Netflix has recently released the third season of its Viking infused historical epic The Last Kingdom. Based on the Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, the series was once a BBC production before being a joint production with Netflix in season 2. Now season 3 has come (which you can pre-order here if you like physical copies) and the streaming giant is in complete control of the Viking/Saxon saga. How does it fair under new management?
The show follows the exploits of one Uhtred, played by German actor Alexander Dreymon. Born a Saxon, he was captured and raised as a Dane as a boy. Despite being baptized, he firmly believes in the Norse gods, something that makes him a heathen among his kinsmen. Uhtred is an interesting fellow as he’s often unsure about his place in the world and who his people are. Does he side with King Alfred of Wessex, whom he has sworn loyalty to in return for reclaiming his ancestral home, or does he return to his adoptive brother Ragnar, one of the many Viking lords who seek to sack Wessex. Uhtred is a man of both nations and simultaneously, neither. Where does he fit in this conflict? That’s a question he’s currently wrestling with in this season.
Being a full Netflix production this time around, things are a little different. You’ll notice this in episode 1, with the blood and gore factor turned up a few notches. After two seasons, seeing gory battles is a bit jarring, but it never harms the show as battles are actually less common this time around. I believe there are only three major battles this season and only episode one really showcased some proper gore. Also different is how the story is told. Up until now, each season was made up of eight episodes, with four representing a book adaptation. Meaning there was essentially two stories in one season, with clear beginnings, middles and ends. While season 3 continues to adapt two books, it’s told as one continuous arc rather than two micro stories and honestly, the show is better for it. We get more time to flesh out certain plot lines and characters rather than have that arc end after four seasons. The threats we faced in episode 1 carry over all the way to episode 10. Yup, this season is also two episodes longer and those final two episodes are a treat to watch as they are full of intensity, double crosses, surprises and high stakes and ultimately, pays off the multiple arcs running through the season. It’s most satisfying.
The primary conflict this time around centers on Alfred, King of Wessex (played by David Dawson). The King is ailing, frail and succumbing to death. But there are Danes on his doorstep, waiting for the right moment to pounce. Furthermore, alliances are becoming murkier as people question who will be the legitimate heir to the throne and will he be strong enough to lead Wessex in these troubled times. Will it be Alfred’s legitimate (read, non-bastard) son Edward? Or will it be his nephew, Aethelwold, who one may argue is the rightful heir after Alfred essentially took the throne away from him. He’s still furious about being denied the crown and sets in motion a plan to claim the throne that could have disastrous consequences. Further complicating matters is where the Kingdom of Mercia stands in all this, with Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed being married to King Aethelred (yeah these names are something else) to forge an alliance between the kingdoms, an alliance that may shatter without Alfred. In the center of it all is Uhtred, Alfred’s frenemy. Despite being his greatest warrior, Alfred still has major issues with Uhtred, chief among them his blasphemous attitude towards God and his arrogance in court. This ends up costing Uhtred dearly and sets him on an unexpected path early on in the season.
Now I mentioned that this season is ultimately better than its predecessors, but it got off to a rocky start. Episode 1 made me question if I should continue watching the show. A large part of that doubt stemmed from two new Viking characters, Blood Hair and Skade. While Blood Hair is just weird and one dimensional, and ultimately boring, Skade is just the worst, especially in episode 1. You’re supposed to hate her, but Norwegian actress Thea Sofie Loch Næss fails to deliver her lines with any conviction, making her seem like a wannabe actress who was found off an Instagram page rather than the scary witch she’s supposed to be. She’s thankfully featured less as the season goes on but she was a huge focal point of the season opener and left a bad impression on me. She plays a deranged seer who seems to get off on toying with men and knows that she can bend them to her will simply by speaking. This makes her both dangerous to the many men characters as well as coming off as extremely pretentious and ignorant.
Despite being set in the Dark Ages in England, the show manages to deliver some commentary on modern political situations with ease. If the good Christians of Wessex are Americans, then the Danes are any foreign person who threatens their ideal security. Even if a Dane has been baptized a Christian, they may still be persecuted publically and the fear of invasion is rampant among both those in court and the regular citizens. There are characters on this show who were once Danish living in Winchester who fear for their lives thanks to being viewed as inferior and repulsive to those who were “here first”. The strength of this show is that while many Danes do wish to invade, it’s not as black and white as all that as there are heroes and villains in the heathen army. Likewise, not all those in Christendom are so saintly as those in the court of Winchester conspire to usurp the throne after Alfred dies, fearing his son Edward being too weak to properly lead against the invading Danes.
The Last Kingdom’s ever-changing and dodgy political landscape will feel right at home for Game of Thrones fans and serves as a good appetizer as we await season 8. Likewise, it’s the perfect companion piece for History’s surprisingly popular series Vikings, which features a much younger King Alfred. The show has come a long day since its humble beginnings in 2015 and the show definitely knows how to tell a tale. Aside from Skade, all of the performances are top notch, from Uhtreds immature and often ignorant outlook to Alfred’s stern and chilly line delivery. Millie Brady is also great this season as Aethelflaed, allowing the princess to become a beacon of hope in dark times and a female character who is proudly charging into battle when convention would’ve surely denied her such an opportunity. This show, and season, is about discovering what where you belong in the story that is your own life and how will people remember you, if at all and does that matter. Now that season 3 is done, I can’t wait for the fourth to debut.