How is The Last Kingdom different to the books? The biggest changes from page to screen

Uhtred's story is quite different in Bernard Cornwell's historical novels.

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Uhtred of Bebbanburg is finally back on screens as The Last Kingdom returns for season four on Netflix.

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The action-packed drama is based on a series of novels by historical fiction writer Bernard Cornwell, first published as The Saxon Stories back in 2004.

Like many adaptations, The Last Kingdom varies significantly from the source material that inspired it, altering Uhtred’s path to revenge and the reclamation of his rightful land.

Here are the biggest differences between the books and the Netflix series…

The Last Kingdom season 1 changes from books

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Leofric briefly turned against Uhtred in the first season

Season one of The Last Kingdom stands out as the most faithful adaptation of Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, translating his first two books to the small screen without making any major changes to the plot – but one particular difference stands out as notable.

After raiding Briton territory and violating the peace, Uhtred is sentenced to fight to the death by King Alfred. In the television series, he goes up against none other than Leofric, one of Alfred’s top soldiers and a man Uhtred had befriended. It’s a surprising moment in the season but doesn’t quite add up in terms of character motivation, which is probably because it never happened in the books.

Instead, it is Steapa, another of the king’s loyal swordsman, who agrees to fight Uhtred to the death. It’s not difficult to see why this was changed in the series, as Steapa doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time in season one, so putting Uhtred up against a more familiar face like Leofric naturally raises the dramatic stakes.

The Last Kingdom season 2 changes from books

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Erik has an expanded role in The Last Kingdom

In season two, The Last Kingdom becomes a bit more relaxed about straying away from events that occur in Cornwell’s novels, drawing inspiration from his third and fourth entries, titled The Lords of the North and Sword Song respectively.

For one thing, the television show completely cuts out the antagonistic Ivar Ivarsson, a Dane who has gained control of Eoferwic at the start of The Lords of the North. In a simplifying measure, the Netflix series replaces him with viking brothers Sigefrid and Erik who don’t appear until the fourth book. Ivar isn’t a very significant character so this change doesn’t have major consequences in the long-term. Arguably, it strengthens season two by allowing more screen time for Sigefrid and Erik, who are central to the story in the latter half.

Their relevance comes into focus when they capture London, prompting Alfred to send men to liberate the city. But the events that follow play out very differently in the series than they do in the books. Cornwell’s novel sees Uhtred lead a successful attack on London, winning back the city and placing it in Aethelred’s power.

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Aethelflaed is kidnapped by Erik but soon discovers a softer side to him

In stark contrast, the battle plays out disastrously for the Saxons in The Last Kingdom. The show sees Aethelred put in charge of Alfred’s men, leading them to London only to find the city deserted. Initially believing the vikings to have fled, they soon realise that they have been tricked; Erik and Sigefrid’s men have abandoned the city to raid Aethelred’s unguarded camp and kidnap his wife, princess Aethelflaed.

In the book, Aethelflaed still gets kidnapped but at a later skirmish, so this change was likely made to save time and jump forward to the doomed romance that blossoms between herself and Erik.

In the Netflix series, Aethelflaed kills Sigefrid during the final battle of season two. However, in the books it is former monk Osferth who does this, which is hard to imagine given his timid demeanour in the television show.

One of the most memorable deaths in season two of The Last Kingdom is Abbott Eadred, a spiteful priest who Uhtred kills when he attempts to stop him from marrying Gisela. In the book, Eadred has a smaller role, appearing at the beginning to report his vision of King Guthred, but having less to do with later plot developments. Instead, Uhtred kills a monk named Brother Jænberht, who fulfils the villainous Eadred role. Again, this change was likely made to streamline the story and give the series less characters to juggle.

The Last Kingdom season 3 changes from books

Skade is a powerful seer who enraptures men before luring them to their deaths
Skade is a powerful seer who enraptures men before luring them to their deaths

The third season saw The Last Kingdom move entirely from the BBC to a Netflix Original production, just in time for two particularly brutal characters to make their debut.

In the fifth novel, Bloodhair and Skade are introduced as lovers but soon separated when the latter is taken hostage by Uhtred. In both the book and the TV show, there is a confrontation outside a fort where Bloodhair attempts to get her back by threatening Saxon prisoners.

In the Netflix series, this attempt is completely unsuccessful and Skade remains imprisoned, but in the books she is promptly freed and reunited with Bloodhair – only to be taken captive again later on. This alteration was likely another time-saving measure, as Skade ultimately ends up back with Uhtred anyway, although their relationship is markedly different in the book.

While Uhtred is reluctant to become intimately involved with Skade in The Last Kingdom, largely due to the fact he is mourning his late wife, they do become lovers in the book. During their relationship, they sail to Frisia where they plunder and kill Skade’s husband, but grow distant afterwards due to disagreements over his underwhelming treasure.

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Haesten shares a deeper connection with Skade in the book

Upon their return to England, Skade encounters Haesten and the two of them fall in love. This is another area where the Netflix series differs, depicting Skade as completely disinterested in Haesten and his advances.

Skade meets a nasty end in The Last Kingdom, as Uhtred drowns her in a river to break the curse she has put on him. In the book, it is actually Bloodhair himself who kills Skade, angry that she abandoned him for other warriors. He then asks Uhtred to kill him, having been seriously injured earlier in the story with no hope of recovery.

Outside of Uhtred and Skade’s toxic dynamic, there are some other differences to be found. Sadly, Gisela dies in childbirth just as she does in the series, but in the book her baby also passes away whereas in the series he is a healthy son to Uhtred.

Lord Aethelred wants a divorce from Aethelflaed in both the books and the series, giving his right-hand man Aldhelm the command to sleep with her so that he can brand her an adulterer. In the book, Aldhelm attempts to do so unsuccessfully, resulting in his death by Uhtred’s hand. In The Last Kingdom, he cannot go through with the plan as he develops genuine affection for Aethelflaed, so Aethelred stabs him for his disobedience.

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The Last Kingdom season four lands on Netflix on Sunday 26th April – check out what else is on with our TV Guide