influenced by priests or holy signs. It’s incredibly frustrating. Alas, this is probably why I was never asked back to my college dormmate’s Bible study. Bringing up the concept of “free will” with people like Alfred does not go over well.

Alyssa: Yeah, I think in the long run (time to dig into the actual history in search of "spoilers") of the show, Alfred’s religious stringency is going to be his undoing. His inability to compromise with the pagans unless his heir is on the line is going to be an increasingly insurmountable problem. Shockingly, people don’t tend to react well when they’re told that their gods are primitive and their religion is stupid! So I think unless Alfred backs off from the “shut up, there is only one God” way that he’s going now, he’s going to have an even harder time holding onto the power that he’s accumulated.

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Season 1

Alyssa: I know this is a common theme in a lot of stories, but the idea that you could accept the people who killed your family as your new family so willingly is kind of insane to me.

Jessica: Well, it doesn’t help that you thought your father didn’t really care for you. Uhtred wasn’t meant to be king. He was the spare — and possibly a bastard seeing as he didn’t think the queen was his mother — and he was thrust into power because of the death of his older brother. It was clear he was a bit of an outsider to begin with, and he had a sharp wit and a penchant for stupidity. These are both things he has yet to grow out of, so I think the Dane way of life just suited him better.

Alyssa: Fair enough! I think you’re right. His Danish family gave him more purpose beyond “Oh, your brother is dead, I suppose you’ll do.” Plus, this move got him in with Ragnar the Younger, my personal fave. I cannot tell you how many times I wish the show focused on Ragnar instead of Uhtred. He’s the better man! But I digress.

Jessica: No, no. Netflix needs to hear this. A spinoff that follows the seafaring adventures of Ragnar the Younger and his lover, Brida (Emily Cox) should already be in the works. It will be a romantic tale of a couple razing and pillaging, falling even more in love, and conquering foreign lands and it will be glorious. In all seriousness, though, Ragnar the Younger becomes the brother Uhtred never had and his loyalty, even when Uhtred is accused of murdering his adopted Danish family, is inspiring. Uhtred doesn’t deserve Ragnar. None of us deserve Ragnar.

Alyssa: My kingdom (heh) for a Ragnar spinoff! I’m always down for a scrappy underdog tale, so while I didn’t love Uhtred, I did enjoy seeing him trying to clear his name after being accused of killing his Danish family. I think it was a pretty essential part of him becoming a man, even if he whined about money and ladies the entire time.

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Jessica: Speaking of ladies, the whole revenge plot of Season 1 — Uhtred spends much of his time flitting from castle to castle, lord to king to find the Dane responsible for his family’s murder — gave us another gem on top of some much-needed character development for our young hero. It gave us Brida, my personal Viking patronus. How can you not love a woman who speaks her mind, calls men out on their sh*t, and sticks branches up the asses of aging Vikings who get too handsy?

Alyssa: Woof, yes. Brida is a Viking warrior that we can all stan and feel good about. I think the first season struggled a bit with most of its female characters — they were pretty much all hags or just there to warm Uhtred’s bed — but Brida’s strength of devotion to the Danes and the fact that she wouldn’t accept anything less than what she wanted out of life was one of my favorite parts of the season. When she finally ditched Uhtred because she couldn’t handle how wishy-washy he was anymore? Music to my ears.

Jessica: Brida’s whole speech about refusing to become a Saxon woman because she didn’t want to wash and cook and work the fields is a serious mood, y’all. Ladies, if he doesn’t accept your refusal to be domestic, if he doesn’t support your bloodlust, if he wants you to wait on him while he tries to gather a fortune and win back his kingdom, he is not Ragnar the Younger and he is not your man. But we’ve gone off course. Once Uhtred decides serving Alfred is the way to get what he wants and Brida peaces out, sh*t really goes down.

Alyssa: You are correct there. As much as I enjoy Ragnar and his family, the other Danish warlords? Not so much. As overly attached to his gruel as Alfred is, I think I would take him over Ubba (Rune Temte) every time. Every time we would cut to the death and destruction that lay in the wake of the Danes, I was further reminded that there is no other place in history that I would have survived. I’m soft and I would not be able to handle living like this.

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Jessica: Oh girl, every time I see Uhtred making it with some woman on a fur-covered bed, I’m reminded of that. I can’t even sleep with socks on. How do these people suffer with so much fur?

Alyssa: It’s not sexy! You’re just going to get a gnarly UTI! No one bathes regularly! But yes. SO much fur all the time. I can’t imagine the sweat. On a less disgusting note, I feel like we need to discuss Alfred’s wife as well. Aelswith is a real piece of work, and possibly even more pious than her husband.

