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The Last Kingdom has just aired its last episode of its second season on the BBC – tying up all its plotlines, as lords in the Saxon and Danish territories maneuver on last time for their self-interest and what they believe is best for their realms.
The Danes give King Alfred their ransom demands for his daughter, Princess Æthelflæd, demanding a fortune in gold and silver. If Wessex and Mercia refuse to pay Æthelflæd will be taken from town-to-town to be paraded and whored out to the highest bidders. Alfred is determined to pay the ransom despite the advice from his trusted lords not to do so – knowing the gold and silver would be used to pay for an army that could destroy Wessex.
Uthred also suffers an impossible choice, because Æthelflæd and her Danish captor Erik have fallen in love and he has been asked to help them escape from Saxon and Danish jurisdiction.
The final episode of Season Two is an incredibly busy episode, even by The Last Kingdom’s standards. There are multiple agendas at play: Alfred and Queen Aelswith want to save their daughter and claim it’s for the good of Wessex even if leads to the kingdom’s downfall, although Alfred gets the bulk of the criticism. Within the Danish camp a rift forms between Erik and Sigefrid over Erik’s closeness to the Princess, and many of the Danes worry that their ticket to fortune would be taken away from them. And Sigefrid’s volatility and ambitions end up outweighing his love for his brother.
Odda the Elder is the most interesting character in focus during the climax: he is the one who urges Alfred not to pay the ransom and stated that Alfred is bleeding his subjects dry. As Odda states, he gave up a son for the good of Wessex and Alfred should do the same regarding his daughter. Odda calls up his fief to rebel against his king to save the kingdom and his plan is a masterstroke even if he has to sacrifice himself. Odda also gets the funniest moment in the episode where, after a night of drunkenness, he wakes up with a ‘what the hell’ expression.
Uthred’s role in the episode is trying to save Æthelflæd by acting as an Early Medieval version of a spy/special forces soldier. He has agents set up in the Danish camp which Æthelflæd uses to communicate with her hero. As Odda plots his rebellion, Uthred and his cohorts act independently, raiding into the Kingdom of East Angelia to take Æthelflæd and Erik away from the Danes. It starts out as a stealthy operation before Uthred’s troops have to take on the hordes of Danes in their fortress, with Saxon and Danish troops having a full-fledged battle at the end. The action on the dock and in the fortress is when the action is at its best – using the tight spaces for close quarters fighting and one-on-one fights.
As anyone who has read Bernard Cornwell’s novels knows, anyone who allies themselves to the lead character doesn’t tend to have a long life expectancy and this happens to some of Uthred’s warriors and friends in court with some memorable characters meeting a bitter end. However, the episode suddenly gives Osferth (Ewan Mitchell), a monk and Alfred’s bastard son, an arc where he has to wet his sword in battle. Osferth has been a non-entity of a character in the series – so it hard to care about his storyline. The best case scenario is this is a set-up for Osferth in the next season.
The final battle isn’t as strong as some of the battles the show has produced. This is mainly due to the battle taking place at night and it happening so suddenly. Whilst there is a battle going on the action is really centered around Sigefrid trying to help Æthelflæd and Uthred having to stop the Dane. It is the long-awaited showdown between the two, seeing that Uthred cut off Sigefrid’s hand in Season 2, Episode 4. Even though Sigefrid only has one hand his prosthetic blade makes the Dane a formidable opponent.
The greatest praise has to go to writer Stephen Butchard who expertly ties all these storylines together at the end without it feeling contrived. It is an organic progression as Uthred and his troops work with Erik to save Æthelflæd and how they end up in the middle of a battle where Odda and Alfred’s armies meet on the border with Danish-held territory. It goes to show Bernard Cornwell’s knack for showing that the best-laid plan can go awry, as outside factors prevent Erik and Æthelflæd’s escape plan and Uthred’s raid forces Alfred to battle the Danes. Some of this is done because the series has to stay true to history and uses the mix of fact and fiction to show that sometimes there is no happy ending.
The second season of The Last Kingdom has not been as a strong as the first season due to a lag in the second and third episodes, with the final four episodes being considerably better. The second season will satisfy fans of the first season as well as fans of other historical shows like Vikings, and the final episode has all the show’s strength: political drama, bloody historical action, and moments of comedy and tragedy.
The Last Kingdom is now available on the iPlayer in the UK and Netflix in the United States and Canada.