The Last Kingdom Season 2 Review (Non Spoilers)
Starring: Alexander Dreymon, David Dawson, Ian Hart, Eva Birthistle, Christian Hillborg, Harry McEntire, Simon Kunz, Millie Brady
The Last Kingdom might just be one of television’s best kept secrets. And it’s a secret worth sharing.
The Last Kingdom has a lot of classical elements that make for a great historical based drama: Vengeance. Redemption. Honor.
The focus is on the warrior Uhtred. He’s in conflict between his Saxon born heritage and having been raised as a pagan Dane. This conflict plays out as the Vikings (the Danes) invade the kingdoms that will eventually form England (the Saxons).
Unlike some prestige dramas that can get self-indulgent, The Last Kingdom consistently engages the viewer through dialogue, action and storytelling.
Season two is strong and confident out of the gate. Each episode gives you a sense of satisfaction and leaves you wanting to know what will happen next.
5 Spoiler-Free Reasons To Watch The Last Kingdom
• Playing with History: The Last Kingdom is a mash-up of the historical and fiction. The first goal is to entertain the audience and sometimes it’s at the expense of historical facts.
Just like how we shouldn’t learn how US politics works by watching Netflix’s House of Cards, we shouldn’t take the events which led to the formulation of England as shown on The Last Kingdom at face value.
To complicate matters further, The Last Kingdom illustrates that history itself is not entirely factual either. As depicted in the show, history is rewritten by the victors. And every story needs a hero and villain. The hero in The Last Kingdom is Uhtred, a fictional character, where as history attributes many of the accolades to King Alfred the Great.
Okay, that might not be a reason to watch, per se, but it’s another layer to appreciate what the show is trying to do.
• The Pay Off is Rewarding: The show has a good understanding as to what questions the viewer wants addressed and where the story direction should go. Because it’s based on a book series, the writers have a clear blueprint as to the crucial plot points that need to happen.
The first season planted many seeds that the second season pays off. It’s a good set up for delayed gratification where the reward tastes a little bit sweeter when we are made to anticipate it.
For the story to realize its potential, The Last Kingdom is very efficient at quickly establishing an antagonist as someone we love to hate or on the flip-side imbue them with unexpected empathy.
• The Action is Great: When it comes to action, The Last Kingdom shares a similar principle to Starz’s Spartacus, another loosely historical based show, which is to always make it clear what the characters are fighting for.
Character motivation, advancing the plot and paying off story lines is the foundation for the action, not fighting for the sake of fighting. The Last Kingdom is actively developing a story that’s entertaining, thus it doesn’t need to rely on a fight scene to form the climax of an episode.
The sword fights and battles between armies are shot very well. The Last Kingdom is also skilled at hiding the fact that it doesn’t have a HBO sized budget to shoot the most expensive, elaborate battles scenes. However, strong story and production decisions help capture the sense of epicness and big stakes at play.
• The Pace is Fast: In an eight episode season, the name of the game is to keep the story concise and moving forward. Because the season has a clear beginning, middle and end point it never runs the risk of spinning its wheel. You might often find yourself saying “damn, this show doesn’t waste time.”
A fast pace means having to make certain concessions on what is essential. As a result, time jumps can occur between and even during a season. Viewers might be a little confused at first that the actors don’t look older while at the same time a child character grows into an adult.
In a short time, supporting characters evolve so that you can emotionally invest in them. A trade-off to the fast pace is that these characters journeys might not be revisited again by season’s end. But this isn’t necessarily a negative because there is a trust established that the show will return to them at a later point. Wisely, the focus revolves around the central character Uhtred.
• I am Uhtred son of Uhtred: Some prestige dramas falsely play with the idea that any character can go at any time. Or that the main protagonist can get killed off and the show will keep marching along. That’s not the case with the Last Kingdom, there is no meaningful show without Uhtred.
Season 2 is less concerned on Uhtred’s internal conflict to whom his loyalty lies. The primary source of conflict comes externally from other characters doubting Uhtred’s true allegiance.
Ultimately, Uhtred’s intention is to keep his word which is what King Alfred constantly takes advantage of. So much of tension between the two can be boiled down to is a man of honor vs a man of pride.
The Last Kingdom hasn’t made a big name for itself. A couple of reasons is that viewers don’t know where to watch it (BBC America/Netflix/iTunes) and that the season 2 release date is later in the US. There are also quite a number of other high quality historical period drama shows out at the moment. If you can spare one more show on your watch list, The Last Kingdom is a solid recommendation.