Jessica: She’s been fully indoctrinated into that cult life for sure. Her micromanaging of her husband is tough to watch, to be honest. Not only is homegirl sporting a truly atrocious hairstyle, but she’s also setting women back centuries, and we’re still at the beginning of the AD era. I wasn’t expecting Aelswith to become as big of a player in this show as she is, but it’s a testament to how the series introduces, then uses, its female characters. Most of the women on the show are first shown as these accessories — wives, lovers, shadow queens — and their roles expand slowly as the episodes move along until they’re the ones pulling strings and influencing plotlines.

Alyssa: I would agree, and I like that there are many different character types represented. Brida = a warrior, Aelswith = a villain, Hild = queen of my heart. I feel like in a lot of shows like this, women are either lovers or, well, lovers and aren’t given much to do at all. I like that no two women are alike. Strength doesn’t just mean wielding a sword.

Jessica: But, and I feel this must be said lest anyone is triggered, there is A LOT of sword-wielding in this show, people. Once Uhtred decides to serve Alfred, he slays all kinds of dastardly Vikings — a big man named Ubba, a long-haired leech holding a castle siege, an army of Danes — in the name of God and country. Or, at least, country and money. Other than in a woman’s bed, Uhtred spends most of his time on a battlefield in Season 1.

Alyssa: It’s true, there is a lot of bloodshed. The Last Kingdom is not f*cking around on the battlefield. That last battle for Wessex was tense as hell. I think the show does a good job of going for the flashier, more exciting moments while not forgetting the more personal bits. Yes, it’s all cool and violent and whatever, but I’m really just hoping that my faves make it out alive (they mostly do not).

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Season 2

Jessica: Overall, I was much more invested in Season 1 of this show than Season 2. Most of that had to do with the journey Uhtred goes on, which begins after the battle for Wessex. Along with Hild the vengeful nun and his manservant Halig (Gerard Kearns), Uhtred drinks and whores his sorrows away while trying to figure out his next move. Eventually, he lands on returning to Alfred’s service and making good on the revenge plot with his brother Ragnar, but a bunch of nonsense happens in between that really fleshes out who Uhtred is and what he believes.

Alyssa: I definitely preferred Season 2, with the introduction of the other king Guthred (Thure Lindhardt), making life in England even more complicated. I love a good fight scene, but I really enjoy the scheming and machinations behind the scenes as these dudes try desperately to hold onto what little power they’ve acquired. Plus, I think Uhtred’s time in slavery, as terrible as it was, was essential to his character arc. He was humbled and came back stronger, with a bit more wisdom than he displayed in Season 1. Plus, it really drove home the strength of his relationships with Ragnar (despite often being on opposite sides of the fight) and Hild. The scene in the field where she helps him clean up after the rescue? My favorite in the series so far. I am so glad that they’ve kept those two platonic because it’s really blossomed into a beautiful friendship. That seems like something worth holding onto in such a brutal place.

Jessica: Agreed. Season 2 felt like a show really focused on relationships and how characters grow through them. Hild transforms from a nun into a warrior, finding worth and strength in her friendship with Uhtred while Uhtred finds a loyal companion, one who doesn’t judge but does speak her mind. The bond between Ragnar and Uhtredwass healed as well when the two brothers finally defeated their common enemy Kjartan (Alexandre Willaume), the Dane who slew their family. We got a glimpse of some of the behind-the-scenes power players in this game — abbots and priests whispering in the ears of weak kings — and Uhtred finally had a stable and somewhat healthy relationship with a woman. Plus, he was reunited with his once-kidnapped sister, Thyra (Julia Bache-Wiig). Who, apparently, is really into dogs now.

Alyssa: While I was a little annoyed at the Game of Thrones rip-off where a redhead killed off her rapist husband with the help of hungry hounds, I really, really liked how they handled Thyra and her trauma. I think Uhtred and Ragnar expected her to fall at their feet with gratitude, but Thyra is angry. Angry at the hand that she had been dealt to be a prisoner of the Danes, angry that they didn’t come for her sooner. I think a lot of shows gloss over what comes after you escape trauma, and I liked that they let Thyra feel her rage. I was initially put off when they paired her with Beocca, as much as I like him, but ultimately I think that he’s the Harry Goldenblatt of The Last Kingdom: bald and awkward, but ultimately husband material.

