The Last Kingdom is a TV adaptation of the historical fiction series The Saxon Stories. The books have an enthusiastic fan base who eagerly awaited the release of the series, and while some have picked apart the historical accuracy of the show, many found the adaptation to be entertaining and satisfying. The series moves at a break-neck pace covering two entire novels per season. How exactly does the series align with its inspiration? Like most adaptations, it's a mixed bag. Some scenes and characters feel like they were ripped straight from the pages. In other cases, beloved characters and plot points are omitted entirely. We've compared both versions of the story and come up with five ways the books and series are the same and five places where they part ways.
9 Uhtred And Iseult
The relationship between Utred and Iseult is quite different in the series compared to the books. In the books, Uhtred and the powerful queen become lovers the first time they meet. Iseult is mysterious, beautiful, and forbidden. Uhtred is powerless to resist her charms.
In the series, the tension in their relationship is drawn out and amped up. The Shadow Queen kept her virginity because she believed it enhanced her power. She was graphically decapitated in battle, though, and the show certainly paints their relationship in a different light.
8 The Death Of Ragnar
Many times when books are brought to the screen they’re further dramatized to fit the medium. What captivates on the page doesn’t always grab our attention on the screen. Such is the case with many scenes in The Last Kingdom. One example of this is the death of King Ragnar. In the books, Ragnar dies peacefully in his home. On the series, he’s stabbed by Aethelwold. A quiet death adds no drama and doesn’t make for great television. The series has also downplayed the importance of a Dane dying with his sword in his hands.
Steapa is a fan favorite character from the books. He’s a monstrous, hulking, and ferocious warrior. His loyalty to Alfred is unwavering. His cruelty in battle gave readers the impression that he looked more like a beast than a man. His presence is felt in every major battle scene in the book. In the series, though, his character’s role has been merged with another minor character. Casting this iconic character could have been a nightmare that may have inspired the show to consolidate him into another role.
6 Battle Of Aescs Hill
The Battle of Aescs Hill is an important disconnect between the show and the books. In the TV series, the Danes are lead by Ubba and Guthrum. Uhtred is not present as he’s helping the West Saxons, and Aethelred is killed. This all differs greatly from the TV series in which Guthrum and Ragnar lead the Danes. The West Saxons are lead by Prince Alfred, and Aethelred survives this battle in the series. He’s killed in a later battle where Uhtred is not present, however.
Villains are one aspect of many books that get an overly dramatic makeover for TV. In this case, Kjartan the Cruel has been transformed to amp up the horror of his actions. Many readers of the books have said they found Kjartan almost pitiable in the novels. He’s dark, twisted, and downright evil in the show. Kjartan was certainly never a good guy but there were relatable parts of his character. Pitying him was one of the pleasures of the books for many.
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It would be impossible to adapt The Saxon Stories without including all the best of Uthred. His huge personality brings a piece of ancient Danish culture to life. He’s depicted as strong, fierce, and loyal but is also emotional. He openly weeps when one of his children dies. Uthred isn’t a perfect crossover from the books to the series but he carries the same energy and personality. Some fans feel his role wasn’t cast the way they had imagined the character. His TV counterpart has been criticized for being "too pretty."
3 Size Of The Armies
Several aspects of the show and the books have been criticized for historical inaccuracies. Any historical fiction will usually have to sacrifice a bit of accuracy in the name of entertainment. A detail that’s been kept incredibly accurate in the show is the size of the armies involved. Too often TV series and films include fight scenes with massive armies. This certainly adds to the drama of the fight but it simply doesn’t represent the reality of war at the time.
The author of The Saxon Stories, Bernard Cornwell, is all about battle. One aspect of his writing that the show has absolutely captured is the emphasis on heavily covering the fighting between the Danes and the Saxons. The show could have chosen to focus on the relationships between characters or the changing political landscape. Rather than expanding on a facet of the story that the books don’t prioritize, they chose to stay true to the violent mood of the books.
1 Alfred’s Determination
One aspect of the books which has been carried over to the series is the unearthly determination of Alfred. The king was a man obsessed. He saw his calling and he threw everything he had into meeting his objective. He was truly driven by a nearly supernatural force. The books capture the spirit and essence of the man and the TV show carries that same portrayal. You can get a very real feeling for this leader and his obsession.