RECAP & REVIEW: The Last Kingdom – Series 1, Episode 8

So what happened?

With Alfred refusing to flee to France at Wulfhere’s request, he goes on to make it clear that he intends to fight the Danes who’ve seized his Kingdom, then informing Aelswith that he wishes her to stay in the Marshlands with their children for their own safety, and that they are to flee to French shores should he die during the battle. At the same time Beocca and Uhtred discuss the need for the King to listen to his Elderman’s counsel which the priest agrees to help him with, also stating that he’s proud of the man he knew as a boy and that his real father, the former Lord of Bebbanburg, would be too. Afterwards Wulfhere approaches his fellow elderman and expresses his own concerns about the ability of Saxon forces to defeat their Viking counterparts to which Uhtred gives him little reassurance.

Back in Wessex, under subtle duress, Aethelwold divulges to Guthrum, Ragnar and Brida that his Uncle’s strength comes from his faith, but when pushed he agrees to take a knife, approach him as an ally and kill him on his captor’s behalf. In the meantime, Alfred, Uhtred, Leofric, Hild, Iseult, and the rest of the army they’ve assembled so far, leave the swamps and head towards Odda the Younger’s estate to ask him to add men to their numbers as he’s the Elderman capable of raising more soldiers than any other. On the way there they encounter a young man called Halig who’s tending to Wulfhere’s horses and informs them that he’s gone, from which they assume that he’s deserted them. In light of this and because the Danes are using the Roman roads to travel around on, they decide to change course and head to Uhtred’s homestead first. Once there they realise the place has been ransacked and to his horror he discovers that Uhtred Jr has died and has been buried just outside. When the boy’s Father resolves to go looking for Mildrith, his estranged wife, Iseult reassures him that she was the one who buried the baby and that she’s still very much alive.

After they say prayers for the dead and bury those who haven’t been already, Alfred goes inside his ally’s former home and utilises it to write messages to those from whom he requires help. Outside, however, a grieving Uhtred is approached by his Queen and she tells him that she blames herself for his little boy’s death, citing the deal she struck to save the King’s son whilst using her magic as the reason he passed. After her culpability is dismissed by him, she undresses and says she wishes to relinquish her gift so she no longer has to see what she does and so that she they can consummate their relationship before the impending fight. Subsequent to them making love in the woods, Iseult tells Uhtred that his sister, Thyra, wasn’t killed in the fire that ended the lives of most of his Danish family, instead she was taken by Sven, the man who Earl Ragnar blinded when he was a boy for attacking her, adding that she  is being held in the North by him. Skorpa had told her when he threatened her back in Cornwall, but now she’d seen for herself that it was true, she insists that her lover’s path leads Northwards after the battle.

Skorpa negotiating with Odda
Skorpa and his men negotiating with Odda the Younger.

At Odda’s estate we learn that Mildrith has become a nun and is now looking after her recovering godfather, whilst his son is out dealing with the day to day business of their personal interests. What Odda the Elder doesn’t realise is that his son has been out negotiating with Skorpa and inviting him to discuss the finer details of their peace at a feast in the hall, an invitation which is accepted by the Danish warlord after the next New Moon. In the meantime, Brother Asser still takes issue with Uhtred’s loyalty to Alfred because of his pagan sensibilities, only to be shot down by Beocca who promises to act as the young warrior’s conscience. Siding with his Elderman, the monarch asks Asser to be the first of his messengers to take word to those who would be loyal to him, and Halig and Hild agree to become the second and third.

Alfred Leofric Uhtred Estate
Alfred, Leofric and Uhtred on their way to Odda’s Estate.

