Season 1 Episode 1
When the Saxon army met the Danes in the field of battle, the Danes erected a near impenetrable shield wall. The Saxons, led by Uhtred's father Uhtred, pushed the enemy with their own shields and long swords that found minute gaps in the famed defence. When the Danes began stepping back, the Saxons thought they were winning. A second wave of Saxons ran to join their comrades and finish the battle. Unknown to them, a second force of Danes hid nearby. With the Saxons now all in one place, the Danes rose from their hiding place and erected a second shield wall. The Saxons ended up sandwiched between two shield walls, unable to penetrate either of them or mount a retreat. It was thus that Uhtred lost his father and became the new lord of Bebbanburg.
The very ruggedness of The Last Kingdom's setting, late 9th century Britain, is part of its appeal. The Bebbanburg fort was mostly made of wood, raised to provide a security fence and a watchtower. The home of Earl Ragnar, who took Uhtred in first as a captive and a servant, and later as an adopted son, was a large hall, meant as a shelter and little else. Neither the Danes nor the Saxons equipped their armies with uniforms. It was a harsh time and these were hard men. As much as I enjoy seeing Lannister armies in their fancy armour or the sheer scale of Dragonstone, The Last Kingdom's earthly approach feels fresh.
Uhtred's sojourn with the Danes not only provided him with a father, Earl Ragnar, who was genuinely fond of him, it also saved his life. His uncle Aelfric wanted the boy's life so he could rule Bebbanburg. Warned of his uncle's plans by the kindly priest Beocca, Uhtred thrived with his new Danish family.
Earl Ragnar's heir Young Ragnar was already a man by the time Uhtred came to live with them, but his daughter Thyra was of age with Uhtred and another Saxon slave, Brida. The three were playmates. It was during one play time when the son of a ship builder, Sven, menacingly undressed young Thyra. Uhtred attacked the older Sven. When Earl Ragnar found out, he blinded Sven on one eye and banished his father Kjartan from his lands. Kjartan went to Aelfric and told him his nephew Uhtred lived.
Earl Ragnar's father Ravn and Ubba, a warlord and son of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok, negotiated a ransom for Uhtred. Aelfric had already agreed to pay when Earl Ragnar made his own offer to Ubba. From that day, Uhtred became Earl Ragnar's son.
Years went by, and Thyra was already set to marry. Earl Ragnar had noticed that Brida had feelings for Uhtred, and encouraged him to do something about it. On the night that Uhtred and Brida were sh-agging in the woods, Kjartan and Sven, and a few men, including one who worked for Aelfric, burnt Earl Ragnar's home with his family still inside. The object of the raid was Thyra. Though he was one fire, Earl Ragnar still managed to swing his sword before he died.
Uhtred and Brida saw the men creeping in the woods and ran to warn Earl Ragnar, but they were too late. When Uhtred recognised one of his uncle's men in the raid, he knew that they also meant to kill him. He sneaked into the farm house and killed the man. Later, when Kjartan and his cohorts had gone, Uhtred and Brida dug up Earl Ragnar's treasures, which they meant to give to Young Ragnar, who was in Ireland at that time. Uhtred decided to present the head of the assassin his uncle sent to the gates of Bebbanburg and stake his claim as its lord.
With one well choreographed battle scene and a myriad of appealing actors (Tom Taylor as young Uhtred was especially delightful), The Last Kingdom is a worthy addition to Peak TV.
■ Ravn warned Uhtred never to fight Ubba.
■ 'Are you sure he's a Saxon? He fights like a Dane.' Uhtred's dual identities were telegraphed early on.
■ When Earl Ragnar brought up Brida's feelings for Uhtred, Uhtred said he thought he needed to marry a Dane to become a true Dane.
■ There was a marked difference in the formality of Uhtred's father and the easy affection Earl Ragnar showed him, especially after he attacked the boy who dared abuse Thyra.
■ As kind as Earl Ragnar was, it could not have been easy for young Uhtred to live amongst the people who killed his father, especially since he saw that they later did to his body.
■ The Last Kingdom is based on Bernard Cornwell's The Saxon Stories.