Monday, 14 December 2015

The Last Kingdom: Episode 8

The Last Kingdom
Episode 8
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Average)

In A Nutshell

And so here we come to the finale. This is what we've been building up to ... apparently. The big battle. Although a lot of plot lines are tied up here, the show manages to undo the rather weak attempts it's made over the course of the season at making us feel that tension and rivalry was growing. We're supposed to believe that the stakes were high, and that whatever the hell it is that Uhtred wants in life is coming his way eventually. Given the previous seven episodes, we should have expected it to throw in the cold water and damping any of us who joined in some of rallying cries of "No Mercy! No Mercy" during this show. When it was all concluded, one felt like saying "Mercy! Mercy!" as way of sarcastically telling the show producers that they've once again tugged that carpet from underneath our feet. There were a few shockers along the way however ...

Things started off back at the marshland with Alfred and his current nearest and dearest discussing the next plan after last episode where they managed to kill some comedy Vikings and burn a whole fleet of boats with only 20 odd men. Given how well that went, I'm surprised someone didn't mention Alfred just waltzing into Winchester by himself and taking everyone on! But no, they have a little dialogue and all agree that one big battle is the best way forward. Strange, I thought they'd all agreed that last episode? Hmmm.

Back in Winchester, Athelwold is spilling his guts so, hopefully, the Vikings don't do it for him. After some rubbish joking, he tells them that Alfred won't give up and believes in his god. In one of the most ridiculously stupid decisions since last week's angry Vikings in the marshlands, Guthrum asks Athelwold to go into Alfred's camp and kill him for them. With absolutely no reason not to just say yes and then flee to safety, I don't really know what they were thinking or that any of them believed Athelwold knew how to use a sword, let alone do their deed. Just stupid plot-work here.

Meanwhile, Alfred and his gang are marching through some woodlands somewhere and find that the dodgy cowardly senior member in their gang has legged it. Did anyone not see that coming? He'd already pegged it last week when the Vikings invaded Winchester. Yet more horsing about follows as they now go on to Uhtred's former homestead and find that ransacked, burn't and people dead. Seeing a cross near the pond, Uhtred starts crying, and digging up the grave. Somewhat thankfully that he was right, although also sadly, it is his dead son's grave. This scene I found more disturbing than any of the questionable plot decisions in this show, but in a literally disturbing way. Sent shivers down me spine. Gross. Somewhat making up for his really bad discovery though, Queen Iseult comes to him later, literally as it happens, by sobbing over believing that saving Alfred's baby led to his baby's death. She's had enough of being a sorcerer, and so gets naked on Uhtred, who this week just agrees with her decision and they "get it on".

Someone we haven't seen for ages, and greatly missed, is Odda Senior. He's stumbling around his home this week, with Mildirth now his helper, and a nun! Didn't see that coming. Oh well, guess it sort of makes sense? Well, the helper bit does. Not sure on the nun bit. Anyhow, Odda Junior meanwhile makes "peace" with Skorpa the Viking, and offers him lunch and drink to which he accepts. Rather than come right away, he's going to wait for the next full moon, of which both must have access to Google Earth because they seem to understand exactly when that is without even the blink of an eye.

Because there's no such thing as smoking yet, Uhtred and Queen Iseult are caressing each other after their passionate sex, whispering sweet nothings etc before Iseult casually drops the bombshell to Uhtred that his sister is still alive, because Skorpa whispered it to her ages ago. Uhtred seems mildly surprised, rather than amazed or delighted at such news. I was dumbfounded. Why did Skorpa think to whisper that to her, and why did she leave it to now to tell him? There's no real logic or explanation to this, much like most of the daftness in this show.

After sending off messengers with his rallying cry via letter, Alfred and gang (Although strangely just a few of them) head into Odda's home after hearing disturbing news of this truce with the Vikings. They can't believe it's true. I can't believe anyone is stupid enough like Odda Junior to think it'll work or last. Anyhow, Uhtred and Leofric met with Odda junior and have a little argument over what's happened, with Odda Junior asking Leofric to kill Uhtred. Mercifully, Odda Senior then stabs his son. Something that we've all wanted to happen for ages. I can believe one needed junior out of the way because he was completely too daft to have any power, but couldn't he have just arrested him? A distraught Odda senior pledges his army to Alfred, who rather unmercifully for him decides not to pardon Odda's son for his treachery.

More horsing about next as they all head off to a hill with some stones so to wait to meet the army he's summoned via his messengers. Disappointedly for Alfred, no one is there to meet him, but alas, not one viewer would believe it's likely to stay that way for long. Athelwold, who was lodging at Odda's, bails out of killing Alfred in one of the most predicable moments in this show's brief history. Seconds later, the armies arrive and it's time for the big battle.

