The Last Kingdom’s Fundamental Incoherency

Tuesday , 11, July 2017 44 Comments

The first episode of this series stumbles out of the gate, but I had to wonder… does it eventually find its stride? After all the hue and cry last time, I had to stop and think: maybe whatever it is that this series’s fans love so much comes along later and it’s worth giving this show another chance. But if it comes at all, I can already tell you now: it doesn’t happen in the second episode!

Granted, this show is pleasantly retrograde in any number of ways. The comparisons to Game of Thrones are perhaps too hasty and heavy handed. Honestly, this show is downright wholesome compared to that. It’s loaded with all manner of fornication and adultery, sure. But the HBO style soft core porn is conspicuously absent. And I can hardly tell I’m living in 2017 anymore while this is on because this show is infused with the idea that heterosexuality is some sort of norm. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a tremendous feat for an outfit like the BBC. Nevertheless, it is still a pretty low bar.

The thing I can’t wrap my head around is how the sharp tongued paramour-of-the-moment can sashay around like she does. And sure, I can get how she might be good in a fight and all. Great to have watching your back. Fun to hang out with around a campfire while you’re on the run from Danes and Saxons. But seriously, the whole smart mouthed tough girl routine should have an entirely different tenor when it is combined with morning sickness. Given that she’s been raised by Vikings, I can understand her being contemptuous of a bunch of loser Englishmen types. But she should know that her days as a cut-rate fighting-person are numbered!

She doesn’t seem to have a clue.

And I’m not saying that this show is bad because it is egregiously unhistorical. (Though I have no doubt that it is.) It’s bad because it’s fundamentally incoherent.

Consider the priest character, who is being set up as being sort of a wise Gandalf-like figure. He walks in on a young lord just as a servant girl is leaving his library. She’s trying to discreetly get her clothes back on, so its obvious what’s happened. What’s his counsel? Man, you gotta keep that girl close to you. Because if the Lord can deliver you from the tempting temptatiousness of her lovely, savory, scintillating curves… wow! That’s going to bring glory to God like nothing else.

This guy is being set up to be some sort of wise counselor…? And he’s shown saying something that stupid? And I get the author of the book series this show is based on has little use for Christianity in general. And I have no doubt that you can find any number of historical accounts putting Christians of this era in a bad light. But this is absolutely moronic.

The point of the scene is of course to highlight the hypocrisy of this English lord when our hero (“Woden McWodenface”) shows up and refuses to go to prayers. Our pagan hero is just too darned principled to pretend to pray. And our Christian douchebag is way too bigoted towards pagan hero types to think anything other than the worst of someone that can’t be bothered to go through the motions.

None of these characters are at all likable for any of this. It really makes it hard to care about what happens to any of them. And again, this is not about the history. Let’s just pretend for a moment that all of this is based on actual historical accounts and something like this really did happen.

The whole point of this episode is to set up the epic scope of what we’re about to see. This “last kingdom” whose fate hangs on a thread…? This is where it all starts. This is where a grand unified England comes from. Something BIG is going to happen here. Something tremendous is at stake. And this ragtag group of farmers and nimrods is going to turn the tide of history… rise up and humiliate these pagan invaders. Unify a nation that will ultimately become an empire that spans the globe.

Now that’s great and all. It’s an objectively good idea for a book series.

But it’s danged hard to get sentimental about any of this when the people that create it have nothing but contempt for themselves and for the people that made them what they are.

Are you sick of garbage fiction about garbage characters…? Try reading something before 1980 instead! It’s only recently that medieval Christians in fantasy were portrayed as stupidly as they are now. In fact… real fantasy is inherently Christian. Learn more about writers like Lord Dunsany and Poul Anderson and how they contrast with authors like Michael Moorcock: read my book! Available now in hardcover!

44 Comments
  • PC Bushi says:

    You make some fair points, Jeffro – those are worthy criticisms. And I could certainly understand being turned off enough not to watch further (I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t have to slog through the beginning of a story to get to “the good part”).

    I do think there are inconsistencies (or incoherence). But some of it plays out later.

