In some ways, The Last Kingdom is what Game of Thrones should have been: A never-ending power struggle minus the completely irrational plot twists. Then again, despite being comprehensible, the changes of heart Uhtred of Bebbanburg must endure from those he serves are no less ridiculous than a boy-king killing a courtesan with a crossbow.
Uhtred wins a decisive battle for the king, both with his information and his sword, and is rewarded only with debt that ties him to the ruler for the foreseeable future. Uhtred defeats the leader of the Danes, and someone else takes the credit. He delivers another king from slavery and puts him in power, only for said king to ship Uhtred off as a slave himself.
On and on the cycle goes: Uhtred shows loyalty, and the world spits in his face. In that sense, he is not unlike Jon Snow, the tragic hero of Game of Thrones who, if you ask me, is the one guy doing everything right yet never seeing anything for it.
Both Jon and Uhtred are what a similar character, The Boss from Metal Gear Solid, would call “loyal to the end.” All three are so principled, so unyielding, that they will take their belief all the way to self-destruction if they must – and that is the drawback of this noble approach: If you act only from conviction, your loyalties must inevitably change, and they will likely change in a way that will often keep you from being rewarded for your dedication.
Uhtred sways between the Danes and the Saxons, Jon Snow flip-flops between the Night Watch and his family, and The Boss pits her truth against her country. As a result, the latter concludes:
“As long as we have ‘loyalty to the end,’ there’s no point in believing in anything…even in those we love. The only thing we can believe in with absolute certainty is the mission.”
Uhtred heals the king’s son and loses his own. He helps his lover become a ruler, but to be one, she must withdraw from the relationship. Loyalty born from principle is, by definition, loyalty that transforms with time. When we change, so do our values and, as a result, the causes we believe to be the right ones.
It is not an easy life, a life of loyalty to the end. There is no perfect resolution. You can sign up for a system you’ll eventually lose faith in by the time you collect its greatest rewards, or you can stick to your guns and have them be the only ones you can 100% rely on.
There is something, however, that even those loyal to the end can believe in: The example they will set for others. No matter how much hardship it comes with, loyalty to the end is awe-inspiring. Deep down, most of us wish we were half as principled as our heroes. But are we ready to persevere when those very principles will turn against us?
Only time will tell, but your show is not over yet. You are a long way from your last season, and it’s never too late to fight for what you believe in.