Seven Kings Must Die: what to expect from The Last Kingdom movie
When will the film sequel to The Last Kingdom series be released, and what do Bernard Cornwell’s books (and actual history) tell us about what to expect from Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Aethelstan and the future of Anglo-Saxon England? Spoilers for season 5 of The Last Kingdom
Everything seemed golden for Uhtred, son of Uhtred at the end of season 5 of the The Last Kingdom. No longer is he Uhtred of Bebbanburg in name only, but lord of what we now call Bamburgh Castle in his own right.
Moreover, he is at peace. For all his oaths and all the questionable places they have taken him throughout the popular Netflix historical series, he is now content in his ancestral home, acting as a barrier between King Constantine II of Scotland and Edward the Elder of Wessex and Mercia.
And yet there are dark clouds on the horizon, which forms the basis of Netflix’s follow up film, Seven Kings Must Die. The synopsis promises more bloodshed:
“Following the death of King Edward, a battle for the crown ensues, as rival heirs and invaders compete for power. 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.”
- Read more | Catch up on what's happened and the real history of all five seasons of The Last Kingdom
What is the plot of Seven Kings Must Die?
Season 5 of The Last Kingdom took Uhtred’s story up to the end of The Flame Bearer, the tenth book in Bernard Cornwell’s epic saga, which culminates in Uhtred finally reclaiming his ancestral home of Bebbanburg.
That leaves three books left for adaptation: War of the Wolf, Sword of Kings and War Lord.
With Edward dead, it is likely we will see a succession crisis between Aethelstan and his half-brother Aelfweard, grandson of Wessex noble and season 5 antagonist Aethelhelm.
Speaking on the HistoryExtra podcast at the time of War Lord’s release in 2020, Cornwell told us exactly how his books would end: with one of the lynchpin clashes in all of British history, the battle of Brunanburh in AD 937.
“The battle marked the beginning of England, so obviously had to be included in the series,” Cornwell told us. This was the battle that made the ‘dream of England’ pursued by Alfred the Great a reality. It is where Aethelstan defeats a combined army of Vikings and Britons, claiming Northumbria and becoming the first ‘King of the English’.
The Last Kingdom’s Aethelstan has shown glimmers of becoming that warrior king, besting Uhtred in a one-on-one sparring match in an understated moment towards the end of the last season. From the look of the trailer for Seven Kings Must Die, there are more confrontations to come between the two men.
Who are the seven kings in Seven Kings Must Die?
If you’re wondering if the phrase “seven kings must die” has the ring of prophecy to it, you’d be right.
One of more intriguing things about the film’s title is that, though it has not been mentioned in the show, the seven kings are mentioned in a prophecy as early as book six in Cornwell’s novels.
In Death of Kings, Uhtred seeks out the witch – some might say seer – Aelfadell, whose utterings include this portent:
“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.”
What does it mean? One way of looking at it is that for there to be an England, there can only be one king, which means one kingdom.
There’s a plausible allusion here to the ultimate demise of the ‘Heptarchy’ of seven Anglo-Saxon petty kingdoms that existed from the fifth to eighth centuries. They were Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, Northumbria, Essex, Sussex and Kent.
By the time The Last Kingdom begins, the latter three had already vanished having been absorbed into the other four. And at the point that Seven Kings Must Die picks up, Northumbria remains as the only kingdom not in Aethelstan’s grasp.
Most likely, the film’s title signposts that the we’re heading in the same direction as the books: to Brunanburh.
Were there seven kings at the battle of Brunanburh?
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “Five young kings lay dead upon the battlefield, by swords sent to their final sleep; and likewise seven of Anlaf’s earls, and countless of his host.”
The five are not identified, though the Anlaf of the Chronicle is Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin and the architect of the anti-Saxon alliance.
Brunanburh is recorded in the Annals of Ulster as “immense, lamentable and horrible, savagely fought”, and decades later would still be referred to as the ‘great battle’ – even though by that time all knowledge of where it was fought had been lost.
- Read more | Where is the lost battlefield of Brunanburh?
Olaf is known to have fought alongside kings Owain of Strathclyde and Constantine II of Scotland. Yet both Olaf and Constantine are known to have survived the clash.
Who then are the five, and what of the other two? Only one thing seems certain: in keeping with the prophecy, if a unified England is to exist, Wessex itself needs to die.
What role Uhtred will play in the machinations of Anglo-Saxon England, we will have to wait and see.
Catch-up on all five seasons of The Last Kingdom and explore the real history that underpins the fictional adventures of Uhtred, son of Uhtred | Read more
Seven Kings Must Die releases on Netflix on 14 April
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