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!