Mar 16, 2023
Seven Kings Must Die
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a movie enthusiast who LOVES to watch anything that has bloody good ass-whooping in it, whether it be John Wick with his “I’m not f**king around” gun fights and bone breaking, Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh flying around with their beautiful but deadly martial arts, or Rocky and Ivan Drago duking it out with some hefty punches right to the kisser.
Ask the one person who knows me best, and my husband will tell you I get most excited watching depictions of the ancient brutal fighting styles of early tribes like the Vikings, the Danes, the Saxons, and the Gauls—any historical fighting styles prior to the 12th century, really … the kind featuring bad-ass sword fighting, as well as a host of other deadly weapons like fists, teeth, feet, elbows, heads, knees, bow and arrow, axes, knives, spears, and shields, not guns. What can I say? I love blood and gore, and I love the artistic style behind intelligent fighting (and, yes, the savagery). It’s not only entertaining to watch but it's also full of such visceral, raw emotion that a viewer can’t help but feel its effect through familiarity, at least in emotion.
If there’s a movie or series featuring early tribes, you can bet I’m watching it. Multiple times. In fact, as I write this article, I’m rewatching all five seasons of The Last Kingdom, and you should, too. Netflix is dropping a sequel to the series next month, so now’s the time to catch up.
When Vikings slammed into the History channel, I was glued to every episode, as I’m sure the rest of America was. I was sad when it ended in 2020, but luckily, I had a chance to remain in that era with the final season of The Last Kingdom, which aired on Netflix shortly thereafter in 2021. I missed this series when it hit the streaming giant in 2015, but I was beyond elated to have found it by 2019.
In case you haven’t seen it, don’t worry. I’m about to drop some knowledge on you.
The Last Kingdom is a fantastic heartwrenching British historical fiction television series based on Bernard Cornwell’s novel of the same name. Cornwell is an English-American historical fiction author with the penchant for writing historical fiction, besides Philippa Gregory, but her focus is different. It’s the first novel in Cornwell’s “The Saxon Stories” series (2004), which tells how the nation of England began under King Alfred the Great. While the series is spectacular, if I do say so myself, it does not follow the books true to form, and that’s due to things like production value and time.
Cromwell’s story introduces us to Uhtred of Bebbanburg (aka Uhtred Uhtredsson and/or Uhtred Ragnarsson), who, as an adult, is played by the very delicious Alexander Dreymon (American Horror Story), a German-born actor with yummy, good, womanizing looks. As a young Saxon noble, Uhtred is kidnapped by Danish Vikings and raised as a Dane in Ragnar Ragnarsson’s kingdom, but it’s not the same Ragnar you’re thinking. Different time periods. While in captivity, Uhtred is woven into Danish culture, language, and religion for years before a series of events places him in the service of King Alfred of Wessex, played by the very talented David Dawson, whom you may remember from Peaky Blinders.
And don’t worry if you can’t necessarily understand, remember, or pronounce character names throughout the series. I couldn’t either until I put the captions on, and according to interviews Dreymon did with Collider, Winter is Coming, and YouTube, he and most of the cast couldn’t either! While watching, think of season one as a long preface to everything unraveling between seasons two and five and now, beyond.
As a side note, if you’re a Succession fan, Shiv’s husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is in the first half of episode one as Uhtred’s father, Uhtred the Elder and Earl of Bebbanburg. So, that’s fun.
Uhtred’s entire journey through life is spent fighting to reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria (today known as Bamburgh on the Northumberland coastline in England), which leads him into and through the unwavering depths of human emotion as he grapples with his persistently split loyalties between his many oaths, his conflicting cultural identities, and his quest for retribution.
I won’t spoil everything on the off chance you haven’t seen the series, but by season five, Uhtred and King Edward (Alfred’s son) are at odds with King Constantin of Alba (Scotland), a discerning leader who enjoys rocking the boat that is Northumbria. And while the finale finally does bring Uhtred home, it remains blatantly obvious he has much more to do before laying down his sword and trying to enjoy the rest of his life as a free nobleman.
In late October 2021, Netflix announced a sequel to the series.
