The Last Kingdom Premiere Review

The Last Kingdom Premiere Review

You will find a number of options at your disposal if you are interested in watching a historical drama. You can enjoy some excellent swordfights and breeze through some spectacular scenery, whether you lean towards shows with the more magical element such as Game of Thrones or you have an interest in historical fiction like The Bastard Executioner and The Vikings. The former is a recent addition to this list and details the journey of a man for revenge and his complicated feelings concerning religion and country. However, it comes off as rather lifeless and dull. While the plot may be similar in The Last Kingdom, BBC America’s show is full of life as seen in its season premiere.

The first episode was the origin story, which may have been laden with information for the purpose of table-setting, but doesn’t come off as overstuffed as the script isn’t dependent on just simple exposition for establishing the tone, setting and character of the show. Taking place in 9th century England, The Last Kingdom is placed during the time of a conflict. The country is fractured and the Danish Vikings are taking what they want as they move through it. The pagan Norseman are decried by the Catholic Englishmen who are hiding in their villages.

The Kingdom of Northumbria is the focus of ‘Episode 1’ where a raiding group of Vikings capture a young nobleman named Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The party is headed by the brutal Ragnar (he isn’t the same one from Vikings) who chooses to take the young man under his wing after he cut off the head of the elder Uhtred due to a thwarted negotiation for ransom. Ragnar gives Uhtred an amulet that depicts Thor’s hammer. We see flash forwards at the end of the premiere that show us a grown Uhtred returning home to Bebbanburg for claiming his home after most of his Viking family, including Ragnar was burned alive or slaughtered on the orders of his uncle Aelfrick.

In regard to historical fiction, the story is quite standard, but the premiere is quite promising and could prove to be a thrilling adventure. There is a horde of great performances, carefully considered violence and the rich thematic detail of the script could be the right ingredients for a successful eight-part series. As indicated above, the first episode has a lot of information to share, but it is easy to keep track of the locations and names and they aren’t muddled up that easily. We reach from one point to the other without stumbling during the way.

While Uhtred is undoubtedly a central character, he isn’t the only relevant one as the romances and battles indicate that they are all setting up for a larger story. A good cast further improves the premiere as young Uhtred is portrayed beautifully by Tom Taylor when he goes to battle by his father’s side, speaks of rebellion and allegiance both and is captured and transformed into a Viking whereas his loyalty and true allegiance remains murky. Peter Ganzler plays the warmhearted and charismatic Ragnar and Rune Temte’s ferocious ‘big man’ Ubba, a mad Viking.

The script and the performances in the premiere are able to set the groundwork for the series to build on. The Last Kingdom isn’t just another reason to see the Englishmen and the Vikings tear each other apart as there is a lot more in the thematic depth making and character motivation of the show. Religion and faith are at the core of the conflict as fervent belief causes the English and the Dane to go against one another. Halfway through the episode, Ravn (Rutger Hauer), a wise man and a Viking poet states that those taking orders from God aren’t predictable. This is both applicable to the English and his own clan. Uhtred is the heart of the mess of faith, loyalty and violence.

He eventually returns to his English roots for claiming his land and he also contemplates his life before the Vikings. But, he also confesses to Brida, his long-time friend and English lover that he feels a connection to the Danes and Ragnar. The most refreshing part about the episode was that the show doesn’t take sides. Instead, it just depicts the time as conflicted and unstable. Men on both sides of the battle have the same values; they are complicated yet fiercely loyal. The introduction of the Vikings is both as the heroes and the antiheroes.

They capture Uhtred, but they treat him better than his father did and that itself is a conflict. However, when he steps inside Ragnar’s home, that is when this depiction is changed. We see women strung by ropes and then dropped, men being killed and tortured and various other brutalities. This raw and uncomfortable violence gives the story its depth and shows us a more complicated side of the Vikings.

At the end of ‘Episode 1’ when Uhtred finally returns home, much like Ragnar i.e. cloaked and with a head of an Englishman, The Last Kingdom feels downright consequential and amazing because of the story we have learnt. The best part is that it is easy to feel connected and human amidst all the wartime and stabbing. The show may definitely be showcasing a story of brutality and tumult, but it is also exploring the human behaviors and ideologies that push the characters towards companionship and violence.

The chemistry shown between Brida and Uhtred was also amazing and something to get on-board with. It would be exciting to see how The Last Kingdom chooses to flesh out their romance or friendship, whatever you may want to call it. Whispering Vikings prove themselves to be immensely terrifying, but there are some villains like Sven that seem predictable. Also, the way Ragnar came out in a blaze of glory may have been a little bit over the top, it was also fantastic at the same time. The premiere titled ‘Episode 1’ comes off as really promising with a meaty story and amazing cast.

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