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The Last Kingdom is a British historical fiction television series based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series of novels. It premiered in 2015 on BBC America, BBC Two and later in 2018 on Netflix.
The year is 866, and the Great Heathen Army’s arrival in Britain is about to redefine the relationship between Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. Following establishment of Danish rule in Jórvík and East Anglia, the show largely focuses on the resistance of the Kingdom of Wessex to ongoing Viking incursions to Southern England.
The story covers about 40–45 years by the end of season 4. Season 1 covers the years 866–878, season 2 from 878 to 886, season 3 from 893 to 900, and season 4 takes place about 901 to 912.
The protagonist (named Osbert in childhood) is re-baptised as Uhtred after his elder brother Uhtred is killed by the Danes; his father, along with other Saxon noblemen of Northumbria, are killed in battle against the Danes. Only his uncle and step-mother survive.
Uhtred and a Saxon girl named Brida are taken as slaves by Earl Ragnar to his home in Danish Northumbria. Time passes, and Ragnar’s daughter Thyra is about to be married, but fellow Danes attack the night before the wedding and set fire to the hall in which the family is sleeping.
Ragnar is burned alive, and Thyra taken as a slave. Only Uhtred and Brida escape as they have spent the night in the woods tending a charcoal kiln. The attackers are led by Kjartan, a disgruntled Viking who had been banished by Ragnar from his lands years earlier for an offence committed by Kjartan’s son Sven.
Uhtred vows to avenge Ragnar’s death, while simultaneously hoping to reclaim Bebbanburg from his uncle; who seeks to kill Uhtred to keep Bebbanburg for himself. Uhtred is forced to choose between the kingdom of his ancestors and the people who have raised him, and his loyalties are constantly tested.
The first series roughly covers the events of Cornwell’s novels The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman, although they are condensed for the screen. The second series covers the happenings of Cornwell’s novels The Lords of the North and Sword Song. Series 3 is based on The Burning Land and Death of Kings, but with considerable plot changes.
The third series’ ten episodes were produced solely by Netflix. One reviewer indicated that this had a positive effect: “With it came a certain increase in production values, most notably during the epic end-of-episode clash in which the swing of every sword and thwock of every shield hit firmly home,” but added that “the blood-and-gore budget has also undergone a significant increase, thanks in large part to the arrival of the beautiful but psychotic Skade (Thea Sofie Loch Næss)”.
Much of the series was written by Stephen Butchard, and filming was completed in Hungary. These episodes cover the decline in King Alfred’s health, according to one report “while he tries to ensure that his fiercely-held vision of a Christian, Saxon Wessex as part of a stable English nation will survive him as his legacy …. the Uhtred–Alfred relationship is at the core of the story”.
All ten episodes of series 4 appeared on Netflix on 26 April 2020.As in series 3, there are significant plot differences to the books.