The Last Kingdom BBC series, based on the Cornwell books


Variety review:

In some respects, this is really the show that FX’s “The Bastard Executioner” should be — awash in blood, gore and sex, yes, but with stronger characters and a more compelling plot. There is also some rather grisly and certainly blasphemous humor, including Uhtred’s rather colorful explanation of the difference between Heaven, as the English see it, and Valhalla.

Mixing history and fiction, “The Last Kingdom” is ultimately a portrait of a collision between cultures, in a period characterized neither by sentimentality nor mercy. And while it’s something of a symbol of the current times that these kinds of shows are now plentiful enough — due in part to the blessings of international financing — to feel as if they’re bumping into each other, after an hour or two, the series has taken on a life of its own, offering a reminder that there’s always room, at least on a niche basis, for another good one.

Reminder: starts tomorrow! Apparently UK won’t get to see it for another 2 weeks.

— Alan


So did anyone else catch the first two episodes? I thought it was good enough but not great. That applies to just about everything, the acting, the story (pretty simple so far) and so on. Ordinarily I don’t think things like set and costume design would bother me too much, but with shows like Game of Thrones and Marco Polo out there that nail that stuff it makes it hard for shows like The Last Kingdom to compete.

I’ll keep watching though. It’s a fascinating time period and that alone is enough to keep me going for now. I’m realizing just how much my understanding of the setting comes from Medieval Total War: Viking Invasion. Guess it’s time to pick up a couple books.


I am recording it but haven’t watched it yet. As slow as I am at watching recorded shows it may never get watched. But it has to be better than the Bastard Executioner show.


I watched one episode. I am curious what a non-reader thinks of them. Obviously you can’t have a scene-by-scene retelling of Uthred’s childhood, but some changes seemed to be without reason.

For example, when Kjartan is challenged by Ragnar, he mentions a “square of branches”, whereas in the book it’s a circle of hazel. Did they think people don’t know what hazel is, or somehow the square sounds more like a dueling arena?

In the scene where Uthred is being ransomed, he simply listens to the priests’s warnings about being killed, and goes away. In the book, Uthred quickly asks Ragnar to cuff him on the head to pretend he doesn’t want to return to the Danes with whom he has fallen in love. Uthred in the TV show does not seem to have reason to love the Danes - it’s merely convenience and what he’s been used to.

It seemed to be rushing and compressing a LOT of material. I understand it’s a BBC miniseries, which is what, 8 hours? They may be trying to do the entire series instead of just a novel or two.


They wanted the childhood as short as possible, presumably so they could get into the adult character in the first episode.


I really enjoyed the first episode. Wisefool is right, it did feel like they rushed Uthred’s childhood and background a bit, glossing over some stuff and not really giving viewers any reason to believe Uthred would WANT to stay with the Danes other than the priest’s warning about his uncle. They sort of brought that back around later when showing how fond of adult Uthred the older Ragnar was and having Ragnar call him a son. I assume they will build up this aspect in future episodes, as Uthred’s respect and love for Ragnar (both older and younger) as well as a select few other Danes plays an important role in shaping his character and influencing his actions in many later situations.

That said, they did need to get to adult Uthred quickly to keep viewers interest. Now we have established Uthred’s hatred of his uncle and desire to regain Bebbanburg, his hatred of Kjartan and his son, his relationship with Brida, and his immediate need to rescue Thyra (his sort-of sister). That’s enough plot and drama to roll through most of a season.

I really liked the cinematography in this premier episode. The establishing shots, the pans over both water and landscape scenes and the battle scenes all had a high-quality feel to them, more like movie shots than TV. The production values were also high, the sets and costumes looked great and seemed pretty authentic. Quality like that helps push a show from being decent to being very good. It’s too early yet to pass verdict on the writing, plotting and acting, but so far I think they’re doing a great job making the books into television. I will certainly continue watching with high expectations.


You picked some great examples. I thought the first battle scene was another good example of something that should have adhered more closely to the books.


[spoiler]In the first book, Uhthred’s dad shows a healthy respect for the shield wall, implying a strong understanding of strategies and tactics used in war, but he later fails when the opposing Danes use additional subtleties that he wasn’t prepared for. But in the first TV show episode, Uhthred’s dad simply rushes his men at the Danes, screaming, “Kill them!” and he and his men die in a shield wall sandwich.

The depiction of the Danish shield walls was pretty cool, but that was about as interesting as the scene got. They seriously hamstringed the complexities of that battle as outlined in the first book: Danes form shield walls, English form wedges and attempt to pierce and destroy shield walls, Danes pretend to take big losses and retreat, English are encouraged and become overconfident and press forward, Danes let the English think they’re gaining the advantage, but then finally demolish them.[/spoiler]

Note: I’m currently only 40 minutes into the first episode and will have to return to it tomorrow.

“Only men can stand in the shield wall,” he said, “but you will watch, you will learn, and you will discover that the most dangerous stroke is not the sword or ax that you can see, but the one you cannot see, the blade that comes beneath the shields to bite your ankles.”

“Because a shield wall is an awful place.” He gazed into the fire. “I have been in six shield walls,” he went on, “and prayed every time it would be the last. Your brother, now, he was a man who might have loved the shield wall. He had courage.” He fell silent, thinking, then scowled. “The man who brought his head. I want his head. I want to spit into his dead eyes, then put his skull on a pole above the Low Gate.”