With the three of them heading off in different directions in search of more men to fight, Alfred, Uhtred, Beocca and Iseult continue on to their original destination, but encounter traders on the road who inform them that a peace has been wrought, allowing them to sell their wares to the Danes. Unwilling to accept that Odda the Younger could betray him in such a way, it’s only when Uhtred and Leofric take a message to him whilst he heads into the hall in disguise, that he realises just how treacherous the young man really is, watching him giving a full-throated rebuttal of Alfred’s right to rule before an audience. Catching sight of his King amongst the crowd, Odda the Elder can’t endure his son committing treason and stabs him, his request for Alfred’s forgiveness on Young Odda’s behalf falling on deaf ears. Finally accepting the King won’t give him what he wants for his now dead child, he agrees to raise as large an army as possible, and looks on as the rightful owner of the crown asks 20 men to take word to all corners of his Kingdom that he needs all those who are capable of fighting to rally to his banner. Later Uhtred approaches Mildrith outside, but she refuses to entertain his guilt about the nature of their son’s sickness and resulting death and the fact he wasn’t there, going on to insist that he never speaks to her again now they have nothing to bind them. Just as they are leaving the Estate, Skorpa arrives for the feast he previously arranged with the now deceased Elderman and is told by Uhtred that he should return to Guthrum and prepare to die. In retaliation the Dane divulges what he knows about Thyra in a predictably crude manner, but nevertheless returns to his ally as he was urged to do and he, Guthrum and Ragnar discuss the need for a slaughter to teach the Saxons a lesson, deciding to meet them in battle. Attempting to ascertain where his loyalties lie, the Danish ‘King’ also asks Ragnar if he’d be prepared to kill his brother, to which he responds he will should he have to.

As they finally reach the area where they plan to do battle, Alfred rides off to Egbert’s Stone alone, the place where he called for his countrymen to congregate to help him save England, and is crestfallen when he realises nobody is there. Uhtred urges him to wait for them to come and he keeps watch alone, entirely unaware that his nephew who they’d picked up along the way at Odda’s Estate, plans to take advantage of his solitude to do Guthrum’s bidding and kill him. Fortunately, Aethelwold chickens out of the assassination attempt just before throngs of men finally answer Alfred’s call. As the battle lines are drawn, their English King gives a rousing speech that leaves them screaming warning shots of “No mercy!” to their enemies, and Uhtred tells Iseult to take herself and Hild to safety on his horse should he die, which she assures him won’t happen. Meanwhile, Leofric spots Wulfhere on the other side of the field amongst the Vikings and vows to kill him as the armies draw ever closer with their opposing shield walls, which he duly does but is soon after mortally wounded by a stray axe to the neck and falls to the ground.

Realising that the Danes are losing ground to the Saxons under Uhtred’s capable command, Skorpa takes some of his men to the camp where the women, children and priests are waiting things out and zeroes in on his adversary’s lover, beheading her and holding her head up before the English lines to rile him. It has the desired effect as Uhtred breaks out from behind his own shields and hurdles over those of his enemies, with the help of a spear thrown by Beocca, skewering the Dane who was responsible for Iseult’s brutal murder, before going on the rampage and killing numerous Vikings. With them clearly losing the battle, Ragnar urges Guthrum to send in more men to fight, but he refuses and tells him, “Their God is with them,” leaving him to take on the fight himself. He’s quickly pushed to the ground, however, and just as he’s about to be killed, Uhtred rams the English soldier out of the way, saving him. After the battle is won Uhtred finds Leofric’s body and tells Aethelwold he should be buried as if he was an Elderman, then insisting to Beocca that Iseult’s body will be burnt on a funeral pyre, just before the priest proudly divulges that he’s become exactly the man he wished he would become.

Safely back at court, Alfred discloses to Uhtred that he’s indebted to him and in return he advises the King that there can be no negotiation, only surrender, which we duly see in Brida and Ragnar’s imprisonment as hostages and Guthrum’s willingness to be baptised to cement the peace. With his work now done in Wessex, Uhtred, along with Hild and Halig, ride North to deal with the unfinished business there.

