Netflix is really trying to take down cable, isn’t it? Netflix original after Netflix original is pumped out from the streaming site. It’s given us shows like Luke Cage, a show I loved, but not every original is destined for greatness.
Season 2 of ‘The Last Kingdom’ falls into this second category. It’s a historical fiction based on Bernard Cornwell’s book series, “The Saxon Stories”. The backdrop is the 9th century British Isles, where most of England has fallen to the invading Vikings. Wessex stands as the last true kingdom and her King, Alfred, seeks to unite England once more.
Spoiler Light Summary
Our main character, Uhtred, was born to a Saxon nobleman but orphaned and kidnapped by the invaders while still young. He was raised among them and eventually became for all intents and purposes the son of a Viking lord.
Season one sees Uhtred trying to understand who he is and choose between his Saxon blood and his Viking heritage. Season two did mostly the exact same thing, just with a slightly different cast of side characters.
He fights for the King Alfred of Wessex but wants to avenge the death of his Viking ‘father’ more than anything. This causes Alfred, among others, to question his loyalty to Wessex and to a united England.
The Hole-y Plot of Season 2
There is, of course, a lot more going on. But this proves to be one of The Last Kingdom’s flaws. Side plots appear and vanish between episodes. While there is the overarching theme of Uhtred’s quest to avenge his father and reclaim his land (the latter of which season two does little to remind viewers of) it doesn’t feel like the show goes anywhere.
It feels as if Uhtred is acting as a side character to King Alfred’s wishes. While the reunification of England is an interesting story, it doesn’t work if it’s told over the shoulder of someone who doesn’t really care. Despite being based on a series of novels, the plot felt like it was being made up as the season went along, only really progressing in the end.
Even worse, there is little continuation from the first to second season. As a Netflix show, it needs to be able to draw its viewers back into the characters and their struggles. This was something it failed at; important characters who died in the first season were rarely referenced, others were dropped entirely.
There were also more than a few plot holes. In one case Uhtred and company were attacking a Danish fort. The Vikings inside were celebrating. Well, apparently every single guard was inside as well because the handful of men Uhtred had was able to set the entire rest of the fort on fire without anyone noticing.
There was also the time where halfway through the season, there was the ‘three years later’ text. Out of nowhere Uhtred’s got two kids! “This seems like an important plot development,” I said to myself. I was wrong apparently, they only appear in one or two other scenes throughout the rest of the season.
Strength of a Well Shot Scene
Of course, it’s not all bad. The camera work was a huge strong point, catching the beauty of England as well as the wretched conditions most people lived in at that time. The fight scenes were shot particularly well, capturing the horrifying meat-grinder that warfare of that time truly was.
A perfect example of this was one of the camp raiding scenes. It was shot entirely over the shoulder of one woman attempting to escape the Viking riders. As a viewer I was sucked in, feeling the terror of the people fleeing the attack as if I was one of them. They even followed the Peter Jackson Tolkien Movie Battle Music Motto (PJTMBMM, trademark pending) which is to completely pull the music once the fighting starts. This only strengthened the hectic and terrifying feeling that viewers had as the scene progressed.
Now one of The Last Kingdom’s greatest downfalls is its “characters”. There are actual characters like Uhtred and the King Alfred, but it’s a very small list. The rest are the “characters” of the show. They were barely developed and I still only knew half their names by the end of the season.
Some characters were introduced out of nowhere as if we should know them. They’re then dropped between episodes, only coming back when the show needs them once more. Yeah, I get that they’re side characters, but they have to come across as people, not props.
One man, who I knew as Discount Hulk Hogan, was training with Uhtred at one point as part of an army he led. Not long after, and without explanation, he becomes one of Uhtred’s most trusted men. Viewers see his face periodically but know nothing about him as a character. Where did he come from? What does he want? Why is he here? Who is he actually?
Near the end of the season, there’s a fairly important scene involving him that just falls flat because of how flat he is as a character.
I kept watching. At first, it was because the action was well done and the historical fiction aspect of it appealed to me. As the season began to close, however, there were a few real characters that began to form. Even better, an actual plot thickened.
I found myself smiling as plans developed and cheering as warriors rode off to battle. I was unsure of who I wanted to win and was rooting for multiple sides. Even overused plot devices, like forbidden love and the good and bad brothers, drew me in as the season closed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a great show. It was aggressively average for a while but became fun and by the end, it had some real development going on. I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but if you saw the first season and need something else to pass the time you might as well give it a shot.