The father’s quote is so badass!

I watched Ep 2.

It seems they are culling the Northmen into “Never Fight” Ubba and Guthrum.

Guthrum seems to be more like Snakeeye Siggurth, brooding and menacing. He complains they leave too many Englishmen alive, he wants to kill Uthred when he shows up at the Church, etc. Gone is the friendly, comical Guthrum.

Actually, it seems they’ve removed the buffonery from many characters - Becca the priest, Guthrum, and Alfred’s dumb nephew whose name escapes me.

The Church scene with shooting arrows at the priest seemed to be missing curiosity - I believe in the book some of the characters (Snakeeye was it?) were genuinely curious about whether this God could actually protect the King.

I’ll be honest, I’m not watching the cinematography, acting, and all the nuances. I’m mostly listening for the plot and dialogue while I grind Disgaea levels.

I did rewatch the first episode and I was struck by how decent the kid Uthred seemed to be. It’s noteworthy when child actors don’t make me cringe - they seem to only channel puckishness or annoying cuteness.

Oh man, I misremembered completely!

Guthrum is the Dane with the black-clad soldiers who wears his mother’s bone as a ring.

I mistook him for the bumbling Dane whose sister Uthred fancies, Guthred.


Despite the poor trailer this is a fucking excellent tv show. Both my wife and I were riveted. I ended up buying the season for 20 bucks on Apple, and I’m very happy I did.

This is about 10x better written and directed than Bastard Executioner. I highly recommend this show for fans of the time period, historical fiction or if you just like a damn good show.


It surprises me how little conversation we have regarding this show. It really is quite enjoyable (despite its deviations from the book). Even though the guy playing Uthred looks nothing like how I imagined him, he’s got that Uthred arrogance and swagger. And I really cannot say enough good things about the guy playing Alfred.


I do really like the show so far; they’ve introduced a few new things (or at least, things I don’t really remember from the books) but they seemed to at least have replicated the general story fairly well. I’m a little frustrated that the English have no concept of the shield wall–like it’s some amazing new tactic the Danes have brought over. Shield walls had been in use for at least several hundred years and had been the traditional way of fighting in “civilized” England. The idea that Uhtred is teaching the men of Wessex the meaning of shield wall fighting is kinda… eh. I get why they chose to do it that way, but am not a fan of it.

They do have a way of filming some of the scenes that I really dig–very cinematic–and I think they do capture the feel.

— Alan


3rd Episode out on iTunes (They seem to drop ~3AM EST Sundays.)

I understand and agree with your gripes on the shield wall. That said, I’m very happy they’re including elements like this in the TV Show - it was little historic details like this that made the books so enjoyable, and I’m glad they’re conveying them on screen for folks who aren’t as familiar with the warfare of the time.

The show keeps getting better, the moment with Ragnar jr. was very touching to me. It’s really great TV. Look like around 2 Million viewers in the UK which put it in the top 10. Hoping it gains more traction here.


Yeah I loved the Ragnar Jr. scene, as well as the negotiations scene with Guthrum, Ubba, Alfred and Uhtred. Beocca doesn’t seem as… flexible as he was in the books, but I could be mistaken (I don’t remember him ever having major issues with Brida). Dreymon does kinda have Uhtred’s swagger.

— Alan


I am enjoying this immensely. I was hopeful his might not be terrible since it is the same production company that does Downton Abbey, but I was prepared for disappointment nonetheless as I suspected they would butcher the books and keep characters to a minimum while making them one-dimensional. Thankfully, they’ve done none of that. Thus far the story is fantastic, most of the major players are present, as well as many minor ones, the acting is superb, especially Alfred, Beocca, Brida and Uthred, and the cinematography is excellent. This most recent episode had fantastic shots of the Viking ships sailing away and a great shot of the Viking band moving through the woods on horseback. There is a real sense of size, scale and atmosphere in the way everything is filmed.


Desire for Cornwell’s Winter King series on TV intensifies

Uthred was just such a boring and generic hero in the books. I much prefer Derfel.




If only…

— Alan


Blasphemer! Uthred is not boring and generic. I will concur, however, that Derfel is a more interesting character. I also really enjoy Cornwell’s take on the Arthurian legend. That’s going to be the stumbling block though should they ever try to do it the series on TV. I mean, how do you pitch to a network that you want to do an Arthurian tale where the protagonist is some guy named Derfel as opposed to one of the usuals?


Yeah, that old TV trick of having the hero teach the shield wall tactics - so cliche. Uthred was bold, strong, and lucky.

They removed any sense of Alfred the Great being an usurper - here, the King dies and names his brother as heir. This will remove some of his internal guilt as well (Possibly this help save his Nephew’s life more than once). You hear Alfred whines of a diet of apples and milk - “I need meat!” It implies the lack of meat is some penance. We already know Alfred achieves great things. Stripping this small bit of darkness is annoying, a bit like whitewashing a hero.

Leofric is a bad ass :p Uthred was an arseling at least four times in this episode.


So it looks like we have our answer in that I guess there are two books (at least) this season as we are now in Pale Horsemen territory. The ending is a bit different from the book, but the end result is fairly the same.

Still loving the show for sure.

— Alan