I now embark on an exploration of the archaeology of The Last Kingdom Season 3, extending previous discussions of the show.
TLK is a popular historical drama about the 9th century and therefore it merits attention. However, I’ve now listened to many more hours of wailing soundtrack and implausible pseudo-Scandinavian accents, I’ve truly had enough. Still, there are good points, and in Season 3 the characters of Alfred and Aethelflaed, in particular, shine forth as characters and are driven forward with solid acting performances.
I’ve previously pointed out that, while the costumes are not always well-informed by available historical and archaeological evidence, and there are some inaccurate weapons and armour portrayed, there are occasional and prominent reproductions of famous 9th-century artefacts deployed in the TV show, such as the Fuller brooch. This tells us that the show really does care, to some extent, regarding how the costumes relate to the period in which the historical drama is set. They have attempted to create a material world with ‘nods’ to the historical period in question.
But let’s talk helmets specifically – the focus of another recent post about Vikings where I argue that due to the desire to allow characters to be seen, to show the ‘wild’ and ‘daring’ fighting of the Norse to be expressed, and the need to signal authenticity, hardly any helmets are portrayed. Denying horned helmets leads to no helmets! The only exceptions are with the season bad-guy and his henchmen: Ivar the Boneless.
The Last Kingdom Seasons 1 and 2 show some truly botched attempts at portraying early medieval helmets – wrong sized and shape, or simply just weird. However, this is one area where Season 3 does somewhat better. Of course, the points made about Vikings apply here too. Again, lead characters dare not conceal their identities beneath helmets. For example, despite her warrior moment, Aethelflaed rides into battle sword in hand but without mail or a helm.
Likewise, the Danes are not allowed to wear helmets (and there are certainly no horned helmets).
However, one point is good: at Aylesbury and subsequently, Season 3 shows the Mercians adopt a universal helmet-form modelled on the Benty Grange helmet and, specifically, the Pioneer, Wollaston, helmet mashed up with elements of the Coppergate helmet – the former two both late 7th century in date (and thus rather out-of-date by the late 9th century), the latter late 8th/early 9th century. Significantly, both Benty Grange and the Wollaston helms are from regions to become ‘Mercia’.
So we see the late 9th-century warriors of Mercia have the most plausible, if antique, boar-crested helmets with prominent cheek-guards.
It is an interesting point that, as with Season 5 of Vikings, a single archaeological example is replicated en masse and assumed to be a ‘uniform’ for warriors of a particular kingdom or ‘ethnic’ group. This is problematic, of course, since it doesn’t afford the possibility that individual warriors might have been identifiable from their helmets.
However… having said that, the costume designers still don’t seem to understand that these helmets, including Sutton Hoo, Benty Grange, the Pioneer helmet and the Anglian Coppergate helmet, are effective not only by protecting the cheeks and skull, but for possessing neckguards and a NOSEGUARD!!! For the warriors of The Last Kingdom there is no neck protection, while there helmets lack a nasal piece. Therefore the helmets worn in TLK are next to useless as combat armour for two of such items’ principal functionalities: stopping blows cutting and breaking the neck and nose, and thus protecting the head and specifically the face of the bearer are lacking.
Why? I suspect this is because of poor research. I contend this neckguard-less and noseguard-less set of Mercian helms depicted in The Last Kingdom represents the costume designers taking an all-too-literal set of reproduction helms from the surviving fragments of the Pioneer, Wollaston, helmet. For this helmet lacked surviving neck-protection. Meanwhile, the nose guard did not survive in position, but pushed back inside. Yet rather than reconstruct its former appearance, the costume designers have inferred that it must have lacked one originally. I presume the extent of their research was a Google search…
Notably, The Last Kingdom made the same error of reproducing a fragmented artefacts in relation to the Alfred Jewel, so they have form in this regard.
So the question is: would it be more or less misleading for audiences in instances when the costume designers of TLK simply to have made it up, as they mainly do in this and other shows about the Early Middle Ages, without consulting archaeological evidence, or when they take broken early medieval objects as their inspiration and reproduce them accordingly in a fragmented state as if they are complete? Or does none of this matter at all, and all that matters is that they aren’t wearing jeans or pre-Roman Iron Age garb?