REVIEW: The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die

The tale of Uhtred of Bebbanburg as told through the brilliant five seasons available on Netflix comes to an end in a feature length production – The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die. The film begins with the death of a king and the titular prophecy as the adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s excellent The Saxon Chronicles set in the bloody Saxon era of Britain finishes strongly. There’s Vikings, Saxons, torture, and death. Destiny is all!

The events open with the death of King Edward. As always with The Last Kingdom, such events lead to a period of instability with various factions vying for power. Through it all, it seems as though the one person who can unite people in the heat of battle is the Saxon-born, Viking-raised, cool bastard who introduces himself as Uhtred son of Uhtred. Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) is weary of battle and there is a wisdom that has come with age and a life of making mistakes as well as watching others make them too. He tries to advise a young King Aethelstan to ensure that England can be united but the young king is swayed by another and his actions lead to the deaths of many and a dangerous alliance of clans from the regions surrounding the old English kingdoms. The kings join together on a battlefield, setting the scene an almighty event that you expect with a title like The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die.

The Last Kingdom started as a series on BBC but when the production was picked up by Netflix in series three, things really improved and whilst the show isn’t on par with the likes of HBO’s House of the Dragon, the direction, music, and costume design all come together to create scenes that are visceral and alive. The practical, realistic battles feel more akin to Lord of the Rings style of battle than the CGI efforts offered by the likes of The Hobbit and The Rings of Power and is a reminder of the quality seen in some of the best moments of Game of Thrones. There is a familiarity to some of the beats of the battle but this can be forgiven – fans of the show will know what to expect and it is easy to get caught up in the brilliance of seeing Uhtred fight his way through wounds and almost certain death to defend yet another foolish king.

There is a load to pack into the almost two-hour running time and I did find myself looking back and wishing that the events had been spread across one final season, something that the show had perfected already. It still finds time to discuss the futility of war and battles as well as the continuing theme of destiny and choice that has followed Uhtred like dark ravens throughout the series. One of my favourite things about The Last Kingdom has been the idea that friendship is stronger than religion, culture, nationality, and even family at times. Uhtred builds strong bonds through his actions and this inspires others to unite even against overwhelming odds. That’s a pretty special message and one that I think is needed now more than ever.

The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die probably would have worked better as a series but it gets stronger as it goes along. The bloody tale of friendship, traitors, love, death, and the idea of a nation closes in fitting style that fans of old and newcomers will be able to enjoy. This is grimdark with a historical heart and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Hopefully, its success will lead to adaptations of similar stories such as those by Matthew Harffy, as I am thirsting for more. Destiny is all!

 

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Aaron Jones

Aaron S. Jones is the author of Memories of Blood and Shadow, and The Broken Gods trilogy. He is Head of School at a school in Kent, UK and when he is not tearing his hair out at students struggling with their, they're and there, he is tearing his hair out as he dies for the thousandth time on Elden Ring. You can find him on Twitter @HereticASjones where he is most likely procrastinating for hours at a time instead of focusing on his Orc murder mystery.