I'm a subscriber to Netflix and one of the shows that's I've enjoyed watching on the service most is The Last Kingdom, a historical drama set against the Saxon versus Viking wars of the 9th and 10th centuries.
And, excitedly, the fifth (and final!) season of The Last Kingdom has just started streaming on Netflix for March 2022. Netflix also has all previous seasons (opens in new tab) of the show ready to stream, too, so the entire story of protagonist Uhtred of Bebbanburg is available right now to watch.
And, let me tell you, this show can teach The Witcher TV show on Netflix a lot, and in many ways I feel it is the far superior show. I wrote recently about how, while I thought Netflix had done a decent job adapting the tales of Geralt of Rivia, The Witcher TV series was far from perfect – and I definitely feel The Last Kingdom schools it in a few notable ways.
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How The Last Kingdom schools The Witcher
Firstly, The Last Kingdom for me has been a masterclass in exposition, with the show communicating complicated politics, religions, lore and factional warfare without leading to confusion or boredom. It also has, on the whole, some really great script writers and the characters rarely stray into clunky, awkward dialogues. If only the same could be said of The Witcher!
The show also does the simplest of things really well. When we get transported around ancient Britain to any destination, not only are we shown its name on screen for a second or two, but that ancient name is also then morphed into its modern equivalent. This helps people keep track of where they are at all times. The Witcher, on the other hand, just doesn't do this place naming at all and, as a result, it's super easy to lose track of where the characters are and where they are in relation to anything else.
The Last Kingdom while not following a Monster of the Week format for its episodes, definitely does a great job of having sub-plots in each episode with proper narrative arcs, which fit themselves within the overall season plot. And, as these plots are typically well written, it means each episode tends to have real short term impetus, as well as that of building toward a season conclusion. The Witcher too often gets sucked back into exposition for its main plot each episode and forgets that people want to be entertained with stories every week and not just one overarching one handled badly.
Oh, and lastly, while protagonist Uhtred's catchphrase in the show is, literally, "Destiny is all", The Last Kingdom does not rely on its characters saying "destiny" multiple times every episode like in The Witcher to try to cheaply foster an epic narrative. The events, dialogue and action of The Last Kingdom do that for the show naturally.
Why you should watch The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom is a really consistent and classy historical drama that has a bit of everything in it, with action, romance, suspense, intrigue and more in each episode.
The setting for the show is the late ninth and early tenth centuries, a time where England was historically formed when the various Saxon kingdoms of Britain began to be united as one realm by Alfred the Great, then King of Wessex. This period saw numerous large invasions by Danish Vikings, though, who for times did conquer large swathes of north-eastern Britain and ruled under Danelaw.
Naturally conflict ensues and the show's hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who is born to a Saxon lord but then captured and raised by a Danish warlord, ends up being stuck in the middle. Uhtred is a great character and his half and half identity lets him act as the audience's gateway to both Saxon and Danish cultures.
The fact that it has run for 5 seasons shows you how consistent it is and, while it's never been a household name like, say, Game of Thrones, it is much classier in many ways and balances historical accuracy with entertaining stories really well.
There's a really diverse cast of quality actors in it, too, both on the Saxon and Viking sides. The Viking factions are particularly good fun!
It's a consistently 7/10 show that you can both watch on a Monday night after a tough first day in the office, or on a Friday or Saturday night to wind down with.
I think for me the thing that really sets it apart from other historical dramas set in the ancient world, or a fantasy ancient world, is that it The Last Kingdom straddles the line between historical accuracy and Hollywood-style entertainment is all that matters.
Game of Thrones at times was almost comical with its copious amounts of unclothed exposition dialogue, while shows like Britannia and Vikings feel needlessly edgy or glossy, with more emphasis placed on blood and short term shock than telling an engaging and coherent story.
The Last Kingdom balances both these things, being historical and engaging in terms of story, while also offering plenty of thrills, action and romance.
I recommend The Last Kingdom to anybody with a Netflix subscription, and I also recommend it to the makers of The Witcher, as I really do feel their show could learn something from it.