    Alfred is an adulterer. He’s also king (or heir for a brief period), which means he’s God’s chosen. Sure, Beocca should tell him to put his cock away and send off the maid. But I guess he’s trying to make him stronger, as wrongheaded as his advice would seem to be. And *spoiler* – Alfred does cheat less (and maybe eventually quit? we stop seeing that maid) as the show progresses and grows closer to his wife.

    • Blume says:

      I was not aware Alfred was an adulterer. Is their a historical basis for this claim or just the book or tv series?

  • NARoberts says:

    Prepare for the Last Kingdom brigade, 2.0 edition…

    You gave this way to much of a chance, based on what I read in your first post.

  • TPC says:

    I don’t watch “the tv series of the book”, since there now seems to be one practically weekly anyway, but it’s interesting to see what they took from the books to put in the show. The whole thing you described “makes sense in context” in the books, but there’s also more time to develop the relationships between Beoca, Alfred and Uhtred.

    At least until Alfred dies in the book series (book five or six, IIRC), the Christian-hating author manages to not be a complete froot loop about faithful Christians. When his primary interesting legitimate historical figure has to die, he loses a major anchor for the rest of Uhtred’s quest.

    The author also avoided the tough chick stuff. The tough chicks legitimately fear the word of a man taking away protection from them.

    I wonder now who’s greenlighting and doing the writing for the series, even the people who watched more of it in the first post have said it veers more and more away from the coherent if sometimes off-putting worldview of the books.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    “The comparisons to Game of Thrones are perhaps too hasty and heavy handed.”

    From the first page of my copy of “The Last Kingdom”

    “Like Game of Thrones, but real.” – The Observer (London)

    Bernard Cromwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I’ve ever read, past or present.” – George R.R. Martin

    The book is being sold on the merits comparing it to GoT.

    I say it is fair game.

  • I hate that the series portrays the *Shield Wall* as some kind of Magic Barrier capable of destroying all…. and it actually comes off as that because viewers have never seen a f***ing competent shield wall in a movie or tv. I saw 10 minutes of a fight on Vikings where suddenly people were leaping over their own side’s defenses to dive in among their enemy and gave up on that show entirely. Then… BBC manages to F*** up this book entirely along similar lines.

    • NARoberts says:

      You make it sound hilarious. lol

    • I have handled and am building some historically analogous Viking Shields. They tend to be between 5 and 9 mm thick, and I have serious doubts if the shield-wall as portrayed would actually work with the kind of shields that were built and used in the 700 to 1000 ad time frame.

      The historical record of artifacts is very very limited for this time., and it doesn’t help that of course the shields were all made of wood and that wood tends to rot. Mostly what we have for shield thicknesses are shield Edge clamps, but the surviving Shields are just too thin to form a barrier the way that they show it.

  • S Fisher says:

    Seen both series but honestly it’s just a bit of fun for non historians. The Saxons weren’t as weak as portrayed and the Danes weren’t Super Heroes. A lot has been created to fill the gaps. Anyone who thinks this is history is oh so wrong.

  • Bigby's Typing Hands says:

    Meh. I watched some episodes and lost interest after 4 or so. Just can’t get into it, don’t care about any of them, don’t find the story that interesting. Never got the GoT vibe since I thought they were going for low-rent Vikings TBH. I found Gallivant better than this one.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    What’s annoying is that too many scriptwriters want to project all of communism flaws and inhumanity on the post Roman and medieval church. Yet they never stop tp consider just how radical and world changing Christanity was. Sure it took centuries to civilized the barbarians and thugs but the result was Europe.
    And let’s not forget the mortal peril that Europe faced with Islam. With all of the wars and stuff it’s amazing that the Church and western gov survived at all.

  • Richhisk says:

    I wasn’t aware this show was wholly a Christian bashing exercise lmao. It’s a fun yarn based on a totally made up character, who has been plonked into an historical era. As for needing to avoid this, NO! I love the fact his characters are Chauceresque poking fun at religion and pompous folk. TLK is well made well acted and long may it continue poking fun at overly religious pigs, especially for upsets so many watchers, who clearly feel the need to watch it despite the fact they can only critique it so badly, I laugh and fart in your general direction due to the Christian depravity by episode 5 which we in the UK loved. Ta ta enjoy confession.

