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The Last Kingdom – Season 2, Episode 4 Review

"Finally, some action"

The second season of The Last Kingdom has been solid so far, if unspectacular, and considerably action lite compared to its rivals (i.e. Game of Thrones and Vikings). However, the fourth episode blew the rest of season two out of the water.

After the events of the third episode, King Alfred assigns Uthred, Young Ragner and their companions the mission to go up the Kingdom of Northumbria to help Guthred – whose power is waning because of the Dane brothers Sigefrid and Erik. Both are torn due to Guthred’s betrayal of Uthred, while Ragnar wants to save his sister from the hands of Kjartan and his one-eyed son Sven.

This episode is the first not to be written by Stephen Butchard, with Sophie Petzal taking over. The previous episode had huge pacing problems because it went through several episodes of material in less than an hour – Petzal went for a back-to-basics approach for her episode: keeping the story simple and focused whilst continuing the story threads already established – and it was all the better for it. Most of the episode was seen through Uthred and his party, with only a few scenes showing other characters like Alfred and Kjartan.

Uthred and Ragnar’s mission consists of two parts: the first, to defeat Sigefrid and Erik to ensure the pair can get Guthred’s loyalty, the second, to besiege Dunholm (modern day Durham) so they can end their blood feud. This is the pure action-adventure fun the season has been lacking. There are two major sequences: the first being a stealthy mission where Uthred and two of his warriors infiltrate a Danish camp, with the other being the Battle of Dunholm. Both styles of action are pleasing and fans of violence could easily find something to enjoy. Throats are slit, limbs are dismembered, and soldiers battle to the death. The battle of Dunholm is the big set-piece, yet the most intense moment is when Ragnar fights Kjartan one-on-one, allowing all his pent up rage to come up to the surface.

The Last Kingdom lacks the budget of Vikings and Game of Thrones, which is partly why the series has less action. The smaller scale fighting is more historically accurate, as wars in this time period were often fought amongst small bands of people, and the show does make a point about soldiers numbering in the low hundreds at best. Although Uthred does jump on one Dane like he was trying to replicate Assassin’s Creed. The show also takes great care to make its costumes appear to be from the period, unlike Vikings. The siege of Dunholm is the best battle sequence so far this season and best since the opening battle in the first episode, due in large part to the use of a variety of soldiers, including Viking warriors, English sword and spearmen and archers, and actual tactics are used to infiltrate the castle – Uthred and a small band of soldiers taking a small side door.

As well as being an action heavy episode there are still character moments. The most important moment is when Uthred finally gets to confront Guthred about the betrayal. Uthred, is obviously filled with anger but told to hold it because of the alliance with Wessex, while Guthred feels guilty about what he did. Brida also gets her biggest role in the series since the third episode of season one and there is a great little moment when Alfred reveals his own duplicity when he tells his wife that he is prepared to kill Uthred if he strays from his mission to help Guthred – despite the fact Uthred was the reason Wessex was able to repel the Danish invaders. It continues a thread in Bernard Cornwell’s work – never trust the people in power.
Although this episode is the strongest in the season so far it still has a few problems. Fortunately, they are minor. The biggest problem is that Uthred marries Gisela. Obviously the two have a pre-existing relationship, but Uthred has more chemistry with Hild and Brida. However, Uthred has been unlucky in love so it wouldn’t be surprising if Gisela meets an unpleasant fate. A smaller issue within the episode is when Hild is shown in the middle of the battle looking unsure about all the killing despite the fact she had already killed her rapist and, in the first episode of season two, stabbed a man in the back with a spear. It is a continuation of a criticism I made about the second episode of season two. The final issue is a technical one regarding Thyra’s dogs: the sound effects in the background is of them growling and snarling yet the dogs looked like content pets. Compare them to the direwolves in Game of Thrones who do actually look like they are going to attack.

This episode finally gives the season some drive by streamlining the story and focus and fans of a show like Vikings would enjoy the fighting and action that is on show.

Rating
9.0
Pros
  • Lots of well-executed action that could rival 'Vikings'
  • Better-paced then the previous episodes
  • Some strong character moments for Uthred and Ragner
Cons
  • Some minor character and technical issues

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