Jessica: There really is no better way to describe Beocca. He tests my patience at times, but he’s a calming, all-around good influence on Thyra and the rest of the characters on this show. I also appreciated that the series allowed Thyra to feel rage at the men in her life, who were more focused on revenge and selfish desires than rescuing her. The knowledge that Uhtred could’ve prevented her capture if he had chosen to save her at the beginning of Season 1 rather than vent his anger by killing one of his uncle’s henchman makes everything Thyra suffered that much worse. So much of this show focuses on the range of emotions in men while women often only love or have compassion, so it’s nice to see a woman’s righteous anger take the spotlight for a bit.

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Alyssa: Amen. Historically, women have had more than enough reasons to be angry, and I’m glad they highlighted that in the sea of all the man-pain. What do you think of Gisela, Uhtred’s second, more permanent wife? I like her, but I also wonder what it says about him that the woman who sticks is the easiest to manage, the one who asks the least of him.

Jessica: Sadly, Gisela’s arc felt too familiar. She began as this feisty, just-out-of-reach goal for Uhtred to attain and, once the two were married, she was regulated to a supporting player in her husband’s story. I had hoped that Gisela might oppose her brother — a weak-minded king responsible for Uhtred’s enslavement — in a more direct way than just marrying the guy he told her not to shack up with. I think Gisela’s only purpose is to ground Uhtred a bit so that the show can focus on his personal ambitions, not his love life. Ultimately, she'll probably be killed off in the same way his last lover was so that Uhtred can undergo yet another transformation. Fridging is alive and well, even in Viking times.

Alyssa: You’re 100% correct. *sigh* Let us speak of better things. Like Viking babes.

Jessica: Finally. It is time. We must discuss the Viking thirst-trap that is Erik (Christian Hillborg). (Not that Eric, Alyssa!)

Alyssa: Listen, I will always be down for a Viking Erik/Eric, be he human or vampire. I have to say, as much as the show wants us to care about Uhtred’s romantic exploits, the love story that really got me was Erik and Aethelflaed (Millie Brady). Erik and his brother Sigefried (Björn Bengtsson) were a good antagonist replacement to the Danish warlords in Season 2, and I am such a sucker for a star-crossed romance, even if it does have a little tinge of Stockholm Syndrome. To be fair, I would be hungry for some Viking beefcake if my husband was such an abusive prick, too.

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Jessica: I am a big Toby Regbo fan — the abusive prick husband Aethelred — and I feel for the guy. Having to play this whining toddler so intimidated by men stronger and more capable than him that he salves his own masculinity wounds by raping and threatening his wife is not the role I’d want in this show. But it does make Aethelflaed’s romance with Erik more believable and understandable. It also affords a certain amount of respect to the poor girl who grew up off-camera and who I had no emotional investment in until her forced marriage and capture. I’m predicting she becomes a major player of sorts in Season 3 and I think her relationship with Erik, though ultimately doomed, will probably influence her arc as the show goes on.

Alyssa: I sure hope so. Aethelred hasn’t been coy about his ambition to be King of more than just Mercia, so I think Aethelflaed is going to find herself caught between her terrible husband and her somewhat less terrible father. Honestly, I hope she just stabs them all. So, what do you want to see in Season 3?

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Season 3

Jessica: So, we’ll be recapping Season 3 of the show a bit later on, but before we watch and geek out over it, I want to speak into being a few predictions. The main one: can Uhtred just go home already? The dude has spent two seasons aimlessly wandering and killing for a purpose that feels so convoluted at this point. I’d like to see him have a clear, attainable goal and stick with it.

Alyssa: From what I have seen from the trailer, I think the conflict between Uhtred and Alfred is finally going to come to a head. It’s been bubbling just barely beneath the surface for two seasons, and I think Alfred is finally going to cross a line that he can’t come back from. I think we’re going to be left wondering how many kings is too many, and Uhtred is going to go from leading someone else’s armies to raising his own. But seriously, can he finally go back to Bebbanburg? I’m ready for his sh*tty uncle to get his.

Jessica: Same. That old turd has been lounging in his ill-begotten luxury for too long. And I think a definitive conflict between Alfred and Uhtred can only help the show at this point. We need war lines drawn, we need villains and heroes, or at least, semi-decent characters on opposite sides. I need a reason to be invested in this thing, to pick a team so to speak. I think Alfred’s influence has been holding Uhtred back and I think Uhtred’s growing popularity is becoming a real threat to Alfred’s reign. It’s time the gloves — or at least the damn fur coats — come off.

Alyssa: Yes! I live for the backstabbing. And more Ragnar.

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