The full ten episodes – yes, 10!! – of the third season of THE LAST KINGDOM are streaming now on Netflix. The season will cover book 5, THE BURNING LAND and book 6, DEATH OF KINGS of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series. Historically, it covers events that took place in England in the final decade of the 9th century.
This first episode begins with a sorceress’s vision of a battle and concludes with the battle itself. And now I’m afraid I have to plead a bit of disappointment at the casting of the actress who plays the sorceress Skade (whose prophecies, by the way, may or may not be true). In the novels Skade has a regal beauty. She is tall and lithe, with hair the color of Odin’s ravens. She is unquestionably evil and cruel and creepy. Theo Sofie Loch Næs, who plays Skade in the series, while she does a terrific job in the role and seethes with gruesome, nasty cruelty, simply cannot change the fact that she is a winsome blonde.
Her face is just too sweet. She never creeps me out, and I think Skade should creep me out. It’s a quibble, I know; so moving on…
Time has skipped forward a bit. Alfred’s son Edward (Timothy Innes) is now a young man and joins the royal family. Many familiar and favorite faces are back, though. Ælswith (Eliza Butterworth) is still tight-lipped and disapproving of all things Uhtred. Æthelflaed (Millie Brady) has a baby daughter now and her husband Æthelred (Toby Regbo) the pathetic coward knows it’s not his. Alfred’s nephew Æthelwold (Henry McEntire) is as smarmy and smart mouthed as ever, and Steapa (Adrian Bouchet) is still Alfred’s giant supporter and Uhtred’s friend. Gisela (Peri Baumeister) is pregnant again and teasing Uhtred about it, with Hild (Eva Birthistle) and Thyra (Julia Bache-wig) attending her. Uhtred’s retainers Finan (Mark Rowley), Sihtric (Arnas Fedaravicius), and Osferth (Ewan Mitchell) bring a bit of comic relief, thank goodness. I loved the bit that series writer Stephen Butchard added about the meaning of the word ‘smite’.
King Alfred (the remarkable David Dawson) seems to have aged the most of all the characters, and he cannot control his trembling when his illness gets the better of him. He knows that his days must be numbered. His moments of self-doubt and concern for what will happen to his kingdom when he is gone are wonderfully moving.
Constant war was rough on kings, but Alfred managed to rule an embattled Wessex for 29 years.
Alexander Dreymon is even more convincing this season in the role of Uhtred, and in this first episode his acting skills are tested as he banters with the despicable Haesten (Jeppe Beck Laursen) and our beloved Fr. Beocca (Ian Hart), encourages the ætheling Edward, argues with King Alfred (nothing new there), and in a scene that some might find offensive, brutalizes Skade. (I would point out that Uhtred’s violence toward the bloodthirsty Skade is a desperate act to prevent her warlord lover from killing innocent hostages after he casually slits the throats of a few of them, to the Saxons’ horror. This is, after all, the 9th century.)
In fact, I found this episode more visually violent than in earlier seasons. There is more gore, so be prepared. Some of that has to do with portraying Skade’s horribly cruel acts in order to reinforce just how terrible she is, not to mention slightly mad.
The plot varies from the book somewhat in the details, but in the main it is true to Cornwell’s novel. As the hour ended, the action had covered a little more than one third of THE BURNING LAND. If you are like me, you will want to immediately move on to Episode 2.
All photos: Netflix, The Last Kingdom