Seven Kings Must Die is a two-hour standalone film set to portray events from Cornwell’s last three “Saxon Stories” novels. Let me be clear here, though: The movie will not cover everything from the last three books, but I suspect it’ll give us the gist of what all goes down. Expect it to pick a few events from the books to emphasize as we follow Uhtred in his attempts to unite England after King Edward’s death, so we’ll see him embroiled in a huge, albeit violent and bloody battle for the crown.
“Rival heirs and invaders compete for power,” the film’s official synopsis reads. “And when an alliance comes seeking Uhtred’s help in their plans, Uhtred faces a choice between those he cares for most and the dream of forming a united England.”
In the newly released trailer, a character is heard saying, “You know the prophecy, Uhtred? Seven kings die. All of Britain will be united.” So, that explains the title. One thing I can tell you about this film, though, is that there will be blood … lots and lots of blood and a big ole battle full of savagery. Sweet!
While the film is not drawn from the final book in Cornwell’s “Saxon Stories” saga, it is drawn from one of the earlier novels, the sixth book “Death of Kings.” It includes a section where a prophetess predicts a relentlessly gloomy future for Uhtred and King Alfred’s dream of a united England.
Says Aelfadell, "Seven kings will die, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, seven kings and the women you love. That is your fate. And Alfred's son will not rule, and Wessex will die, and the Saxon will kill what he loves, and the Danes will gain everything, and all will change, and all will be the same as ever it was and ever will be."
The scene was cut from the television series, and according to Den of Geek, that particular passage is framed more as a Danish attempt to unnerve Uhtred than a legit prophecy. But, if you’ve seen The Last Kingdom or read any of the books, you know there are aspects of truth in there. Throughout The Last Kingdom, Uhtred’s lovers often do die, and we’ve seen plenty of kings as well.
There’s a good bit of speculation about who, exactly, the seven kings are, but the trailer offers up some hints, as does Reddit. Among those battling for the crown are the late King’s son Aethelstan and the discriminating King Constantin, played by Rod Hallet from Ant Man and The Hitman's Bodyguard.
Netflix also released a first look at a new character making his debut in the movie. Danish leader Ingilmundr is joining the war; he makes his first appearance in “War of the Wolf,” the 11th of Cornwell’s books. He has major influence and will have a big hand in the tragic events that affect Uhtred’s family. There’s a hot chance we’ll all wind up hating him before the story concludes, but one thing’s for sure: He will have a crucially important role.
Now is the perfect time to catch up on the series, regardless of whether you have or haven’t seen it. It’s an incredibly fascinating journey with some very memorable characters, like Brida, Uhtred’s childhood friend in captivity and first love; Father Beocca, a Saxon priest who has known Uhtred since he was a boy and knows his true birthright; and Finan, a lovably fierce Irish warrior sworn to Uhtred. There’s also lots of drama, emotion, love, and savagery.
Seven Kings Must Die releases April 14, 2023, on Netflix.
After the movie, if you’re craving more historical fiction to watch, I highly recommend getting into Britannia on Epix and Netflix’s Vikings: Valhalla and Barbarians. Vikings: Valhalla is a sequel to the original Vikings series,
and Barbarians is about a Roman officer’s conflicted allegiances that lead to an epic historical clash and the rebellion of the Germanic tribes.
Britannia originally started out as an Amazon Prime series in 2018 but was acquired by Epix in 2020. It is set in A.D. 43 when the Romans invaded Britain led by General Aulus Plautius, who is determined to succeed where Julius Caesar failed and conquer this mythical land at the very end of the Roman Empire. In it you’ll see Yellowstone favorite Kelly Reilly (Beth Dutton), Mackenzie Crook from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (you’ll love his character; he’s captivating!), and The Walking Dead Governor from season three David Morrissey.
Alright, entertainment enthusiasts, get to entertaining yourself with some ancient historical fiction adaptations and be sure to let your voice mail pick up any calls. You’ll thank me later.
Keeley Brooks is a big ole movies, television, and streaming nerd with an uncontrollable urge to write about everything she watches. Even if it sucks.