The Last Kingdom has returned for its final season on Netflix, which transports viewers once more to the tumultuous years leading up to England's formation.
Set across the 9th and 10th century, the series examines an important period in our national history from the perspective of fictional warrior Uhtred of Bebbanburg (played by Alexander Dreymon).
Since the show's premiere back in 2015, viewers have been wowed by its jaw-dropping locations, which include sprawling battlefields and lush forests along with the grimy towns of medieval England.
Interestingly, The Last Kingdom is not actually filmed in the UK (for the most part), with the production instead looking more than 1,000 miles away to Hungary when crafting the show's visual identity.
At a virtual Q&A hosted by RadioTimes.com, executive producer Nigel Marchant explained: "I think what Hungary brings to us is this sense of other world. We don't really know what England looked like 1,000 years ago, so although it's not England and we shot it on location, it has this sense of otherness to it that I've always really enjoyed."
Hungary has become almost like a second home for the longest-serving members of The Last Kingdom cast, but Dreymon admitted it was still challenging having to stay there for season 5's entire eight-month shoot due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"The British/American/Scandinavian bracket of the TLK team, we're all working as expats," Dreymon told RadioTimes.com and other press. "So the Hungarian crew were still going home to their families and to their kids or partners, but for a few of us it just meant going back home to our apartments alone for seven [or] eight months. That was tough."
He added: "I'm saying all of that, but we still got to work. You know, whenever I started having those feelings, I had to remind myself: 'No, dude, you're actually so lucky that this job is still going because a lot of people out there are experiencing the same thing, but they don't get to go to work'."
Read on for more details on where The Last Kingdom has been filmed over the years, as the fifth and final season launches on Netflix.
Iceland (Season 5 opening scene)
The Last Kingdom season 5 opens with a dramatic scene in which Brida (Emily Cox) gathers an army of followers in what appears to be her native Iceland, but in reality, this too is a location discovered in the show's usual home of Hungary.
"[The opening scene] was about an hour from Budapest's in a huge, old quarry," Cox told RadioTimes.com and other press. "It didn't feel like we were in Hungary because it's supposed to be Iceland. And I suddenly was like, ‘Oh wow, you can actually travel to Iceland if you just drive for an hour, that’s interesting’."
This scene is also noteworthy for featuring a cameo from Scandinavian musician Eivør, who provides the vocals for The Last Kingdom's distinctive theme music.
Winchester, Rumcofa and Eoferwic sets
The intricately designed towns and cities seen in The Last Kingdom, including King Edward's home of Winchester, are all elaborate sets that have been built near the village of Göböljárás, west of Budapest.
Vicky Delow, season 4 producer, said: "I think the main set is a huge part of the show’s success. It’s an incredible place to be. One of the most amazing things about it is when you drive to it, you drive over a hill and the whole thing is revealed before you.
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"And even though it’s a mishmash of different streets and different towns, it’s incredible to look at and it’s incredibly detailed... It’s a beautiful, wonderful thing to behold and you really do believe it when you see it on screen."
In season 5, two more key locations are introduced – Uhtred's lawless border town Rumcofa and the Dane-controlled Northumbrian capital of Eoferwic – the latter of which has a particularly distinctive look.
"That’s a very interesting blend of Roman, Saxon and Danish architecture, sort of piled on top of one another," said producer Mat Chaplin. "It’s a fantastic set that our production designer, Dominic [Hyman], and his team have built. It’s just a thrill to shoot in."
In season 4, Uhtred attempted to recapture the fortress at Bebbanburg, the land which is rightfully his but was stolen decades earlier by his treacherous uncle.
This posed a problem for the team behind The Last Kingdom, as they no longer had access to the Bebbanburg set that had been used in the first two seasons. They began a painstaking process of recreating the fortress, an effort led by production designer Dominic Hyman.
He recalled: "We needed to pick up on the look and feel of what was established in season one, but grow it and build it out in many different ways. It was also a case of growing it and fading it and making it feel like it had had that 20 to 25 years of weather and experience and neglect and sadness within it.
"We had to build a courtyard set which is the interior of the fortress but we also had to build a sea cave, which is like the ocean-facing entrance to the fortress from the sea. So, that was built at a water tank and that was a very challenging build."
Of course, the cast has regularly been required to venture into the Hungarian countryside over the years, which has often meant braving some harsh weather conditions.
For actor Emily Cox, that wasn't an issue: "In Brida's storyline, she always seems to be in nature and in woods and I just love that. I find it a really interesting experience to spend so much time in winter just outside in nature. That's just, for me, the best."
The Last Kingdom star Alexander Dreymon named the hills of Dobogókő as one of his favourite shooting locations, with the popular tourist destination believed by some faiths to be the "heart chakra" of the world.
He told RadioTimes.com: "It is just the most gorgeous place in the forest, with these huge boulders. The tree that Uhtred and his gang sleep under [in season four]... it really looks like that, it's overwhelmingly gorgeous."
Seasons 1 and 2
Martyn John served as locations manager for the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom and talked more about the tactical advantage of filming in Hungary.
"You go 45 minutes outside of Budapest and you’re in the middle of nowhere," he said. "You can’t do that anywhere in the UK. To get landscape of that scale and variety you have to travel to Scotland or to North Wales, whereas in Budapest it’s all there for you – apart from a coast."
The coastal scenes are the only ones shot in the UK. In series one, they were filmed in North Wales but the show decamped to County Durham.
John added: "When Uhtred is sold into slavery, we built a traders camp at Nose’s Point, near Seaham. They get a lot of film crews up there. They shot one of the Alien movies there because it’s got the most amazing cliff and the iron extract in the water makes it look orange."