Bread making and alcohol – that’s how a lot of my friends got through this past year of Covid seclusion. A more loathsome lot spent their time by picking up a new skill like sewing or guitar, or learning a foreign language.
I turned to the Middle Ages.
Unemployed and sequestered at home with my husband and daughter, my daily schedule mimicked that of an octogenarian: two-hour breakfast spent reading the news, lunch, perhaps a task, then oh look, it’s time for dinner. After that, I could watch my shows.
I craved escape, but the series that my friends recommended left me anxious. Ozark, Little Fires Everywhere, This is Us – all excellent, but they made me miss the world we left behind, and triggered my Covid concerns. Where were their masks? Why were they standing so close? Jason, Reese – get out of those germ-filled rooms now!
I needed a show that could take me far away from our troubled world. I needed a different setting and a different time. I needed, it turned out, The Last Kingdom.
Set in 9th century England, The Last Kingdom tells the story of Uhtred son of Uhtred, born a Saxon yet stolen as a child and raised by Danes. Actually, Uhtred wasn’t his given name, it was something else. But after a murderous attack where the dreaded Danes killed the king’s oldest son, young ‘whatever’ had to take his brother’s name to become the rightful heir.
But then his father was killed in a murderous attack and Uhtred is taken by a Danish family. After yet another murderous attack where his adopted family is killed, Uhtred flees to the safety of Saxon ruled Wessex, and it turns out that his troubles have just begun.
My lockdown suddenly had a bright spot. If I could just get through the tedium of the daylight hours by sorting closets or doing laundry or tossing a snack to my daughter as she schooled, then at night I could reward myself by watching Uhtred and his beleaguered quest to regain his title and land.
These troubles do not stand in the way of him meeting lovely young women, however. With each passing season, Uhtred finds new love, and strangely, a new hairstyle, and even more strangely, a change to his accent. But none of this bothered me. I was hooked.
For full disclosure I should probably mention that the actor who plays Uhtred is rather handsome, and by that I mean, very much so. But his appeal was more than superficial, really. (Really!) Uhtred is at first young and selfish, a hothead who is loyal to no one. But as he matures he begins to follow a more noble path, as he faces dilemmas that test his allegiances between Saxon and Dane.
My husband enjoyed the show but questioned my dedication. With its constant mayhem and murders, the heads on spikes, spears through chests, villages raided and hostages taken – how was this a preferable escape to our current world?
Perhaps by comparison it made me feel better? I mean, even though we had daily political turmoil and a deadly virus raging outside, I was still able to watch this show in the safety of my home surrounded by all the modern comforts, and with very little fear that my town would be raided by Norsemen in the night.
But it was more than that. I loved the sense of camaraderie that Uhtred and his band of fighting bros had when they shouted, “Shield wall!” and charged into battle. I reveled in their victories and cheered each time they righted a wrong. Their successes were certainly more rewarding than my own feeble attempts at fighting injustice – writing to my senator or sending a fiery tweet.
The show reminded me that most people are neither all good nor all bad too. At first, the invading Danes are portrayed as terrifying Mad Max castoffs, but later we see that they also love their families, and are just trying to provide for them. Perhaps that was what resonated most during these troubling times – that Uhtred, the Saxons, and the Danes were not so different from us. They want what we still want – a patch of land, a cup of ale, maybe a wee bit of plunder from time to time.
As the fourth season ends, the Danes and Saxons put down their axes and arrows, realizing that they must learn to live together somehow. I must wait until season five to see what becomes of them. I sort of know. After all, it’s not Danish that’s spoken on the streets of London.
But perhaps if Uhtred and his ilk can pause the marauding and beheadings, there is hope for us too? Maybe we could find a way to work together for the greater good? Maybe?