    • Queen JZ says:

      I did not realize the show was poking fun? I’m from the u.s and absolutely loved the show from start to finish! Now I might sound a little lame I’ve even watched the first season twice months apart of course ,) The second season has some slow points, but I still loved it! I can not wait for season three..

    • Charlie Baud says:

      Why is it that the staunchest defenders of “The Last Kingdom” can barely type? Is there some sort of correlation between BBC viewership and sub-normal intelligence?

      As for the show being “Chauceresque”, Chaucer balanced his barbs with portrayals of ideal Christian behavior, meant to edify and instruct. Cornwell is just another liberal hack going after a fashionable target.

  • Vanessa Johnson says:

    This show is fucking good

  • Chris says:

    Loved Bernard Cornwall’s books and he actually discusses the historical accuracy and gives references at the end of each book. The program is a brilliant and I believe honestly reflects life at the time, especially the influence of early Christian leaders who just wanted to acheive power using Christianity as an excuse.

    • Hooc Ott says:

      “especially the influence of early Christian leaders who just wanted to acheive power using Christianity as an excuse.”

      I love this.

      A “historically accurate” 10th century England populated with cynical Machiavellian atheists abusing the faith of those less enlightened to achieve power.

      I don’t know what is best in it. The fact that you place your fellow atheists as histories worse villains in your word mash

      or

      the fact you portray these “leaders” as some sort of super intellectuals with the ability to deduce the non-existence of god or gods contrary to every other person on the planet at the time AND being raised with and among the faithful who they were all related to AND doing so without near centuries of philosophy and science and politics which was used to develop modern atheism.

      Of course none of that is going on in your head. Your mum tells you to be an atheist, your school, your friends, the BBC, Cornwall etc. It is like the air you breath. So you just assume 1000 years ago people breathed that same air and thought the same.

      Furthermore you live in the ruins of culture without civics or place or even identity and so can’t even comprehend the tangible real world benefits of family and church and common cause community built around that.

      It was rich beyond your comprehension. Everything around you would have been built by people you know or their parents or their parents and so on. Things as simple as jokes would revolve around a common history and mythology. So rather then a watered down FECKLESS antidote made for a global audience about an experience at the airport referencing some Seinfeld episode it would be…well incomprehensible. But it would be local and built around a history of people you know of places you have been or things you have felt and seen with your own eyes. Tangible intimate and something very deeply human that our minds though either god or accident made to smell taste and touch. A joke that smelled!!! Imagine that.

      So yeah when Cornwall plops down some angst nowhere man secular pagan from outer space who starts pontificating about how everyone are religious sheeple or whatever and then have you jump up and down claiming historical accuracy…

      Well i gotta say nope. Not even once.

  • I think the point in this series is missed,it part historic (the battles did happen) although maybe not in the series format.It is made for viewing remember, so taking it too serious is a mistake. I think along with many others this is the piece of TV for years, I have read all the books so with fingers crossed I turned on, it was surprisingly well done. I cannot wait for the next series

    • Xavier Basora says:

      William
      but too many people take the fiction or flat out lies as fact. Look At Dan Brown.

      I wouldn’t bothered but too many people espeicially our so called elites are proud to be wilfully ignorant and obstinate to the point of irrationality.
      I’m not asking for total historical accuracy but how about showing 10th century proto Europeans as pious Christians warts and heroism?

      It’d be kinda cool to have a saint of the time portrayed as the hagiographies and pious tradition remember him or her

      xavier

  • Jackie says:

    You’re an idiot

  • Christina - London says:

    I have now seen both series and not read the books!
    I love it and although I guess it’s not historically accurate it has stimulated my interest in that time in history … Looking at my own family history I probably have Viking ancestry…
    The acting is superb amdI really enjoy the different characters. Surprisingly I bumped into the actor who plays Ultred outside of Liberty in London and we chatted for about 20 minutes.. He looks the same in real life and was really friendly and relaxed!
    I love the story line and it’s different not so staged as so many historical series .. raw and edgy … Who knows exactly what day to day life was like during those times anyway ?!
    Can’t wait for the next series !!

