The Last Kingdom S1 is based on Bernard Cornwell’s series of historical novels which have all been reviewed favourably on this site. It was introduced to me as a show that would fill the bloody, grim-shaped hole left by Game of Thrones. Such high hopes often feel like a sure-fire way of heading down a path of disappointment, but I am pleased to say that the show took a blade to any such thought and chopped its head clean off.
The show follows Uhtred Ragnarson played by Alexander Dreymon with a smug confidence that steals every scene. Born a Saxon but raised as a Dane, Uhtred is the heart of the story, caught between the two factions warring over Britain and torn between the life he was born into and the one he grew to love.
The Last Kingdom S1 is bookended by two excellent episodes. It opens with a bloody battle as Uhtred’s home is invaded by cunning Vikings displaying their brutal and unique strategies. It ends with a battle that ranks up with one of the best seen on the small screen. The incredible cinematography and setting become characters of their own as the two armies march to face off in the middle of the British countryside. There is a tension before the final battle that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and when the shield walls clash and the blood begins to flow, the excellent camera work creates a visceral, chaotic fight that you can almost touch. The music and use of sound in the battle adds another layer to the wonderful construction of the scene and as the sun rises on the bloody battlefield, the first arc of Uhtred’s tale may be wrapped up, but the audience is aware that this is only the beginning.
Between these two excellent scenes, The Last Kingdom S1 is pulled along by subtle character moments – the budding friendship of Leofric and Uhtred; the care of Father Beocca; the strength of Hild the warrior nun. There is political intrigue with the rise of King Alfred and the ambitious Danes. Each character is given clear, understandable motives, whether they are heroic or villainous and this grounds the story and keeps the audience on their toes as they guess which fatal plot will be played out next. If you need another reason to watch the show: Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Hobo with a Shotgun) playing an old, blind Viking is worth the Netflix payment on its own.
Historians may argue about some of the liberties taken in The Last Kingdom S1, but the world built and fleshed out over the eight one-hour episodes feels realistic and close enough to its time for the audience to engage with the struggles of the characters.
Rich characters, a vivid historical setting, and brutal, bloody battles: The Last Kingdom S1 stands as one of the best shows available to stream right now. In a period of great television, The Last Kingdom S1 does more than just fill a hole left by a beloved show – it stands on its own merits as an unmissable show.
Watch The Last Kingdom S1 on Netflix
Watch it here.