The Last Kingdom: season 5 review (how does the show shape up compared to Vikings?)

First off, I have to say, I am a big fan of viking-based shows, particularly in recent years. As Game of Thrones (2011-2019) began to wind down I found myself looking around for a suitable replacement, and very quickly discovered Vikings (2013-2020). Initially, it didn’t have the same glamour and scheming that Thrones did, but I quickly got into it.

It felt different enough, and a large part of what held my interest was the charismatic and offbeat performance of its lead, Travis Fimmel, playing Ragnar Lothbrok. His early scenes, particularly with his wife, shield-maiden Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick) crackled with chemistry.

Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick), Vikings season 1 – credit: History

Vikings, as a show, in the later seasons, begun to lose its way, or just no longer had the same impact that it did in the early days (maybe I just miss all those Ragnar and Athelstan moments – I’m pretty sure they were in love). But before this becomes a giant Vikings love-in, the reason I mention this show is that it shares a lot of common ground with The Last Kingdom: both had vikings heading to Anglo-Saxon England and attempt to conquer and raid the land, then eventually settle there and try and live in peace. Both had a heroic warrior and reluctant leader at their centre, and both had a number of historical figures as key characters, like King Alfred the Great. Looper do a good breakdown of the two shows.

I guess, ultimately, funnily enough, Vikings as a show focused on vikings, Norse culture and Paganism, whereas The Last Kingdom zeroed in on Anglo-Saxon culture, and I suppose, Christianity. The Last Kingdom had a better plot throughout its five-season run, whereas Vikings hit higher heights with its battle sequences and big moments, but meandered somewhat in terms of story over six seasons, perhaps because it went wherever the vikings went (for example: in season 4 they raid Paris and Bjorn explores the Mediterranean).

But again, I digress. For this final season of The Last Kingdom we follow our hero, Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), as we have done throughout the show. And this season they really put him through it, on an emotional level. He has multiple personal tragedies to deal with, as people close to him meet certain ‘final season’ fates.

Amidst the turmoil he does get to have some satisfying character moments though, ones which felt like nice closure. For example, he has some touching scenes with his lost love, Lady Aethelflaed (Millie Brady). And yet the show still does what it does best… keeping the focus on Uhtred as he wrestles with destiny. Destiny is all, remember. For those paying attention this may or may not mean a return to his ancestral home of Bebbanburg (hint: it does).

Uhtred’s dance with destiny aside, other characters get more time to shine, in particular Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra (Ruby Hartley) and partner Sigtryggr (Eysteinn Sigurðarson), as rulers of York. We also get some blessed light relief when healer Eadith (Stefanie Martini) and Lady Aelswith (Eliza Butterworth) team up, as they seemingly run up and down the length of Mercia and Wessex. We also get a few lighter moments with Uhtred’s OG squad, Finan (Mark Rowley) and Sihtric (Arnas Fedaravičius).

Ultimately, if I come back to the Vikings comparison one more time, if you take the six seasons that show had versus the five of The Last Kingdom, I have to edge it in favour of the latter. It was just plotted out in a more satisfying way. Characters evolved in ways you would hope and expect them to, and the story felt like it unfolded in an organic manner. Whereas Vikings wandered around and almost went wherever showrunner Michael Hirst felt like taking it.

Yet I’m glad the two shows exist. They’re BOTH great, for different reasons.

I hear there will be a final movie for The Last Kingdom called Seven Kings Must Die, which is a cool title. Although it does half put me in mind of the movie, Romeo Must Die (2000), which I have yet to see, although I hear it’s a little underrated, so I should really catch it sometime. Anyway, it’s likely we’ll get The Last Kingdom movie some time in 2023.

For me, I can’t wait – I’m a big fan. If for no other reason than I just want to hear Uhtred say ‘destiny is all’, one last time.

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