The Winter King has completed its first season on MGM+. Will there be another one?

Obviously we don’t know, but on top of that, I admit I’m ambivalent about the idea. I’m a big fan of The Warlord’s Chronicles, the books by Bernard Cornwell on which this show is based. I always expected the producers to change things from the books for television, but some of these changes really upset me. This version of Cornwell’s story is significantly less dramatic than the books and makes some bizarre, off-putting character choices.

On the other hand, things have improved in the back half of this first season, which adapts (almost) the entire first volume of Cornwell’s trilogy. But is that enough to save? The Winter King from the cancellation?

Arthur and Guinevere play diplomacy

Let’s talk about the finale and see if we can’t figure it out. “Episode 10” divides its attention between two storylines. In one branch, Arthur meets the Saxon leader Aelle, who is about to form an alliance with the treacherous British King Gorfydd. Arthur’s plan is to offer Aelle a steady supply of Dumnon tin in exchange for Aelle staying behind attacking Britain for the next six months or so. Arthur actually measures time in “moons,” but I’m not entirely sure how that translates to 2023. The plan almost seems to be working… until Aelle points out that without land and plunder, his people are unlikely to survive the winter. Away with all heads!

Guinevere, who decided at the last minute to come with Arthur, steps in to sweeten the deal: they will also give Aelle information about a British fortress he can take, which calms him down. So Arthur and Co. get the time they need, but at the expense of British lives. There is no choice but to seek revenge for the British lives lost because of a deal they made. As Guinevere points out, a decision is difficult.

I more or less liked this part of the episode. Craig Parkinson plays Aelle as an antagonist, but not a villain; He does invade Britain, but he’s not portrayed as some kind of moustache-twirling mastermind. He wants land and food for his people, and if he has to take it from the British, he will. Cornwell’s antagonists often have this subtle shade and I’m glad the series does them justice.

With that sorted out, Arthur rushes to the Isle of the Dead to get Derfel and Nimue, who find themselves in a completely different situation…

The Isle of the Dead is actually a peninsula

Once again, this section of the episode mostly hits the mark, although I’ll raise my annoying book reader flag for a minute. In both the books and the series, the Isle of the Dead is a multi-purpose retreat for the mentally ill and anyone else the rest of society considers undesirable. But in the book, people wander in the open air, penned in by guards and their own superstitions; Going to this island means dying, so returning to Britain is metaphysically impossible.

In the book, Derfel finds Nimue resting in a cave, exhausted and hungry. The two make their way back to the mainland, where Derfel’s men hold the guards at spearheads to allow safe passage. The Winter King This is all going on in the TV show Hollywood. Now everyone on the island is walled up in a cave system from which there is no escape. Morlock-esque sub-zombies straight out of HG Wells The time machine Roam the tunnels and Arthur must personally save the day by plunging his magical sword Excalibur into a wall, causing the mortar to somehow loosen and drive away the sub-zombies as sunlight hits their eyes for the first time in who knows how long .

It’s all fun in the moment, but it relies heavily on TV-style coincidences and coincidences; how sure, Naturally Arthur happened to be on the other side of the wall that Derfel and Nimue were both trying to tear down from within the cave system. Of course, his sword is literally magical and not just symbolically powerful. Of course, Arthur needs to tell everyone on the Isle of the Dead that they are now free, because that is a good thing. None of this is actually surprising – as a rule, film adaptations of books tend to tone it down – but I don’t have to like it. I don’t understand why studios can’t take a great book and just adapt it.

But it is not The bad. At least Merlin didn’t use any Jedi mind tricks this time. And they get the important part right: we feel the connection between Derfel and Nimue and how much he really wants to save her. Actors Stuart Campbell and Ellie James have done a solid job building these characters this season, and their chemistry is believable and warm.


The end of the season leaves something to be desired; There’s not as much punch as you’d expect from a finale. That’s because “Episode 10” doesn’t actually adapt the ending of “Cornwell.” The Winter King Book. The final section of this novel is dedicated to resolving tensions between Dumnonia and Powys, where Gundleus and Gorfydd are currently plotting. But I suspect the show is saving this for the start of season two.

…that is, when Season 2 happens. I think the front half of the first season is quite a bit weaker than the back half, which doesn’t bode well; My fear is that people went down before things got back up. As the show continues, I hope it continues to improve. The book should continue to be adapted as accurately as possible. The show is at its weakest when it deviates from the source material, in part because it can only add eye-roll-worthy, coincidence-driven action scenes. It should involve the Merlin from the books, who is more like a chaotic trickster god than the boring mentor figure we have here. And it needs to stop taking shots where the background is out of focus for no reason. I swear if I never see this again it will be too soon.

The winter bullet points

  • Speaking of Merlin: at the end of the episode we only see him for a brief moment, searching for the treasures of Britain in a cave. As always, this episode is better because of his absence. Merlin is by far my biggest disappointment from the show. I was so excited to see the incredibly funny character from the book, but we didn’t understand him at all.
  • Sansum gives Morgan a Bible to read, and she seems to like it. This foreshadows her long-term arc from the books. Also FYI: In the books, Sansum is illiterate, but I’ve already picked out enough nits.

Episode Grade: C+

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  • Published on November 5, 2023 at 9:00 p.m. CST
  • Last updated on 11/5/2023 at 9:00 PM CST

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