  • So why has no one made GK Chesterton’s BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE into a film? It is the same story told right.

    • John E. Boyle says:

      I would pay to see a version of the Ballad of the White Horse on film or television. I just doubt that the BBC would have anything to do with such a project.

  • deuce says:

    Good point, Mr. Wright. Chesterton is woefully neglected.

  • Cynthia says:

    Like the show, love the characters. It peaks my interest in this British era as well. It makes me sad when folks try to destroy something that is entertaining by negative religious rhetoric. I guess it is their world and we are just subsisting in it. I am not British but would love to learn more.

  • Kate Harlan says:

    Everyone has to get so damn technical. I watched all 3 series GT, VIKINGS and TLK. All were great although I really like TLK best, VIKINGS close second and G of T last. I’m sure it’s great to be historically accurate but its too hard to know. All I know is the show we are really discussing is TLK. I LOVE IT !!!!
    My bottom line is that I get great pleasure watching IT! That brings in advertisers and I then watch these ads and buy their products.
    Oh I’m not selling anything.
    I’m just a satisfied consumer in The US.

  • M. Paventy says:

    Well- truth or fiction, Christianity was belief in Christ, mutilated into a hierarchical game of spiritual S&M. Kings, popes, and politics…. and whores. Never forget the whores. For the most repulsive depiction of Christianity watch ‘BORGIA’.That one will make you run right out and get baptized. Oh- and as an added bonus-the pope has a NY accent.

    • Xavier Basora says:

      M. Paventy:

      Yeah Maria Magdalena comes to mind…And the totally ironical thing is that a Borja is a saint. St Francesc Borja; great grandson of Alexander VI (yeah him!) and related to Ferran (aka Fernando the Catholic) He was a duke but eventually became the superior general of the Jesuits.
      https://www.llibres.cat/llibres-de-biografies-i-memories/218011-francesc-de-borja-el-duc-sant.html
      and

      his diary
      https://www.llibres.cat/llibres-de-biografies-i-memories/202902-diari-francesc-de-borja-i-darago.html

      And so the producers of the series forgot to continue the story and include him. Might’ve blown the narrative(tm) apart.
      Further, nobody’s ever bothered to ask who the Borjas were and where they came from. Might provide a clue and some context for their behaviour however deplorable.

      xavier

    • Charlie Baud says:

      “Well- truth or fiction, Christianity was belief in Christ, mutilated into a hierarchical game of spiritual S&M. Kings, popes, and politics…. and whores.”

      Only if you buy into the dumbed-down pop history that the critical theory types have spent the last 50 years selling us.

    • Hooc Ott says:

      I am appalled you would suggest that in Christendom’s 2000 years that a Christian soul has sinned.

      If such a thing were true or even possible I would be aghast!

      If fact so aghast I would run out into the streets screaming at such blatant hypocrisy until my lungs gave out.

      “Family is a social construct” I would scream.

      “Put on a dress, use women’s bathrooms!”

      “Force those hypocrites to bake gay cakes!”

      “Abort their babies so as to not let their children be abused with far out tales of a skygod!”

      Such shame I would feel for these supposed faithful I would even praise a tripe terribly acted a-historical meh at best anti-Christian BBC made TV show.

      Go one blogs that criticize it even and in the comments type “WHORE WHORE WHORE” until my fingers bled.

      That does seem like a lot of work though. Which makes me glad no Christian has ever sinned ever.

  • Rebecca S Lange says:

    I LOVED THE LAST KINGDOM! It didn’t hurt that Ultred was very likeable character. I wasn’t watching it for historical accuracy, it was for entertainment! Can’t wait for next seris!

  • Sarah Fisher says:

    The thing is “Christian” views we’re pushed on pagans. It was the Catholic Church pushing, but also accommodating to pagan beliefs to make them convert. Pagans we’re forced to believe by any means necessary. This was never how Jesus worked! I think they do a great job showing those in religious power as they were. Much like today. So churches are all show and some are genuine. However, the bad ones give all churches a bad name. Great show. It is a show, obviously, if you want to know more more about the ER one would research it.