Scene of the Week

Marieke: First things first… NOOOO LEOFRIC. No more ‘arseling’! Our Fezzy hearts are broken… No mercy indeed. Again it was hard to choose the scene of the week. Even though we think the comparison should not be made any more, I will break that rule once more. To me, the end battle was worth it. Where in Game of Thrones we waited an entire season for the battle of Winterfell, it was over in a flash and not exciting at all. Now this battle, where Uhtred’s hotheadedness worked for him for a change. See that spear go! I let out a slight cheer when he brutally killed Skorpa. This episode was so packed however, that the many deaths might have had a lesser impact than if they had been spread out over two episodes. (Perhaps we should add a ‘death of the week’ to our future reviews?) Little Uhtred died as we expected, then Iseult was beheaded and ultimately Leofric was stabbed in the neck… However, it was another truly unexpected death that was the shock scene (the other three were coming and in a way predictably). Odda the Elder being sick of his son’s big mouth and treachery, stabbing him hoping he will be forgiven by his wife and God. I cannot be tearful about this death, but it left me with my mouth open. Was Odda truly sick of him or was it Alfred’s presence which made him do it? Iseult’s death was expected as soon as she gave herself to Uhtred. I have to say I was a bit disappointed with her beheading being a catalyst for a revengeful and warmongering Uhtred, it felt like fridging, but there you go. It is his story and everyone else truly is a side character. I never expected one of his new companions to be our favourite nun after Maria, Hild.

Uhtred shield wall
Uhtred behind the Saxon shield wall.

Danielle: Of course seeing the Danes have their arses handed to them was a highlight. How could I not enjoy Uhtred turning Skorpa into a human kebab after he’d killed Iseult in such a brutal way? Watching Uhtred become the man and the warrior that Beocca always wanted him to become was really something. As was Alfred’s growth into the King who could rally his troops to his side without needing to use someone else as a mouthpiece. I think my favourite scene was quite an unexpected one though, and came right at the end of the finale when Alfred finally told Uhtred that he was indebted to him. It symbolised just how far their relationship had come since the young man was bursting into the palace, demanding to be listened to and respected when he gave inside information about the Danes, and the King had him imprisoned in a cage for his troubles.

Quote of the Week

Beocca engaging in verbal fisticuffs with Skorpa:

Beocca: Did your Mother tell you that she should have kept her legs closed?

Skorpa: I will look for you first across the battlefield!

Beocca: I will be there and I will not be difficult to find!

Familiar Face
Gerard Kearns
Gerard Kearns who plays Halig.

Stepping up to the plate after Wulfhere disappeared, Halig, played by Shameless veteran Gerard Kearns, appeared to cement his place as a regular next series after Leofric’s demise by riding North with Uhtred and Hild.

The Verdict?

There will be a second series. Our prayers to Thor have been answered! The show has definitely left us wanting for more, as it consistently struck the the right balance between brutality, love/friendship and humour; especially the latter which singles it out from other shows in the genre and helped to flesh out all of the main players. Alexander Dreymon grew in his role, just as Uhtred was growing himself. Of course we’ll mourn the loss of certain characters, but since Uhtred is going up North to attempt to reclaim Babbenberg and to save his sister, it felt like it was time for them to go, (although Leofric could have ridden with him. Come on!). It will be interesting to see how the storyline with his Danish family will continue. Brida clearly has little affinity with Uhtred now in spite of their shared past, but Ragnar and Uhtred were still brothers in spirit, if not in blood. We can’t help but wonder if they will stay imprisoned, or if they will feature next series. It’s hard to imagine them being kept alive if they weren’t going to play a part in the future. Hopefully Ragnar at least will be involved in his brother’s plot to avenge their Father and to bring Thyra to safety because, boy, it would be disappointing for him not to be there when Sven endures a painful and deserved death! Yeah, yeah, we could read the novels to find out what happens, but this show is such a visual feast that we’d rather bide our time and wait for Uthred to grace our screens again. Besides, we hear there will be this The Last Kingdom type show in April, to distract us for a few weeks. Game of… something?

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