“Fate is inexorable”, and so we must accept what the Norns under the earth, under the Tree of Life, are weaving for us. We amuse them with our plans, and they weave the threads of our lives in ways we cannot foretell, though we may try. Saxon born, Viking raised, Uhtred Ragnarson personifies the very heart of this philosophy. What will be, will be. What has been, will be again. His internalization of this philosophy projects both his frustration and his dearest hopes for his future. For, all Uhtred really wants is to go home again.
This episodic has everything an avid historian, period drama lover, battle strategist, Viking enthusiast, person who just loves great television, would want. In short, it’s magnificent! The story is taken from the novel, “The Last Kingdom” and subsequent novel, “The Pale Horseman” by Bernard Cornwell. These are the first two books of the series, “The Saxon Stories”, historical dramas based on the author’s actual family history, (he is related to the real Uhtred) and recorded English, or Saxon events of the time.
Born Osbert of Bebbanburg, Uhtred receives his new name when his older brother, Uhtred, son of Uhtred, is killed by Vikings who invaded the land surrounding Bebbanburg. Osbert’s father is king of Bebbanburg and gives his son the name literally minutes after he is informed of his eldest son’s death. We are thrown into the harsh reality of the Dark Ages, of constant invasions from an enemy, changing family loyalties, the rising power of the Catholic church, and the struggle for domination between the Saxons and the Danes (or Vikings). And we see all of it through the eyes of young Uhtred.
We follow Uhtred’s journey as a captive of the Danes, a slave in Ragnar Ragnarson’s house, to his adoption into the Ragnarson family, and to his early adulthood, where he becomes a well trained warrior. Young Uhtred has many natural qualities the Dane’s admire and one of these, his loyalty, shows very early on when he defends Ragnar’s daughter against a neighbor boy who assults her by ripping her dress, and as her father says, “showing her nakedness”. He’s headstrong, brave, fierce and loyal. These qualities allow him to be brought into the Ragnarson family as one of their own. For, Uhtred is at his very soul, a Viking.
After his father’s death in the same battle in which Uhtred is captured, his father’s brother sets out to have Uhtred killed, if he can only get his hands on him. Uhtred is warned by Father Beocca, his priest and tutor, that his uncle wishes him dead, and Ragnar instinctively understands that there is more in his uncle’s motivation for Uhtred’s return than just family loyalty. And so Uhtred is “adopted” by Ragnar and raised as one of his own. And when Ragnar and his family are murdered he sets out for revenge, both for Ragnar and for himself. Regaining his rightful home, Bebbanburg, is his chief obsession.
It is impossible not to like Uhtred, not to want to know his story, his future. His story is the story of England before it was England. It is the story of an epic battle between two very different cultures, and I could not help but like the Vikings, whose main objective was to live for today, to eat, drink and “hump” as they say. The stark contrast with Saxon Christianity, of the everyday reality of piety and self sacrifice made me wish my ancestors had been Danes.
Bernard Cornwell, like the Viking Norns, weaves the story in ways we cannot foresee, and the BBC and subsequently, Netflix producers do an excellent job of recreating this world. The performances are top notch, some of the best I’ve seen anywhere. The violence is brutal, but the story reigns supreme.
The Last Kingdom stars Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Tobias Santelmann as Ragnar the Younger, and Emily Cox as Brida. Season one, is currently shown on Netflix. Season two will premiere on BBC Two on March 16th, and Netflix will begin streaming it to other countries, including the US, sometime soon.