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About The Last Kingdom
In 866, England is divided into the Heptarchy (seven kingdoms). The Vikings conquer York, and other Anglo-Saxon lands are gradually attacked, plundered and ruled by Viking Danes. Finally, only the Kingdom of Wessex is left. The story covers about 40–45 years by the end of season 4. Season 1 covers the years 866–878, season 2 from 878–886, season 3 from 893–900, and season 4 takes place about 901–910.
The fictional protagonist is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. An earl of that name lived and ruled Bebbanburg (Bamburgh Castle) and Northumbria during the reign of Æthelred II, though about a century after the setting of The Last Kingdom. When Æthelred had the ealdorman of Southern Northumbria, Ælfhelm of York, murdered in 1006, Uhtred the Bold was made earl of a united Northumbria (and likely ealdorman of York), his seat at Bebbanburg. He spent much of his time defending the northern border from the Scots. He fought loyally beside the Anglo-Saxons against the Danes and with Edmund Ironside. In 1016 after Cnut came to power, Cnut had Earl Uhtred killed, along with 40 other Saxon nobles, probably on Christmas Day. In Bernard Cornwell’s series he adds a ‘historical note’ at the end, in which, especially in the first book, he mentions that Uhtred the Bold was his ancestor. He took the liberty of installing Uhtred earlier in history.
The protagonist is re-baptised as Uhtred after his elder brother Uhtred is killed by the Danes; his father, along with other Saxon noblemen of Northumbria, are killed in battle against the Danes. Only his uncle and step-mother survive. Uhtred and a Saxon girl named Brida are taken as slaves by Earl Ragnar, now settled in Danish Northumbria, which becomes their adopted home. Time passes, and Ragnar’s daughter Thyra is about to be married, but fellow Danes attack the night before the wedding and set fire to the hall in which the family is sleeping. Ragnar is burned alive, and Thyra taken as a slave. Only Uhtred and Brida escape, as they were away in the woods all night making charcoal. The attackers are led by Kjartan, a disgruntled Viking who had been banished by Ragnar from his lands years earlier for an offence committed by Kjartan’s son Sven. Uhtred vows to avenge his adoptive father’s death, while simultaneously hoping to reclaim Bebbanburg from his uncle—who seeks to kill Uhtred to keep Bebbanburg for himself. Uhtred is forced to choose between the kingdom of his ancestors and the people who have raised him, and his loyalties are constantly tested.
The first series roughly covers the events of Cornwell’s novels The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman, although they are condensed for the screen. The second series covers the happenings of Cornwell’s novels The Lords of the North and Sword Song. Series 3 is based on The Burning Land and Death of Kings, but with considerable plot changes.
The third series’ ten episodes were produced solely by Netflix. One reviewer indicated that this had a positive effect: “With it came a certain increase in production values, most notably during the epic end-of-episode clash in which the swing of every sword and thwock of every shield hit firmly home,” but added that “the blood-and-gore budget has also undergone a significant increase, thanks in large part to the arrival of the beautiful but psychotic Skade (Thea Sofie Loch Næss)”. Much of the series was written by Stephen Butchard, and filming was completed in Hungary. These episodes cover the decline in King Alfred’s health, according to one report “while he tries to ensure that his fiercely-held vision of a Christian, Saxon Wessex as part of a stable English nation will survive him as his legacy …. the Uhtred-Alfred relationship is at the core of the story”. All ten episodes of series 4 appeared on Netflix on 26 April 2020. As in series 3, there are significant plot differences to the books.