My wife and I watched the first four episodes of The Last Kingdom the other night, and the TLDR is that we enjoyed it enough to continue watching.

The last kingdom of the title is Wessex, which was the last redoubt of the Saxons as the Danes (Vikings) pretty much took over England in the 800s. Astoundingly, Wessex didn't fall to the Danes and eventually the Saxons flipped the script and chased the Vikings out (or absorbed them).

This is not to be confused with the legend of King Arthur, based on the real history of the Britons  defending essentially the same area from expanding Saxon rule about 300 years earlier. I feel sorry for English kids who have to remember a whole lot more history than American kids, especially when so much of it kinda repeats itself, or at least rhymes.

Another "rhyme" on this show is that it lifts a bit from Vikings, only looking at it from the other side. We have a conflicted character who can't decide if he's a Christian Saxon or pagan Dane, just like Athelstan on Vikings. It's an interesting dilemma, even the second time around, but we have seen it before and it's hard to believe it was that common a problem -- I don't imagine you could realistically live very long in those days if you weren't strongly allied with one side or the other.

One of the odd things that stands out as a swipe is the woman who sings weirdly on the Vikings theme song, who does the same thing as part of the soundtrack of The Last Kingdom. Oh, it's probably not the same woman, of course, but it's a very distinctive sound and recognition is immediate.

One last similarity between the two shows is a big one: They both have terrific production values. That's really what has Joan and I hooked, as the filthy, scary and dramatic world of 9th century Britain is brought thrillingly to life. I could watch this show endlessly even if nobody spoke a word.

Speaking of people, this show is at its heart the story of Alfred the Great, but focuses instead on somebody near Alfred the Great, a fictional character named Uhtred, whose fate isn't written in the history books, which makes sense. I'm not terribly thrilled with the actor who plays him, Alex Dreymon, as he's something of a smirky pretty boy, a big contrast to Travis Fimmel, the magnetic actor at the center of Vikings, who plays Ragnar Lothbrok. But he's not bad enough to be distracting, especially since he's got a strong cast around him.

Speaking of Ragnar, there are three of them in this show, but I don't think any of them are THE Ragnar, primarily because I don't believe Ragnar was alive for the Great Viking Army which is what's forming in this show to confront Alfred. The only Dane whose name I recognize from history is the primary Danish leader (at this point), Guthrum, who history says will be around for quite a few seasons.

As will Alfred. If you don't know the story of Alfred, you're in for a treat. There's a reason he's the only Saxon king called "the Great," because his biography reads more like fiction than history. For one thing, he suffered from some ailment all his life -- probably Crohn's disease -- and yet did all the things he did. And what he did is save Saxon England.

Like the Britons at Badon HIll, Alfred had initial success against the Danes, pushing them back briefly, primarily by setting up little forts all over Wessex that made travel for the Danes dangerous and denied them food. But like the Britons, the Saxons' early success turned stunningly bad as the Danes returned in overwhelming force. At one point, Alfred was trapped in a little fort with his dwindling army and was forced to escape under the cover of night through a swamp. Wounded and sick, he hid among the inhabitants of the swamp until he recovered -- and then raised another army. Then he rolled the Danish army back again, eventually all the way to middle of Mercia, and forced the Danes into a treaty that gave England north and east of that point to them (the "Danelaw") and everything south and west to the Saxons. That was the beginning of the end for the Danes, who didn't have the staying power for long-term occupation. Once the Great Viking Army began to fragment -- the warriors couldn't stay there forever, they had responsibilities to deal with back home -- the Saxons regained the Danelaw all the way to what is now the Scottish border, creating what we now call England. Saxon England lasted until 1066, when William the Conqueror flipped the script again.

Pretty good story to adapt, I'd say!

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I'm all caught up on this show and have really been enjoying it. Really solid writing and nice big satisfying chunks of story in every episode. I really like the casting too. I'm hoping it will continue on for multiple seasons.

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