As the AV Club’s resident Vikings guy, I have now become the AV Club’s Vikings guy, at least for this overview of the BBC America series about Vikings (although not Vikings—that doesn’t come back ’til next year). You get it.
Anyway, this series is really quite good. Nice ‘n’ dark, but—being based on a series of historical novels—with a little more of a historical sweep to it in the tale of the Vikings clash with 9th century English Kind Alfred (later dubbed “The Great” by his P.R. team). While its lead isn’t the magnetic hunk-monster that Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel undeniably is, and while the show partakes of BBC’s scrupulously gloomy aesthetic, it’s also not prone to Vikings’ occasional melodramatic excesses (especially when it comes to the English courts). It’s a good show, it what I’m saying. Here—here’s me saying it:
Based on the still-ongoing series of historical novels by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom, while no doubt engendered by the surprise success of those other Vikings on History, finds its own take on the period, following Uhtred’s perilous journey through one of the most tumultuous and deadly eras in English history. (The Last Kingdom takes place approximately a hundred years after Vikings’ Vikings first raided English shores, so, while there are two Ragnars here, neither is Vikings’ Ragnar Lothbrok.) Freed from Vikings’ nimble balancing act of keeping its conquerors conventionally sympathetic as they rape and pillage, The Last Kingdom(from Downton Abbey producers Gareth Neame and Nigel Marchant) is free to present a more brutally frank Norse People—their treatment of prisoners after the sack of Bebbanburg is especially upsetting in its casual cruelty. But the show—while at least partly intended as a rousing tale of English unity—is hardly a propaganda piece, with the brilliant but manipulative Alfred and his subjects prone to extreme acts of cruelty and prejudice in the name of their God. Indeed, as with any Viking story, the character’s straightforward, often alien morality holds undeniable fascination—in the brutal world vividly presented here, their methods of survival emerge as valid as any other.