Back in the long-forgotten days of 2013, Vikings first appeared on the air and pillaged its way into my heart. I thought nothing could compare to my new audio-visual paramour, but when in 2015 I was told about a little show known as The Last Kingdom I started to have wandering thoughts.
For those of you who don’t know Vikings, it is a show about well… uh… the Vikings and their first few years of invasions in England. Also, what the Hel are you doing here if you didn’t know that?
As I watched The Last Kingdom I began to get a weird feeling of Déjà vu, and then I realised that many of the places and faces were very familiar indeed. It was then that I realised The Last Kingdom, set during the Viking occupation of England and following a young Saxon nobleman captured by Danes and raised as one of their own, took place only a couple of short decades after the events of Vikings.
Why don’t you sit comfortably and let me tell you how.
1. Wessex is still a major feature
A big part Vikings is the simmering love-hate, frenemy vibe created between King Ragnar Lodbrok of the Northmen and the Anglo-Saxon King Ecbert of the kingdom Wessex. It is a kingdom we become familiar with, along with many of the characters that call it home.
During the events of The Last Kingdom, most of England is now occupied by the Danes (catch-all term for Scandinavians at the time) and only one kingdom is holding out against the relentless encroachment of savage, beautiful pagans.
Guess which kingdom is the eponymous last one. Go on, guess.
You got it! Good old Wessex.
The kingdom that proved so much trouble for Ragnar et al in Vikings continues to do very much the same for his descendants in The Last Kingdom, although by that time the fight has been inherited by Ragnar and Ecbert’s descendents. Even so…
2. Some characters appear in both series
Despite being two completely separate series, Vikings and The Last Kingdom are based (mostly) on historical events across only a handful of decades so you would expect to see a few recurring characters from England and Scandinavia’s shared past.
For those of you hoping for a glimpse of Ragnar the old man, you’re going to be disappointed. Despite our favourite time-travel fantasies, the lovable pillage-enthusiast is generally regarded as not having existed in real life, which is why Vikings is based more on the Sagas than more accurate historical records favoured by The Last Kingdom (or the book it's adapted from).
Despite this, most of Ragnar’s sons have been verified as having really existed to the point of almost eclipsing their famous father in their achievements. Out of the ones that appear in Vikings:
• Bjorn Ironside cheerfully continued pillaging the Mediterranean for years before dying an old and rich king of Sweden.
• Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye ended up king of the Danish islands of Zealand, Scania, Halland. Again, a painfully rich old man.
• Hvitserk (aka Halfdan) became the first Norse king of York, England, and pressed a claim as King of Dublin, Ireland, too.
• Ubba is frequently mentioned as a great leader and chieftain, though records of little more than this remain.
• Ivar the Boneless became a master strategist and led the conquering of Nottingham and the rest of Mercia, and allegedly founded the Uí Ímair dynasty in Ireland. Not bad for a man with no working legs.
All of Ragnar’s sons were also verified as leaders of the Great Heathen Army (though some were more involved than others) and were considered to be a fairly unstoppable force. In The Last Kingdom we get to see Ubba in his capacity as leader.
So the kid we knew as this:
Grows into this monster of a man:
It’s not just the Norse Force that have their cameo, but the Anglo-Saxons too.
Do you remember Alfred, the (in the series) secretly bastard son of Athelstan and Princess Judith of Wessex? If not, this is the little scamp as of season 4:
And this is him as he appears in The Last Kingdom:
That, my friends, is King Alfred of Wessex, later called the Great, and first man to unite the whole of England under one crown. Granddaddy Ecbert must be so proud.
Also, don’t bother calling spoilers on that last section. If there were ever a statute of limitations on spoilers it definitely expires after 1100 years.
3. The story continues
As I alluded to earlier, The Last Kingdom is all about the Great Heathen Army led by Ragnar’s sons to continue where he left off.
Ragnar really wanted English land for his people to farm and went to great lengths to secure a peaceful settlement with King Ecbert, only for it to get burned to the ground and its settlers slaughtered. I think you can agree that was a bit uncool.
So after years of animosity, the biggest Scandinavian army the world has ever seen rocked up to England’s front door, camped in the living room, and began spreading their stuff all over the place. After a decade or so of fighting the Danes had conquered and settled most of the country, just like daddy Ragnar would have wanted and then some.
These scant decades, from the first invasion to the unification of the country by Alfred, comprise one of the most defining periods of English history. No longer will there be any squabbling petty kings but a single people that go on to be one of the most powerful civilisations in the world for centuries after.
Ragnar, his sons, and their band of ragamuffins will have forever left their mark on the country and their contribution to English history will always be considered of utmost importance.
Although not as much as King William I “the Conqueror” when he took over the place in 1066.
Who also just so happens to be the great-great-great-grandson of this guy:
Looks like Rollo got one up on Ragnar after all.
P.S. If you liked this for some reason, or want easy access to more of the same, why don’t you come and harass me on Twitter?