Is conflict over power inevitable? Has every arrangement across the decades just been a forestalling of bloodshed? These are questions that weigh heavy on the mind of the war-weary Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon) as he returns for one more story in Netflix’s The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die. An extension of the series that charted everything from the death of his father to the creation of a new ruler and a tentative piece, it is a work that is primarily for those looking for more of this saga. At the same time, it does a sufficient job of establishing all the basic players and fault lines to draw in even those who may be utterly unfamiliar with the story. While this final film can be rather creaky in moments of exposition and blink in the face of delving into the full repercussions of a more complicated conflict, there is something that remains engaging in its exploration of the corruptive nature of power. It is far more confined in narrative focus but is still a fitting end to this long journey.


Seven Kings Must Die begins with the death of King Edward, to who Uhtred had pointedly not sworn allegiance at the end of Season 5. His son Aethelstan (Harry Gilby) has now taken power and is quickly cracking down, killing any who would stand against him in what becomes a religious conquest. Horrified by this, Uhtred is soon confronted with the promise he had made that he would swear allegiance to Edward’s son and unite the lands. He begins to grow concerned that Aethelstan is being given bad counsel by those who would seek to use him for their own purposes. While all this is going on, other power players are beginning to gather in what is said to be the precursor to an inevitable war. Tired of conflict and death, Uhtred clings to the hope that this can be avoided if he can get through to Aethelstan. It is a delicate balancing act — everything is shifting rapidly, with one character saying just before a narrow escape that “loyalties are shifting and factions are forming.” As would be expected with a tighter runtime to the story, much of this is glossed over so that it can focus on ratcheting up the stakes. Yet, much like other releases on the platform that build off a series, it mostly comes together and avoids the trappings of feeling like just an extra-long episode of the show.

Image via Netflix

RELATED: 8 Best Streaming Historical Thrillers, Ranked: From ‘The Last Kingdom’ to ‘Vikings: Valhalla’

Central to this is that Dreymon steps right back into the role of Uhtred as if he had never left while also showing how the character has changed. There is still spark and charm, taunting others even when faced with danger, though this is soon revealed to be armor for his own growing fears. Uhtred seems tired more than anything, the wounds visible on his face merely the tip of the iceberg of what he carries with him. He clings to the belief that he can convince Aethelstan to avert course and pull back the world from the brink of mass death. This may be naive, but Uhtred is desperate for something to protect all those around him. In a scene where he comes to confront Aethelstan, the passion in his voice is cut with pain as he sees this potential for peace slipping away. Similar in some respects to other recent grim stories about rival factions, Seven Kings Must Die is at its best when it begins to peel back the layers about how people who believe they are justified in their actions can destroy those they care about and even themselves.

There is a more haunting feeling woven throughout Seven Kings Must Die when it faces down the prospect that the villains of this world are those Uhtred once believed might be its salvation. Alas, the story does let itself off the hook with regard to grappling with these questions and instead capitulates to telling a more neat narrative. The cascading of betrayals and backstabbing, all of which carry with them increasingly heavier costs, are resolved as if they almost didn’t even happen. The more interesting narrative direction that was pursued initially is something the story offers itself an out of as it marches towards a more conventional conclusion. While there was unlikely to be an ending that was solely depressing, there is something a bit disappointing in how this follow-up film seems to pull its punches. To spend much of the experience laying out just how fractured everything is, only to put all the pieces together in the end, feels odd. All is just smoothed over as the story pushes towards a final battle where the conflict is more clear-cut as opposed to being complicated by past relationships.

Three men preparing for battle in The Last Kingdom Sequel Seven Kings Must Die
Image via Netflix

That being said, this final sequence is an almost poetic one in how it echoes a tactic that kicked off the very beginning of The Last Kingdom’s first season. It may not be as thrilling in its choreography as a work like The Woman King, but that isn’t the point when it embraces the brutality of this battle. There is blood, piss, and vomit as two opposing forces just smash into each other. For all the ways that characters might be talented fighters, there is no escaping the crushing meat grinder that surrounds them on all sides. It is claustrophobic and terrifying, stripping away any sense of glory to show just how devastating it is. A brief final speech by Uhtred leading up to the fight abandons excess sentimentality, frankly laying out the stakes and expressing how he will stand with them to the end. There are even a couple jokes that end with ripples of laughter going out along the line, including one about how the men all must smell awful. It is as grimy as it is grim, holding nothing back from confronting the fact that all Uhtred tried to avoid still ended with them all paying a heavy price.

Though the film remains too enamored with focusing on what is again an overly neat and tidy close to this saga, with one final shot proving to be out of place in how it pulls us out of this world, the road it took to get there remains sufficiently satisfying. When all the dust settles, The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die is a flawed yet fitting finale that serves as a send-off to Uhtred of Bebbanburg and the bloody life he did everything to find a way clear of.

Rating: B-

The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die is now streaming on Netflix.

Leave a Reply