"If you were alive in 880, the word 'England' would mean nothing," says Bernard Cornwell, author of "The Last Kingdom," his chronicles of Saxon history and the basis for the TV series from BBC now streaming on Netflix. After Rome fell, England splintered into unaffiliated fiefdoms; King Arthur, his Knights, and Tristan and Isolde made it out alive in our imaginations from the dark of ancient Briton. Various Germanic tribes called Saxons invaded in the 5th century. By the 9th, when the story of Uhtred the warrior (above) and King Alfred begins, the Viking Danes had moved in on the Saxon kingdoms and were picking them off -- all except Alfred's in Wessex, where brawn would be outmaneuvered by brains.
Early in that war the Danes had Alfred pinned down in several square miles of swamp until 878 when he called up swords from all over England and inflicted a decisive defeat on joint Danish armies. Alfred's descendants regained the 3 Northern kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria, fulfilling his dream of uniting England under one king (and one God -- Alfred was pious). His foresight and strategic win in 878 (Season 1's conclusion) led historians of the 1500's to call him "the Great". Without Alfred, England might now be Daneland and Danish our mother tongue.
Emily Cox), a Saxon girl also raised with Uhtred, on the run from Danes who blame him for the murders. The pair make their way to Ubba, a menacing Viking wild man (Norwegian Rune Temte, below) to find that Uhtred's rumored infamy had reached Ubba's ears, making him their mortal enemy. They stay on the run.
David Dawson, below). Alfred, however, sees a resource in him to learn the ways of the Danes -- they intend to use each other.
Eliza Butterworth, below) never stops whispering to Alfred that Uhtred must die because of his heathen ways.
Charlie Murphy's Iseult (below) mesmerizes Uhtred and the camera with a quiet intensity that she also brings to Rebellion, a 4-parter about the Irish Easter Uprising in 1916 (also streaming on Netflix).