    • Xavier Basora says:

      Sarah
      Name me one hospital, orphanage or university that was founded by pagans.
      As for accommodating pagan beliefs it’s called incultration. The Church has always affirmed that pagans had a lot of good things and incorporated them like St Tomas Aquinas incorporating Aristotle and so on.
      Both Chersteron and Belloc pointed out that paganism went as far as it could but it needed revelation to finally get over the hump.
      xavier

  • Riever says:

    Your review is simplistic in its proclivity to be quick to judge the meaning of a scene based on what is presented on the surface layer. Not only does that single-faceted perspective narrow-mindedly fail to consider other layers of meaning easily found just below the surface, it completely overlooks juxtaposed perspectives and multiple influences not just within each scene, but also in the lines of even one character in a scene.

    Your surface-view contempt for the priest’s words in the scene where he walks into the chambers of the soon-to-be king? “This guy is being set up to be some sort of wise counselor…? And he’s shown saying something that stupid?”

    Your overly simplistic, monochromatic response shows that you completely fail to understand just how much that scene portrays innumerable issues, some obvious and others very nuanced. Let alone the degree of “severe bending of outspoken morality” that is not just politically necessary, but Darwinistically requisite to survive each day in such a time. Or the very Shakespeare-esque way such things reflect on modern politics.

    It’s childlike to think that a “man of the cloth,” or any other high advisor, speaking in such a sycophantic and obtuse manner to the brother of the king is out of place. The degree that it occurred in the face of an extremely awkward and morality-conflicted situation concerning high nobility is somehow out of place? Hardly. It only emphasizes that many facets of consideration exist even in the face of the most flagrant of offenses, even when plainly diametrically opposite of each other.

    This isn’t a simplistic rendering of “Gandalf” giving unsagely advice. Not even close. It’s intended to reveal exactly the opposite. That one like Gandalf who could speak his mind openly in most situations, did so from a position of power and this person, despite his high position in the church, had little to no power in even the most heinous situation.

    And that said? Even Gandalf knew to tread lightly and play “the political game” in the presence of equal or even lesser power, such as his dealings with Saruman or his king of Rohan under the influence of Wormtongue.

    Throughout this entire series, this theme of the tenuous balancing act each and every character below the king and his heir needed to walk? It’s pervasive. Not even the hero of the realm was immune. And among many other meanings, it confers a very unsubtle message regarding the unchecked and not at all reasonable power imbalance that existed – the extreme degree to which such deference was a necessary evil to survive in that time. Again, not unlike much of present day politics.

    That said, it certainly isn’t on the grand epic scale of Game of Thrones. Or on any level a parallel of it. It’s less grand and intentionally so. Though I don’t think any similarity was the goal – despite the twinge I had when my mind perceived a lame “Ned Stark aspect” to the soon-to-be lead character’s father being killed-off in battle.

    Overall, I also found the series slow to start, the plot slow to develop, and the sub-plots woven together acceptably but not original. It was entertaining, it held my interest intermittently, but nothing truly grabbed me. The depictions of somewhat obvious plot twists were cinematically well-done for the most part. Overall, probably a 6.5 out of 10. Good enough to watch another season to see of it picks up.

    • Eugine Nier says:

      > Your review is simplistic in its proclivity to be quick to judge the meaning of a scene based on what is presented on the surface layer. Not only does that single-faceted perspective narrow-mindedly fail to consider other layers of meaning easily found just below the surface, it completely overlooks juxtaposed perspectives and multiple influences not just within each scene, but also in the lines of even one character in a scene.

      Man, lay of the online post-modernism generator.

  • Chris Morley says:

    I believe this is BBC finest prog for a long time, as to the truth who knows, not much written down,it’s meant as entertainment but also lots of stuff in it are worthy of a history lesson, I hope it carry on forever, great TV

  • Taarkoth says:

    Man, the atheists and anti-Catholics are just coming out of the woodwork.
    Apparently you hit another nerve.

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