When The Last Kingdom began on BBC1 last year, people were quick to make lazy comparisons with fantasy smash-hit Game of Thrones. It’s easy to see why – though adapted from a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell that go back to 2004, the combination of medieval dress, high political intrigue and violent battles clearly recalled the HBO series, and it’s likely that The Last Kingdom wouldn’t have even been commissioned without the success of Thrones.
Still, when it actually came to screens audiences found it was a different beast to Thrones, and could stand on its own two feet as a historical drama with something to say about life, love and the formation of Britain. Finally, the simplistic Game of Thrones comparisons could be done with, and we could consume culture like adults.
Well, until today anyway – because in a year when Game of Thrones has been delayed and won’t be on for FOUR MORE MONTHS, we need to find some sort of succour. We need a Thrones replacement, a TV methadone to substitute for the real thing – and in a limited field, The Last Kingdom is about the best option we’ve got.
With that in mind, I’ve crunched the data on the first episode of the new series to see exactly how well The Last Kingdom’s second series can help us stave off the Thrones cravings, rating seven key elements out of five to find out if it’s exactly what we need – or whether it’s just too different to fill that slot.
This was bound to happen sooner or later, after all – Wyrd bið ful aræd.
The series’ first episode sees Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) continue his quest to retake his ancestral home of Bebbanburg, before allying with a rival new King while Alfred (David Dawson) makes chin-stroking speeches about the nature of peace and war to his captives. Meanwhile, baddies Kjartan and Sven plot their revenge…
Oh yeah. This is the good stuff – classic Thrones-like action.
4.5 Thrones (out of 5)
This opening story sees a bit of blood, some lynchings and a nasty beating or two, but nothing to match the stomach-churning, arguably unnecessary gore that we’ve come to expect, if not enjoy in GoT. The Last Kingdom (not abbreviated to TLS to avoid confusion with the similarly gory Times Literary Supplement) is just holding steady here.
Now this is where The Last Kingdom really starts to fall down. No gratuitous shots of nudity? No slightly uncomfortable sexual assault scenes that weren’t in the source material? Sex scenes from the books between Uhtred and Hild (Eva Birthistle) actually REMOVED to tell a more convincing story???
Nope, this won’t do at all. Sure, some Danes still make lewd comments towards Hild and Uhtred is a bit of a shagger offscreen, but we expect better.
There’s quite a collection of Danish foes for Uhtred to face off with this series, but the main attention has to go to returning villains Kjartan and Sven (Alexandre Willaume and Ole Christoffer Ertvaag) who were responsible for the death of Uhtred’s adoptive family in the first series and who also kidnapped his stepsister Thyra (Julia Bache-Wiig).
Sven (above left) keeps Thyra in a cage surrounded by dogs which is a very Ramsay Bolton (above right) aesthetic, but so far the pair’s evil plotting seems to have revolved around hanging out in wooden halls and scowling, knocking their score back a bit. We’re A-Frey-d to say GoT still rules the Roose-t when it comes to Joffer-ing the very best baddies.
Slightly confusing political intrigue
Were you confused by which houses owed allegiance to the Starks, why the Iron islanders weren’t the same as the Iron Bank and who exactly is now in charge of House Baratheon?
Then you’ll LOVE the discussion of now-defunct British kingdoms called things like Cumbraland and Northumbria in different parts of the country that are sometimes Saxon, sometimes ruled by Danes (but nice Danes?), but sometimes invaded by nastier Danes who used to like the nice Danes but don’t any more.
Surprise appearances from character actors you’ll struggle to identify immediately, then check the internet and say “Ohhhh it’s them!!”
Normally The Last Kingdom would struggle with this a little, as it usually casts real-life Danish actors as the Viking marauders who are less familiar to UK audiences.
But then again, this sometimes means that fans of Scandi-noir dramas get a surprise treat every now and then, as is the case this week when The Bridge’s Thure Lindhart (he who played Saga Noren’s new sidekick Henrik Saboe) turns up as important new player Guthred. It’s like Ian McShane as Brother Ray all over again!
A very poor showing. There’s not even anyone Welsh! Boo.
Out of a possible 35 marks (you can tell I planned this well), The Last Kingdom has scored 20.5 – a decent enough score, but far from the pure product I’m sure we were all hoping for to get us through the coming dark times.
In the end, The Last Kingdom is just too different in its tone, ideas, sexual politics and dragon inclusion to fill that Game of Thrones hole, its status as a “legitimate work of art in its own right” and “an enjoyable show that should be enjoyed on its own terms” completely derailing our hopes of a sweet, sweet GoT hit to last us through these lonely months.
Looks like I’ll instead have to prescribe a cocktail of this series, Vikings, Outlander, that old King Arthur series Camelot, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Sean Bean’s scenes from Lord of the Rings to last us through the coming days, and hope we can hang on till Jon Snow et al return for good. It’s going to be tough, but if we find JUST the right mixture I’m sure we can pull through.
Or, you know, you could just watch the old series of Game of Thrones again.
Yeah, on second thoughts, ignore all this and just go do that. That makes SO much more sense.
The Last Kingdom returns to BBC1 on Thursdays at 9.00pm