Well, the CGI made it look big, and there was lots of blood, shouting and people dropping like flies, but in true "Last Kingdom" fashion, it was all rather brief, to the point that it didn't seem any more significant than any previous battle. The stakes were higher, because we'd been told that, and they really tried to make everything seem so by knocking off some of the main characters during the battle. We had Iseult beheaded by Skorpa in order to taunt Uhtred, who then, in a series of moves superman would have performed, killed Skorpa. Leofric took a blow to the neck and was gone quicker than swatting a fly, but less dramatically. Iseult's head was quite a "Yikes" moment but it was undermined by the ease to which Uhtred gained revenge. The manner of Leofric's demise was not worthy at all of someone we'd been made to follow around for the whole series pretty much. There was great visuals in the battle and blood everywhere but it sadly lacked any real belief of the size, stakes, and the drama that it should have been built up to. If the death of Leofric and Iseult wasn't surprisingly enough, then the scene of Athelwold wielding a sword and killing three Vikings within 5 seconds was more of a surprise than everything this show had given us in the last 7 episodes. That disbelieving turn of a coward and useless individual into a strong sword-master really undid any drama the battle built up.

With the battle over, you'd think we could maybe wrap things up rather nicely and quickly in the last few minutes left. Sure, it mostly went like that. Despite the pictures showing us that Alfred's men had pretty much decimated the Vikings, we got the voice-over telling us that a peace deal was struck between everyone by way of the prisoners they caught (Ragnor, Brida) and Guthrum was baptised, in another scene we could all see coming from a mile off. However, something I didn't see coming, given this was the finale, was that we'd end up with a cliffhanger of sorts, what with the final scene showing and telling us that Uhtred's journey wasn't over and that he was now heading North perhaps, presumably to rescue his sister. Yup, no homecoming for him, or taking back his land, which you'd assume Alfred would hand him on plate after all he's done for him. That didn't get a mention. The one thing we all sort of thought Uhtred was fighting for, but could never be too sure, what with the way his objectives changed like the wind, never came up for discussion. Worse still, this isn't the finale after all, because the ending suggests a second season. Talk about another bucket of cold water being thrown on us ...

What I liked

Epic visuals via CGI and the extra actors for the "big battle" as well as gruesome blood everywhere.

The return of Odda Senior, a much missed man due to his common sense and gravity. Although he somewhat oddly decided to just murder his son in front of everyone instead of, I dunno, just knocking him out?

Alfred's speeches were top notch throughout this episode and well acted.

Some sort of resolution at the end I guess. Sort of? Maybe.

A few genuine shocks; namely Odda Junior's demise and Iseult's beheading.

What I Didn't Like

There's so much mentioning, rather flippantly, of "humping" in this programme that I often felt like I was watching a porn movie. A very bad one at that.

The deserting senior ranking official for Alfred gave all the visuals of Dick Dastardly, and all the display of action that Mutley his dog would have managed.

Leofric's death just came across rather diluted after being such a senior character all series.

The "Big Battle" was far too brief for something that was of such significance. They tried, but it needed much more.

That "cliffhanger". It just made a mockery of the resolution with the Vikings, and us feeling that we'd been building up to something, or anything, quite frankly.


Is that second season I see there Athelwold?

Odda junior though the extra strawberry doughnuts were delicious

You have to ask yourself, what would you do if you were Uhtred?

Dear me, sadly this isn't other yet.

The midges were deadly at this time of the year

Athelwold must have been smoking magic mushrooms this week, because he's now a fearless sword wielder.
And Finally

Repeatedly this show has betrayed itself with questionable character behaviour and plot developments that completely dissolve any attempt (be it weak in this show) of making us care or believe something was significant. Tension is far too often wiped out in spectacularly bad fashion, leaving us the viewers, simply just admiring the brilliant costumes and visuals, and really clueless as to the direction anyone of the characters is taking, or where us watching it might be heading. Alfred, Queen Iseult and Odda Senior aside, very little of anyone else made any sense, and although even those three had their moments, they did at least have more ups than downs, and clearly much stronger performances than the rest of the characters combined.

And so the first series of the show ends much like my general feeling of the whole series, which is a shrug of the shoulders and the word "Meh!".

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Average)


  1. Given the budget a good series. These battles were not such a grand scale as you would clearly like in those days. If you were surprised at him heading north at the end you've not been paying attention - inevitable. Guthrum being baptise - you could see that coming a mile off; hard not to as that happened all a little more condensed to suit a tv series. You sound like you'd prefer game of thrones to something that works within the constraints of actual events, or tries to. At least you liked Alfreds speeches, fortunate as ghis period of history resulted in the only use of The Great for the monarch. Character development not long, then read the books although having said that life was shorter and more brutal then. Not a flawless piece of work but far better than your 50% mark - probably 8/10 to allow for some improvements.

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment :)

      Yes, my memory played tricks on me at the end. He clearly said he was heading home and not to the North :)

      Absolutely it was a decent effort on the budget they used. Loved the scenery, costumes and attention to detail.

      I do follow Game of Thrones and the far better 'Vikings' series. For me, The Last Kingdom was full of too many wooden characters, questionable decision making, convenient plot/timing and a failure to really allow tension to rise.

      Balance that all out and it really doesn't quite get above average for me. But that's only my opinion and I'm very harsh on everything I watch :)